Dunworth hundred

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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Jane Freeman. Janet H Stevenson, 'Dunworth hundred', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 13, South-West Wiltshire: Chalke and Dunworth Hundreds, (London, 1987), pp. 89-92. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol13/pp89-92 [accessed 23 June 2024].

Jane Freeman. Janet H Stevenson. "Dunworth hundred", in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 13, South-West Wiltshire: Chalke and Dunworth Hundreds, (London, 1987) 89-92. British History Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol13/pp89-92.

Freeman, Jane. Stevenson, Janet H. "Dunworth hundred", A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 13, South-West Wiltshire: Chalke and Dunworth Hundreds, (London, 1987). 89-92. British History Online. Web. 23 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol13/pp89-92.


Dunworth was a compact hundred in the Vale of Wardour in the south-west corner of Wiltshire. In the Middle Ages more than half its land belonged to the abbey of Shaftesbury (Dors.), but its components were united by geography and proximity to each other rather than by tenure. The hundred would have been more regular and even more compact but for the omission from it of Semley and Fonthill Bishop which intrude into it. Fonthill Bishop, which was part of the hundred in 1084, belonged to the bishop of Winchester and became part of a liberty of the bishop, (fn. 1) and Semley belonged to Wilton abbey and was part of the abbey's private hundred of Chalke. (fn. 2) Chilmark, however, another estate of the abbey, remained part of Dunworth hundred. Apart from Fonthill Bishop, in 1084 Dunworth hundred included estates called Ansty, Chilmark, Donhead, Fonthill, Swallowcliffe, Teffont, Tisbury, and probably Wardour. (fn. 3) The Donhead estate included detached land later called Easton Bassett, and the Tisbury estate probably included what became the parishes of Berwick St. Leonard, Chicklade, and Sedgehill. By the 13th century the Donhead estate had been divided into the parishes of Donhead St. Andrew and Donhead St. Mary, and Berwick St. Leonard and Chicklade had become parishes. Sedgehill tithing, which was a detached chapelry of Berwick St. Leonard until the 19th century, relieved its own poor, and its history is recorded below under its own rubric. In 1831 Dunworth hundred consisted of 11 parishes, Ansty, Berwick St. Leonard, Chicklade, Chilmark, Donhead St. Andrew, Donhead St. Mary, Fonthill Gifford, Sedgehill, Swallowcliffe, Teffont Evias, and Tisbury. Chilmark was divided into the tithings of Chilmark and Ridge; Donhead St. Andrew and Donhead St. Mary between them included the tithings of Charlton, Dognell, Haystone, and Winsford; and Tisbury was divided into the tithings of Chicksgrove, Hatch, Staple, and Tisbury.

Dunworth Hundred c. 1841

Most of the land of the hundred is in the Nadder valley. The chalk downlands of Great Ridge and White Sheet Hill are to the north and south, east—west ridges of greensand are respectively south and north of them, and in the east part of the hundred Portland Beds outcrop. The parishes of the hundred have been almost exclusively agricultural: to the north and south the chalk has favoured sheep-and-corn husbandry, open fields, and common pastures; in the centre, where dairying was important in some parishes in the early 13th century, farming has been more mixed and inclosure was earlier. In the 19th century a railway increased the importance of dairy farming, and in the later 20th century arable and dairy farming predominated in most of the parishes. The greensand ridges have remained well wooded and commercial forestry continues. The hundred was remarkable for the amount of it imparked: in Fonthill Gifford, Tisbury, Donhead St. Andrew, and Donhead St. Mary the undulating countryside of pastures broken by thickly wooded ridges has been used for sometimes extensive parks from the 13th century to the 20th, and some of the houses in them, Fonthill Abbey, a succession called Fonthill House, the medieval Wardour castle and the new Wardour Castle, Pythouse, Donhead House, Donhead Hall, and Coombe House, have been architecturally ambitious.

