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Wiltshire Community History

Lea and Cleverton Search Results

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Lea and Cleverton

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, 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.

Thumbnail History:

The parish of Lea and Cleverton is situated east south east of Malmesbury and covers an area of approximately 1,600 acres. Although called by the name of two settlements only one has a church, situated at Lea, although there is another at Garsdon, now included in the civil parish. The western boundary is marked by the Bristol Avon, the north and eastern boundaries by its tributary Woodbridge Brook and the southern boundary is marked by the Swindon to Malmesbury road. Two streams flow north through the parish, with an area of Kellaways Sand in between, Oxford Clay is found in the east and Kellaways Clay in the west. The highest land is in the south and reaches 100metres.

The word Lea means wood or clearing in a wood, and Cleverton or Claverdon means clover hill, while Garsdon means grass hill. Most of the land was used for pasture over the centuries, and the parish lay within the boundaries of Braydon Forest.

Although little is known about the early history of the parish, it is thought to have ancient origins due to the simplicity of the parish boundaries and was owned by Malmesbury Abbey before the Norman Conquest, forming part of a large estate owned by the Abbey known as Brokenborough.

Neither Lea nor Cleverton are mentioned in the Doomsday Book. However, Garsdon, which forms part of the parish, was held for Edward the Confessor by a man named Ulueua. It was recorded in the Doomsday Book that at this time Garsdon was made up of 10 acres of pasture and 10 acres of meadow, and contained two mills. It had between 40 and 70 people working on the land.

By the 13th century, some of the abbey's lands were taken away, although Lea and Cleverton still formed part of the abbey's estates. It was at this point that Lea and Cleverton were given individual names. The parishes were also mentioned in the 14th century, when the number of poll-tax payers (over 14 years of age) is recorded; in 1377 Lea had 40 people paying the tax and Cleverton had 55 people.

By 1340 Lea had passed to John Moleyns. It was confiscated in 1341 but restored to him in 1375. By 1439 it was in the hands of Eleanor Moleyns, the wife of Sir Robert Hungerford, Lord Hungerford and Moleyns. In 1460 the couple gave Lea and other manors to trustees to raise money for the release of Sir Robert, who was a prisoner in Aquitaine. Eleanor asked for its return but may not have received it until after 1464. In 1472, she and her second husband, Sir Oliver Manningham, settled the estate on themselves for life. On their death it was meant to go to Eleanor's son, Sir Walter Hungerford. However, it passed to Lord Hastings and then his son, when he died in 1544. He then sold the manor in parcels, and in 1581 gave the lordship and the rest of the manor to Sir Henry Moody.

After the Dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII gave Malmesbury Abbey's whole estate, including Cleverton, to Richard Moody in 1540. This estate, also including Garsdon, passed to Moody's wife on his death in 1550. Following her death in 1556 the estate was inherited by her son Sir Henry Moody, who was also given Lea in 1581. He then sold the whole estate on to Henry Danvers, Earl of Danby in 1634.

After leaving the estate to his nephew, Henry Danvers, on his death in 1644, the estate through marriage eventually passed to Thomas Wharton, Marquess of Wharton. Lord Wharton sold the manor to Thomas Boucher in 1705, and through him it passed to the Fitzwilliam family. In the 19th century it passed to the Herbert family, and in 1916-1917 Reginald Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery sold the estate in portions.

Lea is in the west on sandy soil with the church situated at the junction of Charlton Road and Cresswell Lane. To the east lies Manor Farm, dating from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and Brill's Court is to the south west. This was a large house built in the 17th century and it was replaced by a smaller farmhouse in the 19th century, which has since been much extended. Near Brill Court, and at the junction of the roads leading to the south east and west was a small green, Lea Green, which had buildings along the northern side in the late 18th century. Lea Green was used as a recreation ground in the late 20th century.

