A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 14, Malmesbury Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1991.
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Bremilham, (fn. 1) which in 1731 consisted of a main part 3 km. WSW. of Malmesbury and of five detached portions, was one of the smallest of Wiltshire parishes. In 1731 it measured, excluding roads, water, and waste, c. 440 a. Three of the detached portions, Brokenborough field and two fields called Hankerton Corner, a total of 97 a., were virtually encompassed by Brokenborough; the other two, New leaze, 5 a. SSE. of Brokenborough field, and 8 a. called the Light in the 19th century were encompassed by Westport parish, and the Light was very near Malmesbury. About 1840 New leaze was considered part of Westport, but a field of 2 a. north of Brokenborough village and encompassed by Brokenborough parish was considered part of Bremilham. (fn. 2) In 1871 Bremilham parish was c. 458 a. (fn. 3)
The main part of the parish was separated from Brokenborough to the north by the Sherston branch of the Bristol Avon. That river was a boundary c. 1100 marking the southern edge of Malmesbury abbey's estate called Brokenborough, (fn. 4) which Bremilham was thus apparently outside. A tributary of the Avon was part of Bremilham's boundary with Foxley to the west. (fn. 5) To the south Bremilham parish adjoined Malmesbury common: the boundary between them had possibly been made by the early 13th century when the lord of Bremilham manor had hedges apparently marking his boundaries to the south. (fn. 6) A grant of Bremilham's tithes in 1179 (fn. 7) either reflected or led to its status as a parish. The detached portions presumably joined the parish because they and their tithes belonged to the lord of Bremilham manor. (fn. 8) In the early 13th century the lord of that manor had land and pasture rights apparently north of the Avon, (fn. 9) which may have led to a later lord's ownership of the detached portions; the lord of the manor owned them in the 17th century. (fn. 10) The parish was dissolved in 1884. Four detached portions were added to Brokenborough, the fifth to Westport; the main part was added to Foxley parish (fn. 11) and, as part of that, was added to Norton parish in 1934. (fn. 12) From the 16th century the principal farm in Bremilham parish was called Cowage. (fn. 13) That name became an alternative name for the parish, (fn. 14) and after the parish was dissolved the name Bremilham was little used.
The main part of the parish made an arc mostly south of a southwards bend of the Avon. Two tributaries cross it from west to east, the southern being the stream which separated Foxley and Bremilham. It is nearly flat, below 76 m. beside the Avon. Kellaways Clay outcrops in the slightly higher southern part, Cornbrash nearer the Avon. In a small area in the north-west corner more Kellaways Clay outcrops, there partly covered by sand and gravel. The Avon and both the tributaries have exposed narrow bands of clay of the Forest Marble and deposited alluvium. (fn. 15) Bremilham had much meadow for so small a parish. Its other land is suitable for arable and pasture. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Cornbrash was favoured for arable, the Kellaways Clay for pasture. Cowage Grove, 11 a. in the south-west corner, is apparently ancient woodland. (fn. 16)
The east—west Malmesbury—Sherston road through Foxley crosses the former parish: it was part of the main Oxford—Bristol road in the late 17th century (fn. 17) but was superseded in importance by a road north of the parish turnpiked in 1756. (fn. 18) So small a parish had few inhabitants, although in 1377 the number of poll-tax payers, 31, was higher than that for either Foxley or Norton. (fn. 19) From the 16th century or earlier there was apparently no more than a single farm in the parish, (fn. 20) and in 1811 there were only 14 inhabitants. (fn. 21) By 1841 the number had risen to 47, of whom 14 lived at the Light. (fn. 22) The population had fallen to 25 by 1881, but in 1891 the main part of the former parish had 27 inhabitants, the Light 17. (fn. 23)
