A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 14, Malmesbury Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1991.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Little Somerford, (fn. 1) in a bend of the Bristol Avon 4.5 km. south-east of Malmesbury, (fn. 2) was called Somerford Mauduit in the Middle Ages. The suffix was the surname of the lords of the manor. (fn. 3) The prefix Little, to distinguish the parish from Great Somerford, replaced the suffix from the 16th century. (fn. 4) In the early 1630s, after Braydon forest was inclosed, the men of Little Somerford were allotted Somerford common, 204 a. of the purlieus of the forest: (fn. 5) that land, c. 6 km. north-east of the village, became part of the parish. It was transferred to Brinkworth parish in 1884. Under an Act of 1882 a detached 5 a. to the north-west were transferred to Lea and Cleverton, and small areas were transferred to Little Somerford from Great Somerford and from Lea and Cleverton. Thereafter Little Somerford contained 490 ha. (1,210 a.). (fn. 6)
About half the boundary of Little Somerford is marked by the Avon and its feeder Brinkworth brook and is presumably early. To the north-west the Avon divides Little Somerford from Malmesbury and to the south from Great Somerford. Between those two stretches the Avon divided Little Somerford from Rodbourne in Malmesbury in the late nth century, (fn. 7) but land on the west bank was allotted to Little Somerford at an inclosure in 1281. (fn. 8) North of Great Somerford village the boundary follows not the present course of the Avon but possibly an old course.
The parish slopes from c. 100 m. on its north boundary to c. 60 m. on its south. Apart from a small outcrop of Cornbrash in the west, Kellaways Clay, Oxford Clay, and Kellaways Sand outcrop over the whole parish, including Somerford common. Glacial deposits lie along the eastern part of the northern boundary, gravel and alluvium have been deposited by a small stream south of the village flowing eastwards to Brinkworth brook, and extensive deposits of alluvium flank the Avon and Brinkworth brook. (fn. 9) The parish seems always to have had more pasture than arable and is rich in meadow land.
The main Swindon—Malmesbury road along the northern boundary, the road leading south from it as the Hill and the Street through Great Somerford towards Chippenham, and the road from Little Somerford village to Dauntsey were turnpiked in 1809 and disturnpiked in 1876. (fn. 10) A stone causeway for pedestrians was built on the west side of the road near Great Somerford village c. 1809. A lane with branches each side of the church ran in 1847 from the Street north to the SwindonMalmesbury road: (fn. 11) it was a rough track in 1988. East End Lane may have been the main route north from Little Somerford village until the Hill was turnpiked, but afterwards declined in importance and, in the mid 20th century, the north end of it was closed. (fn. 12) In 1773 or earlier Mill Lane, leading west from the Great Somerford road, branched into lanes leading south and north-west: (fn. 13) when the north-west branch was severed by the railway line c. 1903, a new road was made north of the line.
The Malmesbury railway was built north-west and south-east across the parish close to the Avon in 1877, with a station called Somerford west of the road near Great Somerford village. A goods depot was opened at the station in 1879, and in 1880 the line was vested in the G.W.R. In 1903 the G.W.R. line from Wootton Bassett to south Wales was constructed on an east-west course south of the village. It was carried by bridges over the Great Somerford road and the old line, and by a viaduct over the low ground near the Avon. Little Somerford station was opened south of the village. Somerford station was renamed Great Somerford in 1903 and in 1922 became an unstaffed halt. In 1933 a short stretch of new line was built to link the north-west part of the Malmesbury line and the main line near Kingsmead Mill, and the south-east part of the Malmesbury line and Great Somerford halt were closed. The line from Little Somerford to Malmesbury was closed to passengers in 1951. It and Little Somerford station were closed entirely in 1963. (fn. 14)
Part of a late Bronze-Age artifact and a hoard of Romano-British coins have been found in the parish. (fn. 15) Little Somerford had 77 poll-tax payers in 1377, a higher than average number for Malmesbury hundred. (fn. 16) In the 16th and early 17th century, when no lord of the manor lived there, its assessment for taxation was low. (fn. 17) The population rose from 255 in 1801 to 376 in 1831. A decrease to 337 by 1851 was attributed to inhabitants moving elsewhere for lack of housing in Little Somerford. Numbers had risen to 379 by 1881, declined to 232 by 1961, and risen to 351 by 1971 after new houses were built. The population was 347 in 1981. (fn. 18)
Little Somerford village consists of settlement along the several roads and lanes which converge in the centre of the parish, where the earliest settlement may have been along the east-west part of the Street. In 1773 there was settlement around the junction of the Street, the Hill, Clay Street, (fn. 19) so called c. 1513, (fn. 20) and Dauntsey Road, so called c. 1841, (fn. 21) and in East End Lane, so called in 1773. The junction of Dauntsey Road and East End Lane was called Collingbourne Green in 1773 and 1820. (fn. 22) Most of the larger buildings in the village are of stone. In 1988 few houses were earlier than the 20th century.
