A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 7. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1953.
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Erlestoke, like other parishes along the spring-line on the north-western edge of Salisbury Plain, is long and narrow in shape, straddling the edge of the Plain. The village lies in the centre of the parish and is surrounded on three sides by Erlestoke Park (see below, Manor). Inclosing the village on the north, so that it appears to lie in a valley, is a low hill of 375 ft.; this hill, however, is only an outlier from the chalk, and the northern part of the parish is low-lying. The land rises rapidly south of the village, reaching 700 ft. on the Plain.
The parish is bordered on the east by Great Cheverell and on the west by East Coulston: the boundaries have remained unchanged at least since 1831. (fn. 1) The secondary road from Westbury to West Lavington (B 3098) links all the villages together. Running north out of the village is a minor road which after leaving Pudnell Farm continues across the parish boundary as a bridle road to Bulkington. About a mile from Erlestoke this road is crossed by another minor road running between East Coulston and Marston. (fn. 2) A mile east of Erlestoke and across the parish boundary an unmetalled road leads up the escarpment and joins the old Bath and Salisbury slow-coach road: in 1904 this road was still being used by an occasional gipsy van (fn. 3) but it is now (1951) impassable except for farm vehicles. The village lies on the Upper Greensand outcrop overlying Gault Clay: south of the village is the Chalk of Salisbury Plain and in the north the Kimeridge Clay. (fn. 4) The branch line of British Railways (Western Region) from Westbury to Patney passes north of the village; the nearest station is Lavington, about 2 miles away to the east.
At the head of the stretch of water in Erlestoke Park there is a well with a pump and in the southern tip of the parish on the Plain another that is known as Brouncker's Well. Besides the temporary camp in the Park (see below) the War Department own 1,235 acres of land in the parish, acquired in four parcels between 1933 and 1940. (fn. 5) Thirteen houses in the village were destroyed by an extensive fire in 1865. (fn. 6)
The manor of ERLESTOKE is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, and as the chapel of Erlestoke was annexed to the church of Melksham it seems likely that the manor also was included in that of Melksham. (fn. 7) No early records have been traced for Erlestoke: the first mention of the manor occurs when Henry I granted it to Stephen de Mandeville or his son Roger. (fn. 8) Stephen died 'near the road to Jerusalem' in 1154. (fn. 9) Roger died in 1195–6
and was succeeded by his brother William, who himself died soon after. (fn. 10) From 1198 to 1203 the wardship of William's daughter and heir Joan was said to be farmed out to Stephen Turneham, sheriff of Wiltshire in 1198 and 1199. (fn. 11) It seems probable, however, that Stephen held the farm only until 1200 (fn. 12) since in that year Matthew Fitz Herbert married the daughter of Mabel Patric, (fn. 13) who, it has been stated, was the relict of William de Mandeville. (fn. 14) In the same year Terry the German had attempted to marry the heiress; after the payment of a moiety of the fine to secure the marriage there is no further record of the proposal. (fn. 15) It is not clear how far Terry plans had progressed since, in 1202, when Matthew paid a fine to obtain wardship of the de Mandeville property at Ollonde in Normandy, the lands were said to have been previously in the hands of Terry. (fn. 16) Whatever happened during these years, it is certain that Matthew finally married the de Mandeville heiress. In 1211 he answered for Erlestoke as one fee; (fn. 17) in 1215, men and beasts taken from the manor were returned to him; (fn. 18) in 1220 he was allowed some timber from the forest of Melksham for repairing the manor house (fn. 19) and in 1226 he and his wife Joan were concerned in the conveyance of a small parcel of land in the estate. (fn. 20) In 1231 Joan, as Matthew's relict, asked the king to accept the homage of their son, Herbert, for all their lands