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Wiltshire Community History

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Stanton St. Bernard

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 Stanton St. Bernard:

Map of the Civil Parish of Stanton St. Bernard

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:

Stanton St. Bernard is an ancient rural parish, with boundaries that have remained largely the same since 903 A.D. The parish's southern boundaries are marked by the tributary streams of the Christchurch Avon, while in the north they cross Wansdyke and enclose Thorn Hill. The land within these boundaries is long and narrow, reaching from the Vale of Pewsey to the Marlborough Downs. It is notable in that it contains Milk Hill which jointly with Tan Hill in the neighbouring parish of All Cannings is the highest point in Wiltshire. Most of Stanton St. Bernard is over 700 feet above sea level and the village of Stanton sits at 460 feet.

The name Stanton St. Bernards remains a mystery to historians. Stanton is the Saxon word for stone settlement perhaps derived from the Neolithic stone monuments and Sarsen stones within the parish, and while the name has varied, recorded as Stantun in the 903 charters, Stantone in the Doomsday book and Staunton in records from 1402 and 1553 the meaning has always remained the same. However there is no official record of the village being named after a Saint Bernard, and the word saint was apparently first added in the seventeenth century long after the village was first called Bernard (1553 - Staunton Bernard). Historians disagree where this name came from, but many believe it is a corruption of the name Burdon, a family who owned land in medieval Stanton or the name Berners, a family who were given Alton Barnes by William the Conqueror, and possibly both. In its history Stanton St. Bernard has also been called Stanton Abbess at the time when the Abbess of Wilton controlled Stanton and the surrounding lands.

In terms of geology, Stanton St. Bernard lies across the south scarp of Marlborough Downs. This means that the north of the parish consists of chalk outcrops, in three levels (upper, middle and lower). The upper and middle outcrops are overlaid in places by clay with flint, the flint being made use of in prehistoric times for tools and arrows. The chalk drains well meaning there is a lack of surface water and the soil is poor with steep gradients making the area suitable only for grazing. The upper and middle outcrops give way to the lower chalk centre of the parish where the village of Stanton is situated. The probable reason for settlement here is the abundance of springs at no great distance from the village creating fertile arable land and a good water supply, making it a convenient place for a population to thrive. To the south of the village the chalk gives way to the Vale of Pewsey. Here the land is relatively flat and makes good meadowland due to the presence of greensand and alluvium.

Archaeology has revealed evidence that the area in which Stanton St. Bernard is situated was populated in prehistoric times. No building remains have been found in the boundaries of the parish, however simple pots have been pieced together and flint tools dug up in the form of weapons, skin scrapers and wood cutting tools that have been dated to the Neolithic period of 3000 - 4000 B.C. On Milk Hill there is evidence of tool making using the flint from the hill, as off cuts and flint flakes have been found. It is evident from archaeological digs that by 3000.B.C. farming was fully established in Vale of Pewsey to the south of the parish. Stanton lies between two henges, Stonehenge and another at Marden, as well as to the north is Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe. These all date to around the Neolithic period and must have taken a huge amount of manpower to build. It is likely that the people living in the vale were involved. Sarsen stones lie all across Stanton St. Bernard which may have given the parish its name and seem to be markers for a route between Stonehenge and Marden henge.

The Bronze and Iron Ages have also left their mark on the parish. In the highlands to the north of the parish barrows and ditches have been dug up revealing implements such as pulstaves and a swan bone flute dating from the Bronze Age period between 2200 BC and 800 BC. A hill fort typical of forts built elsewhere in the Iron Age has been discovered on the border between Stanton St. Bernard and Alton Barnes and a field system covering 170 acres on Harestone Down and Thorn Hill, as well as pottery sherds and a bronze brooch on Milk Hill have also been dated to the Iron Age period in the Pre-Roman era. Perhaps the most significant find is coinage linking the Vale of Pewsey to the Dobunni tribe, one of the few Iron Age tribes to introduce a coinage system before the Romans arrived in 43 A.D. At this time, the population of England was rising and the country was divided into a number of warring tribes and kingdoms, the Dobunni being one of them.

The Roman invasion of Britain in 43 A.D. probably had little effect on Wiltshire, apart from bringing an end to tribal warfare. Coinage pottery and brooches from the period dug up in the rest of Wiltshire suggest that many of the farms were incorporated into estates to increase food production for the occupying forces and the farmers were made to pay taxes. However the people in the Vale probably profited from being part of the Roman Empire as they were able to trade goods and produce they made and receive goods they were incapable of making in Britain at the time in return. But when the Romans left in 407 A.D. things most likely went back to the way they had been before the invasion.

