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Milton Lilbourne Concise History


This parish history by John Chandler is taken from his books 'Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire' (Hobnob Press, 2001, £20.00, ISBN 0 946418 07 1) and 'Devizes and Central Wiltshire' (Hobnob Press, 2003, £20.00, ISBN 0 946418 16 0). The books are the first two of a projected series of seven, under the series title 'Wiltshire: a History of its Landscape and People', which together will offer short histories of every parish in Wiltshire, including the areas now within Swindon Borough. The text included here is the author's copyright and should not be further reproduced for publication without his consent. There may be minor textual variants between the text posted here and the published version.

Dr Chandler will be happy to supply hardback copies of either Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire, which includes histories of 34 parishes in eastern Wiltshire (from Tidworth in the south to Aldbourne in the north and Avebury in the west), with illustrations and maps, or Devizes and Central Wiltshire, which includes histories of 42 parishes in central Wiltshire, with illustrations and maps, for £20 each post free. He can be contacted: by email: John Chandler ; by post: c/o 8 Lock Warehouse, Severn Road, Gloucester GL1 2GA.


Monday, 28 August 1826 was, in William Cobbett’s estimation, as pleasant a day as he ever spent in his life. Before breakfast he rode from Everleigh across the downs and past Milton Hill Farm to a vantage point on the steep escarpment above Milton Lilbourne, and from here he spent half an hour sitting on his horse admiring the view: ‘I never before saw any thing to please me like this valley of the Avon.’ Next, the way down being too steep for his horse, he was helped by a boy driving pigs, who led his horse and directed him through Milton to the farmhouse of an old friend, nearby at Fyfield. ‘I do not know, that I ever in the whole course of my life, saw people so much surprised and pleased as this farmer and his family were at seeing me.’ He must have spent the day discussing the local farming situation and collecting statistics, because in his book he demonstrates that the parish of Milton produced food enough to feed at least five times its population, and yet its labourers subsisted in poverty and its two mansion houses were falling into ruin. Such was his welcome that he postponed until the next day his famous ride down the Avon valley to Salisbury, and stayed the night at Fyfield.

Were he to return today Cobbett would still find the view invigorating – he would mourn the lost elms, no doubt, and be intrigued by the electricity pylons – and he would look down on a parish with virtually unaltered boundaries and roughly the same number of inhabitants. The mansion houses (there are really four in the parish – Milton Manor, Havering House, King Hall and Fyfield Manor) are now rebuilt or restored and in good order, and the present-day ‘labourers’, not so poor now, are well-housed and work, for the most part, outside the parish, in places such as Marlborough, Swindon and even London. He would certainly be welcomed – as I have been – and would be amused and perhaps flattered to see a striking modern house (on the site of the old village hall) named ‘Cobbett’s Way’.

Milton Lilbourne is quite a large parish, and may be conveniently divided into three. North of the Pewsey–Burbage B3087 road (a former Saxon military road, the Pewsey Herepath, but never turnpiked) there is now a dispersed pattern of settlements on undulating greensand, and with the domed hill of Martinsell as a backcloth. Until the nineteenth century much of this area formed the tithing of Clench which, with Little Clench, is the name given to a farm and hamlet in the north of the parish close to Wootton Rivers. Clench Common, now largely shared between other parishes, lies on the high chalkland behind Martinsell. First recorded in the thirteenth century, Clench means a lumpy or massive hill, and must surely be a reference to Martinsell. A document of about 1300 in the Cirencester Abbey cartulary describes Wykclench as one of Milton’s three hamlets; Wyk- perhaps refers to a now vanished part of the settlement due west of the present East Wick Farm, which may be glimpsed as extant earthworks when looking down from the small car park at the top of the hill. Clench probably extended further south as well, as far as the complex of small closes near Broomsgrove Lodge; this area, with more buildings and boundaries than survive now, is marked as ‘Clinch’ on the 1843 tithe map.

