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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The village of Steeple Ashton lies about 3 miles east of Trowbridge. (fn. 1) Its name is derived from the church tower. (fn. 2) The parish formerly included the tithings of West Ashton, Great Hinton, Semington, and Littleton. The first two of these, and Semington and Littleton together, were assessed for poor rates separately from Steeple Ashton tithing, (fn. 3) and so became civil parishes in the late 19th century. In 1883 small detached parts of Great Hinton and Semington were transferred to Hilperton. (fn. 4) In 1894 the whole parish of Whaddon was transferred to Semington civil parish. (fn. 5) In 1897 part of Steeple Ashton civil parish, containing a number of houses and a factory which were part of the built-up area of Trowbridge, was transferred to Trowbridge U.D.C. (fn. 6) The detaching of West Ashton, Great Hinton, and Semington has left the modern civil parish of Steeple Ashton with a long projection extending westward to the Trowbridge boundary, dividing Semington and Hinton to the north from West Ashton to the south.
Geologically the dominating feature of the ancient parish is the Corallian series, which outcrops here from the clays of the vale of North Wiltshire to form a low plateau with a distinct scarp to the north. This scarp runs north of Great Hinton village, round Hag Hill and south-westward, east of the Semington-Yarnbrook road, to Rood Ashton park and the parish boundary south of West Ashton village. Projections such as Hag Hill and Stourton Hill, show characteristic rounded outlines. (fn. 7) South and east of the scarp most of the land is over 250 ft. rising to 265 ft. south of Steeple Ashton and 314 ft. south of West Ashton. The soil of this plateau is lighter than that of the vale, and somewhat more suitable to arable farming. (fn. 8) The lower ground in the north-west of the parish is drained by the Biss, which forms its boundary for some distance, and two streams both emptying into the Biss above Trowbridge; one, Paxcroft Brook, rises near Semington and the other near Steeple Ashton. This area is mainly below 150 ft. and contains a large amount of woodland. Woods called Kayred and Slowgrove lay here in 1370, (fn. 9) and in 1617 woods, still called by these early names, covered much the same area as those now called Green Lane and Biss Woods. Carter's and Flower's Woods also existed then. (fn. 10) Considerable parts of Biss Wood and Flower's Wood have recently (1960) been felled. The north-east of the parish is also in the Oxford Clay region in the valley of the Semington Brook, which forms the parish boundary to the north. Semington village itself, however, stands at the eastern end of a low ridge of Cornbrash which extends westward to Trowbridge and again gives a somewhat lighter soil than the clay of the vale.
Three of the principal ancient settlements, Steeple Ashton, Great Hinton, and West Ashton, stand on the higher ground in the south. The main road from Trowbridge to Devizes crosses the north of the parish, and that from Melksham to Westbury runs through Semington and so south-west, crossing the end of West Ashton village. Both these roads were turnpiked in the 1750's. (fn. 11) Great Hinton, Steeple Ashton, and West Ashton all lie on minor roads which connect the main roads with the Westbury-Lavington road at Bratton and Edington. The road from Tinhead to Steeple Ashton and thence by Stony Gutter and Green Lane to Trowbridge was turnpiked in 1752. (fn. 12) It formed part of the old route over the downs from Salisbury to Bath, which fell out of use in the later 18th century. (fn. 13) In 1768 the road from Horseshoes through Hinton and Cold Harbour was added to the Trowbridge Trust, (fn. 14) and those from Stony Gutter to Hilperton, and Trowbridge to the top of West Ashton Hill were added in 1854. (fn. 15) The last part of the old main road to Trowbridge was still not made up in 1961, and the quickest way into the town was through Hilperton.
In the Middle Ages Steeple Ashton was the centre of the great Romsey Abbey estates in the district. The courts of the abbey's hundred of Whorwellsdown were held there, (fn. 16) and in 1266 a weekly market and yearly fair were granted to the abbess. (fn. 17) In the taxation of 1334 Steeple Ashton paid more than Trowbridge or Westbury, and in 1377 its 260 poll-tax payers placed it 18th in the whole county. (fn. 18) In the 16th century Leland described it as 'a praty little market towne', and wrote 'it standithe muche by clothiars'. (fn. 19) But Steeple Ashton suffered severely by fire at some time, and Aubrey attributed the decline of the market to this. (fn. 20) The fire he referred to may have been in 1503, when at least six houses in the village were destroyed. (fn. 21) By 1524 it had fallen well behind the neighbouring towns, (fn. 22) and by the end of the 16th century the prosperity of the cloth industry was at an end. (fn. 23) From that time Steeple Ashton retained only a certain pre-eminence among surrounding villages, bestowed perhaps by the holding of petty sessions and by being often the home of a medical man or a lawyer. (fn. 24) In 1801 the population of the tithing was 618; it increased to 848 by 1831, and then declined intermittently to 603 in 1931. In 1951 it was 1,231, (fn. 25) but this number included many Poles temporarily living in a hostel in disused buildings belonging to the airfield at Keevil. The hostel was closed in 1956.
The village still retains something of the aspect of a small town. The principal street, called High Street, opens out into a green on which stand the market cross and a small lock-up or blindhouse, built in 1773. (fn. 26) Most of the houses here stand directly by the road, without gardens. To the east of High Street are other streets called Church Street, the Strand, Dark Lane, and Silver Street. Several have stretches of cobbled pavement. The church stands at the north-east corner of the village, adjoining the manor house. The buildings of Steeple Ashton display a pleasing variety of building macerial. Most of the older buildings are timber-framed with later brick infilling, some colour-washed, and some with bricks set in herringbone. Stone could be fetched from Bradford for more pretentious buildings such as the late-medieval vicarage (fn. 27) or the manor house, (fn. 28) while brick, often with stone dressings, was in general use from the early 18th century.
The village contains several houses with cruck trusses. The north wing of the Sanctuary in Dark Lane was formerly a cruck-framed building, probably of the 15th century or earlier. It was apparently of three bays, but only one complete cruck truss remains, with an arch-braced collar-beam. Part of a second truss can also be seen. A jettied cross-wing of two stories was added to the house c. 1500. Just south of the Sanctuary is a small cottage with a cruck truss visible at one end, while a similar one with an internal truss remaining stands at the corner of High Street and Silver Street. On the west side of the southern part of the High Street are four timber-framed houses which appear to date from c. 1500. They were evidently built for people of means, and in their original form were remarkably uniform in size and design. The northernmost, now called Ashton House, was the home of the Stileman family from about that time until the mid-19th century. (fn. 29) It consisted originally of a hall block of three bays parallel to the road and a cross-wing of the same height at its south end projecting eastward. The hall has arch-braced collar-beam trusses with chamfered braces, the chamfers being continued on wall posts down to the windowsills of the ground floor. There are remains of an original wooden window with late medieval tracery at the heads of the lights. The two-storied cross-wing, also with an open roof, has at least three original bays, and evidently contained a 'great chamber' or solar on the upper floor. Alterations were made probably in the mid-16th century; they included the insertion of a large stone chimney and fireplace in the north bay of the hall, and the building of a two-storied addition in the angle between the hall and the cross wing, so that the whole frontage was brought forward to the street. Rooms in this part have heavily moulded beams, and one has the remains of contemporary wall decoration. In 1724 a stone ashlar facade of five bays was added to the house. It had sash windows on two floors; above is a row of 5 blank openings to represent attic windows. On the ground floor the sash windows have been replaced by recent stone-mullioned and transomed windows. In the 1920's the house was carefully restored under the direction of Sir Harold Brakspear. All the original features in the interior were exposed, and if decayed were reproduced, and a new wing was built at the back. (fn. 30)
Further south in High Street no. 48 was originally a similar house, also probably of c. 1500. It is built on a stone base with small stepped buttresses; the cross-wing has a jettied overhang at first floor level, supported by hollow chamfered brackets continued down as small buttressed shafts. Although the longer wing has been considerably altered and re-roofed at some time, it may well have been an open hall comparable to that at Ashton House. The house contains heavily moulded beams; these can also be seen in the adjoining Black Barn Farmhouse, which may once have been a similar house of which parts have been demolished. To the south again no. 54 has a jettied cross-wing faced with stucco; it retains carved barge boards, and its hall wing may possibly be enclosed in the adjoining house. Nos. 56, 58, and 60 form an L-shaped block of which the south end is a very similar cross-wing, having barge boards with carved quatrefoil ornament. The main block, timber-framed with brick filling and two small gables, may be an early 17th-century reconstruction of a single-storied hall. Similar buildings exist in other parts of the village. The south wing of Church Farm had a jettied overhang until at least the mid-19th century; it has since been built under and the whole house stuccoed. (fn. 31) Inside are the heavily moulded beams typical of the other houses, and the main block may include the former hall. The Firs, too, may once have been a similar house, now much restored. The presence of so many houses in the village with the same characteristics suggests considerable building activity at a single period, and this may well have been after the fire of 1503. It may also be significant that most of the houses stand detached and spaced well apart.
The village contains a number of other timber-framed houses, including the 'Rose and Crown', Peartree Cottage, nos. 20, 22, and 24 High Street and nos. 1 and 3 Church Lane. Some of these are probably of later date than those described above, but almost all have the curved braces in the upper panels typical of framing in Steeple Ashton. A particularly fine example is the house facing the green in High Street, used as a shop and the village post office. It is traditionally said to have been a market or merchants' hall, (fn. 32) but nothing is known of its history. It stands on a stone base with buttresses; the timber-framing above has later brick infilling in herringbone pattern, and the roof is of stone tiles. If it ever consisted of a single open hall it must have been converted into a house by the late 16th century. There are many features of this period including a small front gable, a newel-staircase, panelling, and doors.
The 'Long's Arms' is a stone building of the 17th century with mullioned and transomed windows. The front has been entirely renewed to include an extension forward on the ground floor. Just north of Ashton House is a small stone house of three bays, no. 32 High Street, which is probably contemporary with the refronting of the larger house in 1724. There are several brick houses with stone-mullioned windows and stone quoins. They include Tyler's Farm in High Street, Moorfields Farm in Church Lane, and the Lodge facing the green south of the 'Rose and Crown'. At the south end of the High Street are three pairs of cottages built for workers on the Long estate, dated 1877, 1879, and 1901. The estate office and yard were opposite. A small council-house scheme at St. Mary's at the north end of the village dates from the 1930's. Beyond it Newleaze is a much larger estate built after the Second World War.
