Parish of Bremhill
The parish of Bremhill contains a collection of smaller parishes in valleys with Bremhill prominent on a hill. The smaller hamlets are Tytherton Lucas, East Tytherton,Avon, Foxham, Charlcutt, Spirthill, Stanley and Bremhill Wick. It is in the Diocese of Salisbury, Archdeaconry of Wiltshire and the rural deanery of Avebury. The village lies two miles north west from Calne and four miles from Chippenham.
Bremhill is located on Wick Hill, a corallian escarpment which falls sharply to the valley of the river Avon. The geology is from the upper oolite, providing loam, brash and clay soil. The Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal ran through the centre of the parish from the north east to the south west, parts of which are currently being reclaimed and renovated. eg Foxham Locks.
The name Bremhill seems to have its’ origins in the name ‘bremel’, meaning a collection of brambles, although it has previously been called Breomel (937), Bremleshill (1226), Bremhill, (1468), Bremyll (1540). ‘Hill’ is not original and is thought to have developed due to the village being situated on a hill.
Athelstan gave Bremhill to Malmesbury Abbey in 935. The Domesday Book included the manor of ‘Breme’ and at the time of Edward the Confessor assessed the parish at 38 hides. It was one of the donations of King Edgar. The chief crops grown in the 1870s were wheat, barley and beans. The area covered 5,920 acres and the population in 1871 was 1,286.
In the 1650s a beautifully wooded park-like knoll stood opposite the parsonage windows called Pinnel’s Knoll. It is in the possession of the Marquis of Lansdowne, forming part of the Bowood Estate. Pinnel was the name of one of the church wardens, Jeffrey Pinnel, in the 1590s when records began. There are also parcels of land called Jenkins’, from churchwarden Robert Jenkins in the 1590s.
Most of the houses in the parish are two storey rubble or brick buildings with thatched or tile roofs. Bremhill is no exception. A late medieval barn is present, of ironstone rubble with a steep roof. There is a 17th century farmhouse, rubble stone with a slate roof. North east of the Church and by the intersection of two roads stood the Glebe Farmhouse, of 17th/18th century. Opposite stood a small Victorian school, built 1846, rubble with a stone slate roof. The schoolroom has a coped west gable with bell cote. In the open space between the church and Glebe House stands a medieval ‘Wayside Cross’ and adjacent grew a large tree. There is also a well house in the village of a fish scale design and a tile pyramid roof. To the north of this are rubble thatched cottages. East of the church are Victorian buildings with high pitched roofs, weather boarding and dormers. The 19th century Bowood Estate cottages are rubble with brick dressings and tile roofs.
Bremhill Court was the former Vicarage and home of William Bowles, the poet and ‘eccentric’. The house has a 15th century core but is 17th century with alterations made by Bowles in the 1820s. It is gabled with mullioned windows on the façade and a gothic trim. There is also a parapet, turrets and pinnacles. The gardens were based on Shenstone Leasowes 60 year old design. Thomas Moore said Bowles had ‘frittered away its beauty by grottos, hermitages and Shenstonian inscriptions’. Sheep wandered in front of the terrace wearing bells tuned into fourths and fifths.
St. Martin’s Church is an Anglican Church built c.1200. It was restored in 1850. The north west of the village contains more modern development.
Dumb Post is a small hamlet containing an 18th century inn of rubble stone with a tile roof. It has 15th century origins and was altered in the 19th century. It got its name because there was originally just a post for a sign to the hamlet with no name on it. It is said that the post was used to pin messages and mail for passing coaches and horsemen on their journeys to and from Malmesbury to Marlborough via Clacks Way There are also other rubble stone buildings with timber framing and red brick thatched roofs present in the hamlet.
Charlcote, now called Charlcutt is one and a half miles North west of Bremhill . It had a Sunday and day school with 40 pupils in 1846.The Old Reading Room is now a private house with the proceeds of the sale forming a local charity 'The Charlcutt Reading Room and Library Fund'
Spirthill (also called Sperthill or Spurthill) with origins of Spirit Hill lies two miles North West of Bremhill. There is a 19th century farmhouse with an ashlar façade re-fronting an earlier building and a former Wesleyan Chapel, dated 1828, of red brick with a painted roof, now a private residence.
Two miles south west of Bremhill is Stanley Abbey, a Cistercian nunnery, founded 1154. It was the site of the earliest known fulling mill in 1189. There is also the preserved Hazeland Mill in the parish, situated between Bremhill and Stanley. The present mill dates from the early 18th century. The original was part of the estates of Malmesbury Abbey, recorded as a grist and tucking mill in 1534. The freehold was held by the Bayntun family of Spye Park from the 17th century and it was recorded as a cloth mill until c.1835 and as a grist mill until 1965.
Stanley has a 17th century (possibly medieval) farmhouse, made of rubble stone with a Bridgewater tile roof. It adjoins the site of the former Stanley Abbey. The abbey was given by Empress Matilda in 1151 to monks from Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. Originally at Loxwell, to the east of Chippenham, it moved to nearby Stanley in 1154. Its operation finally ceased as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. The last abbot was Thomas Calne (also called Morley), and the abbey was dissolved in February 1536. Nothing now remains in situ except a green site on private property, but access may be obtained to visit it from Old Abbey Farm.