The main line of communication across the hundred, taken by the two main LondonExeter roads and a main London—Exeter railway line, is north-east and south-west. Hill forts in Tisbury, Donhead St. Mary, and Easton Bassett, and settlement sites on the downs in Swallowcliffe and Chicklade, suggest that the land may have been continuously settled from the Iron Age. Apart from Donhead St. Mary, where the church is on high ground near the course of a Roman road, and Chicklade, which is in a valley now dry, all the villages and nearly all the hamlets of the hundred are beside tributaries of the Nadder which converge on Tisbury, the largest parish and most populous village in the hundred. Besides their sites and their likely Saxon origins, a feature of most of the villages is the use of good quality local stone in their buildings: Portland stone was extensively quarried and mined in Chilmark, Teffont Evias, and Tisbury, and in the south-west part of the hundred ashlared greensand was much used. Of the non-agricultural trades in the villages a few expanded in Tisbury in the 19th century, including shoemaking, brewing, and the making of machines for agriculture, but only the last of those flourished in the later 20th century. Especially in the 19th century many new farmsteads were built away from the village centres, and in 1985 most of the villages were primarily residential.

Although Shaftesbury abbey owned most land in it in the Middle Ages, Dunworth was, and remained in the 17th century, a royal hundred. (fn. 4) In 1651 it was sold by the state to John Bradshaw, (fn. 5) the regicide, who held Fonthill Gifford manor from c. 1645 until his death in 1659. (fn. 6) Bradshaw was attainted posthumously in 1660, (fn. 7) and a devise of Dunworth hundred to his brother Henry was ineffective. (fn. 8) From the Restoration the hundred apparently descended with Fonthill Gifford manor. (fn. 9)

In 1255 the sheriff took £7 7s. for cert money and tithing penny at his half-yearly tourns; (fn. 10) the hundred was said in 1275 and 1281 to be worth £5 yearly to the king; (fn. 11) and the sheriff received a total of £6 at the Martinmas and Hocktide tourns in 1291–2. (fn. 12) Dunworth hundred was leased for £7 yearly c. 1537, (fn. 13) and in 1635–6 the sheriff accounted for £7 7s. 5d. from it. (fn. 14) Cert money of £5 and £2 14s., paid on 29 September and 25 March respectively, and fines of £6 13s. 4d. were taken from the hundred c. 1651. (fn. 15)

Most hundred courts possibly met in Tisbury parish. The earliest meeting place, which bears the name of the hundred, was presumably on the west side of the TisburyAnsty road south of Tisbury village where Dunworth Cottage and Dunworth Copse are so called. The name Spilsbury, in use c. 1333 and later applied to hamlets beside the road from Place Farm in Tisbury to Ansty, possibly refers to the holding of such courts. (fn. 16) The under-sheriff c. 1269 attempted to change the meeting place to Rockley in Ogbourne St. Andrew and fined four or more jurors £1 each for not attending. (fn. 17) In 1439 the tourn held in Staple tithing was possibly at its customary place. (fn. 18) In the 17th century courts were held in the church house at Tisbury, except in the period 1651–9, during Bradshaw's ownership, when they were held at Fonthill House in Fonthill Gifford. (fn. 19)

In 1255 the same bailiff served the hundred of Dunworth and the hundreds of Branch and Dole (fn. 20) north-east of it. That practice had ceased before 1280, when the king appointed a separate bailiff for Dunworth. (fn. 21) A later bailiff, William Holbeam, may also have been an unofficial itinerant bailiff because he delivered writs outside the hundred. The sheriff sued him in 1465 on a plea that he should render a reasonable account for the hundred during his period of office. (fn. 22) In 1583 the bailiff was fined for not attending quarter sessions regularly. The elections of the two constables of the hundred were presented at quarter sessions from the later 16th century. (fn. 23) In the mid 17th century, besides the two constables, there were a steward, whose task was to require tithingmen to summon hundred jurors, and two affeerors, who assessed amercements and fines imposed by the hundred courts. (fn. 24)

From the early 12th century the abbess of Shaftesbury was free within Donhead manor of pleas of shire and hundred, although not of fines for murdrum and the escape of thieves. (fn. 25) She exercised her liberties in half-yearly views of frankpledge held in Donhead St. Mary in 1287 and later. (fn. 26) In 1277 she was licensed to send attorneys as suitors at the hundred for her other lands in it. (fn. 27) The master of the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England had withdrawn the suit of his tenants in Ansty by 1268, (fn. 28) probably in accordance with a general freedom from Crown pleas granted to the Hospitallers in 1199. (fn. 29) The withdrawal of the suit of some of the men of Teffont Evias by Thomas Kellaway c. 1262 was unauthorized (fn. 30) and the whole of Teffont Evias tithing again followed the hundred in 1289. (fn. 31) In 1283 view of frankpledge for West Hatch manor in Tisbury was committed during pleasure to Eustace of Hatch, (fn. 32) who in 1289 also claimed assize of bread and of ale, infangthief, and gallows in the manor. (fn. 33) The liberty and claims apparently lapsed and the men of West Hatch were presumably again represented by the tithingmen of Hatch at later tourns. (fn. 34) Liberties in Swallowcliffe granted in 1339 to Thomas West were apparently never exercised. (fn. 35)