North of the village groups of cottages at Ashton Hill, Ashton Common, and Snarlton, which all existed by 1773, (fn. 33) must have begun by encroachment on the great common which covered the north-west of the parish until 1818. (fn. 34) Brook Farm and Green Lane Farm were not built until it was inclosed. South of the village only Ashton Mill and Dairyhouse Farms date from before inclosure. (fn. 35)
West Ashton village lies about 1 mile south-west of Steeple Ashton, where the minor road from Trowbridge to Bratton climbs on to the Corallian plateau. Most of the older houses of the village are scattered along this road; on the Westbury-Melksham road which crosses it is a group of five pairs of houses, Doreen Cottages, built c. 1850 for workers on the Rood Ashton estate. Another pair, Woodside Cottages, is further down the hill towards Yarnbrook, and two more pairs are in the village street. Another group lies on the far side of Rood Ashton park at Heath Hill. The history of the park is mentioned below. (fn. 36) West Ashton Manor Farm at the south end of the village is an early-18th-century brick house with stone-mullioned windows. Opposite Manor Farm is a 17th-century house of stone rubble. A small estate of council houses has been built in East Town Lane, and several bungalows in the village street, since the Second World War. East Town is a hamlet on the way to Steeple Ashton. It was known as Gulden Ashton in the Middle Ages. (fn. 37)
Two small groups of houses lay on the lower ground to the north of West Ashton before the inclosure of the parish in 1818. One was at the north end of Biss Wood, upstream from Blackball Bridge. Houses stood there in 1617, (fn. 38) and in 1811 the hamlet was called Blackball. (fn. 39) It still existed in 1841, (fn. 40) but was probably removed very soon afterwards in the reconstruction of Rood Ashton park. (fn. 41) It seems likely that this was the place called Lovemead or Lowmead, which is regularly mentioned in medieval records as lying within the manor of Steeple Ashton but near Trowbridge. (fn. 42) In 1341 there were 9 houses there, (fn. 43) and later in the century its inhabitants appeared at the manor court separately from West Ashton. (fn. 44) Another group of houses called Biss stood in the 18th century between the River Biss and the Trowbridge road at the north end of Carter's Wood. (fn. 45) This too was probably replaced by Biss Farm on the other side of the road in the 1840's. (fn. 46) The population of West Ashton was 344 in 1801, and rose to 374 in 1831; since then it has declined intermittently, and was 243 in 1951. (fn. 47) In 1731 a mineral well was discovered at West Ashton, and two years later an attempt was made to attract visitors by advertising in the London Evening Post. It was claimed that over 100 people had been cured of such afflictions as leprosy, sore eyes, and the king's evil, and that lodgings were available in the village and in Trowbridge. The well never became established as a place of resort, and its site is uncertain. (fn. 48) Thomas King, who was born at West Ashton c. 1694, gave his name to King's Coffee House in Covent Garden, a well-known resort in the 18th century. (fn. 49)
Great Hinton lies about a mile north of Steeple Ashton on a road which goes on to join the main road from Trowbridge to Devizes north of the village. It is built along two roads which divide at its south end and re-unite at the north end. Fore Street Farm is a timber-framed building with brick in-filling, probably of the early 17th century. Church Farm is a somewhat later building of stone rubble with a stone-tiled roof, and there are several 18th-century houses of brick with stone dressings. The New Inn is an early-19th-century building of brick, which has been licensed since at least 1842. (fn. 50) South-west of the village small groups of houses at Cold Harbour and Bleet both existed in 1773, (fn. 51) and were no doubt in origin groups of cottages built on the verges of the common. The population of Great Hinton tithing, later civil parish, rose from 174 in 1801 to 234 in 1831, and then gradually declined to 143 in 1951. (fn. 52)
Semington stands at the northern edge of the ancient parish in the valley of the Semington Brook, a tributary of the Avon. Many of its houses are built along the main road from Melksham to Westbury, which is crossed by the Trowbridge-Devizes road just south of the village. The 'Somerset Arms' is an early-18th-century building of brick with stone quoins, which is possibly to be identified with the 'Bell' which existed in 1710. (fn. 53) Near it is a two-storied house of stone rubble with stone-tiled roof and mullioned windows, dated 1698. A group of three large late-18th or early-19th-century stone houses stands at the foot of the hill up to the main cross-roads. Semington House is of three stories with rusticated ground floor; it was probably built by a member of the Bruges family. (fn. 54) Opposite is Highfield, also of three stories and with a pedimented doorway. Both houses were apparently built by 1811. (fn. 55) The Old Parsonage is a two-storied house of rather later date. The church and the adjoining school lie along Church Lane to the east. Here also are the oldest houses in the village. Nos. 2627 were evidently once a single house on a -H plan, probably of the 16th century; the whole is of timber-framed construction, although the framing is only exposed on the wings, and inside are carved and moulded beams and other features. Church Farm is apparently of the same period. It is partly timber-framed, but the exterior has largely been built up in stone. Manor Farm is mentioned below. (fn. 56) Also in Church Lane are several council houses built between the World Wars. Another group built after the Second World War is on the other side of the main road in Pound Close.
West of the village St. George's Hospital, the former workhouse of the Trowbridge and Melksham Union, was built in 18369 to the design of H. E. Kendall. (fn. 57) South of the main cross-roads a group of houses on the edge of the common existed at Little Marsh in 1773. (fn. 58) One or two of the cottages which still stand there are probably survivors from that time, and typical of the better type of common cottage; they are of brick, of two stories with thatched roofs. Further south again Hag Hill Farm was not built until after the inclosure of the parish. Paxcroft on the Hilperton boundary is, however, an ancient settlement. Houses stood there in 1254, (fn. 59) and in the 18th and 19th centuries there were two or three farms and some other houses there. (fn. 60) The only survivor is the present Lower Paxcroft Farm, formerly a detached part of Whaddon and now in Hilperton. (fn. 61) Upper Paxcroft Farm, which is just inside the Semington boundary, was built in the 19th century some distance from the old hamlet.
Littleton lies about mile east of Semington on the road to Devizes. It consists only of three farms and Littleton Wood Mill. Littleton Wood Farm is a stone building with stone-tiled roof, probably of the 17th century. Some timber-framing is visible at the back, and there is a moulded plaster ceiling in one of the rooms. In 1801 the combined population of Semington and Littleton tithings was 265. By 1831 it had risen to 398, and ten years later, after the building of the workhouse, to 570. During the later 19th century it fluctuated between 420 and 500, and was 449 in 1931. By 1951 it had risen to 546. (fn. 62)
In 1839 William Carrier, the Trowbridge Chartist leader, addressed a small meeting in Steeple Ashton. The next day Thomas Miles, tenant of the Manor Farm, dismissed some of his men for attending. Later he took one back; the others assembled again and threatened to pull down this man's cottage, and Carrier returned and urged them to buy muskets. Later a fire occurred on Miles's property for which the Chartists were blamed. (fn. 63)
Ashton belonged to King Edgar, who in 964 set forth its bounds and declared that he should enjoy it for life and at his death give it to whom he wished. (fn. 64) The estate then included the whole of the ancient parish and also the modern parishes of North Bradley and Southwick. (fn. 65) There is no record of Edgar's disposal of the estate, but he must have given or left it to Romsey Abbey (Hants), which he refounded in 967. (fn. 66) The nuns held it in 1086, (fn. 67) and it remained the property of the abbey until 1539, when it passed in the same way as Edington Romsey to Sir Thomas Seymour, and on his forfeiture in 1549 to the Crown. (fn. 68) A year later the manor and demesnes were granted to William Paulet, Earl of Wiltshire; (fn. 69) this grant was apparently surrendered, for another of the same year included only the house and demesnes. (fn. 70) Later in the century the Paulets, Marquesses of Winchester from 1551, unsuccessfully claimed certain manorial rights, especially those relating to the woods and commons in Steeple Ashton and North Bradley. (fn. 71) The capital manor, however, remained in the hands of the Crown. In 1562 it was mortgaged to the City of London, and in 1579 the mortgage was assigned to trustees for Walter Long. (fn. 72) In 1610 the manor was assigned for the maintenance of Prince Henry, (fn. 73) and in 1617 it was granted to Prince Charles. (fn. 74) It was sold to Edward Ditchfield and others in 1629, (fn. 75) and they sold it to Walter Long of Whaddon (d. 1672), who held the manor by 1632. (fn. 76) Steeple Ashton descended in the Long family in the same way as Whaddon (fn. 77) until the present century. Parts of the family estates in Semington and Great Hinton were sold in 1911, and most of the remainder in Steeple Ashton in 1930. (fn. 78)
The manor house and farm of Steeple Ashton, granted away separately in 1551, descended to William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester (d. 1629), who in 1601 sold them to John Greenhill, (fn. 79) the tenant under him for a number of years before. (fn. 80) Greenhill died in 1618; (fn. 81) in 1624 his son Henry sold the farm to John Bennett. (fn. 82) It descended to his great grandson Thomas Bennett, who died without surviving issue c. 1730 and left it to his sister Mary, wife of Robert Smith of Combe Hay (Som.). (fn. 83) At the death of Robert's son John in 1775, an Act was obtained to sell his estates to pay his debts. (fn. 84) They were paid without the Steeple Ashton property being sold, but in 1799 John Smith sold the house and farm to Richard Long of Rood Ashton (fn. 85). The house was still in 1963 occupied by his descendant, the third Viscount Long of Wraxall. The manor house, which is dated 1647, is a three-storied building, fronted with ashlar but with the back parts mainly of brick, and roofed with stone tiles. The symmetrical front has three gables, crowned with finials, and a small gabled porch. There are two-light mullioned windows with moulded architraves, pulvinated friezes, and cornices. Nearby is a group of contemporary farm buildings of stone rubble, with ashlar quoins and stone-tiled roofs; one, probably formerly a dovecot, has a small open turret of wood. Near the house is an elaborate granary, of brick with ashlar quoins, which stands on circular columns about seven feet high. It is probably of the early-18th century, as is the low brick wall, with rusticated stone gatepiers and enriched ball finials, which bounds the forecourt of the house. Beyond the older farm buildings is a large 19th-century stone barn with a small brick chimney stack, probably for a steam engine to work farm machinery.
Subinfeudation had begun on the Abbess of Romsey's manor in 1086, when tenants named Edward and William held three hides and one hide respectively, and some unnamed Englishmen four hides. (fn. 86) Several considerable estates, some called manors, were held freely of the abbey in the Middle Ages. In 1248 Walter de Dunstanville, lord of Castle Combe, obtained permission to hold the park which his father Walter had made by inclosing his wood of Little Ashton. (fn. 87) This estate was later subinfeudated again, and was reckoned part of the barony of Castle Combe until the 16th century. (fn. 88) In the Romsey Abbey records, however, the intermediate lordship was forgotten, and the actual tenants were spoken of as holding from the abbess. The first of these known to us was probably Thomas of Hurdecote, who perhaps held in the early 13th century. (fn. 89) By 1255, and still in 1277, William Bluet held lands in 'Hurdecotes Ashton', reckoned at two carucates. (fn. 90) It was no doubt the same two carucates which John Biset died possessed of in 1307, (fn. 91) which were then delivered to his widow Katharine. (fn. 92) Their only son John died without issue in 1334 leaving as heir his sister Margaret, wife of Robert Martin. (fn. 93) In 1339 John de Croucheston complained that Martin and others had wrongfully imprisoned him and seized his goods at Chapel Ashton, (fn. 94) and in the following year Martin and his wife released the property to Croucheston. (fn. 95) It was then first called the manor of CHAPEL ASHTON, but more usually in later times, of ROOD ASHTON.
