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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Fonthill Bishop is 22 km. east of Salisbury, one in a line of villages on the northern slopes of the Nadder valley. (fn. 1) The parish, 727 ha. (1,797 a.), is a rough oblong, 2.5 km. east to west and 3.5 km. north to south. At its south end the Nadder divides it from Fonthill Gifford and a well defined ridge is its boundary with Tisbury and Chilmark. Elsewhere the boundaries ignore relief. In the early 19th century that to the west with Berwick St. Leonard was straightened by exchanges confirmed in the Berwick St. Leonard inclosure award of 1840. (fn. 2)
Apart from an outcrop of Upper Greensand across the southern part in the form of the boundary ridge the parish lies wholly on chalk. (fn. 3) Its three highest points are at its north-west, north-east, and south-east corners, 213 m., 198 m., and 189 m. respectively. The village is in the south-west corner on the young Nadder at 107 m., and from the other three corners the land slopes towards it in a series of ridges and dry valleys. Both the greensand ridge in the extreme south of the parish and clay-with-flints which overlies the chalk in the extreme north support woodland; Little Ridge wood in the south and Fonthill Bushes in the north are probably ancient woodland. (fn. 4) There was a warren in the north-west corner of the parish on land which was planted with trees between 1800 and 1838. South of the church land was taken in the early 19th century for part of Fonthill lake, the island in which is in Fonthill Bishop. (fn. 5) Land in that southern part of the parish was increasingly drawn into Fonthill park in Fonthill Gifford, Tisbury, and Chilmark and woods were grown in Fonthill clump and on other lands. (fn. 6) Meadow and pasture land lay near the river and the village, and the arable lands and upland pastures of the village lay on the chalk east and north of it between the parish's two wooded extremities. (fn. 7)
Early-14th-century taxation assessments indicate that Fonthill Bishop was of average wealth among its neighbours, (fn. 8) and there were 77 poll-tax payers in 1377. (fn. 9) The village was possibly relatively smaller in the later 16th century. (fn. 10) In 1801 the population was 194. It rose to 228 in 1821 but afterwards, and especially in the period 1881–1921, declined until it stood at 117 in 1931. (fn. 11) There were 123 inhabitants in 1971. (fn. 12)
Building throughout the parish has been predominantly in stone. Until the 19th century Fonthill Bishop was essentially a village of small farmsteads strung north to south along its street which was bisected near the church by the road from Willoughby Hedge in West Knoyle through Hindon to Barford St. Martin, Wilton, and Salisbury, turnpiked under an Act of 1761. (fn. 13) By 1800, when the line of the street remained well defined, there had been some cottage building west of the church. (fn. 14) In 1837 there was a malt-house in the street. (fn. 15) Later the form of the village changed. In the period 1881– 1921 many of the buildings west of the church and in the street south of the road from Willoughby Hedge to Barford St. Martin were demolished, (fn. 16) and since then the growing importance of that road has encouraged settlement beside it. In 1977 no building earlier than 1800 stood south of the road although the line of the street was visible. The older buildings stand on the west side of the northern part of the street. They include two early-18th-century houses, one near the church and one later enlarged, a remodelled 17th-century house, and Baker's Farm. The focus of the village remained the crossing of street and road where the church, the old school, the old rectory-house, and principal farm-houses stand, but the buildings are not closely gathered. Behind the church is an early-19th-century farmhouse enlarged in the later 19th century and on the south side of the road is a late-19th-century farmhouse, a range of later-19th-century cottages of which the south end is dated 1864, and farm buildings dated 1887. The King's Arms, open as a public house in 1794, (fn. 17) and some 20th-century estate cottages and council houses stand by the road east of the crossing.
There has been little settlement in the parish away from the village. The New Inn in Chicklade Bottom beside the main London-Exeter road, turnpiked under an Act of 1762, (fn. 18) was so called in 1773. (fn. 19) The building, which is of the later 18th century, afterwards became a farm-house. (fn. 20) Fonthill Lodge, a house on the downs used for inoculating and boarding sufferers from smallpox, was apparently in the parish. It was open from at least 1766 to 1773. (fn. 21)
Manor and Other Estates.
