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Wiltshire Community History

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Easton Royal

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 Easton Royal:

Map of the Civil Parish of Easton Royal

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 Easton is located just under 5 miles south east of Marlborough and lies at the eastern entrance to the Pewsey Vale. It is a Conservation Area set within the Pewsey Vale AONB. The extent of the parish measured 900 hectares until 3 hectares was transferred to Burbage in 1987. Easton has been known as Estone in 1086, Estton (1281), Aston (1242) and Eastone (1522). The parish has become commonly known as Easton Royal, probably because its Easton half lay in the king’s forest of Savernake. In 1836 the vicar of Great Bedwyn mistakenly described the parish church as royal and in the 1850s the village itself acquired the name. In the late 20th century the local authority still called the parish Easton but Easton Royal remained its most used name. The name Easton means east settlement, probably from its location, most likely being colonised from Pewsey; it was separated from Pewsey by a middle settlement at Milton Lilbourne.

From Easton Hill the parish boundary follows the dry valleys east and west. Where the two valleys meet at the south east tip a stone marked the boundary in c.933, 1244 and 1634.This stone gave its name to Falstone Pond, dug by 1773 on the boundary and replaced by the early 20th century. By 1773 a road ran the whole length of the west side’s boundary.

The northern half of the parish contains greensand; the southern half is chalk. Flint was dug around the forested area and local sandstone was dug by farmers and sold to the council. Along the streams of the Christchurch Avon and Deane Water sandy soils can be found, suitable for arable and pasture, and was common pasture until the 17th century. Easton Hill was a rough pasture for sheep. The clump of trees on the summit are said to have been planted after 1747.

The Roman road from Mildenhall to Old Salisbury is likely to have run through the parish north to south on Easton Hill. The course of the Marlborough to Salisbury road was blocked in the 16th century when the western part of Savernake Forest was enclosed as Savernake; half of the parish was part of Savernake Forest until 1330. The lane leading to Wootton Rivers was once called the Pig path and Harris Lane is said to be a corruption of an earlier name; Harries Lane. Pewsey Road was almost always referred to as Gammon Lane The Kennet and Avon canal runs less than one mile from the village. There is evidence of Iron Age and Bronze Age settlement near the summit of Easton Hill, and several barrows further to the south east. The barrows are known as ‘Giant’s Grave’ and ‘Old Hat’.

Easton had 66 poll tax payers (aged over 14) in 1377 but by 1801 the population had reached 391. The community had reached a population peak of 532 in 1841, declining steadily to 230 by 1981. Easton may have been part of a large estate called Wootton which belonged to the King in 1086. In the mid 12th century it belonged to John FitzGilbert the King’s Marshall; he gave half of it to Bradenstoke Priory. The remaining land was granted to the bishop of Hereford in an exchange. The Bishop granted half to Adam of Easton at Fee Farm. Adam’s son was Stephen of Tisbury, Rector of East Tisbury, Archdeacon of Wiltshire from c.1226, founder of Easton Priory in c.1234. It has been said that the Prior of Bradenstoke dispossessed Stephen and a legal battle ensued, finally settled in Stephen’s favour by the Pope. On his death in 1246 the land passed to his nephew Geoffrey Sturmy and his niece Felice, the wife of William Druce. Felice’s quarter was later called Easton Druce or Easton Priory. This land was eventually given to Easton Priory by the Rector of Compton Chamberlayne when he acquired it. The Priory was dissolved in 1536 and the estate was granted to Sir Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp, executed in 1552. The Bishop of Hereford kept the Fee Farm rent until it was given to Elizabeth I in an exchange. In 1770 it was bought by Thomas Bruce, Lord Bruce, owner of the Easton Druce and Easton Warren manors. Sturmy’s quarter passed down through the family until the mid 16th century when it was bought by Edward, Earl of Hertford and, from 1547, Duke of Somerset. When the land was held by Richard Warren in 1248 it also became known as Easton Warren. From 1553 to c.1929 the whole of the parish descended in the Seymour, Bruce, Brundenell and Brundenell-Bruce families. In c.1929 George Brundenell-Bruce, Marquess of Ailesbury, sold Manor Farm.

Matters presented under the court leet jurisdiction of the late 16th century until the early 17th century included public nuisances, condition of the stocks, affray, the playing of unlawful games, failure to practice archery, repair of roads and the building of unlawful cottages. Many offences were associated with the village ‘feast’.

