The following article is reproduced from https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getcom2.php?id=96 by kind permission of the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
The parish of Figheldean can be found 18km north of Salisbury on the Salisbury Plain. The parish covers 2,201ha and the River Avon (to Christchurch) runs through the parish north to south. Six settlements lay beside the river: Choulston, Ablington, Syrencot, Alton and Knighton, whose names suggest Saxon origins. Some of these settlements no longer survive. The name Figheldean is said to derive from the old English words ‘Fugol’ (a bird or fowl) and ‘dean’ or ‘den’ (valley). Variations of the parish name are, amongst others: Fisgledene (1086), Ficheldene (1115), Figelden (1227), Fighelden (e) (1229), Fyeldean (1572), Figgledon (1641), Feilden (1645), Filedean (1718). The name is thought to mean ‘Fygla’s valley’.
A prehistoric ditch marks the boundary with South Tidworth on Dunch Hill. The river Avon also follows part of the boundary. The upper chalk downland has alluvial and gravel deposits by the river and there is gravel in Bourne Bottom. What was the Nine Mile River in Figheldean had run dry by the 1980s. Each of the settlements had meadowland beside the river Avon, along with sheep pasture.
A Palaeolithic artefact has been found in the parish and the Early Neolithic causewayed camp called Robin Hood’s Ball lies to the west. There are Bronze Age barrows on the downland. An Iron Age field system can be found to the east and west of Bourne Bottom and Romano-British foundations and pottery were found at Alton Parva farm.
The road from Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire ran eastwards to Salisbury in the 17th century. The Marlborough to Salisbury road took over along the Bourne Valley; it was turnpiked in 1835. The roads which run north to south link the settlements. Figheldean Bridge was so called in 1649. Between 1773 and 1817 a bridge was built near the ford (in 1851 it was an iron suspension bridge). This bridge was rebuilt and called Figheldean Bridge by 1880. The east to west roads fell out of civilian use after a large area of downland and former open fields were taken over by the military after 1898.
Harding held Figheldean and Knighton in 1066 and 1086. The Hussey family held the manor and that of Ablington, Knighton and Syrencot in the 11th and 12th centuries. Simon de Montfort held Alton Magna manor in the 11th century. Edward Seymour was granted Figheldean and Choulston after the Dissolution. The Earls of Arundell held Knighton from the 13th to 16th centuries, when the manor was given to Elizabeth I in an exchange in 1560. The Dukes held Knighton manor in the 17th century and the Poore’s in the 17th to 19th century. In fact the Dykes also held Syrencot in the 17th to 18th century and land in Figheldean manor was sold to Edward Dyke Poore in the mid to late 19th century. Ablington manor was sold to William Dyke in the 18th century. The Mills family held Choulston in the later 16th and 17th centuries. A large proportion of land from the manors in the parish was bought by the War Department in 1898 and 1899.
The six settlements held c.160 poll tax payers in 1377, a comparatively high number. The parish was also prosperous in the 16th and early 17th centuries, culminating in a population of 367 by 1801. In 1831 this had risen to 531. The population began to decline in the 1840s and by 1911 had reached 429. Housing for military personnel increased numbers to 625 by 1931. New housing meant that by 1951 there had been an increase to 977; by 1991 the figure had dropped again to 675.
In 1086 Figheldean had 24a of meadow and the pasture measured twelve by three furlongs. In 1296 land included arable with common pasture. There was also meadow, some of which was inclosed in the 1540s. In the 16th century common meadow was called North Mead, and open arable was practised in North Field and Foxlinch Bottom. Later fields called Upper, Middle, Lower and Newton Common appeared. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the number of farms decreased. By 1839 tenants used East Down and West Down common for sheep and cows (505a). An 1844 Act inclosed common downland, arable and meadowland. The narrow strips of land found in the 19th century remain similar to those in Saxon times; Figheldean had c.1,400a, Ablington c.1,400, Alton c.1,150, Choulston c.380a, Knighton c.65 and Syrencot c.300a.
