Downton hundred

Pages 1-2

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 11, Downton Hundred; Elstub and Everleigh Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.

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The hundred of Downton in 1831 was an aggregate of the hundred of Downton and the hundred or liberty of East Knoyle. It consisted of four physically separate pre-Reformation parishes, Downton and Bishopstone in the southeast of the county and East Knoyle and Fonthill Bishop in the south-west. (fn. 1) All the parishes except Fonthill were large, and the hundred contained some 25 villages and was divided into 13 administrative tithings. There were 4 medieval chapelries, and in the 19th century 6 additional civil parishes were recognized and 4 new ecclesiastical districts were created.

Downton hundred originated in grants of immunity for lands assessed at 100 hides, or of the land with its immunity, by Anglo-Saxon kings to bishops of Winchester. (fn. 2) The private hundred thus established, and the wide range of administrative and judicial liberties later held in respect of it, passed with the see. (fn. 3) The 100 hides was the assessment of a possibly unbroken tract of land extending from Downton in the Christchurch Avon valley perhaps far up the Ebble valley. Tenth-century alienations reduced the lands to the estates, later parishes, of Downton and Bishopstone but not the assessment or the bishops' liberties. The composition of the hundred was thereafter unaltered, and within it no lord inferior to the bishop withdrew his men from it. The rector of Downton and later the impropriators of the rectory held the only separate view of frankpledge. At least from the early 13th century the bishops held no court for the whole hundred but the tourns held for both Downton and Bishopstone, each attended by the tithingmen of several tithings, were like those of hundreds. (fn. 4)

About 1084 East Knoyle was in Mere hundred and Fonthill Bishop was in Dunworth hundred. (fn. 5) In the 13th century the bishops of Winchester, lords in both places, succeeded in withdrawing their men from those hundreds. (fn. 6) They took liberties similar to those enjoyed for Downton hundred and for both places exercised them in a tourn held for what by 1249 was called the hundred of East Knoyle. (fn. 7) Neither the lordship nor the composition of that hundred, which included Hindon, was changed. For purposes of privately exercised jurisdiction the hundred or liberty of Knoyle continued into the 19th century, but for other purposes its constituents had been added to Downton hundred by the 18th century. (fn. 8)

Downton Hundred c. 1840


  • 1. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 328.
  • 2. Eric John, Orbis Britanniae, 108–11; Helen M. Cam, Law-Finders and Law-Makers, 28, 62–3.
  • 3. See pp. 43–4.
  • 4. See pp. 15–16, 43–4. Rights of jurisdiction were alienated from the see in the mid 16th cent, by lease and royal grant.
  • 5. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, pp. 180–1, 208–9.
  • 6. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 234.
  • 7. Crown Pleas, 1249 (W.R.S. xvi), p. 187.
  • 8. e.g. Q. Sess. 1736 (W.R.S. xi), p. 137.