On the north side of the Street the church was standing in the 13th century, and the glebe house stood south-west of it in the 17th century or earlier. North-west of the church a small farmhouse was built of stone rubble in the 17th century. In the early 18th century it was incorporated as the east wing of a new house built of red brick with stone dressings: the house was called the Old Rectory after the rector lived there 1847–66. (fn. 23) East of the church Mills Farm was built in the early 17th century. In the mid 19th century the west end was rebuilt to incorporate a mill. (fn. 24) On the south side of the Street, beyond wide verges, are three large farmhouses. The westernmost, Church Farm, was built in the late 16th or early 17th century and retains some carved and decorated beams. It was much altered in the 18th century. Somerford House was built for Richard and Margaret Estcourt in 1609. (fn. 25) It comprised an east-west range, on the south side of which at each end was a short wing. The west service wing was rebuilt in the 19th century. West of the house a large cattle yard and cattle sheds were built in the later 19th century. Manor Farm was built as a long east-west range in the 17th century and was altered internally in the 18th century and in the 19th when the ground floor was replanned. The village became a conservation area in 1975. (fn. 26) A station house was built of stone c. 1877 at Somerford station. In 1892 a cemetery was opened on the west side of the Great Somerford road, (fn. 27) and south of it eight council houses were built in 1931. (fn. 28)
A church house stood on the west side of the Hill until c. 1850, and a school later occupied the site. On the east side of the Hill a turnpike house was built c. 1809. (fn. 29) The King's Head north of the school had been opened by 1865 and was closed after c. 1956. (fn. 30) The Three Crowns, opened before 1895, (fn. 31) was north of the King's Head and was called the Little Somerford Arms in 1988. Houses on the east side of the Hill were pulled down between 1828 and 1847 (fn. 32) and others were built further north on both sides of the road. On the south side of the Swindon—Malmesbury road, extending the line of settlement from the Hill, Hill House is a large house built between 1885 and 1898 (fn. 33) and given a new Georgian west front in 1927. (fn. 34) West of it another large house, Coach House Farm, was adapted from stables built between 1869 and 1882. (fn. 35)
On the south side of Dauntsey Road, Street Farm was built of stone rubble with a roof of stone slates in the 17th and 18th centuries. Yew Tree Farm was built c. 1800 on the north side of the road at its junction with East End Lane; it is of red brick with a stone-slated mansard roof, and its south front has a doorway with fluted pilasters and an open pediment. Also in Dauntsey Road a pair of brick cottages was built beside the railway line c. 1903. A private estate of 29 houses, Vale Leaze, was built on the north side of Dauntsey Road, and more houses were built on the south side, in the 1960s.