Earliest settlement in the parish may have been in the timber buildings, short distances east and south of the present Cowage Farm, revealed by air photography in 1975 and afterwards partly excavated. Among the eastern buildings one, apparently apsidal, was possibly a church. (fn. 24) Bremilham church had apparently been built on its present site on the Cornbrash between the Avon and the southern tributary by the late 12th or the late 13th century. (fn. 25) Its proximity to the house and buildings of Cowage, formerly Bremilham, Farm, suggests that it was built when there was already a farmstead on the site, and the sites of earlier settlement had presumably been deserted by the time that church was built. In 1731 the church and those of Cowage Farm were the only buildings in the main part of the parish. Cowage Farm is an 18th-century L-shaped farmhouse which was altered and extended in the 19th century. It apparently replaced a larger house which was standing in 1731. (fn. 26) The extensive farm buildings include a large barn, which may also be 18th-century, and an enclosed stockyard. North of them the Avon is crossed by an 18th-century three-arched stone bridge. A pair of cottages was built at the east corner of Cowage Grove between, 1773 and 1828: (fn. 27) it was demolished between 1921 and 1956. (fn. 28) Another pair was built beside the Malmesbury– Sherston road near Cowage Farm between 1885 and 1897, (fn. 29) and another pair beside them c. 1945. (fn. 30)
On the detached parts of the parish there were buildings only at the Light on the edge of Malmesbury. Most of the Light was bounded to the north by the Malmesbury—Sherston turnpike road. It was crossed by the lane called Dark Lane in 1987. (fn. 31) A messuage may have stood there in 1699. (fn. 32) A dwelling house there in 1731 stood on the south side of the Malmesbury—Sherston road. (fn. 33) Buildings south of Dark Lane were used for tanning in the 18th and 19th centuries and incorporated a dwelling house. (fn. 34) By 1884 a few other buildings had been erected on the land, including, north of the Malmesbury—Sherston road, a school for Westport and Malmesbury parishes; (fn. 35) after 1884, as part of the built-up area of Malmesbury, more of the land was used for housing and commerce and some for quarrying stone. (fn. 36) The dwelling house standing in 1731, later called the Light, was replaced by or incorporated in a much larger house in the later 19th century. In 1987 that house was used as a nursing home. Few of the tannery buildings survive.
Malmesbury abbey claimed to have held BREMILHAM before the Conquest as part of its estate called Brokenborough, and very likely did so. Bremilham was apparently the 2 hides of its land, granted to one of its knights after 1066, which were held by William in 1086. (fn. 37) The abbey was overlord until the Dissolution. (fn. 38)
Bremilham may have belonged to Miles of Dauntsey in the mid 12th century. It passed from Miles's son Miles to the younger Miles's son Richard, to Richard's son Matthew of Bremilham (fl. 1199–1208), and to Matthew's son Richard of Bremilham (d. s.p. before 1249). (fn. 39) In 1249 Agnes, daughter of another Richard of Bremilham, conveyed the estate to Roger Dauntsey, (fn. 40) the grandson of the younger Miles Dauntsey; (fn. 41) Agnes was presumably Matthew's sister and Roger's cousin. In 1257 Bremilham was conveyed to Roger's brother Gilbert (d. by 1282) for life and, if another brother Richard (d. by 1275) survived Gilbert, to Richard in tail. (fn. 42) Until 1656 Bremilham belonged to the owners of Dauntsey. (fn. 43) It was held by Richard's son Richard (fl. 1292), Sir Richard Dauntsey (fl. 1349), Sir John Dauntsey (fn. 44) (d. 1391), Sir John Dauntsey (d. 1405), and Sir Walter Dauntsey (fn. 45) (d. 1420), passed to Walter's sister Joan (d. 1457), (fn. 46) her son Edmund Stradling (d. 1461), John Stradling (fn. 47) (d. 1471), and, presumably, Edward Stradling (d. 1487) and Anne Stradling (d. 1539), wife of Sir John Danvers, and was held by Silvester Danvers (d. 1551), (fn. 48) Sir John Danvers (d. 1594), and Sir John's relict Elizabeth (d. 1630), wife of Sir Edward Carey. (fn. 49) By 1625 Bremilham had passed to Sir John's son Henry, (fn. 50) from 1626 earl of Danby (d. 1644), (fn. 51) and in 1628 was settled on the marriage of Henry's brother Sir John Danvers (fn. 52) (d. 1655), a regicide. (fn. 53) In 1656 Sir John's trustees sold it to Thomas Estcourt, (fn. 54) knighted in 1661, (fn. 55) of Sherston Pinkney. (fn. 56)
Estcourt (d. 1683) (fn. 57) in 1669 settled Bremilham on his marriage with Anne Kirkham. (fn. 58) It passed to their son William (fn. 59) (d. 1727) and to William's son Charles, who in 1731 sold it to Robert Holford, a master in Chancery. (fn. 60) Holford (d. 1753) (fn. 61) was succeeded in turn by his son Peter (d. 1803) and Peter's son Robert (d. 1838), each also a master in Chancery: Robert's heir was his brother George (d. 1839), who was succeeded in turn by his son R. S. Holford (d. 1892) and R. S. Holford's son Sir George Holford. (fn. 62) In 1897 the manor was called the Cowage estate and consisted of 459 a., nearly all the old Bremilham parish and 49 a. of adjoining land in Brokenborough and Westport parishes. (fn. 63) Sir George Holford sold the estate in 1915 to Tom Rich, who in 1928 sold 137 a. north of the Avon and in 1942 sold Cowage farm to Mrs. D. Hartman. In 1950 Mrs. Hartman sold the farm to H. I. Coriat, and in 1955 Coriat sold it to Mr. W. L. Collins who owned it in partnership with Mr. K. L. Collins in 1987. (fn. 64)