North of the church were more farmsteads and houses standing on the edges of the triangular Lea Lower Common. Some survive and include Street Farm and Merton Farm. Many properties were rebuilt in the 19th century creating the layout visible today. New properties at that time included the no-conformist chapel and the school. The Rose and Crown at the south end of the street, mentioned in 1788, was rebuilt in 1891 and a few other new buildings were added in the latter part of the 19th century. Apart from the village hall, in 1934, little development occurred until the late 20th century. A rectory house, private houses and a number of council houses were added, followed later by infilling in The Street, Crab Mill Lane and School Lane.

Cleverton lies to the south east of the parish and in 1773 included a scattered number of farmsteads and cottages along Cresswell Lane, and to the north and south. A cross stood on the junction of the southern lane until c.1840. To the east was a group of buildings known as Old Hill. Two of the oldest farmsteads, Cleverton Manor Farm in Old Hill, and Street Farm in the southern lane, still survive. A non-conformist chapel was built in 1832 just north of Street Farm. South of the hamlet of Cleverton and alongside the wide verges of the Malmesbury to Swindon road was an area known as Cleverton Down which was enclosed in 1806. It had two inns in the mid 19th century, the Crow's Nest and the Travellers Rest. Both closed in the first part of the 20th century.

Other prominent farms were Winkworth Farm, a late 18th century farm, which was later bought by the Newman family, Firs Farm, which was early 19th century, and Westfield Farm. This latter was owned by Lord Wharton in 1685 before eventually passing to Lord Radnor who sold it in about 1820.

In 1882 an Act of Parliament added to the parish the island of land belonging to Little Somerford that was surrounded by Lea and Cleverton lands.

The general population was recorded as 252 in 1801 rising to 371 by 1821 and 446 by 1841. A dip in numbers by 1851, to 414 people, is blamed on lack of available housing, but numbers rose again by 1871 to 494. The early 1900s saw the numbers hover around 400, peaking at 414 in 1921, dipping to 337 in 1931, and rising again to 582 by 1941 when the parish also included Garsdon, which was added in 1934.

An open field system is recorded in the 13th century and in places existed until the 16th century, mainly situated around Lea. A common meadow was located near the field at Winkworth and grazing rights were available on Lea Lower Common, south of Lea on the Upper Common and at Cleverton Down as well as other scattered green areas. The common pastures were enclosed in 1806 and 192 acres were divided into small fields while some small allotments were established on the lane verges.

Malmesbury Abbey's Cleverton estate, records 25 tenants in the late 13th century, with two of them paying half the total rents and the rest described as 'Acremen.' By 1630 there were 33 tenants in Lea and Cleverton. By 1840 there were five farms of 100 acres or more, with only a fifth of each being arable. The parish at this time contained 1,300 acres of pasture, 300 acres of arable and 10 acres of woodland. The main arable crop was wheat and the number of livestock rose by the early 19th century, to nearly 600 cattle and over 1600 sheep. Gradually the pasture was used less extensively through the 20th century with some agricultural land falling out of use by the 1980s.

Crabwell Mill, c1421, was just west of Lea on Woodbridge brook. Crab Mill dates from the 17th century and presumably replaced the earlier Crabwell Mill. Although owned by Sir Henry Moody it did not descend with Lea and Cleverton manor and was owned in 1840 by William Baker. In 1895 it was driven by both steam and water and was prosperous but went out of use in the late 1920s orearly1930s.

The cost of poor relief within the parish increased in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, leading to the building of a workhouse in Creswell Lane in 1806. By 1835 the parish had become part of the Malmesbury Poor Law Union.

The main Swindon to Malmesbury road entered the parish across Cow Bridge. This was turnpiked in 1809 and disturnpiked in 1876. In 1773 a road led north through Lea to Charlton and a number of other roads crossed the parish from east to west and north to south providing reasonable access. The Bristol to Cirencester canal was proposed in the late 18th century but never built. The railway line to Malmesbury was opened in 1877 and crossed the parish near the River Avon.

