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Wiltshire Community History

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Potterne

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 Potterne:

Map of the Civil Parish of Potterne

1890s
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:


Potterne lies to the south of Devizes on the A360 road to Amesbury and Salisbury. The village is on Gault and Upper Greensand, between the chalk of the Marlborough Downs and Salisbury Plain. Part of the eastern edge of the parish is on Oxford and Kimmeridge clays. There are two streams in the parish, one in the north flowing eastwards, and one in the south flowing southwards and then eastwards. Little Tree on One Tree (Little Tree) Hill is said to have been planted to commemorate the battle of Waterloo (1815) at the top of Potterne Field, at 145 metres above sea level. It is a place remembered by Potterne 'Lambs' wherever they may be. Potterne people are known as 'Lambs' because of their boisterous and unruly behaviour in the 19th century.

The name Potterne is generally taken to mean 'the building for pots, or where pots were made'. It has been suggested that it could also refer to the 10th century font in the baptistery connected to the Saxon church. This would have been used for people from a large area around Potterne. The community here was important for two or three centuries before Devizes was established.

Finds in the area have suggested Bronze Age occupation in the parish and by the later Bronze Age this was one of the most important settlement sites in the country. It is a midden site that has provided evidence of cattle rearing with seasonal, and possibly permanent, occupation. A late Bronze Age gold bracelet was found in the modern civil cemetery in 1982, and artefacts, including an awl/ tracer tool and part of a bracelet, were found on the north side of the Rangebourne valley, in the grounds of Broadleas House, in 1981. The cattle rearing site was abandoned by 600 B.C. as farming and social practices changed.

The area was occupied in Romano-British times with a small site near Rangebourne Mill, where a ring was found, and some burials about 145 metres north of Blount's Court. The latter indicated a fairly impoverished settlement. Potterne came to prominence again in Saxon times. In the later 8th century the estate was given to the see of Sherborne and become the property of the bishop. A 10th century church lay about 97 metres south of the present church. It was built of wood and was originally very small, with a nave, chancel and baptistery. Later the nave was extended, chapels added on the north and south sides, and a small porch built on the western side. The Saxon font in the present church almost certainly came from this baptistery. After 1058 the see of Sherborne was united with that of Ramsbury to create the bishopric of Salisbury, and there may have been a residence here for the bishop when he visited. The church survived into the 12th century, probably to the mid 12th century.

The Bishop of Salisbury's estate of Potterne, as listed in the Domesday Book (1086), included Worton and Marston, and possibly Poulshot. It was a large and flourishing estate with 40 plough teams working. There were six mills on the estate and the total population would have been between 420 and 460 people. It is probable that between 25 and 300 of these lived in and around the site of the village of Potterne. The village increased in importance during medieval times owing to the bishops of Salisbury. They lost the estate c.1139 during the Anarchy period but it was returned to them in 1148. In the 13th century a manor house was built as a residence for the bishops. This would have housed eminent visitors when the bishop was in residence and was a substantial mansion. There was a park and warren attached to this residence. The bishops' influence can also be seen in the building of a new stone church in c.1250. Blount's Court manor also dates from the 13th century.

Around 1480 the Porch House was built, most probably by the bishops of Salisbury. It is a close studded timber framed house on an ashlar plinth with a single storey central hall and two storey gabled wings. It is a very important timber framed house and the site of the 10th century church is within its garden. In the early 16th century Eastwall was built (it was almost entirely rebuilt in red brick in 1772) and for many years was the home of the Grubbe family. There were now cloth workers in the parish and John Flower of Worton was a prominent clothier in 1550 while there were other clothiers, tuckers, yarnmen and cloth workers in Potterne. There was a village cross in Rooke's Lane and stocks opposite the George. The Long family was settled here by this time and in the 17th century the Grubbes, Rooks and Flowers were the leading local families.

With its close proximity to Devizes, Potterne was affected by the Civil War. In 1643 the Parliamentary general, William Walker, may have billeted his troops here and he certainly carried off supplies. There was an outbreak of plague in 1644, while in 1645 both Walker and Oliver Cromwell quartered troops here. The parish suffered great hardship with loss of possessions and money, while in 1648 the manor was sold by the Commissioners for the Sale of Ecclesiastical Lands. It was returned to the bishops at Restoration (1660).

