Wiltshire Places

Author’s introduction to Etchilhampton: A Village Portrait

on Tuesday, 31 May 2022. Posted in Wiltshire Places

resDorothy Robertson at the launch of her book, Etchilhampton Village Hall 2001
“Chronicling the changes which have shaped the village has involved finding out how life used to be in order to assess and appreciate the way we live now.

When I began this millennium project to make a profile of Etchilhampton as it is at the end of the year 2000, my intention was only to record the changes which had taken place in the village since the end of the Second World War in 1945. Little alteration would have been made to many of the buildings in the first fifty years of the twentieth century, but with the arrival of electricity, mains water and sewers in the post-war years most cottages were modernised and new houses were built.

As I examined the records and talked to residents and former residents to find out how and why Etchilhampton looks as it does now, it became apparent that social and economic factors were all important. This has led me to look further back to the beginning of the twentieth century and, in some instances into the nineteenth century. Chronicling the changes which have shaped the village has involved finding out how life used to be in order to assess and appreciate the way we live now. The end result is a broader picture with more historical content than was first intended.

I have relied much on the memories of the long-time residents and former residents, and the resources of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Library, and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. In some cases, I have had access to copies of deeds and this has made for more detailed and accurate house descriptions. Most people have deeds deposited with banks, building societies or solicitors and there may well be gaps or inaccuracies in names and dates for those properties – my apologies if that is the case.
Dorothy Robertson, September 2001

Author’s acknowledgments (2001)

Thanks are due to all those people who contributed information and photographs to this study. I am especially grateful to Bev Usher, graphic designer and to the other members of the Etchilhampton Village History Project—Deborah Dobson, Kate Freeman and Tim Holgate, without whom this work would never have been published.

The financial help to make printing and publication possible has come from
• Dr Thomas and Mrs Collingridge
• Etchilhampton Arts Trust
• Etchilhampton Parish Council
• Kennet District Council
• J. Nash and Company
• Nationwide Building Society
• Pine Tree Nursery

Source: Etchilhampton: A Village Portrait by Dorothy Robertson ©
Photo: Kate Freeman ©

Setting the Scene: landmarks and boundaries

on Tuesday, 31 May 2022. Posted in Wiltshire Places

05 Setting the Scene Aerial view

An aerial view of the village, Photograph R. Smith, 2001

The village of Etchilhampton lies in the Vale of Pewsey on the edge of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

All the central area of the village to the south of the All Cannings road and from Etchilhampton House in the west to Wayside Farm in the east has been designated a Conservation Area. Development is limited to infilling with minimum change only in surrounding parts of the parish. There are strict controls on design of new buildings and extensions to existing buildings. An application to build two large houses to the north of Church Holding, for instance, was refused in April 2001.

At the highest point of Etchilhampton Hill, 623 feet above sea level, there is a 360 degree panoramic view. The trigonometric pillar still survives, but there is nothing to remind one of the Royal Observer Corps post built above ground in 1952 and replaced by an underground bunker in 1961. The two underground rooms were reached by a fixed metal ladder; one a control room and the other with two bunk beds. They were used for exercises three or four times a year until 1991 or thereabouts. The rooms were then filled in for safety reasons.

04 Lion statue BEV USHER

The Lion Monument commemorates a new stretch of road (A342) made in 1768 by James Long Photograph B. Usher

Right at the corner of the parish on land owned by Frank Edwards of Manor Farm, Stert, stands the Long Monument, more frequently called the Lion Monument. Erected in 1771. Its inscription commemorates a new stretch of road (the A342) which avoided the old high road:

“James Long, Late of Wedhampton Esq., Whose Publick Spirit and Benevolence which he ever exercised for the service of Mankind were remarkably exerted in planning, promoting and compleating this New Road. An Dom. 1768.”

Most of the old road, nowadays a byway, from Etchilhampton Hill south east towards Stert has retained its natural sunken state (see Note 1), but a small area near to the road at the top of the hill has been filled in.