Garsdon, north of Lea and Cleverton, gets its name from a 'grassy hill,' a north west to south east ridge, rising from 76metres near the church to 110 metres at the eastern boundary. Low land in the south west accommodates two streams which contribute to the Bristol Avon and a third stream in the parish joins Woodbridge brook. Alluvium deposits can be found in the south west and Cornbrash outcrops in the north west. Elsewhere Kellaways Clay and Sand as well as Oxford Clay make up the geology of the area.

Malmesbury Abbey held Garsdon until the Dissolution and in 1543 the Crown granted the manor to Richard Moody whose descendants later sold it to Sir Laurence Washington in 1631. It was then sold to Paul Methuen in 1758, and sold again to Thomas Howard in 1843, Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire. It passed with Charlton Manor to Charles Howard and was sold in the 1930s to A. Butler, then E. Higgins and then to the Refuge Assurance Company in 1986.


Garsdon village is on the ridge along the main east-west road, between Garsdon Manor and the junction with the Charlton to Hankerton road. The church is north of this road and the Manor and Rectory are south of it. Garsdon Mill, north west of the village may have been there since the 13th century. Building development was scattered and included a number of cottages, as well as Hill Farm and Greenhill Farm built in the 19th century at Upper Common. A farmstead and cottages existed at Hazell Heath, and Garsdon Heath Farm was rebuilt in the 19th century.

Two areas of common pasture existed, Whitehill Green and the Heath which adjoined Charlton. Grazing rights also existed in Braydon Forest until it was inclosed in 1630. The Heath was inclosed between 1821 and 1839 and 22 acres of Upper Common a little later. In 1210 stock included 16 oxen, one draught beast, and six cows with rents totalling 16 shillings.

Garsdon Manor was occupied by the Moody and Washington families in the 16th and 17th centuries but the oldest part of the house dates back to the 14th century, although it has been altered considerably over the centuries. Lands belonging to the manor were sold and this included Church Farm, Park Farm and Garsdon Heath Farm. In the early 17th century a cottage was built to use as an almshouse for the poor of the parish and it was recorded in use in 1659 but it had been demolished by 1839. Poor relief stood at £30 in 1776 rising to £242 in 1817 and Garsdon became part of the Malmesbury Poor Law Union in 1835. A charity was established by the will of Lawrence Washington in 1643 which bought bread and supplied cash to the poor of the parish but this charity had been lost by 1834.

In 1377 Garsdon had 55 poll tax payers, and a 16th century tax assessment suggests it was a prosperous parish. By 1801 the population was 143, rising to 234 by 1831 and then declining for the rest of the 19th century. By 1931, 119 people lived in the parish.

Garsdon was predominantly long pasture land with scattered areas of arable land in the south and west, and large meadows beside the streams. Coppices marked the boundaries but most of this timber was cut by the middle of the 18th century and woodland then became sparser. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the farms became fewer and larger and by 1821 there were four farms, namely Park Farm, Manor Farm, Church Farm, and Garsdon Heath Farm. In 1839 there were 700 acres of pasture and meadow and 300 acres of arable. Later in the century the main crop was wheat while cows, sheep and pigs were kept. By the 20th century the farming of sheep had gradually decreased and by the 1980s the proportion of arable land had increased with the emphasis on cereals and rape, while a smaller number of cattle were kept.

Two mills were recorded at Garsdon in 1086 and the early water mill was part of Garsdon Manor, near the western boundary of the parish. In 1950 it was used for the production of animal feed before being converted into a private house. There was a small weaving industry in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and in 1766 a tan yard existed close to the bridge, which later took its name. Bricks, tiles and pottery were produced and in the 1880s the brickworks were owned by J.E. Ponting, a Malmesbury ironmonger. It closed by 1910. Two quarries operating in the 1880s had stopped working by 1911.

The main Oxford to Bristol road ran through Garsdon from east to west, crossing the western boundary stream over Milbourne Bridge in the 17th century, later known as Tanner's Bridge. This road was crossed north to south by the Charlton to Lea road.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilLea and Cleverton Parish Council
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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Lea and Cleverton

Folk Biographies from Lea and Cleverton

Folk Plays from Lea and Cleverton

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