Westbury: Agriculture

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.

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'Westbury: Agriculture', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965), pp. 165-168. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/pp165-168 [accessed 13 June 2024].

. "Westbury: Agriculture", in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965) 165-168. British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/pp165-168.

. "Westbury: Agriculture", A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965). 165-168. British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/pp165-168.


Of the 40 hides attributed in the Domesday Survey to the manor of Westbury 17 were said to be in demesne, leaving, after the deduction of the 4½ hides held by William Scudet, 18½ hides for villein farming. (fn. 1) The Geld Roll, however, attributes 35½ hides to the villeins, inferring that the king had no demesne. (fn. 2) The Domesday entry records 7 demesne and 40 villein ploughs. There were 80 a. of meadow, and pasture 3 leagues long by 3 leagues broad. On the demesne there were 28 serfs and 16 coliberts, and there were 38 villeins and 23 bordars. There were an unspecified number of potters, and 9 bee-keepers. (fn. 3) This is the only reference in Domesday to bee-keepers in Wiltshire, and their presence at Westbury may indicate an exceptionally highly organized manorial economy. (fn. 4) Westbury was also one of the only four Wiltshire manors on which swine-herds are recorded. (fn. 5) There were 29 of these, the large number perhaps to be attributed to the excellent feeding for pigs provided in the neighbouring woodlands. In 1086 there was woodland 3 leagues long by ½ league broad attached to the manor, (fn. 6) which lay in the heart of Selwood Forest, and remained within the forest until its disafforestation in the 16th century. (fn. 7) In the 12th century Selwood in Wiltshire was sometimes known as Westbury Forest. (fn. 8)

The size of the demesne on William Scudet's estate of 4½ hides in Bratton and Dilton (fn. 9) in 1086 is not known, but attached to it were 4 serfs and 4 ploughs. There were also 20 bordars with 3 ploughs. There were 20 a. of meadow and 4 of woodland. (fn. 10)

The manor of Westbury was first extended in 1256. (fn. 11) Brook still formed a part of it at this date, but the other lands which were carved out of the royal manor after 1086 had come into existence as separate estates or manors. The manor of Westbury with Brook then comprised a demesne of 11 carucates (660 a.), 7 a. of meadow, and pasture for an unspecified number of oxen, cows, and sheep. There was some park and woodland, as well as the garden and 3 dovecots. Free tenants paid nearly 69s., and customary tenants £4 in assized rents. An extent of 1323 distinguishes the estates of Brook and Headinghill, both of which still formed part of the manor of Westbury. (fn. 12) At Westbury itself there were 400 a. of arable, 8 a. of meadow, and some pasture. There were 14 free tenants, and 21 villeins. At Brook there were 200 a. of arable, 40 a. of meadow, some pasture, 20 a. of wood, and a park ('le Park'). There were 11 free tenants, 2 virgaters, and 8 other villeins. Headinghill had the same amount of arable, 20 a. of meadow, a little, 'grove', and some pasture. A fragmentary account, probably of approximately the same date, shows that some at least of the labour services which were owed by all these tenants in villeinage, were commuted, for in one year money paid in lieu of services brought in rather over £2. (fn. 13)

Another extent of 24 years later (1347) shows something of the method of farming the 420 a. of arable, and 20 a. of meadow which then made up the manor of Westbury and its members, Brook and Headinghill. (fn. 14) Every year 280 a. could be sown at the winter and spring sowings, while 140 a. lay fallow and in common. Half the cultivated arable lay on the chalk uplands ('on the hill'), but this was only worth half as much as the arable lying on the richer land beneath the downs. Half the meadow was farmed in severalty, and was twice as valuable as the other half, which lay in common after mowing. In addition there were 20 a. of several pasture for cattle, and a several pasture for sheep on the downs. There were 100 a. of wood, of which 30 a. were in severalty, and 10 a. of oakwood, all of which lay in common. At this date there were 10 customary tenants on the manor, owing summer works only. Rents of assize amounted to £20.

On the eve of the division of the manor of Westbury between the heirs of Sir John Pavely in 1361, the amount of both meadow and pasture farmed in severalty seems to have increased. (fn. 15) On the common pasture 12 cattle, 40 oxen, and 400 sheep could be grazed. Rents of both free and customary tenants amounted to £12. When the manor of Westbury, by this time excluding Brook, was divided in 1375 between the heirs of Sir John St. Lo, the arable lay in 'cultures' called Gavilhucce, Blaklond, Doucefurlong, Smalmedfurlong, Lyamcombe, and Wrowodelonde. (fn. 16) On the half, later to become the manor called Westbury Stourton, (fn. 17) there was a grange, haybarn, dairyhouse and sheep-house. On the other half, later called Westbury Seymour or St. Maur, (fn. 18) there was a grange, an ox-house, and a 'carterstable'. A fishweir is also mentioned. At least 11 bond tenants are named. One tenant paid rent for pasture for 200 sheep.