John de Croucheston died c. 1374; (fn. 96) another John who died c. 1390 had during his lifetime settled it on his bastard son Richard. Richard, who was perhaps already dead, left a son Edmund and a daughter Eleanor who possessed it successively but left no issue. The next heir was Joan, daughter of John de Croucheston. (fn. 97) In 1390 John Milbourn held it as dower of his wife Margaret, presumably widow of John or Richard de Croucheston, (fn. 98) but on his outlawry for murder it was taken into the king's hands. On this, Joan de Croucheston, who had married Nicholas Temmes, claimed it, (fn. 99) and in 1402 John Milbourn and Margaret released their right. (fn. 100) Joan married Robert Salmon as her second husband, (fn. 101) and in 1433 the manor was settled on the issue of the marriage with remainder to her sons by Temmes. (fn. 102) She evidently had no sons by Salmon, for the manor descended in the Temmes family to Robert Temmes, who in 1548 sold Rood Ashton to William Button of Alton Priors. (fn. 103) William's son, another William, died holding it in 1591. (fn. 104) In the disputes which followed his death it was allotted to his younger son William, (fn. 105) who sold it in 1597 to Edward Long of Monkton in Broughton Gifford. (fn. 106) Edward's great-grandson, Henry Long, died without issue in 1672, and left Rood Ashton to his nephew Richard, son of his sister Elizabeth by Richard Long of Collingbourne Kingston. (fn. 107) From him it descended in the male line to Walter Hume Long, created Viscount Long of Wraxall in 1921. (fn. 108) After his death in 1924, the estate was broken up by sale. (fn. 109) The mansion house and park were sold to Mrs. Walter Shaw in 1930; after being used by the fighting services in the Second World War, the house was sold in 1950. It has since been stripped of its fittings and the park turned over to agriculture. (fn. 110)
Rood Ashton house in 1963 was only a roofless shell. The mansion house of the Long family stood on the site in 1773, but nothing is known of the building at that time. In 1808 Jeffry Wyatt (later Sir Jeffry Wyatville) designed the older part of the present building, (fn. 111) and in 1836 his house was altered and extended under the direction of Thomas Hopper. (fn. 112) Wyatt's house was of stone ashlar in the 'Tudor' style, with embattled parapets, square-headed stone-mullioned windows, and octagonal pinnacles at the corners. The principal two-storied block was of three bays at the front and sides, the central bay at the front being carried one story higher. The main doorway at the centre of the south-west front had a four-centred arch; its embattled surround was repeated on the large ground floor windows. Behind was a lower block with a single-storied orangery on the south-east. The rest of the house Hopper either rebuilt or completely altered. He adopted Wyatt's window and parapet details, but in the grouping of its various parts his design is much more picturesque and romantic than that of the earlier building. The principal feature is a large porte-cochre tower near the centre of the new entrance front, facing north-west. Its elaborate windows, tall angle turrets, and enriched frieze are in contrast to the rest of this elevation, which relies for its effect on variations of frontage and roof line. The south-east elevation is again more highly decorated, having carved stone work, a low tower, a two-storied bay, and clustered chimneys. Inside the house remains of elaborate plasterwork can be seen. Some panelling and other material brought from Whaddon House were used in 1836, after being rescued from the fire there the previous year. (fn. 113)
In 1773 the house was surrounded by formal gardens, while to the north-west three small lakes lay in the hollow between the house and the main road. Beyond them a lane parallel to the road joined West Ashton village to Mudmead Lane and so to Steeple Ashton. (fn. 114) By 1811 this lane had been diverted so that it only ran from the site of the later Castle Lodge to Mudmead Lane. (fn. 115) The park was remodelled in the 1840's. The three lakes were replaced by the larger lake called Stourton Water north of the house, and to make this possible the old lane was closed altogether. Beyond the lake Stourton Farm was demolished, and the small inclosures which covered Stourton Hill were levelled; the top was planted with trees to form a background to the water. The old main entrance to the house had been a drive from the main road, with a lodge half way between the cross-roads and the site of Castle Lodge. This was replaced by a drive further east, which extended across the main road and so through the woods to Trowbridge; it was lined with Scotch firs, the whole being laid out by Sir John Nasmyth. Lodges built at the Trowbridge end and on the Westbury to Melksham road still survive; the latter is called Castle Lodge, consisting of a large square and a small round tower. Another drive to the cross roads at West Ashton probably dates from the building of the church in 1847. The lodge at that entrance was designed by T. H. Wyatt. (fn. 116) Rood Ashton Home Farm was probably built about the same time. The previous home farm was apparently north of the road between East Town and West Ashton at the point where it is joined by the lane from Dunge. (fn. 117)
What was later called the manor of WEST ASHTON consisted in 1340 of two properties. Thomas Langford held of the abbess a house and 2 carucates which later passed to William Don. (fn. 118) They were settled on Don and Katharine his wife in 1388, (fn. 119) but a few years later Don's brother John complained of the breach of an agreement that he should have the reversion of the estate, for William and Katharine had sold it to William Stourton. (fn. 120) Stourton was summoned to do fealty for the lands in 1411. (fn. 121) The other part of the later manor was held in 1340 by John Oysel, and consisted of a house and 2 virgates. (fn. 122) They passed to John Westbury the elder, who held lands in West Ashton in 1412. (fn. 123) In 1449 William Westbury, grandson of John, died holding them. (fn. 124) Soon after this the property must have passed to John, Lord Stourton, son of the William Stourton who had bought the Don property. John died in 1462 holding lands in West Ashton; (fn. 125) his grandson John, Lord Stourton, held at his death lands there which were said to include the properties formerly of Don and of Westbury. (fn. 126) These descended with the title to William, Lord Stourton (d. 1548), who in 1544 conveyed them, then referred to as a manor for the first time, to Thomas Long of Trowbridge, clothier. (fn. 127) He died without surviving issue in 1554, leaving most of his property to Edward, third son of his younger brother Henry. Edward subsequently bought the manor of Rood Ashton, (fn. 128) and from that time the descent of the two manors was the same. The capital house of West Ashton was probably Stourton Farm, which stood on Stourton Hill until the alterations to Rood Ashton park in the 1840's.
In the early 12th century Hawise, Abbess of Romsey, enfeoffed a knight named Herlewin with a hide of land in Ashton, Edington, and Bradley, and also land which a certain Alric had formerly held at a rent of 10s. (fn. 129) Alric was probably one of the abbey's English tenants in 1086. (fn. 130) About 1170 Abbess Juliana confirmed these and other lands to Richard, son of Michael, son of Herlewin; they included hide in Semington held freely, hide there held by 10s. a year, hide in Ashton freely, 1 virgate in Edington freely, and land at Feltham there by a rent of sheep and honey. (fn. 131) In the mid-13th century at least some of these lands were held by Peter FitzMichael of Semington, and then by his widow Alice; (fn. 132) they granted away some estates in Edington, reserving rents which in 1293 were payable to William of Semington. (fn. 133) It seems likely that the Semington lands of this family passed, probably by the marriage of an heiress, to the Tinhead family. John of Tinhead held a yardland in Semington in 1281, (fn. 134) but in 1329 a larger estate there, described as a carucate of land, was settled on another John of Tinhead and his wife Margaret. They had a daughter Maud, (fn. 135) who may have married as her first husband a Percy of Great Chalfield. (fn. 136) In 1340 she was the wife of Robert Selyman, who held the carucate by the old rent of 10s. (fn. 137) They had a son Robert who was dead by 1374; in that year John Gore, who had married Robert's widow Emma, claimed to hold the lands for her life. (fn. 138) What happened to them after her death is not clear, but in the middle of the 15th century lands formerly occupied by Robert Selyman and later by Emmot Percy were held by Robert Long. (fn. 139) This Robert Long, the first known member of the family who possessed Wraxall, (fn. 140) held at that time another estate in Semington, which had belonged to John of Lilleshulle in 1340, (fn. 141) and afterwards to John Gore. (fn. 142) These two properties, first called the manor of SEMINGTON in 1522, (fn. 143) descended in the Long family as did Wraxall to Sir Robert Long, who succeeded his father Sir Henry in 1556. (fn. 144) In the following year he renewed a lease of the manor to Thomas Long, farmer of Semington, who already held it for life. (fn. 145) At an unknown date, before 1591, (fn. 146) the freehold was sold to the Brouncker family, lords of the manor of Melksham. In 1598 Henry Brouncker sold the manor house of Semington and a considerable amount of land there to John Lowe of Orcheston St. Mary. (fn. 147) At Lowe's death in 1632 this property was described as the mansion house and farm of Semington; he had since bought two other properties there which had belonged to Thomas Long and Robert Flower. (fn. 148) The whole estate, usually still referred to as the manor of Semington, descended to Lawrence Lowe, on whom it was settled when he married Lucy, daughter of Thomas Pile of Baverstock, in 1679. He apparently left no issue, for in 1689 his widow joined with Thomas Chaffin, Edward Lowe, and Robert Hyde in releasing his estates to Thomas Freke and Thomas Pile. Freke died without issue in 1698, leaving his estates to Pile and to Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Freke of Hannington, for their lives, with remainder to George Pitt of Stratfield Saye (Hants), who had married Lucy, Lawrence Lowe's widow. The life interests terminated in 1714, (fn. 149) and the manor descended from George Pitt to his grandson George, Baron Rivers (d. 1803), who held it in 1780. By 1800 it had been sold to the Duke of Somerset. (fn. 150) In 1838 the Somerset estate consisted chiefly of Manor Farm, Church Farm, and Littleton Wood Mill Farm, in all about 350 a. (fn. 151) It has remained the property of the dukes of Somerset until the present century. (fn. 152)
Manor Farm, which may have been the capital house of the manor, is probably basically of the 16th century. It has been considerably altered, but has one 16th-century window on the south side.
In 1086 William Scudet, one of the king's cooks, held a hide of land in Steeple Ashton of the Abbess of Romsey. (fn. 153) It seems likely that his descendants took their surname from his occupation. Edwin cocus lived c. 1130, and Crispin cocus late in the 12th century. (fn. 154) The name also appears as le Keu. In the late 13th century Richard le Keu granted to his brother William lands in West Ashton which had formerly belonged to Richard their father and subsequently to Roger, their brother. (fn. 155) It was perhaps the same estate which in 1285 Richard le Keu and Sybil his wife conveyed in reversion after their deaths to Margaret, daughter of Roger le Porter of Shaftesbury. It was then described as 2 virgates in 'Rodeschawe'. Margaret's heir was her brother Roger, (fn. 156) who in 1306 conveyed 1 virgate in West Ashton to Robert of Wilmington, clerk. (fn. 157)
Robert of Wilmington acquired several other estates in the district. One of them lay at 'Hurdecote's Ashton', and had previously been held by the Sauser family. In the early 13th century Thomas of Hurdecote granted a half-virgate of his fee of Ashton to Henry le Sauser. (fn. 158) Henry was apparently the father of another Henry, who granted the halfvirgate to his brother Roger, and on another occasion, gave him land at 'Middle Ashton', which had also been held of the Abbess of Romsey by Henry the father. (fn. 159) This or another Roger le Sauser was a free-tenant of John Biset, successor of Thomas of Hurdecote in the manor of Rood Ashton, in 1307. (fn. 160) Two years later he conveyed 2 virgates in 'Gyldene Ashton' and 'Hurdecote's Ashton' to Robert of Wilmington. (fn. 161) Robert acquired by 1314 1 virgates in West Ashton and 'La Stone' which had once been held by the Bythewood family. (fn. 162) At an unknown date he also obtained a small property in West Ashton from Walter of Wyke. (fn. 163)
Robert of Wilmington, who was Rector of Donhead St. Andrew from 1304 to 1321, (fn. 164) seems to have had some connexion with Bradford, and settled his property on two of the children of a certain Beatrice Sulleve of that place. They were no doubt his own children, for one of them, called John of Wilmington, obtained a dispensation on account of his illegitimacy and became a priest. (fn. 165) Most, if not all, of the lands passed to John's sister Agnes, who married William of Whitecliff in Brixton Deverill. (fn. 166) In 1340 William was said to hold two properties, each of two virgates in West Ashton. (fn. 167) He was dead by 1358, leaving two or more daughters and coheirs. In 1386 one of these, Margaret, conveyed her share of the lands in West Ashton to William Lyveden and his wife Agnes, who was probably a daughter of one of Margaret's sisters. (fn. 168) Another coheir, Lettice, married Thomas Ward, and in 1390 granted a life estate in her share of lands in West Ashton to her son John. (fn. 169) In some unexplained way this share of the Ward family evidently passed to the Lyveden family. In 1445 John Lyveden conveyed his lands in West Ashton and 'Rodshaw' to feoffees. (fn. 170) In 1476 he settled lands there on his daughter and heir Margaret when she married Nicholas, second son of Sir Nicholas St. Lo. (fn. 171) John Lyveden died c. 1502, and Nicholas St. Lo succeeded him. (fn. 172) His estate was only for life, however, for Margaret was long since dead, (fn. 173) presumably without issue, and on his death the estate reverted to John Westley, who had succeeded to John Lyveden's estates in Whitecliff and elsewhere. He held the West Ashton property in 1511, (fn. 174) and it descended to his grandson, Leonard Westley, who died in 1562. At his death the West Ashton property was held by Anne Tichebourn, widow, for her life but the reason for this is not clear. (fn. 175) Leonard's son Thomas held a house and 160 a. of land in West Ashton at his death in 1621. (fn. 176) By 1642 Samuel Martyn held lands in East Town and West Ashton which he had bought of another Thomas Westley. (fn. 177)
Although the names of 'Sauser's', 'Gyldene' and 'Hurdecote's Ashton', 'Rodshaw', and 'La Stone' are all lost, there can be little doubt that the estate which Robert of Wilmington built up in the early 14th century represents the present East Town Farm. This is indeed indicated by the use of the form Sauser's Ashton alias East Town in 1614. (fn. 178) The Martyn family held the property well into the 18th century. (fn. 179) By 1780 it had passed, probably by sale to Gaisford Gibbs, and it descended in the same way as Heywood House to the Ludlow family. (fn. 180) About 1844 it was conveyed to the Longs of Rood Ashton in exchange for Fulling Bridge Farm in Heywood. (fn. 181) The house at East Town is a 17th-century building of stone rubble.
