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 phone: 01747-830015; or by post: c/o Hobnob Press, PO Box 1838, East Knoyle, Salisbury SP3 6FA.
After Ducis, if you are scurrying up the A338, Kingston flashes by, and then you leave the Collingbournes behind and enter the world of Savernake. This is the extent of most people’s acquaintance with these two parishes. But in fact neither contains merely a single village; each is made up of a group of settlements which have shared out between them the territory on either side of the upper reaches of the River Bourne, here known as Collingbourne, ‘the stream of Cola’s followers’. Kingston parish was divided into four tithings, and each had its hamlet – Aughton, Brunton, Kingston and Sunton – to which the name Collingbourne was prefixed. Sunton, the southernmost, adjoins Ducis, and its village was transferred to Ducis parish in 1934, although its farmland and downs remain in Kingston. To complicate matters further alternative names have been in use for two of the other tithings – Kingston was until the fourteenth century referred to as Collingbourne Abbots, and Brunton was very commonly Collingbourne Valence.
A medieval chronicle compiled by the monks of Hyde Abbey (New Minster, Winchester) has preserved a Saxon document which gives several insights into the early history of this parish. It describes the boundaries of a grant of ten hides of land at Collingbourne, probably made in 933. The recipient, Wulfgar, died not many years later, and he left instructions in his will that the estate should pass to his wife, Aeffe, and then to the Winchester monks. Consequently the estate became known as ‘Aeffe’s farm’ (or tun), and the name has come down to us as Aughton. The boundaries of Aughton described in the 933 grant appear to be the same as those mapped at enclosure nine centuries later. They embraced the north-western portion of the parish, largely but not entirely to the west of the River Bourne, and included as landmarks ‘the broad barrow’ (now called Oldhat Barrow) and ‘Wylberht’s Stone’ (probably at Falstone Pond), as well as one of the highways leading from this remote downland oasis. In the valley the boundary crossed the river, which is now almost invariably dry, and here it encountered a spring and a swelgende, which may mean a kind of swallet-hole. Somewhere along the boundary with Kingston, perhaps on Inham Down, there was a heathen (i.e. pagan Saxon) cemetery, which may suggest, as at Cadley in Collingbourne Ducis, that the boundary was at least as old as the early Saxon settlement period in the fifth and sixth centuries.
Aughton and Brunton, its counterpart east of the bourne, both retain timber-framed and thatched cottages of the seventeenth century (such as September and October Cottages at Aughton), as well as later and more substantial houses of various periods, and earthwork indications of earlier depopulation. A small modern housing estate, Ham Close and Cuckoo Pen Close, has been built south of Aughton. At Brunton, which is a linear settlement along a lane running diagonally up from the valley, the older houses are at the upper end, and the village presumably extended as far as the fork by the Waglands Farm turning, since the field in the angle of the fork was Townsend Meadow in 1843. The lane and bridge linking Brunton with the outside world were made in 1810; until then access by a lane to Kingston which doubled as the streambed.
On the hillside beyond Brunton is a notable series of strip lynchets, now seriously overgrown, which suggests a medieval extension of the community’s arable in response to growing population. In fact in 1377 the poll tax returned 74 adults here, compared with 58 in Kingston. The name Brunton is a reduction of burh-hamtun, ‘the homestead by the fortification’, but it is not clear to what it refers. An undated earthwork close to a scatter of Romano-British pottery sherds has been identified a little further north, near Spicey Buildings, which could be the burh, but it is just as likely that some archaeological structure has been obliterated by later occupation in the village itself. Brunton’s alternative name, Collingbourne Valence, commemorates a family which owned it during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; unlike Aughton and Kingston it did not pass into the hands of Hyde Abbey.
Kingston, which extends along the main road, was probably already the most important of the settlements in the Saxon period. The monks of Hyde Abbey claimed that it had been given to them by their founder, King Edward the Elder, when he established the monastery in c. 903. Consequently their holding became known as Collingbourne Abbots, and remained until an irrational switch to Kingston in the fourteenth century. This name came to be adopted for the whole parish, presumably because the church was situated here.
There is no evidence that the other tithings ever had their own chapels of ease, nor do we know when Collingbourne Kingston church was first built. The monks’ Domesday holding totalled fifty hides, a substantial estate which probably represented all four constituent tithings of the medieval parish. We should expect a church to be present from an early date on such a large former royal manor given to a Saxon monastery, and it is perhaps worth noting that one of the landmarks in the c. 933 boundary charter was the preostan lypan, probably ‘the slope of the priest’. But the earliest datable work in the present church is post-conquest. It has a number of similarities to its neighbour, Ducis (such as the pretty Perpendicular tower), and like Ducis it was subjected to drastic Victorian restoration. The transitional Norman arcades have survived the restorers, and will please the visitor, as will the modern (1983) stained glass window by John Hayward in the north chancel wall. Much less pleasing are the Victorian clerestory windows, an assortment of six grotesque polygons along each side.
John Aubrey records that an Oxford Fellow discovered in the chancel a brass suggesting remarkable longevity. The subject apparently died in 1400, and his wife in 1495. In fact it is a misreading: the wife appears to have died first (in 1495), but her husband followed her about twelve years later. There is no mistaking another monument in Kingston church, however. This commemorates Sir Gabriel Pile (who died in 1626) and his family, and is a good example of the squirearchical megalomania which infected the seventeenth-century church. Hyde Abbey had appropriated Kingston, and so the rectorial estate passed at the dissolution into lay hands. Sir Gabriel was the lay rector, and could not therefore be gainsaid when he decided to erect in the sanctuary a monument to his own virtues, and those of his ancestors, quite overshadowing the altar. For more than 350 years Collingbourne worshippers have knelt facing the altar, only to be confronted by a stiffly pious Sir Gabriel and his wife kneeling back at them.