On the north west side of the road from the Lion Monument leading to Etchilhampton, a thorn hedge was planted by Frank Edwards in the winter of 2000/1.

On the east side of the road towards Coate, just at the brow of Coate Hill, was a chalk pit which was filled in during the 1970s.

Although all the mature elm trees died in the 1970s, notably along the All Canning road, other trees have been planted in the parish, for instance along the footpath through the centre of the village. The Churchyard, Etchilhampton House and the lane to Tichborne Farm have many fine mature trees.

The parish boundary changed in 1984 when Tinkfield (now known as Grist Environmental) was moved into Stert parish, but the Boundary Commission turned down the suggestion from Etchilhampton Parish Council that Wabi Farm and Westfield Farm be moved from Stert to Etchilhampton. This would have made a logical tidying up of the boundary of the parish.

Wabi Farm and Westfield Farm, Hatfield Farm and Cottages fall just outside the parish boundary into Stert, but are part of village life and have been included as part of the project.

Source: Etchilhampton – A Village Portrait 2001, edited 2022

1. Until 1768 the road from Devizes to Urchfont followed a northerly course over Etchilhampton Hill, but that year a more direct route between Tinkfield (now Grist Environmental) and Lydeway was built. Research suggests that the old hilly route, now a byway, might have been known as the Fullaway, or Fullway on older maps, meaning ‘ful’ foul or dirty, and ‘weg’ way i.e. dirty way.


Setting the Scene: 130 years of demographic change

on Tuesday, 31 May 2022. Posted in Wiltshire Places

It was helpful to look at the 1891 census and examine the population details and employment patterns first of all. In 1891 there were 46 inhabited houses including Tinkfield (now occupied by Grist Environmental) and a cottage that no longer exists, on the right-hand side of the Coate road) and 9 uninhabited houses. The total population was 172 of whom 97 were born in Etchilhampton.

Only 9 were born outside Wiltshire. In 1991 there were 62 households and a population of 152. Today, in 2022, there are 66 households and a population of 142 according to the 2011 census. Some individuals born in Etchilhampton are still living here. Samuel Freeman has the distinction of being the most recent to be born at home in the village.

The 1891 census, which lists names, ages, relationships and occupations, reveals that there were 6 farmers, 4 farmers’ sons, 27 male agricultural labourers, 3 carpenters, 2 market gardeners, and 1 each of schoolmistress, housekeeper, laundress, farm bailiff, shepherd and cook/domestic servant. The tenant of Manor Farm described himself as “agriculturist”.

The farms were Manor Farm, Heath Knapp, Church or Upper Farm, Tichborne and Wayside. One of the market gardens may have been the property now called The Laurels, but small pieces of land were held in various parts of the village by tenants of the Drax Estate.

Most of the agricultural labourers would have worked in the village or on farms in neighbouring villages. Two women described themselves as agricultural labourers, but many more, together with their children would have done seasonal work. The Crees at Manor Farm were a household of five adults and four children. They had a live in servant, Sarah Sealy who was 11 years old! Her parents and siblings were living in the village. Many of the agricultural labourers were in their 60s and 70s. The only inhabitant who stated he was retired was George Oram, aged 83, a “retired farm labourer” living with his wife aged 70. Also in the same house was a lodger, John Cox, a widower who described himself as a farmer.

Very few of the men had the requisite property rights entitling them to vote and none of the women. This meant, for instance, that Mrs Deborah Plank, a widow living at Heath Knapp in a house with four rooms and running a farm of 190 acres with the help of two teenage sons did not have a vote. The 1881 census gives more detail than that of 1891, possibly because the enumerator asked more specific questions of the agricultural labourers. There were entries for carters, cowman, ploughman and plough boy. Benjamin Crees at Manor Farm with its 550 acres employed 15 men and 5 boys in 1881.

