History on the ground in Atworth
Last March I wrote about planning an interpretive day course for the village of Atworth and made it an excuse to talk about Great Chalfield Manor and the Tropenell family, as Chalfield is now in Atworth civil parish. We held the day course last month, and very successful it was too. Course members, mainly Atworth villagers, spent an enthralling morning looking at books, maps and documents in the History Centre to discover the development of the village of Atworth over several centuries. It was a little complicated as there were three manors, the sites of which were fairly confidently identified, and the village itself was often referred to as being in three parts.
There’s a tithe barn, contemporary with that at Bradford on Avon, though only half its length; both were built by Shaftesbury Abbey, whose manor house or grange would have been here. Near the church is a triangular area, formerly a rectangle, which is called the market place. Folk memory and some evidence for penning indicated that sheep were sold here and it was thought likely that sheep fairs were held here as no market charter seems to have been granted.
Roads played an important part in shaping the structure of the settlement. An early one from Cottles, one of the manor houses and the former settlement of Little Atworth disappeared in the early 19th century when a new drive from Cottles House to the village was created; it entered the market place from the north by Poplars Farm, another likely manor house, and would have caused the village centre to look very different from the one of today.
The road to Bath, to the north of the original village, was turnpiked in 1753 across Atworth Common; this greatly altered the shape of the village and also caused the closure of a short length of road and the building of another one. A dusty road, where formerly there had been farmhouses, a few cottages and an inn, became extensive ribbon development with another inn, some beer houses and many more houses.
Much of the land in the parish was enclosed fairly early but from the late 17th century and through the 18th century farmhouses were still built in the village, where they had been since medieval times when each had several strips in the common fields, and not on the newly enclosed compact areas of farmland. Much of the above, and much more, was evident from both the documentary research and the afternoon exploration, where several course members demonstrated their own knowledge of village history and the buildings in a 2½ hours walk.
County Local Studies Librarian