A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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The earliest references to open-field land in Warminster are in deeds of the 13th century, when North (fn. 1) and West (fn. 2) Fields are mentioned. East and South Fields are so-named in 1334 (fn. 3) and 1349 (fn. 4) respectively. All these names were still in use in the 17th century, (fn. 5) but the more detailed surveys of that period commonly defined arable land by the furlong in which it lay rather than the field. Furlongs were often themselves referred to as fields; thus in 1682 arable lay in Sand Field, Gillidge Bridge Field, Hill Field, Copripp Field, and Wetridge Field, beside the four fields mentioned in the Middle Ages. Wetridge Field was probably the same as the Wetridges in Mancombe Field which appears in the same survey. (fn. 6) But although it is difficult to be certain about the exact division and nomenclature of the town fields continuously between the 13th and the 18th centuries, the regular references to arable land at such known places as Chedlanger, Fernicombe, Mancombe, and Morley, which all occur in the 14th century or before, (fn. 7) show that much of what was still open arable in the 18th century had been so in the 13th. (fn. 8) It is also possible tentatively to identify three of the medieval fields with those which still existed in the 18th century. The West Field, in which land at Chedlanger lay in 1284, (fn. 9) is no doubt the Chedlanger Field which before inclosure stretched south and east of Norridge Woods from near Bugley across the Bath road to the Westbury road below Arn Hill. (fn. 10) In 1349 the North Field included land below Cop Heap, at Mancombe and at Oxenpit. (fn. 11) Mancombe and Oxendean both lay in Warminster Field in 1780 and Cop Heap adjoining it; it then included all the arable land on the downs between the Upton Scudamore boundary and the Westbury and Imber roads as far eastward as the edge of the sheep down above Mancombe and Oxendean. If West and North Fields do indeed correspond with Chedlanger and Warminster Fields, then the medieval East Field must be the Morley Field of the inclosure award, which extended south of the Imber road between Cop Heap and Battlesbury. Land 'over Morligh' lay in the South Field in 1349, (fn. 12) however, so that the position is not very clear. No open arable land to the south of Warminster remained at the time of inclosure. Some lay at Sambourne in the early 14th century, (fn. 13) and at Ryehill, between East Street and the Were, as late as 1687; (fn. 14) both may well have formed part of the medieval South Field.
Of the outlying hamlets of Warminster, Boreham had its own fields and its agriculture is dealt with separately below. (fn. 15) About Bugley the position is rather less certain. Arable land lay in Bugley Field in 1320, (fn. 16) and is occasionally referred to in or near Bugley until the 17th century. In 1652, for instance, arable land lay 'near Haygrove on the Lyes', and in 1671 in Princecroft, south of the road to Warminster. (fn. 17) But the district was one of early inclosure, and only three or four pieces of land there still lay open at the inclosure. Arable land which belonged to holdings at Bugley lay regularly, from the 16th century at least, in Chedlanger Field and Cley Field. (fn. 18) The former was shared by the tenants of Warminster and Corsley, and the latter, although it was one of the fields of Corsley, included much land which belonged to holdings in Warminster. (fn. 19)
In 1086 there were 80 a. of meadow in Warminster. (fn. 20) Some of this must have lain at Pit Mead, a large meadow which lies along the Wylye between Norton Bavant and Sutton Veny, but was partly in Warminster until the 19th century. (fn. 21) The lord of Warminster had meadow there in the early 13th century. (fn. 22) Possibly at that time, and certainly by the 15th century, he shared it not only with some of his freehold tenants of Warminster, (fn. 23) but also with the lords of Bishopstrow and Norton Bavant. (fn. 24) The other principal common meadow of Warminster was Woodman Mead, which extended from near Bugley to Warminster church along the stream north of the road, and is first mentioned in 1323. (fn. 25) In it the copyholders of the capital manor and the lords and tenants of the manors of Furnax, Warminster Scudamore, and Portway had their meadow. (fn. 26) Smaller meadows which were common lay at Bristol Mead and Laurence Mead. Bristol Mead lay on the stream between the Bath and Westbury roads, north of Gas House Farm; meadow land lay there in 1328, (fn. 27) and is occasionally referred to from that time, mainly attached to holdings of the capital manor. (fn. 28) It survived partly open until the inclosure. Laurence Mead, south of St. Laurence's chapel, was apparently common in 1618, when an illegal inclosure was made there (fn. 29), but inclosed before the parliamentary award.