Ablington had 35a of meadow and three furlongs by one of pasture in 1086. Common husbandry still took place in the early 19th century. Alton had 10a of meadow and fourteen square furlongs of pasture in 1086. Nineteenth century field names suggest earlier common husbandry. The manor of Alton was granted a free warren in 1286. In 1086 Choulston had 8a of meadow and five square furlongs of pasture. There is no evidence of common husbandry. Land in 1557 included 4a of warren. Knighton had 20a of meadow and 12 by 4 furlongs of pasture in 1086. Other manor land in Knighton in 1317 was used to grow wheat, barley, oats, vetches and peas. There was common pasture for cattle and sheep. Three fields were used for open arable in 1634. The Inclosure Act occurred in 1823. In the 18th century Syrencot Farm belonged to William Dyke. He was described by his contemporary Arthur Young as ‘the greatest farmer in Wiltshire’. Along with his farm in Great Ablington he had 1,000a of common and c.5,000 sheep in 1796 (mostly South Downs sheep with which he was replacing the Wiltshire breed), and he grew wheat. Towards the end of the 18th century he planted 80a of woodland around Syrencot House and on Dunch Hill, and on parts of the Ablington Downs. In 1839 Dyke’s land had become an 18a of parkland, divided into Upper and Homeward, east of Syrencot House. Between 1867 and 1898 he grew turnips, swedes, barley, wheat, oats and vetches along with grasses for hay. Several other woodland plantations were created after 1898.
Sheep farming declined sharply over the whole parish in the early 20th century. A little wheat and barley was grown too. The last ox was seen in the parish in c.1905, due to the appearance of the mowing machine, reaper, self binder and seed drill. By the 1930s few sheep were kept. Additional grazing land became available in the late 1950s when more cattle and sheep were kept.
Figheldean had become the largest village in the parish by the 17th century, by which time houses could be found on both sides of Church Street, the west side of Mill Lane and the west side of the High Street. The Church of St. Michael and All Angles could be found on high ground at the north end of the village. It was named in 1763 and is built of flint rubble with limestone dressings, partly chequered. It also has a tower and tiled roof. It was built in the 13th century but restored in 1851. The east side of the High Street had no more than two farmsteads in 1773. There was Manor Farm at the north end of the village and Read’s Farm at the south. The latter was demolished between c.1877 and c.1907. By 1817 additional buildings were erected to form a continuous line on the east side of the High Street. The school and chapel were situated on the east side of the High Street, built in the later 19th century. The chapel was of red brick and small in size. It was built in 1882 and had closed by 1971. The school was built in 1858 and replaced an earlier school house, built in 1851 which stood west of Church Street. The Wheatsheaf is situated on the west side of the High Street and opened in 1855. In the 1920s the inn caught fire and the thatched roof was destroyed. It was replaced by slates. Melrose House is mid 17th century and has a timber frame with brick noggings and a thatched roof. It has oriel windows with a timber framed gable and carved pendants to the barge board. The date over the porch is 1666. The Old Bakery is a house of mid 17th century date, of rendered timber framing and brickwork, with tile replacing the thatch. The 19th century bay to the rear was formerly the bakehouse. The other extension was probably a dairy.
The Old Post Cottage in Church Lane is 16th or 17th century, with a timber frame, whitewashed infill and brick laced flint to the gable. Choulston Farmhouse in Kerby Avenue is early 18th century and is now a house. It has an E-plan with Flemish bond brickwork and a tiled roof. Figheldean House in Market Square is c. 1840-60, situated on the site of an earlier manor house and is of roughcast brick with a thatched roof and service wing. It is L-plan in shape and also has a cellar. Also in Market Square are two mid 17th century cottages and two 18th century houses in a row which are rendered and colour washed on flint with a thatched roof and dormers to the rear. There are two cottages which were once a 17th century house on Mill Lane, again timber framed with whitewashed brick noggings and some wattle and daub. A 15th to 16th century house, extended to the rear in the 17th century, is now two cottages. The south end was originally a late medieval two bay building at right angles to the road.
