Swanborough hundred

Pages 1-7

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 10. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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The hundred of Swanborough lies almost exactly in the centre of the county. It consists of one large block of land with a much smaller piece narrowly detached from it in the south-west. On the north it ascends the southfacing escarpment of the Marlborough Downs and on the south the northfacing escarpment of Salisbury Plain. The hundred thus includes within it the western end of the Vale of Pewsey which runs between those two great chalk regions. It stops just short of Pewsey on the east but extends south-westwards beyond the Vale to take in Market Lavington and, in its small detached piece, the parishes of Great and Little Cheverell.

Between the chalk uplands to north and south a ridge or belt of Upper Greensand runs right across the hundred. Only in the lower lying south-western part does the Gault Clay emerge from beneath the greensand. In the extreme south-west a small outcrop of Portland Beds occurs. The greatest heights are reached on the northern side of the hundred where the two highest points in Wiltshire stand, namely Milk Hill and Tan Hill, both over 950 ft. Along the crest of the downs between Tan Hill and the top of Oare hill a series of prehistoric camps and enclosures overlooks the Vale below. The East Wansdyke, probably of pagan-Saxon date, crosses the northern tip of the hundred. On the opposite side heights of about 600 ft. are reached on Salisbury Plain, while between the two chalk bluffs the ground on the greensand ridge rises to about 400 ft.

The eastern part of Swanborough is drained by the head streams of the Christchurch Avon, and the western, separated by a narrow divide, by streams flowing towards the Bristol Avon. The Christchurch Avon becomes a considerable river before it leaves the hundred, its valley providing sites for several villages.

With such a landscape the majority of the Swanborough parishes are of the long and narrow spring-line type. In those the settlements are situated either on the porous greensand or on the valley gravels of the Avon Valley and their lands stretch over the clearly defined belts of meadow and arable to the rough grazing on the Upper Chalk of the downs or Plain. In the centre of the Vale a few parishes have no upland pasture and thus do not follow the long and narrow pattern. Five parishes have detached pieces, presumably acquired at a very early date either because of a tenurial connexion or to supplement the variety of soils available for different sorts of farming.

Swanborough hundred

Two roads run round the northern and southern sides of the hundred to converge upon Devizes in the west and Pewsey in the east. Between the two a network of lanes and roads connects the villages of the Vale. From the southern road a branch road leads to the most westerly part of the hundred and continues westwards to provide a route to the former cloth towns of that side of Wiltshire. Above the southern road the track known as the Ridge Way runs round the escarpment of Salisbury Plain and from it many other tracks led over the Plain providing ways to Salisbury and the south of the county. Such routes were closed for every-day use after the War Department began at the end of the 19th century to acquire large areas of the Plain for camps and firing ranges. Virtually all that part of the Plain lying within the hundred is now controlled by the Ministry of Defence so that agricultural use is restricted and access often barred. The Kennet & Avon Canal, disused except for sport and recreation, was built across the hundred from east to west between 1796 and 1810. A wharf was sited at Honey Street in Woodborough. The railway line running south of the canal was opened in 1862 and the south-westerly line branching from it at Patney and Chirton junction in 1900. There was a halt at Manningford Abbots and a station at Woodborough, both of which were closed in 1966.

Since Devizes cannot be claimed as an integral part of the hundred, it is true to say that no place in Swanborough has ever grown beyond a village. Even Market Lavington, which had a thriving malt industry and a market until the end of the 19th century, is better described as a large village rather than as a small town. Upavon also had a market in the Middle Ages, but the main market centres for the hundred lay outside at Devizes and at Pewsey. Farming has always been the chief industry of the hundred. It remained predominantly sheep- and corn-farming country until the later 19th century when there was a great expansion of dairy farming, particularly in the parishes of the Vale. Much of the lowland pasture was inclosed by agreement in the 17th century, at least a hundred years before the arable was regulated by parliamentary inclosure. In 1973 the region was one of mixed farming. Besides agriculture, horticulture has flourished on the greensand soils, particularly around Market Lavington in the west and the Manningfords in the east. Bulbs have been grown commercially for over fifty years at Bottlesford (formerly in Wilsford). There has been a jam factory at Easterton since about 1918 and agricultural implements have been made at Market Lavington and Great Cheverell. In the south-west of the hundred the Gault Clay has been exploited for brick-making.