Settlement in East End Lane in 1773 was around a small common. (fn. 36) Of the buildings on the east side in 1988, Malthouse Farm was built c. 1800 and north of it East End Farm was built of red brick in the 18th century. On the west side the Cottage, a brick and thatch house of c. 1762, was replaced by a stone house c. 1980. (fn. 37) A farmstead which stood in 1773 (fn. 38) and 1847 (fn. 39) at the junction of East End Lane and the Swindon—Malmesbury road was demolished before 1885 (fn. 40)
Maunditts Park Farm, built in the 1950s on the site of a farmstead which stood in 1773, stands on high ground in the west. (fn. 41) South of it Kingsmead Mill stands beside the Avon. East of the mill Kingsmead House was built on the north side of Mill Lane in the early 20th century, (fn. 42) and Kingsmead Cottage was built north of it.
Manor and other Estates.
Between 934 and 939 King Athelstan granted to Malmesbury abbey 5 mansae at Somerford. (fn. 43) In 1066 Alward held the estate of the abbey by lease. A burgage tenement in Malmesbury was attached to it in 1086 and was still part of it in 1609. (fn. 44) The abbey's overlordship was last mentioned in 1369. (fn. 45)
In 1086 Gunfrid Mauduit held the manor of LITTLE SOMERFORD or SOMERFORD MAUDUIT of the abbey. (fn. 46) The manor may have passed with Nippred manor in Tisbury to Gunfrid's son Walkelin (fl. 1120 X 1130), (fn. 47) and c. 1141 Malmesbury abbey acknowledged that Walkelin's son Ancelin held it for ½ knight's fee. (fn. 48) Ancelin Mauduit, presumably another, held the manor in 1211–12. (fn. 49) It passed to Robert Mauduit (fl. 1212) and was held by his relict Beatrice Mauduit (fl. 1250) in 1242–3. (fn. 50) Sir John Mauduit (d. 1302), possibly the grandson of Robert (fl. 1212), was granted free warren in his Little Somerford demesne lands in 1254, and was succeeded by his nephew Sir John Mauduit (fn. 51) (d. 1347), who was granted free warren there in 1345. That Sir John was succeeded by his relict Agnes (fn. 52) (d. 1369), who married secondly Thomas de Bradeston, Lord Bradeston (d. 1360). Agnes's heir was her and Sir John Mauduit's grandson, Sir William Moleyns (fn. 53) (d. 1381), from whom the manor passed in the direct male line to Sir Richard (d. 1384) and Sir William (fn. 54) (d. 1425). William was succeeded by his relict Margery (d. 1439) (fn. 55) and granddaughter Eleanor Moleyns (d. 1476), who married Sir Robert Hungerford, Lord Hungerford and Moleyns (attainted 1461, d. 1464), and secondly Sir Oliver Manningham (d. 1499). (fn. 56)
In 1460 the manor was conveyed to feoffees as security for money borrowed to pay Robert's ransom when he was a prisoner in Aquitaine, (fn. 57) but Eleanor and Sir Oliver held it in 1472, (fn. 58) and Sir Oliver apparently held it for life after Eleanor's death. (fn. 59) It reverted to Eleanor's granddaughter Mary Hungerford, suo jure Baroness Botreaux, Hungerford, and Moleyns (d. c. 1533), who married first Edward Hastings, Lord Hastings (d. 1506), and secondly Sir Richard Sacheverell (d. 1534). Mary's heir was her son George Hastings, Lord Hastings (cr. earl of Huntingdon 1529, d. 1544), from whom the manor passed to his son Francis, earl of Huntingdon (d. 1560). It was apparently held by Francis's relict Catherine (d. 1576), (fn. 60) and in 1572 she and their son Henry, earl of Huntingdon, sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton, (fn. 61) who sold it before 1581 to Sir Edward Hungerford (d. 1607). The manor passed like Corston manor in Malmesbury to Cecily, countess of Rutland, to Sir Anthony Hungerford, and to Sir Edward Hungerford, (fn. 62) who in 1682 sold it to Sir Stephen Fox. (fn. 63)