held of him in chief. (fn. 21) A grant of free warren in the manor was made to Herbert in 1239. (fn. 22) Like his father he was attached to the court and spent many years in the royal service. (fn. 23) In 1244 he was sent to repress the Welsh, and in February 1245 he was killed by a boulder cast down upon him from a mountain height. (fn. 24) He left no children, and was succeeded by his brother Peter, also childless. On Peter's death in 1255 a third brother, John, acquired the manor. (fn. 25) In 1274–5 the manor was the inheritance of Matthew Fitz John, a minor, who came of age in 1280–1. (fn. 26) The custody of Matthew and his lands had been granted to Queen Eleanor, who granted the manor to her son Edmund, who in turn sold it to Nicholas Fitz Martin. (fn. 27) Matthew was in financial difficulties as soon as he became of age. The estate was probably still liable for a debt contracted by his uncle, Peter, in 1256, (fn. 28) and a period of six years wardship had possibly weakened its resources still further. In 1281–2 he agreed to repay to a certain John the Fat a debt of £25. 3s. 4d. (fn. 29) and it is possible that he later mortgaged Erlestoke to the Earl of Gloucester, for in 1285 the earl quitclaimed this, with other manors, to Matthew, in exchange for two Devon manors, Chittlehampton and Chittelhamholt. (fn. 30) By this time he must have been deeply in debt, and in 1286–7 conveyed Erlestoke to the king and queen, who granted him in return a life interest in this and other properties including the Devizes parks and the castle. (fn. 31) At Matthew's death in 1309 the estate reverted to the Crown and passed out of the family. (fn. 32)
The manor was next granted by the Crown to Ralph de Monthermer and his sons Thomas and Edward, the king's nephews. Certain lands in Erlestoke were excepted, as being the dower of Matthew's relict Eleanor. (fn. 33)
In 1325 an agreement was made between the brothers Monthermer by which Edward was to hold the manor of Erlestoke in severalty during his life, with reversion to Thomas if Edward should die first. At this time Eleanor was still holding dower in the manor. (fn. 34) Thomas was the survivor, for on his death in 1340 the manor of Erlestoke was among his possessions. (fn. 35) Margaret his wife was granted custody of the manor and of the heir, their daughter Margaret, aged 'ten years or more'. (fn. 36) In the following year, however, the young Margaret was delivered into the custody of William de Montague, Earl of Salisbury, who married her to his second son John. (fn. 37) Sir John de Montague died in 1390, and his wife Margaret five years later. (fn. 38) Their son, another John, was his mother's successor in 1395, and in 1397 he succeeded his uncle as Earl of Salisbury. He was a firm adherent of Richard II, and after Richard's deposition led a conspiracy for his restoration, but having been captured by a mob at Cirencester he was put to death without trial in January 1400. (fn. 39) In 1401 Henry IV granted the manor of Erlestoke during pleasure to Eleanor, Countess of Salisbury. (fn. 40) The heir of the beheaded earl was his son Thomas who was aged 12 at his father's death; (fn. 41) owing to his father's posthumous attainder it was not until 1421 that he recovered full possession of his inheritance, but Erlestoke was restored to him in 1409. (fn. 42) He died in 1428, and once again the manor descended through an heiress. Earl Thomas's daughter Alice married Sir Richard Nevill, who became earl jure uxoris. (fn. 43) In 1431 Richard and Alice conveyed the manor and other property to trustees for the payment of the earl's debts. (fn. 44) This arrangement came to an end in 1454, when the surviving trustees reconveyed the property to the earl and countess. (fn. 45) The earl, a prominent Yorkist, was attainted in 1459, and although restored in 1460 was beheaded by the Lancastrians after his capture at the battle of Wakefield in the same year. (fn. 46) His son and heir was Richard, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury (the Kingmaker). Warwick presumably succeeded to the Salisbury estates on the death of his mother in 1463. (fn. 47) At his death in 1471, Erlestoke passed to his elder daughter Isabel, wife of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV. Isabel died