The Vale of Pewsey played a major role in the post-Roman era, as evidence suggests it formed a battle zone for the Britons defending against incoming Saxon invaders in the 5th and 6th century. The Wansdyke defensive earthworks which cross the border into the north of Stanton St. Bernard have been dated to around this time, possibly by the West Saxons to defend themselves against attacks by the Britons from the north, however this is not certain. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records a battle fought on Walker's Hill at Adam's Grave in the neighbouring parish of Alton Barnes in 592 A.D. where an Anglo-Saxon king called Caewlin was defeated and his army slaughtered as he tried to take over the Vale of Pewsey. Another battle was fought at the same place when two Saxon kingdoms, Wessex in the south and Mercia in the midlands, clashed in the Battle of Ine in 700 A.D. It was in Saxon times that the Stanton St. Bernard as we would recognise it today was established in three royal charters. In 903 A.D. King Edward the Elder, grandson of the famous King Alfred granted 20 cassati of land to Prince Ordlaf, then in 957 A.D. King Eadwic granted it to Bishop Oswulf and this was confirmed by the last charter by King Edgar in 980 A.D. However this period was punctuated by Viking raids and the newly formed district was far from safe. Records show that a large army of marauding Danes reached as far inland as Cannings Marsh in 1010, only a few miles from the boundaries of the parish.

In 1066, William the Conqueror and the Normans invaded and took over the Saxon organisation of settlements including the village of Stanton or Stantone as it was then called. In 1086, the Doomsday survey was taken and gives the historian a valuable insight into how Stantone was run in Saxon times and its size and status at the time. The Doomsday book states that the settlement was under the administration of the Abbess of St. Mary at Wilton. It had probably remained as church property since it was granted to Bishop Oswulf in 957 AD. The Normans allowed the Abbess to keep the land probably because they were very religious and while they were prepared to take all the land from the Saxons they were not prepared to steal it from the church. The Doomsday Book states Stantone consisted of 20 hides (modern equivalent uncertain but probably about 120 acres), which was twelve ploughlands (enough for twelve ploughteams). Ten hides were in demesne (for the abbey's use) consisting of 4 ploughlands and requiring 8 servants (effectively slaves), the rest were farmed by the villagers, which according to the survey numbered in households 16 villagers, and 1 borderer. Twenty one cottagers were occupying eight ploughlands. The Doomsday Book makes the first reference to two water mills, later known as Stoniford and Stanton mills noting they paid 12 shillings and 6 pence tax between them. The book also mentions 60 acres of meadow and 3 acres of alder (woodland) in a block 1 1/2 miles long and three quarters wide, valuing the whole of Stantone at £24, up from £16 the last time it was valued. A manorial system was introduced by the Normans and a steward placed at Stanton by the Abbess of Wilton, where a manor house was built. Ten hides of manor fields surrounded the manor house, and the peasants strip farmed and grazed the rest of the land. Records show that in 1242, Walter of Calstone was given two hides of Stanton's land in return for his military service.

The 14th century was obviously a period of development and prosperity for Stanton, as the manorial system broke up and Stanton became a wool producing village. The prosperity of Stanton in this period is obvious from records that state that when a new tax based on valuation of the personal property of the wealthiest was introduced, Stanton paid £42 as a fifteenth of that personal property, which stood up well amongst the neighbouring settlements. The poll tax of 1377 (a blanket tax, the same for the rich and poor) also showed Stanton to be growing and prosperous as according to records 76 residents (aged over 14) paid 4d as was demanded. Everyone who was not a registered beggar had to pay this tax.

Stanton remained in the hands of the Abbey of St. Mary's at Wilton until 1539, when the abbey was closed by royal commissioners due to corruption and debt. The parish was handed to a favoured courtier William Herbert, who was made the Earl of Pembroke in 1551, by Edward VI. The Earl ordered a survey of his estates to be completed in 1567, giving the historian a detailed picture of what Stanton was like at the start of the reign of Elizabeth I. The survey stated that there were 84 acres of communal woodland belonging to the village of Stantun, but no indication is given about the ordinary population's numbers or status. One William Unwyn held 385 acres of land and pasture rights for 600 sheep, paying 51 shillings and 6d rent a year. A Thomas Moyle held Stoniford Water Mill and 30 acres and copyholder Richard Hamlen held the Stanton Water Mill and 146 acres. The Hamlens held onto the mill until the nineteenth century. Anthony Prater appears to be another important land owner at Stanton holding 280 acres in the common fields and the rights for 1,000 sheep on Milk Down, as well as 22 oxen. Altogether 3,265 sheep, 88 draught animals, 77 pigs and 228 livestock were recorded as the possessions of the residents of Stanton. Around this period changes were occurring in the village as cottages were rebuilt with chimneys and hearths, instead of fires in the middle of the rooms.