Athelwulf's morning-gift to his wife Athelthryth was a 5-hide estate at Fonthill which in the late 9th century she sold to Oswulf. Helmstan later acquired it but, when accused of the theft of a belt, his right was disputed by Athelhelm. Helmstan proved his right but for help in doing so and for a life-lease granted the land to Ordlaf. In exchange for land elsewhere Ordlaf in 900 granted Fonthill, then said to be 10 hides, to Denewulf, bishop of Winchester. (fn. 22) The manor of FONTHILL passed with the see and was apparently not surrendered at the Reformation. There is similarly no evidence of sale by the parliamentary trustees in the Interregnum. The lordship of the manor was retained by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners after the land was sold. (fn. 23)
The demesne lands of the manor were leased to farmers from the early 15th century, (fn. 24) including in the 16th century Robert and Edward Mayo. (fn. 25) Edward's heir was his daughter Thomasine, wife of William Grove (d. 1582) who was lord of Feme manor in Donhead St. Andrew. (fn. 26) The Groves were succeeded by their son William (d. 1622). About 1610 the lease was acquired like that of the demesne lands of East Knoyle manor by Henry Mervyn (knighted 1619), lord of the manor of Fonthill Gifford from 1611. (fn. 27) The lease was apparently sold with Fonthill Gifford to Mervyn's brother-in-law Mervyn Tuchet, earl of Castlehaven, (fn. 28) to whom a new lease was made in 1629. (fn. 29) Leases afterwards passed with the manor of Fonthill Gifford, in the earldom of Castlehaven until the 1630s, in the Cottington family until c. 1744, and in the Beckford family. (fn. 30) In 1822 a lease was sold with Fonthill Gifford by William Beckford (d. 1844) to John Farquhar to whom a new lease was made in 1825. (fn. 31)
About two-thirds of the parish were in freeholds and in copyholds (fn. 32) which, held under fines and for rents which were both fixed, from the 16th century began to assume the importance of freeholds. (fn. 33) In 1662 5 free and 24 customary tenants were named (fn. 34) and no estate grew large until the 18th century. (fn. 35) In 1459 Robert Hungerford, Lord Hungerford, died seised of a freehold which passed with the manor of Fonthill Gifford to members of the Mervyn family, (fn. 36) and from 1611 with the lease of the demesne land of Fonthill Bishop. (fn. 37) The lords of Fonthill Gifford increased their holdings in Fonthill Bishop by purchases from George Barber and Joseph Bate, probably in the earlier 17th century. (fn. 38) From c. 1750 the Beckfords steadily bought up the remaining freeholds and copyholds. (fn. 39) In 1800 William Beckford's leasehold, freehold, and copyhold estate included nearly the whole parish and it was all sold to Farquhar. (fn. 40)
In 1826 Farquhar sold the lands north of the road from Willoughby Hedge to Barford St. Martin, Fonthill farm, to Henry King (d. 1844) of Chilmark and assigned the lands south of the road with Fonthill Abbey to his nephew George Mortimer. (fn. 41) Fonthill farm passed to King's son Frederick (d. 1893) who in 1860 bought from Bishop Sumner the freehold of the land held by lease. (fn. 42) The farm was sold by Frederick's son, the Revd. Frederick King, to Alfred Morrison in 1897 when the copyhold land was enfranchised. (fn. 43) Mortimer sold his land in 1829–30 to James Morrison (d. 1857) whose son Alfred (d. 1897) bought the freehold of the leased lands from the bishop in 1859. (fn. 44) From 1897 virtually the whole parish has passed in the Morrison family with Fonthill House in Fonthill Gifford and later with Little Ridge (Fonthill House) in Chilmark to Alfred's son Hugh (d. 1931) and grandson John Granville Morrison (created Baron Margadale 1964). It belonged to the Morrison estate in 1977. (fn. 45)
In 1744 the lands bought from Barber and Bate were sold by Francis Cottington to the tenant William Baker who already held copyhold of inheritance land. (fn. 46) Baker's substantial freehold and copyhold estate apparently passed to his son William (d. 1789), (fn. 47) and was the last in Fonthill Bishop to pass to the lord of Fonthill Gifford manor when in 1796 his grandson William Baker sold to William Beckford. (fn. 48) Baker's Farm is of the early 18th century.