Robert Stileman was a leaseholder under the Abbess of Romsey in 1478, (fn. 182) and he and his son Anthony were bailiffs of the manor. (fn. 183) In 1500 the abbess granted two houses, about 80 a. of land, and various meadows and pastures to Anthony Stileman in fee. (fn. 184) Parts of this property remained in the family for almost 350 years. Anthony's son Richard was dead by 1561; Richard's son Anthony had a son John on whom the estate was settled in 1582. John died in 1601 leaving a son Anthony, (fn. 185) who was perhaps father of the John who died in 1649. His son John died in 1691, and was succeeded by another John. (fn. 186) By 1699 some of the family lands had been sold, for John Stileman paid only part of the original chief rent charged on the premises in 1500. (fn. 187) He died in 1713, his widow Christian surviving him until 1765. (fn. 188) From there the descent is not clear, but some lands remained in the family until the death of Dr. William Stillman in 1843. His sons sold them to Walter Long and emigrated to Australia. (fn. 189) The home of the family was the house now called Ashton House, which is described above. (fn. 190)
In 1524 John Loveday of Melksham bought a virgate of land in West Ashton from Walter Ballard of Hilperton. (fn. 191) Loveday sold it in 1545 to Henry Brouncker. (fn. 192) Brouncker also bought lands in West Ashton which had been customary holdings of the manor, and had been granted in 1553 to Sir William Sharington and Richard Roberts. (fn. 193) His grandson Henry Brouncker sold them to Tristram Flower, who died in 1604 holding 3 virgates in West Ashton. (fn. 194) Later in the 17th century these lands passed to the Beach family by the marriage of Robert Beach and Grace Flower. Their son Thomas died in 1729, and was succeeded in turn by his son and grandson, both of the same name. (fn. 195) In 1763 the latter held a house and about 100 a. of land. (fn. 196) After his death in 1774 the estate appears to have been broken up; most of it probably passed to the Longs. The house stood at the top of West Ashton Hill. (fn. 197)
When the bounds of the manor of Ashton were set forth by King Edgar in 964, (fn. 198) the estate included the whole of the ancient parish of Steeple Ashton and also North Bradley and Southwick. The furthest points to the west were thus about 6 miles from the village of Steeple Ashton, near the Somerset border north of Rode, where Romsey Oak Farm still recalls the connexion. In 1086 the manor was assessed at 40 hides, of which tenants of the abbess held eight. (fn. 199) By 1340 the number of freeholders under the abbess was 28, who paid rents totalling about 15. Their properties lay chiefly in Southwick and West Ashton, although some land nearer Steeple Ashton itself had also been granted out. (fn. 200) By c. 1540 the free rents had increased to almost 20, largely owing to a rent of 4 6s. 8d. from the lands granted to the Stileman family. (fn. 201) In 1553 the free rents from holdings in Semington were included in the property granted away to Sir William Sharington, (fn. 202) but in 1775 rents amounting to over 18 were still being collected from free tenants. (fn. 203)
In 1086 40 villeins and 30 bordars held land for 20 ploughs. A rental and custumal of 1340 (fn. 204) lists bond tenants of the abbess in all parts of the ancient manor except North Bradley, which was by this time reckoned a part of Edington manor. (fn. 205) Apart from cottagers and holders of a few acres, there were 71 bond tenants holding virgate or more, few holdings being of more than one virgate. They held a total of 62 virgates, of which 6 lay in Southwick, 13 in West Ashton, 17 in Hinton, 8 in Littleton, 4 in Semington, and 13 in Steeple Ashton. In Steeple Ashton there were in addition 27 holders of virgates who were called acremen and who served the offices of oxherd, shepherd, and swineherd. The works demanded of the bond tenants for the demesne embraced the whole range of agricultural pursuits, and also carrying goods, and driving sheep to Romsey.
The demesne land of the manor appears to have been in Steeple Ashton only in 1340. The names or number of the common fields at this time have not survived, but furlong names such as Mudmead Furlong, Loppinger, Cranhill, and Morefurlong indicate that they probably lay north-west, south-west, and south-east of the village. Meadowland lay at Ashton Northmead, north of the present Dairyhouse Farm, and Daddlesmore, later Dodsmead, between the present Biss and Green Lane Woods. (fn. 206) Pasture for oxen lay at Albury, north of East Town, and Raydown, on the southern boundary of the parish.
The Biset property in West Ashton, which was later to be called the manor of Rood Ashton, had in 1307 a demesne of 80 a. arable, 3 a. meadow, and 4 a. several pasture. Four customary tenants held virgates and a number of others had smaller holdings. (fn. 207) In contrast to the main manor, the works of the -virgaters were completely commuted and those of the cottagers amounted only to being messengers for the lord four or five times a year and carrying hay a half-day a year. Deeds of the 13th century mention North, East, South, and Town fields in West Ashton. (fn. 208) Furlongs called 'Hameracrestyghele' (fn. 209) and 'la Smytheswell' indicate that Northfield lay near Stourton Hill, and 'la Witelond' and 'Cranhulle' that East Field lay south of East Town farm. (fn. 210) 'Upper Cranhulle' lay in South Field, which may have been between West Ashton and Dunge. It is possible that Town Field was one of the Steeple Ashton fields.
It is not easy to trace the course of agricultural change in Steeple Ashton in the later Middle Ages. There are a few indications of the increasing importance of sheep. In the early 1370's numbers of murrained sheep were presented at the manor court, and in 1374 William Trowbridge had overstocked the commons with sheep from outside. (fn. 211) By the end of the next century overstocking was constantly presented. In 1499 William Passion had 300 sheep at Hinton, and William Long of Trowbridge 1,000 at West Ashton where he had no common. (fn. 212) By 1414 many of the works of the customary tenants must have been commuted, for over 6 was received for them. (fn. 213) The demesne, however, was still in hand then. A mid-15th century rental (fn. 214) shows that a number of customary tenants held an acre or two of demesne arable or meadow, but it is not certain when the demesne entirely ceased to be farmed by the nuns; the first known lease of the site of the manor was in 1537 to Robert Temmes for 42 years. (fn. 215) Five tenants of Steeple Ashton were presented in 1493 for inclosing lands in the East Field, Moor Field and Standle Field with hedges and ditches. (fn. 216)
By the mid-16th century (fn. 217) a few of the principal inhabitants were each holding several small tenements on leases for long terms of years. Apart from these, a large number of small copyholders, mostly of a virgate or under, in all parts of the manor held their lands for lives by rents only. Some holdings had a few acres added to them, sometimes demesne land, but there is little evidence of any extensive consolidation of holdings, nor of much inclosure in any part of the manor except Southwick. A large proportion of the land was open-field arable; this was particularly preponderant in Steeple Ashton and Hinton, where little meadow or pasture and few inclosed grounds existed. Arable in Steeple Ashton lay in East Field, North Field, Standle Field, Loppinger Field, Windmill Field, and Moor Field. Of these, East Field and Moor Field lay east of the village near Spiers Piece Farm, Windmill Field probably near Mudmead Lane, (fn. 218) and Loppinger Field near the farm of that name. Standle Field probably lay west or south west of the village. The fields of Hinton were Middle Field, Crowcheyate Field, and Windmill Field. The latter lay west of the village north of Coldharbour. (fn. 219) At Semington there were Down Field, west of the village, Middle Field, and South Field between the Hilperton road and Hag Hill. At Littleton arable lay in Holbrook Field, Jacketts Field, East Field, and Down Field, and at West Ashton in Culverford Field, Cranhill Field, and Sandfield. Culverford Field lay near Stourton Hill and Cranhill Field south of East Town, corresponding to the North and East Fields of the 13th century.
The demesnes of Steeple Ashton were held in hand by Lord Seymour when he owned the manor. They consisted of the house, a close of 6 a., 66 a. of meadow at Ashton More, Northmead, and Dodsmead, 181 a. of arable land in the common fields, and various rights of pasture. (fn. 220) After the demesnes were alienated to the Marquess of Winchester in 1551, the common rights of the customary tenants in the meadows and the common pastures were the subject of protracted disputes. Eight tenants called 'neatholders' had winter pasture for oxen or sheep in Northmead, which contained 40 a., and all the tenants who held land there had winter common in the 60 a. of Dodsmead. The common pastures lay at Albury, Raydown, and Laydown, and contained in all over 200 a. (fn. 221) The rights of pasture which the various tenants and the farmer enjoyed in them for oxen and other beasts at various times of the year were governed by complex customs. Disputes were about such points as whether the owner of the demesnes had unlimited common, whether he could put cattle in instead of horses, and whether he could inclose any of the commons. In 1604 all the customary tenants prosecuted John Greenhill, the new owner of the farm, in the Exchequer, and alleged that their customs were necessary to their tillage, and that if Greenhill succeeded in putting them out of their commons, his farm would be 100 a year more valuable. When he was taxed with inclosing 12 a. out of Dodsmead, Greenhill retorted that the customary tenants had recently much improved their holdings by inclosures out of the common fields, and so wintered many more cattle than formerly. Another witness on his behalf estimated that 60 a. of meadow and 500 a. of arable had been inclosed in the past 50 years. (fn. 222)
Other disputes also occurred about the woods of the manor and the timber standing in the commons. These were evidently very valuable adjuncts of the manor. In 1604 it was estimated that the woods in West Ashton, Yarnbrook, and Broker's Wood in Southwick covered 450 a., and that there were almost 8,000 trees besides standing in the wastes. (fn. 223) The Marquess of Winchester claimed in 1574 that the woods belonged to the demesnes, (fn. 224) and ten years later claimed the strays found in the woods and commons. (fn. 225) These claims failed, for in 1583 the woods were let for 21 years to Edward Langford of Trowbridge and Richard Spencer of Steeple Ashton. They assigned the lease to the Brounckers of Erlestoke in 1585. (fn. 226) In 1596 it was assigned to Edmund Dowse and subsequently renewed to him. (fn. 227) By 1610 it had passed to Roger Martyn. Many trees had been felled and others spoilt by continuous lopping, but it was estimated that with careful restocking the woods would be worth 300 a year to the Crown. (fn. 228) They were, however, sold with the manor, and in 1636 Walter Long, the new lord, prosecuted Henry Martyn and Edward Martyn for waste in Broker's Wood. (fn. 229)
The process of consolidation of holdings and inclosure of the common fields, which had begun in the later 16th century, continued in the 17th. Leases refer continually to newly inclosed grounds and to several acres of arable lying together in the Steeple Ashton fields, although a considerable amount still lay dispersed. (fn. 230) Semington, too; was fairly extensively inclosed by the end of the 16th century. (fn. 231) The capital manor was by this time confined, except for woods and commons, to the tithings of Hinton and Steeple Ashton, the outlying copyhold lands having been granted separately by the Crown. (fn. 232) The process of consolidation of holdings into large farms was apparently slow, and there was no rack leasing in the 17th century. In 1699 106 copy and leaseholders in Steeple Ashton and Hinton produced a regular income which amounted to under 36 a year, (fn. 233) although large fines were no doubt paid at entry. In 1775 the copyhold and leasehold rents were just over 50, and two holdings let on rack leases produced 105 a year. (fn. 234) Some compact and fairly large inclosed farms not part of the manorial lands appear in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1674 Dairyhouse Farm consisted of 60 a. of inclosed meadow and pasture and 15 a. of open-field arable, but the latter was disposed of by 1723, leaving a compact holding around the farmhouse. (fn. 235) Ashton Mill Farm consisted of about 45 a. of inclosed land in 1700. (fn. 236) Pasture land which had been inclosed at Crosswelldown by 1620 (fn. 237) formed the nucleus of the farm of that name which in the 18th century was owned by the Ballard family. (fn. 238) At Littleton Nicholas Flower owned in 1632 a farm which contained 68 a. of inclosed land and only 7 a. in the open fields. (fn. 239) Paxcroft Farm, the property of the Duke of Kingston, was leased at a rent of 80 a year in 1731. (fn. 240) Of the 100 acres of the Beach property in West Ashton in 1763, all but 7 were inclosed. (fn. 241) Part of Hag Hill was inclosed by 1762. (fn. 242) Littleton Wood Farm consisted of over 60 acres, all inclosed, in 1788. (fn. 243)