The hundred of Swanborough is made up of the ancient hundreds of Studfold and Swanborough, and half the ancient hundred of Rowborough. All were royal hundreds and after being fused in the 13th century remained among the possessions of the Crown until 1649. (fn. 1) Soon after the Restoration Swanborough, as the combined hundreds came to be called, passed into the hands of Charles Paulet, marquess of Winchester, created duke of Bolton in 1689, and from him it was acquired by Sir William Pynsent (d. 1719). (fn. 2) From Sir William's son it passed like Urchfont and much other Pynsent property, to William Pitt, earl of Chatham (d. 1778). It was bought from Lord Chatham by William Bouverie, earl of Radnor (d. 1776) in 1767 (fn. 3) and descended with the Radnor title.

The early history of Rowborough hundred and its division between the king and the bishop of Salisbury in the mid 13th century has been told in another volume of the History. (fn. 4) The half which merged with Studfold and Swanborough was that belonging to the king, and in the Nomina Villarum of 1316 was returned as a separate hundred called Rowborough. (fn. 5) Later it became known as King's Rowborough. Included in it were Market Lavington, Great and Little Cheverell, and Littleton Pannell, although the last was a tithing of West Lavington which lay in the bishop's half of the hundred. (fn. 6) Gore, on the other hand, which was a tithing of Market Lavington, belonged to the hundred of Branch and Dole. (fn. 7) After the earlier 14th century Imber was included for taxation purposes under both King's Rowborough and Heytesbury hundreds and continued to be returned under Swanborough and Heytesbury until the 19th century. (fn. 8) The greater part of Imber, however, lay within the Heytesbury hundred boundary and its history is reserved for a later volume.

The early compositions of Studfold and Swanborough have also been discussed in another volume of the History. (fn. 9) In 1084 Studfold was made up of estates in All Cannings, Urchfont, Stert, Etchilhampton, Chirton, Allington, and Conock. (fn. 10) Patney was also included in Studfold until it came into the hands of the prior of St. Swithin's, Winchester, in the earlier 13th century and was transferred by the prior to his hundred of Elstub which he had acquired by 1249. (fn. 11)

Swanborough was one of the largest of the Wiltshire hundreds in 1084 but only eight or nine places can be assigned to it on the basis of contemporary evidence. They are Rushall, Wilcot, Draycot Fitz Payne, Alton Priors, Manningford Abbots, North Newnton, Stanton St. Bernard, Marden, and probably Manningford Bruce. (fn. 12) Other places which later evidence would assign to Swanborough are Alton Barnes, Beechingstoke, Huish, Wilsford, Manningford Bohune, Upavon, Charlton, and Woodborough. Alton Priors was withdrawn from the hundred in the 13th century by the prior of St. Swithin's in the same circumstances as Patney was transferred from Studfold. (fn. 13)

Apart from the loss of Patney from Studfold and Alton Priors from Swanborough, the only other change in the composition of the hundred was the addition of West Chisenbury, then situated in Netheravon parish, some time before 1651. (fn. 14) The connexion of Devizes with the hundred is discussed elsewhere. (fn. 15)

Although the composition of Swanborough underwent but little change, numerous persons and estates within it either withdrew their suit from the hundred or claimed specified liberties within it. In only two cases, so far as is known, was quittance of suit specifically granted by royal charter, but claims to lesser privileges seem to have resulted eventually in the permanent withdrawal of several other places from the hundred court.

The prior of Bradenstoke was granted quittance in 1265 from suit at any royal hundred within Wiltshire. (fn. 16) This led to the withdrawal of his manor of Wilcot but not of his free tenants in the tithings of Draycot Fitz Payne and Oare, nor of those in Etchilhampton and Rushall. The suit due from Oare, Etchilhampton, and Rushall had indeed been temporarily withdrawn in 1275 by the prior at some earlier date, (fn. 17) but all his free tenants in those villages appear to have attended later courts. Draycot, as late as 1726, claimed exemption. (fn. 18)

