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Wiltshire Community History

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Semington

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 Semington:

Map of the Civil Parish of Semington

1896
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


From the Ordnance Survey 1896 revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern civil parish boundary has been superimposed


Thumbnail History:


The early history of Semington is closely bound up with that of the ancient parish of Steeple Ashton, of which it formed a part within Whorwellsdown Hundred. In 1894 the tithings of Semington and Littleton, together with the parish of Whaddon, were brought together as the new civil parish of Semington. Whaddon has subsequently been transferred to the civil parish of Hilperton.

Semington lies two miles south of Melksham to the north-east of the ancient parish of Steeple Ashton in the valley of Semington Brook, which rises on Salisbury Plain and joins the River Avon at Whaddon. The soil here is Oxford Clay, although Semington village itself is at the eastern end of a low ridge of cornbrash which extends westwards to Trowbridge. Semington Brook formed part of the northern boundary of the ancient parish. The 13th century Selwood Forest eyre rolls indicate that Semington was one of the villages represented at forest inquisitions; from a date prior to 1322 Whaddon was also recorded as lying at the north western boundary of Selwood Forest. Semington Brook also formed part of the southern border of the Forests of Chippenham and Melksham declared in 1228. Earlier habitation in the area is indicated by the discovery of Romano-British pottery fragments near Whaddon.

The main road from Trowbridge to Devizes runs from west to east through the civil parish of Semington and crosses with the Melksham to Westbury road to the south of the village itself. Both roads were turnpiked in the 1750s. The latter was disturnpiked in 1870 and the toll-house located at the crossroads “near a place called the Ragged Smock in the tithing of Semington”, as cited in a document of the same year, has passed into private ownership. In recent years the A350 Westbury to Melksham road has been re-routed and taken out of the village, which is now restricted to local traffic only. The new road is to the east of the village and a new aqueduct was built to carry the Kennet and Avon Canal over this road.

In 964 A.D. the manor of Ashton belonged to King Edgar. This manor included the whole of the ancient parish of Steeple Ashton and also the lands contained in the modern parishes of North Bradley and Southwick. There is no record of Edgar's disposal of the manor but in 967 he refounded Romsey Abbey and it has been assumed that he gave or bequeathed the manor to the Abbey, which still held it in 1086 and remained in possession of it until the Dissolution. At this time the manor was assessed at 40 hides (approx. 4,400 acres) of which tenants of the abbess held 8 hides (approx. 880 acres) and 12.5 hides (approx. 1400 acres) were in demesne. Semington, itself, was not recorded in Domesday and reliable estimates of population at this time are not possible.

In 1086 lands in the manor of Steeple Ashton were held by an English tenant, Alric, at a rent of 1 shilling. In the early 12th century this land, together with a hide of land in Ashton, Edington and Bradley, was leased to a knight named Herlewin. In approximately 1170 the Abbess Juliana confirmed these and other lands to Richard, grandson of Herlewin; the land included 1 hide (approx. 110 acres) in Semington, 1/2 hide (approx. 55 acres)in Ashton, 1 1/2 virgates (approx. 45 acres) in Edington and also land at Feltham. In the mid 13th century at least some of these lands were held by Peter FitzMichael of Semington and subsequently by his widow Alice. It is likely that the Semington lands passed to the Tinhead family: John of Tinhead held a yardland in Semington in 1281 and a larger estate there was held by another John of Tinhead and his wife Margaret. By the middle of the 15th century lands which had been held by the daughter of this latter couple together with her husband Robert Selyman were held by Robert Long, who was the first member of this family to hold Wraxall. The manor of Steeple Ashton remained the property of the Abbey until 1539 when it passed to Sir Thomas Seymour and was subsequently forfeited to the Crown in 1549. By 1632 the manor had been purchased by Walter Long of Whaddon and it continued in the Long family's ownership until the 20th century. Parts of the family estates in Semington and Great Hinton were sold in 1911 and most of that remaining in Steeple Ashton in 1930.

Walter Long also held another estate in Semington and these two properties were first called the manor of Semington in 1522. It descended in the Long family to Sir Robert Long, who succeeded his father Sir Henry in 1556. In 1557 Sir Robert renewed a lease of the manor to a Semington farmer, Thomas Long, but by 1591 the freehold had been sold to the lords of the manor of Melksham, the Brouncker family. Henry Brouncker sold the manor house of Semington together with a substantial amount of land to a John Lowe of Orcheston St. Mary who bought two further properties there. After his death in 1632 Lowe's estate descended by inheritance and settlement to George, Baron Rivers, in whose possession it was in 1780. By 1800 it had been sold to the Duke of Somerset and in 1838 the estate consisted mainly of Manor Farm, Church Farm and Littleton Wood Mill Farm - a total of some 350 acres.

