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Wiltshire Community History

Erlestoke 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 Erlestoke:

Map of the Civil Parish of Erlestoke

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:

Erlestoke is a parish in the middle of Wiltshire, approximately eight miles south west of Devizes and six miles north west of Westbury. The parish is long and thin and from north to south stretches for around four and a half miles; it is only a mile from west to east. To the east of the parish is Great Cheverell and to the west Coulston and Edington. The parish of Erlestoke can roughly be divided into three; one third is chalk, one third Kimmeridge Clay and the other Upper Green Sand. Erlestoke did not receive ecclesiastical parish status until 1877.

The population in Erlestoke has been relatively steady over the last two centuries; there were 400 people living there in 1851, which was something of a high. After this, many people left rural areas to find work in towns. In 1881 there were 271 people, in 1921 there were 242 and in 1961 there were 226. In 2001 there were 522 people registered as living in the parish, but as this includes around 300 inmates at HM Prison Erlestoke, the actual population of the village and parish remained at around the 200 mark.

'Erlestoke' is thought to derive from "Stoc", the Old English term for "place", meaning that Erlestoke originates as the place or home of an earl. However, the only earl who seems to have been at all connected with Erlestoke is Earl Harold, of Melksham, who held the large estate of Melksham in the 11th century prior to the Norman Conquest of England. Erlestoke was often known as Earlstoke, and in the Middle Ages was also known as Erlestone, Ellerstoke and Erlescote. The 16th century was the height of inconsistent and erratic spellings. For a long time it was simply known as Stoke.

Evidence of Roman occupation has been found to the west of the parish, near to the present day golf course.

Erlestoke was not mentioned in the Domesday survey, but is thought to have been included in the estate of Melksham. The manor of Erlestoke was held by Roger de Mandeville in the middle of the 12th century; it is thought that Henry I granted the manor to the de Mandeville family. It then passed, through marriage, into the Fitz-Herbert family and then to the Fitz-Johns, through Matthew Fitz-John. On coming into the manor, Matthew was a minor. He came of age in 1280; before this being under the wardship of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I. Matthew surrendered all his lands to the King, including large manors in Hampshire and Devon, and was given the manors of Erlestoke and Rowde, and the castle and manor of Devizes. At his death Erlestoke reverted to the Crown. Edward II, who was on the throne at the time, then handed the manor to Ralph de Monthermer. From the 16th century the manor was in the Brouncker family, remaining in tat family until the 18th century.

There were 73 households recorded in 1309 and 136 adult tax payers by 1377. John Chandler, in "Devizes and Central Wiltshire", surmises that this meant there was a population of between 250 and 300, which is very similar to the population in the late 20th century.

Erlestoke House is found in the east of the parish and its lands surround the village on three sides. The building - of which only two wings remain - was built by George Stewart for owner Joshua Smith between 1786 and 1791. Smith was the MP for Devizes and also built cottages on the High Street during this time. It replaced an earlier building, thought to be Elizabethan, which was demolished to make way for his mansion and in the landscaping a group of lakes were formed in the grounds. The estate passed to George Watson-Taylor, the husband of Smith's daughter Susannah. Watson-Taylor was a wealthy Jamaican plantation owner and friend to King William IV. By 1820 he had further grown in prosperity and had become lord of the manor of

John Britton, writing in 1801, said: 'The Park abounds with many fine large elm trees and is enriched with a sheet of water. After forming seven different cascades in its progress it is collected into a lake of considerable dimensions. 'The sides and summit of this hill have been thickly planted with wood which as it advances in growth will give the seat an additional beauty.'

There was a serious fire in the 1950s, resulting in much of the house having to be demolished. Now, the grounds of the estate hold the only prison in Wiltshire, Her Majesty's Prison Erlestoke, a category C prison, for adult men. 'Category C' means that the prisoners are not likely to escape, but should not be trusted to live in an open prison; there are eight residential units for 470 prisoners. The prisoners are taken in from smaller prisons across the south west of England, in particular from Winchester, Bristol, Gloucester and South Wales. On average, there are usually 30 prisoners who are serving life sentences.

Prior to its use as a prison, the house and grounds were used as a training facility during World War One for the Special Operations Executive, a wartime organisation for non-military action. The majority of the village of Erlestoke was made a conservation area in 1985.

In the Middle ages farming was mainly strip cultivation on the chalk land to the south of the parish and on the Greensand in the village itself. By 1782 the majority of the agricultural fields in the parish were enclosed.

There were two water mills at Erlestoke in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1155 one belonged to Montacute Priory, given by Roger de Mandeville, remaining with the priory until the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1560 it was granted by the crown to Robert Davye and Henry Dynne. The other mill, probably known as Manor Mill, was on the stream running through the parish. In 1780, they were still in use.

In 1868 there was a fire which burnt down 13 houses when on 26 May local man Thomas Godden who had been given notice to leave his cottage and, in a fit of pique, he set fire to it .A fire engine from Market Lavington arrived, but the villagers had to pitch in and formed a line three quarters of a mile long, with water from the village pond moving down it in buckets. Thomas Godden was given ten years penal servitude in punishment.

The George and Dragon is the only inn in the parish and is found to the south of the High Street, the B3098. There is a garage in the village, known as Turners, which has been in the same family for three generations and has been a Skoda dealership for many years.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilErlestoke Parish Council
Parish Web Site 
Parish Emailerlestokepc@btinternet.com

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.

Historical Sources: A select list of books and articles is listed in 'Printed material'. You may go directly to the actual text from some of these.

Printed Material: This is a select book-list for the community but in the case of a town there may be hundreds more books, pamphlets and journal articles.

The full text of some items is available to view on this site.

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 Erlestoke

Folk Biographies from Erlestoke

Folk Plays from Erlestoke

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 26. There are no Grade I buildings, and no Grade II* buildings.

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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