The common pasture of the manor lay in Warminster Common or Heath to the west of the town, extending in a long strip to the Somerset border; in the common fields and meadows after harvest or while they lay fallow; and in the common downs beyond the arable land in the east of the parish.
It is fairly clear that a two-field course was practised until the 17th century. In 1218 a half-virgate of land had for its arable 7 a. in the field between Warminster and Bishopstrow and 7 a. in the field between Upton and Warminster. (fn. 30) West and North Fields, then, apparently lay fallow when East and South Fields were sown; this probably explains the conventional division of 39½ a. arable into North and South Fields in 1349, when, as noted above, the South Field included land which might have been expected to be in the East Field. (fn. 31) In 1238 a tenant was to receive half his leasehold estate sown with winter corn 'at champarty', (fn. 32) and in 1327 half the demesne arable was sown each year, when it was worth three times as much as that which lay fallow and common. (fn. 33) Of the meadows Woodman Mead was subject to this course, and lay in with Chedlanger Field when it was fallow every other year in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. (fn. 34) The course of Pit Mead is not known. The two-field rotation persisted until at least the early 17th century. In 1603 a freehold yardland had common after harvest either in Mancombe Bottom or Cop Heap Field, (fn. 35) so that the North and East Fields were still sown in alternate years, and in 1616 land at Topps (near Sambourne), which should have lain common every other year, was being sown every year contrary to the custom. (fn. 36) Chedlanger Field was in a two-year course with Cley Field in Corsley in the early 18th century. (fn. 37)
Linked with the field course were the regulations which governed the stocking of the commons and the fallows. Warminster Common provided pasture for a common herd of horses and other beasts in 1574, but its use for sheep was confined to 'lying-in weather', which meant only in time of snow. Pigs also ran there. (fn. 38) In the early 17th century it was said that every inhabitant could have one horse and one cow there, and those who held land could have them there without stint. All could cut fern and furze as much as they wished, (fn. 39) paying a hen at Christmas and five eggs at Easter. (fn. 40) The common milking place of the town lay at the north end of the hamlet at the Common. (fn. 41) More important was the feeding for sheep and oxen provided by the common fields and downs. The course of the lord's and freeholders' feeding was apparently as follows. (fn. 42) In the winter, which was reckoned from 29 September to the Sunday after 23 April, the sheep were kept on the downs, those of the lord of Warminster (or later his farmer) on his own down and those of the freeholders on their down. During this time oxen were kept in the field which had last been cut and was to lie fallow. On 2 February Woodman Mead, and presumably the other common meadows, were hained from the fields for the grass to grow. At the end of winter, or the Sunday after 23 April all the downs were hained, and the sheep moved down into the fallow field to follow the oxen. The lord of Warminster's down was broken at Whitsun for his and the freeholders' oxen. The freeholders' down remained hained until 23 June, when all the oxen were moved into it and the farmer's down was kept for lambs. Finally on 1 August the lambs followed the oxen into the freeholders' down, and the oxen were moved into the meadows which were then broken after haymaking. Whether the stock of the copyholders followed this course is not clear. They are not known to have had their own down, and in 1603 it was said that their sheep could go in with the freeholders' sheep on 21 December. (fn. 43) Perhaps before that day they had to keep their sheep in part of the