This parish history by John Chandler is taken from his books ‘Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire’ (Hobnob Press, 2001, £20.00, ISBN 0 946418 07 1) and ‘Devizes and Central Wiltshire’ (Hobnob Press, 2003, £20.00, ISBN 0 946418 16 0). The books are the first two of a projected series of seven, under the series title ‘Wiltshire: a History of its Landscape and People’, which together will offer short histories of every parish in Wiltshire, including the areas now within Swindon Borough. The text included here is the author’s copyright and should not be further reproduced for publication without his consent. There may be minor textual variants between the text posted here and the published version.
Dr Chandler will be happy to supply hardback copies of either Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire, which includes histories of 34 parishes in eastern Wiltshire (from Tidworth in the south to Aldbourne in the north and Avebury in the west), with illustrations and maps, or Devizes and Central Wiltshire, which includes histories of 42 parishes in central Wiltshire, with illustrations and maps, for £20 each post free. He can be contacted: by email: John Chandler ; by phone: 01747-830015; or by post: c/o Hobnob Press, PO Box 1838, East Knoyle, Salisbury SP3 6FA.
Writing about Everleigh Manor in 1825, the antiquary John Britton observed nonchalantly, that, ‘the pleasure-grounds have since been much augmented, by judiciously altering the direction of a public road, and removing a part of the village’. This took place in about 1811, and in 1812 the rural dean noted that the rectory and the church were both in ruins (‘a miserable heap of rubbish’ was another verdict on the state of the church at the time). Like the village, the church was in the squire’s way; it occupied a mound at the head of the former village street, opposite and uncomfortably close to the manor house. And so a new church was built in 1813-14, on a virgin site further to the west, at the squire’s expense.
The squire in question, Francis Dugdale Astley, had been the sole landowner in Everleigh since he inherited the estate from his cousin in 1771. But the impetus to make sweeping changes came to him late in life, and probably derived from his second wife Anne, whom he married after he was widowed in 1804. Neither lived long to enjoy the seclusion which their alterations were designed to provide; she died in 1813 and he in 1818. But the effect of their endeavours on the landscape of Everleigh has been permanent. As his monument in the new church correctly predicts: ‘the name on this marble lives, and will long live, in the memorials of his actions’. Those actions involved the manor house, the estate, the road system, the village and the church, and so provide us with a useful agenda for describing most of what is important in the history of Everleigh.
The present manor house, hidden by trees and some distance from the main road (as Astley contrived), is a Georgian brick mansion of c.1770 with possibly some surviving sixteenth-century fabric. It was built by Sir John Astley, the first of the family to come to Everleigh, who had bought the Lower House (now Everleigh House) estate in 1736, and the manor in 1765. The earlier house which he incorporated into his mansion was reputedly built by Sir Ralph Sadleir, an Elizabethan courtier. Both the Sadleirs and the Astleys were attracted to Everleigh by its potential as a sporting estate, and after 1856, when the Astleys no longer resided in the manor house, it was let to a number of sporting tenants. A serious fire in 1881 gutted much of the interior, including sixteenth-century work, but the house was rebuilt.
Unlike many of its neighbours, the estate escaped the attentions of the army in 1898, and was not finally purchased for military training (in two lots) until 1937 and 1954. In 1939 the house was requisitioned. After use as a hospital it became in 1942 a centre for producing vaccine for troops, and in 1951 took the name ‘David Bruce Laboratories’, from a general who had died twenty years earlier, and who during his military career had pioneered the study of bacterial diseases in Malta, Egypt and South Africa. Another wartime imposition was a small airfield to the north of the house, and a large farm shed on the edge of Everleigh Ashes is probably its Super Robin hangar erected in 1943. The manor house was vacated by the army in c. 1990.
The attraction of Everleigh as a place of sport and recreation perhaps goes right back to its first documentary reference. In 704 the West Saxon king, Ine, dated a charter from ‘the place which is called Eburleagh’. The charter may not be genuine, and Everleigh may be misidentified, but at face value this evidence suggests that ‘the wood or clearing of the wild boar’, which is the meaning of the name, was of interest to royalty quite early in the Saxon period. Since Everleigh is not recorded in Domesday Book (it was presumably subsumed within the entries for Collingbourne Ducis or Kingston, which were both then royal possessions), it is unlikely that it was regarded as an estate with important agricultural potential; hunting, as the name implies, may have been its raison d’être. For the same reason it seems to have fallen outside the normal administrative arrangements of Saxon and medieval Wiltshire. It lay within neither of the adjacent hundreds, Kinwardstone or Elstub, and was regarded as a liberty, in which the landowner exercised the rights normally enjoyed by the hundred courts.