seised of the manor in 1476, and her husband was attainted and executed in 1478. (fn. 48) Their heir was Edward Plantagenet, born early in 1475, whose wardship was granted in 1481 to Thomas, Marquess of Dorset. (fn. 49) This unfortunate boy was imprisoned by Henry VII as a possible pretender to the throne, and finally, in 1499, was beheaded on a charge of conspiring treason with his fellow prisoner, Perkin Warbeck. He was the last male representative of the royal house of Plantagenet. His estates passed to his sister Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. (fn. 50) Erlestoke escheated to the Crown along with the rest of her property on her attainder in 1539. (fn. 51)
From this time forward the manor was leased to local tenants and the lordship stayed with the Crown until the Crown's interest in the land finally disappeared. Before her attainder, the Countess of Salisbury had leased Erlestoke to Robert Brouncker and his son Henry: in 1540 the king renewed the lease for twentyone years. (fn. 52) From that time until the early 18th century the family of Brouncker held land in Erlestoke and gave their name to the down lying in the south of the parish and the farm a mile south of the village. (fn. 53) In 1552 the manor was confirmed to Henry Brouncker who was to hold it at the considerably reduced assessment of 1/100th part of a knight's fee; his rent was £18. 8s.7¼d. (fn. 54)
A capital messuage in Erlestoke was leased by Brouncker in 1562 to Laurence Hyde and John Smith, for eight years. (fn. 55) Brouncker died in 1569. His son and heir William was later knighted, and died in 1596. (fn. 56) William's son Henry only survived him by two years, leaving an infant heir, another William. (fn. 57)
The manor remained in the Brouncker family until 1677, when William Brouncker conveyed it to Sir Richard Mason. The capital messuage of the manor, however, was retained as the chief seat of the Brounckers. (fn. 58) Sir Richard Mason apparently sold the manor to Sir Stephen Fox, for it was purchased from Fox in 1689 by Dauntsey Brouncker, third son of the lastmentioned William Brouncker. The capital messuage was at that time occupied by Dauntsey's elder brother Henry. (fn. 59) Dauntsey died in 1693, and his estate was divided between his daughters Katherine, wife of John Baynton, and Anne. (fn. 60) Between 1713 and 1719 the manor was frequently mortgaged: (fn. 61) in 1720 it was sold by Edward and Anne Rolt to Sir Gilbert Heathcote, kt. (fn. 62)
In January 1724 Thomas Pitt, the East Indian merchant and grandfather of the first Earl of Chatham, wrote to his son Robert: 'Mr. Hyles (Eyles) will find that I will never part with Earl Stoke upon his computation'. (fn. 63) Pitt's interest in the manor is not clear but it seems likely that it had been mortgaged to him for a short time. In the same year the manor was settled upon George Heathcote by agreement between him, his uncle Sir Gilbert, and Thomas Pitt. (fn. 64) George Heathcote sold the manor in 1737 to Peter Delmé. (fn. 65) Another Peter Delmé sold it in 1780 to John Smith. (fn. 66) Joshua Smith, son of John and M.P. for Devizes, died in 1819. His four daughters sold the manor to George Hibbert and others, executors of Simon Taylor of Jamaica, in settlement upon his niece Mrs. Anna Susannah Watson-Taylor, sole heiress of her uncle on the death in 1815 of her brother Sir Simon Taylor. (fn. 67) At this time Erlestoke became the centre of a large estate: in 1820 George Watson-Taylor, jure uxoris Anna Susannah, was lord of the hundred of Whorwellsdown, the manors of Erlestoke and East Coulston, Edington Rectory, Edington Romsey, Tinhead Rectory, and Tinhead Romsey. (fn. 68) The estate continued to be built up during the 19th century. (fn. 69) Mrs. Watson-Taylor died in 1852 and was succeeded by her son Simon, on whose death in 1902 the manor passed to his son G. S. A. Watson-Taylor. Parts of the Erlestoke estate were sold by Mr. Watson-Taylor in 1907 and 1910, and the remainder in 1919. In 1939 the principal landowners were Mr. F. W. Green and Messrs. E. H. Look and H. J. Hampton. (fn. 70) A court roll of the manor for the period from 1677 to 1755 is in the Wiltshire Record Office.