A major change took place in 1928 on Thursday,14 June when the sale of the Drax Estate was held at the Bear Hotel in Devizes. Two farms in Etchilhampton which had been tenanted were sold with vacant possession and became owner occupied, and some small pieces of land and several cottages changed hands. The Drax family were absentee landlords living at Charborough Park, Wareham in Dorset. The land in Etchilhampton and Coate passed into their family through a marriage in 1729, but there is little information about the Drax Estate holdings in Etchilhampton since the records were destroyed in a fire at the Drax family seat Charborough Park, Dorset, in the late 19th century.

Field opp WaysideGar 1950 res

Field opposite Wayside Garage,1950   Photograph Capt Douglas Mann


Setting the Scene: housing and living conditions

on Tuesday, 31 May 2022. Posted in Wiltshire Places

06 Badgers Cottage 1930 M MERCER

Badgers and Little Thatch about 1930.  Photograph M. Mercer

Living conditions in 1891 would have been very different – small damp cottages, tiny rooms and little light. Seven members of the Hale family lived in a two roomed cottage. Nine members of the Wells family lived in two rooms. Albert and Laura Hiscock and their seven children of 11 and under lived in a three roomed cottage. The electoral roll for 1939 shows Albert and Laura as living at Box Hedge Cottage, but it was not necessarily their home in 1891. Unfortunately, the census enumerator does not give individual house names or locations, usually saying “in the village” as the address for most people.

The 1891 census required the enumerator to state which families lived in houses of less than five rooms. Perhaps those agricultural labourers Basil Sealy, Thomas Stevens, Daniel Trueman and Saul Cox and their respective families who all had five rooms or more lived in the more recently built 1-4 Manor Farm Cottages. Real improvements in rural housing in Etchilhampton did not take place until the first four council houses were built in 1931. No other dwelling was built until after the war when Oak Hill House, then called Whiterig was erected in 1950.

Plum tree cottages, 1928

Plum Tree Cottages as they were in 1928 with Grace Boyce neé Cox and her brother Victor Photograph Grace Boyce and Alison Duffin

In 1948 the results of a housing survey were presented to the Devizes Rural District Council. This was required by the Ministry of Health and had taken place over the previous two years. The scope of the survey was limited to dwellings “suitable for occupation by persons of the working classes”. This was interpreted as houses having a rateable value of not more than £20 per annum. All 24 parishes were surveyed and Etchilhampton was tenth worst in the league table for the District. There would have been about 45 dwellings in the village and 38 were inspected (see Table 1).

Table 1 – Results of housing survey in 1948
Dwellings with/without Numbers
Piped water 2
Without sinks 22
Without WC’s 38
Free from damp 11
Damp 24
Very damp 3
Without larder or pantry 16
With ceilings below 7 ft 6 inches 29
Without drainage 18

All required some work, ranging from minor repairs to four which were considered unfit for human habitation.

In these houses lived: 12 farm workers, 2 smallholders, 2 building workers, 2 garage workers, 1 clerical worker, 10 miscellaneous and 8 retired.

A general observation in the survey on houses in the Devizes Rural District was that many had been badly built at the turn of the century. This may also have applied to those houses which were erected in Etchilhampton in the 1880’s. The survey also comments:

“One of the main difficulties encountered in rural districts in securing the repair of houses by the pressure of the Housing Acts, is the extraordinary low rentals which obtain in a large proportion of habitations”.

In Etchilhampton 21 tenants paid up to 3/- a week, 5 paid 3/1 to 5/-, 3 paid 5/1 to 7/6 and 6 paid 7/7 to 10/-. Wages for men averaged about £5.00 a week at this time.

The Housing Act of 1949 required local authorities to give housing grants “where the dwelling so improved will provide such accommodation for a period of not less than thirty years from the completion of the work”. The grant was not to exceed half the cost and could be determined by the local authority. There was a contribution from central government towards the financing of these grants by local authorities. Help was also available for the first time to supply piped water and the building of a bathroom (see Table 2).

