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Wiltshire Community History

Holt Search Results

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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 the Civil Parish of Holt:

Map of the Civil Parish of Holt

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:

The village of Holt is a compact rectangular settlement set in an oddly shaped parish, with a 'tail' of land south of Forewoods Common, that includes Great Bradford Wood and Lady Down Farm. This seems to have come about because Holt was part of the ancient manor and parish of Bradford and when the urban boundaries of Bradford were defined as roughly circular, this area of land lay outside them and could only be given to Holt. The manor house of Holt lies to the north west of the village and has had no settlement associated with it since medieval times. The river Avon is in the south of the parish and forms part of the southern boundary while the Kennet and Avon canal passes through the southernmost part of the parish.

Holt has both benefited and suffered by being in close proximity with Bradford, Trowbridge and Melksham. The three towns have provided employment, services, markets and shops but have also probably made Holt less self sufficient in the past than many villages of a similar size and will also have enticed the more ambitious young people away from their home village. Because it is on the road between Bradford and Melksham, Holt has not suffered the isolation that some village, such as neighbouring Broughton Gifford did up to the later 19th century.

There have been no major prehistoric finds in the parish. Possible Neolithic finds probably indicate passing hunters but the discovery of Bronze Age pottery sherds indicate a possible farmstead. Iron Age pottery has also been found but the best material is Roman or Romano-British, mainly discovered by field walking. Pottery sherds, fragments of roof tiles, a whetstone, 4th century coins and lead fragments have all been found. The indications are that there was a Romano-British farm here on the river gravels. This would fit in with recent discoveries at Bradford which indicate that the villa there controlled a large estate that was probably similar to the Saxon estate owned by the Abbess of Shaftesbury. As Holt was part of this estate it would seem likely that it was under the control of the Bradford villa in Roman times.

Like most places in this area there is little evidence of Saxon settlement as buildings and most utensils were of wood. Although some Holt boundaries are mentioned in a charter of 1001 there is no mention of a settlement here. It is likely that there were scattered farmsteads although there may have been a nucleated settlement in the 11th century. The font is of this period and as it seems likely that it will have remained on the same site this would mean a late Saxon church here. A small settlement was probably clustered around it. With most villages it is possible to get an idea of their status in late Saxon times from the entry in the Domesday Book. As Holt was a part of Bradford it is included with that settlement and other villages and there is no way of distinguishing which people lived at Holt.

We do know that there was a church at Holt by 1107 as land was given to it by the church at Bradford, and it is possible that there was a stone church by 1092. By the mid 12th century there were three tenants of the Abbess of Shaftesbury at Holt and a little later three jurors were named, Godwin, Adelin and Roger. A total of 27 other people living here were named and these included Roger of Holt, Godfrey of Holt, Thomas, Sefton, Agnes Passet, Colstan the priest, Edina the widow, Nicholas of Haston, Walter of Lega, Robert of Ford, Richard Wite and William of Hila. It is an interesting list of early landholding residents showing early development of surnames with some in use, others indicated by their place of birth and others still with only a christian name.

By the mid 13th century Holt had been created a manor within the manor of Bradford and was held by the de Holt family. It is likely that people from outlying farms and hamlets now moved into the village allowing two open fields to be created or expanded. In 1252 Robert de Holt obtained a licence to hold a fair on St Catherine's day, 24th November, which could indicate that the church was already dedicated to that saint or it may be the dedication came about because of the fair. The 14th century saw a reasonably sized settlement in the village and there may even have been an ale house called the Three Lions - from the arms of the de Holt family. John de Holt had a deer park by 1316, probably the enclosure by paling of a former chase or hunting ground. The de Holts were prominent in the county and one was sheriff in 1314-15.