Steeple Ashton was inclosed under an Act of Parliament passed in 1813. (fn. 244) The results of over two centuries of piecemeal inclosure, of which indications have been given above, are evident from the award maps. No common fields remained at Littleton, and at Semington only two small areas of open-field arable near the Hilperton road, and some common meadow near the Brook were left. Hinton too was almost fully inclosed, only a few acres of arable south of the village and Hinton Mead to the north remaining. In Steeple Ashton, however, considerable areas of the open fields remained uninclosed. Three of these then existed: High Field lay between Mudmead Lane and Sandpits Lane, Middle Field south of the village on both sides of Acreshort Lane, and Moor Field east of the Edington road. The common pastures of the Steeple Ashton tenants were also inclosed at this time, at Albury, Raydown, and Laydown, (fn. 245) and the remaining common meadow at Dodmsead. Finally Steeple Ashton, Hinton, and Littleton Wood Commons were inclosed. Steeple Ashton and Hinton Commons covered most of the low ground in the tithings of West Ashton, Steeple Ashton, and Hinton, extending from Kettle Lane on the Heywood boundary in a crescent shape to Stranger's Corner near Hinton. Only a little of this large expanse had been affected by earlier inclosure. Some meadow had been inclosed along the Biss and Paxcroft Brook, and encroachments extended from the higher ground to the lower at Armouracre and Snarlton. A number of inclosures had also been made on the southern slope of Hag Hill. Littleton Wood Common lay in the bend of the Semington Brook in the north-east corner of the parish. The southern part of Steeple Ashton Common was mainly woodland, estimated at over 500 acres in 1807. (fn. 246)
After inclosure farming in the parish began to assume its modern aspect. New farms were built in the inclosed lands at Spiers Piece, Newgrounds, Raydon, Brook, and Green Lane, and old farms were let on short leases at improved rents. By 1844 eight farms on the Long estate in the parish let for over 100 a year, the highest being Steeple Ashton Manor Farm at 670. (fn. 247) But some of the Long farms were still held on leases for lives at this time. The estate in 1841 comprised over 3,500 acres, somewhat more than half of the ancient parish. The next largest estates were the Ludlow's 650 acres in West Ashton, (fn. 248) the Duke of Somerset's 340 in Semington, and G. T. Chamberlaine's 150 in Littleton and Hinton. At this time arable totalled just over 30 per cent. of the total area of the parish, and pasture and meadow over 55 per cent. The former was most preponderant, as would be expected, on the higher ground, varying from about 42 per cent. in Steeple Ashton to only 16 per cent. at Semington. (fn. 249) By 1870 rents had risen considerably. Eight of the Long farms let for over 400 a year each, East Town making 910 a year and Spier's Piece 800. Their 13 largest farms in the parish produced over 5,400 a year. (fn. 250)
When Leland visited Steeple Ashton c. 1540 he remarked that 'it standithe muche by clothiars' and named two, Robert Long and Walter Lucas, who had assisted in the building of the parish church. (fn. 251) These two men flourished c. 1500, but no evidence has been found of any cloth industry at Steeple Ashton much before that time. Beside these two, the names of a few clothiers of the early and mid-16th century are known. William Alcombe (d. c. 1513), (fn. 252) had been an associate of James Terumber, the rich Trowbridge clothier. (fn. 253) John Reynold held land in Steeple Ashton c. 1540, (fn. 254) and three members of the White family, George, Robert, and William, were fined for defective white cloths in 1561. (fn. 255) That Long and Lucas were prosperous men is shown by their works at the church and by Lucas's will, (fn. 256) and in 1545 Robert White, although not quite in the first rank of local clothiers, paid more tax than anyone else in the tithing. (fn. 257) But the period of prosperity was short, and apparently centred on a few men, who left no successors in a village which, with its lack of water power, offered no attractions to clothiers. Even before 1514 Walter Lucas had had to entice his son back from Bradford with a promise of his household goods. (fn. 258) Walter and Thomas, sons of Robert Long, moved to Trowbridge. (fn. 259) By 1576 only two men known to have been clothiers paid tax in Steeple Ashton, George White, who had apparently bought land, and William White, and neither was particularly prosperous. (fn. 260) Although spinning and weaving for the Trowbridge and Westbury clothiers no doubt continued there until the introduction of power machinery, the brief era of the clothiers of Steeple Ashton was practically over by 1600. After that date only two have been met with, Peter Crook (fl. c. 1633) and William Tipper (d. before 1700). (fn. 261)
The cloth industry's first known appearance at Littleton is also associated with Robert Long of Steeple Ashton, who in 1494 leased a fulling mill there of the Abbess of Romsey. The lease subsequently came into the possession of Anthony Passion, no doubt a member of a family that had held the mill before Long. (fn. 262) Although he held the mill, and leased or owned a good deal of land in Steeple Ashton and Littleton, (fn. 263) he too seems to have found it more convenient to carry on his business from Trowbridge, (fn. 264) where in 1545 he paid 7 in tax, a sum exceeded by only nine payers in the whole county. (fn. 265) In the 17th century the mill was occupied by successive clothiers of the Somner family of Littleton as a fulling mill. (fn. 266) Another clothier of Littleton in the early 17th century was Nicholas Flower, (fn. 267) who at his death in 1632 owned a considerable landed estate in Littleton and Melksham. (fn. 268) No evidence about the use of Littleton Mill for the cloth trade in the 18th century has been met with, although there is every probability that it was used as a fulling mill by clothiers from Trowbridge or Melksham. By about 1800 it was occupied by Francis Naish, a Trowbridge clothier. Soon afterwards, because he had introduced gig mills and shearing frames into it, the mill was destroyed by the Trowbridge shearmen. (fn. 269) There is no subsequent record of the cloth trade in Littleton.
Occasional references to clothiers at Semington have been found. William Witcom was fined for defective white cloth in 1562. (fn. 270) Daniel Somner (d. c. 1604) was a clothier of Semington, (fn. 271) and so was Henry Coulthurst (fl. c. 1710). (fn. 272) Here, too, spinning and weaving must have been carried on as a domestic occupation until the 19th century. Although no reference to the cloth trade in Great Hinton has been found, there is in the village a small factory building, dated 1815, adjoining the New Inn. It is of brick, of five bays and three stories with a mansard roof, and has the segmental-headed windows with stone mullions typical of mills in the neighbouring towns. It is named as a factory in 1841, (fn. 273) when it was owned and occupied by Stephen Sims, and the tradition that it was used for the making of cloth survives in the village.
MARKET AND FAIR.
In 1266 Henry III granted to the nuns of Romsey a weekly market on Wednesday in their manor of Ashton, and a yearly fair there on 7, 8, and 9 September. (fn. 276) Two years later Richard de la Rokele complained that his market at Market Lavington, also held on Wednesday, had gone down 40 in value because of the abbess's market at Church Ashton. The abbess blandly replied that she had no vill of that name, (fn. 277) and the charter was confirmed by several kings, the last known confirmation being in 1537. (fn. 278) In 1410 two shops, several stalls and the tolls were held by William Whatden. (fn. 279) In the mid-15th century the tolls and stallage of the market were still farmed out; there was no certain return, but in the year to which the record referred, it was worth 8d. (fn. 280) A detailed rental of a century later (fn. 281) does not mention a market or fair. Aubrey attributed the decline of the market to a fire in the town, and said that the market at Lavington had prospered owing to the decay of Ashton. (fn. 282) Two attempts were made to revive the market in the 18th century. In 1756 it was announced that it was 'to be continued for ever for all sorts of corn, grain, cattle, meat, fowls and all sorts of provisions'. In 1766 the promoters reminded the public of the penalties against forestalling and ingrossing corn, and also assured it that the roads to Steeple Ashton were repaired, but all in vain. (fn. 283) The fair was still being held in 1625, when its suspension for that year was ordered to prevent the spread of plague. (fn. 284) In 1770 it was held on 2 September for the sale of cheese, (fn. 285) and in 1831, when it was said to be inconsiderable, it was held on 18 September. (fn. 286)
The market 'cross' stands on the village green. It consists of a stepped base surmounted by a short circular column, which is crowned by a square stone block with a sundial on each face and a ball finial with wrought iron cross over. The date 1679 is carved on it and an inscription states that it was set up in 1071. The structure as it stands is probably of the late 17th century. (fn. 287)
There were three mills within the manor of Steeple Ashton in 1086. (fn. 288) In 1340 there were also three, (fn. 289) at Bradley, Littleton, and 'La Lese'. (fn. 290) The mill at Littleton was a copyhold of the manor. It was held in 1340 by Thomas Shepherd and called Stikeberd's Mill from a former tenant. (fn. 291) A hundred years later the mill was held by Christine Passion. (fn. 292) In 1494 the abbess let the mill to Robert Long for 95 years, but he later assigned his lease to Anthony Passion. Anthony Passion settled it on his wife Edith, who married George Drinkwater as her second husband, and a succession of disputes followed between Drinkwater and William Passion, Anthony's son. After William's death the dispute was carried on by John Wychewell and Simon Sloper, successively husbands of his widow Marion. (fn. 293) Meanwhile the freehold of the mill, and of certain lands near it, had been granted away by the Crown in 1551 to Sir Thomas Wrothe. (fn. 294) By 1604 it belonged to Thomas Somner who at his death, in 1631, left the mills called Passion's Mills and various lands in Littleton to his brother Edward. (fn. 295) The mill was described as a fulling and grist mill in the 16th century, (fn. 296) and Thomas Somner as a clothier c. 1608. (fn. 297) In 1652 the mill, described as 2 fulling mills and a grist mill under one roof, and some 44 a. of land, were settled on Edward's son Thomas when he married Agnes Blagden. Thomas died c. 1668; in 1678 his son Thomas married Anne, daughter of Christopher Bennett of Steeple Ashton. At his death without issue in 1699 he left the mill and land to Thomas Somner Hippesley, son of his sister Joan by Robert Hippesley of Wanborough. Hippesley died without issue in 1731, leaving as heir Richard Goddard of Swindon, who only survived him a year. Leaving no issue, Goddard was succeeded by his brother Pleydell, who also died childless in 1742. (fn. 298) He is the last member of the family known to have held the mill; by 1780 it belonged to Ambrose Awdry of Seend, a member of a family closely related to the Goddards. (fn. 299) In 1790 it was thoroughly repaired at a cost of over 300; it was then called by its modern name of Littleton Wood Mill. (fn. 300) Shortly afterwards it passed to Thomas Naish, a Trowbridge clothier, whose introduction of shearing frames led to its destruction by a group of shearmen from Trowbridge in 1803. (fn. 301) By 1820 it had passed to the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, and was held on lease by Mrs. Freelove Noad. (fn. 302) Since then the mill has been occupied by successive members of the Noad family. Trading as J. and J. Noad, the firm uses this mill and others at Seend Head for the production of flour and compound feeds for farm stock. In 1961 water power was still used to drive the milling machinery by means of a turbine. (fn. 303)
In the mid-15th century John Tynny held a watermill and virgate of land, which had formerly been held by Roger Tynny, as a copyhold of the manor of Steeple Ashton. (fn. 304) A century later the mill then called Tynny's Mill was held by Robert Hancock and Walter his brother. (fn. 305) The mill was variously called Hancock's Mill, Tynny's Mill, or Tinhead Mill in the early 17th century; it lay at the northern end of Ashton Normead and Tinhead Normead, in the position of the modern Ashton Mill Farm. (fn. 306) The freehold of the mill must have been granted by the Crown to the Brouncker family. In 1597 Martha Brouncker, widow, and Henry Brouncker conveyed it to Roger Blagden the younger, (fn. 307) and in 1606 he conveyed it to Edward Bromwich. In 1629 Bromwich's widow Margaret, who had remarried, claimed the reversion of the mill after the death of William Hancock. (fn. 308) By 1688 the freehold had passed to John Torksey, clerk, who then conveyed it to William Gilbert, (fn. 309) of Maddington. In 1700 Gilbert sold the mill and about 45 a. of land near it to John Axford of Erlestoke. At his death in 1704 Axford left it to his son, another John, who in 1762 sold the property to Gifford Warriner of Conock in Chirton. It descended in that family until it was sold to the Longs of Rood Ashton in 1834. (fn. 310) The building was demolished to make way for the airfield. (fn. 311)
There was a windmill in Steeple Ashton in 1371. (fn. 312) In the mid-16th century a cottage occupied its site, which was probably east of Mudmead Lane, (fn. 313) at the place called Windmill Furlong in 1841. (fn. 314) Another windmill no doubt existed in Hinton, giving a name to Windmill Fields west of the village, (fn. 315) but no mention of it has been found.
