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Wiltshire Community History

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Wootton Rivers

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 Wootton Rivers:

Map of the Civil Parish of Wootton Rivers

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:


Wootton Rivers is a small village at the east end of the Vale of Pewsey. It is accessible by many minor roads and is situated in a triangle of three main roads; the A346, the A345 and the B3087. Wootton Rivers is 6 km from Marlborough and is roughly 3 miles away from Savernake Forest. The village of Wootton Rivers lies in the centre of the parish and contains a 16th century church and 16th century public house called the Royal Oak, which is now a restaurant and a bed and breakfast as well as a pub. The Kennet and Avon canal runs through the southern end of the village, as does the main London-Exeter train line. The parish is located in a bowl-like area of land; the centre is 130 metres above sea level whereas towards the edges it reaches between 150-200 metres above sea level.

The name Wootton Rivers is made up of the Saxon 'Wootton' meaning 'farm by the wood' and the Rivers family who were lords of the manor during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.
The majority of the underlying rock is greensand, which is green coloured sandstone. However, in the northern area of the parish there is a small amount of chalk-based earth and there is clay-with-flints where the Marlborough Downs reach into the parish. There is little woodland in the village but Savernake Forest is very nearby.

Currently the largest employer in Wootton Rivers is the Royal Oak public house. The majority of other people who work in Wootton Rivers work the land, the soil types are suited for livestock and arable (crops). The largest farms were Wootton Manor (renamed Manor Farm in the mid 18th century) and East Wick. In the 19th century there was an iron foundry but that no longer remains. A school was built in the 19th century as well, but that was closed in 1979, it later became a day study centre for teachers but it is now a private house.

Concerning the provision of services in Wootton Rivers, the 'Village Appraisal' of 1985 says “Wootton Rivers has electricity, mains water and piped sewage but no piped gas supply'.
Various archaeological finds have been made around Wootton Rivers, from the medieval period to Romano-British times. Iron Age, Saxon and Norman artefacts have been found. An undated barrow has been found north west of the village, also found around the same area were some Roman artefacts; 31 coins, a key, a lead weight and a whet stone. More Roman coins and a stirrup mount from around the Saxon/Norman time have been found to the west of the village. The medieval finds consist of some earthworks and a possible settlement near East Wick Farm and a coin from the reign of Edward III has been found north west of the village. There is evidence to suggest that this settlement contained the home of Ralph de Flytwyke in 1345. It is thought that East Wick Farm may stand on the site of a small medieval village.

In the 9th Century Bishop Ealhmund of Winchester supposedly had possession of what was then called Wootton. However by the time of the conquest in 1066, it belonged to Queen Edith, sister of Harold. Wootton then passed from Edith to the Conqueror, William. In 1086, according to the Domesday Book we can estimate an approximate total of 250 inhabitants of Wootton. Also recorded in the Domesday Book is the existence of two churches. Some people think that it is probable that Wootton may have included some or even the entire neighbouring village of Milton Lilbourne.

In 1190 Walter Giffard passed the manor of Wootton to Walter de Leites. The manor then went to William Marshall who, in turn, passed it to Walter de Rivers. From Walter de Rivers it went to his son Richard; Richard then passed the manor to his son John who passed it to his sons John and Thomas in 1325. There was a disagreement between John's widow, Rose, and Sir Robert and Anstice Bilkemore in 1330 but the manor was in the possession of Thomas Rivers in 1351. By this time they had dropped the 'de' from their name. Thomas left it to his widow, Isabel, in 1351. Isabel and Hugh Craan (presumably her second husband) owned the manor until 1412 when it went to to Thomas Rivers, who left it to his son, Roger, in 1428. It then descended to Roger's son, Henry. Henry sold Wootton Rivers Manor to Sir John Seymour in 1441, John died in 1464 and the manor passed to his widow, Isabel. From Isabel it went to John Seymour in 1485 when she died. When John died in 1491 the manor got handed to his widow Elizabeth who left it to her son Sir Edward. Edward let his son Edward have the manor in 1552. The Seymour family owned much of Savernake Forest and the areas, like Wootton Rivers, that lay on its borders during the 16th Century. From Sir Edward Seymour the manor descended to William, Duke of Somerset, who assigned it to his son William, Duke of Somerset, in 1660; he in turn passed Wootton Rivers manor over to his son John, Duke of Somerset, in 1671. John left it to Sarah, Duchess of Somerset, in 1675. From Sarah the manor went into the hands of St. John's College Cambridge who were, along with the Earls of Ailesbury, the largest landowners in Wootton Rivers. The Earls of Ailesbury later became the Marquesses of Ailesbury but in 1918 the Crown Commissioners took over all of the land they owned.