In the mid-16th century a large proportion of the land in the ancient manor of Steeple Ashton was composed of open fields in which arable farming took place. In Semington the open fields were Down Field to the west of the village, Middle Field and South Field between the Hilperton road and Hag Hill. However, Semington was fairly extensively enclosed by the end of the 16th century and by 1813 when Steeple Ashton was enclosed by Act of Parliament, only two small areas of open-field arable near the Hilperton road and some common meadow near the Brook were unenclosed.

The most prominent landowner in Semington after enclosure was the Duke of Somerset whose estate of approximately 350 acres was one of the most sizeable properties in the wider parish of Steeple Ashton by 1844. At this point arable farming constituted just over 30 per cent of the total area of Steeple Ashton parish. This took place primarily on higher ground and only 16 per cent of the land was employed in arable farming in Semington. Pasture and meadow - primarily for sheep farming which had been increasing in the area from the late Middle Ages - constituted over 55 per cent of land usage in the parish as a whole and was the pre-eminent type of farming in Semington itself.

In the Middle Ages Littleton Mill was a copyhold tenement of the Abbess of Romsey's manor of Steeple Ashton. In 1340 it was held by Thomas Shepherd and known as Stikeberd's Mill after a former tenant, Thomas Stikeberd, who lived at Littleton in 1262. In the mid-14th century it was held by Christine Passion. By 1495 it was a fulling mill; at this date it was let for 95 years to Robert Long, whose wealth like that of other prosperous clothiers contributed to the building of Steeple Ashton church. The lease was then assigned in 1545 to another prominent clothier, Anthony Passion, who settled it on his wife, Edith. In 1560 information was laid in the Court of Exchequer against George Drinkwater, clothier, who was operating in Semington, in contravention of an act of 1555 which sought to restrict the number of looms owned by clothiers outside towns. Drinkwater's defence was that he had not initiated the clothmaking industry in the area. Drinkwater was Edith Passion's second husband and engaged in a dispute regarding the mill with Anthony's son, William. In 1551 the freehold of the mill and nearby land had been granted by the Crown to Sir Thomas Wrothe; by 1604 it belonged to Thomas Somner, described in 1608 as a clothier. At the time of Thomas Somner's death in 1631 the mills were known as "Passion's Mills". In 1652 the mill property was described as comprising two fulling mills, a grist mill and some 44 acres of land. Ownership in the 18th century passed to members of the Hippesley, Goddard families and Awdry families. In 1790 it was comprehensively renovated and became known as Littleton Wood Mill. Shortly afterwards it was acquired by Francis Naish, a clothier of Trowbridge, whose introduction of gig and shearing frames led to an attack on the mill on the night of 21 July 1802 by a number of Trowbridge shearmen. Thomas Hilliker (or Helliker), aged 19, was arrested, charged and executed at Salisbury for his alleged role as ringleader in the attack, having been identified solely by Ralph Heath, the lessee of the mill who was present at the time of the attack. Hilliker's body was brought back to Trowbridge by his many supporters and buried in the parish churchyard. Both at the time and in the many years that have followed Hilliker's execution it has been maintained that he was wrongly convicted and executed. The rebuilt mill continued to operate in the hands of a succession of new owners until the late 20th century.

Other industries in Semington included a small dye-house, offered to let in 1746 by its owner, Maurice Jarvis of Trowbridge. A brickyard, recorded in the censuses from 1851 to 1901, existed at Penny Platt, in Semington. The researches of the Semington History Project Group indicate that after 1903 the site was occupied by a pottery. When the clay seam at the premises was finally exhausted the site was used by Avon Rubber Company as a disposal site for waste rubber, which would periodically self-combust and require the attendance of the Fire Service.

The kennels of the Avon Vale Hunt, established in 1888, were located in Semington on land near The Knapps, which is now part of the industrial estate, until the mid-1980s when they were moved to Spye Park.

The construction of the Kennet and Avon Canal was authorised in 1794 and was planned to provide a navigable link between Newbury and Bath, linking with the Thames at Reading and with the River Avon to Bristol. The section from Foxhangers below Devizes to Bath, which included the construction of a wharf at Semington, was completed by 1804 and the canal was opened throughout its length in 1810.

