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Wiltshire Community History

West Dean Search Results

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West Dean

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 West Dean:

Map of the Civil Parish of West Dean

1890s
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 West Dean lies on the south-eastern edge of the county, originally crossing over the boundary into Hampshire. The shape formed by the parish boundary is long and thin, the dominant feature being Bentley Wood. The underlying rocks are mostly chalk, topped with areas of flint and clay. The soil is clay and chalk. The village is clustered around the railway line which runs from west-east across the south of the parish. The river Dun passes eastward through the village. A section of the Salisbury and Southampton canal passed through West Dean for a short time in the early 1800s.

The place-name is not easy to define. The first recorded use of the name was in the Cartularium Saxonicum in the year 800. It is possible that Dean comes from deonu, a variant of denu, meaning valley.

The Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record shows 23 items of archaeological interest in West Dean. Howe Farm, an isolated building in the middle of the parish, dates back to at least the 14th century. On the county boundary near the railway line are the remains of three Romano-British villas. This very large site, mostly in Hampshire, was first excavated in 1741 when a four feet square tessellated pavement was discovered and subsequently taken to London to be examined by the Society of Antiquaries. This pavement was the centre of the floor of a corridor; the entire floor measured 66 feet by 18 feet. The next recorded excavation took place in 1845 when the railway was being built; the construction process destroyed the uncovered remains. Charles Baring-Wall authorised Henry Hatcher of Salisbury to make further excavations, which resulted in the discovery of several more corridors and chambers in a field close to the railway line called Hollyflower.
The next excavation was undertaken by the local vicar. The Rev. George Master was vicar at West Dean from 1865 to 1886 and was an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist. In 1871, while erecting some fencing, he discovered a second building which included a large hall measuring 46 feet by 20 feet. During the next two years he discovered another pavement in this second villa and a third building. A detailed description of his findings was published in the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine in 1885.

Tracing manorial history within a parish is often complicated and West Dean is no exception. It is one of the parishes covered by Sir Richard Colt Hoare's History of Modern Wiltshire and his book includes a detailed manorial history. Family names he mentions include Ingham, Monmouth, Stapleton, Neville, Popham and Harcourt. The two manors belonging to the Ingham and Neville families had merged into one by 1565, when they were in the hands of the Harcourt family. This manor includes West Dean House, which was sold to John Evelyn in 1618. The house passed to his daughter and then her son; it was sold in 1725.

In 1823 the house was sold to Charles Baring Wall of the Norman Court Estate. This estate is an important part of West Dean's history. Norman Court Park lies on the eastern edge of the West Dean parish boundary in the parish of West Tytherley in Hampshire. From its first documented origins in 1333, the Norman Court Estate grew to control over 20,000 acres of countryside and woodland in Hampshire and Wiltshire. By the 20th century it employed almost 400 people who lived in the many villages and hamlets, including West Dean. In the early 19th century the estate was sold to Charles Wall. By 1851 it was held by the Baring family, who were Lords of the Manor of West Dean. Thomas Baring died in November 1904. In the previous year Norman Court had been bought by Washington Singer, a son of the American manufacturer of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. His son was killed during the Second World War and the estate was sold in 1945. The house and the immediate land surrounding it were bought by a Manchester based timber merchant, but a large part of the estate was auctioned over three days. A few villagers bought their houses, but many homes were bought by outsiders, thus changing the character of the village completely.

There are two church buildings in West Dean; there is also the site of a medieval church. In the 15th century West Dean consisted of two distinct parishes, each with its own church and rector. The church of All Saints was in Hampshire and part of the Diocese of Winchester. St Mary's was in Wiltshire and therefore within the Salisbury Diocese. In 1473 the two churches were united and the villagers all worshipped at St Mary's.

The 'old' church of St Mary consisted of a chancel, nave, south chantry and south porch. It did not have a tower but had a wooden turret. The church was built of chalk, flint and sandstone rubble. It was in poor condition in the 1830s and by the 1860s had been condemned as too dilapidated to repair. The church was officially declared redundant in 1971 and has been restored as a mortuary chapel. It contains an interesting series of monuments.

