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Wiltshire Community History

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Staverton

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 Staverton:

Map of the Civil Parish of Staverton

1890s
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern parish boundary has been superimposed.


Thumbnail History:


Staverton is situated on a belt of Oxford clay that lines the River Avon valley and was once part of the Selwood forest. The name implies that it was a 'stake-enclosure' from 'staefer' meaning pole or stake in old English and 'tun'. The well stocked river and nearby woodlands made it an attractive place for a settlement, and the earliest finds date from the Iron Age, although Roman and medieval items have also been found. These were unearthed at a field known as Blacklands and include such items as flint implements, fragments of Roman and medieval pottery and also evidence of ancient field boundaries.

It is likely that early settlement was concentrated around the area behind the church, forming the nucleus of the settlement, with the manor situated where the farmyard is now. Cottages would have been scattered around making this a small settlement. The meaning of the name Staverton also indicates a staked enclosure perhaps implying a farm enclosed with a wooden fence of staves. As the area expanded it was likely that a hamlet was created which included the mill. At the time of the Domesday survey Staverton covered about 650 acres and housed five families. Early medieval settlement is also indicated in the land behind Smallbrook and New Terrace. Some remains indicating a stone gully suggest Roman and medieval habitation in the area and many of these early indications have been unearthed during recent development for building.

The parish boundaries stretched from the rivers Biss and the Avon in the north and west, to Hilperton Marsh, and the areas now known as Marsh Road, Victoria Road, The Down, Islington and across Lower Wyke farmlands to Ladydown. It is likely that a Mill was established as early as the ninth century owing to the shallow river crossing and the bend in the river, and this would play an important part in the life of the community.

In 1086, according to the Domesday Book, Melksham, Chalfield, Hilperton, Staverton, Trowle and Whaddon made up the Melksham Hundred, which was held in 1100 by Edward of Salisbury. In 1125 Humphrey de Bohun gave Monkton Farleigh Priory the title of Lordship of Staverton and it then descended with the manor of Trowbridge until 1229. By 1236 some lands had been given to Lacock Abbey and this included Staverton Mill land to John, the miller of Staverton and his wife. The 1295 records show he was paying 40 shillings for the rental of the dwellings and outbuildings, leasing the eel fisheries for nine shillings and also a garden which made him £1. 4 s. annually.

Little reference is made to Staverton from 1333 and it is assumed that it was grouped in with the 'liberty of Trowbridge.' However there was a separate 'tithingman' for Staverton in 1303 who was responsible for ensuring that taxes were paid and that property and land of the Lord of the Manor was protected. This inclusion with Trowbridge also included Trowle and Studley, forming a single unit for assessing the tithing of Trowbridge. After the Black Death, which reached Wiltshire in 1348, Staverton was under the control of the manor of Trowbridge during the 15th century and continued to prosper thanks to the textile industry. There is little mention of Staverton as a separate place until 1504 when it was leased for 40 years by Henry VII to Thomas Lovell and William Erle but the implication is that Staverton was not manorially separate. By 1535 it was leased to Richard Billet and Richard Erle for 60 years and this suggests that it was then regarded as a manor again. The lease of this land mentions 'the site of a manor house standing in half an acre' which was known as Staverton Wyke. Granted to Henry Viner it passed in 1592 to William Tipper, Robert Dawe and then his son Richard in 1628. By 1667 this Minshull inheritance was split and the tithes of Staverton Wyke passed to Mary Bythesea. The Wyke tithes in 1716 were converted to John Lewis by the Bythesea family. John Bythesea died in 1747 and Wyke House descended to Thomas Bythesea on his marriage to Elizabeth Lewis in 1758. It stayed in their possession until the 19th century and their baptisms and marriages are in the registers of St. Pauls, Staverton.

In 1656 Holt joined with Great Chalfield, Little Chalfield and Staverton to form a new parish but this was a short lived arrangement, due to the restoration, with no permanent change until the 19th century.