Such information as has been found for the other manors within the parish suggests, as is to be expected, that much the same economy was followed on them all. On the Mauduit manor in 1300 there were 160 a. of arable, 15 a. of meadow, and a common pasture. (fn. 19) There were 8 free, and 5 customary tenants, and 28 cottars. All customary tenants owed labour services for part of, or throughout, the year, but there is evidence that by 1321 many of these services had been commuted for money payments. (fn. 20) At the same date it is apparent that some of the pasture land belonging to the manor lay in small inclosed fields. (fn. 21) On Richard Dauntsey's manor in Bratton and Dilton in 1348 150 a. could be sown every year, while the same amount lay fallow and in common. Two pastures were farmed in severalty, one comprising 3 a., the other with grazing for 300 sheep. A wood of 12 a. was also cultivated in severalty. (fn. 22) At Bratton, as on the manor of Westbury, there was some arable cultivation on the chalk downlands as well as on the more fertile soil beneath. (fn. 23) In 1364 75 a. lay on the downs but were sown only every other year because they lay in common. Beneath the downs were 29 a. apparently inclosed and farmed in severalty. There was both common and several pasture on which 300 sheep could be supported. (fn. 24)

As is shown above, the land of the ancient parish was divided between numerous manors and estates, all quite small. (fn. 25) Few of these formed compact holdings, but were made up of lands often widely scattered over the whole area of the ancient parish. An early-14th-century terrier, (fn. 26) probably for the rectory manor, names six fields, or localities, in which a number of lords had holdings. They were the south field of Leigh, the field called 'the hill', the west field, described as being the west part of the court of the Prior of Steventon, (fn. 27) Smallmead, the field called 'the Ham', and the east field of Westbury. Roger Marmium, lord of the manor of Bremeridge, (fn. 28) held land in five of these places, Walter Pavely, lord of the manor of Westbury, (fn. 29) in four, and the Prior of Monkton Farleigh (fn. 30) and the Precentor of Salisbury (fn. 31) in three.

The manor of Bratton, perhaps because of its remote position in the south-east corner of the ancient parish, was a more compact estate. It was a corn-growing and sheep-rearing manor. In the 17th century its demesne lands comprised, besides the home close, 151 a. of arable on the downs, 36 a. of arable in the 'lower fields', sheepsleights for 1,000 sheep in summer, and 600 in winter, and a common pasture for 16 beasts. (fn. 32) In 1682 the arable lands were being extended, but at the same time improvements were being made to the meadowlands so as to offset the loss of common grazing land to the plough. (fn. 33) Most of the best grazing for sheep within the ancient parish lay in or near the tithing of Bratton on the chalk downs south of the village, and grazing rights were strictly regulated by the custom of the manor. Certain flocks, including those from the farms of Westbury Stourton and Westbury Seymour, were excluded from the common fields of Bratton in the daytime, and neither beasts nor sheep were allowed without a keeper on the land newly re-claimed from the marsh. (fn. 34) Flocks of between 300 and 600 sheep were probably kept on most of the manors in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the middle of the 16th century Bratton Grange had pasture for 700 sheep, (fn. 35) and at about the beginning of the 18th Jeffery Whitaker had well over 100 sheep-leazes at Bratton. (fn. 36) The need of the various farmers to cross the land of others when bringing their flocks from the downs to water, led to the creation of clearly defined ways or droves. These sheep-droves, usually called after the respective farmers or landowners entitled to use them, are a feature of the inclosure map of 1808. The amount of time a flock could feed on the richer pasture by the water was also carefully regulated. (fn. 37)

The land of the ancient parish was divided roughly equally between the sheep- and cornfarming region of the chalk uplands in the southeast, and the pastoral, dairy-farming region of the clay vale in the north-west. But less evidence has survived for the agrarian history of the pastoral region. In the mid-18th century Brook Farm and Lodge Wood Farm, both in this part of the former parish, were noted for their cheese, and of their 300-400 acres, much was water-meadow. (fn. 38) Storridge Farm, when sold in the mid-20th century, had 324 a. of pasture land and accommodation for over 100 cows. (fn. 39) The spread of the town westwards in the late 19th and in the 20th centuries has covered some of this former pasture land with building and one or two of the large farms in this area were in the mid-20th century broken up and no longer working as farms.