Since the late 18th century the dominating features of the parish have been Erlestoke Park and its house. The park, which surrounds the village on three sides, was laid out during the proprietorship of Joshua Smith in the 1780s. Britton, writing in 1801, described it thus: 'The sides and summit of this hill [the escarpment edge of the plain] have been thickly planted with wood which as it advances in growth will give the seat an additional beauty. . . . The park abounds with many fine large elm trees and is enriched with a sheet of water. . . . After forming seven different cascades in its progress it is collected into a lake of considerable dimensions. . . . This spot [the pleasure grounds] of beautifully decorated ground, abounds with a choice collection of botanical plants....' (fn. 71) Some of the woodland remains in that part of the park, south of the Westbury Road, which is now (1951) occupied by the War Department. In the remainder of the park some felling has taken place. (fn. 72)
The old house in the park was removed before 1786 to make room for the present mansion which was built between that date and 1791 from designs by George Stewart. (fn. 73) The tradition that materials from Edington monastery were used for this work is now held to be without foundation but it seems likely that the figures and other carvings built into some cottages in the village may have been taken from the old house at Erlestoke. (fn. 74) The present house is square in shape and built of ashlar: it consists of three stories and a basement. The centre block, which is extended by wings decorated with twin Ionic pilasters, is lighted by three windows to each of the upper floors and one to each floor of the wings. There is a central porch with eight
Doric columns in pairs, an entablature, and a plain balustrade. All the roofs and the centre block were burnt in June 1950.
In 1830 Thomas Moore was among those who welcomed the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria on their visit to Erlestoke House. Moore, much of whose social success was due to his fine voice, records in his diary that both the Princess and her mother sang with him on several occasions during the visit. (fn. 75) John Cam Hobhouse, later Baron Broughton, like Moore a friend of Byron, leased Erlestoke in 1837. (fn. 76)
From early times, Erlestoke like Seend, formed a chapelry of the church of Melksham (q.v.). (fn. 77) About 1220, Bishop Richard Poore assigned the 'church' and its chapelry to the communa of the residentiary canons of Salisbury. (fn. 78) In 1253 the dean and chapter held ½ virgate of land attached to the 'church' at Erlestoke. (fn. 79) In 1392 a messuage and 3 acres of land in Erlestoke were alienated to the dean and chapter 'in aid of the works' of the 'church' there. (fn. 80) In 1726 a small portion of the 'church' lands including a messuage near the 'Chappleyard' was exchanged, by arrangement with the proprietor of Erlestoke, George Heathcote, for a messuage called 'the Butchers Arms'. (fn. 81) In 1783 the glebe lands consisted of a small vicarage with an orchard and a garden and 44 acres of pasture then lately allotted to the vicar in lieu of vicarial tithes under the inclosure award for the parish. (fn. 82) There is some evidence that the chapelry was neglected in the 17th century since in 1664 the constable and tithing men of Melksham presented 'the whole parish of Earlestoke for not repayering to their church every Sunday, or chappie; the reason is because devine sarvice is not reade every Sunday'. (fn. 83)
The ecclesiastical parish of Erlestoke was formed in 1877. S. Watson-Taylor, together with his wife, Lady Charlotte, and his son George Watson-Taylor, agreed to convey to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners land suitable for the building of a new church, a burialground, and a vicarage, and to find money for the building. The advowson, which since the 13th century had been in the hands of the dean and chapter, was vested in S. Watson-Taylor and his heirs. (fn. 84) In 1903 the net annual value of the living was £185 including 38½ acres of glebe, and residence. (fn. 85) In 1934 the living was joined with that of East Coulston, and presentation is now (1950) by the Lord Chancellor and the executors of G. S. A. Watson-Taylor alternately. (fn. 86)
