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Wiltshire Community History

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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, 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.

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1773:

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1773

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map.:

From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map.

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Thumbnail History:

Alvediston is a rural parish of 2,534 acres (plus 12 acres added to it from the parish of Berwick St. John in 1986) in the Chalke Hundred. It is described by Hutton in 'Byways and Highways of Wiltshire' as 'charming in itself, a little lonely place half lost and wholly unafraid in the midst of the downs'; its isolated coombes and valleys have been cut off in past winters.

It is a long, narrow parish, wider at the northern end which is marked by a ridge between the Ebble and Nadder valleys. The southern, eastern, and western boundaries are all dry valleys. The underlying geology of the area is predominantly Upper Chalk, except for an outcrop of Upper Greensand south of the river and east of Windmill Hill. The highest point of the parish is on Trow Down at 243 metres, while Windmill Hill reaches 179 metres.

Goscombe Copse, Elcombe Copse and Manwood Copse are the remnants of a larger wooded area on the northern edge of Cranborne Chase. This forms the majority of the woodland in the parish with around 90% of the 90 acres of woodland recorded in the parish in 1842 lying in the southern part. There was some further woodland planted north of the river in the late 19th century.

There is a small amount of evidence of Roman activity including two pits of Romano-British date, containing burnt flint, at Bigley Buildings. There are also tumuli, likely to be Bronze Age in date, on Trow Down. Prehistoric bowl barrows have been identified on Middle Down and Gallows Hill, as well as ditches on Middle Down. On Elcombe Down a Bronze Age field system of 182 hectares extends to Ebbesbourne Wake to the east. In 1944 William Young found a hoard of 16 bronze bangles and a bronze torque on Elcombe Down.

Approximately 200 metres to the north-east of Bigley Buildings lies a dewpond called by the Saxon name 'Wermere' in 1613. It is approximately 60 metres in diameter, and retains some water throughout the year.

An ox-drove trackway boundary borders the southern end of Bigley Buildings (and extends over number of parishes in southern Wiltshire). It is likely, although not proven, to be a prehistoric route across the downs. The former presence of a drover's inn at Bigley, and additional smaller ponds to Wermere for watering would tend to add support to this conclusion.

South of Church Farm, and a little further south at Samways, there is evidence for a village of medieval origins of 18 to 20 properties with gardens behind them, built along streets - the lumps and dips can be seen in fields south-west of Norrington Manor House.

The land at Trow is mentioned in the Domesday Book, assessed at 7.5 hides in 1066 of which 2 hides were likely the demesne and owned by men owing service of villain. In 1084 the demesne was assessed at 5 hides and in 1086 was said to include land for 4 or 5 ploughteams.

The parish was a traditional chalkland agricultural system for centuries with downland for grazing sheep, arable and woodland with meadows for spring grazing and making hay. Flocks were grazed on the downs by day and driven down to the arable land at night, fertilising the land for grain crops. Water meadows supported early grasses, and the hay fed oxen which then enabled the cultivation of arable land.

From the 13th century the lords of Cranbourne Chase claimed rights of chase (area of common land with reserved hunting rights for certain parties). Grants of warren (permission to kill game of certain species) were given to holders of the manors of Norrington in 1304 and Alvediston in 1307. However, the rights of chase continued and there were various presentments to the chase courts from the mid-14th century to the early 19th century for offences ranging from mismanagement of coppices, to illegal hunting to trespass. Following controversial disputes over the rights of the Chase, it was ended in 1829.

In 1288 the arable area of the demesne of Alvediston Manor was estimated at 80 acres, and at 220 acres in 1331. The numbers of sheep increased from 200 ewes and 20 lambs, as part of the 1195 Wilton Abbey lease of the demesne of Alvediston manor, to around 950 sheep as part of the demesne and tenant flocks in the 13th century. By the mid 14th century the income from the farm has declined so that it no longer covered the value of rents due to Wilton Abbey, and the farm was surrendered in 1359.

The demesne increased in the late 15th and early 16th centuries with the absorption of several small copyholds into the freehold. The holdings of Alvediston manor remained stable between the mid-16th and early 18th centuries. However, in 1781 the copyhold lands that had been part of the demesne (Church Farm) became a new farm, Elcombe farm. At the end of common cultivation, and under the Act of 1785, copyhold land was allotted for Elcombe farm, and another was made for Samways farm (formerly Parhams).