The process of inclosure has not been traced in any detail. At Bratton there seems to have been but little inclosure of either pasture or arable by the middle of the 18th century. (fn. 40) At Brook in the lowlying, clayland region both arable and pasture inclosures were made early in the 17th century when the park there was disparked, (fn. 41) and much of the cultivated land in the north-western part of the parish was already inclosed by the time of the inclosure award of 1808. (fn. 42) That year some 220 a. of common-land were inclosed. Besides those gaining considerable consolidated estates as did Abraham Ludlow, of Heywood House, and John Whitaker, of Fairwood, there were a notable number of small men acquiring small parcels of land varying in size from 2 to 33 perches. Among these were a number of weavers, almost all living at Dilton Marsh or Stormore, a woodman, a shoemaker, and a sawyer.

In 1842 some 11,541 a. of land were estimated to be liable for tithe. Of these, 4,448 a. were returned as arable, and 6,118 a. as meadow or pasture, including 1,794 a. of downland. There were 261 a. of orchards and 658 a. of woodland. (fn. 43) The greensand strip running through the parish from Chapmanslade to Bratton is particularly suitable for market gardening, and in 1815 fruit and vegetables from the region were sent regularly to Trowbridge, (fn. 44) as they still were to a limited extent in 1960. In 1842 there were 40 small orchards in Bratton alone, (fn. 45) and some still flourished there in 1960.

While in the earlier 19th century the inhabitants of Chapmanslade, Dilton Marsh, and Westbury Leigh were chiefly occupied with the textile industry, (fn. 46) those of Bratton were almost entirely employed in agriculture. In 1831 200 out of 300 families there were occupied in farming. (fn. 47) Flocks of 1,000 sheep and more were still maintained on the downs by farmers who also grew corn on a large scale. (fn. 48) But in the second half of the century this type of farming was declining everywhere and in Bratton the acquisition of much of the downland by the War Department ensured its virtual disappearance in the 20th century. In this century the dairy farming of the north-west pastoral region is the principal type of farming within the area of the former ancient parish.


  • 1. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, p. 118.
  • 2. Ibid. pp. 212-13.
  • 3. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, p. 118.
  • 4. Ibid. p. 55.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid. p. 118.
  • 7. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 414-17.
  • 8. Ibid. 414.
  • 9. See p. 152.
  • 10. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, p. 118.
  • 11. Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1242-1326 (Index Libr.), 18-19.
  • 12. Ibid. 434-6.
  • 13. S.C. 6/1061/26.
  • 14. Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1327-77 (Index Libr.), 176.
  • 15. Ibid. 290-1, and see p. 149.
  • 16. Ibid. 387-9.
  • 17. See p. 149.
  • 18. See p. 150.
  • 19. Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1242-1326 (Index Libr.), 252-3, and see p. 155.
  • 20. S.C. 6/1145/12.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1327-77 (Index Libr.), 174.
  • 23. W.N. & Q. ii. 454.
  • 24. Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1327-77 (Index Libr.), 331-2.
  • 25. See pp. 148-65.
  • 26. W.R.O. It is undated, but internal evidence suggests a date in the first half of the 14th century.
  • 27. See p. 154.
  • 28. See p. 157.
  • 29. See p. 149.
  • 30. See p. 156.
  • 31. See p. 153.
  • 32. Longleat MS. 6644, Survey of site and mansion house.
  • 33. Longleat MS. 6592, Survey Bk. 1682.
  • 34. Longleat MSS. 6590, 11529.
  • 35. Cal. Pat. 1548-9, 376.
  • 36. Longleat MS. 10651, Survey Bk. 1696-1733.
  • 37. W.N. & Q. iii. 307.
  • 38. Wilts. Times, 7 Oct. 1960 quoting the Salisbury Jnl.
  • 39. Wilts. Times, 3 June, 1960.
  • 40. Longleat MS. 10651, Survey Bk. 1696-1733.
  • 41. C 2 Eliz. I H. 3/52.
  • 42. W.R.O. Inclosure Award.
  • 43. W.R.O. Tithe Award.
  • 44. Bodman, Hist. of Trowbridge (1815), 21.
  • 45. W.R.O. Tithe Award.
  • 46. See p. 170.
  • 47. Census, 1831.
  • 48. Bratton W.I. Scrap Bk.