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Wiltshire Community History

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Stourton with Gasper

This page is one of 261 pages covering every community in Wiltshire, and is provided by Wiltshire Council Libraries and Heritage. A project to provide a fuller picture of each community is in progress, working on the larger communities first. When these 261, which are modern civil parishes, are completed we will begin work on a further 180 villages and hamlets to provide comprehensive coverage of Wiltshire communities large and small.

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1810:

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1810

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

This is a corrected and updated edition of the 1773 map that includes the recently built canals.

Thumbnail History:

The village of Stourton is famous for its National Trust property, Stourhead House and Garden, which has been owned by the Trust since 1946. Stourton lies on the Wiltshire/Somerset border, and until 1894 the hamlets of Bonham and Gasper were part of Somerset. The soil is sandy; subsoil is gravel, chalk and flint in Stourton, but changes to clay and sandstone in Gasper. Before the Second World War the land was mainly pasture and in 1939 it supported twelve farms. The parish is approximately oval in shape, with woodland in the west and open fields to the east. The village and its hamlets are in the centre, running from north to south. The name Stourton means 'farm on the river Stour'. Gasper is not so easily definable. A 'spur' is a projecting hill, but the origin of the first syllable is unknown. Bonham is a family name. Archaeological sites are often to be found on the parish boundary and Stourton is no exception. On the extreme eastern point are five tumuli and a hill fort. The fort, known as Whitesheet Castle, has three small mounds that were opened by Richard Colt Hoare in the early 19th century. He discovered they were not burial sites, and recent investigations suggest a connection with the hill fort. The other tumuli include bowl barrows that were also opened by Hoare and contained human remains. On the southern boundary is Pen Pits, which covers 700 acres and spreads across the boundary into Zeals. These pits were probably quarries where hard greensand rock was extracted for use as quern stones, which were used for grinding grain. In the middle of the western boundary is an Iron Age hill fort measuring 240 yards by 120 yards, known as Kenwalchs Castle. This large hill fort covers an internal area of 1.6 hectares. The modern road passes through the original entrance. On Park Hill is another Iron Age hill fort. This site covers six acres and includes two phases of construction. The first is an outer ditch; the inner works are a D shape. In the centre of the village, close to the church, is the Bristol High Cross. It was built in 1373 and erected on the Cathedral Green at Bristol. It was given to Henry Hoare in 1765 by his friend the Dean of Bristol, after it was dismantled from College Green in 1762. The cross has figures in niches which used to be ornamented with red, blue and gilt clothing. Close by is the site of a 15th century manor house. It was demolished in 1720 by the 1st Henry Hoare and replaced by the current mansion. The history of the manor of Stourton can be traced back to a Bartholomew of Stourton who was living in the west of England prior to the Conquest.

The medieval manor house at Stourton was probably constructed by Robert Stourton in the late 12th century. The manor remained in this family until 1714. Edward, the 13th Baron, was heavily in debt at this time and sold the property to Sir Thomas Meres. Three years later it was held in trust for Henry Hoare, to whom it finally passed in 1720. The property then passed through four generations until it was inherited by Sir Henry Hoare 6th Bt and his wife Alda in 1894. The couple were dealt many hardships, including having to restore the House after a disastrous fire in 1902 and guiding the estate through both World Wars. Sadly they lost their only son Henry in the First World War, a tragedy from which neither of them fully recovered. In 1946, Sir Henry gave Stourhead to the National Trust. He died just one year later, followed six hours later by his devoted Alda. The hamlets of Bonham and Gasper were separate manors. The first Bonham known to have lived there was Sir John de Bonham in 1323. In 1665 the manor was sold to Peter Pytney by Walter Bonham. In 1714 it was sold to the Hon Thomas Stourton and was then bought by Henry Hoare in 1785; the chapel and part of the house were retained by the Stourton family in order to maintain the Catholic faith in the village.

The manor of Gasper was bought by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in 1799, from the Rebow family of Essex. Close to the entrance to Stourhead Garden is the village church. The parish church of St Peter dates mainly from the 15th century and has undergone various stages of restoration since that time. In 1720 new flooring and seating was installed and the screen and rood loft were removed. In 1848 a south aisle was added to increase the seating. The Stourton family and the Arundells were the two principal Catholic families in Wiltshire. The Stourton family history goes back to the Conquest and they lived in Stourton until 1714.