The second of Milton’s hamlets also lay within our northern division of the parish, but within Fyfield tithing. In about 1300 it was known as Mulecote, ‘the cottages by the mill’, and the name occurs also as a local surname in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The first reference to the name comes in 1236, and it is still called Milcot in 1632, but later it had been corrupted to Milkhouse, and since at least 1817 the nearby ponds have been known as Milkhouse Water. These ponds, presumably constructed as reservoirs for the mill, or in connection with the water meadow system downstream, were later used as watercress beds and are now a trout farm. The river here is a headwater of the Salisbury Avon, and a second mill, probably supplanting Milkhouse, was operating about 1km upstream by 1773. A hamlet known as New Mill developed around the substantial mill complex (which, augmented by steam power, still worked in the 1930s), and the New Inn (sometimes called the Lydiard Arms, after a Victorian landlady’s surname) was functioning here by 1822 and closed during the 1980s. The river here can never have been a particularly reliable or substantial source of power, and, especially after the thirsty Kennet and Avon Canal was completed along its valley in 1809, milling must have been a precarious business. Probably in consequence of this we find references in the early nineteenth century to two windmills nearby, one near Totteridge, and the other south-west of New Mill. A small wharf was built on the canal at New Mill, and in 1862 an embankment took the Berks and Hants Extension Railway close to both New Mill and Milkhouse as the railway engineers pursued a course parallel to the canal between Hungerford and Devizes.

In addition to these hamlets there are two other significant farmsteads in the northern part of Milton parish. Totteridge takes its name from the projecting ridge formed by the confluence of the Avon with a minor tributary, Deane Water, close to which the farm stands. The first reference to the place has been claimed as 1199, but this and some other early instances may in fact refer to places elsewhere in Wiltshire with similar names, such as Timbridge and Tytherington. Broomsgrove sits on a slight rise in front of Martinsell, and is well seen from the Fyfield–New Mill lane. Near the farm in 1893–4 were discovered and excavated the remains of a Romano-British potters’ settlement, one of the sources of the domestic pottery industry known as Savernake Ware, whose products appear to have been produced for the market at Cunetio (Mildenhall), and which are widely found on Roman sites in east and central Wiltshire.

Two squatter-type settlements had emerged along the Pewsey–Burbage road by the later eighteenth century. Little Ann (a corruption of Little Land) straddles the Pewsey–Milton boundary near Fyfield, and has never been as substantial as Little Salisbury (alternatively known in 1773 as New Town), which boasted a beerhouse in 1880 (now the Three Horse Shoes Inn), and since the last war has been graced also by the rather obtrusive yard of a scrap car dealer. A third settlement, at Littleworth, seems to have comprised no more than one or two buildings before the mid-nineteenth century. A Wesleyan chapel for fifty worshippers was built here in about 1854 (successor to two earlier Methodist groups in Milton – Independent in 1825, and Primitive in 1843). Another Methodist chapel, now a private house, was built nearer Milton crossroads in 1932. And since the last war a group of eight bungalows and several other houses have appeared at Littleworth.

South of the main road lie the other two parts into which we may divide the parish; these are the hamlet and tithing of Fyfield, and the village of Milton Lilbourne itself, with extensive lands on the downs to the south. Fyfield is typical of the narrow strip tithings which are found right along the northern escarpment of Salisbury Plain. It extends from the greensand of Milkhouse Water on the valley floor, across the main road at Little Ann, and past the now shrunken settlement. The community’s arable fields (enclosed in 1822/3) lay south of the hamlet on the broad band of flat chalk marl at the scarp foot, and beyond them the chalk downland of Fyfield Hill, which is supervised by a well-preserved neolithic long barrow, Giant’s Grave, some 100m long, and excavated by Thurnam in 1865. The lane which leads from the main road to Fyfield (it can hardly now be called the village street) continues southwards as a kind of spinal track. This served the open fields, and leads to a derelict windpump and field barn in a muddy enclosure, before sweeping up the hill in a deeply-rutted chalk cutting to reveal a hidden dry valley behind. Extensive remains of a prehistoric and later field system and lynchets are carved into the sides and head of this secret coombe, and evidence of a possible Roman building has been found nearby.

