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Wiltshire Community History

Berwick St. John Search Results

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Berwick St. John

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

Map of the Civil Parish of Berwick St. John:

Map of the Civil Parish of Berwick St. John

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.

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:

Berwick St. John lies between Tollard Royal to the south and Donhead St. Andrew to the north west. It is 14 miles south-west of Salisbury, six and a half south from Tisbury Railway Station and six miles east from Shaftesbury. The small community has been home to a pioneering anthropologist and archaeologist, a royal and society photographer and Oscar winning designer, a film director and producer, and an internationally acclaimed singer.

The parish, roughly 1,849 ha. (4,569 a.) in size, lies on the Wiltshire-Dorset border at the head of the Ebble valley. Easton Bassett, lying between the two main parts of the parish, was transferred from Donhead St Andrew paris, to Berwick St John in 1885, although the order was first announced a year earlier.

The parish is mostly chalk downland, with ridges and valleys throughout, especially in the western part, around Ashcombe House; in the centre of the parish, around the village, the land is flatter, and covered in greensand outcrops (a sandstone flecked with a dark-green clay mineral glauconite). The Chalke stream runs through the parish, from a spring high in the hills, disappearing underground as it leaves the parish. The drainage area of the Ebble and Nadder, formed by the east -west ridge which runs throughout the entire parish, covers the western section of the parish. The parish itself forms an inverted U-shape, with the shorter Western part extending for five kilometres, the Eastern part - the larger, broader part - extending for 7 kilometres. The boundaries of the parish had been established by the late 11th century, especially those around the south-eastern edge, the north-western edge, and around Easton Bassett; these were also the boundaries of the Chalke estate. However, by the early 13th century, the parish had been divided from the rest of the Chalke estate. The old parish boundary followed many physical features, particularly the stream, on the north-west boundary of Easton Bassett, ridges at White Sheet Hill and Win Green, and dry valleys at Rotherley Bottom and east of Winklebury Hill; at the south east boundary, ancient roads ran alongside it, also delineating the county boundary. On Woodlands Down, the eastern boundary is marked by a ditch.

Winklebury Hill, sometimes known as Vespasian's camp, allows views of the surrounding area, including areas of Dorset, the downs, and Hampshire; and sometimes as far as the Needles, off the Isle of Wight.

There are many ridges and valleys, with the steepest valleys being the small south-facing ones south of the east-west ridge, Rotherley Bottom, which, along with Ashcombe bottom, is where the lowest land lies; both places being less than 107m above sea level. The highest point, however, is on the western corner of the parish, at Win Green, where the land reaches 277m; the second highest point is Winklebury Hill, at over 260m.

There is a great deal of evidence in the parish of prehistoric activity, including several Neolithic tools, among them axe heads. Many of the sites, especially those in the south-east area of the parish, were excavated by Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, a man who is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of modern archaeological methods, and who owned Rushcombe House. There are many examples of Bronze Age artifacts and sites in the parish; among them, South Lodge Camp, 1 km. south of Rushmore House, which is a square enclosure from the late Bronze Age; Barrow Hill, where there's a possible Bronze Age barrow, a smattering of artifacts from the Pleck Group, including several barrows; an arrowhead and burial site on Rotherley Down; a tool found in a pond in Rushmore Park; a saucer barrow South of Winklebury, and many more from throughout the parish. There are many other finds from other periods, including an Iron Age fort found at Winklebury Camp, where an unfinished Belgic fort was semi-built. There are also many Saxon finds, including a cemetery south of Winklebury Camp, where most of the Saxon finds were discovered, and a farmstead with Saxon origins at Easton Farm.

Throughout the centuries, the flatter ground east and west of the village was usually ploughed, with much of the downland and the steeper valleys used for pasture. The majority of the economy was based around farming for much of the known period, with sheep composing a large portion of the animals introduced to the pastures; most farmers also owned cows and draught beasts, usually horses of varying breeds. The right to hold a weekly market was granted to the lord of Bridmore manor in 1303, and a mill at Berwick St. John is mentioned in 1502; however, no other record of either market or mill has been discovered. Between 1718, and 1748, the clockmaker William Monk worked out of Berwick St John - he's thought to have either built, or renovated, the clock found in the church tower.