The manors of Norrington and Trow were also agricultural. The demesne of Norrington manor had 140 acres of arable land in 1312 with pasture for 300 sheep in 1361. In 1362 the Trow estate had 57 acres of arable and pasture for 200 sheep, while Trow Crawley had 240 acres of arable and 10 of pasture in 1425. The Victoria County History suggests that the Trow and Norrington estates had probably merged by the mid-16th century. This created a single farm at Norrington which in 1664 occupied the western half of the parish with 1,219 acres.

By the mid-19th century there were four large farms at Norrington, Samways, Church and Elcombe with Norrington the largest at around 1,269 acres and the rest all around 400 acres. They were all around half arable and half pasture.

The Second World War saw a proportion of the Norrington downland ploughed. There was a dairy on the farm until 1956, after which date more downland was also ploughed. Lambs, cereals and herbage were produced in 1983.

Church and Elcombe farms were often leased together. In the 1950s some corn was grown and cattle were kept on Church farm, although it has always been predominantly a sheep farm. Samways was used as a training centre for racehorses in the 1860s by William Day. Samways was divided into two farms in 1920, the larger portion of which was worked with the land of Church and Elcombe farms, while the smaller portion was worked with Ebbesbourne Wake. Racehorses continued to be bred on the larger farm from 1911.

The important houses of the parish were Alvediston, Norrington, and Samways or Parhams.

Wilton Abbey held the whole of Alvediston in 1086, given to the nuns of Wilton by King Edwy in 955. The Abbey leased it to various owners until 1541 when it was given to Sir William Herbert by Henry VIII after Wilton Abbey was dissolved in 1536. Herbert became the first Earl of Pembroke in 1551, and his family held the estate until 1918 when it was sold as 2 farms; Church and Elcombe. Both the manor house and Elcombe farm have been bought and sold periodically following this.

The Earl of Avon Anthony Eden (Prime Minister 1955-7) lived in the old manor house from 1966 until his death in 1977. It had been restored between 1938-1948 by Victoria Bailey, Baroness Glanusk.

Norrington, recorded as being held from the King in 1210-12, has been principally owned by 3 families; the Gawens, Wyndhams, and Sykes. The Gawen family, whose origins allegedly trace back to the 5th century and the legend of King Arthur (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight c.1400) owned it from 1377-1658. The name Gawen has a long history and it is believed that Gawain was more likely to have been a real person than the many of the other Arthurian knights. Gawain appears in a 13th century French romance, he is a knight in 'The History of the Kings of Britain 1135-1140 and in 1125 William of Malmesbury mentions the finding of Gawain's tomb in Pembrokeshire during the time of William the Conqueror.

Norrington was sold by William Gawen to Sir Wadham Wyndham following the loss of some of the manor to the Crown from the beginning of the 17th century due to recusancy. The Wyndhams held it until 1952 when John Wyndham sold it to A.F.S. Sykes. The building includes some of the original 14th century house in the vaulted undercroft, and the hall and porch in the south-eastern corner were built in the 15th century.

Parhams (later Samways) probably developed from lands in Alvediston, including a messuage called 'Staenihalle', granted by Robert White to Alexander Wike sometime before 1200. These lands passed to Wilton Abbey who granted them to John Parham for life around 1192. It was held by the Samways family 1558 - c.1595. For most of the 17th century it was owned by the Goulds, who sold it to the Freke's, from whom it passed into the hands of George Pitt in the early 18th century. By 1780 it had come to the King family until William Day held the land in 1865 by which time the farm had become known as Samways. The farm passed through a few more hands until F.W. Hoole bought the farm in 1911 and was succeeded by his daughter, Miss O.E. Hoole in 1951. Around 1920 George Compton bought 101 acres of Samways farm, which was probably combined with Elcombe farm in the 1950s. The connection between Samways and horses continued with Claire Farrow who inherited the farm in 1986 from her god-mother Olga 'Mick' Hoole and ran stables and a self-catering and riding holiday business until 2009.

As an agricultural parish, the population of Alvediston has never been high. It increased from 217 in 1801 to a peak of 281 in late 19th century (although there was a drop to 160 in 1811). The agricultural depression led to a general decline down to lowest level of 86 in 1981, followed by small increase to 106, in 2011.

Alvediston was probably a more prosperous than average parish in the Chalke hundred in 14th Century. In 1377 it had 111 poll tax payers, close to the average, despite the variation in population across the hundred.

The street pattern and footprint of occupation hasn't changed substantially from the 1773 Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire. The centre of the community is arguably the cross-roads between the Berwick St John - Ebbesbourne Wake road and tracks leading to St. Mary's Church and to Elcombe Barn, where there is a relative concentration of buildings including the church, Samways farm, the old school and the Crown Inn although there is no discernible true centre or traditional focus.