The new church of St Mary was built in 1866 on a site closer to the village. It is built of flint and red brick with a bell-turret and an apse. The old churchyard continued to be used for burials until 1896 when the Baring family requested a large burial plot that could not be accommodated within the existing space. Subsequently, land was consecrated around the new church and in November 1897 William Baring's wife Elizabeth became the first person to be interred in the burial ground.
A Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in 1870 on a site south of the railway line close to the medieval church. It flourished well into the 20th century, finally closing in 1971. It is now a private house.

There are a number of listed buildings in the village, including some farms that have kept their historic outbuildings. Church Farm dates from the 17th century and is a substantial brick house. It was part of the John Evelyn Estate and probably housed the estate manager. The large barn to the south east of the farmhouse is a fine example of a 15th century tithe barn. It has historic connections with Mottisford Abbey and is a visual reminder of how much income the church acquired in the form of tithes. A cart house and a section of the farmyard wall, both dating from the 17th century, are also listed buildings.

Dean Farm is another substantial red brick house, dating from at least the late 17th century. It was owned and sometimes occupied by people of status in the community; in 1780 it was the largest land holder in the manor. It has a barn, granaries, cart shed and stable range that all date from the 18th century.

Pigrim's Croft Farm is on the county boundary and only a barn is on the Wiltshire side. The present house dates from c.1710 when it was substantially altered and enlarged. The barn, cottage, hay barn and cow pens were built at the same time. There was also a granary and more buildings at the rear of the barn, but all that survives are the staddle stones on which the granary stood. In the late 1800s it was run as a Quaker house and gave refuge to those who had fallen on hard times.
Until the sale of the Norman Court Estate in 1945, most of the village men would have been employed by the Squire, either on a farm or in the brick or timber yards. The estate had its own brickyard and a great many of the houses in West Dean and the surrounding villages were built out of the local bricks. After the sale the kilns were no longer used and eventually a new house was built on the site.

The saw mill continues to be a thriving business in the village. It was founded by the East brothers in 1886 and is still run by the family. In the late 1980s it was employing 40 people.
A few men would have been employed at the Maltings. This is another building with a long history, dating back to the 18th century. The Maltings provided malted barley to the Red Lion Inn, which brewed its own beer. The all-important water supply came from the windmill that was situated close by.

West Dean has always been a fairly small community. From 1801 to 1931 its population ranged between 180 and 300 people. Like all rural communities it would have been almost self-sufficient. A carrier service to Salisbury was established by 1885, which ran on Tuesdays and Fridays, enabling the villagers to shop in the city if they wished. The village shop was run by the same family for over 70 years. Thomas Edney started as a grocer c.1871 and the business was later taken over by his daughters Phoebe and Caroline. James Reynolds had established himself as a wheelwright by 1890. By 1920 his sons had joined the business, which expanded to include motor engineering and blacksmithing. J. Parsons and Sons began trading in the 1920s as contractors for general building and decorating. The Wilts and Hants Dairy Company was based in West Dean by 1895. These small businesses all provided much needed employment. A branch line of the London and South Western Railway opened at West Dean in 1847. By the early 20th century it was very busy with goods traffic. In the 1920s eighteen men were employed there.

The first official census was taken in 1801, when the population was 221. The lowest figure was in 1921, when there were just 176 people. The peaks were 292 people in 1841 and 291 much later in 1981. A much earlier census has survived from 1676 that was taken by Bishop Compton. The population at that time was 190, so it appears that the size of this community changed very little in 120 years.

The poor in West Dean were assisted by three local charities. Sir John Evelyn died in 1684 and provided £8 to be given to the poor each year and £4 for the people in East Grimstead. Edward Thistlethwaite died in 1730 and left three portions of land, the rent from which had to be distributed among the needy of both villages. Frederick Brooke died in 1926 and directed that one sixth of his estate should be given to the Rector and that 15 shillings should be given to eight poor people of the parish each year on his birthday. In 1993 the three charities were amalgamated and renamed the Brooke, Evelyn and Thistlethwaite Charity.

One of the earliest social activities provided in the village was the Reading Room. This was a corrugated iron shed in a field to the south of the old rectory. The Rev. Wells established a lending library here and his successor the Rev. Percy Dale provided newspapers in the 1920s. The men who used the Reading Room may also have played games such as cards and billiards.

The village hall was adapted from the old dairy company, which closed c.1930. After standing empty for a while the building became the hall. Many different activities took place here - in the early days there were dances, whist drives and the occasional concert put together by the villagers. During the War it was commandeered by the army and used as a transit camp. More recently the hall has been used by the youth club, WI, playgroup and drama group.