The church of ST. SAVIOUR consists of a chancel, nave, north and south chapels, and a tower in an unusual position on the south side of the nave. It was built from the designs of G. E. Street at the expense of Lady Watson-Taylor in 1880. The church was erected on the site of the earlier church, and is built of ashlar inside and out in the 'Gothic' style of the 15th century and roofed with red tiles. The tower is a small square one in three stages, the lowest stage forming the porch. Electric light was installed in 1933. In the north-east corner of the north aisle there is a marble mural monument (dated 1737) to the Townsend and Hurst families. (fn. 87)
The parish registers begin in 1681. (fn. 88) There are six bells: (i) presented by Lady Watson-Taylor in 1882 as an addition to the old ring of five; cast by Llewellins & James, Bristol; (ii) dated 1684 and inscribed with the name of William 'Brownker'; (iii) dated 1628; (iv) dated 1619 and inscribed with Brouncker's name spelt 'Brovnker'; (v) dated 1664, cast by William and Roger Purdue; (vi) dated, unusually, 1648. In 1553 there were only three bells. (fn. 89) The plate consists of a chalice, two patens, flagon, and alms-dish given to the church in 1820 by George WatsonTaylor. In 1553 the church retained a chalice weighing 9 oz.; 1½ oz. of plate was taken by the king's commissioners. (fn. 90)
The earliest record of nonconformity in Erlestoke occurs in 1672 when William Aldridge was licensed as a Baptist teacher at the house of Thomas George. (fn. 91) William Gough, who has been called both an Independent and a Presbyterian, ministered to the church until 1685. (fn. 92) From 1689 to 1714 Edward Froude led the church: John Watts of Westbury was pastor from 1720 to 1731. In the meantime a church at Bratton was growing out of a meeting in the house of Jeffery Whittaker; in 1734 a meeting-house was built there and some time after 1740 Erlestoke church was merged into Bratton. (fn. 93) In 1702 the dwelling-house of Isaac Axford the younger was licensed for Quaker meetings. (fn. 94) In 1829 a small cottage in the village was being used for a Methodist meeting which had a membership of 30. (fn. 95) There are now (1951) no Nonconformist chapels in Erlestoke.
The manor of Erlestoke was in the hands of the king's escheator for 17 months from 1286 to 1287. The account for the 12 months from Michaelmas 1286 to Michaelmas 1287 (fn. 96) shows the rents of assize valued at £18. 5s. 8d., and the sale of the villeins' autumn works at £6. 5s. 6d.; 146 hens were sold at Christmas for 12s. 2d.; sale of pasture in summer and herbage in winter brought in £8. 7s., hay £9, corn £55. 6s. 6d.; pleas and perquisites of the court were worth £5. os. 6d. The outgoings for the same year included the acquittance of rent for 4 ploughmen, a carter, a hayward, a shepherd, and a smith at 30s. 6d., and the purchase of wheat, rye, beans, barley, and oats, most probably for seed purposes, at £17. 15s. 1½d. Another account, for 1309, (fn. 97) mentions the receipt of 6s. 8d. for the pasture of beasts in 'Podenhull', in the marsh, on the hill, and in a grove. This account is supplemented by an extent of the manor taken in the following year. (fn. 98) There were then 11 free tenants, II 'virga tors', 28 'half-virgators', and 24 cottars. All these paid rents; all the unfree tenants commuted their labour services except four of
the cottars, who did not, apparently, owe any. The standard rate of commutation for all was ½d. a day, except for the harvest period (August 15 to Michaelmas) when it was 1d. Pleas and perquisites of the courts were valued only at £1, out of a total of £54. 13s. 2d. (gross receipts).
