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Wiltshire Community History

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Fovant

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, 1773:

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773


Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham



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.


Map of the Civil parish of Fovant:

Map of the Civil parish of Fovant

1898
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


From the Ordnance Survey 1898 revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern parish boundary has been superimposed


Thumbnail History:


Fovant is on the A30 London to Exeter road between Wilton and Shaftesbury. The soil is loam; subsoil, chalk and flint. The village lies at right angles to the chalk down land, its stream running from a spring-fed lake, through the village, to meet the Nadder at Dinton. The name comes from the Saxon 'Fobbefunte' meaning 'Fobba's Spring'.

The prehistoric valley of Fovant was an undrained swamp with tangled trees and thick undergrowth. Numerous flints have been found that indicate early lowland settlements, but it was not until the Iron Age that the hill fortress of Chiselbury Ring provided protection for farming communities on the down land. By Roman times this was no longer inhabited. After the Battle of Old Sarum in 552 the Saxons founded Fobbefunte. This was the original settlement of Fovant which at that time included Sutton Mandeville.

Saxon charters confirm that by the 10th century Fovant belonged to Wilton Abbey. The Abbey was surrendered to the Crown in 1539; Henry VIII gave land in Wilton to the Herbert family who built Wilton House. William Herbert being created 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1551. The family also acquired many of the villages in the surrounding area, one of which was Fovant. Lord Pembroke remained Lord of the Manor and principal landowner until the estate was broken up in 1919.

The parish church of St. George was built in the 12th century, but it was altered and extended in the late 15th century. The church was again extensively altered in 1863 by the diocesan architect T.H. Wyatt. The Congregational Chapel in the High Street, which opened in 1820, is still open for worship today. From c.1650 to c.1750 there was an active group of Quakers in the village who met in each other's houses.

The busy road through the parish brought lots of people travelling on the east - west route and Fovant was the ideal place to run an inn. In the 18th century the village was able to support five of these. The Fovant Hut and the Compton Hut were two inns on the outskirts of the village, supporting travellers on the early road over the downs. Although called huts, they were well appointed places with good stabling, and when the Fovant Hut was enlarged in 1757, it was a prosperous business. In the village itself were The Cross Keys, The Pembroke Arms and The Poplar Inn. All three were built in the 18th century, but it is only The Pembroke Arms, on the present main road, that is still trading. The Poplar Inn in Sutton Road closed in 1998 to make way for housing. The Cross Keys closed in 2003.

Until 1954 the village pound for stray animals existed close to The Cross Keys, and next to it was the village lock up; part of this building was underground. On the other side of the road are the recently restored village stocks. Nearby are the Fovant Village Stores and the Post Office, contained in a modern house.

There are many cottages and houses in the village that date from the 17th to 19th centuries and there was a quarry close to the village that was able to supply stone for these buildings. Examples are The Old Rectory, a fine Georgian building that was the Rectory until 1949, and the Surgery. Brook Surgery was originally the stables and carriage house attached to Gerrard's Farm; built c.1860, it was altered in the 1970s.

Until the 20th century farming was the main source of employment in Fovant. There were several mixed farms in the area, growing crops but also keeping cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs. The trades needed to support a farm were also present. The 1841 census lists six carpenters, four blacksmiths and a wheelwright.

Many other tradesmen are also mentioned, such as maltster, miller, cordwainer, glover and dressmaker, as well as the expected shopkeeper, tailor and carrier. Surviving apprenticeship records show that many of these men took in young apprentices.

Fovant Quarry was another source of employment. It was situated on the hill behind The Pembroke Arms and was advertising as early as 1788, selling ashlar stone at 6d per cubic foot. Ten masons were listed in the 1841 census, mainly members of the Jay family. The quarry continued to work until the mid 20th century.

Although there was no 'big house' in Fovant, some girls and boys went into domestic service. The village doctor, the curate, the publicans and some farmers all had domestic servants in the 19th century. As late as 1901 there were still 23 villagers who described themselves as domestic servants. This situation changed in World War I, but a photograph of Fovant Rectory in 1947 shows it still had 16 indoor and outdoor staff.

In 1915 the arrival of an army camp had a tremendous impact on village life. Many men were needed to build the roads and huts, and the pay was much more than that received by a farm labourer. There was also an opportunity to run a shop, tearoom or barbers. The trade for the publicans increased dramatically, families took in lodgers and ladies took in washing. There was even a branch of the London, City and Midland Bank in the High Street.

The population of Fovant in the last 200 years has been between 400 and 600. The figure at the time of Domesday is estimated to have been between 90 and 110 people, when it was a reasonably prosperous community worth £7 10 shillings. The first official population figure is 514 people in 1801. It reached its 19th century peak of 631 in 1851, after which there was a gradual and continuous slide downward to 404 people in 1911. This drop coincided with the agricultural depression which began in 1870. Over the next 30 years, 400,000 farming jobs in England were lost, as farmers battled with the weather, disease and cheap imports. Men were forced to move their families to the towns to look for work. After World War II the village expanded, leading to a rapid rise in population between 1951 and 1971. In 2001 the population figure was the highest it has ever been at 683.

One of Fovant's important features is the A30 road, which is 300 years old. Previously a grass track, it was turnpiked in 1787. The Pembroke Arms provided stabling for 20 horses, and Fovant became a changing post on the new road between Salisbury and Shaftesbury. The coaches ran along this road until 1854 when the railway line was built through nearby Dinton.