The manor of Stourton was then sold and they bought the neighbouring property of Bonham. This enabled the chapel to remain open until 1950. A complete list of chaplains has been compiled back to Nicholas Fitzjames in 1609. Stourton has many listed buildings, including the temples, grottos and bridges in the Garden. There are approximately 20 listed houses, farmhouses and cottages dating from the 18th century or earlier. Most of these houses are built of dressed limestone or rubble stone with a tiled roof. Bonham Manor House was formerly a Catholic Chapel and priest's house. The building dates mainly from the 16th century with later alterations; some features have survived from the 14th century. The south facing front clearly shows the division between house and chapel, as the chapel at the east end has three large, pointed windows with Y-tracery. When the chapel closed in 1950 the interior was considerably altered. The building is now one house. The estate office in the High Street is a late 18th century detached house, built of dressed limestone with a Welsh slate roof. In the 19th century this house was known as The Cottage and was the home of the Agent. It was also lived in by the 6th Baronet, Henry Hoare and his wife, whilst Stourhead was being renovated and rebuilt after the fire in 1902. In 1919 the stables in the Spread Eagle yard were converted into a village hall as a First World War memorial. An inscription over the doorway records that Stourton Club was erected in memory of those who fell in the War. The Kennels was built in 1794 as a gamekeeper's house and kennels. One of the rooms in the house has cupboards with hexagonal glazing bars, reputedly by Chippendale who is said to have stayed there whilst working at Stourton House.

The history of Stourhead House and Garden is well documented elsewhere. The estate was bought in 1717 by Henry Hoare, a notable merchant banker. This family bank was founded in 1672 by Richard Hoare at the sign of the Golden Bottle in Cheapside. In 1690 he moved the business to new premises in Fleet Street, still within the City of London. Today, C. Hoare and Co. is the sole survivor of the private deposit banks which were established in the 17th and 18th centuries. Henry's first action was to pull down the medieval house that belonged to the Stourtons. When John Aubrey visited this house in 1670, his comment was 'The Lord Stourton's house at Stourton is very large and very old, but is little considerable as to the architecture'. The new house was designed by Colen Campbell, the architect and designer of the day, and was finished in 1724. Between 1741 and 1750 Henry's son, also Henry, laid out the gardens in the fashion of the time with romantic temples, vistas and ornamental trees. His nephew, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, who inherited the estate in 1785, added the twin wings to the house to hold his growing collection of books and art treasures. He was a prolific writer and his studies of the history and archaeology of Wiltshire are classic works.

Most Stourton families earned their living working on the land. The 1851 census shows that the Stourton Farm Bailiff was responsible for 2,154 acres of land and employed 223 labourers. There were also five smaller farms employing a further 70 labourers. The Somerset silk industry had spread into south-west Wiltshire by 1813. The silk mill at Bruton supplied silk for spinning, or more probably winding, to workers living in Stourton and Maiden Bradley. In 1851 Isaiah Child was a linen manufacturer employing 5 men, 31 women and 26 children. Most of the women and girls worked at home, while the younger children often attended a school set up for the purpose of spinning, although there does not seem to be any evidence for one here. Only a few men were self employed in 1851. There were four shoemakers, including a master shoemaker at Gasper. There was also a shopkeeper, two grocers, two butchers, a weaver, a coal merchant and a tailor. By 1901 the small businesses had almost disappeared. One family in Top Lane included a boot maker, dressmaker and laundress. Ernest Hankey, who lived at Brook House, was described at the age of 36 as a 'retired woolbroker's agent'. He could afford four servants, so he must have been a very successful businessman. Born in Middlesex, possibly he was a customer of the Hoare Bank, leading him to find a house in Stourton. By 1901 there was no shop in the village and no adverts for any shops appear in the Kelly's trade directory before 1935. Perhaps the villagers shopped at the large Walton's store in neighbouring Mere.

At the time of Domesday the population of Stourton was approximately 100-150 people. By 1801, which is the date of the first official figure, it had risen to 306. Stourton does not seem to have been badly affected by the agricultural depression of the early 19th century. Very often a rural community will reach its population peak around 1851 and then steadily decline as families move away in search of work, but Stourton's population remained in the 300s for most of the 19th century. In 1894 the Somerset part of the parish was transferred to Wiltshire, increasing the population to its peak figure of 470 in 1901. This area covers the hamlet of Gasper, and Castle Wood and Greenland Bottom to the west. During the 20th century the population fell to just 201 people by 2001.