The Wilts and Berks Canal was also under construction during the same years; authorised in 1795 it too was completed in 1810. The route of the canal from a junction with the Kennet and Avon at Semington went to Swindon, this length being completed by 1804, and then on to Abingdon.

Traffic on the Kennet and Avon Canal largely carried coal from the Somerset coalfield which had been brought on the Somersetshire Coal Canal to a junction with the Kennet and Avon at Limpley Stoke. Coal from the Gloucestershire coalfield was also brought to the Bristol Avon and thence to the Kennet and Avon by means of horse tramroads. Coal was carried eastward and unloaded at wharves along the route of the canal. At Semington barges could enter the Wilts and Berks Canal and cargo could be landed at wharves along its route or on the Thames. In addition to coal, cargo carried on the two canals included stone for road-making, salt, bricks, timber, roofing material for building and manure for the land. Cargo carried away from Semington and other Wiltshire wharves included corn, cheese and other produce. Grain from Avonmouth continued to be brought by canal barge to Littleton Mill until the growth of motor transport in the 20th century. The Kennet and Avon Canal closed in 1932 and the Wilts and Berks, apart from the Swindon section, in 1914.

Apart from the slow cargo boats fly, or express, boats operated on both canals carrying light merchandise. Passengers were also carried. Consequently, from the commencement of construction of the two canals Semington was opened up to aspects of the country's process of industrialisation. The body of navvies employed to build the canals would no doubt as elsewhere have included local labourers, some involved only in the construction of the local stretch of canal - and perhaps leaving the work to join harvest gathering - and others who moved to the next stage of construction of this, or other canals. Similarly, exposure to a direct line of communication and trade with other communities brought its own commercial and social influences until the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway opened in 1848 and traffic on the canals declined. Between the years 1801 and 1841 the population of Semington and Littleton rose by more than 100 percent, from 265 to 570 people, although the latter figure includes the inmates of the Melksham Union workhouse.

The Melksham Poor Law Union, constituted as a result of the Poor Law Act of 1834, comprised the parishes of Melksham, Semington, Hilperton, Seend, Trowbridge and Whaddon. Construction of the workhouse was proposed in 1836 and plans were drawn up by Henry Edward Kendall, a founding member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The building, completed in 1839, fulfilled the function of a workhouse until after the Second World War when it became a hospital for geriatric patients. The hospital closed in 1988 but part of the premises continued to be used as a day care centre. At the end of the century the site was sold and the buildings have been converted into flats, known as 'St. George's Court'.

Elsewhere in Semington early development took place predominantly alongside the main road from Melksham to Westbury: The former Bell Inn, now a private residence, was first referred to in the will of William Stokes of 1710. A document in the archives of the Duke of Somerset refers to premises known as the 'Sign of the Bell, formerly the Ragged Smock'. The significance of this reference is somewhat mysterious given that, as noted above, map references to the Ragged Smock indicate its location at the crossroads south of the village. The Somerset Arms, a former coaching inn, dates from the 18th century. Nearby houses date from the 17th and 18th centuries while Semington House and Highfield were built by 1811. The oldest houses in the village are in Church Street; numbers 26-27 were apparently once a single house and have been dated to the mid-16th century. They are of timber-framed construction with, in the interior, carved and moulded beams. Manor Farmhouse, in Church Street, has been dated to the late medieval period; it was altered in the 17th and 19th centuries. Church Farm is assumed to date from the late 16th century; it is partly timber-framed although its exterior is of stone. In the High Street the Manor House is inscribed with the date 1698. Besides Littleton Mill described above, which now functions as a dwelling, Littleton Mill House was the residence of the Mill owner or lessee and dates from the late 18th century.

Church Street is also the location of a number of council and former council houses dating from the interwar years. Further council houses were built elsewhere in the village after the Second World War.

During the war years themselves, Semington lay on an important anti-invasion line of defence. An anti-tank trench was dug around the south of the village, starting at Semington Brook to the east and ending at the canal to the west. Concrete bollards and pillboxes were also built and the remains of a few of the latter are still visible. Evacuees from London arrived to be lodged with local families and to join with local children in the school. Nearby Melksham camp accommodated both British and American Air Force personnel and aircraft and gliders operated from Keevil airfield. Semington also maintained a Home Guard unit.

From the 1960s Semington has experienced further housing development and population growth. At 1991 the population was 770. It is clear, however, that this expanded community sustains a considerable number of social, educational and religious organisations.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilSemington Parish Council
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Population 1801 - 2011

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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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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Semington

Folk Biographies from Semington

Folk Plays from Semington

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 32. There are no Grade I buildings and no Grade II* buildings.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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