In the early 13th century villeins may have cultivated some Bremilham land, but most was apparently demesne. Richard of Bremilham, then lord of Bremilham manor, and Malmesbury abbey agreed to change, or to confirm new, agrarian practices on the open fields of Brokenborough and of Burton Hill in Malmesbury parish. Men of Corston and Rodbourne were given a right of way over Bremilham land, but it seems that none but Richard and his villeins might cultivate it or keep animals on it. They, on the other hand, retained pasture rights on temporarily inclosed arable apparently north of the Avon and on land tilled by the men of Corston and Rodbourne, and Richard was granted wood each year from Hyam wood and elsewhere. (fn. 65)
There is no later evidence of villeins or customary tenants at Bremilham, and Bremilham farm, later called Cowage farm, was apparently the only farm in the 16th century. (fn. 66) In the early 17th century it was leased for years on lives and sublet. In 1647 it consisted of nearly all the main part of the parish, the farmhouse and farm buildings, 68 a. of arable, c. 52 a. of meadow, and 138 a. of pasture, and of 84 a., arable and pasture, of the detached lands. (fn. 67) The farm was possibly in hand while William Estcourt lived in Bremilham in the early 18th centurv, but from 1716 to 1915 was held by tenant farmers. (fn. 68) In 1731 Cowage farm measured 402 a., 144 a. of arable, 43 a. of meadow, and 215 a. of pasture: it included the detached parts of the parish called Brokenborough field and New leaze, a total of 84 a., all pasture, and 318 a. in the main part of the parish. Cowage Grove, 11 a., and the detached lands called Hankerton Corner, 10 a. of arable and 8 a. of pasture, were not part of the farm. (fn. 69) In 1739 c. 7 a. in Westport parish were added to the farm, (fn. 70) which they adjoined, (fn. 71) and later c. 64 a. in Brokenborough north and south of Brokenborough field were added to extend the farm north to the Malmesbury—Sherston road. (fn. 72)
About 1839 Bremilham parish included c. 141 a. of arable, c. 269 a. of grassland, and 20 a. of woodland, of which a total of 389 a. was in Cowage farm. (fn. 73) In 1867 there were less than 100 a. of arable in the parish: cows, pigs, and particularly sheep were kept. (fn. 74) Cowage farm was 459 a. in 1897 when it included a total of 80 a. in Brokenborough and Westport parishes: it included only 71 a. of arable. (fn. 75) It was worked with land in Foxley in the earlier 20th century (fn. 76) when sheep and cows were kept on it. From 1928 it was a farm of 323 a. south of the Avon, nearly all the main part of the old Bremilham parish. Between 1942 and 1955 the farm was used first for dairying, later for tillage. From 1955 to 1984 it was a pig, beef, and arable farm, from 1984 beef and arable. (fn. 77) A brick kiln stood in the east part of the old parish in the late 19th century. (fn. 78)
The Light, the detached land near Malmesbury, was held by members of the Lyne family, tanners, from 1730 or earlier. (fn. 79) A tannery stood on it in 1731. (fn. 80) In 1815 the tannery incorporated a bark mill, a tanyard, drying sheds, a leather house, and a counting house. (fn. 81) Matthew Thompson tanned there from 1848 or earlier to the 1880s when it was apparently closed. (fn. 82)
There is no record of a court of Bremilham manor, and, because it was so small, there was little government of the parish by itself in the 18th century. In 1724 the tenant of Cowage farm was expected to do in Bremilham what churchwardens, overseers of the poor, surveyors of highways, and tithingmen would do elsewhere. (fn. 83) Between 1775–6 and 1835–6 expenditure on the poor varied from £10 in 1775–6 to £65 in 1823–4. Occasionally the figures seem high for so small a parish: several times they exceeded those of Bremilham's larger neighbour Foxley. In 1802–3 and 1814–15 three adults were relieved permanently. The parish joined Malmesbury poor-law union in 1835, (fn. 84) and became part of North Wiltshire district in 1974. (fn. 85)