In 1689 Fox sold Little Somerford manor in two main parts. The manorial rights and most of the copyhold land were bought by John Hill, who in 1690 sold them to William White. (fn. 64) White was succeeded by his son William (d. 1722). Most of his estate descended to the younger William's daughter Susanna (fn. 65) (d. 1796 or 1797), (fn. 66) who married William Earle (d. 1774) of Eastcourt in Crudwell, and to her son Giles Earle. (fn. 67) In 1807 Earle sold a farm of 114 a. to Charles Wightwick (d. 1861), rector of Brinkworth from 1841, and one of 109 a. to Jonas Ady. (fn. 68) Ady sold his farm in 1818 to Henry Hulbert, (fn. 69) who in 1836 sold it to Wightwick. (fn. 70) Wightwick, who bought more land in 1817, in 1847 owned Church farm, East End farm, Yew Tree farm, and other land, a total of 241 a. (fn. 71) His estate passed to his nephew Henry Wightwick (d. 1884), rector of Codford St. Peter, part having first been held by his relict Mary Wightwick. Henry devised the estate to trustees, who included his relict Sarah (d. 1907) and son H. K. Wightwick (d. 1907). (fn. 72) H. K. Wightwick's sisters, Lucy, Alice, Blanche, Louisa, and Maude Wightwick, c. 1918 sold 248 a. in Little Somerford, including Church, East End, and Yew Tree farms. (fn. 73) Church farm, 125 a., bought by Theodore Simmons, was owned in 1988 by Mr. P. T. Simmons, and East End farm, 63 a., bought by R. W. Gawthrop, was owned by another Mr. R. W. Gawthrop. (fn. 74) In 1808 Giles Earle sold to Henry Wightwick, rector of Little Somerford, the manorial rights and c. 63 a. mostly in the south-west. (fn. 75) Wightwick (d. 1846) devised the land to his daughter Susan, wife of his successor as rector, Arthur Evans (d. 1893). (fn. 76) It passed to Susan's and Arthur's son the Revd. Arthur Evans, and to the younger Arthur's daughter Catherine, wife of F. H. Manley, rector of Great Somerford. (fn. 77) Catherine's estate was apparently broken up in 1918. (fn. 78)
The rest of the younger William White's estate was sold in 1727 to Edmund Estcourt (fn. 79) (d. 1758), (fn. 80) and passed to his relict Anna Maria (will proved 1783). (fn. 81) The Estcourts' estate passed to their grandson William Edwards, (fn. 82) who in 1787 sold most of it to Abraham Young (d. 1787). (fn. 83) Young's son Abraham (d. 1794) inherited and devised it for his daughters Margaret (d. 1845), wife of the Revd. Henry Wightwick (d. 1846), Elizabeth (d. 1824), wife of John Ormond, and Mary (d. 1863), wife of the Revd. Charles Wightwick (d. 1861), as joint tenants. (fn. 84) By 1847 c. 66 a. and the house later called the Old Rectory had accrued to John Ormond, and the remainder of the land was in Charles Wightwick's Little Somerford estate. (fn. 85) Ormond's portion later reverted to the Wightwick estate and was sold with it in 1918. (fn. 86)
By will proved 1738 Thomas Browne devised a farm at Little Somerford to his daughter Arabella, who married William Calley (d. 1768). It passed to her son Thomas Calley (d. 1791), and grandson Thomas Calley, (fn. 87) who in 1804 sold the 78-a. farm to John Collingbourne. (fn. 88) In 1817 Collingbourne sold it to the Revd. Charles Wightwick, (fn. 89) and it became part of Wightwick's Little Somerford estate.