A court roll for the manor exists for the year 1544, when Erlestoke was in the hands of the Crown, (fn. 99) and there is also a manor court book containing entries for the period 1677 to 1775. (fn. 100) The courts were held twice a year, at Easter and Michaelmas. All tenants, free and customary, owed suit at the court. In 1544 the amercement for absence was 3d. for a free tenant, and 1d. for a customary. The customary tenants held their lands by purchase for three lives; on the death of the third tenant (or his relict if she survived him), if no renewal had been purchased the executors enjoyed the profits of the holding for one year called the 'dead year', after which the tenement passed to the lord. Late in the 18th century, references to 'house-boot', 'plough-boot', 'fire-boot', and 'rail-boot' still occur. Another important tenant-right was the share in the use of the field called Fernham, which was enjoyed under conditions which changed every three years. In 1737 the tenants exchanged this complicated custom for the right to have six gates kept in repair. The lord was obliged to maintain the bounds of the common marshland and to keep a boar for the benefit of the manor. Twice a year, in May and November, the suitors of the court met at the 'Cross' at 8 a.m. to perambulate the bounds and 'to have a view for the settling of grievances and things that are amiss in our parish'. (fn. 101)
The parish was inclosed in 1782. Of a total of 2,015 acres 1,642 were affected. The principal allottees were the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury, who received 330 acres in lieu of tithes, and Peter Delmé, lord of the manor, who received some 1,154 acres. (fn. 102)
A water mill at Erlestoke was given by Roger, son of Stephen de Mandeville, to the priory of Montacute (Som.) in 1155 and the gift was later confirmed by Henry II. (fn. 103) This mill remained in the possession of the priory until the Dissolution when it was valued at 20s. (fn. 104) In 1560 this mill, together with buildings, gardens, and lands belonging to it, was granted to Robert Davye and Henry Dynne. (fn. 105) A second mill called 'Mershmilne' remained annexed to the manor. In 1287 the issues of what was almost certainly this mill were valued at 12s. 6d.; (fn. 106) before 1298 it was granted to Thomas son of Alfred of Erlestoke for the life of the grantor, Matthew Fitz John, and in that year the grant was confirmed and extended to Thomas and his heirs for ever, notwithstanding that Matthew Fitz John's lands would revert to the king upon his death. (fn. 107) The grant was confirmed in 1303 when the lands attached to the mill comprised a messuage, 29½ acres of land, and 2 acres of meadow. (fn. 108) In 1562 two mills were in the possession of Christopher Chambers who conveyed them in that year to William Wallys and William Wright. (fn. 109) Mills are mentioned in deeds of 1677, 1713, and 1718 but no information is given about their location. (fn. 110)
In 1833 there were two day schools in Erlestoke attended by 29 children at the parish expense. No mention is made of school buildings at this date. (fn. 111) In 1859 it was reported that 30 to 40 children attended a class held in a cottage that had formerly been a laundry. The building was considered 'too low and dark for school purposes'. (fn. 112) In 1872 it was reported that the room then in use was inadequate for the 59 children then of school age. (fn. 113) No enlargement was made until 1893, when an infants' classroom was built and the accommodation raised to 70. (fn. 114) The property belonged to S. Watson-Taylor, and in 1900 a fourteen-year lease was drawn up, whereby the vicar, churchwarden, and three other persons elected by subscribers to the school were to pay £7 a year to the owner or his agent. (fn. 115) In 1920, when part of the Watson-Taylor estate was sold, the managers bought the school for £350 and handed it in trust to the Salisbury Diocesan Board of Finance. The Nationa Society granted £60 and the Diocesan Board £165 towards the purchase price. (fn. 116)
In 1902 the average attendance was 60. (fn. 117) Under the 1910 reassessment the recognized accommodation was reduced to 65 (36 mixed, 29 infants). (fn. 118) The school was reorganized in 1935, leaving only 22 junior children in attendance, (fn. 119) but by 1950 this figure had risen to 39. A headmistress and one assistant were then employed. (fn. 120) In 1948 voluntary controlled status was granted to the school. (fn. 121)
It was stated in 1903 that in 1834 the Charity Commissioners had investigated two charities on which their predecessors of 1786 had reported. In 1684 Anne Brouncker was said to have left £20 by will for six poor persons in the village. At an unknown date an acre of land had been given by an unknown person to provide fuel for the poor. Various local traditions supported the report of 1834, but by 1903 nothing was known of either gift. (fn. 122)