Table 2 – Devizes RDC set a scale for its contributions towards the cost of the various improvements:
A. Fixed bath of shower £25
B. Wash hand basin £5
C. Hot water supply £75
D. Water closet £40
E. Satisfactory facilities for storing food £10

The amounts were usually enough to cover half the cost of the amenities in the 1950s and early 1960s. Discretionary grants could also be given and these might amount to several hundred pounds towards the conversion of two small dwellings into one of reasonable size. When piped water and main drainage came to the villages and improvement grants were available it led to the reconditioning of many properties. Some landlords were slow to apply for grant aid, but gradually they responded to the pressure put on them to make improvements. Several houses were sold and the new owner occupiers took advantage of the available grants. The rural housing stock began to improve in Etchilhampton through the 1960s so that by the 1970s most houses were connected to the sewer and had piped water and bathrooms.

Little Thatch as it is today
Little Thatch as it is today with an extension to the right. Photograph Bev Usher

These figures are given to assist in making comparisons on rents.

Prior to the introduction of decimal currency there were
• 20 shillings in each pound
• 12 pens in each shilling
• 240 pennies in a pound

Prices of goods and in voices might be written as £3.2s.6d or £2.3.6 and smaller amounts as 2s.6d. or 2/6.

In 1950 when average weekly wage for an agricultural worker was £4.14s.
£1 would have bought goods and services costing £36.51p today.

By 1960 when average weekly earnings for an agricultural worker were £10.11s and for male manual workers were £14.10s.
£1 would have bought goods and services costing £24.54p today.

A Common problem – part 1: Marginal settlement in Warminster

on Friday, 27 May 2022. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

How many people living in Warminster now are aware that certain streets on the south side of Warminster were once part of a completely separate squatter community? We recently completed a historic building study on the south edge of Warminster Common, and were utterly fascinated to discover its unique identity. This area is now rather quaint, with the stone and brick houses on a much smaller scale than those found in the main town. There are some regular streets running through the main settlement, but with scattered housing around the edges joined by little leafy lanes, giving a higgledy-piggledy appearance.

It is hard to think that this was the forerunner of a modern sink estate, and apparently legendary in its vicissitudes of human behaviour. A settlement had begun in the western section of Warminster Common by the 16th century. Animal herders built shelters along the Cannimore Brook, soon to be joined by vagrants, those seeking work and possibly outlaws. Small dwellings were constructed, the occupants being attracted by the availability of land and good sources of water; the brook itself and springs. Dwellings constructed overnight on common and waste land resulted in squatters rights, which were eventually converted to freeholds. By 1582, a number of homeless people had constructed substandard houses of mud and straw or rubble stone with roughly thatched roofs.


Extract from the Andrews and Dury map of 1773. Warminster Common is not named, but is shown below the title ‘Sambourne’ as a separate settlement along the Cannimore brook.

Attempts were made between 1739 and 1770 to stop the expansion of substandard and overcrowded dwellings without success. Lord Weymouth in 1770 made a specific attempt to take over the freeholds of cottages on Warminster Common by inviting his ‘tenants’ to dinner:

Book Review: The Hiding Places

on Thursday, 28 April 2022. Posted in Wiltshire Places

The Hiding Places
Katherine Webb
ISBN 9781409148586
408 pages

The Hiding PlacesThis Wiltshire author is an emerging talent who is now able to pursue writing full-time.The fictional tale of murder and intrigue, set in the sheltered community of Slaughterford is an interesting read.The story centres around the newly wed and new arrival at the manor, Irene Hadleigh; the tentative relationship which is formed with the stable girl ‘Pudding’ under extreme circumstances and on Irene’s internal search for herself.

Social relationships of people living in this rural community are uncovered and descriptions of the country and settlement along the By Brook. The local towns of Chippenham and Corsham are also represented.The difficulties of mental health problems and the legacy of WWI on families and communities are also touched on in a sensitive and empathetic way.There are deceits to uncover and the story takes an unusual twist which is cleverly conceived and executed.

An enjoyable and engaging read with local interest.

Available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre (reference XWE.823 ) and on loan from Wiltshire Libraries.

Julie Davis, County Local Studies Librarian

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