A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 13, South-West Wiltshire: Chalke and Dunworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1987.
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The greater part of Chalke hundred comprised a compact group of parishes between the Wiltshire—Dorset boundary and the watershed of the rivers Ebble and Nadder. The hundred originated in a grant of an estate called Chalke, 100 mansiunculae (small dwellings), free of most secular dues, to Wilton abbey in 955. (fn. 1) Possibly in the 10th century, and certainly in the late 11th, the county boundary and the watershed were its boundaries, and it included Semley, north-west of and detached from the main part of the hundred. Easton Bassett, which was surrounded by the estate, became a detached part of Donhead St. Andrew parish in Dunworth hundred. (fn. 2) Stoke Farthing, which became part of Broad Chalke parish, had been added to the hundred by the 13th century. (fn. 3) By the late 13th century the Chalke estate had been divided into the parishes of Alvediston, Berwick St. John, Ebbesborne Wake, Fifield Bavant, Semley, and Tollard Royal, and a large parish called Chalke. Probably in the 14th century Chalke was divided into Broad Chalke and Bower Chalke parishes. Within what became Broad Chalke parish there were in the 13th century tithings called Broad or Great Chalke, Gurston, Knighton, and Stoke, later Stoke Farthing. By the mid 14th century Gurston had been absorbed into Broad Chalke tithing. Lands in Dorset were part of Tollard Royal parish in the 14th century. Thereafter that parish included two tithings, Tollard Royal, in Wiltshire, and Tollard Farnham, in Dorset; only Tollard Royal tithing lay within Chalke hundred. Each of the other parishes in the hundred formed a single tithing. The hundred was known as Stowford, the name of a bridge in Fifield Bavant, from the late 11th century until the early 13th, and as Chalke from the mid 13th century. (fn. 4)
As its name suggests much of the hundred is chalk downland. Especially in the western parishes the downs are cut by deep dry valleys. The Ebble rises in Alvediston and flows east through the eastern parishes. The watershed between the Ebble and tributaries of the Christchurch Avon extends east and west across the southern part of the hundred. South of that ridge the chalk is in places covered by clay; north of it are outcrops of greensand. Sheep-and-corn husbandry, characteristic of chalk downland, was practised throughout the main part of the hundred; there was little diversification before the late 19th century, when dairy farming increased and watercress beds were made beside the Ebble and its tributary in Broad Chalke and Bower Chalke parishes. The southern part of the hundred was densely wooded. Although much was cleared in the 19th century, extensive woodland remained in the late 20th. The woods were part of a broad band of woodland which lay within Cranborne Chase and extended southwards into Dorset. The outer bounds of the chase took in much of the hundred. From the late 17th century until its disfranchisement in 1829 the chase was administered from Rushmore Lodge in Berwick St. John.
The principal roads through the main part of the hundred ran east and west along the northern and southern ridges and beside the Ebble. The northern ridge way was the main road from Salisbury to Shaftesbury (Dors.) until superseded by a road further north turnpiked in 1788. Broad Chalke, Fifield Bavant, Ebbesborne Wake, and Alvediston were all long and narrow parishes with land north and south of the Ebble, and in each case the principal villages and hamlets are beside the river. Berwick St. John and Bower Chalke are similar elongated parishes with nucleated villages around springs and streams, and Tollard Royal village stands at the confluence of several steep sided valleys. Following inclosure and the clearance of woodland new farmsteads were built on the downs in the 19th century; most, like other contemporary buildings in the hundred, were of brick and flint.
Semley is very different from the main part of the hundred. On its clay soils and extensive pastures, some of which remained common in the late 20th century, dairying has long predominated, and settlement is in scattered hamlets and farmsteads. The main Warminster—Shaftesbury road crosses the parish from north to south and the railway line from Salisbury to Yeovil (Som.) from north-east to south-west; the only industries in the parishes of the hundred were those associated with Semley station.
The grant of the estate called Chalke to the abbess of Wilton in 955, and the confirmation of the grant in 974, left the abbey and its men free from suit to shire and effectively created a private hundred. (fn. 5) The abbey may have received a grant of the hundred while William Longespée, earl of Salisbury (d. 1226), was sheriff, but its right to the hundred was later claimed to have originated earlier, and was presumably based on the 10th-century grant. In 1255 the abbey had return of writs within the hundred: then, as later, the only royal jurisdiction over the hundred was that exercised by the sheriff when he was admitted twice a year to hold the tourn. (fn. 6) The sheriff is not known to have held the tourn after 1502. (fn. 7) The hundred passed to the Crown at the Dissolution, and, with other estates formerly belonging to Wilton abbey, was granted in 1544 to Sir William Herbert (cr. earl of Pembroke in 1551, d. 1570). (fn. 8) The grant did not expressly mention but may have included the right to hold the tourn, which was later claimed by Lord Pembroke. (fn. 9) Thereafter Chalke hundred passed with Bower Chalke manor and the Pembroke title. (fn. 10)
Tollard manor, no longer among Wilton abbey's possessions, was nevertheless still free from suit to the shire court in 1255, and Tollard Royal tithing was not thereafter represented at the hundred court or the sheriff's tourn. In the late 13th century the Crown received a total of 46s. 8d. yearly for cert money and tithing penny from the hundred. (fn. 11) In the 16th century, as probably earlier, hundred courts met at Stowford bridge. (fn. 12) In 1439 the sheriff's tourn was held at 'Housthornys', (fn. 13) which has not been identified.
There are records of three-weekly courts held for the hundred in the late 13th century and of tourns held in 1439 and 1502. The 13th-century courts were chiefly concerned with breaches of the peace; at the tourns millers were fined for overcharging, and roads and ditches in need of repair were presented. (fn. 14) In the later 16th century separate views of frankpledge were held for Chalke manor which included Bower Chalke parish and Broad Chalke tithing. Tithingmen from Bower Chalke and Broad Chalke had attended the sheriff's tourn of 1502, but from the late 16th century attended the views for Chalke manor (fn. 15) and none of the courts held for the hundred. The remaining tithings of the hundred, except Tollard Royal, were each required to send a tithingman to the court leet or great hundred which the earls of Pembroke held for them twice a year in the later 16th century. At a yearly Michaelmas court called a little hundred the tithingmen each paid 16d. to excuse the four reevemen of each tithing from attendance at that and the year's other hundred courts: that was presumably the only business of the little hundred. At the court leet 64s. was collected from the tithingmen of Chalke hundred attending it, and cert money and other dues were collected from many tithings not in the hundred but including lands held by Wilton abbey and its successors. (fn. 16)
Between 1795 and 1831 courts leet or views of frankpledge were held for the hundred, usually annually. A bailiff and two constables, one for the east part of the hundred and one for the west part, were appointed, tithingmen were sworn, and cert money was paid. What little other business was transacted concerned the maintenance of highways and bridges. (fn. 17)