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Wiltshire Community History

Savernake 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 Savernake:

Map of the Civil Parish of Savernake

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 parish of Savernake lies directly south of Marlborough and is largely shaped by the forest situated on the eastern side. Today, the forest largely remains in the same form defined in 1300 when the land was extra-parochial. (an extra-parochial area was a geographically defined area considered to be outside any ecclesiastical or civil parish. They had no church or clergymen and were therefore exempt from payment of poor or church rates and usually tithes.) In the 18th century the western side of the parish was made up of park and agricultural land divided into two tithings (A tithing was an historic territorial unit, originally one tenth of a hundred, and a later sub-division of a manor or civil parish. The term implies a grouping of ten households.); the north of Savernake was the tithing of Selkley Hundred and the south (in position of Brimslade and Cadley) was Kinwardstone Hundred. The forest remained unenclosed as woodland.

In the 19th century the parish went through various territorial changes with many villages, now far from its borders, having once resided within the parish; in the south east land used in common by the men of Great Bedwyn later became part of their parish, as did Tottenham Park. Approximately 1,000 acres of land transferred from Savernake to the parish of Burbage, north eastern land was transferred to Little Bedwyn, and northern land to Mildenhall. The 20th century saw yet more disturbances with 78 acres of Preshute parish transferred to Savernake in 1901, and 32 acres given from Savernake to Marlborough in 1925.

In 1943 North Savernake and South Savernake with Brimslade and Cadley merged to make Savernake Parish measuring c.5,892 acres. Later in 1986 land was shifted again from surrounding parishes such as Fyfield, Milton Lilbourne, Pewsey, Preshute, Wilcot and Wotton Rivers to Savernake, and from Savernake to Burbage, Preshute, and Wootton Rivers. As a result, the parish of Savernake was reduced to c.5,728 acres. St. Katherine's, with its church and school, is now in Great Bedwyn but Clench Common lies just within the borders of Savernake.

Savernake parish contains no villages; the centre is Cadley, recorded as a hamlet in 1700, with a church, vicarage and school built by the Marlborough road in the mid-19th century that is now redundant. Few historic buildings survive with the exception of a 17th century cottage and 19th century estate houses. There has been some modern development on the site. The majority of settlements in the parish stem from isolated farmsteads in the 17th century.

In his Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire (Wiltshire: a history of its Landscape and people 1, Hobnob Press, 2001) John Chandler writes,
'There is no village or important settlement within the modern parish. The centre of medieval forest administration was at Morleigh, which is now Leigh Hill, and the ranger of the unpaled forest had his headquarters at Bagdon Lodge, which was subsequently renamed Savernake Lodge. This house was rebuilt in 1795 by Sir John Soane and burnt down in 1861. The present Savernake Lodge was created in 1910 from the surviving stable block. The imprint of the Ailesbury's taste in buildings may be seen scattered about the forest. Most are of brick and tile, for there was abundant clay for brickmaking on the estate, and many have as decoration bands or designs of gaudily-polychromatic brickwork. There is a spectacular example of 1854 at Cadley. Other interesting buildings are the Savernake Hospital of 1872, which replaced a stopgap building on Forest Hill given by the Ailesbury family in 1866 to provide a cottage hospital (apparently the third oldest such foundation in England) for the local poor. At Cadley, the largest of the forest hamlets, which is strung out along the fast main road, the marquess built a parish church in 1851 and a National school in 1850. Both have now closed, the school in 1939 and the church in 1975. Christ Church, Cadley, was designed by T H Wyatt, and the present building, now a house, was his second attempt, as the 1851 building fell down in 1852 and had to be rebuilt.'

The hamlet of Clench is in Milton Lilbourne parish but Clench Common lies within Savernake parish. There were two cottages here in 1814 and a third by 1844 but by 1886 these had been replaced by two small terraces of four houses each. Around 1855 a room was built as a chapel and school near Compton's Farm and licensed in 1856. The Cadley curate was holding afternoon services here in 1864 attended by 50 people and the room did not close until the early 1960s. The room was being used as a school in 1858 but later use was probably that of a Sunday school.