Fyfield’s regular western boundary had been defined by the tenth century, and its name (like other Fifields) suggests that it existed in the Saxon period as a separate five-hide estate. It does not, however, occur in Domesday Book, and was probably then subsumed within the entry for Wootton Rivers. The name is first recorded in 1230, and by about 1300 it was certainly regarded as one of the hamlets that formed part of Milton Lilbourne parish. In 1377 it had an adult taxpaying population of forty (probably including Milcot) compared with Milton’s 67. The hamlet of Fyfield has probably never been very populous, and its shape (especially as seen on the 1822 enclosure map) suggests a small linear medieval settlement, with a planned arrangement of rectangular closes on the western side extending back to the tithing boundary. The eastern side of the hamlet is dominated by the house and grounds of Fyfield Manor (including a large wooded area known as the Wilderness, and formerly as the Vineyard). The present building, it has been said, is the house of a small squire of about 1700, although it conceals within it the foundations and roof of a typical fifteenth-century manor house. The Waryn or Warren family owned Fyfield from about 1200 until 1613, but the ‘small squire’ who rebuilt the house was probably a Hungerford, most likely Edmund Hungerford, who died in 1713 and is buried in Milton church. The estate passed by marriage via the Wyndhams to the Penruddock family in 1768, and stayed in their hands until it was divided in 1919. A distinguished more recent owner was Lord Avon, the former Sir Anthony Eden, who lived in the house during the early 1960s, before moving to Alvediston in south Wiltshire.

Like Fyfield, Milton is absent from Domesday Book, although it is assumed that one of the two churches listed under Wootton Rivers in fact refers to Milton, and that, therefore, Wootton’s apparently excessive totals include both Milton and Fyfield. However Milton, in the form Middelton (‘the middle farm’) makes its first appearance by name in 1195, and the affix Lilbourne is tagged to it soon afterwards to distinguish it from other Middletons. Logic dictates that the ‘middle’ refers to its position between Easton (‘the east farm’) and either Fyfield or Pewsey. Lilbourne is the family name of manorial owners from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. It was often written in the Latin form de Insula Bona (‘of the good island’), and in fact refers to the family’s place of origin, Lillebonne in Normandy, still a small town between Le Havre and Rouen.

Whatever Saxon Milton’s relationship with Wootton Rivers, the first certain reference to its church, in 1195, tells us that it had by then been appropriated by Cirencester Abbey. The significance of this is that Cirencester had earlier acquired Pewsey church, so Milton may in the twelfth century have been a chapelry dependent on Pewsey. The architecture of the present church is mostly of the thirteenth century and later, but the imposts of the chancel arch are believed to be Norman. Cirencester retained the patronage until the reformation, and medieval features in the church include the Early English arcade and font, the Decorated chancel, and Perpendicular tower and some windows. Fragments of a wall-painting of the virgin and child are discernible near the pulpit, a few quarries of medieval glass remain in a chancel window, and there is the recessed arch of a tomb with encaustic floor tile fragments in the north aisle wall.

The church had become very dilapidated by the nineteenth century, to the extent that the pews were patched with wood from packing cases – one still bore the instruction, ‘Wine With Care, This Side Up’. Church restoration took place in 1864 and 1875 and then, according to an inscription, ‘the bones of unknown persons found within the walls of this church’ were reburied under the nave floor. Galleries were removed at this time, but painted panels from the west gallery are preserved in the church, and one of the instruments formerly played by the village musicians there, an iron cello, is now in Devizes Museum. The well loved vicar at this period, who was patron of his own living, was John Henry Gale, who as Parson Gale achieved a reputation as a maverick magistrate and eccentric sportsman. The tombstone in the churchyard of a like-minded contemporary, George Carter, is a full two metres high, and lists his many hunting achievements.

The topography of Milton village is less straightforward than that of its neighbour Easton, with which at first glance it appears to share the same kind of north–south orientation. Easton, like Burbage, lay on a main north–south route, and has an essentially linear form; but the north–south village street of Milton seems to have had no more than local significance, and indeed was probably less important than a parallel track, known as the Packway, which forms the parish boundary between Milton and Easton, and leads to Wootton Rivers. Milton’s street serves rather to connect two areas of settlement, an older nucleus of which the church, vicarage, King Hall and a small triangular green formed by the junction of three roads, are the key elements, and a later northward extension along the street to the Pewsey–Burbage road. The date of this expansion and its cause are not entirely clear – no buildings earlier than the seventeenth century have been identified in this area – but it may probably be linked to an unusual rise in population which occurred between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. In 1377 the adult taxpaying population was recorded, as we have seen, as 67 in Milton and 40 in Fyfield; in 1676 the adult population of the whole parish was recorded as 362. There seems to be no evidence of expansion elsewhere in the parish (contraction is more likely, in fact), which suggests that Milton village witnessed a four- or five-fold increase in population (to roughly its present-day level) during the intervening three centuries. That the northward expansion occurred well before 1700 is also suggested by the presence of what appear to be the tofts of former buildings immediately opposite the main vista of the present Milton Manor, which was built between about 1710 and 1730. These buildings were presumably demolished at this period to improve the view.