field destined for spring sowing. In addition to the general course, at least one freeholder had winter common for a stint of sheep on limited parts of the fallow fields. This was Roger Mawdley, who in 1603 had in alternate years pasture for 100 sheep from 11 November to the middle of March in Mancombe Bottom or Cop Heap Field, whichever lay in wheat stubble. (fn. 44) The common rights over 60 a. of arable land near the Sands Cross and Morley, which belonged to the lords of Furnax in the 16th and 17th centuries, (fn. 45) and William Chandler's winter field in Chedlanger, which in 1698 had bounds long fixed by custom, (fn. 46) were probably similar. An early instance of this practice is perhaps the winter pasture in the fields below 'Orebury' in the mid-13th century. (fn. 47) The practice may have arisen from obligations on certain tenant flocks to fold on the demesne arable in the winter, for such obligations existed in the 14th century. (fn. 48)
In addition to the commons which followed this course, the lord of Warminster and some freeholders had their own several pastures. That of the lord was a coppice called the Frith, which lay near the Common; (fn. 49) it provided pasture for his oxen in 1292–3, (fn. 50) and was evidently part of the demesne as long as it was farmed. (fn. 51) The 'more' of the lord of Smallbrook, in which pasture for one beast was sold in 1327, (fn. 52) was also probably a several pasture, and perhaps the same as the Waspail's Marsh of 1585. (fn. 53) To the manor of Furnax belonged a coppice near Norridge Woods, first mentioned in 1483. (fn. 54)
Apart from this tentative reconstruction of the course of the fields and commons, little is known of the agriculture practised in Warminster in the Middle Ages except on the demesne of the capital manor. In 1300 the demesne was said to consist of 240 a. of arable and 30 a. of meadow, (fn. 55) but in 1327 the arable was reckoned at 400 a., of which half was sown yearly. (fn. 56) The most extensive work on this land was done by 8 virgaters, who in 1348–9 worked 5 days a week from Lammas to Michaelmas, and 3 days a week for the remainder of the year. In addition they ploughed 2½ a. and weeded 8 a. each year. (fn. 57) In 1364–5 31 half-virgaters did a day's ploughing at the spring sowing, a day's weeding in summer and a day's reaping at harvest, and 17 cottagers did the last two of these, but not the first. Since only 5 half-virgaters and 6 cottagers were mentioned as belonging to the capital manor in 1300 and 1327, it is possible that many of these were small freeholders. Some of the larger free-holds also owed works, mainly of carrying crops from the fields and ploughing, in the mid-14th century. The crops threshed from the demesne are known for three years in the 14th century. In each wheat and barley were the largest crops; wheat was rather larger than barley in 1348–9 and 1385–6, but in 1390–1 barley was the larger. In 1410 78 a. of the demesne were sown with barley and 42 a. with wheat. (fn. 58) The only other considerable crop in the 14th century was oats; the quantity threshed was ⅓ to ½ that of the wheat crop. In 1410 52 a. of oats were sown on the downs. (fn. 59) Crops grown in small quantities were bere, or inferior barley, in 1322 (fn. 60) and 1348–9; rye in 1348–9; dredge-corn in all the recorded years; and peas and beans in 1410. (fn. 61) The only other crop known to have been grown in Warminster in the Middle Ages is flax. In 1315 a tenant of Cheyney's manor was obliged to dig sufficient land to take a bushel of flax seed, and afterwards to treat and prepare the crop 'as far as the water'. (fn. 62)