The demesne land of Little Somerford manor, MAUNDITTS PARK farm, was bought from Sir Stephen Fox by Thomas Powell (d. 1692), and passed to his son Thomas (fn. 90) (fl. 1736), (fn. 91) who devised it to his daughter Rachel, wife of John Sheppard. The estate was apparently afterwards owned by Rachel's nephew John Hayter, who settled it on his brother William Hayter. It passed c. 1806 to William's son Francis, who in 1792 took his mother's surname, Egerton, in place of Hayter. Egerton sold it c. 1813 to W. P. Bendry, (fn. 92) who by will proved 1817 devised it to Samuel Brooke (fn. 93) (d. 1837). The farm descended to Brooke's son S. B. Brooke (d. 1869), and to S. B. Brooke's nephew, the Revd. Charles Kemble. (fn. 94) Kemble (d. 1874) devised it to his wife Charlotte, who assigned the 328-a. farm in 1882 to their son Stephen Kemble (fn. 95) (d. 1904). Kemble's relict Frances owned the farm in 1915. (fn. 96) Cornelius Wall was owner 1920–39, (fn. 97) W. H. Wilson 1945–6, and P. R. Marsh 1955–66. (fn. 98) Mr. B. A. Marsh owned the farm in 1988. (fn. 99)
On the 5-hide estate at Little Somerford there were 3 servi and 2 ploughteams on the demesne hides in 1086. Elsewhere on the estate 7 villam, 5 bordars, and 12 coscets had 4 ploughteams. There were 40 a. of meadow. (fn. 103)
In 1303 the demesne included 140 a. of arable, 12 a. of meadow, and pasture worth 8s. yearly. (fn. 104) It had been leased in portions by 1449–50. Land, which later evidence suggests was in the northwest part of the parish, was inclosed to form a demesne park. The park was enlarged in 1426–7, was surrounded by a pale, and in 1449–50 was leased to a parker who in that year sent rabbits from it to the Hungerford family's estate at Rowden in Chippenham. (fn. 105) In 1609 the park was still leased and was stocked with 120 deer. It was disparked c. 1640, some of the land was ploughed, (fn. 106) and most was apparently later part of Maunditts Park farm.
There were 11 leaseholders in 1303. Two held farms of 2 yardlands each and five held ½ yardland each: all seven ploughed for a day in summer for the lord. There were 14 bondmen who each held ½ yardland, worked for the lord for three days a week throughout the year, and paid only 2½d. rent each year. Another 6 bondmen each held ¼ yardland and worked one day a week from 29 September to 1 August, two days a week during harvest. There were also 7 cottars. (fn. 107)
In 1609 of the six lessees, apart from the parker, one held the demesne farmhouse, three closes of pasture, and 1¾ yardland apparently part of the demesne. One held a farm of c. 70 a., entirely pasture. Besides rights in the common meadows it included inclosed pastures of which the largest was England's, c. 20 a. west of the Avon and allotted to Little Somerford in 1281. The remaining four lessees, including the miller, held only small farms, of which one included land formerly in the park. Of 14 copyholders one held 55 a., five held 1 yardland each, and eight each held ½ yardland or less. In addition there were 7 cottagers. (fn. 108)
Idovers field was presumably on the sand southeast of the village towards the hamlet in Dauntsey called Idover, and Eggs field may have been south of the village on the sand. They may have been inclosed in the 16th century: no open field was mentioned after 1512. (fn. 109) Meadows beside the Avon were used in common with Rodbourne until 1281. (fn. 110) Thereafter they were used in common by the men of Little Somerford, and the lord of Charlton manor was entitled toc. 7 a., or 14 lots, in Little Kingsmead meadow c. 1600 and later. (fn. 111) Common rights were extinguished in 1808 when c. 109 a. of meadow land, possibly mainly southeast of Kingsmead Mill, were inclosed. Until then there was also common pasture beside the Swindon—Malmesbury road on open land called Little Somerford down in 1773, on the wide verges of the Street and other lanes near the village, and between East End Lane and Clay Street on land called Savage Green. Those pastures were also inclosed and allotted in 1808, (fn. 112) but a few acres in East End Lane were still common in 1847. (fn. 113)