A church at Steeple Ashton is first mentioned in 1252, in terms which imply that there had long been one in the village. (fn. 316) Semington has been a chapelry of Steeple Ashton since the Middle Ages; there was a chaplain there in 1370, (fn. 317) and the 15th-century chapel retains an inscribed stone which is probably of the 13th century. Another ancient chapel, which gave its name to Rood, formerly Chapel Ashton, existed in the parish, but nothing is known of any institutional relationship to the parish church. (fn. 318) West Ashton was made a separate ecclesiastical district in 1847. (fn. 319)
The rectory of Steeple Ashton had been appropriated by the Abbess of Romsey before 1252, by virtue of a papal grant. (fn. 320) The advowson had no doubt belonged to the nuns since before the Conquest. The first recorded presentation of a vicar was in 1338, and successive abbesses presented until the Dissolution with only two exceptions, when Sir Walter Hungerford in 1490, and Robert Foster in 1538, presented with their permission. (fn. 321) The advowson was alienated to Sir Thomas Seymour in the same way as the manor. (fn. 322) After his forfeiture it was retained by the Crown until the early 17th century. James I presented George Webb in 1605, but in 1609 Webb, dedicating a sermon to Sir James Ley, spoke of him as being 'lately seized with the patronage to which . . ., though unworthy, I owe myself and my service'. (fn. 323) In spite of this, Sir James did not hold the advowson at his death in 1629 (fn. 324) and Charles I presented at the next vacancy in 1636. (fn. 325) Charles II presented in 1661, (fn. 326) but by 1663 the advowson had passed to Sir Samuel Jones, who presented in that year. (fn. 327) By 1676 it had passed to John Martyn, who presented then and in 1684 and 1688. (fn. 328) By 1697 it had been bought by Drue Drury of Riddlesworth Hall (Norf.), who at his death in the following year left the advowson and rectory to Magdalene College, Cambridge, to found a travelling fellowship for a 'gentleman's son of Norfolk'. The Martyn family evidently reserved the next presentation, for the vacancy which occurred in 1747 was filled by Samuel Martyn of Chippenham. (fn. 329) The advowson is still owned by Magdalene College.
In 1291 the church of Ashton was valued at 40, of which 13 6s. 8d. was the value of the vicarage. (fn. 330) In 1535 the gross value of the vicarage alone was 30 4s., but various payments, including 6 10s. for a chaplain at Semington, reduced its net value to 10 12s. 6d. (fn. 331) By 1698 it was estimated that the vicarage was worth 150 a year and the rectorial tithes 100 a year. (fn. 332) In 1831 the average net income of the vicar was 852 a year, of which he paid 100 to the curate of Semington. (fn. 333)
Before 1252 all the great tithes had apparently been taken by Romsey Abbey, but then the great tithes of 'Gulde Ashton', Ashton Dunstanville, and West Ashton were awarded to the vicar. (fn. 334) It was probably the custom to lease out the rectorial tithes, at least of the outlying parts of the manor. In 1410 Thomas Flower of Littleton took a lease of the great tithes of Semington for ten years at an annual rent of 16 marks. (fn. 335) In 1538 the rectory and tithes of Steeple Ashton were leased to Peter Westbrook for 70 years at 13 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 336) This lease may have been resumed, since c. 1550 Henry Long held the parsonage for 20 a year. (fn. 337) In 1561 the Crown leased the rectory to Nicholas Morgan for 21 years at the same rent, (fn. 338) and the lease to him was renewed for three lives in 1582. (fn. 339) It was settled on Morgan's widow, Christian, who had remarried Anthony Garnons, in 1589. (fn. 340) In 1588 a lease in reversion for 21 years was granted to Edward Bunyan. (fn. 341) In 1606 the rectory was granted by the Crown in fee to Sir John Ramsey. (fn. 342) After this its descent is not certain. The rectory and advowson were included in settlements of the Longs of Rood Ashton several times between 1615 and 1641, (fn. 343) but they never exercised the advowson, and neither was mentioned among the possessions of Gifford Long in 1635. (fn. 344) What probably happened was that the rectorial tithes became divided among several owners during this period, and that the Longs owned a part. In 1643 Edward Long and Thomas Long conveyed tithes in Semington and Steeple Ashton to George Keate, and in 1647 Keate conveyed them to Anthony and John Martyn. (fn. 345) In 1663 the tithes of Semington were settled on Anthony Martyn the younger. (fn. 346) Other tithes, in Semington and West Ashton, were in 1667 conveyed by George Lowe to Thomas Bythesea. (fn. 347) It is probable, however, that a large part of the rectorial tithes came to be concentrated in the Martyn family of Great Hinton, and that they sold the Steeple Ashton part of them with the advowson to Drue Drury (see above). They retained the great tithes of Hinton, however, which passed with Anne, daughter and sole heir of John Martyn of Hinton, on her marriage to Richard Long (d. 1760). (fn. 348) The great tithes of Semington may have passed to the Longs in the same way. But it is only when they were commuted in 1841 that the distribution of the great tithes becomes clear. They were then mainly divided into three roughly equal parts. Magdalene College owned those of about 2,130 a., all in Steeple Ashton; Walter Long all the great tithes of Hinton and Semington and 35 a. in Steeple Ashton, about 1,920 a. in all; and the vicar almost all the great tithes of West Ashton and 283 a. in Steeple Ashton, (fn. 349) about 2,270 a. in all. The Magdalene tithes were commuted for 363 10s. and the Long tithes for 310; the vicar's were included with his small tithes (see below). (fn. 350) The great and small tithes of about 60 a. lying near Trowbridge were owned by the Rector of Trowbridge, and had been since at least the 17th century. It is probable that the customary payment of 4s. yearly paid by the rector to the Vicar of Steeple Ashton was a composition for these tithes. (fn. 351) This payment was imposed on the rectors of Trowbridge in 1252. (fn. 352)
In 1252 the whole of the glebe, with a house, which had formerly belonged to the rector, was assigned to the vicar, while the former vicar's glebe was all assigned to the abbess except for two acres. (fn. 353) In 1340 rectorial glebe, amounting to 7 houses and about 70 a., was held by seven bond tenants, (fn. 354) and it was still held by tenants in the mid-15th century (fn. 355) and c. 1540. (fn. 356) Its subsequent history or occupation is not known. In 1841 the glebe of Magdalene College amounted to only about 4 acres. (fn. 357)
In 1252 the vicar was allotted all the small tithes of the whole parish as well as the great tithes described above, (fn. 358) and continued to own them, except those belonging to the Rector of Trowbridge, until the 19th century. In 1841 the whole of the vicar's tithes were commuted for 920. (fn. 359) In 1604 the vicar's glebe consisted of an orchard and two gardens, a close containing 1 a. and 2 a. in the common-field at Oathill, but in 1671 and 1704 only 1 a. in Oathill was mentioned. (fn. 360) In 1841 the vicar had about 16 a. of glebe. (fn. 361)
In 1252 it was ordered that the vicar should have two chaplains continually with him, to serve the church at his own expense. (fn. 362) In 1514 Walter Lucas left money to the three priests serving in the church of Ashton. (fn. 363) Probably one of these served the chapel at Semington where there was a chaplain by at least 1370. (fn. 364) In 1470 a dispute arose between the Vicar of Steeple Ashton and the inhabitants of Semington and Littleton about the cost of services there, and the bishop ordered that the vicar should, himself or by a suitable chaplain, celebrate mass and vespers every Sunday and feast day. For this the inhabitants were to pay 20s. a year over and above other dues, and to find all needful things except bread and wine. (fn. 365) Semington had its own churchwardens and managed its own affairs, probably at least from the date of this award, and certainly by the mid-16th century, and only paid the annual dues to the Vicar of Steeple Ashton. (fn. 366) The provision of a separate curate for Semington only ceased between the two World Wars. (fn. 367) John Carpenter, vicar 14289, a much beneficed clerk who later became Bishop of Worcester, is unlikely to have resided. (fn. 368) During the period covered by the early churchwardens' account book, 15431668, most vicars seem to have been resident. (fn. 369) George Webb, vicar 160536, held a cure at Bath from 1621, but was frequently at vestries in Steeple Ashton after that date. He was made Bishop of Limerick in 1634, and was the author of a number of sermons and theological works, the best known being The Practice of Quietness. (fn. 370) Henry Carpenter was vicar throughout the Interregnum, but his successor, Gabriel Sanger, was ejected in 1662, and became a presbyterian. (fn. 371) After 1698, when the advowson was obtained by Magdalene College, vicars had to be unmarried, (fn. 372) but the rule was relaxed after 1870, A. O. Hartley (187089) being the first married vicar. (fn. 373) In 1783 the vicar resided in Surrey because of ill-health. His curate lived in the village, but not in the vicarage itself. He performed Sunday services at Steeple Ashton morning and afternoon, and at Semington at 1.30 p.m., and also held extra services on saints' and red letter days and during Lent. From 30 to 50 people received the Sacrament four times a year. (fn. 374) Of Samuel Hey, vicar 1787 1828, it was said that 'the peculiarity of his dress and the simplicity of his manners had gained for him the title of The Hermit', and that he was 'a father to his parish'. (fn. 375)
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a clerestoried nave, chancel, north and south aisles, square western tower, and north and south porches. Both aisles are extended to form chapels at either end, the western ones being the full width of the tower and the eastern ones corresponding to the first two bays of the chancel. (fn. 376) The dedication is first recorded in 1281. (fn. 377) The tower is thought to be of the early 15th century; it is of four stages, embattled, and decorated with crocketed pinnacles and gargoyles, and has a row of five niches on the second stage of the west front. It was formerly surmounted by a stone spire built c. 1480 1500 (see below), (fn. 378) which, when it was measured in 1606, was found to be 32 yards higher than the tower, making together the remarkable height of about 186ft. An inscription in the church records how the spire was struck by lightning in July 1670, and, just as repairs were being completed, struck again the following October. Two men working on it were killed, and the body of the church severely damaged, so that no attempt to rebuild the spire was made. The parts of the aisles which flank the tower are also of the early 15th century, although their exteriors were remodelled when the rest of the church was rebuilt.
