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Wiltshire Community History

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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 Froxfield Civil Parish:

Map of Froxfield Civil Parish

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern civil parish boundary has been superimposed.

Thumbnail History:

Froxfield is a parish on the Wiltshire-Berkshire border, eight miles east of Marlborough, in the Devizes division of Wiltshire, the hundred of Kinwardstone, the petty sessional division of Marlborough and Hungerford, the rural district of Marlborough and Ramsbury, the county court district of Hungerford, the Marlborough portion of the Marlborough deanery, the archdeaconry of Wiltshire, and the diocese of Salisbury. Since the early 19th century,' the Kennet and Avon canal has passed through the parish, along the southern boundary; before it was built this boundary followed the river Dun. The parish boundary also followed the river for its eastern limit for a short distance. In the west the boundary was marked by a barrow and a stream, until the early 19th century, when it was indicated by a main road. To the north, and the majority of the east and south, the boundaries do not follow natural courses, either geological or geographical. To the very north, in the highest parts, the parish was completely flat, and consequently was used as part of Ramsbury airfield between 1942 and 1955.

The village of Froxfield has two tithings, minor settlements; to the north-west, a mile away, lies Rudge. Three quarters of a mile to the south-east of Froxfield lies Oakhill. Houses at Oakhill are clustered along the road, whereas the buildings at Rudge are more scattered. The various buildings in Froxfield are mostly clustered around the church and village green, with others trailing along the Bath road, to both the east and west of the Duchess of Somerset's Hospital, a set of almshouses founded in 1686 by Sarah, Duchess Dowager of Somerset.

The earliest written record of anything on the site of the parish was found in 778, where an area of land in the general area was called Frosca burna - or 'frog's bourn' - but this does not necessarily mean that there was a settlement there. It was first called Froxfield 22 years later, in 800, when it was an estate owned by the Bishop of Winchester; at this point, it was partially covered in the south by the Savernake forest, which by 1330 had been removed completely. Before 1330, after 1228, the estate south of the London road was covered by the forest. Before 1228, from the creation of the estate, the forest had covered almost the entire parish.

The soil in the parish is mostly chalk-based, with flints in the land south-west of Froxfield village itself. Around the river Dun, and the stream that joins it - known by some as the Froxfield stream - the land is mostly gravel, often called Dun alluvium. . The highest point of land is in the north-west corner, where the land rises to 180m, compared to the land around the Dun, at 105m; the land below Froxfield village lies in the middle of the two, at 145m above sea level. . The land covering the parish is uneven, rising in ridges of chalk, falling into dry valleys. The villages in the parish shared pasture on the downland, with open fields for each village, and meadows on the gravel. Woodland, too, was apparent in and around each of the villages, and used by them.

In 1801, the population was 492, rising to a peak of 625 in 1841; at this point, 71 people lived in Rudge, 131 lived in Oakhill, and 423 lived in Froxfield, 85 of whom lived in the almshouse there. Between 1841 and 1921, the population declined to 205, rose to 307 in 1931, and stayed between 266 and 293 from 1951 to 1981. With the new housing built in the 1980s, the population rose once more to 356. Owing to its position on the main road, and the building of the Kennet and Avon canal through the parish, Froxfield prospered - however, the coming of the railway more than likely undermined that, and contributed to the decline in the village's population.

There are traces of early settlements and civilisations in the parish; in the north-west area of the parish, there was a Roman road, possibly the one that ran between Bath and London, although no trace of it remains to be seen now. In the southwest corner of the parish, there were three bowl barrows), near, on, and creating part of the boundary between Froxfield parish and Chisbury. In 1725, a Roman villa was discovered, with a tessellated pavement that had a human figure displayed on it. A bronze bowl made in around 150AD, and stone statuette of Atys was also found.

The current road through Froxfield village, between Bath and Bristol, and London, was on the present line from as early as 1675, and was preceded by an earlier road that followed the valley made by the Froxfield stream, and crossed the parish in the 13th century. The road was turnpiked in the early 18th century, but this was removed in the late 19th century. The current footpath between Ramsbury and Rudge was, in the late 18th century, a road that ran between Ramsbury and Great Bedwyn, entering and leaving the western part of the parish, running from the north to the south; this road follows the same course in the present day, as do several in Oakhill. At the point where the Froxfield stream and the Ramsbury road cross, the crossroads had been called Crossford in the late 19th century.