Wyke House was occupied by Henry Vinor and his wife Mary, daughter of Robert Long of Whaddon, in 1616 and was described as a fine stone mansion that burnt down in 1625 and was rebuilt in the Jacobean style. The house passed to the Bythesea family who owned it until 1832 when it was sold to Thomas Clark a local mill owner. It was demolished in 1864 and replaced with a Victorian style mansion which was inhabited by prominent local families connected with the textile industry. The last owner was George Hammond of McCall cloth mills. The building was demolished in 1973 after a period of abandonment and the site has since been redeveloped for housing. The vicarage was built and occupied in 1861 and sold in 1971 and is now a nursing home. Elmfield and Smallbrook farm were both built in the 19th century and were situated between the canal and railway bridges close to the vicarage.
Cottages had sprung up close to the mill since its importance in the local textile industry was established and some of these were in the area known as 'The Square'.
There were a number of 18th century weavers' houses; some existed to the left of the church gate and a terrace of ten houses stood opposite the church, built in 1810 and known as Millbank. They were constructed of ashlar with a roof of pantiles and paired windows to the first and second floor and were demolished in 1966.

Opposite the Old Bear public house was another terrace of houses dating from the late 18th or early 19th century. Built back to back in two rows, one of five houses and one of four, they were constructed of red brick with the later row faced with ashlar.
The Old Bear also dates from the early part of the 19th century and is built of limestone ashlar with a Welsh slate roof and a 20th century extension to the rear.

At the end of the 17th century Staverton was starting to expand; it then had about thirty properties and a population of approximately 100 people with most congregated around the fulling mill. Half worked in the cloth trade and the other half worked in farming and by the end of the 18th century the population had doubled. The 1821 census shows enumerators counting Staverton within the Trowbridge district although Staverton was obviously more rural. In 1841 the population was 228 and rose to 646 in 1851. The district began in Islington, now classed as Trowbridge, followed the Down, included Hilperton Marsh and ended by counting the dwelling house within the factory site, near the river. So a large area was covered. The main employer was the mill and that would explain the expansion of the local population. In 1871 the census counted 651 people while in 1891 the census included a working barge called 'Mary Ann' and the bargeman. The establishing of the parish of St. Thomas, and the incorporation of Hilperton Marsh into Hilperton, meant that the population of Staverton dropped by 1901, when Staverton was counted for the first time independently. The population was 154 in 1901, 192 in 1911, 235 in 1921, and 288 in 1951.

The mill at Staverton was first mentioned in Domesday and then again in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. It was converted to fully cloth use as a fulling mill by the end of the 14th century and the boom in the cloth trade created extra employment for Staverton people. The need for increased sheep production also aided the local economy. The stone weir was constructed to help control the water levels that kept the water wheels of the mill turning. By the end of the 15th century a thick, undyed broadcloth was produced in the local cottages for export and the number of cottages increased as the trade was thriving. The fulling and corn mill, purchased in 1556 by Christopher Aleyn, was leased to Stevyns of Holt and then to the Houlton family through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It was bought by the Bradford on Avon clothier John Jones and he built a new mill on the site of the old in the early 1800s. It was the largest mill in the area, and known as the Staverton Superfine Woollen Manufactory. The six floored building had a central bell tower and was built over the mill stream. Newly installed machinery helped with the finishing of the cloth and led to the shearmen riots in 1802. People were concerned that they would lose their livelihoods to the new machinery that was starting to appear in the textile industry. Local dragoons were even called out to dispel the rioters and there was a great deal of bad feeling towards the owner. John Jones was declared bankrupt in 1812 and died soon after, at which point the mill was put up for sale. It was bought at the second attempt to auction it by the Cooper family in 1813 for £14,000. Business soon picked up and by 1816 it employed 273 men and women. Tokens were produced to the values of 2 shillings., 6d. and 1d. and depicted the mill standing over the river with a clock tower in the centre of the building. They even installed gas lighting in 1817. By 1820 only weaving was still carried out in the local cottages and by 1824 the mill could employ over 1500 people both on and off site. It was demolished by fire in 1825, was rebuilt and continued to prosper until 1847.