Additional houses in the High Street were built in the later 19th and 20th centuries, including bungalows and offices in the later 20th century. During the 20th century the village of Figheldean expanded eastwards north and south of Pollen’s Lane. There were council houses in the 1920s (possibly those on Oak Lane), followed by bungalows built in Pollen Close in the 1960s and Hilltop Close in the 1980s. Houses were built at Avon Banks in the late 1940s, during the 1950s and into the early 1960s.
Choulston was a small settlement in the Middle Ages. By 1773 there was no more than a single farmstead situated there. In 1841 the population was 23.
Ablington is a nucleated village lying on both sides of an east to west running lane. The new road to link the village with Figheldean was built in the mid 19th century. Ablington was relatively prosperous in the 14th century but later became much smaller. In 1841 there were 137 inhabitants.
Timber framed 16th century cottages with brick noggings can be found, altered and rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. They have thatched roofs. One of these cruck buildings has smoke blackened rafters and wattling. There are also 17th century cottages, again timber with brick noggings and a thatched roof in an L-shaped plan. One has the date 1665 carved on a door lintel. Gunville Cottage is a 17th century rendered and thatched cottage, which may be on the site of a mill. Ablington Farmhouse is 18th century of chalk cob with a thatched roof. It had some 19th century extensions. Ablington House became unoccupied, leading to vandalism, and had to be demolished. The larger houses standing back from the lane date from the 19th century. The terrace situated on a back lane to the north of the village was built in the 1920s. The Crescent was established in the 1930s and eight houses were built in the village in the 1940s.
The Netheravon Airfield was built north east of Choulston on either side of the Figheldean to Fittleton boundary, in the proximity of Ablington, and contains an Officer’s Mess and Quarters (now for the 7th Regiment Army Air Corps). It was built during late 1912 to June 1913 and forms an open square layout. The central building is the Officers’ Mess which is timber framed and weatherboarded and has a slate roof. There is a large insignia of the Royal Flying Corps over the entrance. The entrance hall has Tuscan columns, and there are fireplaces with oak surrounds, some of which are original. There is a Steward’s Office at the back of the hall and an officer’s quarters in blocks. The Sergeants’ Mess is in another building. The architecture is in a Colonial character.
These buildings were the first purpose built arrangements for the air force, originally the No.2 (Aeroplane) Squadron, an offshoot of the Royal Engineers. It became home to the No.3 Squadron Royal Flying Corps in 1913 that were soon joined by the No. 4 Squadron from Farnborough, becoming the fourth wing RAF in 1918. Bleriot, Farman, Bristol, Vimy and Camel aircraft (amongst others) were flown from the base. The airfield was used for training pilots after WWI. Glider pilots trained there during WWII and after; the RAF Police took over 1950-62. The site was transferred to the army in 1963, and from 1966 were the headquarters of the Army Air Corps. The road from Netheravon via Choulston was called Kerby Avenue. A Roman Catholic Church was situated on the west side of the road and c.1952 a cemetery was established on the east side. The church was dedicated to St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. It was opened c.1934 and was predominantly for military personnel. It closed in 1985/6. Married quarters could be found in Choulston Close, built in the 1950s. There was further development in the 1960s.
The small village of Alton had a church in the Middle Ages. It was a small village in the 14th and 15th centuries. The church had been recorded from the mid 12th to the 16th century but had become dilapidated by c.1590. In 1733 there were only two farmsteads to be found but by 1841 the population was 42. South of Alton Parva was the site of an L-shaped 18th century house which burnt down during WWI. A new house was built on the site c.1920. Barns were built on Alton Down in the mid 19th century. A racecourse and hunter trials course was laid out in 1930-1 and extended in the 1970s. It was primarily used by the armed services.
The hamlet of Syrencot appears to have existed in the 14th century. Only Syrencot House had survived by 1773. The house is 17th century, built of red and blue brick with a limestone plat band, quoins and a slate roof. It was extended in the 18th century and enlarged in the 19th century to include a single story billiard room c.1898. A park was created east of the house between 1773 and 1817.