In a taxation list of 1334 the husbandmen of Holt paid more than the residents of Bradford but too much must not be read into this as much church property, of which there was plenty in Bradford, was exempt. There were 29 people taxed in Holt but these were only the wealthiest heads of household. The manor was conveyed to William of Edington in 1344; he later became chancellor of England. The poll tax of 1377 was paid by 44 people (over the age of 14) in Holt. Of these only 3 were women and there are only two surnames that were mentioned in 1334. There was some evasion of this tax but the low number of women is unusual. Some of the families who paid tax in 1334 were probably wiped out by bubonic plague but it could be that the wealthier inhabitants just avoided paying the tax. Based on the figure of 44 taxpayers there would have been between 72 and 99 people allowing for those under 14 years and others. This does seem to be on the low side considering that at least 32 houses are represented on the list.

There would appear to have been four areas of possible medieval settlement that are covered by the modern village. The main street with a back lane (The Midlands), around the church and Ham Green, Bradley Lane, and The Star. Settlement in the first indicates grants of land for a house and back garden while that in the fourth is indicated by earthworks. By 1426 Holt had been granted to the Lisle family, who held it until c.1740 although they were mainly absentee landlords until just before 1700. It is likely that the cloth trade was important in the village from the 15th century while from the late 15th century the Earle family were major landowners and one of the wealthiest families in the parish. They owned what became Manor Farm. By the late 16th century we know from wills that both husbandry (farming) and weaving were important and that there may have been clothiers in the village. This pattern continued through the 17th century, when there were definitely clothiers in Holt.

Around 1690 the mineral spa waters were discovered but they were not used as a cure until 1713. They were then developed as a commercial concern by Lady Lisle and the Rev. John Lawes and promoted by Henry Eyre in London. The waters were bottled and widely sold from 1715 to 1750 and a Great House and other buildings were erected for accommodation of the visitors to the Spa. Holt was very much the poor relation of Bath, attracting the lesser gentry, but there was a 'season', summer, whereas that of Bath was the winter months. The Bell (now Bell House) on the Ham existed from the 18th century and would have provided accommodation for some visitors to the Spa. By the middle of the 18th century there were seven ale houses and Holt was a thriving village. It seems to have been struck by an epidemic in 1729 as 27 of the 39 people buried in that year were recorded as dying from fever.

In 1741 the Lisle family sold the manor of Holt. Around 1750 the present house known as the Courts was built. Local roads improved with turnpike acts from 1773; there was a toll gate on the Green and by 1780 there were three turnpike roads to Holt. The Bell is first mentioned by name in 1773 and in the following year the White Hart, Chequers and New Inn (now the Ham Tree) are all mentioned. Doubtless the turnpike roads increased their business and would have been advantageous to that of James Beaven, a woolstapler who founded the family tanning business in the 1770s. They developed glove making from 1800 and bottled spa water was still being exported in 1801 when there were about 50 houses in the village. The Spa declined in 1815 through competition from the recently discovered waters at Melksham. For the first half of the 19th century the village consisted mainly of cloth workers and agricultural labourers and the cloth mill at the Courts was prosperous.

In 1822 the first weekly coach service between Bradford and Melksham passed through Holt and two more public houses, the Seven Stars and the Green Dragon, made brief appearances in village life. Holt also had a fair number of schools from the 1830s onwards. In 1831 the threat of cholera led to the formation of a committee, which visited the homes of the poor and enforced cleanliness. As a result there was no outbreak of cholera in the village. Around this time the Rev. Marriott conducted a social and economic survey of the poor. He found that they were earning between four (20p) and fourteen (70p) shillings a week. The largest number (66 plus a few children) worked at the cloth mill at Staverton, 55 in Beaven's Tannery, 22 for farmers and 11 for Mr Davis at the Courts factory. The economic life of Holt was now truly industrial. The factory at the Courts continued working until 1885 and it was pulled down in 1890.