In the 14th Century the current church was built, possibly replacing an earlier church. In 1330, Wootton Rivers was no longer part of Savernake Forest although it was reported that the “hereditary wardens of the forest kept a firm hand on the land”. In the year 1377 it was recorded that there were 51 poll tax payers (people aged over 14) in Wootton Rivers.

Apart from the church, other oldest buildings in the village date back to the 16th century. According to the 'Village Appraisal' of 1985, there were 5 buildings dating to the 16th century, 17 from the 17th century and 22 from the 18th. There were 11 buildings built in the 19th century, 22 between 1900 and 1950, there were 31 built between 1950 and 1985. Five buildings have been built between 1985 and the present day, resulting in 113 dwellings in the parish, the majority of which are privately owned. The church was built in the 14th century, the school in 19th century and the village hall was constructed in the 20th century. The hamlet beside Milton Lilbourne Lane in the south of the parish became known as Cuckoo's Knob in 1886.

It's said that the village was once on a coaching route between Marlborough and Salisbury. A map from 1732 shows that the Marlborough Road goes uphill (on what is today a bridle path) and then turns right towards Hat Gate. Apparently there used to be a pond but it was filled in between 1732 and 1842.
From the census in 1801 we can see that there were 313 people living in Wootton Rivers. By 1811 this had increased to 367 and between 1821 and 1871 the population was not below 400, reaching a peak of around 470 in 1841. Between 1881 and 1911 the population was between 300 and 400, this fell to around 200-300 between 1921 and 1991. In 1981 the population was 247, surprisingly this is almost identical to the population estimated from the Domesday Book record in 1086! Population has declines since a high of 271 in 1991 and in 2011 was 228 people.

In the 1800s the primary school and a non-conformist chapel were built and an iron foundry established. By 1848 Thomas Holmes, an iron founder and machine maker was working in the parish; in the late 1850s he was followed by Oatley & Morris, later Oatley & Whatley, iron founders, engineers and agricultural implement makers. They remained about ten year before moving to Pewsey. In 1807, the Kennet and Avon Canal was built, running through the southern end of the village, it really started to thrive in 1809 with a wharf where coal and other commodities was unloaded, while a passenger boat to Devizes was operated until 1851. The railway took over canal traffic from the 1860s when the Berks and Hants Extension Railway was opened although a passenger halt was not opened in the village until 1928 (closed 1964). The original lock house still survives today but is a private house rather than part of the canal. By 1848 the Royal Oak officially opened as a public house and in 1861 there was some major restoration work on the church, much of which was rebuilt. The road from Wootton Rivers to Milton Lilbourne was diverted to run beside the railway and was later named Station Road.

A well known story of Wootton Rivers is that of Jack Spratt (John Kingstone Spratt) who was a self-taught village craftsman. He built the clocks of the church and the nonconformist chapel. In 1911, for the coronation of George V, Wootton Rivers decided to buy a clock for the church but could not afford it. Jack Spratt said that if he was provided with enough scrap metal then he could make one, and he did! One of the church clocks shows the words 'Glory Be To God' rather than the usual Roman numerals.

In 1978 a fire at Church Farm meant that the thatch roof was replaced with much less dangerous and flammable tiles. In 1979 the school closed meaning that the children must now go further afield to Burbage, Marlborough or Pewsey. In 1975 the majority of the village was made a conservation area which means it is either an area of special architectural or historical interest. In the 1970s the canal was restored and is now used for leisure rather than business. More recently, the Heritage Lottery Funding Programme has brought about enhancements such as a back pumping scheme that controls the water levels of the canal. In 1987 the parish increased in size from 480 hectares up to 705 hectares when Brimslade was transferred from Savernake parish.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Emailcustomercare@wiltshire.gov.uk
 
Parish CouncilWootton Rivers Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailneilworthington@btopenworld.com
 

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Wootton Rivers

Folk Biographies from Wootton Rivers

Folk Plays from Wootton Rivers

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 40. There are no Grade I buildings, and 2 Grade II* buildings, the Church of St. Andrew and Manor Farmhouse.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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