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Question Date :

Monday 4th July 2011 10:03

In the village of Sherston there is an inn called the Rattlebone Inn. What is the origin of this name?

The name commemorates an early legend concerning John Rattlebone, a sturdy yeoman who, for some reason, was promised land by Edmund Ironside if he fought against King Canute in 1016. Rattlebone was mortally wounded and although he staunched the flow of blood with a stone tile and continued fighting, he died as the Danes withdrew. Still current in the 17th century and recorded by John Aubrey was the following doggerel;

"Fight well, Rattlebone,
Thou shalt have Sherston."
"What shall I with Sherston do
Without I have all belongs thereto?"
"Thou shalt have Wych and Wellesley
Easton Town and Pinkeney."

The verse seems a little reminiscent of early mummer's plays and could well be a corrupted oral account of how the estate of Sherston was acquired by an early landowner.
There is some disagreement as to whether Rattlebone did die or, as one tradition holds, survive to claim his lands. The verse quoted evidently indicates the hard bargaining that took place before the battle and would indicate that Rattlebone had a sizeable following of men to command such a high price for his service. There is a later mediaeval timber chest in the church traditionally supposed to have held his armour; the initials 'R.B.' are upon it, while near the south door is a small figure which is reputed to be him but has been proved to be a priest holding a book and not a stone tile.

The Wiltshire Village Book, by Michael Marshman. Countryside Books, 1999, 0 85306 583 8

The Rattlebone Inn, Sherston
The Rattlebone Inn, Sherston

Image Date: 2003
Image Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham



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