Until the early 1630s the men of Little Somerford were accustomed to feed their animals in the open woodland and pastures of Braydon forest and its purlieus. They were excluded from the forest when it was inclosed in 1630 but, after dispute with the lords of manors nearer the forest, were allotted 204 a. of the purlieus, Somerford common, c. 1633. (fn. 114) The land was apparently used as a common pasture until 1792 when it was inclosed and allotted in portions. (fn. 115)
Maunditts Park, 288 a., was the largest farm based in the parish in 1847. The others were Manor, 77 a., Street, 79 a., that worked from Somerford House, 89 a., Church, 90 a., with which another 64 a. may have been worked, East End, 67 a., Malthouse, 23 a., Yew Tree, 10 a., and the glebe, 32 a. All were predominantly pasture: Maunditts Park farm included 58 a. of arable west of its farmhouse, the 154 a. apparently worked from Church Farm included 41 a. of arable, Street farm included 10 a. of arable, and the glebe 12 a. (fn. 116)
The arable acreage remained small, 189 a. in 1876, only 13 a. in 1936. It increased during or after the Second World War and there were c. 160 a. of arable in 1985. Crops for feeding stock were grown onc. 20 a., wheat and barley on c. 140 a. In the later 19th century and the 20th the area sown with clover or as temporary grassland varied, from 2 a. c. 1870 to 113 a. in 1976. An average of 390 cows was kept 1867–1976, an average of 190 sheep 1867–1946, and an average of 207 pigs 1867–1966. In 1985 there were 233 cows and 519 other cattle. (fn. 117) Farming in 1988 was still predominantly pastoral and three farms, Maunditts Park, Church, and East End, were based in the parish. Maunditts Park, which had c. 215 a. in the parish, and East End, c. 100 a., were dairy farms, and on Church farm, c. 210 a., corn was grown and cattle for beef were reared. The rest of the parish was still mostly grassland. (fn. 118)
There were 8 a. of woodland in 1086 (fn. 119) and 10 a. in 1303. (fn. 120) After it was inclosed in 1792, 191 a. of Somerford common were planted with trees. All the woodland in the main part of the parish in 1847, 2 a. of plantations and a 4-a. coppice, were in Maunditts Park farm. (fn. 121) There were only a few acres of woodland in 1988.
A glover lived in the parish in 1582. (fn. 122) In 1831 most men in Little Somerford were agricultural labourers. (fn. 123) A mason or masons worked in the parish in 1841 and later; malting was carried on 1847–67 at Malthouse Farm by members of the Gantlett family, and in 1847 and later by Charles Hall at what became Mills Farm. (fn. 124) The auctioneering and cattle-dealing business of the Teagle family was based 1875–1927 at the farm worked from Somerford House. Two coal merchants were based at Little Somerford station from 1903, and from 1935 or earlier the Wiltshire Agricultural Cooperative Society Ltd. had a depot there. (fn. 125)
There was a mill at Little Somerford in 1086. (fn. 126) From 1303 or earlier a mill, (fn. 127) presumably on the Avon where Kingsmead Mill later stood, was part of the manor. Kingsmead Mill, so called in 1585, (fn. 128) descended with Maunditts Park farm from 1689 to 1910 or later. (fn. 129) Milling ceased in 1955, and in 1988 Kingsmead Mill was owned by Mr. David Puttnam, the film producer, and his wife. The mill was rebuilt in the 17th century or early 18th. In the late 18th century a mill house was built on the north side and a wing on the west. About 1828 (fn. 130) the whole building was heightened and a brick range was built along the north part of its east front. The west front was altered in the 20th century. In the 1980s the inside of the house was extensively altered and refitted, a walled courtyard was built to the east, and landscaped gardens, incorporating the mill pond, were made to the south.