A chapel and manor house could be found at Knighton in the 13th century. The chapel was not mentioned later. A single farmstead was sited there in 1773, and in 1841 the population was 20. Knighton Farm was built in the 18th century and an embankment was built against floods. The late 18th century saw two thatched cottages on the north side of the lane linking Knighton Farm with Upavon to Amesbury. On the west side of this road a pair of cottages were built c.1840-1877. The farm buildings which existed on Knighton Down in the mid 19th century were demolished in the early 20th century. The area was used for military training in the early 20th century and was part of RAF Larkhill from 1936 to c.1942 when it was returned to the army. In the later 20th century the Royal Aircraft Establishment had offices on Knighton Down and had several sports grounds.
Ex soldiers came to live in Figheldean in the early 20th century and were employed by the army. A jumping school was established at Choulston. Once a year the cavalry school held a sports day. There was tent pegging; lemon cutting and pistol shooting were done at the gallop! Flag poles were put up on Silk Hill to indicate danger. Children collected empty cartridge cases for sale and used unfired blank cartridges as fireworks by putting them in the bonfire. There were injuries from the pieces of flying metal. Farmers also produced hay for the army. During summer 1914 extra troops came to the downs. Farm wagons were sent away to haul military supplies. Troops camped overnight on Beacon Hill and troops could be found in the fields at Knighton. There were recruiting speeches at the Figheldean school. The farmers’ best horses were commandeered. Troops exercised on the downs. All were volunteers in old fashioned uniforms or with none at all. There was a bombing range for hand grenades at Knighton and a rifle range which led to the abandonment of Alton Penning. The inhabitants were re-housed.
Syrencot House was used as an establishment for paratroopers during WWII. It was also the military residence of Lieutenant General Browning, General Sir Richard Gale and Lord Allenbroke and saw the founding of the airborne divisions, and the planning and mounting of Operation Overlord. Later it was turned into commercial offices.
Mills had appeared on the River Avon at Figheldean and Knighton by 1086. The latter was last mentioned in the 15th century. A mill at Figheldean stood south west of the church; it had ceased operating c.1900. There was a water mill at Ablington Manor in 1422 and a 17th century corn mill could be found on the estate. There was also a fulling mill that was disused by the 17th century. Woollen mills were established in Figheldean in the 1790s. They had disappeared by 1831. There was a water wheel at each side of the river in Choulston in the 20th century. At Cliff End and Figheldean mills there were chain pumps to fill water barrels for the dew ponds. The horses were also driven into the river at Figheldean Bridge and the barrels were filled from there. Eel cages were used at Gunville. When the river was manually flooded the eels were washed into the cage to be sold by the water bailiff. Occasionally the village boys would get there first! The river had several regular bathing places but girls never bathed.
A chalk quarry could be found on the west side of the Upavon to Amesbury road near Alton Parva Farm in the 18th century. In the early 19th century the chalk was used for building and making lime and whiting.
There were horse trainers in the parish from 1903-7, and 1928-38. In the late 19th century labourers went to Salisbury by carrier’s cart. They started off at 7am, arriving in Salisbury at 11am, and got back home at 8-9pm. Carters going to Devizes started off at 4am and arrived back at 4pm.The doctor lived four miles away and visited Figheldean once a week unless called for. The butcher lived six miles away. Labourers earned c. 12-14 shillings a week in the 1880s and hardly any of this was spent on meat. Labourers’ Union meetings were held in the village to call for better wages which created discord between the labourers and their employers. The vicar attended one meeting and agreed that it was not possible to live on twelve shillings a week. The Reverend Raikes, Rector of Bishopstone in 1924, wrote about his time at Figheldean in the late 19th century and included the following: ‘At one time a local farmer was giving labourers much less than other farmers for piece work. When I heard of it I got the Labourers’ Union to back me up, and demanded full wages. The local preacher and I went together and demanded this from the farmer, and we won the victory. On our return there was a great gathering in the village to hear the result. There was great rejoicing at the victory. I was much amused with the reports in the London papers – The vicar is a tall, ascetic parson, but he had done a good turn for the labourer‘.