A field system of some 230 a. north of the London—Exeter road on Fonthill down indicates extensive prehistoric ploughing. (fn. 49) About 900 Fonthill was described both as 5 hides and 10 manentes. (fn. 50) In 1066 there were 10 hides. In 1086 there was land for 7 ploughs: 5 hides were in the bishop of Winchester's demesne on which there were 2 ploughs and 5 serfs; 8 villeins and 5 bordars shared 3 ploughs. There were 8 a. of meadow, and pasture and woodland were each ½ league long and 3 furlongs broad. The estate was worth ¼ having formerly been worth £10. (fn. 51)
In the Middle Ages the sheep-and-corn husbandry on the chalkland of the parish was in common. At least in the 13th and 14th centuries the arable lands of the bishops of Winchester's demesne farm and of the free and customary tenants were apparently intermingled in the common fields. The bishops' land, however, was possibly in complete furlongs and included the coomb below Little Ridge which was apparently several. (fn. 52) The bishops' and tenants' flocks possibly shared the same downs and at least in the 14th century there was a shepherd for the tenantry besides one for the demesne flock. (fn. 53) The bishops' demesne land was leased for a period ending in 1217. It was in hand in the periods 1217–19 and 1225–7 but otherwise leased for £28 a year until c. 1235. (fn. 54) When in hand in the 13th century over 200 a. were sometimes sown on the demesne and only in the 1290s were fewer than 150 a. sown. (fn. 55) In the early 14th century over 200 a. were still occasionally sown, but from the 1320s the area sown for the bishops gradually declined and from the 1340s fewer than 100 a. were normally sown. (fn. 56) Especially because the bishops' sheep farming at Fonthill was integrated with that of their other Wiltshire manors (fn. 57) the number of sheep kept varied greatly each year: for example, the number kept averaged nearly 400 in the 1270s, some 40 in the 1280s. (fn. 58) In the later 14th century the yearly average was c. 400. (fn. 59) In the early 13th century ewes were kept, later wethers. (fn. 60) In 1417 the demesne lands were leased with the tenants' rents and services for £20 a year. (fn. 61) In the 13th century the bishops, their customary tenants, and their free tenants possibly held equal proportions of the agricultural land. In the later Middle Ages the customary holdings probably grew. In 1376 they were 5 virgates, 21 ½-virgates, 1 ¼-virgate, and 4 smaller holdings. (fn. 62) There were probably c. 25 tenants then as later. (fn. 63) They held by Borough English for rents then totalling £5 3s. 8d. and labour services; clearly none had a very large holding. (fn. 64) Later evidence shows that some 10 virgates were held freely. (fn. 65)
In the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries cultivation continued largely in common and regulations for it were often recorded in the manor courts and tourns. (fn. 66) The stint of sheep at 60 to a virgate fixed in 1539 was generous. (fn. 67) The demesne apparently remained the only large farm. It included half the cut of two meadows totalling 8 a. in Stockton which was usually sub-let. (fn. 68) Fonthill farm, then held of the bishop for £22 12s. a year on leases paid for by substantial fines, was being sub-let for £126 a year in 1724. (fn. 69) None of the free or customary holdings seems to have been much enlarged and in the early 18th century the c. 26 tenanted virgates still seem to have been held by some fifteen tenants with farmsteads along the street. (fn. 70) The freehold which passed with the manor of Fonthill Gifford was possibly partly merged with the land of that manor since in 1539 John Mervyn, in drowning some of his holding, obscured the parish boundary. (fn. 71) In 1603–4 Sir James Mervyn was said to have unlawfully fished the Nadder in Fonthill Bishop and in 1722 Francis Cottington was denied the right to keep swans there. (fn. 72)
In the 18th century most cultivation in common and nearly all the smaller holdings were eliminated. There had been some inclosure near the village by 1744. (fn. 73) Thereafter the decrease in the number of farms, as Baker's farm grew and more of the freeholds and copyholds passed to the Beckfords, (fn. 74) made possible a larger inclosure. By an agreement which may have been c. 1760 (fn. 75) the arable lands around the village were inclosed. Fonthill farm's land was concentrated north of the village in a single piece adjoining Berwick St. Leonard and extending nearly to the London—Exeter road, and east of the village between the road from Willoughby Hedge to Barford St. Martin and the northern ridge of the coomb. An area of land north of the village also extending to the London—Exeter road was allotted to freeholders and copyholders for several use. (fn. 76) At least from then but perhaps from before 1716 (fn. 77) the upland pasture was divided between a westerly farm down and an easterly tenantry down. Fonthill farm was thus several, and a small farm was