There are various references to where the name 'Savernake' originates from, with one suggesting it comes from the Old Cornish word 'saran', meaning savour, in reference to a sweet smelling fern found in the forest, or the word 'savhr' (savern-acre) signifying sand or gravel relating to the geographical nature of the land. It does seem to be of British rather than Saxon origin and could come from the name of a stream. Savernake can be traced back to 933-934AD when it was mentioned as 'Safernoc' by King Althestan in connection with grants of lands to the Abbey of Wilton. There is no mention of Savernake in the Doomsday book, suggesting the forest was of little significance until it later became used as a royal hunting ground.

Savernake is abundant with pre-historic finds including a Bronze Age torc, numerous barrows, including a group of eight in the south, Iron Age enclosures in the north and south west, and on the boundary with Marlborough on Postern Hill an Iron Age field system has been recorded. There is possibility of a Roman Settlement at Pantawick in the north east with a hoard of Roman coins found nearby on Granham Hill. In the west of the parish the eastern end of the Wansdyke can be found, thought to have been the boundary between two kingdoms or the last great effort from the Britons to defend the south west of England from the Saxons.

Two Roman roads cross through the parish with one running from Mildenhall to Old Salisbury and the other running between Cirencester and Winchester. At Mildenhall is the Roman station of Cunetio where coins and tessellated pavements have been found. There are also remains of a significant Roman villa at Bedwyn Brail (the second largest in southern England) that may well have been sited on an even older settlement. The Kennet and Avon Canal was built in c.1807 across the south of the parish with two locks; it was officially opened in 1810. In the 1970s the canal was greatly restored throughout Savernake but is now no longer within the parish boundaries. The Berkshire and Hampshire Extension Railway opened in 1862 and runs parallel and to the south of the canal, and again is no longer in the parish. It has been part of the main Exeter to London route since 1906. In 1864 a branch line to Marlborough was built to the west of Savernake Station; this line closed in 1933. In 1818 the new Swindon to Andover Railway line was built across the parish creating a second station at Savernake.

The forest, like all of England, was taken by Duke William of Normandy when he overthrew Harold of England in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Far from the well-defined woodland we know today the forest in 1083 was made up of a series of straggling woods and coppices, linked by wide areas of gorse or heath. It was a rough and uncultivated land until approximately 1300 when new plantations were made. Under William the Conqueror the forest was appointed its first warden in the form of a Norman named Richard Esturmy whose family continued to have responsibility for the forest for the next three centuries. The woodland was used mainly as a game reserve over which William had total domination and could use as hunting ground as he pleased. From the 12th century onwards the forest expanded under the influence and ownership of Norman and Plantagenet kings who liked to have large areas of land in which they could hunt.

In 1427 the wardenship was inherited by the Seymour family. The last of the Esturmy family, Sir William, left no male heir so the wardenship descended through his daughter to her son, John Seymour. The control of the forest became very much a Seymour family affair. Their house, the old Wolfhall Manor near Burbage, was not large or stately, but they lived well enough to feel able to invite even the sovereign to visit, as the King did in 1535. King Henry VIII was in fact a visitor on three different occasions, but these are not accurately documented. Wolfhall was said to have burnt down in the 17th century and was replaced by the present Palladian styled Tottenham House in the 1820s.

On his visit in 1535 it was here that Henry first laid eyes upon Jane Seymour, his third wife. It is reasonable to suppose that Jane Seymour would have assisted her mother in playing hostess to the royal guest: young ladies were seen to advantage in a domestic role of this sort, and it may well be that, enjoying the hospitality of this home of the Warden of Savernake Forest, the susceptible monarch began to take something more than a friendly interest in attentive Jane. The visit coincided with a period when King Henry had begun to entertain doubts as to the faithfulness of Anne Boleyn, who was executed in 1536.