The southern areas of the parish were, and are, heavily wooded. Chase Woods, a large area of woodland that extended beyond the parish boundaries, and comprised the largest area of woodland of Cranborne Chase to survive, had around 350 hectares in the south east corner of the parish. The only other major area of woodland, around Ashcombe Bottom, was 50 hectares in size; in the late 16th and early 17th centuries there was a warren at Ashcombe Bottom. Win Green, an area that straddles the boundary of Berwick St John and Donhead St Mary, was purchased by the National Trust in 1937.

Lords of Cranborne Chase, as in neighbouring parishes, claimed rights of chase and administration of miscellaneous forest laws in the parish; the entire parish lay within the chase's outer bounds, but only the more south-eastern corner was included in the inner bounds, where the rights of chase were absolute. This absolute control was not the same in the lands of Bridmore Manor, or Ashcombe Manor, however, and there were many disputes about this. Around the 17th century, the tenants of Bridmore and Ashcombe claimed rights of free warren, with Bridmore using that as a reason for placing fences to keep out deer. The chase was finally disenfranchised in 1829.

In 1334, when taxed, the parish population was comparatively equal to others in the Chalke hundred, but forty-three years later, the population had fallen to lower than average, at 87 aged 14 or over. In the 16th century, tax assessments echoed those of the late 14th century - they were low, compared to the rest of the hundred. At the turn of the 19th century, the population was 357, rising to 499 in 1861; however, twenty years later, it had fallen to 385 - this decline was more than likely due to young men leaving the area to find employment. The area that was added to the parish in the mid 1880s provided just 41 people to add to the total in the 1891 census when the population was 428, with the number falling after this. Unfortunately, the population never recovered, or reached these numbers again, and throughout much of the 20th century was often around 250-300. At the turn of the century, the total was 250.There were several large houses within the parish, among them Rushmore Lodge. Rushmore was owned by Pitt-Rivers, and much of the interior was altered for him after 1880. He, Pitt-Rivers, created and maintained a menagerie within the park, mostly in paddocks, around North Lodge. Most of the attempts to introduce foreign animals, including reindeer and white peacocks, were unsuccessful, but various attempts at experimental breeding included such cross as yaks and various breeds of cattle. These grounds were open to the public.

Ashcombe was another of the large houses, sited in the cup of Ashcombe Bottom. There were several buildings on the site, with a large house and to north of tha, a stable block, and a smaller house with attached ornamental gardens. The larger house was demolished in the early 19th century, and though the smaller house and stables still stood, they fell into disrepair until they were restored around 1930 by Sir Cecil Beaton, the photographer and artist. He tells this in 'Ashcombe: the story of a fifteen year lease' (1949), During this time the house was a centre fro artistic and literary people. In 2001 the house and estate were bought by Madonna and Guy Ritcie.

George, Baron Rivers, who passed away in 1828, provided a charity fund that, from 1833, set up annual payments of £1 to a penny club, possibly the clothing club, and 10 shilling's worth of coal, to be sold cheaply to the poor of the parish. From 1858 the proceeds went to the school, and from 1902 this went to the Berwick St. John coal club, when the proceeds amounted to £2 10s. In 1840, Philippa Grove gave a third of income from £1,000 to the clothing club, and in 1867, a payment of £7 10s was made. In 1855, the income from £70 was given by Charlotte Downes. The clothing and coal clubs were combined by 1927, when the income from all three charities was £13 7s; this income had risen to £26 in 1987, when occasional payments were made to parishioners. In 1859, Samuel Foot gave £100 for food, fuel, or clothing, to be distributed around the first of January ever year; in 1906, the income of £2 13s was given in money doles to 12 aged or ill parishioners at Christmas. In 1935, William Goodchild left £100 to be combined with the previous payment, and in 1984, the £15 income from both of these was combined with the other charities.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilBerwick St. John Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailrjbpocock@btinternet.com

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Population 1801 - 2011

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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 Berwick St. John

Folk Biographies from Berwick St. John

Folk Plays from Berwick St. John

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 28. There are no Grade I or Grade II* buildings.

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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