Almost every village had football and cricket teams and West Dean was no exception. Cricket was well established by the 1920s. The football team was much older, dating back to at least 1903. They enjoyed some success, taking first place in their division in the Salisbury League during the seasons 1928/9, 1931/32 and 1933/34. During the 1930s they won the Minor Cup at the league six-a-side tournament in Salisbury on three occasions.

The West Dean Players drama group started in 1977. The first performance included the entire village and was a Pageant, a costumed enactment of the history of English kings and queens to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. By 1981 the group was well established and was putting on two performances a year that each ran for three nights. These events continued to be the highlight of the year until 1995 when numbers had dwindled and the group decided to amalgamate with a neighbouring drama group.

The village of West Dean made a valuable contribution to the war effort. In 1938, more than 500 acres of farmland was requisitioned. This new Depot was intended to store weapons and munitions to support the Royal Navy Fleet based at Portsmouth and entailed tunnelling huge bunkers into the solid chalk of Dean Hill. For three years teams of mostly Irish miners, Scottish fitters and locally recruited labourers constructed enormous storage tunnels in the hillside and also built the brick and concrete offices, workshops and storage facilities that are still visible on the site today. The Depot opened officially in 1941 and the whole area remained mostly closed to local people for the next 60 years. In more recent times it was used to process and store weapons for the Falklands conflict and the first Gulf War.

The site finally closed in 2004. It is now called Dean Hill Park and the former MOD buildings have been converted and let to small businesses. The tunnels are being used for long term storage. A conservation group of local people monitor the wildlife on the site. Agriculture has also returned to the area in the form of a large flock of sheep - the first major agricultural management on the land for 70 years.

In the north of the parish is the large area of woodland known as Bentley Wood. Together with the adjacent Wiltshire Wildlife Trust Reserve Blackmore Copse, this forms one of the largest contiguous areas of woodland in Wiltshire. The area is particularly noted for woodland butterflies and is now one of the top sites in the country. Bentley Wood has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and attracts a large number of visitors.

In 2010 a book was published called 'A Brief History of West Dean'. As well as a detailed history it includes many memories of the village written by its residents. West Dean was clearly a vibrant, happy community, filled with contented people who lived, worked and played in the village that meant so much to them. Time moves on and communities change, but I will close with the last three lines in the book.

'Though there have been changes and new houses built, the centre of the village looks much the same as it did a century or more ago. Most important of all, there still seems to be a real heart to the village - maybe some of the old Singer spirit lives on.'

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Emailcustomercare@wiltshire.gov.uk
 
Parish CouncilWest Dean Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailparishclerk.westdean@virgin.net
 

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

Schools: Information on both current and closed schools.

Population 1801 - 2011

Photographs: If images have been added for this community they are available here.: We hold a collection of over 50,000 photographs of places in Wiltshire in the County Local Studies Library. These may be viewed at this library and copies of out of copyright material may be purchased. We can search for a picture of a building or event if you e-mail us with details.

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The Victoria History of Wiltshire (opens in new window) is a partnership between local authorities and the Institute of Historical Research at London University. The History of Wiltshire is now the largest county history in the country and is still growing. The volumes are divided between general and topographical with Volumes One to Five covering subjects such as prehistory, ecclesiastical, economic and political history. The Volumes from Six onwards are topographical and will ultimately provide a comprehensive and systematic history of every single town and parish in the county.

(opens in new window) Explore Wiltshire's Past web site

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.

 

Maps: listed are maps on which you can find this community. All maps are Ordnance Survey maps.

 

Archaeological Sites: A Sites and Monuments Record (opens new window) is maintained by the County Archaeology Service and covers some 20,000 sites. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society was formed in 1853 and have been publishing an annual journal since 1854. The journal contains both substantial articles and shorter notes on archaeological excavations, finds, museum objects, local history, genealogy and natural history.

Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from West Dean

Folk Biographies from West Dean

Folk Plays from West Dean

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 of historic importance is 19. There is 1 Grade I building, Borbach Chantry; and 2 Grade II*, Barn South-East of farmhouse, Church Farm and Dean House.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

Local Authors: There could be an author who was born or has lived in this community.

Literary Associations: Some communities have featured in novels or may have been the main setting for a book.

Registration Districts: If you want to obtain a copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate you can contact the local registrar.

 

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