In 1255 the suit due from Huish was said to have been withdrawn by Geoffrey Doygnel 30 years earlier with the connivance of the hundred bailiff. (fn. 19) In 1275 Silvester Doygnel, then lord of Huish, claimed assize of bread and ale for his serjeanty, (fn. 20) a claim which may have been responsible for the later disappearance of Huish from the hundred court. Upavon's suit in 1255 was said to have been withdrawn 20 years earlier by Gilbert Basset, (fn. 21) and in 1275 Ela, countess of Warwick, claimed gallows and the assize of bread and ale within her manor there. (fn. 22) Like claims were made by the prior of Lanthony for Chirton and John de Bohun for Wilsford and its tithing of Manningford. (fn. 23) Reynold FitzPeter, then lord of Manningford Bruce, claimed assize of bread and ale for his constabulary of England. (fn. 24)

None of the places for which these claims were made in the 13th century was represented at the sheriff's tourn of 1439. Tithings then sending tithingmen, or expected to do so, were the two Cheverells, Littleton Pannell, Easterton Gernon, Market Lavington, Urchfont, Eastcott, Wedhampton, Conock, Stert, Etchilhampton, All Cannings, Allington, Stanton St. Bernard, Alton Barnes, Woodborough, Draycot Fitz Payne, Oare, Manningford Abbots, North Newnton, Hilcott, Beechingstoke, Rushall, and Charlton. (fn. 25) Marden, which was not present, had had a view of frankpledge by 1331, and Easterton as part of the duchy of Lancaster in the later 14th century was presumably under the leet jurisdiction of the duchy, as Upavon was. (fn. 26)

In the 15th century a grant of liberties, which included quittance from the hundred court, made to the abbess of St. Mary's, Winchester, resulted in the withdrawal of All Cannings and Urchfont with Wedhampton and Eastcott. (fn. 27) Easterton Gernon was not represented at the tourn of 1502 and had presumably by then been brought within the duchy of Lancaster's leet jurisdiction for the main manor of Easterton. (fn. 28) Charlton, also absent in 1502, had its own view of frankpledge at least by 1527. (fn. 29) Market Lavington withdrew its suit some time after 1502 and in 1617 a view of frankpledge was confirmed to Sir John Dauntsey, lord of both manors there. (fn. 30) In the later 18th century some seventeen tithings attended the annual courts, but the number gradually declined until in 1840, the date of the last recorded court, only nine were present. (fn. 31)

As in other royal hundreds, the withdrawals of suit and claims to certain privileges made in the 13th century led to a fusion of the three hundreds in order to ensure sufficient business in the hundred court. Although grouped for administrative convenience, the three retained their own identities within the group, particularly for taxation purposes, until the 16th century. (fn. 32) They were separately represented at the hearing of the Crown pleas by the eyre in 1249 (fn. 33) and they made separate returns to the enquiry of 1255. (fn. 34) Already by the later date, however, the same bailiff served all three. (fn. 35) In 1275 one of the two annual courts held by the under-sheriff for the combined hundreds was held within Studfold and the other in Swanborough, an arrangement strongly resented by the men of each hundred. (fn. 36) Five years later Studfold was still objecting. (fn. 37) But the practice continued and by 1651 it was the custom for the Michaelmas court to be held at Swanborough Tump, in the ancient parish of Manningford Abbots, near the boundary with Wilcot, and the Lady-Day court at Foxley Corner in Urchfont. (fn. 38) Swanborough Tump, the meeting-place of the ancient Swanborough hundred, is a medium-sized bowl-barrow (fn. 39) and as Swana beorh occurs in a charter of 987. (fn. 40) The name is thought to mean 'barrow of the peasants'. (fn. 41) In 1651 and occasionally later the site was called Swanborough Ash after the trees which grew upon it. (fn. 42) Foxley Corner, the ancient meeting-place of Studfold hundred, lies about a mile east of Urchfont village at the junction of two roads. After the hundred passed into Lord Radnor's hands the court was held once a year in October alternately at the two meeting-places. (fn. 43) By then it was the custom to adjourn the Swanborough Tump meeting to the Rose and Crown in Woodborough and the Foxley Corner meeting to the Wheat Sheaf in Urchfont. (fn. 44) In 1651 the three-weekly court was usually held in the church-house in Urchfont. (fn. 45)