At Christmas in the late 19th century farmers usually gave away beef, but by the early to mid 20th century this did not happen often. There were harvest teas at the end of the harvest which became old fashioned by the 1920s. Only fetes were acceptable by then! The extra pay gained at harvest time was used to pay the boot bill, amongst others and this work began to diminish ‘the parishioners hated the new fangled machines for doing the work instead!’ Michaelmas money was spent at Salisbury in the early 20th century, predominantly for clothes for the head of the household and after this for the rest of the family.
Many women worked in the hay and harvest fields in the summer in the nineteenth and into the early 20th century. They picked stones, pulled docks and thistles and pulled straw ellums for thatching. They could earn up to a shilling a day.
There was a blacksmith’s by the large chestnut tree in Figheldean in the late 19th century. From the early 20th century, if not before, boys could get a hoop made if they gave the blacksmith sixpence. They would also get a crook made to their specific size. By the early twentieth century there was only one shop in the village which sold groceries, sweets and paraffin oil. There was also a lady who sold sweets from her living room, and a post office. The blacksmith also ran a carrier business between Figheldean and Salisbury. He hired out a wagonette, brougham and landau too. There were three butchers’ carts, from Porton, Upavon and Haxton. A credit draper from Marlborough took orders and collected the money weekly. Drapery and boots could also be bought in Netheravon. Residents relied on carriers to go to Salisbury on their behalf. The carrier would be given a list and the money which he gave to the shops. They brought the goods to his van which he then delivered. The village barber used a back room at the inn except for the boys who were done in a cottage garden
Most cottagers had a pigsty at the bottom of the garden in the early 20th century. They also had an allotment for potatoes and green vegetables and kept poultry. Allotments usually covered 20 lugs. Porridge from coarse oatmeal was for breakfast, although children often had a bowl of bread and skimmed milk instead. Children also had ‘butter broth’; bread broken into a bowl with a small lump of butter, hot water, salt and pepper. A farm worker’s dinner in the field consisted of ‘bread and cheese or boiled bacon, washed down by cold tea or sometimes ale’.
By the late 19th/early 20th century a horse drawn mail van carried mail between Salisbury and Netheravon, and a postman also conducted his rounds from Netheravon to Amesbury. He blew his whistle and customers came to the roadside to collect their letters. It had been noted by Fowler that the first car seen ‘stopped in a cloud of steam by the school to be replenished from Mrs Drewitt’s pump’. Not long after this the first bus replaced the horse drawn van. It seated c.16 people and travelled the legal limit of 12 miles per hour. Later an old London omnibus was acquired for carrier runs to Salisbury on Tuesday and Saturday and Devizes on Thursday. Unfortunately it caught fire on Whitesheet Hill and burnt out not long after! The garage it was stored in was converted to a bungalow. A Model T Ford was used as a taxi.
In the 19th and into the early 20th centuries boys searched for sparrows with a lantern after dark. The sparrows were pests which damaged thatched roofs. Gypsies camped on the Plain in summer in the 19th century and used a horse drawn van or tents.
There was a meat processing factory and travel company operating in Figheldean in the late 20th century and possibly beyond.
The Avon Valley Lodge of the Order of Foresters met at the Wheatsheaf in 1866-1904. Meetings were held at the time of the beginning of the Parish Councils with Sir Michael Hicks-Beach explaining the new act. The first Temperance meeting was held in 1881.A parish library was set up by the curate Henry Carswell, who had 70-80 subscribers in 1864. He thought that to counter the attraction of the Primitive Methodists he needed to make services more interesting for the poorer inhabitants. This may be the reading room of the early 20th century which was situated by the blacksmith’s and had two rooms. One was a quiet room and the other had a bagatelle table (not often used). At the beginning of the 20th century the Figheldean brass band practised in the band room which was in a loft over the stables at the Wheatsheaf Inn. In the early 20th century there was an annual flower show.