Another inscription in the church, copied from an earlier one, records that it was built between 1480 and 1500, the north aisle at the cost of Robert Long, the south aisle at the cost of Walter Lucas, and the rest of the church and steeple at the cost of the parishioners. This refers to a complete rebuilding of the nave and the two aisles east of the tower arch. The part played by Long and Lucas in building the aisles is also attested by Leland. (fn. 379) Long in his will of 1501 ordered that the works begun on the north side of the church should be completed at his expense. (fn. 380) Before his death he had agreed with Thomas Lovell of Trowbridge, freemason, to do the work for 80, but at Lovell's death 49 was still owing. (fn. 381) Long's widow's second husband, William Morgan, ordered in his will in 1508 that the works begun by Long should be completed. (fn. 382) The work done during these years is in an elaborate Perpendicular style with good proportions and unusually vigorous moulding and carving both internally and externally. The nave is of four bays, and has a lofty clerestory with large four-light transomed windows, and a five-light blocked window in the east gable above the chancel arch. The nave arcades are supported on composite piers with moulded capitals and high moulded bases. It was apparently intended to build a stone vault over the nave: stone springers rise from the capitals of the piers, and preparations were made outside to build flying buttresses, two pairs of which were completed, one at each end. The present roof, however, is of oak with plaster panels in a pattern of lierne vaulting; its four pendants and four bosses are elaborately carved. It may originally have been contemporary with the nave, but it is probable that it had either to be extensively repaired or rebuilt in 1670. The aisles and eastern chapels are vaulted in stone with elaborate bosses; the vaulting springs from canopied niches supported by vigorously carved figure corbels. Each bay has a four-light window. The bay to the west of the south porch was evidently damaged by the fall of the spire, and the rebuilt vaulting carries the initials of the churchwardens for 1670. A carving of the Assumption in the eastern chapel of the north aisle shows that it was the Lady Chapel. The south porch has a room above and a stone vaulted ceiling at the lower stage; the north porch is of one story only. The external parapets are embattled and decorated with crocketed pinnacles rising from the buttresses. Those on the aisles and south porch have octagonal panelled shafts; smaller pinnacles spring from the first offset of the buttresses. There is a fine display of grotesque gargoyles.
The chancel of the earlier church remained untouched in the late 15th century apart from the opening of the arches into the aisle chapels. It had a two-light window to the south and a steeply pitched roof which only just cleared the chapel arches. It was pulled down in 1853 and a higher and slightly longer chancel built to a design by Henry Clutton (fn. 383) in a style similar to the remainder of the church, the expense being borne by Magdalene College. (fn. 384)
The church retains considerable fragments of medieval glass. The tradition remains in the village that the glass was broken after the battle of Roundway in 1643, when Sir William Waller stabled his horses in the church, but it seems more likely that it was two years later, when Waller's army is known to have been in the district. In 1648 a heavy church rate was levied to repair the glass of the church. (fn. 385) There are many monuments, but none earlier than the 17th century. A small monument to Deborah Marks (d. 1730/1) in the north aisle has been made on the back of a copper plate for a Protestant engraving. This shows a Frenchman, a Pope, and the Devil outweighed in the balance by a Bible, with Queen Anne and others looking on. Only part of the design remains. (fn. 386)
The font, which stands in the chapel south of the tower at the west end of the south aisle, formerly called the Beach chapel, was given by Richard Crawley, vicar 182869, in memory of his mother. (fn. 387) It replaced a hexagonal font with quatrefoil panels. (fn. 388) A new pulpit was provided in 1605, (fn. 389) and remained in the church until the 19th century, (fn. 390) when it was replaced by one in memory of Richard Crawley. In 1514 Walter Lucas left money to buy organs for the church. (fn. 391) In 1589 the parish had 181 organ pipes in hand, although apparently dismantled, but in 1620 old pipes and fragments of the organs were sold. (fn. 392) In the early 19th century an orchestra played in a gallery at the west end of the church, but in 1835 a barrel organ was placed there. This organ was moved to the former Lady Chapel when the gallery was removed in 1868. (fn. 393) In 1877 it was replaced by the present organ, by Bryceson Bros. and Ellis, which was given by Charlotte Long. In 1883 a fund was set up to maintain the organ and to pay an organist. (fn. 394)
In 1543 the church had 5 great bells, a small bell, and a clock. (fn. 395) Three bells were recast by John Wallis of Salisbury in 1607, and he recast the tenor in 1616. (fn. 396) In 1666 Henry Long agreed to set up a sixth bell, for which he was given 18 and the sanctus bell. (fn. 397) Four bells were recast in the 18th century, another in 1889, and the only survivor of 1607, with one of 1772, were recast again in 1915. Another sanctus bell was provided in 1809. (fn. 398) Finally in 1959 the whole peal was recast. (fn. 399)
In 1495 Walter Lucas left a missal, a pair of vestments, and a chalice to the altar of St. John the Baptist in Steeple Ashton church. (fn. 400) In 1501 Robert Long left a chalice, a mass book of paper in print, and 2 chasubles. (fn. 401) In 1543 the church owned a chalice, 5 pairs of vestments, and 3 copes. (fn. 402) In 1553 the Commissioners left the chalice and took 4 oz. of silver. (fn. 403) In 1581 18s. was paid 'to exchange the chalice into a communion cup', (fn. 404) and this remodelled chalice still survives. By 1625 the parish owned a pewter flagon, and two more flagons were bought in 1636. (fn. 405) Amy Long left a second chalice to the church in 1649, (fn. 406) and this, hall-marked 1650, also still survives. Besides the two chalices, the plate now (1960) consists of a paten and alms dish of 1699, given by Henry Long, another paten of 1704, and a flagon of 1736. (fn. 407)
The vicarage stands somewhat away from the church. It appears to have been a stone-built hall house, probably of the 15th century, consisting of a one storied hall with a cross wing at its west end. The screens passage across the west end of the hall was entered by a moulded stone doorway with a two centred arch and a projecting porch, which still survive. The hall block retains much of its original roof of four bays, with three surviving arch-braced collar-beam trusses and some curved wind-braces. The division of the hall into two stories and the insertion of a staircase do not appear to have taken place until c. 1700, perhaps after the living had been acquired by Magdalene College. The west wing was also remodelled then. There is no indication of a corresponding wing to the east. A large extension was built there c. 1840, faced with ashlar masonry, the stone cut in pieces the size of bricks. Ellis Wright, vicar 153869, left 5 volumes of Chrysostom's works, printed at Basle in 1530, to his successors. (fn. 410) Samuel Hey, vicar 17871828, left 1,139 books and some articles of furniture for the use of future vicars. (fn. 411) Most of the volumes were destroyed for salvage during the Second World War, but the works of Chrysostom and about 250 volumes of Hey's books survive. (fn. 412)
A church house is first mentioned c. 1550 when it was a copyhold estate of the manor (fn. 413) and expenditure for its repair occurs frequently in the early churchwardens' accounts. It was usually held from the church by two or three tenants on lease, and may have incorporated in it the shop for which the church received rent. (fn. 414) In 1662 Matthew Hancock gave his estate in it to the poor of the parish, (fn. 415) but by 1699 it had fallen down. (fn. 416)
The chapel of ST. GEORGE at Semington consists of nave, chancel, north porch, and south vestry. The dedication is first mentioned in 1470. (fn. 417) The nave and porch are of the 15th century, and the chancel of the first part of the 16th. It was perhaps in the 18th century that a thin square tower was built apparently resting on the roof of the chancel where it joins the nave. (fn. 418) This was removed in 1860, when the east and west walls were rebuilt, a small bell-turret built at the west gable, and the interior completely renewed. The new east and west windows are in the 14th century style. All the roofs were renewed, and a new font provided. The octagonal vestry was added in 1877. (fn. 419) Built into the porch is a stone with an incised inscription in old French offering pardon to whomever should pray for Philippa de Salcest (Sauser). Its date is probably the 13th century. There are several monuments including one in coloured marbles to the Blagden family by Ford of Bath. (fn. 420) The chapel had two bells in 1553; the present one, in a turret at the west end, was recast about 1850 from a pre-Reformation one, (fn. 421) which was traditionally said to have come from the chapel at Bulkington. (fn. 422) The plate consists of a chalice and paten of 1579, another paten of 1697, and a cruet-shaped flagon. (fn. 423) The registers of the chapelry begin in 1586. The organ is by Sweetland of Bath.
In 1597 Arthur Swayne and another conveyed a house and 8 a. of land in Semington to Edward Long and other feoffees, the profit to be used to maintain and repair the chapel, and to relieve the poor of the chapelry. It is not clear that Swayne was the donor and it seems more likely that the chapelry raised money and bought the land from him. The house was known as the church house. In 1704 a chamber in it was reserved for the use of the curate. (fn. 424) In 1833, described as an old thatched dwelling, it was let to the overseers. In 1859 it was given to be the site of the school. Part of the land was sold to the Kennet and Avon Canal Company c. 1800 and the proceeds invested. The profits of the lands were devoted by successive feoffees to the maintenance of the chapel, and did away with the necessity for a church rate. After 1779 surpluses arose, which were used for various charitable purposes, such as apprenticing children and assisting emigrants. In 1861 some stock was sold to pay for the restoration of the chapel. In 1891 the vicar of Steeple Ashton and the chapelwardens of Semington were made trustees. In 1901 the property consisted of about 8 a. and 167 stock, producing an income of about 29. (fn. 425) The income was about the same in 1932. (fn. 426) In 1910 Frances E. Arden left 150 to the curate and churchwardens of Semington to keep her grave, and that of her parents, in repair, and to keep the churchyard grass tidy. (fn. 427)
There was a chapel at West Ashton by 1307, when the name Chapel Ashton for an estate there first occurs. In the later Middle Ages the more common form became the modern Rood Ashton, showing that it was noted for its rood. (fn. 428) This is supported by the only known reference to it, apart from its occurrence in the place name, when in 1533 Joan Try left to the chapel of Rood Ashton and to the rood there a pax of silver and two ells of cloth for the altar. (fn. 429) The chapel is traditionally said to have stood behind Rood Ashton house, (fn. 430) and the site was still called Church Hill in 1841. (fn. 431) Some remnants of a raised and levelled plot of ground, which was the probable site, can still be traced, although grown over with trees.
The church of ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, West Ashton, was built in 1846, chiefly at the cost of Walter Long. (fn. 432) It was designed by Wyatt and Brandon, (fn. 433) and consists of nave, chancel, and northern tower with small spire. It contains a number of 19th-century monuments, particularly of the Long family, for whom a vault was made in 1882. (fn. 434) The one bell is of the same date as the church, as is the chalice; the paten is an 18th-century piece presented later. (fn. 435) The original registers are still in use. (fn. 436)
In 1846 Walter Long gave a rent-charge of 100 payable out of lands in West Ashton to provide a stipend for the minister there. At the same time about 200 stock was bought with subscriptions to provide for the maintenance of the church and churchyard. (fn. 437) The Vicar of Steeple Ashton also set apart 100 from tithes to augment the stipend. (fn. 438) The advowson of the church belonged to the Long family until their estate was broken up in 1930, when it was bought by Canford School (Dors.). (fn. 439) About 1944 it passed to the Martyrs Memorial Trust, which still held it in 1962. (fn. 440) Since 1962 the church has been held in plurality with that at Heywood. (fn. 441)
No return was made for Steeple Ashton to Bishop Compton's 'Census' in 1676; in Semington there were 207 conformists and 2 dissenters. (fn. 442) In 1704 the house and barn of James Smith were licensed as a meeting-house for Quakers, but the group does not seem to have survived. (fn. 443) A house at East Town was licensed for Independents in 1767, and between 1815 and 1817 houses at West Ashton, Steeple Ashton, and Hinton were all licensed for Independents by B. Kent, minister of the Tabernacle at Trowbridge; that at Steeple Ashton was described as a chapel. (fn. 444) No Independent meeting in the parish was mentioned in 1829. (fn. 445)
Baptist meetings were licensed in 1825 at West Ashton and Steeple Ashton, and another licence for Steeple Ashton was granted in 1828. (fn. 446) No Baptist congregation was mentioned either in 1829 or 1851, (fn. 447) but in 1864 a dwelling house facing the green was taken over as a station of the Baptist chapel at Bratton. (fn. 448) A Sunday school was started in 1874. (fn. 449) The chapel finally closed c. 1940, and its sale was authorised in 1947. (fn. 450) The building has since been reconverted into a dwelling house.