Agriculture

In the 13th century the parish contained arable land in open fields and c.1,200 acres of common pasture for cattle and pigs. By the 16th century the amount of demesne land had increased and each open field had been divided into a hill field, a clay field (on the lower chalk) and a sand field (on the greensand). At the time of the Dissolution there were small areas of meadow and inclosed pasture, a tiny number of open fields and pasture for 455 sheep and cattle in common. In the later 16th century the fields on the greensand were inclosed and some land given to copyholders. By 1579 the common pasture to the north had been divided by hedges into two common pastures; Cow Leaze for cattle and the heep ommon for sheep. More inclosures took place to the east and south east of the village. There was a 50 acres rabbit warren on Bat Field which was probably used until 1625. Old Land lay north east of the village and The Breach lay east of the warren. In 1581, 8 acres of downland that lay in open fields was inclosed as penning for sheep. In the early 17th century Sheep Common and Cow Leaze were inclosed. By the early 18th century the southern half of the parish contained five open fields of arable land and lynchets; there was also meadowland. All farm buildings, except Conyger Farm and Breach farm stood in the village street.

In 1773 the open fields were inclosed by private agreement. Some land remained in common usage until the mid 19th century. In 1814 the parish consisted of 1,500 bacres of arable, 139 acres of meadow, 57 acres of permanent lowland pasture and 461 acres of downland pasture and, by 1929, much land had been laid to grass. All eight farms in the parish were mainly arable workings in 1867. In the early part of the 20th century the downland pasture was used as gallops; a familiar sight in the 1930s being the racehorses passing down The Street. Training was undertaken behind The Clump. Farms in 1929 were both mixed and dairy, and mixed farming continued into the late 20th century. By 1989, 1,500 acres of land were being farmed by three families, in use as mixed agriculture including 200 cattle and 1,100 breeding ewes. By 1914 most people kept a pig in their garden and everyone grew vegetables. It was the job of the sons of the house to clean the pigsty and take the manure to the allotment. In 1699 a pound was built for stray cattle by John Allen who received £1 for his work. It was filled in during the 1950s.

The village has no stream and roadside ponds were dug to water animals. The roadside pond which stood next to the Methodist Chapel has also long gone; the ponds had routinely smelt foul in the summertime. There was a pond in Horse Meadow and also in Broad Meadow. The children would often play on the frozen ponds in winter and catch tadpoles in the spring. There was the “Gullet”, a ditch that flowed from Bowden which drained the fields it passed through. It also supplied water to some of the meadows. Many garden wells lined either side of the village street. The Easton Royal waterworks were established near Savernake Forest in 1908 and were run by farmers to provide a clean water supply to the dairies. The reservoir was situated near the crossroads and also provided a piped supply to the farmhouses from at least 1914. These were later superseded by a public supply. The waterworks still existed in the late 1980s but supplied water for stock and some of the village’s gardens. Alec Choules, a resident of Easton Royal from 1914 to 1929 relates that The Street was often muddy in winter and dusty in summer.

Buildings

Easton contains some houses of 15th century date. Avon Cottage is timber framed with wattle and daub and a brick infill, and is thatched. A parlour was added to the building in the 17th century. Green Bank is also of 15th to 16th century date, although it was altered in the early 17th century. It too has a thatched roof, and is timber framed with whitewashed brick noggins. Its interior contains three cruck trusses. Oseland Cottage has colourwashed brick walls and a thatched roof. It is a singled storey building with an attic, and two cruck trusses in the hall; one full blade of each still survives. Easton House originates from the 16th century. It is of Flemish brickwork with a tiled roof, and includes an attic and a cellar. Part of the 16th century house can be found in the interior along with a stone fireplace that incorporates a Tudor arch. The house is thought to be associated with the Esturmey family. Easton’s 17th century buildings are of brick with thatched roofs, the brick sometimes colour washed. Some buildings, like the Old Post Office, have had their thatch replaced by tile. Crossways in Ram Alley is part rough cast and Waverley Cottage is rendered. Arlington Cottage, a house in a row, was refaced in the 18th century. The Old Rectory has 17th century origins, with brick extensions in the early 19th century. It has a t-shaped plan and still retains some early 19th century four paned windows. Wreay Cottage and Yeoman’s are also of 17th origin, Yeoman’s being altered in the 19th century.

The village’s 18th century buildings are mostly of colourwashed brick, also with thatched roofs. Thatch Cottage, now a house but formerly the village shop, is one such property. The White House, however, is of chalkstone cob and brick, and is partly rendered; t had horse racing stables in the yard. There is an 18th century cart shed at Manor Farm, again with a thatched roof, hipped at the ends. It contains tie-beam trusses with queen struts and angle braces. ‘The Cottage’ is of early 18th century origin, altered in the 19th. The Old Forge’s 18th century colourwashed walls contain some stone and flint and the former forge can be found in an outbuilding attached to the right gable. The village 19th century properties include Little Follets, an Ailesbury Estate house dating from 1845. It has a t-plan and a stone panel with arms and date in the first floor front gable. The roof contains banded plain and fish-scaled tiles. The house which was once The Bleeding Horse ale house is part of a row and was probably built in the late 18th or early19th century, of whitewashed brick with a thatched roof. In 1930 approximately 80% of the houses were thatched. There were once cottages standing what was once called in Lucky Lane, running east, from approximately the turning towards Coneygar Farm. The field containing the village hall was once called Pond Close.