An early apsidal church may have stood at Bremilham. (fn. 86) It is likely that a church stood there in 1179 when Amesbury priory was granted the tithes of Bremilham, (fn. 87) and from then the priory possibly had the duty to provide chaplains to serve it. Although re-issues of the charter confirmed the grant to Amesbury priory, (fn. 88) in 1298 the lord of Bremilham manor held the advowson, there was a rector, (fn. 89) and, as he was later, the rector was almost certainly entitled to the tithes of the parish. In 1298 and the 14th century the use of the word chapel to describe Bremilham church (fn. 90) perhaps looks back to the earlier arrangements to serve it. The living remained a rectory. Under agreements of 1873 between the ordinary and the owner of Cowage farm and between the owner of Cowage farm, the patron of Foxley, and the patron of Bremilham, and by an Order in Council of 1874, Bremilham church became a mortuary chapel and in 1893, when the rector of Foxley was appointed rector of Bremilham, Foxley and Bremilham rectories were united. (fn. 91) Bremilham churchyard was last used for a burial in 1904. (fn. 92) The united benefice was united with the benefice of Sherston Magna with Easton Grey and Luckington with Alderton in 1986. Bremilham was to remain a separate parish under the Order in Council of 1874, but in 1986 Foxley with Bremilham was considered one parish. (fn. 93)
The advowson of Bremilham belonged to the lords of the manor from 1298 or earlier to 1629. (fn. 94) In 1406 the king presented because Walter Dauntsey was his ward, but his candidate was denied admittance because there was an incumbent rector. The king presented, successfully, for the same reason in 1411. (fn. 95) In 1417 and 1420 feoffees presented, in 1430 and 1433 Joan Dauntsey's husband Sir John Stradling presented, in 1439, 1444, and 1445 her husband John Dewale presented, and in 1465 Edmund Stradling's relict Elizabeth and her husband William Lygon presented. (fn. 96) The Crown presented in 1559, possibly by lapse, (fn. 97) and in 1594, (fn. 98) again possibly by lapse. From Henry, earl of Danby (d. 1644), the advowson passed to his nephew Henry, son of Sir John Danvers (d. 1655). It was among estates settled by Henry (d. 1654) to pay his father's debts and the Crown took it from, and returned it to, Henry Danvers's trustees in 1661 when Sir John Danvers was attainted. (fn. 99) The trustees presented in 1666 and 1675, and in 1681 Sir Thomas Estcourt, lord of Bremilham manor, presented, presumably by grant of a turn. (fn. 100) The advowson passed to Henry Danvers's niece Anne (fn. 101) (d. s.p. 1685), wife of Thomas Wharton (d. 1715) who, as Baron Wharton, presented in 1703 and, as earl of Wharton, in 1713. (fn. 102) In 1729 it was presumably among the estates forfeited for treason by Thomas's son Philip, duke of Wharton. (fn. 103) It was acquired, presumably by purchase with other of Wharton's possessions in 1743, by Sir John Rushout, Bt., who presented in 1760. Rushout was succeeded as owner by his son Sir John Rushout, Bt. (cr. Baron Northwick 1797, d. 1800), whose relict Rebecca presented in 1804 and son the Revd. George Rushout-Bowles presented in 1838, 1839, and 1840. (fn. 104) The advowson apparently passed with the Northwick title to Northwick's son John, Baron Northwick (d. 1859), and to George's son George, Baron Northwick (d. s.p.s. 1887). That last Northwick's relict Elizabeth, Baroness Northwick (d. 1912), presented in 1893 and afterwards had the right to present at the second, and thereafter at every third, vacancy of the united benefice. (fn. 105) No later presentation by that right is known, and at those turns, in 1946 and 1963, the university of Oxford and the Crown presented respectively. (fn. 106) No representative of Lady Northwick was apparently on the board of patronage set up in 1986 for the benefice of Sherston Magna, Easton Grey, Luckington, Alderton and Foxley with Bremilham. (fn. 107)
Valuations at £4 2s. in 1535, (fn. 108) c. £3 c. 1561, (fn. 109) and c. £16 in 1649 (fn. 110) show the living to have been no richer than might be expected from the smallness of the parish. In 1766 it was augmented by lot with £200 from Queen Anne's Bounty. (fn. 111) Further augmentations by lot in 1807 and 1812 were set aside in, respectively, 1808 and 1813. (fn. 112) The income of £121 c. 1830 was low, but the parish was very small and the curate's stipend no more than £25. (fn. 113) In 1704 the rector was entitled to all tithes from the whole parish. The augmentation of 1766 was apparently used to buy tithes arising from land in Brokenborough parish: the rector owned such tithes in 1786 when all his tithes were worth c. £23. (fn. 114) The tithes from Brokenborough, valued at £34, were commuted in 1840, those from Bremilham, at £106, in 1841. (fn. 115) The rector claimed c. 1561 that he was being deprived of the glebe by the tenant of Bremilham farm who had held it by lease for 24 years, in 16 of which there had been no incumbent. (fn. 116) There was no glebe in 1704 or later. (fn. 117)