The main building was six stories high and had a stone phoenix rising from the flames on top of the building. The first inspection of the mill by factory inspectors, after the factory act of 1833, gave a good report saying that the workers were well clothed and the children 'fit and healthy'. The first power looms were installed in 1839 marking the beginning of the end of weaving as a cottage industry and the mill was the biggest in the area with an estimated working capital of £200,000. Much of the cloth produced went to Ireland, and specialities included a Venetian cloth (a closely woven twilled cloth) and a black broadcloth. However a local bank, Hobhouse of Bradford on Avon, went bankrupt in 1842 and this affected the finances of the mill. The owners, the Cooper brothers went bankrupt also as they could not sustain the borrowing incurred for investment at the site and the mill stood empty until 1864. The West of England Manufacturing Company then bought the mill and attempted to make a type of felt cloth, which failed. They were followed by the Staverton Cloth Company who failed in 1870 due to lack of experience on the part of the investors. James Hargreaves took over from 1872 until the decline of the cloth industry and in 1891 his sons put the business up for sale. Purchased by George Eyre and run by him from 1890 to 1894, it was then used to develop a process for cleaning the natural wool as it arrived from the sheep. This also was unsuccessful, but it is interesting to note that much experimentation was being carried out at Staverton in attempts to keep the mill operational. Generally local firms were defeated by the economic conditions and the mill was then purchased by the Anglo Swiss Milk Company in 1897 for £6,000.

The buildings were converted in order to produce tinned milk and other products and a water turbine was installed. Many local people had been forced to leave the village but now local employment was available again and over 200 farms supplied the milk required for the process. It was sold as 'Ideal Milk'. Telephones were installed in the factory in 1903 and Nestlé merged with the company in 1905 and the workforce received a celebratory bonus. Production gradually increased and the site was developed with the addition of a tin making plant in 1906. A modernised boiler house demanded a new chimney and this was built by the German firm Alphons Custodis in 1913 with an added water tank built by Dortmund. The new chimney was 172 feet high with a 6ft.6in. diameter and cost £1,056 to construct. It was a local land mark but was demolished in 1989 when it was replaced with a metal stack. In 1934 the two top stories of the mill were removed and a new processing plant was built of red brick, alongside the existing building. Other changes included the railway siding which meant that more raw materials could be accepted such as tin, plate and coal. The company name was then changed to Nestlé Milk Products Ltd. The role of the factory during both world wars was invaluable, as preserved foodstuffs were essential. During the Second World War they produced dried egg powder, Red Cross parcels for P.O.W.s and packs for the troops consisting of processed meat, fish, egg, jam, vegetable salad and baked beans. In 1937, 4,903 thousand gallons of milk were processed and this rose to 8,315 gallons in 1956. Improvements and investment continued and included the reduction of the front wall which was then topped with railings, improvements to the bridge arches, and two new boilers in 1962 as well as the installation of two new sugar silos in 1963. The workforce had an active social club and they took part in a number of activities such as sporting events, and were particularly good at the fishing competitions. In the late 1960s a new culinary products plant was added and Crosse and Blackwell products appeared from 1968 and increased the workforce to 450. The workforce reached 500 by 1976 and the company had by now converted the milk cannery to yoghurt and chilled dessert production having taken over Chambourcy. However the cannery business was declining and this part of the operation ceased in 1995 having produced 112 million cases of products which included 182,000 tons of baked beans using 62,000 tons of tomatoes to make the sauces! The chilled operation continued and then in 1998 Cereal Partners opened their cereal processing plant on the site illustrating a commitment by the company to continue their operation on the Staverton site.

The bend in the river was originally crossed by a ford and then a wooden bridge was constructed around the 13th century. This was replaced with a stone bridge by the 14th century. It was used by pedestrians, ox carts and packhorses and was narrow with no parapets so that laden animals could pass easily and not be impeded. The stone river bridge is mentioned in 1540 by John Leland, the King's Antiquary, and Thomas Long, a local clothier, left provision in his will of 1562, of £6 13s. 4d. for the cost of future bridge repairs. The present bridge dates mainly from the late 18th century and was widened and repaired in 1792 and widened again to its present width in the early 1800s. An invoice dated 1794 from a D. Smith and Jones, mentions repairs, including bank walls, posts and rails with some addition of new stones, to the value of just over £436.00. It still requires regular maintenance and has been strengthened on a number of occasions.