The Kennet and Avon canal, first opened in 1799, and opened for the whole of its length in 1810; in the parish there were three locks and a wharf; the canal, which had fallen into disrepair, was restored in the 1970s. The Berkshire and Hampshire Railway, which first ran from Reading to Hungerford in 1847, crossed Froxfield parish along the north-west side of the canal, in 1862. The line led to Devizes, extended to Westbury in 1900, and in 1906 ran all the way to Exeter, with a station at Great Bedwyn.

The village itself straddles the gravel on both sides of the London road, which runs east to west. Certainly in the 18th century, and probably in the late 17th century, the road made two sharp turns, including crossing the Froxfield stream via a bridge that ran north-south. From Rudge, a road ended at the bend north of the stream, while south of the stream a road to Great Bedwyn left the main road at the bend. In the late 18th century a small section of road was built to cut the north corner, whilst the bridge was lengthened. The village green was created when buildings just north of the stream were demolished, leaving an empty triangle of land.

After the 12th century the church stood beside the road at the west end of the village - where it still today - with a house to the north of it. The road more than likely passed between the church and the house, with the course north and east being just a diversion. Until the early 20th century, the house belonged to the owners of the Rectory estate, and it contains a 17th century east-west range. To the west is a detached building, which may have been part of the house in the 17th century. In the late 17th century, a tall brick cross wing was built at the north-east end of the building, and in the late 20th century, the house was restored. The vicarage house that stood to the east of the church beside the Rudge road, was replaced by a new vicarage house further north, beside the new course of the road. The farm of Froxfield manor which included a farmhouse, stood east of the southern bend of the road to - and from - London. In 1849, a new farmhouse was erected in the west angle of the main road, and a minor road to Littlecote was also built. The village itself, in the 17th century, was extended to the south-west; in the 1670s it was extended east when the almshouse was built, and even more to the east in the 18th and 20th centuries. In 1993, most of the village was designated a conservation area.

There were three inns in the 18th century; the Cross Keys was the oldest, on the southern side of the main road, with the brewhouse behind it giving the name to Brewhouse Hill. The inn was closed in 1866, having been repaired in 1758. The Blue Lion stood on the north side of the road in the easternmost part of the parish, and was newly built in 1718, it burned down in 1835, was rebuilt in 1837, and closed down around 1862. The Pelican, the last of the three, was newly built in the 1750s, and located on the south side of the main road east of the village, and still as The Pelican Inn.

At the closure of the Blue Lion, the main building and assorted outbuildings were converted to seven cottages, which were all demolished in 1968-9 when improvements were made to the main road. On the north side of the road, in the 20th century, four council houses were built in 1927, a police station followed in 1938, and a further eight council houses were erected in 1959-60; a pair of estate cottages were built in 1960 next to the Littlecote lane, and in 1986, a home for the elderly was built, with rooms for 38 residents.

In the 13th and 16th centuries, Oakhill consisted of a few small farms and a water mill. In the early 17th and late 18th and 20th centuries, it contained a farm and cottages adjacent to the Little Bedwyn lane, with cottages to the east at the crossing of that and another lane. Until the turn of the 19th century, a mill stood at the farm. In the mid 18th century, a house was built at the farm; this is currently known as Oakhill Farm, a brick building with 19th century extensions. In the early 20th century, 12 cottages stood at Oakhill; in the late 20th century, two early 19th century pairs of these were still standing; at the crossroad, there stood two timber-framed and thatched 17th century cottages, a cottage from the first half of the 19th century, and two houses from the latter half of the 20th century.

Most of the farms in Rudge stood, in the Middle Ages, on high ground north of the London road. In the late 18th century, there were five scattered farmsteads. The most northern of these called Hugditch was possibly a settlement in the middle of the 13th century, and in the present day, a thatched and timber-framed house can be found there. At Rudge farm, in 1810, the farmhouse was replaced by a double-pile house built mostly of brick, and strips of flint and brick. Rudge Manor Farm contained a 17th century thatched, timber-framed, and brick-encased house, as well as an 18th century cart shed, and many farm buildings of 20th century. Rudge Manor stood south-west of Rudge Manor Farm as part of a farm, and was demolished in the mid 20th century, although a cottage from the latter part of the 19th century and a pair of mid 20th century cottages still stand. Scrope Farm was mostly demolished in the early 1970s, when a house was built on the grounds, and the existing farmhouse was mostly remodelled.