In 1255 Swanborough was valued at nearly £8 and Studfold at about £10 10s. No value was given for Rowborough. (fn. 46) In 1275 tithingpenny in Studfold was valued at £8 12s. 8d., sheriff's aid at 58s. 8d., and profits of the court at 40s. The same sources in Swanborough produced £6 14s., 26s., and 50s. (fn. 47) In 1291–2 the combined hundred was valued at £21, about three times as much as any other hundred into which the sheriff had entry. (fn. 48) In 1651 lawday silver or certain money contributed by all the tithings amounted to £8 8s. 5d. at the Michaelmas court and £7 6s. 1d. at the Lady-Day court. Profits of the court produced £9 and the total value of the hundred was reckoned at £24 14s. 6d. (fn. 49) After the hundred passed into private hands lawday silver continued to be paid under the name of vicontiel rent. The total value of that rent in the 18th century was £13 14s. 10d. (fn. 50) During Lord Chatham's lordship certain fee-farm rents, some deriving from land outside the county, were included as part of the revenues of the hundred. (fn. 51) Under the earls of Radnor such rents from outside Wiltshire were removed from the accounts leaving ultimately five, all from land within the hundred. A fee-farm rent from Woodborough was included on the account by 1767. (fn. 52) Soon afterwards a rent from Urchfont rectory was added, (fn. 53) and in 1770 Lord Radnor purchased from William Morehead fee-farm rents issuing from the manors of Easterton and Upavon and from Upavon rectory. (fn. 54)

Records of sheriff's tourns held in 1439, 1502, and 1511 survive. (fn. 55) In 1439 the tithings were represented at the court by either one or two tithingmen except All Cannings which had four. (fn. 56) At the annual courts held after 1760 there was only one tithingman for every tithing except for Stanton St. Bernard which was divided into a north and south tithing, each represented by a tithingman. (fn. 57) In 1439 most tithings made presentments but all were fairly trivial, such as the exaction of excessive toll by millers, the disrepair of roads and bridges, and the existence of nuisances. (fn. 58) By 1502 there was a noticeable falling-off of business and presentments had become commonly 'all well'. (fn. 59) Evidence of one piece of court custom survives. In 1726 when the owner of Draycot farm in Draycot Fitz Payne disputed his obligation to send a tithingman to the court, it was affirmed that in the past the tithing had been represented by its tithingman who took his dog with him to the court and answered when called that he and his dog appeared. (fn. 60)

As shown above, there was by 1255 one bailiff for the three ancient hundreds. In 1268 it was established that there was no fixed income attached to the office beyond a payment of 20s. which the men of the hundreds contributed voluntarily. (fn. 61) It was, however, a valuable source of income to the bailiff who farmed it and so became an object of royal patronage. In 1270 the king took the office out of the sheriff's hands and granted it to John of Cannings, a yeoman of the butlery, to hold at a quit-rent. (fn. 62) John's successor, John de la Roche, was appointed first for a term of seven years, later converted into a life grant, and successfully resisted an attempt to exact from him a higher farm for his office. (fn. 63) In 1381 the office was granted to John Ansell of Lavington, (fn. 64) who in 1384 was charged with extortion but was acquitted. (fn. 65) In 1386 he was replaced by William Bayford, a king's serjeant, in the mistaken belief that he was dead, but was restored to office in 1389. (fn. 66) In 1625 the office still had a value as a piece of patronage, for that year the sheriff, who had regained the right of appointment, was accused of corruptly selling it along with the office of under-sheriff. (fn. 67) In 1651 neither the steward of the court nor the bailiff received any fee. (fn. 68) After the hundred passed into private hands the steward holding the annual courts was sometimes called the 'gentleman steward'. (fn. 69) In the later 16th century two constables for the hundred were chosen in quarter sessions (fn. 70) and that appears to have been the number appointed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 71) In 1726 one constable served the eastern side of the hundred and the other presumably the western side. (fn. 72)

Although no mention of them has been found before the 18th century the Crown evidently had special rights of fishing within the hundred. Those rights passed with the hundred from the Crown and all the surveys made from 1760 onwards contain a precise definition of the former royal fishery. (fn. 73) It began outside the hundred at a certain ash tree at the lower end of a meadow called South mead in Netheravon and extended up the Avon to Patney and along the stream above Rushall to Woodborough.