Views of frankpledge and manorial courts were held twice yearly c. 1450. (fn. 131) Records survive for 1510–14 and show the business of both to have been recorded together and to have included the election of a tithingman, the payment of cert money, the amercements of millers for overcharging, and presentments of flooded roads, waterlogged ditches, houses in need of repair, straying animals, and the deaths of customary tenants. Copyhold business was dealt with, and the use of the open fields after harvest was regulated. (fn. 132)
In 1689 William White conveyed a house to accommodate paupers. (fn. 133) It was presumably the church house so used in 1834. (fn. 134) The amount spent on the poor rose from £89 in 1775–6 to £203 in 1802–3 when, of a population of c. 255, 28 adults were relieved continuously and another 28 occasionally. (fn. 135) In 1813–15 c. £245 a year was spent on continuous relief and occasional relief for, respectively, averages of 24 and 14 adults. (fn. 136) The average of c. £270 yearly 1816–21 was low for Malmesbury hundred. Expenditure afterwards fluctuated greatly, £181 being spent in 1823, £376 in 1824, and £108 in 1825. Expenditure in 1833–5, £215 on average, was still low for the hundred. Little Somerford was included in Malmesbury poor-law union in 1835. (fn. 137) A burial board was formed in 1892 to administer the cemetery opened in that year. (fn. 138) The parish became part of North Wiltshire district in 1974. (fn. 139)
The church which stood in Little Somerford in 1251 may originally have been served from Malmesbury abbey. It became a parish church, possibly c. 1251, when the demesne tithes of Little Somerford manor were confirmed to the rector by the abbot in return for 2 lb. of wax yearly. (fn. 140) The rectory was united in 1967 with the rectory of Great Somerford and the vicarage of Seagry. (fn. 141) The benefice of Corston with Rodbourne was added in 1986. (fn. 142)
The advowson was held by Sir John Mauduit in 1312: (fn. 143) it descended with Little Somerford manor until 1689 and the lords presented. From Sir Stephen Fox (d. 1716), the advowson descended in the direct male line to Stephen Fox (from 1758 Fox-Strangways, cr. Lord Ilchester 1741, earl of Ilchester 1755, d. 1776), Henry, earl of Ilchester (d. 1802), and Henry, earl of Ilchester (d. 1858). (fn. 144) The last Henry sold it in 1838 to the rector, Henry Wightwick (d. 1846). It descended to his son, the Revd. Henry Wightwick (fn. 145) (d. 1884), after whose death it was sold. (fn. 146) Mrs. Sarah Brown was the owner in 1892, (fn. 147) and in 1893 presented R. G. Brown (d. 1911), who afterwards acquired the advowson and devised it to the bishop of Bristol. (fn. 148) In 1967 the bishop became entitled to the first of four turns of presentation to the united benefice, (fn. 149) and in 1986 to the second and fourth of five turns. (fn. 150)
The benefice was valued at £10 in 1291 (fn. 151) and at £8 19s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 152) It had an average yearly income of £241 in the years 1829–31 when it was one of the poorer livings in Malmesbury deanery. (fn. 153) From 1251 the rector was entitled to all the tithes. A modus of £2 in place of tithes from the former demesne was confirmed in 1699. (fn. 154) In 1847 the tithes were valued at £262 and commuted. (fn. 155) The glebe c. 1341 comprised 1 carucate and 6 a. of meadow. (fn. 156) It was c. 30 a. in 1608 and later. (fn. 157) Between 1911 and 1922 all but 6 a. was sold. (fn. 158)
The rector had a house in 1341. (fn. 159) The rectory house was rebuilt in stone in the 17th or 18th century and c. 1783 contained a hall, wainscotted parlour, kitchen, and five bedrooms. (fn. 160) The rector considered it unsuitable for occupation c. 1830 and it was let. (fn. 161) Anne Evans (d. 1866), mother of Arthur Evans, rector 1847–93, occupied it from 1847. In 1866 a south wing with principal rooms and an east entrance front were built in stone, and Evans afterwards occupied the house himself. (fn. 162) It was sold c. 1948. (fn. 163)