Fovant had an earlier and more important road. Along the top of the downs to the south, was what was described in 1448 as 'the best road from London to the west'. In 1658 the first post coach travelled this road from London to Devon, and in 1700 the Earl of Pembroke erected milestones along it, with a tree planted to mark each one. The lime trees were not native to the downs, and so would stand out to travellers. In 1752 this road was 'the second principal road in the kingdom' and nine years later it was turnpiked.

Before the arrival of organised sports and other social groups in the 19th and 20th centuries, the villagers had to make their own entertainment. Special feast days were held on days important in the agricultural and church calendars, such as Plough Monday, Easter and Harvest. Many villages formed their own sick benefit club and each year a day was put aside for celebration. The Fovant Club was started in 1767 and continued until 1911. The Club Day was Ascension Day and was a day of feasting, music and spending time at the visiting fair.

The Fovant Pig Club was founded c.1860. A copy of the new rules in 1908 states that there was an entrance fee of 6d and a charge of 6d per quarter for each pig. The purpose of the society was to insure the pigs against illness or death. If a pig died, its market value was paid to the owner out of club funds.

Fovant Band has a long history that goes back at least as far as 1830, when the band was used by neighbouring villages. The instruments used in later years were bought at the time of the Jubilee celebrations of George V. The band flourished until the 1960s, when a decline in membership meant that it was sometimes necessary to join with Shaftesbury Band, who were also short of players. In the 1970s this amalgamation became formal and Fovant Band ceased to exist.

The village has been fortunate in having had a resident doctor from the latter part of the 18th century up to and including the present day. From 1763 to the early 1800s the villagers were looked after by three generations of the Foot family; from 1855 to 1970 it was the Clay family. The doctor lived at the Manor House until 1972. The surgery was moved to Becher's Brook in the High St in 1988.

Just before the outbreak of World War I, Fovant Camp was set up. After the outbreak, the area either side of the A30 was filled with huts, roads, firing ranges and parade grounds. It was almost a self-sufficient community, with shops, tearooms, a church, chapel, cinema, canteens, Post Office, and installations to generate electricity and pump water. A railway line was built from Dinton and a station, marshalling yard and engine houses were created.

The first of the famous Fovant badges was cut in 1916 by the London Rifle Brigade. The work was carried out by men recovering from war wounds; they worked in the summer early in the morning from 4:00 to 7:00, before the ranges were used for firing practice. By the end of the war approximately 20 badges had been cut into the hillside. After the war the area slowly returned to agricultural use, and the badges began to show signs of neglect. In the late 1940s restoration work was begun by men who had been in the Home Guard. In 1963 the Fovant Badges Society was formed, a group that is still active today.

In August 1919, shortly before the demolition of the camps, the Earl of Pembroke held an auction sale of some of his land and property, including most of Fovant. This was an opportunity for any villager who could afford it to buy his house or a piece of land. At the same time, a lot of building material from the demolished camps was offered for sale. This was an opportunity for builders and resulted in a number of houses being built. This was later followed by more building in the 1950s and 60s, after mains water and public sewerage were installed in the village. More recently, a village survey identified the need for more housing for young people. Unfortunately no suitable building plot could be found, and there was also the concern that the houses would not be affordable.

Many of the shops that were in business during the War closed down after the army left, but there were other longer-term shops that served the residents before and after this period. An example is Cowdry's Grocers and Bakery, which was opened towards the end of the 19th century by Solomon and Rhoda Cowdry. Mr. Cowdry's business ledger has survived, and gives a rare and fascinating insight into the goods his customers were buying and the prices. In 1870 bread was the main item, at 1s 1d per gallon. Tea cost 3 shillings per pound, Lard 1 shilling per pound, Snuff 4 1/2 d per oz, and children's socks 6d. Villagers who did not have their own oven paid 1/2 d to have a tart baked. This shop is still open today as Fovant Stores (the Cowdry's son Ernest moved the business from one end of the High Street to the other).

Another example of a long-term business is the Post Office, which is currently in the High Street. The history of Fovant's postal service can be traced back to the early 1800s when The Pembroke Arms would have been the postal collecting centre. According to the Royal Mail Archives, Fovant had its own Post Office by 1846. It is not known for certain where this first office was, but by 1855 it was at Garage House, where the blocked up post box can be seen in the wall. In 1920 the location changed to a house in the High Street belonging to Charles Austin, moving to another High Street property in 1964.

The people of Fovant have enjoyed - and continue to do so - many varying leisure activities. A cricket club was established in the 1930s and still plays today. Football began in the late 1940s, continuing until 1968. There is also a darts team and a fishing club. The ladies formed a Women's Institute in 1934, continuing until 2004. In the 1990s poetry and craft groups were set up as an alternative for those no longer interested in a W.I. Those who are interested in art, gardening and history also have flourishing groups. The young people enjoy Fovant Youth Club, which offers a wide range of activities.

The village has its own hall, which was originally the church hall built in 1885. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1909, but the vicar at the time organised the building of a replacement.

The village school unfortunately closed in 1997. The building is now used by The Rainbow Centre as a privately run nursery school and after school club for older children.

Today Fovant is a community that still values its own village shop, post office, garage, surgery and pub. There are also several other small businesses. The village's social life is also important, a fact that is proved by the wide range of social activities available. This all contributes to making Fovant the vibrant community it is today.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Emailcustomercare@wiltshire.gov.uk
 
Parish CouncilFovant Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailfovantpc@btinternet.com
 

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Fovant

Folk Biographies from Fovant

Folk Plays from Fovant

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 historic importance is 21. There are no Grade I buildings; and one Grade II* building, the Church of St. George.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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