No rector is known to have lived in the parish, and few held the living for life. Richard le Dean, presented in 1298, was licensed to study for three years. (fn. 118) Between 1411 and 1445 incumbencies averaged three years. (fn. 119) William Clarke, rector 1465–1514, (fn. 120) was in 1478 licensed to hold another benefice. (fn. 121) From c. 1543 to 1559 none would accept the rectory because it was so poor. (fn. 122) From 1595 most rectors were pluralists: Richard Jeane, rector 1595–1627, was rector of Foxley; (fn. 123) Edward Bridges, rector 1627–66, was rector of North Wraxall and vicar of Seagry (fn. 124) and preached at Bremilham four times a year; (fn. 125) John Stumpe, rector 1675–81, was rector of Foxley and vicar of Norton; (fn. 126) Edmund Wayte, rector 1681–1703, (fn. 127) was vicar of Norton and rector of Great Somerford where he lived; (fn. 128) John Harris, rector 1703–13, (fn. 129) was vicar of Norton and rector of Easton Grey; (fn. 130) Simon Crook, rector 1729–60, was rector of Foxley. (fn. 131) Daniel Freer, rector 1760–93, (fn. 132) was described to the bishop as a madman: (fn. 133) in 1783 he held no other cure and held a weekly service in the church. There was then no surplice, no plate, and no register, and communion had been celebrated only once since 1760. Freer was in conflict with his principal parishioner, John Bennett, the tenant of Cowage farm, whose farm buildings were very near the church. Bennett would not attend services and Freer complained that he 'made a pigsty' of the rectory house: (fn. 134) since no rector is known to have been resident and Freer lived in Westport the claim perhaps justifies the description of Freer. John Britton commented that the tenant of Cowage farm was inconvenienced because his landlord did not own the advowson and c. 1801 recorded monthly services. (fn. 135) John Nicholas, rector 1804–36, was vicar of Westport and rector of Fisherton Anger (fn. 136) and during his incumbency curates usually took monthly services at Bremilham. (fn. 137) A congregation of 35 attended the service held on Census Sunday in 1851. (fn. 138) From 1899 to 1946 the united benefice of Foxley with Bremilham was held with Norton vicarage, from 1951 to 1983 with the vicarage of Corston with Rodbourne. (fn. 139)
Bremilham church was undedicated. In 1731 and 1809 it consisted of a nave 25 ft. by 13 ft. and a chancel 13 ft. by 11 ft.: the side walls were 10 ft. high. (fn. 140) In 1809 it had a western timber bellcot, the chancel had two 13th-century lancet windows in the south wall, and the nave had a round-headed south doorway and 16th-century windows in the south and west walls. (fn. 141) Between 1839 and 1886, (fn. 142) presumably c. 1874, the church was demolished and a small chapel with a western bellcot was built on the site of the chancel. Under the agreements of 1873 which led to its closure Cowage farm was charged with the maintenance of the chapel. (fn. 143)
At the single communion service held between 1760 and 1783 Foxley's plate was used. (fn. 144) Bremilham had a chalice and two patens in the earlier 20th century. (fn. 145) The single bell, cast by Roger Purdue at Bristol in 1677, was hung in Foxley church after 1874, possibly in 1923, and Foxley's bell, which was cracked, was placed in Bremilham mortuary chapel. (fn. 146) The oldest register to survive begins in 1814. (fn. 147) Transcripts of the 17th and 18th centuries show that in many years there was no burial, marriage, or christening in the church. (fn. 148)
William Estcourt, lord of Bremilham manor 1683–1727, lived at Cowage Farm until 1723–4 (fn. 149) and was a Roman Catholic. (fn. 150) The tenant of Cowage farm would not attend church in the late 18th century, (fn. 151) but there is no evidence of formal protestant nonconformity in the parish.
In 1858 a school for 16 children of Bremilham and Foxley was being held in a cottage beside Cowage Grove by a woman who lived in Norton. (fn. 152) It may have been closed in the 1880s, when a school was held in Foxley, or in 1894 when a new Foxley school was built. (fn. 153) The Malmesbury and Westport school at the Light was built c. 1850. (fn. 154)