On the day after Anne's death, the King took in marriage Sir John Seymour's daughter, Jane, making her Queen of England and her brother Edward highly influential in court as Earl of Hertford and a member of the Privy Council. Jane died after giving birth to her son Edward VI, and Henry as we know, remarried. Ten years later Henry died, leaving his only son by Jane as King. Due to Edward's young age Jane's brother, Edward Seymour, was summoned to leave Savernake to become king in all but name under the title of 'Lord Protector' of Edward VI at Hampton Court. In 1548 Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, acquired under Letters Patent issued by Edward VI himself to his "well beloved uncle" the full ownership of the estate and the Savernake Forest. Before his death Henry VIII returned to Savernake to hunt; on one occasion in 1539 the king bought with him a retinue of two-hundred people for deer hunting, fox hunting, partridges, hawking, and wild boar hunting.

Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, was the first warden to undertake plantations in the forest after relocating from Wolfhall to the nearby larger Tottenham Lodge, where the main park was positioned. New enclosures were built with "one parke callyd the Great Parke, wherein there is one lodge callyd the Great Lodgr [and] iij other lodges for keepers". This period saw the beginning of a great transformation for the forest, renamed Savernake Great Park, with much of the scrub land cleared and red fallow deer kept amongst the woodland.

In 1549 the Duke was ousted from the Protectorate and executed three years later at Tower Hill "for plotting to usurp the royal authority". He was Savernake's most illustrious warden, and possibly too ambitious. He was succeeded by his younger son, Edward, who inherited most of his father's titles and assets except the dukedom. The earldom of Hertford was which had been forfeited by his father was restored to him in the reign of Queen Mary.

Despite still being called a 'forest', the parkland was covered with rough downland grass interspersed with great patches of bracken and gorse, with natural thickets of bramble and thorn. For every well-wooded area, approximately four acres were of heath. Less than one fifth of the 17th century forest was, in the modern sense, afforested. The mid 17th to 18th centuries saw variations in the size of the forest with deer parks subject to 'dis-parking', whereby sections of the forest were converted to agriculture.The Great Park was broken up by farms, with arable meadows and rough pasture for grazing sheep.

Between 1741and1814, the forest came under the wardenship of Charles Bruce and Thomas Bruce-Brudenell. Lord Thomas Bruce, earl of Ailesbury, had risen in the court as governor to George IV. The Bruce Tunnel, which carries the Kennet and Avon Canal under the estate, is named after him. The earl employed Capability Brown to plant beech avenues in the forest expanding the woodland to over ten times its present size. These modifications included the Grand Avenue running through the heart of the forest today. The forest was now one of the largest areas of virgin land in England, having a continuous wooded area greater than the New Forest.

With the arrival of World War One the necessity for food production meant that a large portion of the Savernake Forest had to be cleared for ploughing and seeding, reducing its size to more or less the current dimensions. As recorded in the school log-books from St. Katherine's, evacuees from London were relocated into the parish increasing the number of young parishioners. During the Second World War the forest survived intact and was used as camouflage for a munitions dump prior to the invasion of the continent. On July 7th 1945 one of the dumps exploded causing extensive damage to St. Katherine's church and school, as well as destroying many homes and farmsteads in the surrounding area. Many living in the proximity were forced to flee having been left homeless from the explosion, significantly lowering population numbers in the parish.

Since 1939 the running of the forest has been undertaken by the Forestry Commission on a 999 year lease from the Marquess of Ailesbury. The private status of the forest is maintained by shutting the forest to the public for one day a year. In the 1950s the forest was replanted with conifers and is managed sympathetically to the preservation and restoration of the woodland.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilSavernake Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Savernake

Folk Biographies from Savernake

Folk Plays from Savernake

History of Buildings: The collections of the Wiltshire Buildings Record are housed in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

Listed Buildings: There are 16 bulidings, or groups of builings, listed as being of architectural or historical importance is 31. There is 1 Grade II* building, Brimslade Farmhouse.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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