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Wiltshire Community History

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Ramsbury

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 Ramsbury:

Map of the Civil Parish of Ramsbury

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:


Ramsbury is a large parish in the eastern part of Wiltshire, straddling the Kennet valley. A small section of the parish boundary forms the county boundary with Berkshire, while Baydon (once part of Ramsbury parish) and Aldbourne lie to the north, Mildenhall to the west, Little Bedwyn and Froxfield to the south, and Chilton Foliat to the east. The Kennet Valley has been an important route between the east and west coasts of the country and also provides substantial strips of alluvium and gravel. The rest of the parish is chalk, overlaid with extensive (for Wiltshire) deposits of clay with flints. To the north of the Kennet there are ridges of chalk downs rising to 216 metres at Marridge Hill, 198 metres on the boundary with Aldbourne and 183 metres at Eastridge. To the south are more traditional downs with a steep incline from the river valley, and fairly level with undulations on the top. The lowest point in the parish is at 107 metres on the river near Littlecote, while a valley, cut into the downs northwards, has been created by the stream from Aldbourne.

This area is good for agriculture and has long been a rich farming parish, divided into several manors and estates. There were five or six mills along the Kennet, grinding local corn. The village of Ramsbury lies to the north of the Kennet, slightly to the west of the centre of the parish. There are other settlements along the valley, most notably Axford in the east and other small hamlets and settlements on the downs in the north and south. Red brick is the main building material, although in smaller houses it is sometimes used in bands with flint, or as dressings to mainly flint construction. In places there are some thatched timber framed houses of the 17th century, and it seems likely that it was mainly timber framed houses that were destroyed in fires in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today Ramsbury is an attractive and prosperous large village that has grown considerably during the 20th century.

There does not appear to be any concentration of finds or remains that would indicate any lengthy settlement or activity in prehistoric times. In the Iron Age the hill fort at Membury was strongly fortified and it would seem likely that there was a settlement near by. The Romans found the area very favourable to them and there was much settlement and farming in the area. Romano-British artefacts and field systems have been found on the Baydon border, indicating a settlement in the north, and it is likely that a settlement at Membury continued through from the Iron Age. There was a substantial villa, now fully excavated, at Littlecote, other villas at Rudge and Crowood, and possibly others yet to be discovered in the area. The Roman road at Ermin Street runs from south east to north west, just to the north of the parish. It is possible that there was a settlement on the present village site.

Definite evidence of a settlement at Ramsbury comes from the 5th or 6th centuries with the Saxons. In all there were seven Saxon settlements in this part of the valley; from west to east they were Axford, Park Town, the palace of the Bishops of Ramsbury and the manor house of Axford, Ramsbury Knighton and Thrupp. There was an iron foundry in what is now the High Street in the 8th century and a large Saxon church by the 9th century. The bishopric of Ramsbury was established by 909 and there may have been a bishop's palace in the village itself before one was built on the present site of Ramsbury Manor. The bishop's estate here was the second largest non-royal estate in Saxon Wiltshire and the church became a cathedral church with the establishment and officials of a small cathedral. The bishopric was ended in 1075 when it was included in the bishopric of Salisbury. The downland settlement of Hilldrop is also likely to have originated in the Saxon period.

We gain a good picture of the extent of Saxon settlement and farming here from the Domesday Book of 1086 - all figures include Baydon. There were 90 hides of land, 30 of them owned by the lord of the manor. In these 30 hides only eight ploughs were working, indicating that much of the land around the bishop's palace was not farmed. There were 54 plough teams altogether, 29 belong to tenants, 11 to the priests and other landholders, and six to the tenants of the priests. A total of 151 people are mentioned on the whole estate and this would have given a population in the region of 680 to 740. However with the priests, palace officials and others the total could have been nearer 800. It would seem reasonable to suppose that half of these would have lived in the village.

The estate remained in possession of the bishops of Salisbury and it was one of their favourite places, often visited for rest and hunting. The bishop was running a market in 1219 but there was a conflict with that of Marlborough and although it was allowed to continue it probably expired in the 14th century. Two annual fairs replaced it and the High Street was probably both the market place and venue for the fairs. By the 13th century there was a hamlet of Park Town associated with bishops' palace to the west of the village. The Park and its palings probably bordered the western edge of the village. The bishops continued to stay frequently at the house and park until the 16th century. The village itself was growing with burgage plots and houses extending both east and west of the church along the High Street from the early 13th century. The settlements of Whittonditch, Upper Whittonditch, Preston and Ford were established along the valley from Knighton towards Aldbourne.

