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Wiltshire Community History

Upavon 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 Upavon:

Map of the Civil Parish of Upavon

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

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

Thumbnail History:

Upavon is named after the river on which it stands, the Salisbury Avon, and therefore the second part of the place-name is Celtic. The 'Up' part denotes that it is in the upper reaches of the river - Netheravon is lower down. This is a favoured site at the head of the Avon with a mixture of alluvium, river and valley gravels in the valley bottom and Lower, Middle and Upper Chalk on either side. The higher ground in the east is overlaid by clay with flints providing good conditions for early woodland. The village is positioned on the fairly level land at around 90 to 100 metres above sea level while the downs rise to Upavon Hill at 179 metres and Upavon Down at 185 metres. An early ridge way runs to the west of the parish, near Casterley Camp, while a route from Avebury to Ludgershall traversed the north-east of the parish. Until the turnpiking of local roads in 1762 Upavon village was bypassed by the two main roads. It is the half way point between the roads from Salisbury and Amesbury to Devizes, Marlborough and Swindon.

As it is to be expected with such a site there are many indications of prehistoric settlement. There was substantial activity on the downs in Neolithic and Bronze Age times and finds include an axe and arrowheads at Casterley Camp.

Casterley Camp itself is probably the earliest settlement and must have been communal with several families living here in the Iron Age. The village, founded in the early Iron Age, was enclosed by a bank and ditch that wsa pierced by three entrances. It is a large site and there were separate enclosures within this bank. The site was occupied throughout the period and much pottery and many implements were found by the Cunningtons in excavation here. These included a spearhead and hammer head, brooches, a button and saddle querns for grinding corn. The pottery included locally made utensils and items imported from present day French and Belgium. The central complex, probably the settlement itself, covers nine acres and this is surrounded by ditched enclosures, opening out of one another, in the 62 acres enclosed by the outer bank.

Occupation of Casterley Camp continued throughout the Roman period and finds include Samian ware pottery, coins from Claudius to Constantine, and items such as pins, bronze earpicks, tweezers, iron knives, nails and brooches. There is an extensive field system in the south-west of the parish and another in the east, on Upavon Hill and Down, that is associated with the well preserved Romano-British linear village site at Chisenbury Warren in Enford parish. There was also a Romano-British village on Thornham Down on a nine acre site surrounded by a bank and ditch; pits, pottery shards and coins have been found at this site in the north-east of the parish.

The first four centuries A.D. saw substantial settlement and farming on the downs to the west and east of the present village in the valley. Whether the remaining Britons left their settlements on the hills and established a village in the valley, or the Saxons drove them out and established their own settlement in the valley, or perhaps the separate settlements co-existed until those on the higher ground were abandoned. It seems unlikely that a site that enjoyed continuous occupation for six or seven centuries would have been abandoned for long but we do not know when Saxon Upavon was established or whether it overlapped or continued on from the British villages. The first recorded mention of the name is in the Domesday Book as 'Oppavrene.'

In that survey of 1086 the abbey of St. Wandrille held the church and 2 1/2 hides of land. This was enough for two ploughteams and the estate was valued at £10.15.0d (£10.75), which was a high value for this amount of land. There were no tenants but there is likely to have been a priest and abbey servants, perhaps around 20 people. The principal estate was the King's and is not mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is most likely to have been contained in the substantial 37 hide estate of Rushall. If this was the case there could have been a further 220 to 250 people on the King's estate at Upavon, with one or two watermills. Such a well populated estate with a church is unlikely to have been of recent origin and it would suggest a fairly early Saxon village.

A substantial Norman church replaced the Saxon one in the 12th century and the prosperity of the village continued through the 13th century with extensive arable and pasture lands supporting a large population. Both church and manor were wealthy. At some point after 1204 work began on a manor house, probably in the south of the village, while it is recorded that in the 1230s the then occupier of the estate, Gilbert Basset, built a house here that entertained Edward I and his court. The foreign monastic house of St. Wandrille established a small priory here, between the church and the river Avon, while the lord of the manor obtained the right to hold markets and fairs here in the 13th century. A market square developed to the west of the church, the area between the present Antelope and Ship, and partly occupied (2006) by a garage.

By the 14th century the village was a convenient and popular place in the county for holding Royal inquests and King John was a visitor, as well as Edward I. However, in the late 14th century, and the 15th century, Upavon gradually lost the prominence it had enjoyed in the 13th century. There were 127 poll tax payers (people over 14 years of age) recorded in 1377 and in 1397 seventy five houses and cottages were listed on the estate. Between these two in 1378 the religious community was expelled from England and the priory became a farm. A manor house is last mentioned in 1397 and it would seem that this disappeared, or became a tenanted farm in the 15th century. By the mid 15th century a farm had been established on the downs at Widdington, the first outlying one since Romano-British times. In the mid 16th century Leland described Upavon as a 'good village' but by 1591 it was described as 'somewhat low.' This may have referred to the lack of a manor house and an absentee vicar because although the population had declined since 1397 it was still a reasonable sized village. The focal point was now the market place which must have been a busy and colourful sight once a week.