In the 1920s an ex army hut was erected to provide a working men’s club. It was replaced by a more permanent building approximately 40 years later. Sportsmen went shooting on the downs c.1924. In 1936 it was realised that there was need for a village hall. Public subscriptions and grant funding were used and the site was provided by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. A tennis club has been run in Figheldean since at least the beginning of the 20th century. The football club relied on a farmer’s grazing programme! Again public donations were used to get a grant and the pavilion, a tennis court and children’s playground were also built. Money was raised for a bus shelter at the main road bus stop to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Paupers could be accommodated in a parish house c.1769. The amount raised for the poor in the parish was £91 in 1775/6. During 1802/3, almost one quarter of the inhabitants was given relief. By 1812/13, this was true of approximately one sixth of the inhabitants. From 1816 to 1834 the amounts spent were amongst the highest in the Amesbury hundred. The parish became part of the Amesbury Poor Law Union in 1835.
In 1898 Alfred Rawins gave income from £100 to spend on blankets, coal or meat for the poor. During 1904-6, meat was bought for c.24 people, and for 33 in 1912. Meat was bought during the years 1920-31 and fuel during 1938-43. During 1944 money doles were given out. From the late 1940s to mid 1950s only eight people were given payments. Nothing was given after 1982.
(Note: all the following links go to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and associated websites)
St. Michael’s Church of England Primary (Note: now closed and relocated to Larkhill)
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Historical Sources / Printed Material
This is a select book-list for the community but in the case of a town there may be hundreds more books, pamphlets and journal articles.
Churches of South-East Wiltshire, pgs 14, 73
DOE Lists of Buildings of Special Architectural of Historic Interest, Vol S1, Section 2, pgs. 95-112
Figheldean and its chapel
Henry Caswall: Anti-Mormon Extraordinaire
Highways & Byways in Wiltshire, p.148
List of Defects and Dilapidations in the Elementary Schools
Plain Soldiering: A History of the Armed Forces on Salisbury Plain, pgs. 15,17,26
Recollections of Village Life on Salisbury Plain
Some Notes on Figheldean and its Church
The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, p.244-5
The King’s England: Wiltshire. p.86
The Place-Names of Wiltshire, pgs. 365-6
The Valley of the Fowler: A Brief History and Guide to the Village and Parish of Figheldean
The Victoria County History of the Counties of England: A History of Wiltshire, Vol XV, pgs. 105-119
The Victoria History of Wiltshire is a partnership between local authorities and the Institute of Historical Research at London University. The History of Wiltshire is now the largest county history in the country and is still growing. The volumes are divided between general and topographical with Volumes One to Five covering subjects such as prehistory, ecclesiastical, economic and political history. The Volumes from Six onwards are topographical and will ultimately provide a comprehensive and systematic history of every single town and parish in the county.
These newspapers covered this community at different times. Newspaper titles in bold text are the ones you should check first for information about this community.
|Salisbury Times||1898 to 2000|
|Salisbury & Wiltshire Herald||1833 to 1852|
|Sherborne Mercury||1737 to 1867|
Listed below are maps on which you can find this community. All maps are Ordnance Survey maps.
|Map Type||Map Sheet Reference|
|O.S. National Grid Reference||SU 153471 (links to Streetmap.co.uk)|
|O.S. 25 inch County Series 1870s-1940||54/4|
|O.S. 6 inch County Series 1870s-1940||54|
|O.S. 1:2500 metric edition; 1950s onward||SU 1446-1546; 1447-1547|
|O.S. 1:10000 metric edition; 1950s onward||SU 14 NW; SU 14 NE|
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History of Buildings
The collections of the Wiltshire Buildings Record are housed in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.
The number of buildings, or groups of buildings, listed as being of architectural of historic importance is 31.
There are no Grade I buildings; and one Grade II*, the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.
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