The toll house and gate was situated at the top of the hill by the church and in the 1700s the charges for a horse or beast drawing a carriage was 3d., for a single beast 1d., and for a drove of oxen, cattle or sheep 10d. per score. The highways act of 1835 put the responsibility of maintaining the roads onto the county.
The river was used for the transportation of goods and people would travel as far as Bath and Bristol by boat. Footpaths were also essential for travel particularly when visiting neighbouring villages to attend local fairs and markets although they became less well worn with the development of the roads.
The building of the canal would have seemed a major construction project to the local people as navigators arrived to construct bridges and wharves and to dig out the channel. It was built in 1801 with John Rennie as the chief engineer. Parsons Bridge connected Smallbrook with the Wyke estate and there was a turning bay just past Parsons Bridge where the coal barges could manoeuvre. The remains of a wooden swing bridge existed between Parsons Bridge and the road bridge, while canal wharves either side of the road bridge were very busy in the early 1800s. The main cargo was coal from the Somerset coal fields and this was distributed to the local mills. Canals were still in use in the early 1900s and coal horses of A.H. & S. Bird were stabled in a building on the bridge until the time of the 2nd World War.
The Great Western Railway was constructed and opened in 1848, the original line connecting Thingley junction, Chippenham and Westbury and then later Bradford on Avon. The present signal box at Staverton was built in 1933 and replaced three earlier signal boxes. Staverton Halt, north of the railway bridge was built in 1905, opened in 1906 then closed and was demolished in 1966. The siding at Nestlé existed from 1935 to 1966.

As with most rural communities relying on agriculture and the local mill, times could be hard if trade was not good. The 17th century saw hardships due to the uncertainty in the wool trade and restrictions put in place by James I. Bad harvests, the Thirty Years War and enclosures also affected the livelihood of the villagers before a new type of broadcloth was developed which helped revive the wool trade. Epidemics sometimes occurred and a smallpox epidemic in 1730 caused death in the locality, reducing the population over a ten year period.

Taxes had to be paid to support the Chalfield garrison during the Civil War which was not easy for an impoverished community already affected by economic decline. Poor relief, as established in the 1500s was administered by the church officials and many villagers were grateful for the help the church offered. Often the deficit in funds to support the garrison was made up with produce, meaning that local families experienced difficulties and sometimes went without food. In 1645 William Tarrant the collector for the Chalfield garrison recorded that Staverton provided sheep, cattle, malt as well as large amounts of money (£86).

As the cloth industry expanded so did the number of properties in the village and by the latter part of the 16th century Staverton was thriving. Wealthier residents built larger stone farmhouses and had expanding households. By the beginning of the 18th century Staverton had a number of weavers cottages situated close to the fulling mill. Land enclosures were taking up common land and the mill was a very important employer. The 19th century saw change very much associated with the development of the mill, mirrored by a rise and fall in the population. In this century the village built a new church, a Methodist chapel, vicarage and a school and the provision of housing grew as well. However the lives of the villagers were greatly affected by local economics and the fortunes of the factory. The population had reduced from 347 to 200 by the end of the century and it was fortunate that the site had been purchased by the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company to revive the local employment possibilities.

By the beginning of the 20th century piped water and gas had arrived in Staverton and the future was looking more promising. People would travel further to work as other industries established themselves, such as the local mattress factories and the tannery at Holt. Trade directories list in Staverton a stone mason, veterinary surgeon, farmer and publican for 1899 and by 1920 there was a haulier and a boat owner listed as well. A.H. and S. Bird ran a coal business from the canal wharf. Other trades on offer through the cottage industries included a dressmaker, a cattle dealer, a civil engineer and there were also two sweet shops run from home. Social events included an annual parish dinner, local carnivals, boating on the river, football matches and village fetes. The community hall, purchased as a wooden hut from the Red Cross for £100 after the First World War, was erected on a plot of land near the railway. The Staverton Reading Rooms, as it was known, were opened in 1919 after being furnished by the villagers thanks to fund raising and donations and they became the 'social hub of the village', hosting all types of events including concerts and dances. New housing was erected at 'Blacklands' (New Terrace) in 1933 and School Lane was developed in 1937 and then again in the 1940s. A shop and post office was run at Hilperton Marsh by the Bird family as well as a confectionary and tobacco shop from the cellar of Nasmilco terrace in the 1940s. Later a grocery store operated from Avonlea cottage and there was a Women's Institute, an Over 60s and a licensed bar run from the Reading Rooms. New properties included two bungalows at the top of School Lane and two houses opposite the Methodist Chapel as well as the Elm Close development in 1965. The original Reading Rooms were replaced in 1975 by a stone built structure and renamed the Staverton Club. Further housing was built in School Lane in 1987 and in 1988 plans were submitted for the Marina development, which went ahead despite protests from the Parish Council. The first housing here was completed by 1992.

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Folk Songs from Staverton

Folk Biographies from Staverton

Folk Plays from Staverton

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