established on the northernmost of the new inclosures near the London—Exeter road. (fn. 78) For the remaining farms, of which there were perhaps seven or eight in 1780, (fn. 79) cultivation continued in common on the down and in four arable fields in the east part of the parish. (fn. 80) Common husbandry ceased after William Beckford bought Baker's farm in 1796, and after all the tenantry lands were merged in that farm and a small exchange was made with the rector. (fn. 81) By 1837, when there were 871 a. of arable in the parish, some 70 a. of downland pasture had been ploughed. The agricultural land south of the road from Willoughby Hedge to Barford St. Martin then made a farm of 266 a. with buildings in the southern part of the street. North of that road were Fonthill farm with buildings near the church and 502 a. of land in a strip beside the western parish boundary, Baker's farm with buildings at the north end of the street and 801 a. in the eastern half of the parish, and the upland farm of c. 55 a. beside the London—Exeter road. There were 231 a. of woodland. (fn. 82) Fonthill Bushes, in the north-east corner of the parish, had apparently been divided and allotted with the arable c. 1760. (fn. 83) Little Ridge wood, at the south end, was part of Fonthill park. After 1876 Baker's farm was merged in Fonthill farm, called Kingstead in 1886, and Baker's farm buildings were given up. (fn. 84) In 1977 about half the parish was in Kingstead farm and half in hand. (fn. 85)
Mill. There was a mill worth 5s. at Fonthill in 1086 (fn. 86) and a customarily held mill in the Middle Ages, (fn. 87) both presumably driven by the Nadder. The mill was said to be ruined in 1539. (fn. 88) It was possibly restored and may have continued to work until the early 18th century. (fn. 89)
From the 13th century Fonthill Bishop was within the public jurisdiction exercised by the bishops of Winchester for their hundred or liberty of East Knoyle. Fonthill was a tithing of the hundred (fn. 90) and, although the bishops' profits of the tourn relating only to Fonthill were separately accounted for, (fn. 91) there is no reason to doubt that the Fonthill tithingman made presentments at the East Knoyle tourn long before 1464, the date of its first surviving separately enrolled record. (fn. 92) The bishops' liberties and the timing and procedure of the tourns are discussed elsewhere. (fn. 93) In the later 15th century and the 16th the tithingman of Fonthill presented offences similar to those presented by the tithingmen of Knoyle and Milton, mainly those of brewers and millers and sometimes affrays. From the late 17th to the mid 19th century public nuisances in Fonthill were presented in the annual tourns by the 'jury for the king', and manorial matters by the homage in the same way as those for the other places in the hundred. (fn. 94) Until a parish constable was appointed Fonthill was within the precinct of the single constable of Knoyle hundred. (fn. 95)
Separate manor courts for Fonthill were held by the bishops' bailiffs. In 1312–13 six were held, in 1343–4 nine, and in the later 14th century and the early 15th there were two a year. (fn. 96) In the early 16th century courts were again more numerous, and offences such as the keeping of unringed pigs, unlawful gaming, and harbouring of suspects, elsewhere normally presented at views of frankpledge, were sometimes dealt with in addition to the usual business of recording deaths of tenants, surrenders and admittances, the arrival of stray animals, and breaches of manorial custom. The Fonthill tithingman was elected at the courts at that time. (fn. 97) Fewer courts were held later and as at Knoyle manorial business was in the 17th century transferred to the annual tourn.
No record survives to illuminate parish government at Fonthill Bishop before the parish joined Tisbury poor-law union in 1835. (fn. 98)
A church was mentioned in 1242. (fn. 99) From 1914 to 1916 the rectory was held in plurality with the rectory of Berwick St. Leonard and in 1916 the benefices were united. (fn. 100) In 1966 the two parishes were united as the parish of Berwick St. Leonard with Fonthill Bishop. (fn. 101) From 1939 the benefice has been held by the rectors of Fonthill Gifford. (fn. 102)
The advowson of the rectory passed like the lordship of the manor with the see of Winchester. (fn. 103) Presentations were made by the king sede vacante in 1242 and 1243 and for reasons that are not clear in 1332. (fn. 104) The bishops' grantees presented in 1447 and 1566. (fn. 105) In 1852 the advowson was transferred to the bishop of Oxford, and in 1965 to the bishop of Salisbury. (fn. 106)