The church of the Holy Trinity was built in 1591 for Sir Edward Seymour on the site of a medieval parish church, formerly the priory church. The Methodist church can be found on The Street towards the crossroads. It was built in 1834 as a Wesleyan Chapel, rebuilt in 1897 and closed in 1961. The school can be found at the lower half of the lane in The Street. It was built in 1871 and is still used as the village school. A new hall was built in 2005 for drama, music and assemblies, also used for social occasions. A black and white double fronted house opposite the school used to be the school teacher’s house. The village’s reading room, also built in The Street, opened in 1895 at the instigation of Mr J. Haines. A cottage called Library Cottage was used as a reading room for a short while before this date.

Trade

A tailor and weaver lived at Easton in 1352 and stone for building was quarried in the parish in the 16th and 17th centuries. There was a malthouse in the village in the 18th century, growing to two in the early 19th century when the village also boasted two blacksmiths, a cartwright, and a wheelwright. The latter two craftsmen were also good at making furniture. By the middle of the 20th century there was one village shop and a tradesman’s van visited regularly. The goods would be left on the kitchen table if no one was home. The owners of The Bleeding Horse liked to brew their own beer; there was no public house in the village itself. When still serving beer as a malthouse, the Bleeding Horse was known to never close its doors and it was said that ‘rampaging drunks roamed the parish, fights were frequent’. Lady Ailesbury worked to close it down. In 1878 the Bleeding Horse was taken over by a journeyman boot and shoemaker from Broad Hinton called William Bailey. William also turned The Bleeding House into a post office and became its first postmaster. Boys would earn some pocket money by delivering post. The building is now a private dwelling. The term ‘bleeding horse’ means a long low stool where the stuck pig was held. As you will see below, it is interesting that both beer establishments have pig connotations!

The Gammon public house, situated between Easton and another village, on the south side of the Pewsey Road, was in trouble in its early life by opening during church services. The vicar complained to the Countess of the estate and the Gammon of Bacon was told to close on Sundays. This remained the case even into the 1950s in the rebuilt public house. The Gammon was once famous for cockfighting, backswording contests and ‘revels’ and became popular with the canal building navvies. In 1848 they had a final ‘fling’ there before they left and the inn went up in flames. The water pump of the old Gammon can still be found at the site. The Gammon revel died out in the late 19th century but was revived by the villagers in the late 20th century. In 1850 workers arrived to build the railway. They were billeted in a hutted camp ‘up the hollow’ on Ram Alley Road. They visited what was probably the new Gammon and lots of fighting took place; the village yet again got a bad name. The Bruce Arms, situated opposite the Gammon, was built in the mid 19th century after the Gammon burnt down. The Gammon sign was hung up at the new pub but was soon replaced, however its nickname remains the Gammon today. The Bruce is so called because the Bruce family married into the Ailesbury family, owners of the estate.

During the First World War the locals travelled to Marlborough or Devizes to buy goods which was an all day trip by horse and cart. There was a small shop on the crossroads at this time which sold sweets and tobacco from the living room. During the war the village boys were in great demand on the farms due to the labour shortage. They also helped with the milking, starting at 5.30 a.m. then home for breakfast, then to school. They milked again after school too. The master responsible for National Savings at school would collect money from the children one day a week. The children also picked blackberries to make jam for the troops. They were paid one and a half pence per pound.
There was a blacksmith’s shop next-door to the Old Vicarage which was the regular meeting place for men and boys. The smith also looked after the farmers’ water supply, pumped via a windmill, backed up with an oil engine. There was also a boot repairer. The village constable had a house in the village and there was a bakery in the 1920s and 1930s, a long low building leading from the shop. In the 1930s Rusher’s mobile fish and chip van visited the village on a Wednesday and Saturday. The butcher came on a Thursday, fishmonger on a Friday. Travelling salesmen also plied their wares; books medicine and the like. The carpenter doubled up as an undertaker and was also the sexton.
A weekly carrier service operated in the 19th century, from Devizes to Marlborough on market days. Small motorbuses travelling from Hungerford to Pewsey passed through the village three to four times daily in the 1960s.

The population in 1981 was 230, and in 1989 c.255; in 2011 there were 253 people in the parish. In the 1980s twice weekly deliveries arrived by green grocer and there were weekly deliveries by a baker. The milkman also carried some food items, but there was no village shop. A mobile library visited every other Monday afternoon.
Village Community

In 1775-6 the parish spent £103 on poor relief. By the 1780s it had become an average of £117 per year. There was also purported to have been a workhouse in the parish which had been demolished by 1798. In the years 1815-16 the cost of giving poor relief had risen to £249; the parish joined the Pewsey Poor Law Union in 1835. In the 1840s it is reported that one third of Easton’s families were receiving relief.