In 1783 a few Methodists were meeting in a labourer's house in Steeple Ashton; according to the curate their number had decreased by 'some hundreds' in the past few years. (fn. 451) Houses were licensed for Methodist meetings at Steeple Ashton and Semington in 1797, and one at West Ashton in 1798 may also have been for them. (fn. 452) In 1829 the Steeple Ashton Methodists were meeting in a farm house; there were 8 members and about 50 people attended. (fn. 453) In 1851 one room of a dwelling-house was used exclusively for worship. It afforded 120 sittings, and average congregations were about 100. (fn. 454) It was probably this group which built the Primitive Methodist Chapel at the north end of the village three years later. The plain brick building, dated 1854, can seat 130 worshippers, (fn. 455) and was in 1963 still in use.
In 1829 the Methodists at Semington had 27 members and an average congregation of 80. (fn. 456) The present chapel at Semington was built in 1884. (fn. 457) The Wesleyans had 9 members at West Ashton in 1829, (fn. 458) but no congregation survived in 1851. (fn. 459)
In 1814 and 1822 houses at Hinton were licensed. (fn. 460) They may have been for Methodists, for in 1829 a congregation with 5 members was meeting in the village. (fn. 461) By 1851 two congregations met in the village. The Wesleyan Methodists had a room used exclusively for worship, which could accommodate 100; the average congregation was about 20. Primitive Methodists met in an unoccupied cottage, with a congregation of similar size. (fn. 462) Both congregations subsequently built small chapels, the Wesleyans c. 1864, and the Primitive Methodists c. 1859. (fn. 463) In 1961 one remained in use.
In 1851 a congregation of Latter Day Saints met in a room of a house in Steeple Ashton, an average of about 50 attending the services. (fn. 464) The tradition of these meetings still remains in the village. Part of Nitt's Lane is nick-named God's Corner because they used to meet there in a house now called Old Chesils. (fn. 465)
The earliest recorded meeting of the manor court of Steeple Ashton was in 1262. (fn. 466) In 1370 it met four times a year, and presentments were made by the homages of West Ashton, Southwick, Lovemead, Semington, Littleton, Hinton, and Steeple Ashton. (fn. 467) By the end of the 15th century it met only twice a year and Lovemead sent no homage. (fn. 468) The Abbess of Romsey's court for the hundred also commonly met in the village. (fn. 469)
There were two churchwardens for Steeple Ashton in 1543, (fn. 470) and this number has no doubt been general ever since. In 1570 the tithings of Steeple Ashton, Hinton, and West Ashton each had two collectors for the poor and two waymen. (fn. 471) Apart from a volume of churchwardens' accounts covering the period 15431668, (fn. 472) few parish records remain.
George Webb, vicar 160536, is said to have kept a school in Steeple Ashton. (fn. 473) In 1779 John Hicks left 5 a year toward paying a schoolmaster to teach poor children nominated by the vicar. (fn. 474) This was paid to a 'very ingenious and diligent man' who already kept a private school in the village. He taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and mathematics, which he had acquired 'merely by his own industry and application'. (fn. 475) In 1808 there were day schools for 76 children in the parish. (fn. 476) In 1815 John Togwell bequeathed an annuity of 50 to educate 30 boys and 20 girls of Steeple Ashton and West Ashton, but he died leaving insufficient estate to meet the charge. Finally only 17 a year was received from 1824 onwards. (fn. 477) In 1819 the wife of the parish clerk with 'proper assistants' taught 40 children, 4 of whom were paid for by Hicks's charity and 16 paid for and partly clothed by the vicar. It was then thought that the poor had not sufficient means of education, (fn. 478) but in 1833 it was difficult to persuade the parents of children paid for by Hicks's bequest to keep them at school even for the year which was the normal period for receiving the charity. At that time a man and his wife taught the children under both charities, and took day scholars and boarders as well. (fn. 479)
In 1835 78 boys and 34 girls attended, of whom 22 were paid for by the charities and 7 by the vicar. There were also two small schools in the village where another 39 children were paid for by their parents. (fn. 480) They were probably the 'two dames' schools of a humble kind' which still taught about 30 younger children in 1859. By then the village school was accommodated in the present building, which had been built about twenty years previously. On the upper story 30 or 40 girls were taught by a certificated mistress; they were 'remarkably neat and cleanly' and 'very fairly instructed'. Below 40 boys under an uncertificated master were in less satisfactory accommodation. (fn. 481) The school had been affiliated to the National Society since at least 1846. (fn. 482) In 1899 the building and adjoining teacher's house were conveyed by Walter Long to the vicar and churchwardens. In 1903 about 16 10s. a year was being paid to the school from Hicks's and Togwell's charities. (fn. 483) Since 1941 senior children have gone to school in Trowbridge; the junior mixed and infants' school was given Aided status after the Act of 1947.
In 1699 Thomas Somner of Wellow (Som.) left 2 a year charged on lands at Littleton to provide for schooling of two poor boys from Semington. (fn. 484) By 1819 the number had increased to four boys, but it is not clear whether they were taught in the village. (fn. 485) By 1835, however, there were two schools in Semington, where 24 boys and 18 girls were taught, 8 of them at the cost of the vicar and curate. (fn. 486) One of these was no doubt that attended in 1833 by the charity children, again reduced to two in number. (fn. 487) In 1859 30 children were taught in a cottage room by an uncertificated mistress who had, however, received some training, and it was intended to build a new school in the coming Spring. Another 30 children attended two dames' schools. (fn. 488)
The village school built in 1859 near the chapel, on land given by the chapel trustees, was affiliated to the National Society by the terms of the gift. (fn. 489) In 1900 average attendance was 58. (fn. 490) The senior children were taken away in 1941. Controlled status was granted to the school in 1949.
In 1819 there was a school in Steeple Ashton parish where about 16 poor girls were taught and partly clothed at the cost of the vicar, and a few others at the expense of Mrs. Long of Rood Ashton. (fn. 491) This school, no doubt, lay in West Ashton. It still existed in 1835, when 9 boys and 16 girls attended, and at another, begun in 1833, 6 girls were paid for by their parents. (fn. 492) In 1846 a new school was built on ground given by Walter Long, and affiliated to the National Society. (fn. 493) Within five years this school, under the guidance of the Revd. F. H. Wilkinson, had attained a remarkable position, and was held up by the government inspector as a model village school. In 1851 203 children attended the school, coming from the village and two or three miles around and from seven different parishes. Almost a quarter of these were over 12 years old, and they included 'a considerable number of females nearly grown up to womanhood, but sadly behind-hand in information'. Nineteen children lived in lodgings in the parish so that they could attend. 'Nothing unusual' was taught in the school and the inspector attributed its success to the intelligent manner in which the children were taught and to the personal influence of the vicar. 'It is a family', he wrote, 'and apparently a very happy one, with the clergyman at its head. . . . his house is open to the children after school hours and his heart always'. He also noted the 'really remarkable' progress of the younger children, and their 'tone of cheerful obedience', which made children educated there in great request to be employed as servants. (fn. 494)
By 1859 success had overburdened the school so much that the pupils from outside the parish had been withdrawn to a new school instituted by Wilkinson in Trowbridge. (fn. 495) About 40 children remained at West Ashton, taught by an uncertificated mistress. (fn. 496) By 1899 average attendance was 58 children. (fn. 497) Senior children were withdrawn from the school in 1941.
In 1835 there was a day school at Hinton, begun in 1827, where 30 children were educated at the cost of their parents. It still existed in 1841, but nothing more is known of it. (fn. 498)
CHARITIES. (fn. 499)
In 1643 Samuel Martyn left 2 a. of land to provide two coats and two gowns yearly for four poor people from West Ashton and Steeple Ashton. In the 19th century the rent was spent on coats and gowns, which were distributed in rotation to a list of beneficiaries. (fn. 500) In 1952 the income was 7, which was distributed in vouchers. (fn. 501)
In 1633 Peter Crook gave 2 a year charged on land at Tilshead to the poor of Steeple Ashton. In 1833 it had been the custom for many years to lay it out in shirts given annually to the second poor of the tithing. (fn. 502) By 1903 the rent charge was being spent with the income of Poor's Stock (see below).
By his will proved in 1720 John Brown left 4 a. of land in Steeple Ashton to trustees, who were to apply the profits for four poor honest Anglican men, living within 3 furlongs of Steeple Ashton Cross, over 45, and who had bred up families without aid from the parish. He also left 200 to acquire lands for the same purpose, which was used to buy 8 a. of land at Bowerhill in Melksham. In 1833 the four beneficiaries, who were appointed by the vicar, occupied the land in Steeple Ashton themselves, while a rent of 17 from the land at Bowerhill was divided between them. In 1903 the charity was still administered in the same way. (fn. 503) The lands were later let. In 1955 about 300 arising from the sale of timber on the Bowerhill estate was invested for the charity. (fn. 504) In 1952 the rent received was 27, of which about 24 was divided between the four beneficiaries. (fn. 505)
Several small sums given to the poor of Steeple Ashton in the 16th century and later were consolidated, and in 1729 25 was paid to the overseers, the parish paying 25s. a year as interest. This sum, known as Poor's Stock, was spent on garments for the second poor until 1820, when it lapsed, but a payment of 1 a year was revived in 1833. This was disallowed by auditors in 1845, and a public subscription set on foot, from which 34 Consols was bought. Since that time it has produced 17s. a year, which has been spent with the income from Crook's charity in providing calico, and later vouchers for cloth. (fn. 506)
In 1671 Henry Long left 20 for the benefit of the poor of West Ashton, which was used in 1725 to buy 1 a. of meadow in Dodsmead. At inclosure the charity was allotted 3 a. of land near West Ashton Hill, which in 1833 was being used as rentfree allotments by second poor. It was exchanged for another piece in 1845. In 1903 it was still being used in the same way. (fn. 507)
In 1737 Elizabeth Martyn left a close of 3 a., part of East Town Farm, to provide linen cloth for poor women of East Town and West Ashton. The field was, however, still regarded as part of the farm, subject to a yearly charge of 40 ells of dowlas. This was supplied by the owner to the parish officers, who had it made into shirts for the second poor, the recipients being chosen by the owner. The charity was applied in this way until 1884, when the charge was redeemed for 150 Consols. (fn. 508) Since then the yearly income of 3 15s. has been laid out in linen which is distributed at Christmas. (fn. 509)
A sum of 42, given by an unknown donor, belonged to the parish officers of Hinton in 1786. It was afterwards used to buy a cottage at Coldharbour; when this was sold in 1812, 60 was invested in Consols. A further sum was invested in 1817, making a stock of 135. The income, just over 4 a year in 1833, was distributed among the second poor of the tithing. (fn. 510) In 1951 it was over 3, which was distributed among 7 old people. (fn. 511)
In 1852 George Tayler left 3,000 to found charities in Edington and three other parishes, of which Steeple Ashton was one. The provisions there for the distribution of bread, the preaching of a children's sermon, and the provision of buns for the Sunday School, were the same as those for Poulshot. (fn. 512) In 1906, when the whole charity was reorganized, the Steeple Ashton charity was made separate and allotted 469 stock. (fn. 513) In 1952 the income of over 12 was still being spent on the objects prescribed by the founder. (fn. 514)
By his will proved in 1857 Thomas Milsom left 100 for the benefit of Semington Sunday School and to supply coal to poor people there. (fn. 515) By his will proved in 1922 William Bruges of Semington left 100 for supplying coal to the poor of the village at Christmas. (fn. 516) A yearly sum of 1, whose donor is unknown, is charged on land called the Crofts at Semington. It is paid to the Vicar of Steeple Ashton for a sermon preached at Semington on Good Friday. (fn. 517)