The Antelope is first mentioned in 1609, it was rebuilt in the early 18th century. Also in the early 17th century a manor house was built near the river bridge; this was re-fronted in the early 19th century and named Bridge House. By 1729 the village had the appearance of a small market town surrounded by a fairly prosperous farming community. The market place was built around on all sides; there were cottages at the top of Jarvis Street and at Townsend, and also to the south of Townsend, behind the Antelope, where the pound for stray animals was sited. The lane, later called Chapel Lane, had also been built up by now. There were 31 houses in the village with 12 cottages on the waste (common land) and between 20 and 30 farmhouses. In 1762 through traffic was brought into the village, much to the benefit of the inns and tradesmen, when the Devizes to Andover turnpike road (the present road) was completed. There was a toll gate in the market place. The Radical politician and orator Henry Hunt was born at Widdington Farm in 1773 and he also lived there as an adult from c.1794 to c.1797. He was M.P. for Preston from 1830 to 1832.

In 1801 the population of the parish was 430 and a survey of 1802 indicates that there were 25 farmhouses and 60 smaller houses and cottages. This would mean an average of about five people per dwelling which seems reasonable for this time. The New Inn had opened on the corner of Jarvis Street and Chapel Street; it was no longer a public house by the mid 19th century, although by 1866 the Ship had opened in an older building in the Market Place. In 1840 the market place became the intersection of two through roads, as it is today, when the Avebury to Amesbury turnpike was completed, bringing the road off the downs and into the valley. This was followed by some redevelopment of the Market Square. In 1879 a cottage was converted into a temperance hall but the attractions of the Antelope and the Ship proved too great for the temperance reformers of church and chapel and it had only a brief life.

The beginning of the greatest change in the way of life for this agricultural community came in 1898 when 800 acres to the south of Casterley Camp were acquired for an army firing range, followed a few years later by the purchase of 425 acres on Upavon Down for an airfield. Around the same time (1911) the parish reading room opened on the Andover road on land given to the community to commemorate the coronation of George V. In 1912 the Central Flying School opened on Upavon Down to provide combat training for qualified pilots. During the First World War they concentrated on advanced flying training while after the war all RAF flying instructors were trained here. The expansion of the School required substantial numbers of civilian workers and around 1920 the first council houses for these were built at Avon Square, on the Andover Road, between the village and the RAF Station. A Church of England chapel was opened on the Station in 1921, later dedicated to St. Peter, and by 1936 a Roman Catholic chapel of St. Thomas More was in use.

Several changes occurred at the Station in the interwar years. In 1924 the Central Flying School (CFS) was joined by No. 3 Fighter Squadron and when No. 17 (Fighter) Squadron arrived in 1926 the CFS left Upavon. In the 1931 census 318 of the parish population of 742 were service personnel; the civilian population was virtually unchanged in numbers from the first census in 1801. In 1934 the squadrons left and night time flying techniques were developed here, with the CFS returning in 1935. The CFS was replaced by No. 7 Flying Instructors' School in 1942 and many RAF servicemen passed through Upavon. Some, who lived in Wiltshire, were able to cycle home on a weekend pass as did one member of the RAF Regiment to his home in Trowbridge.

After 1945 another 74 houses were built at Watson Close, on the Andover Road, followed by a new school in 1957 and a new Methodist Chapel in 1966. This area was now a substantial outlier overlooking the old village. In 1946 Upavon was the Headquarters of No. 38 Group Transport Command and the Headquarters of Transport Command in 1951. This was renamed Air Support Command in 1967 and designated No. 46 Group in Strike Command in 1972. By now it was mainly an administration centre. In the 1950s and the 1960s many new married quarters and large office buildings were erected.

From the 1950s Upavon became an interchange for buses from Salisbury and Amesbury, Devizes, and Marlborough and Swindon. In the early 1970s the village was still busy with people changing here to continue to their destination. The area to the west of the Antelope was developed from the 1960s when 42 private bungalows were built in Fairfield. The RAF had a considerable impact on the parish of Upavon for most of the 20th century, as an employer, providing custom to local business and filling the village school. However in 1993 the RAF handed over the Station to the Army, who renamed it Trenchard Lines. The Airfield has since been used by Hercules from RAF Lyneham and by Chinook helicopters, but the site is now mainly used as an administrative centre. Based here are, The Office for Standards of Casework (Army), the HQ of the Adjutant General, Service Children's Education (UK), the Army Training and Recruiting Agency, and the HQ of the Provost Marshall's Office. The airfield also houses RAF No. 622 (Volunteer) Gliding School and the Army Gliding Association.

The changeover from RAF to Army seems to have been accompanied by a drop in personnel and in families on the site. This has meant fewer children at the village school and less trade for local business. However the Ship and Antelope still thrive and the garage and village shop flourish.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilUpavon Parish Council
Parish Web Sitewww.upavonpc.co.uk
Parish Emailpat@pateyre.com

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

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Upavon

Folk Biographies from Upavon

Folk Plays from Upavon

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 historical importance is 30. There is 1 Grade I listed building, the Church of St. Mary and no Grade II* listed buildings.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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