At the dissolution the land passed into the possession of Sir Edward Baynton, who plundered the materials to build his manor house at Bromham.
At various times since, remains such as burial places and a blacksmith's forge, as well as coins and tiles, have been found. Harold Brakspear's 1905 excavation discovered the layout of the monastery, including the church, infirmary and a dovecote. Its original entrance now forms the gateway to Spye Park, Wiltshire and is known locally as Spye Arch.
Beside the remains of the Abbey the foundations of roman buildings have been discovered including a Villa which is thought to be the summer residence of an important Roman official with his principal residence in Bath There are other 17th and some 18th century thatched cottages of rubble stone and a farmhouse, extended in the 19th century with a slate roof. The mill house is of mid 19th century but does include earlier work. It is of rubble with a slate roof. The south front has a centre door at the first floor level and an arched headed opening to the right. Stanley Lane has a former turnpike house on the London Road c.1830-40. It was extended as a farmhouse in the mid to late 19th century. It is of red brick with ashlar dressings and a slate roof. The original cottage was single storey.
Bremhill Wick now only has a scattering of cottages and farms with a small modern development built by the Council. It is below Bremhill on the bottom side of Wick Hill.
There is a monument to Maud Heath (created in 1838 at the expense of the Marquess of Lansdowne and William Bowles) on Wick Hill, half a mile north west of the village. Maud Heath was a prosperous woman of Langley Burrell who was concerned about the conditions for local people bringing produce to sell at Chippenham market. In 1474 she made a deed of gift giving trustees land and property in Chippenham to make and maintain a causeway from Wick Hill to Chippenham Clift.. The bridge pillar at Kellaways just outside the Parish boundary is inscribed: ‘To the memory of the worthy MAUD HEATH, of Langley Burrell, widow, who in the year of grace, 1474, for the good of Travellers did in Charity bestow in land and haufes about Eight pound a year forever to be laid out on the Highway and Causeway leading from Wick Hill to Chippenham Clift. This Pillar was fet up by the Feoffees, 1698. Injure me not’.
Local societies of old
Apart from this well known gift for the good of the parish, 1692 is the first recorded entry for poor law, and was given to old men and poor widows. The amount for that year for 22 people was 21.7s.8d. per month. In 1827 the cost was over £2,000 per annum (Bowles, 1828, p.199). A Friendly Society was formed in 1770 with 75 members paying one shilling per week. If a member was sick or unable to work they would be given six shillings a week. The society lapsed over time but in 1979 the Friends of St. Martins were founded to promote ‘public interest in and enjoyment of the Church, its history, work and activities’. The Dumb Post Friendly Society was founded in 1770. Members met every six weeks. Each member spent some money and put the rest in a box. Fines also provided extra income. The fund gave sickness benefit for three months and a small amount for the rest of the illness. The money was also used for burials and money to be spent at the Dumb Post Inn on the day of the funeral, which members were required to attend. There was also the Festival Day on Whit Wednesday. After dinner members had to walk to the ‘Bell and Organ’ at Bremhill, walk around the cross twice and have a short pot of beer each time. Each member had to pay for it. There was no public house at the site in 1962. A field path was known as Parade Walk because of an old ceremonial walk between Bremhill and Dumb Post. Other societies included one called the ‘Tatter Arm’, at the ‘Pig and Whistle’ in Bremhill, an ale house lost in the mist of time.
Wits and Berks canal
The Wilts and Berks Canal ran through the centre of the parish from the north east to the south west. The canal was completed in 1810 at a cost of £250,000 and ran from Abingdon on the Thames to Semington on the Kennet and Avon. It ran through mainly agricultural land and was 52 miles long; its main use was for transporting coal. One of the reasons for opening the canal was to extend the area in which coal from the Somerset pits could be sold but unfortunately the Somerset coal pits could not provide enough coal for the demand. If the pits produced 2,020 tons a week, 1,389 went down the Somersetshire Coal Canal but only 500 tons reached the Wilts and Berks Canal. The canal was not a success and only paid dividends to its shareholders for about 10 years. De Salis managed to navigate the Wilts and Berks Canal in 1895 but nine years later he said that although the canal was not officially closed, the system had ‘practically ceased owing to the income being insufficient to meet the cost of maintenance’.
William Lisle Bowles
William Lisle Bowles, the poet, formerly held the vicarage of Bremhill, and died here in 1845. He wrote a history of the parish, which was published about 1828, and contains illustrations of several monuments of ancient times existing in the neighbourhood. The vicarage was then conferred by Bishop Denison on the late Archdeacon of Wilts, the Venerable Henry Drury, M.A., Chaplain to the House of Commons, who died in January, 1863. William Bowles was Vicar of the Parish from 1805-1844. He was a friend of Thomas Moore and a member of the Bowood Circle. He gave encouragement to other poets and Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey all had a high opinion of him. His sonnets were first published in 1888 and ran to nine editions. They influenced a whole school of poetry. Coleridge and Lamb were first attracted to poetry through them when aged about 17. He wrote sonnets and epitaphs, which can still be seen, for the graves in his churchyard whilst at Bremhill but a great deal of his own poetry was derided. He was in demand at Lord Lansdowne’s Bowood House parties; he could always say something ‘out of the ordinary’ and he introduced many writers to the Marquess of Lansdowne
- Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]
- Devizes Library
- The Earl of Lansdowne's private Library