In 1296 the stock on the demesne of the capital manor consisted principally of 32 plough-oxen, 16 cattle, 48 pigs, and 250 sheep and lambs. (fn. 63) In 1327 the demesne was said to have common of pasture for 300 sheep, (fn. 64) and it is clear that sheep were kept in considerable numbers as long as it was farmed. In 1379–80, for instance, 350 sheep and 90 lambs were sheared, and in 1390–1 the whole flock amounted to over 700. The larger freeholders too kept considerable numbers of sheep. In the later 14th century the stints allowed to 10 chief freeholders amounted to 1,956 sheep, and in 1379–80 they paid for the agistment of 1,080 lambs on the lord's down. The fold of at least one free tenant's flock was reserved for the lord's land during the winter. (fn. 65)
To complete the account of medieval agriculture it only remains to consider how the lands, which were under the system here described, were divided between the various holders. Much of this is deduced from surveys of the 16th and 17th centuries, but the conclusions seem to be borne out by what earlier evidence is available. The most noteworthy feature of land-holding in Warminster was the preponderance of freeholders over copyholders. In 1300 there were 35 freeholders of the capital manor, of whom 17 held land reckoned at 7 carucates and 10½ virgates; (fn. 66) this is exclusive of the manors of Furnax and Smallbrook, which were not held of the capital manor. (fn. 67) Against this there were only 8 bond tenants who held a full virgate and a few smaller tenants; there is, moreover, little doubt that most, if not all, these virgaters held their land in Boreham, being the predecessors of the group of large copyholders there which belonged to the manor until the 18th century. (fn. 68) Thus in 1300 Warminster manor was already apparently what it certainly was later: a manor in which the demesne outstripped in size the total of the copyholds, which were generally small. (fn. 69) Demesnes were also important on other holdings of which details are known. Thus in the late 16th century Warminster Scudamore comprised a demesne of some 60 a. and about 100 a. divided between 21 copy- and lease-holders. (fn. 70) Somewhat earlier Furnax demesne was 80 a. and 19 tenants held about 190 a. (fn. 71) In the early 17th century Cheyneys manor had a demesne of 200 a. and about 50 a. divided between 13 tenants. (fn. 72) Smaller free-holds consisted of single units farmed or let by their owners, such as Roger Mawdley's virgate or Cutting's Farm. (fn. 73) Thus as far back as information is available, Warminster never had the hierarchy of copyholders of various degrees typical of some manors. The multiplicity of free-holds and the smallness of copyholds made the farm consisting of a freehold, or the demesne of a freehold, the typical unit; an important factor in considering the effect of the changes in agriculture which began in the later Middle Ages.
The process by which the works of the customary tenants were commuted and the demesnes leased out can again only be traced on the capital manor. (fn. 74) In 1348–9 the 8 full-virgaters on it were obliged to perform 1,396 days work and actually performed 1,086. By 1379–80, however, two of them had had their whole obligation commuted; of the 1,050 owed by the remainder, 727 were still performed. The proportion was much the same in 1390–1, but in 1401–2 only three virgaters still owed 497 works, of which they performed 290. In that year little arable farming was done on the demesne, and most of the works were haymaking; a flock of 163 sheep was kept. The first known lease of the whole demesne was made for eight years in 1410 when the land sown amounted to 185 a. (fn. 75) Leasing evidently continued until 1437–8, when 102 a. of land sown with corn and 5 oxen were bought from the farmer, evidently for a partial resumption of farming. In 1441–4 a small part of the arable was used and the remainder let in small parcels, but a large flock of sheep was kept. This partial revival was over by 1462–3, when the demesnes were already let at farm again. Of the other manors of Warminster, the demesnes of Cheyneys were let at farm by 1421, (fn. 76) and those of Furnax as early as 1352; (fn. 77) information for the others is lacking.