In the 17th century the civil war between the parliamentarians and the royalists came close to Stanton. In 1642, the 5th Earl of Pembroke, who controlled Stanton, sided with the parliamentarians. The villagers of Stanton were probably compelled to pay tax to the Royalists while the Royalists were defending Devizes from a parliamentary assault, as records show the neighbouring villagers of Alton Barnes were. The nearest the war came was a skirmish at Alton, when the Parliamentarians captured two hundred royalists and wagons of supplies. The year 1634 in the 17th century is the first time any kind of schooling was recorded to be happening in Stanton. The record of the Visitation of 1634 records schooling was going on in the church chancel.

The 18th and 19th centuries were a period of upheaval and change for the parish of Stanton St. Bernard. In 1803, the Kennet and Avon Canal reached the parish, crossing it and the digging of this required huge manpower providing employment for many of the men in the parish. The canal created opportunities for the residents of the parish which they were quick to take advantage of opening the Barge Inn (the only public house in Stanton St. Bernard) in 1810 to cater for boatmen and horses dragging the canal boats, however in 1859 the inn burnt down and had to be rebuilt. In 1830, the industrial revolution brought unrest to Stanton St. Bernard, as farm labourers were replaced by threshing machines. Many parishioners lost their jobs and their only source of income. A mob formed and began smashing up threshing machines all across Stanton into Woodborough. There the Yeomanry Cavalry, which had been stationed in Devizes in anticipation of unrest, caught up with them, and using force, broke the mob up arresting 28. The early nineteenth century brought a steady decline to the Kennet and Avon Canal, as the Great Western Railway arrived at Stanton, in the form of the Devizes branch line crossing the south of the parish. The railways could move goods faster and more efficiently so the canal was no longer needed.

Throughout the 19th century structural changes occurred in the village. The old thatched and cob structures were replaced with brick and tile ones, leaving only nine of the original thatched cottages. Grey Wethers and the Mansion were built and the Manor House was altered and extended. Only one mill, Stoniford water mill, remained in operation by 1849, owned by an Isaac Berry, and it was confusingly becoming known as Stanton mill, while the old Stanton mill was converted into a dairy. Later in the century Stoniford mill also went out of operation and farm buildings were added to the site. Many farms in the parish were merged to create larger ones, and by 1853 there were only two large farms working around the village of Stanton. Also the uplands of the parish were converted into arable land for the first time. A notable event of the 19th century in Stanton was when a fire broke out in the village in 1878, destroying six buildings and some outbuildings.

The 20th century brought two world wars and a change of ownership for the village. In WW1, 27 men were conscripted from the village and in June 1917 towards the end of WW1, Stanton St. Bernard, which still belonged to the Earl of Pembroke, was divided into lots and sold at auction to private individuals. A Mr Laurence took up the tenantry at the Manor House, and in December 1923 all the barns to the north side of the house were gutted by fire. 24 years later in 1947 an overhead electricity supply from Devizes reached the village, greatly reducing the fire risk in the village by ending the need for lighting fires to cook and keep warm. Until then the fire risk had been quite high with fires devastating the church, the manor and the rectory at different times.

The 20th century was overshadowed by a steady decline in the village population. The census of 1891 showed the population of Stanton to be 373, however by the census of 1971 the population was a mere 160, and 60% of these were commuters. It is significant to note that parish of Stanton St. Bernard was united with Alton Barnes under one rector when Rector Sidney Lambert retired in 1932, leaving the rectory at Stanton empty. In 1934 it burned down due to a caretaker leaving a combustion stove on to dry the place out. For most of the 20th century a village school next to the church had provided education for the village children, however by 1969 the number of children attending got so low it had to be amalgamated with Woodborough village school. These events illustrate the effects of the declining population in Stanton. Changes also occurred in agriculture, as while cereal growing and sheep farming continued to be the main industry in the parish it became increasingly mechanised meaning there was less need for labourers and consequently people either moved away from the village or commuted to a town or city. However a sewage treatment plant installed in 1958 and Pewsey Riding Centre, one of the largest riding centres in Wiltshire, opened in the 1980s has recently given the people of Stanton St. Bernard increased employment opportunities. The creation of Pewsey Riding Centre meant there was enough business for the village forge which was shut in 1923 to reopen. These businesses along with the Barge Inn now serving visitors and tourists visiting the Kennet and Avon Canal, which was restored and reopened in 1990, have recently created a boost of industry within the parish boundaries. Today the village retains a post office and a grocer, and twelve new bungalows have been added to the village since WW2.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilStanton St. Bernard Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailcarolineholland93@hotmail.co.uk

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Songs from Stanton St. Bernard

Folk Biographies from Stanton St. Bernard

Folk Plays from Stanton St. Bernard

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