The living was valued at 10 marks in 1291, an average assessment for a Wiltshire parish. (fn. 107) Its true value was given as 25 marks. (fn. 108) In 1535 its net value was £10, in 1650 £60, and c. 1830 £246 net, values indicating a living of average wealth. (fn. 109) The rector was entitled to all tithes from the whole parish. They were valued at £259 in 1837 and commuted in 1839. (fn. 110) The glebe land in the arable fields was exchanged at inclosure for a field near the village. (fn. 111) In 1837 the glebe measured 4 a. (fn. 112) Part of the old house was incorporated in the east side of the new Rectory which was built in 1819 (fn. 113) with a principal front of three wide bays to the south. The house was sold in 1961–2. (fn. 114)
In 1304 Richard Trenchefoil was presented to the church while an acolyte. He was licensed to study for three years and was ordained priest in 1307. (fn. 115) Another acolyte, John de Madele, was presented in 1326. (fn. 116) In 1553 the homilies were given instead of sermons and there were still no sermons in 1585. (fn. 117) From 1620 to 1639 Christopher Wren, from 1623 rector of East Knoyle and later dean of Windsor, was rector. (fn. 118) At least in 1634 he employed a curate. (fn. 119) Robert Olding, presented in 1644, preached twice every Sunday. He subscribed to the Concurrent Testimony of 1648 but, suspected of royalism, had been deprived by 1655. (fn. 120) He was afterwards restored. (fn. 121) In 1783 the church was served by a curate who also served Fonthill Gifford and Berwick St. Leonard and lived at Chicklade. A single Sunday service and Communion services four times a year were held at Fonthill Bishop. (fn. 122) The curate served for at least 35 years. (fn. 123) In 1851 the church was served by a curate living in the Rectory, (fn. 124) but from 1858 to 1960 rectors were apparently resident. (fn. 125) In 1864 services with sermons were held twice every Sunday with congregations averaging c. 70 and the Sacrament was administered to some 33 communicants about ten times a year. (fn. 126)
The church of ALL SAINTS is built of rubble with ashlar dressings and has a chancel, central tower with transepts, and nave with south porch. There is no feature which can be ascribed with certainty to a period earlier than the 13th century; but the walls of the nave appear to be older than the crossing arch which may have been made into its eastern end. The chancel, although much rebuilt, retains a mid-13th-century character and the transepts were built later in that century. The only later addition is the 15th-century porch which was built when both doorways and the west window were renewed. The chancel was rebuilt in 1871 (fn. 127) and the remainder of the fabric was extensively restored in 1879 under the direction of T. H. Wyatt. (fn. 128)
In 1553 there were two bells, (fn. 129) one of which, thought to date from c. 1320, remains in the church. In 1879 the second was replaced by a bell founded by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel and both were rehung. (fn. 130)
In 1553 a chalice weighing 6 oz. was left for the parish and I oz. of silver taken for the king. The old plate was replaced by chalice, paten, and flagon given in 1858. That set of plate and an additional paten belonged to the church in 1977. (fn. 131)
The registers of marriages date from 1754, of baptisms from 1769, and of burials from 1796. (fn. 132)
The old register was said to have been accidentally burnt in 1759. (fn. 133)
There was no nonconformist in Fonthill Bishop in 1676 (fn. 134) There were a few papists in the later 18th century. (fn. 135) A house was registered for dissenters' meetings in 1819 (fn. 136) but no chapel has been built.
By a deed of 1787 Samuel Gattrell gave £350 for the teaching of sixteen poor children of the parish. The interest, £10 a year, was given to a schoolmistress who lived and taught in a house in the village. (fn. 137) In 1808 those taught were aged between four and eight, (fn. 138) and in 1833 the sixteen charity pupils were augmented by a few who paid. (fn. 139) An elementary school was built near the east end of the church probably in 1841 and the charity funds were used for its general expenses. (fn. 140) In 1858 from fifteen to twenty children were taught but older children went to school in Hindon. (fn. 141) A Scheme of 1905 required that the income from Gattrell's charity should be spent on bursaries for Fonthill Bishop children pursuing further education, or to buy books for the school library. (fn. 142) The school could hold 78 children but in 1906 the average attendance was only 33. (fn. 143) The average attendance reached 42 in 1927 but thereafter declined and in 1971 the school was closed. (fn. 144) In 1977 the income from Gattrell's foundation was being allowed to accumulate. (fn. 145)
Charity for the Poor.
In his lifetime Henry Spencer (d. 1811) gave 15s. at Christmas in sums of 1s. to the oldest parishioners. In 1832 Spencer's heirs gave £25 to perpetuate his practice. It is unlikely that distribution was frequent since by 1869 a sum of £47 had been accumulated. In 1906 the endowment was £46, the income from which was distributed to poor parishioners once in three years. In 1905 £3 3s. was given. (fn. 146) In the 1970s the charity fund was used occasionally to help aged parishioners in need. (fn. 147)