Some Quakers were persecuted here in the 1670s and 1680s but there seems to have been little other non-conformist activity until the later 18th century. In the 18th century both Whistley House and Court House were built and later, in 1772, Highlands House, the former vicarage, was erected. On 25 January 1753 a Potterne resident, Ruth Pierce, fell dead in Devizes market place in strange circumstances. She had agreed to buy a sack of wheat with three other women and when asked for her share, 4/3d (about 22p), declared that she had already paid it and twice added that 'she wished she might drop down dead if she had not.' She did drop down dead and a jury concluded that she had been struck down dead by 'the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God.' The incident was seized on by moralists and later embellished, including the claim that she held the money in her hand. It is quite possible that she had paid and suffered a heart attack or stroke, which would not have been understood in the 18th century.

In 1793 the King's Arms Club, a friendly society, was formed, and the club feast on Whit Tuesday became an important event in the village calendar. During the 18th and 19th centuries there were several charities to help the poor of the parish, but despite this Potterne men became notorious for hooliganism in the early 19th century. There were outbreaks of cattle maiming in 1816-17 and the village was considered very turbulent. The local paupers bought a copy of Burn's 'Justice' to learn the law, and confuse the magistrates. Villagers later became know as 'Potterne Lambs' in the English habit of giving a nickname that is the opposite of the true characteristics. Later they excelled in work, drinking and fighting and several joined the army and navy. There is a record of a local skimmington, a Begging Day on 21 December was instituted and all village occasions and event, particularly Guy Fawkes' Day, provided opportunities for mischief.

In 1809 Blount's Court was built in the Gothic style by William Stancomb. An inclosure act of 1824 enclosed the remaining open and common lands of Potterne and Marston while the school was built in 1831. Whistley Mill was a snuff mill at this time. There were brickworks in the south of the parish and these were run by the Dunford and Boulter families. Later in the 19th century there were six public houses in the village, the Bell, at the Butts, the Crown at Crown Place, the Upper Organ at School Corner, the Middle Organ (later the King's Arms), the George (later the George and Dragon), and Coleman's at Little End. Three of these had skittle alleys. On the Sunday after 19 September came Potterne Feast with much eating, drinking, skittle playing, quarrels and fighting. The centre was the King's Arms and stalls were set up outside. From the 1870s the feast became regulated by the vicar and was less turbulent. Doubtless the mummers who went out at Christmas also became more respectable. A Temperance Hall was built in 1876 and there was a flourishing movement here that combated drinking and unruly behaviour. The Potterne Temperance Society gave rise to a local Band of Hope and the Potterne Temperance Band.

In 1874-6 George Richmond, a portrait painter who had bought Porch House, restored it with the architect Evan Christian. In 1881 the Manor House, now the headquarters of the Wiltshire Fire Brigade, was entirely rebuilt, while in 1908 the Parish Room was built on the site of an old stone farmhouse. It was given by Miss Ewart of Broadleas. By the late 1930s the Temperance Hall had became the village hall, mains water was supplied by Devizes Corporation and electricity was available. In 1939 there were still a good number of shops and businesses in the village, as well as many farmers in the parish. There was a stationer and Post Office, a ladies' hairdresser, a newsagent, a grocer and three general stores. There were two carpenters, a shoemaker, a boot maker and a saddler. Two mills were still working, a laundry had opened and there was a coal merchant and motor car proprietor. The Working Men's Social Club was flourishing and a regular bus service was available. After the war, and particularly from the 1970s, new houses and bungalows were built in the village but the shops and businesses gradually disappeared.

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

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Potterne

Folk Biographies from Potterne

Folk Plays from Potterne

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, as being of architectural or historical importance is 59. There are 2 Grade I buildings, the Church of St. Mary and Porch House; and 2 Grade II* buildings, the Red House at Eastwell House, and Whistley House.

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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