Whenever it took place a degree of planning may perhaps be seen in the straight rear footpath running behind properties on the western side of the street, and by the narrow ginnel (opposite the village hall) which is known as the Drunge. This northern part of the street is lined with a mixture of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cottages and several larger houses, including a Victorian farmhouse (Lawn Farm); and at the crossroads are twentieth-century council and private housing (including a former police house), and a large motor garage. A recreation ground on the eastern side of the street was given to the village by George Ferris, a well-known local land agent who owned Milton Manor from before 1870 until his death in 1929. Previous owners of this large brick Georgian manor house were members of the Richmond Webb and Somerset families.

Returning to the village nucleus we should examine its components in a little more detail. The church occupies an elevated position, which is exaggerated by the natural down-cutting of the street into the greensand. From the churchyard may be seen the early-nineteenth century vicarage built on to a more modest, older house, and with an outbuilding against the street built of stone blocks. These are perhaps reused from an earlier building, as brick is the normal building material in Milton; indeed the tithe map of 1843 located brickmaking sites at Totteridge and Little Salisbury. A parsonage house and yard at Milton are recorded in a Cirencester document of about 1300, and these may well have occupied the same site. King Hall lies opposite. The present house is Victorian and was built by the owner of the rectory (or former monastic) manor, but its gates and some outbuildings are older, and there is a strong local tradition that it occupies the site of an important medieval house. In view of its position in the village, this may well be true; and if so it was possibly the manor house of the Lilbournes, which is mentioned in an inquisition of 1282 as possessing a courtyard, dovecote and garden, and in which the Lilbournes were permitted to build an oratory or private chapel in about 1300. The Lilbournes were not, however, the only manorial lords in Milton. Two other manors, Milton Abbots and Milton Havering, existed in the middle ages, and were still referred to as late as 1781 in the enclosure award. ‘Abbots’ refers to Cirencester Abbey’s rectorial holding, memory of which is perpetuated in the present Abbey Farm; and the de Havering family, who are recorded from the early fourteenth century, have given their name to Havering Lane and the seventeenth-century Havering House, which is perhaps on the site of their earlier manor house. Havering Lane meets the village street at what appears to have been a small triangular green, and here now are the village shop and the former school and schoolteacher’s house. The school opened in 1878 and closed in 1985. Unusually in Pewsey Vale it was a board school, and replaced an earlier National school (recorded in a directory of 1859) on the same site. Instruction given in the National school was said to have been of an elementary kind, owing to the early age at which children were removed.

Like Fyfield, Milton conformed to the usual agricultural regime which prevailed around the edge of Salisbury Plain, and which Cobbett was able to record at first hand. The community’s open fields lay around the village and extended southwards to the escarpment, with considerable arable also on Milton Hill. From an inquisition taken in 1628 we learn that the open fields were called East and West Sands, East and West Clay, and East and West Down. The latter, on Milton Hill, were still largely under strip cultivation until enclosure in 1781/2. Small enclosed meadows also existed in the seventeenth century, and closes adjacent to the village on its western side are remembered in the name ‘Severals’ (land held separately or apart) given to an area of predominantly twentieth-century housing, including council houses and a wooden bungalow, ‘Dunmilken’. By the later eighteenth century a hill farm had been established in a lonely position on Milton Hill, and this now farms much of the downland in the southern part of the parish. A group of five Bronze age round barrows close to the farm complex was first noticed by Colt Hoare before 1810, and was the subject of a detailed excavation in 1958. The lower-lying farmland between the Pewsey–Burbage road and the foot of the downs was until recently controlled from Lawn Farm, but its farm buildings have now been sold for housing development, and farming operations are centred on Abbey Farm.

NOTES (location: SU1860; area: 1,452ha; population (1991): 482)
General: VCH 16, 165-81; Ferris, G, A few notes on the history of Milton Lilbourne, 1929 [typescript]
Roman pottery: WANHM 69, 67-84; Fyfield Manor: Country Life 30.8.1930, 260-5; Church: Tomlin, A, Milton Lilbourne church, 1994; Parson Gale: Globe, 31.5.1899 [copy in WANHS]; Ferris: WANHM 45, 104-5; Barrows on Milton Hill: WANHM 80, 23-96.
This account has benefited from discussions in 1991 with Betty Andrews and Frances Price.



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