  • 1. E 317/Wilts./14.
  • 2. E 134/13 Geo. I Mich./12.
  • 3. W.R.O. 499/4, index to deeds at Longford.
  • 4. V.C.H. Wilts. vii. 175–6.
  • 5. Feud. Aids, v. 204.
  • 6. V.C.H. Wilts. vii. 198.
  • 7. Ibid. iv. 299, 308, 310, 312; W.R.O. 192/43, sheriff's tourn, 1511.
  • 8. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 299, 301.
  • 9. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, pp. 184, 196.
  • 10. Ibid. 196.
  • 11. Ibid. v. 50.
  • 12. Ibid. ii, p. 185.
  • 13. See above.
  • 14. E 317/Wilts./14. The history of W. Chisenbury is reserved for treatment with that of Netheravon in a later volume.
  • 15. See p. 225.
  • 16. Cal. Close, 1264–8, 148.
  • 17. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 273, 275.
  • 18. E 134/13 Geo. I Mich./12.
  • 19. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 234.
  • 20. Ibid. 275.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Ibid. 273, 275.
  • 24. Ibid. 275.
  • 25. W.A.M. xiii. 111–12.
  • 26. See p. 100.
  • 27. Cal. Pat. 1441–6, 153, 180.
  • 28. See above.
  • 29. See p. 38.
  • 30. C 66/2147 mm. 11–12.
  • 31. W.R.O. 335/183, ct. bk. 1760–1840.
  • 32. The benevolence of 1545 named the hundred Swanborough, Rowborough Regis, and Studfold, but the single name Swanborough is used for the subsidy of 1576: W.R.S. x. 12, 82.
  • 33. W.R.S. xvi, pp. 176–7, 226–9, 231.
  • 34. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 231, 234–5.
  • 35. Ibid. 238.
  • 36. Ibid. 273, 274.
  • 37. J.I. 1/1004 m. 94d.
  • 38. E 317/Wilts./14. The Studfold meeting-place is here called Foxley Burch. In 1726 it is called Foxley Bush: E 134/13 Geo. I Mich./12.
  • 39. V.C.H. Wilts. i (1), 182.
  • 40. Arch. Jnl. lxxvii. 106.
  • 41. P.N. Wilts. (E.P.N.S.), 320.
  • 42. W.R.O. 335/183, ct. bk.; W.N. & Q. ii. 186–7 with a sketch on p. 186.
  • 43. W.R.O. 335/183.
  • 44. Ibid.; W.N. & Q. ii. 243–4.
  • 45. E 317/Wilts./14.
  • 46. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 234, 235.
  • 47. Ibid. 273, 274.
  • 48. E 199/47/4.
  • 49. E 317/Wilts./14.
  • 50. Three 18th-century survey bks. are in W.R.O.: 490/702 (1760–70); 335/184 (n.d.); 490/705 (1784). A 19th-century survey bk. (n.d.) is in W.A.S. Libr., Devizes.
  • 51. W.R.O. 490/702, loose sheet of accts. for 1767 in survey bk.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. Ibid. survey bk. (1760–70).
  • 54. Ibid. 490/693, title deeds for sale of fee-farm rents.
  • 55. W.A.M. xiii. 111–12; S.C. 2/208/29; W.R.O. 192/43.
  • 56. W.A.M. xiii. 111–12.
  • 57. W.R.O. 335/183, ct. bk.
  • 58. W.A.M. xiii. 111–12.
  • 59. S.C. 2/208/29.
  • 60. E 134/13 Geo. I Mich./12.
  • 61. Cal. Inq. Misc. i, p. 119; H. M. Cam, Hundred and the Hundred R. 150.
  • 62. Cal. Pat. 1266–72, 423.
  • 63. Ibid. 1330–4, 85; 1334–8, 10; Cal. Close, 1339–41, 79, 223.
  • 64. Cal. Pat. 1377–81, 587.
  • 65. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 23.
  • 66. Cal. Pat. 1385–9, 148; Cal. Close, 1385–9, 678.
  • 67. Sta. Cha. 8/184/23.
  • 68. E 317/Wilts./14.
  • 69. W.R.O. 335/184, ct. bk.
  • 70. W.R.S. iv, passim.
  • 71. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1639, 206, 253; W.R.S. xi, pp. 88, 90 97.
  • 72. E 134/13 Geo. I Mich./12.
  • 73. See n. 50 above.