'The cross' formerly had a community orientated role with the old school house, post office and 'the hut' or reading room which was used as a village hall between the closure of the school in 1922 and the re-opening of the Old Schoolroom as the village hall.

There are several surviving 16th and 17th century cottages including Church Cottage which is late 16th century, but extended in the both the 17th and 19th centuries. In the 18th century more building took place along the lane joining the church and the road.

There was little new building in the 19th or 20th centuries except for the former school, a farmstead south of the school, a cottage in Elcombe Lane and bungalow 250 metres south of the church.

A herepath ran near to the northern parish boundary; in 1762 this was turnpiked as part of the Salisbury-Shaftesbury road. However, this lapsed once the modern Salisbury -Shaftesbury road was turnpiked in 1788. The road linking Berwick St. John with Ebbesborne Wake runs parallel to the ridgeway. A valley road, now a path, leading west from West End through Alvediston church and Norrington Farm had fallen out of use by the late 18th century. The principal road through the parish had roads leading north from the village and Norrington Farm to the old turnpike road in the late 18th century. The mid-19th century saw steps cut into the side of White Sheet Hill and linked roads running north from Alvediston and south from Ansty. This link was improved when a road was built on the north side of the hill in 1896. Plans for a direct London - Exeter railway line north of Alvediston, and the 'Chalke valley railway' came to nothing.

The 1848 Kelly's Post Office Directory records a blacksmith, carpenter, farmers, and carrier serving the village. In 1875 the blacksmith is recorded as Jane Mathews and William Mullins held the Crown Inn and is shopkeeper and carrier for the community. By 1885 there is no longer a smith listed, Ann Elizabeth Compton is proprietor of the Crown Inn, and George Mullins is shopkeeper and carrier. By 1889 the Salisbury and Yeovil branch of the South Western railway has reached Tisbury, six miles to the north-west of Alvediston.

The community of Alvediston has Henry Charles Coombs listed as a sub-postmaster in 1898. Previous to this, letters were received from Salisbury via Swallowcliffe. Henry Charles Coombs remains the sub-postmaster until sometime between 1927 and 1931 when letters went through Salisbury.

Electricity is first recorded coming to the village in 1939.

Farming was the primary industry for the parish, and there were windmills recorded at Alvediston manor at 1331 and 1360 and another at Norrington, on Windmill Hill, in 1576. The local corn was milled at the lord of the manor's mill.

The National School was built in 1872, with a residence for the teacher. It closed in 1922 after attendance had fallen from its highest average of 45 in 1890 to 15 in 1919, and the children attended schools of Berwick St. John and Ebbesbourne Wake. Previous to this day schools were recorded dating back to 1818.

The earliest evidence for the church of St. Mary's is 12th century with the font and the nave believed to date to that period, although the majority of the building is mid-19th century. There is some 17th century material in the tower arch. The parish of Alvediston is part of prebendal estate of Chalke, and King's College retains patronage.

There was some non-conformity in the parish; a small Primitive Methodist chapel was built in 1894 with 108 sittings, closing in 1951. There are records existing for the chapel at Dorset Record Office; Trust Treasurers' Accounts and Trustee's minutes (S1/TS 1) and Sale papers and Correspondence (S1/TS 2). Meeting house licenses were issued for 4 houses in the parish in the 19th century including two for Primitive Methodist houses on the 7 November 1844 for premises in the holding and occupation of James Adlam and Thomas Jenkins. Members of the Gawen family, owners of Norrington, and others in the parish were Catholic recusants. Thomas Gawen was imprisoned in London in the late sixteenth century, and members of his household were presented for their absence from the parish church, including Catherine, his wife, who was indicted for speeches against the Crown in 1603 and 1605.

The 21st December saw the annual distribution of the King Charity. Thomas King's will of 1826 left £500 for poor parishioners, the beneficiaries of which were not to have received parish relief in the previous year. Under a scheme of 1970 the income was used to provide cash or goods for poor parishioners.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilAlvediston Parish Meeting
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Churches: Information on both current and disused churches and chapels.

Schools: Information on both current and closed schools.

Population 1801 - 2011

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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.

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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 Alvediston

Folk Biographies from Alvediston

Folk Plays from Alvediston

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 historic importance is 14. There is 1 Grade I building, Nornington Manor with Wall and Gate Piers; and 1 Grade II* building, Church of St. Mary.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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

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