The first Chartist meeting in the county was held in Holt in July 1838, and in 1840 the Holt Radicals formed a fund for the defence of the Chartist, John Frost of Newport. In 1846 the ecclesiastical parish of Holt was formed out of Bradford parish, the railway line through the parish was opened and poor relief was given to those getting less than one shilling and sixpence (7 1/2 p) a week. Beaven's was expanding and Benjamin Sawtell, a feather merchant, was making straw palliasses and this business later became John Sawtell & Co., making Sleepline Beds in the 20th century.

At this time there was also a respected firm of organ builders, Richard Papps & Sons, in the village. In 1861 the Devizes branch line was connected to the main line at Holt and a changing platform, with railway staff, was created.

The industrial workers also enjoyed sport and Holt Football Club was founded in 1864, the earliest club in the county under Association rules. An enclosure act of 1867 enclosed land on the Great and Little Commons, and on Ham Green. In 1873 the Holt Reading Rooms were opened; a billiard room was added in 1893. Holt Railway Station was opened on 1st April 1874 and there were goods facilities there from 1878. The well known landmark, the Ham Tree (an elm), fell in 1884 and is now commemorated in the name of the public house on the Ham. In 1894 Holt became a civil parish with an elected parish council.

Unlike some villages the number of businesses in Holt increased from the 19th century to 20th century as a look at the directories for 1867 and 1907 shows.

There were 8 shops in 1867 - 2 general stores, a linen draper, a grocer, a butcher, a baker, a tailor and a shoemaker who was also the postmaster.

In 1907 there were 10 shops - a general stores, butcher, baker and grocer, grocer and post office, grocer and boot dealer, dressmaker, boot maker and corn dealer, 2 boot and shoemakers and a shopkeeper and newsagent. There were also 2 photographers.

Business and trades in 1867 were Beaven's Tannery, glove factory etc., 2 feather dealers, a cloth mill, a brewer and maltster, 2 carpenters, one smith and a plasterer and tiler.

In 1907 the businesses were Beaven's, Sawtell's bed factory, a laundry, an art metal worker and blacksmith, a carpenter, a painter, glazier and decorator, a plumber, a haulier and a nurseryman.

There were 6 farmers in 1867 and 10 in 1907 and while the three public houses (White Hart, Three Lions and New Inn) were unchanged there was also a coffee tavern in 1907. There was also a resident doctor in the later year.

In the 20th century Holt has expanded greatly with many new houses built in the second half of the century and a new industrial estate created in the Midlands toward the end of the century. Earlier in the century buses from Bath and Calne to London passed through the village on a daily basis. In 1934 part of Bradford and Bradford Without were added to Holt civil parish. Major T C E Goff gave the Courts to the National Trust in 1943 and the gardens have remained open to visitors since then. An auspicious time was November 1961 when the Holt Magazine was launched. It has continued on a monthly basis to the present and has also published some very useful works on different aspects of Holt history.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilHolt Parish Council
Parish Web Sitehttp://holtparishcouncil.gov.uk
Parish Emailclerk@holtparishcouncil.gov.uk

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

Schools: Information on both current and closed schools.

Population 1801 - 2011

Photographs: If images have been added for this community they are available here.: We hold a collection of over 50,000 photographs of places in Wiltshire in the County Local Studies Library. These may be viewed at this library and copies of out of copyright material may be purchased. We can search for a picture of a building or event if you e-mail us with details.

Historical Sources: A select list of books and articles is listed in 'Printed material'. You may go directly to the actual text from some of these.

Printed Material: This is a select book-list for the community but in the case of a town there may be hundreds more books, pamphlets and journal articles.

The full text of some items is available to view on this site.

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.

(opens in new window) Explore Wiltshire's Past web site

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.


Maps: listed are maps on which you can find this community. All maps are Ordnance Survey maps.


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 Holt

Folk Biographies from Holt

Folk Plays from Holt

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, in the parish listed as being of architectural or historic importance is 54. There are 2 Grade II* buildings, the Church of St. Katherine and The Courts.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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

Literary Associations: Some communities have featured in novels or may have been the main setting for a book.

Registration Districts: If you want to obtain a copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate you can contact the local registrar.


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