In 1312 the rector, Thomas of Astley, was licensed to study for a year. (fn. 164) Sir William Moleyns, possibly he who died in 1381, gave a house and orchard in Little Somerford to endow a light in the church. (fn. 165) In 1421 Thomas Felix, rector 1409–35, was granted a corrody in Malmesbury abbey in return for attending when required to the abbey's business. (fn. 166) In 1553 no quarter sermon was preached and the parish lacked the Paraphrases of Erasmus, (fn. 167) and in 1585 the rector did not catechize, did not wear a surplice and a square cap, and was reported to have conducted a clandestine wedding. (fn. 168) William Palmer and his son John were successive rectors 1618–89. (fn. 169) Nicholas Fenn, rector 1709–30, was from 1723 vicar of Staverton (Glos.), and Samuel Hill, rector 1730– 53, was vicar of Eisey 1731–3, rector of Kilmington (then Som.) from 1733, and a canon of Wells (Som.) 1741–51. (fn. 170) Curates either served the cure or assisted the rector in 1639 and the earlier 18th century. (fn. 171) In 1783 the rector was assistant curate at Swindon, and the curate, who also served Sutton Benger, held a morning service each Sunday at Little Somerford. The sacrament was administered at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and Michaelmas to c. 6 communicants. (fn. 172) Henry Wightwick, rector 1794–1846, was lord of the manor from 1808 and patron of the living from 1838. (fn. 173) He was also curate of Brinkworth, where he lived, and held only one service each Sunday at Little Somerford in 1832. (fn. 174) In 1850–1 an average congregation of 30 attended Sunday morning services and one of 40 the afternoon services. (fn. 175) Wightwick's son-inlaw and successor Arthur Evans was rector of Bremilham from 1840. (fn. 176) The rectory was held in plurality with that of Great Somerford 1952–67. (fn. 177)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, so called in 1786, (fn. 178) is built of stone rubble with ashlar dressings and has a structurally undivided chancel and nave with a south porch and west tower. (fn. 179) The nave may survive from the church which stood in 1251. The chancel was built, and a south window was inserted in the nave, in the later 13th century. The porch and west tower were built in the 15th or early 16th century. The chancel is divided from the nave by a screen made up from several pieces of wood carved in the 14th and 15th centuries. Above the screen is part of a boarded tympanum on which are painted the commandments flanked by censing angels. In the 17th century a royal coat of arms dated 1602 (fn. 180) and a pulpit and reading desk dated 1626 were placed in the church, cartouches containing texts were painted on the nave walls, and the nave was fitted with box pews and a west gallery. The pews were later replaced by benches. About 1860 the chancel was restored and the east window was replaced by one in early 14th-century style. A window was inserted in the south chancel wall in 1905. The west gallery was removed c. 1900 and seating and a reredos for the chancel were made from its wood. (fn. 181)
The church had much plate until 1553, when royal commissioners took 15 oz. of it and left a chalice weighing 3½ oz. In 1988 the parish held a chalice and paten cover hallmarked for 1714 and a chalice and paten bought in 1926. (fn. 182) There were three bells in 1553 and 1988: the second was recast in 1725 by John Tosier, and the treble and tenor by James Burrough in 1752 and 1753 respectively. (fn. 183) Registrations of baptisms, burials, and marriages survive from 1708. (fn. 184)
John Stockham of Little Somerford was a Quaker in 1662, (fn. 185) and he, his wife, and another woman were Quakers in 1674. (fn. 186) There were five nonconformists in Little Somerford in 1676. (fn. 187) In 1783 some parishioners were described as 'methodists', (fn. 188) Independents certified a room in 1799, and Calvinistic Methodists certified two houses in 1827. (fn. 189)
A school in Little Somerford was attended in 1818 by 20 children, (fn. 190) in 1833 by 25, (fn. 191) and in 1846–7 by only 10. (fn. 192) A new schoolroom was built c. 1854, and in 1859 30–40 children were taught. (fn. 193) A new National school was built in 1872. (fn. 194) Average attendance was 60 in the period 1906–14 but after 1918 it gradually declined and in 1937–8 was 30. (fn. 195) There were 55 children on roll when the school closed in 1982. (fn. 196)
Charities for the Poor.
The church house given in 1689 by William White was leased after 1835 for £5 yearly, with which blankets and sheets were bought for distribution to paupers on 21 December. (fn. 197) A blanket each for 14 people was bought in 1932, and blankets were still being given in 1945. (fn. 198) The cottage which replaced the church house c. 1850 was no longer owned in 1988. The charity's income was allowed to accumulate in the 1980s and grants to parishioners were made occasionally. (fn. 199) From 1967 inhabitants of Little Somerford were entitled to be admitted to an almshouse in Dauntsey. (fn. 200)