A survey in 1649 described the nature of the Pile family’s agricultural interests at Kingston. As lessees of the rectorial estate (the parsonage farm) they held five acres of enclosed meadow, and over fifty acres of arable land distributed as strips within seven furlongs of the common fields; they were entitled to keep nine cows and a bull on the cow commons, and 240 sheep on the downs. They let three houses to tenants, and lived themselves in ‘a very faire mansion house’, with a wainscotted hall and parlour, two kitchens, butteries and cellars, two wainscotted bedrooms and nine other bedrooms, the whole built of timber and stone, and roofed with tile and slate. There were stables and gardens, with various outbuildings including a dovecote.
To this snapshot of farming and gentry life we may add details of the fields and downs from Kingston’s enclosure map of c.1824. There appear to have been four common fields (North, Middle and South were all to the west of the village, and East was beyond the river), although part of North Field had been nibbled away by enclosures, and an area called Windmill Field had been taken out of Middle Field. A tower mill existed here in 1773, and was probably replaced by another nearby soon afterwards, which went out of use around 1870. Its site is marked by an overgrown mound behind the farm buildings alongside Mill Drove. Beyond the common fields were the Ewe Down, Hog Down and other extensive downland on the west, while Cow Down lay above East Field. The eastern fringes of the parish, still heavily wooded, lay within the medieval Chute Forest; indeed, the earliest recorded name of the forest is Witingelega, which is perhaps recalled in Whittle Copse, a part of Collingbourne Wood which was first mentioned in a document of 1330.
Returning to Kingston village we may note, between the lorries, that the church stands on a slight rise, opposite the spacious yard of Manor Farm, and beside a small triangular green. From here an overgrown lane leads down to the riverbed, past Parsonage Farm on one side, and on the other a churchyard extension on the site of the vanished former vicarage. This had been built between 1812 and 1817 to replace a tumbledown ruin inhabited in 1812 by two miserable pauper families (the vicar was an absentee pluralist), who because of the state of the building were exposed to the air, and their lives were said to be in constant danger. The village street includes on each side several 17th-century timber-framed and thatched cottages (the shop claims to be older), and two pubs. The Cleaver, an attractive L-shaped inn decorated with vitrified brick, is a more substantial building than the Windmill, whose sign, it has been pointed out, depicts a Dutch tower mill rather than the local building it commemorates. Behind it is the former Wesleyan chapel (closed 1985) in an orange-brick style typical of its date (1914), and at the northern edge of the village, on a plot previously known as Court Garden, is the Victorian former school (1845-1978), which is now a restaurant.
The present main road through the parish, the A338, became prominent after a reorganization of turnpike roads in 1831. Two other north–south routes, the Wexcombe road across Fairmile, and the Old Marlborough Road across Hog Down and past Falstone Pond, were formerly of greater importance, and both were mapped by Ogilby in 1675 as main roads, from Salisbury to Oxford and Salisbury to the Cotswolds respectively. Even older is the Roman road from Winchester to Cirencester, which at Scot’s Poor on Chute Causeway just clips the parish. This corner of Collingbourne was known in 1843 as Streetgate Down. The parish is also crossed by a number of east–west routes, of presumed but undatable antiquity, which meet and part at focal points such as Scot’s Poor and Falstone Pond. White Way and Green Way are both recorded in a perambulation of 1244 as names of portions of one of these, the track between Brunton and Scot’s Poor; Brokenway Copse, on the downs nearby, gives us the name of another. In 1882 another means of travel was introduced through Collingbourne, when the Midland and South Western Junction Railway opened. The original station was at Ducis, but in 1932 a halt, with two wooden platforms built of sleepers, was made near the Brunton railway bridge, and this remained in use until the line was closed in 1961.
Sunton village, we have noted, was transferred to Collingbourne Ducis in 1934, but most of its land remains in Kingston. Its western downland was acquired for tank training by the War Department in 1939, and by 1951 archaeologists were becoming concerned at the damage being inflicted on barrows by tank traffic. Consequently a programme of excavations was carried out between 1953 and 1957 on the Snail Down barrow cemetery (the name is thought to describe the shape of a double bell-barrow in the group), which lies in the south-western corner of the parish close to Sidbury Hill. Because the cemetery includes almost all the main classes of round barrow it was possible by sampling the various types to derive important information about the late neolithic and early Bronze Age in Wessex, and the relationship between them and the Beaker culture. The barrows appear to be related to a nearby field system, but the area was later in the Bronze Age or in the Iron Age crossed by one of a series of boundary ditches radiating from Sidbury hillfort, and in the Roman period by an access road for local native settlements leading to the Mildenhall–Old Sarum road. Snail Down and adjoining Weather Hill thus provide a good example of the palimpsest of occupation scored into Wiltshire downland, scattered elements of which, in the form of barrows, field systems, enclosures and settlement remains, survive elsewhere in the Collingbourne parishes.
NOTES (location: SU2456; area: 2,018ha; population (1991): 454)
General: VCH 16, 126-39; Collingbourne Kingston: a guide and survey, 1984
Aughton Saxon estate: WANHM 64, 60-4; Snail Down: WANHM 56, 127-48; Thomas, N, Snail Down excavations, forthcoming [?2001]