From the 16th century, then, the agriculture of Warminster was based largely on a number of considerable farms. The farm of the capital manor, consisting of over 400 a., was let as a whole from the 15th century until the late 17th century, (fn. 78) but after the long tenure of the Sloper family, from 1598 until c. 1670, it was divided into two parts of roughly equal size, and remained so until the inclosure. (fn. 79) Cheyneys Farm was of c. 200 a. in the early 17th century, (fn. 80) and continued to be let as a whole until the 18th century. (fn. 81) In the 16th century Warminster Scudamore had, in addition to a demesne farm of about 65 a., another farm of 83 a., (fn. 82) which had been added to it in 1537 and 1538 by Walter, Lord Hungerford's purchase from Peter Morgan. (fn. 83) The demesne farm of Furnax consisted of some 85 a. let as a whole until the inclosure. (fn. 84) The demesnes of Portway were let as a whole by 1509, (fn. 85) but after the whole of the manor was the property of the Middlecott family, (fn. 86) they may have been kept in hand as a home farm. This was certainly so at the time of the inclosure, when Edward Middlecott held a farm of several hundred acres. (fn. 87) The demesne farm of Smallbrook, which amounted to over 160 a. in 1723, was kept in hand by its owners, the Bennett family, in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 88) Among other farms which may be mentioned are the estate belonging to the Prebend of Warminster; (fn. 89) the holding of Heytesbury Hospital, leased as a whole from the 16th to the 18th centuries; (fn. 90) and the slightly larger farm in Bugley, formerly of Maiden Bradley, which was let as a whole until the inclosure. (fn. 91)
Compared with these the typical copyhold in Warminster was small, often a house and an acre or two in the fields. Thus in the late 17th century the estate of Lord Weymouth, which by then included the former Hungerford property, only had 6 copyholds of over 20 a. (apart from the Boreham ones mentioned below) out of a total of over 90. (fn. 92) Some engrossment of these small estates was inevitable. In the mid-16th century John Stanlake held the manor of Furnax at farm, (fn. 93) and took advantage of his position to amass 16 copyholds, amounting in all to over 70 a. (fn. 94) In addition Stanlake held land of the manor of Warminster Scudamore, (fn. 95) and of the Prior of Longleat. (fn. 96)
The changes in agriculture on these holdings from the 16th century onwards by inclosure and consolidation of open field land can only be intermittently traced. Closes near Warminster town are mentioned in the 13th century, (fn. 97) but were probably no more than crofts attached to houses. The earliest reference to the inclosure of land which had once formed part of the common fields is in a deed, probably of the mid-14th century, of a croft in Sambourne and 1 a. of arable land lying outside it in Nicholas Nobount's inclosure. (fn. 98) Closes are occasionally referred to from that time onwards. Some, like the pasture called Pathcroft, with parcels of arable adjoining, of 1465 (fn. 99) were probably the result of the inclosure of low-lying arable land near Warminster and Bugley for conversion to meadow or pasture. (fn. 100) Sixteenth-century surveys show that most closes lay there. Thus in 1582 Warminster Scudamore manor included closes at Fernhill and Ryehill, both near Smallbrook, and at Sambourne, (fn. 101) and about the same time five closes near the church belonged to Furnax manor. (fn. 102) In Bugley the farm formerly of Maiden Bradley had 8 closes amounting in all to some 20 a. (fn. 103) Inclosures of land further from the town were made by encroachment on the waste. 'Tercecroft', now Tascroft, south-west of Bugley, where pasture was let in 1322, (fn. 104) may be an early example of this. In 1585 50 a. of coppice newly inclosed lying on both sides of Redford Water were let for the first time; in 1606 the land was described as pasture, (fn. 105) and probably formed the nucleus of Stalls Farm, north of Longleat.
Inclosure of both kinds probably continued spasmodically until the award of 1783. Thus in 1618 two tenants of Cheyneys manor had inclosed land in Woodman Mead and Laurence Mead. (fn. 106) Parts of Bristol Mead were inclosed by 1609, (fn. 107) and in 1638 a close at the east end of Warminster had recently had 2 a. of arable which had been let down to pasture added to it. (fn. 108) The inclosure of the arable land called the Sands, between Woodcock and the Boreham road, which already contained some inclosed land by 1577, (fn. 109) may have been completed in the early 18th century, for some inclosure had recently taken place there in 1723. Inclosure had at the same time been taking place at Battlesbury. (fn. 110) An inclosure at Brickhill was made by 1768. (fn. 111) In Pit Mead, Lord Weymouth's holding of 30 a. had been made several by 1711. (fn. 112) The sheep sleights on the downs were not inclosed but by the 16th century had been divided so that they were several to their owners during the winter, when each flock kept to its own down. Thus 100 a. at High Hook (now Mancombe Down) were claimed as parcel of the farm of Smallbrook in 1607; it had formerly been a rabbit warren but this had been destroyed 50 or 60 years before to protect the tenants' corn. (fn. 113)