By the 14th century there were many settlements in the parish, and in 1377 there were over 400 poll tax payers (aged over 14). Ramsbury had burgage plots, tradesmen and craftsmen and, with a High Street and a Back Lane had the appearance of a small town with a small square formed at the junction of these two roads with Oxford Street and Scholard's Lane. Oxford Street was an early 14th century expansion of the High Street, to the north east, and had been built up by the mid 15th century. The hamlets of Marridge Hill and Eastridge were set up and it is noteworthy that there was a large number of manors and estates in the parish. Cloth making was present in the 14th and 15th centuries, with a fulling mill on the river. A chantry established in 1475, and continuing until 1548, also provided schooling in Latin grammar for poor boys.

During the 16th century the village continued to expand eastwards, encouraged by the bishops of Salisbury from their house and park in the west. In the far eastof the parish Littlecote House was rebuilt for William Darell in 1583-5. By the 17th century there were houses in Mill Lane and in the western part of Back Lane while the village had all the trades relating to agriculture that you would expect to find in a large village. Principal among these was leather working with curriers, tanners, boot and shoemakers, and glovers. There were also malthouses and a candlemaking industry. It may have been one of these industries that caused an extensive fire in 1648 when the houses of 130 families were destroyed.

By this time the lords of the manor were the Earls of Pemborke, who were Parliamentarians, and thus Ramsbury stood for Parliament whereas Marlborough was Royalist. Oliver Cromwell stayed at Ramsbury Manor in 1649 and the appointed clergy in Ramsbury church were Puritan. After the restoration in 1660 this led to the curate, Henry Dent, being ejected. He set up a dissenting movement and a school in the parish and probably sowed the seeds for a larger number of non-conformists and chapels than occurred in most Wiltshire downland parishes. A road map of 1675 shows that the main London to Bath road passed through the village and it seems likely that a coaching inn would have been established here. In 1681 work began on the building of the present Ramsbury Manor, although the mid 17th century stables from the earlier building remained.

The village continued to grow in the 18th century and Tankard Lane and Blind Lane became built up. The large houses of Ramsbury Hill (main block early 18th century), the Cedars in Scholard's Lane and Kennet House in the High Street were built, as was the southern half of the Old Mill. A range of smaller houses and cottages were also erected. By the mid 18th century the Bell and the Bleeding Horse were strategically established at the eastern and western ends of the High Street and Back Lane respectively. Other licensed premises were the Angel (High Street), the Castle, later the Windsor Castle, (The Square), and the Swan (High Street). More houses were built at Newtown, thus named in 1781, at the eastern end of the village. In 1775 the park and grounds at Ramsbury Manor were improved; this work included the building of the artificial lake and the demolition of Park Mill. The community suffered a second fire in 1781 when 40 houses (many in Back Lane that were not replaced), five barns, a tanhouse, and malthouse were destroyed. By the 1790s Ramsbury had a successful brewing industry and beer was exported to London.

During the 19th century most houses and cottages built were replacements of earlier buildings, especially in the High Street, the Square and Oxford Street. By the early 19th century the Burdett Arms (named after the lord of the manor) and the Malt Shovel were in the High Street; these may have been new names for the Angel and the Swan. There were changes outside the area of the village with Hilldrop Farm, being built on the site of Hilldrop Manor that had existed from the 13th century. At the Manor Sir Francis Burdett was a liberal landowner, who was imprisoned twice for attacking the government over their repressive measures, including the Peterloo massacre of 1821. In 1832 he was one of the main instigators of the Great Reform Act. By 1830 the two medieval fairs were being held as a cattle fair on 14 May and a hiring fair on 11 October, later both were cattle fairs. By this time there were five private day schools and three Sunday schools; for a village of its size Ramsbury has had a wide range of schools from the latter part of the 17th to the mid 19th century.

The advent of threshing machines caused much unrest and disturbance in southern
England. In 1830-31 farm labourers from Aldbourne and Ramsbury rioted against the machines and several fires occurred. In 1835 the Hungerford and Ramsbury Poor Law Union was set up and the building of a new workhouse at Hungerford led to the closure of the Ramsbury workhouse and blind house in 1836. The 1840s saw the onset of rural depopulation locally with labourers moving to Swindon to seek employment in the G.W.R. works.