The history of the ownership of the manors of the settlements within the parish is, for the most part, unremarkable, with the usual passing-down, inheriting, and sale of the manors found in many parishes in the area. However, the most important family to own Froxfield manor was the Seymour family, Dukes and Duchesses of Somerset. The major person of note in this family for Froxfield was Sarah, Duchess of Somerset, who commissioned the almshouses known as the Duchess of Somerset's Hospital to be built in her will, as well as leaving Froxfield manor and any profits from it to the almshouses.

The majority of the economy of Froxfield was centred around farming for much of the village's history, with a great deal of the land being used for grazing animals; most of these were sheep, with a much smaller proportion comprising of cows and horses, counted in most documents as 'beasts'. Much of the farming in more recent centuries was on arable land, changing to dairy farming as the farmsteads became less numerous and less expansive.

In the latter part of the 18th century, and the earlier part of the 19th century, Froxfield village contained several malthouses and breweries, these included facilities at the Cross Keys, and a brewhouse on Brewhouse Hill.

In Oakhill, the farming followed much the same pattern as that of Froxfield, with the majority of farming being on pasture land, with sheep and beasts. A watercress meadow existed north of the Dun between the late 19th century, and the mid 20th century. A mill also existed by the bank of the Dun, from the late 13th century until the early 16th, when it was demolished; another was built on this site in the early 17th century, where it existed until the mid 19th century.

In Rudge, again, much of the land was used for grazing, and was divided between several farmsteads. Darrell's Farm, which stood on either side of the parish boundary, contained buildings built on Ramsbury airfield; these buildings, in the later half of the 20th century, were used for pig keeping. A mill stood on the Froxfield stream, between the late 16th century and the late 17th century.

The Duchess Of Somerset's Hospital

Sarah, Duchess of Somerset, was alive between the years of1631-1692. Born in the aftermath of the Civil War, she became aware of the poverty of the lower classes, the neglect of the elderly and the lack of education of the young; she the began to endeavour to help those in trouble, and this air of selflessness followed her through her life. Many years before she died, she made her will and, in it, provisions for many recipients of her charity. Amongst these was an allocation of money for the creation of a set of almshouses. These were to be built on an area of two acres that she had bought for that exact use.

She intended the site to have built upon it a brick building which would enclose a quadrangle and have 30 houses each with a ground-floor room and a room above it. The residents, as she set out in her will, were to be 30 widows: 15 of which were to be those of clergymen - 10 from Wiltshire, Somerset, or Berkshire and 5 from London or Westminster, and the other fifteen were to be those of laymen - 10 from manors (including Froxfield) which she owned and 5 from elsewhere in Wiltshire, Somerset, or Berkshire. A chapel was to be built in the court. The widows, who would qualify for residence if their inheritance was worth less than £20 a year, were to be given pensions and a cloth gown each year(worth 26 shillings and eight pence, or less) and the chaplain was either to be paid or to be presented as rector of Huish. The Curate was to have a salary of £10 per annum for reading prayers daily with the widows, and preach to them every Sunday, and also visit the sick. When the income of the Hospital rose to £100 or more a year, then the Chaplain was to receive £30 every six months.

This increased income was due, entirely, to the planning of the Duchess, over the rents for the properties which she had left to provide for the maintenance and repair of the Hospital - she had, in essence, directed that the leases should be let for no longer than twenty-one years, so that rents could be increased, and the provision for the widows altered and when- and if- it needed to be. This forethought provided the money needed to build the second half of the Hospital- accommodation for an extra 20 widows, when the rents amounted to more than £400 per annum. The Duchess also asserted that each widow would have two rooms - one on the ground floor, one on the floor above it- for their own personal use. Additionally, she allowed the provision of £200 for the buying of tables, bedsteads, and other furniture to be placed into the houses, and for seats for the Chapel.

The Hospital remained much the same until the 1920s, when Lord Long became a trustee. In this position, he pressed for several alterations and changes to be made to the Hospital. These included: allowing the unmarried daughters of clergymen to live in the houses, the conversion of two houses into lavatory blocks, and an attempt to have bathrooms installed in each house. This last stage, however, would not be implemented until several years after his death, when a bathroom, hand basin, and a W.C. were installed in every house. In 1974, each house was finally converted to a comfortable place to live, when central heating was installed.

On the gatehouse can be found a tablet with the inscription: 'The Somerset Hospital for Twenty Clergy and Thirty Lay Widows, Founded and Endowed by the late most Noble Sarah, Dowager Duchess of Somerset, A.D. MDCXCIV (1694)'.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilFroxfield Parish Council
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Parish Emailgraham_francis@btinternet.com

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Froxfield

Folk Biographies from Froxfield

Folk Plays from Froxfield

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