In 1906 there were seven charities in Stourton. Jane Hoare's charity, dated 1737, gave 3s 6d each to 20 poor families which was paid every Good Friday. Edmund Wadlow's charity, by his will proved in 1725, gave 4 shillings each to ten poor people of Stourton and five people from Gasper, to be distributed on St Thomas's Day (21st December). Nicholas King, who died in 1650, left £5 for the purchase of cloth each year on November 1st to make coats for five aged and poor men. The sum of 20 shillings was given to the churchwardens each year from Michael King's charity, dated 1821, which they used to buy shilling loaves for 20 poor people. Sir Richard Colt Hoare and the Rev. William Partridge's joint charity, dated 1825, distributed blankets and money on Christmas Day. Twenty people with large families received a blanket and another twenty people each received 5s. Henry Hoare, who died in 1724, left money for the purchase of bibles and prayer books as and when they were required. In 1828, 26 bibles, 36 testaments and 44 prayer books were given away to parishioners. This same Henry Hoare also left money for the building of a workhouse. It was first built in 1728 and later replaced by a converted farmhouse called Road Mead. It was only big enough to house three or four families. The building was pulled down in 1802 following complaints by the farmers 'that it was inhabited by disreputable characters, and was a great nuisance to the place'.

In 1834 the Union Workhouse was built in Mere. Since 1960 the population of Stourton has dropped by almost 100. Before the Second World War agriculture was the main employer. This changed after the War, when mechanisation meant fewer jobs, and families moved to the towns to look for better paid jobs and better housing. The gift of Stourhead to the National Trust in 1946 must have caused some anxiety among the villagers. In the 1970s the Wessex regional HQ of the Trust was based in Stourton, providing some local employment. The office has since moved to Bishopstrow near Warminster, but the many visitors to Stourhead still provide employment through the shop, restaurant, plant centre and pub. In 2005 a farm shop opened in the High Street, supplying meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables and more. At nearby Stourton House there is another garden that is open to the public. It was originally a rectory, and the gardens were derelict when the house was bought by Anthony and Elizabeth Bullivant 45 years ago. Elizabeth was a leading authority on dried flowers, and the garden hosts a large collection of hydrangeas that are displayed each September at the annual Hydrangea Gala held at Stourhead church. This small parish, with its world famous garden, attracts thousands of visitors every year. Edward Hutton, writing in 1917, described the garden as a 'noble English paradise'.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilStourton with Gaspar Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailjuliemorganpc@googlemail.com

Churches: Information on both current and disused churches and chapels.

Schools: Information on both current and closed schools.

Population 1801 - 2011

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The Victoria History of Wiltshire (opens in new window) is a partnership between local authorities and the Institute of Historical Research at London University. The History of Wiltshire is now the largest county history in the country and is still growing. The volumes are divided between general and topographical with Volumes One to Five covering subjects such as prehistory, ecclesiastical, economic and political history. The Volumes from Six onwards are topographical and will ultimately provide a comprehensive and systematic history of every single town and parish in the county.

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Newspapers from 1738: These newspapers covered this community at different times. Newspaper titles in bold text are either the ones you should check first for information about this community.


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Archaeological Sites: A Sites and Monuments Record (opens new window) is maintained by the County Archaeology Service and covers some 20,000 sites. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society was formed in 1853 and have been publishing an annual journal since 1854. The journal contains both substantial articles and shorter notes on archaeological excavations, finds, museum objects, local history, genealogy and natural history.

Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Stourton with Gasper

Folk Biographies from Stourton with Gasper

Folk Plays from Stourton with Gasper

History of Buildings: The collections of the Wiltshire Buildings Record are housed in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

Listed Buildings:

The number of buildings, or groups of buildings, listed as being of architectural or historical interest is 60. There are 14 Grade I buildings most of them being part of the Stourhead Estate; the Church of St. Peter, Bristol High Cross, Palladian Bridge, Temple of Apollo, Rockwork Bridge, Temple of Flora, Paradise Well, The Grotto & the River God's Cave, Gothic Cottage, Pantheon, Stourhead House, St. Peter's Pump, The Obelisk and The Convent.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

Local Authors: There could be an author who was born or has lived in this community.

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