In 1846 the Provident Union Building and Investment Society was established, largely by local non-conformists. It became the well-known Ramsbury Building Society in 1925 and its working headquarters remained in the village until 1982. In 1985 it became the West of England Building Society and was later taken over by the Portman Building Society. In the 1850s the brass and iron foundry of S. T. Osmond began business at Newtown and continued there until the First World War. Also in the mid 19th century the Waldrond's sheep farming venture in the Falkland Island and Patagonia began and some Ramsbury families went to the southern tip of South America. Watercress was grown in the parish from the 1860s until the 1980s. More public houses appeared with the Crown, so called in 1878 but later known as the Crown and Anchor, in Whittonditch Road, and the Boot open by 1892, in Scholard's Lane. Towards the end of the century the Town Mill closed down, while the mill in Mill Lane closed in the early 20th century. In 1895 the first Ramsbury parish council was elected and the Ramsbury Rural District Council constituted.

At the opening of the 20th century the population of the parish was 1,779; village shops included a fishmonger, two butchers, a draper and outfitter, three grocers, a provision dealer, a grocer and baker, , a draper, a stationer and post office, a furniture dealer, a stationer, a tailor, three bakers, a general dealer, and a saddler and ironmonger. Craftsmen and small business included, carpenters, a wheelwright, a leather cutter, a basket maker, a bricklayer, a miller, a glazier and painter, a furniture dealer, an oil dealer and blacksmiths. There were also several farmers and various professions were represented. Of these men the parish sent 331 to the First World War; 65 did not return. The building of the first council houses, in 1920-22, in Whittonditch Road rewarded those who did. In 1923 the Church House was converted into a library, reading rooms, billiard room etc. The same year saw epidemics of both scarlet fever and diphtheria in the village. In 1925 locally generated electricity was used for street lighting while in 1926 the Memorial Hall and Cross were completed. In 1929-30 the Wessex Company took over the provision of electricity; they became the Southern Electricity Board in 1949. Two rural district councils merged in 1934 to become the Marlborough and Ramsbury R.D.C. The May (cattle) Fair ceased in 1939 but between 1939 and 1940 a water supply scheme was built for the village.

During the Second World War 400 acres of flat land between Elmdown Farm and Park Farm was used as an RAF airfield. From 1943 it was home to No. 11 Troop Carrier Command of the USAF and hangers and a camp were built. After the war it was briefly used by RAF Transport Command and Fighter Command, being finally returned to private use in 1955. A local pottery industry was present in the village from 1946 to 1967. Many houses were built after the war, helped by the installation of a mains sewerage system between 1949 and 1955. Council houses were built in Chapel Lane and a total of 70 in Knowledge Crescent and Hilldrop Close. An old people's home and 29 council houses were built in the High Street in 1952, while private houses were later built in the north of Back Lane. In all 83 private houses were built in the 1970s including Ashley Piece (started 1972), the Paddocks (1975), Orchard Close, Tankard Lane and Crowood Lane. However the October Fair, which had been a pleasure fair only from 1946, ceased in the 1950s.

A new fire station was built in the High Street in 1970 and the village was converted for North Sea gas in 1972. For generations the village was well-known for the ancient wych elm growing in the Square; it had been mentioned in 1752. The Building Society had adopted it as its insignia but in 1983 the tree died. There was much controversy as to whether it should be replaced or left standing. After a village referendum the tree was removed in October 1986 and an oak tree, sponsored by the Building Society was planted in November. The planting involved much local participation, which typifies the good social and community life still enjoyed by the village. Events such as the annual beating of the bounds, 26 miles through river and marsh and over hills, is enthusiastically undertaken by both children and adults.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Emailcustomercare@wiltshire.gov.uk
 
Parish CouncilRamsbury & Axford Parish Council
Parish Web Sitewww.ramsbury.org
Parish Emailparishcouncil@ramsbury.org
 

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

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Population 1801 - 2011

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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.

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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.

 

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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 Ramsbury

Folk Biographies from Ramsbury

Folk Plays from Ramsbury

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 90. There are 4 Grade I buildings, Littlecote House, Axford Farmhouse, the Church of the Holy Cross, and Ramsbury Manor; and 4 Grade II* buildings, Riverside House, Parliament Piece, Crowood House, and the eastern gate and lodge of Ramsbury Manor.

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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