On some holdings consolidation of the strips of open-field arable land was well advanced by the 16th century. Thus in 1577 83½ a. belonging to the demesne farm of Furnax lay in 19 pieces, including pieces of 9 a. and 8 a. and four of 6 a. (fn. 114) Mawdley's freehold virgate, on the other hand, had 28 a. in 17 pieces in 1603, (fn. 115) and the Warminster Scudamore demesne farm in 1687 had its 65½ a. of field land in 56 pieces, of which 25 were ½ a. or less. At that time one moiety of Warminster Farm had 144 a. in 19 pieces, of which 10 were 8 a. or over, and the other moiety had 143 a. in 16 pieces, one as large as 20 a. (fn. 116) At the time of inclosure many small pieces of arable land remained in the fields, and only the larger holdings had their land much consolidated. Chedlanger Field and Woodman Mead had been considerably affected by piecemeal inclosure, and so had much land near Woodcock and Heronslade. Warminster Field and Morley Field remained largely open, and some of the inclosures that did exist in them were probably still commonable, for they were ignored by the award. (fn. 117)
Little is known of the practice of agriculture in Warminster between the 16th century and inclosure, although there is little doubt that it was generally very similar to that of the chalk country of south Wiltshire. (fn. 118) It is clear that all the arable land did not follow the two-field course; the 'hockefelde' in which corn was grown in 1574 was probably a part of the fallow field put aside for a second crop, but the significance of fields called the Heath Common on which corn was also grown at that time is not known. (fn. 119) After the parliamentary inclosure of the common fields and downs, much of the Longleat estate property was consolidated into several large farms. Thus in the mid-19th century Parsonage Farm consisted of 939 a. to which 288 a. of Portway Farm were added in 1858, when the rent was increased to £1,065. At the same time Bugley Farm consisted of the old farm of 168 a., another group of old copyholds of 75 a., and 60 a. belonging to the Luxfield Prebend. (fn. 120) On these farms the conventional sheep and corn husbandry of south Wiltshire gave way as the century progressed before the advance of dairy farming. Thirteen cows imported from the Channel Islands were sold in the market in 1855. (fn. 121) By 1905 there were almost 4,000 a. of permanent pasture in the parish compared with about 1,600 a. of arable land. (fn. 122)
Market gardening had probably begun in Warminster by 1671, when the vicar complained that he was deprived of the tithes of 'great parcels of ground' occupied by gardeners. (fn. 123) In the 18th century many gardeners occupied small holdings which belonged to the Longleat estate. (fn. 124) Most of them lay west of Warminster near the Common. Arthur Young remarked on the extent of the business in 1796, (fn. 125) and it continued during the 19th century. There was a public house called the 'Gardeners' Arms' at the Common, and in the 1850's Warminster onions were well known at Bath. (fn. 126) In 1867 there were 18 market gardeners, almost all at Warminster Common. (fn. 127) The firm of T. H. Harraway and Son, nurserymen in Sambourne Road, was founded in 1876; in 1963 it occupied some 20 a. of land for the production of rose and fruit trees, hedging plants, and cut flowers, and had a shop in the Market Place. (fn. 128)
The agriculture of the manor of Boreham was separately organized from that of Warminster, and it had its own common fields. These must have been on the greensand levels between Boreham and Battlesbury as far as the high downs. In the late 16th century the manor of Boreham consisted of a demesne farm containing 20 a. of meadow, 11 a. of several pasture, and 164 a. of field-land, and four small copy- and leaseholds amounting in all to about 50 a. more. (fn. 129) There was, however, a group of considerable copyholders who held their lands in Boreham directly of the lords of the capital manor. (fn. 130) Little is known about the practice of agriculture there, but it was no doubt the typical sheep and corn farming of south Wiltshire. Little inclosure had taken place before the general inclosure of the parish. (fn. 131) By that time the tithing consisted of four farms: the manor farm, the holding of the Slade family, which apparently consisted of the old tenantry land of the manor, and two farms made up of the former copyholds of the capital manor. (fn. 132) In the early 19th century the whole came into the possession of the Temple family of Bishopstrow, and most of it was let as Boreham Farm. (fn. 133)