Although no record survives to illustrate the business of the three-weekly hundred court, a description of its procedure c. 1651 shows it to have conformed to the normal pattern. It tried actions under 40s., and at it tithingmen and officers of the hundred were elected, the jurors presented public nuisances, and the tithingmen presented and accounted for waifs, strays, and deodands. The sheriff's tourns and courts leet were held half-yearly in spring and autumn. (fn. 36) Proceedings which survive for the Hocktide tourns in 1439 and 1502 record the payment of cert money and show the most usual presentments to have been of millers who overcharged and of roads and watercourses which needed repair. An inhabitant of Staple tithing was presented in 1439 as a nightwalker and disturber of the peace, and in 1502 the tithingman of Teffont Evias was himself presented for not carrying a staff as precedent required. (fn. 37)


  • 1. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, pp. 180–1, 208–9; xi. 1.
  • 2. Above, Chalke hund.
  • 3. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, pp. 208–9; W.A.M. 1. 400. Re- mainder of para. and all the 2 following paras. are based on par. hists. below.
  • 4. P.R.O., E 370/9/24–5; E 370/16/56; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 236; Feud. Aids, v. 211–12.
  • 5. P.R.O., E 317/Wilts./7.
  • 6. Below, Fonthill Gifford, manors.
  • 7. L.J. xi. 235.
  • 8. J. P. Earwaker, E. Ches. ii. 65, 71–7.
  • 9. W.R.O., A 1/310, Cottington, 1717; P.R.O., CP 43/794, rot. 10.
  • 10. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 236.
  • 11. Ibid. 255; P.R.O., JUST 1/1004, rot. 88d.
  • 12. P.R.O., E 199/47/4.
  • 13. Ibid. C 1/986, nos. 33–5.
  • 14. Ibid. E 370/15/94.
  • 15. Ibid. E 317/Wilts./7.
  • 16. P.N. Wilts. (E.P.N.S.), 197–8; Andrews and Dury, Map (W.R.S. viii), pl. 5; Arundell Mun., ct. rolls, 527, 545; O.S. Map 6", Wilts. LXIX (1890 edn.).
  • 17. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 256.
  • 18. W.A.M. xiii. 113; below, Tisbury, local govt.
  • 19. P.R.O., E 317/Wilts./7; below, Tisbury, introduction.
  • 20. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 238.
  • 21. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, 366.
  • 22. M. M. Condon, 'Wilts. sheriff's notebook', Medieval Legal Rec. ed. R. F. Hunnisett and J. B. Post, 416.
  • 23. Sess. Mins. (W.R.S. iv), 20, 38, 75, 83, 88, 95, 103, 110, 118, 121, 123; Q. Sess. 1736 (W.R.S. xi), pp. 56, 68.
  • 24. P.R.O., E 317/Wilts./7.
  • 25. Reg. Regum Anglo-Norm. ii, no. 1165.
  • 26. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 236; Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1242–1326 (Index Libr.), 173; below, Donhead St. Mary, local govt.
  • 27. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, 203.
  • 28. P.R.O., JUST 1/998A, rot. 38.
  • 29. Rot. Chart. (Rec. Com.), 15–16.
  • 30. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 255.
  • 31. P.R.O., JUST 1/1006, rot. 53d.
  • 32. Cal. Close, 1279–88, 249.
  • 33. P.R.O., JUST 1/1006, rot. 54.
  • 34. Ibid. SC 2/208/29; W.A.M. xiii. 113.
  • 35. Below, Swallowcliffe, local govt.
  • 36. P.R.O., E 317/Wilts./7.
  • 37. Ibid. SC 2/208/29; W.A.M. xiii. 113–14.