William Francis died in 1805 and in his will gave £500 to be distributed at Christmas among the ‘industrious’ poor of the parish. From c. 1807-1822 money was given and later sometimes coal or blankets. J. T. Lawes died in1828 and left the interest from £100 to the ‘industrious Anglican’ poor of the parish, given with the Francis charity. From 1917 to the 1930s the Francis Charity gave coal and the Lawes’ Charity, clothing. After the Second World War the gifts were solely monetary. In 1986 the two charities merged and in 1994 the charity ceased to exist.

There was a Sunday School which arranged for buses to the ‘derby’ in the first half of the 20th century. Children’s Christmas parties were held in the village hall and there was the annual W.I. tea party at the Sunday School. The Methodists went on seaside excursions, had Bank Holiday sports, Christmas parties and picnics, and the ‘Trinity Stage’ was held on Trinity Sunday, the highlight of the Methodist year. The stage was placed in front and around the pulpit. The event also provided a tea, free for chapel scholars but all others had to pay sixpence; lardy cake and seed cake was available. There was also a chapel tea at Mr Pearce’s farm on the August bank holiday which included evening games and races. A swing was put up in the tree. On Christmas morning a party of chapel singers sang carols around the village. They began at midnight and continued until 3 a.m., the village band accompanying them. On New Year’s Day they repeated the process but only called on farm houses for refreshment and a donation, mostly likely alcoholic! In the late 19th century Mr Powell, a local farmer, gave a large cottage between the vicarage and the reading room for use as a recreational centre but it was closed as a ‘rowdy element’ preferred fighting to reading! There was a friendly rivalry in the early 20th century between the village and its neighbours in Milton and Wootton Rivers because, it was claimed, of violence at a game of “Hurky” with Burbage late last century. Hurky was known a free for all rugby type contest.

The village of Easton was itself divided with the ‘upstreeters’ and ‘downstreeters’. The dividing line was Harris Lane. There weren’t many clubs in the village; “the village does not take kindly to anything in the way of a club” it was said, but residents did enjoy a good whist drive, raising money for charity in the process. When the new reading room was opened a cricket club was established for the summer months whilst the reading room was closed, permission had been given to use the Wind Mill meadow as a cricket field. The village had no recreation ground or football club until the mid 20th century. In the 1950s the villagers tried to set up a pitch. They were offered some land and appropriated some wooden goal posts but these were left in the meadow and never erected. There was a village hall by the 1930s and a recreation ground did follow in the 1950s, presented by Sir Henry Bashford.

Garden fetes have been held since the 1930s and were held in the The Street in the late 20th century. The village fete’s hoop-la table was always popular, as was the darts board, while there was always a queue to bowl at skittles for a pig. There were also guess the weight opportunities using a marrow and/or cake. The annual flower, vegetable and produce show was held in the village hall. The shoemaker William Bailey was also a musician and formed a band after training some of the village boys. His workshop was the bandroom. In the 1980s the W.I. were meeting once a month at Milton village hall in winter and in Easton when the weather wass warmer in the summer months. They often invited speakers or held demonstrations on arts, crafts, patchwork, quilting and scrabble. The Mother’s Union had a small branch in the village running jointly with the Milton and Wootton branch. They met once a month, usually in a member’s home. The Vale Friendship Club also met monthly and included members from Easton Royal, Milton Lilbourne and Wootton. The Club was formed in 1973, originally to provide contact between the retired people of neighbouring villages. They have since welcomed those age 55 plus. There was also a New Year Lunch and an Age Concern rally. Villagers took part in the annual Age Concern Wiltshire Handicraft Exhibition.

Elm trees once flanked The Street and the large elm between the church and vicarage was affectionately known as the ‘Rook Tree’. Unfortunately it caught Dutch Elm disease. The village green and Douglas pines disappeared in the 1960s with the coming of the new road layout. In 1989 a tree was planted to commemorate the centenary of Wiltshire County Council.

Childhood games included hopscotch, rounders, skipping, hoops, and whipping tops, all played in The Street. “Dibs” would also be played using five stones and in the dark winter evenings the children would enjoy a game of “Stag”, where the catcher would touch another boy and they would join hands to catch another. There were also impromptu cricket matches using a shaped barrel stave as a bat. By the 1950s boys joined the Milton Cubs and Burbage Scouts. Walking “around the clump” was at one time a regular feature of village life, especially on warm summer evenings after church or chapel. Early on a summer’s morning in August 1826 William Cobbett the political commentator rode across the downs from Everleigh, stopping to look at the view from the top of the hill. He later wrote in ‘Rural Rides’ that the valley was a “land of promise, and beauties to behold.”

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Folk Songs from Easton Royal

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