Medieval Everleigh, despite its downland position entirely on upper chalk, practised the normal sheep and corn husbandry, although it had little meadowland and – without a river – no watermill (a windmill, west of the village, was in use until the nineteenth century). Settlement was concentrated in three areas, now known (from west to east) as Lower (or West) Everleigh, East Everleigh, and Lower (or Everleigh) House Farm. Village earthworks suggest that the first and last have shrunk or moved; West Everleigh now consists of a boarded-up farmhouse and farm buildings, and a cul-de-sac of nineteenth-century and later cottages, bisected by the modern main road. The principal settlement, East Everleigh, was partially destroyed in the nineteenth century by an emparking squire, as we have noted.
Traces of iron age or Romano-British native settlements have been found in the parish, near Everleigh Barrows and elsewhere. South of East Everleigh, towards Sidbury, a rich prehistoric landscape has survived, including linear ditches and trackways, field systems and a henge monument. Apart from the Everleigh barrow group and Oldhat Barrow (where the Everleigh, Collingbourne Kingston and Milton Lilbourne boundaries meet) the north of the parish retains fewer ancient features. Perhaps the area was formerly heavily wooded (as indeed portions are again now), or more recent arable cultivation, which by the nineteenth century extended over at least half the parish, has destroyed archaeological evidence.
From the landowner’s point of view Everleigh’s agricultural possibilities seem always to have been subordinate to sporting interests. A deer park and a rabbit warren both existed in the thirteenth century, and later much of the downland south of the village became a hare warren. Hawking was the principal interest of the sixteenth-century landowner Sir Ralph Sadleir, who held the office of queen’s falconer; and John Aubrey in the seventeenth century comments not only on the hares and partridges, but also mentions horse-racing at Everleigh. Cricket played on Everleigh Green is mentioned in 1793.
Later writers are unanimous about the healthy position. In 1826 Colt Hoare, who had excavated a number of barrows in the parish, noted that Everleigh was remarkable for its salubrious air, and great extent of verdant down; and Cobbett, after spending an August evening in the same year admiring the view from his window in the Crown, concluded that: ‘this inn is one of the nicest, and, in summer, one of the pleasantest, in England’. He also described the hare-coursing ground as the finest in the world. At the end of the nineteenth century stables attached to the Crown achieved fame by training a Grand National winner, and in 1903 East Everleigh stables, which are still functioning, were built nearby.
The Crown Inn, for most people Everleigh’s best known feature, is a large eighteenth-century house once occupied by members of the Astley family, and connected to the manor house by a tunnel, part of which is now used as cellarage. The first reference to its innkeeping career comes in 1792 when, to win a bet, three men drank six gallons of beer and sixty herring there. The names of three other inns in Everleigh are known, including the Rose and Crown, which Parson Woodforde visited in 1774, but which was a casualty of Astley’s rearrangement.
Neither the Rose and Crown, nor its successor the Crown, were mere village alehouses. Their trade and reputation derived from their position at an important road junction. Everleigh lay on a formerly important north-south route, the Old Marlborough Road, which in 1675 was reckoned to link Salisbury with the Cotswolds, and which appears to overlie a Roman road, or Romanized prehistoric trackway. Milestones were placed along it in the 1740s, and in 1762 the portion north of Everleigh was turnpiked. In the same year a different trust turnpiked the east-west route, the present A342, from Upavon through Ludgershall to Weyhill. Four years later, in 1766, there is evidence that a Bristol stagecoach was plying this route, because the coroner was called to Everleigh to examine the body of a Gloucestershire man, who had died when he fell out of its boot. After 1831, when the present main road through the Collingbournes and Tidworth towards Salisbury was turnpiked, use of the Old Marlborough Road declined, so that by 1867 the rector of Fittleton could speak of only traces of it remaining through his parish. The principal users of much of it now are military vehicles.
The topography of the principal settlement in the parish, now known as East Everleigh, may best be explained in terms of the north-south and east-west routes, and their modifications. If projected northward the Old Marlborough Road would pass close to the manor house and adjacent site of the old church. Its present eastward deflection had occurred by 1675, and probably results from the creation of the medieval deer park. The old alignment continued up to the manor house as the village street until 1811, and a triangular green was formed by its junction with the present street. The modern A342 has since 1811 described a gentle curve across this area, but formerly it met the old village street at right angles near the manor house. A late-eighteenth-century map, perhaps drawn up in connection with the partial enclosure of the parish in 1779, depicts buildings and crofts along the old street, which were swept away in 1811 when all the land between the new road and the manor house was emparked. This drastic action was not followed by the erection of an estate village elsewhere. Instead piecemeal infilling and isolated new cottages must have accommodated the displaced inhabitants. In fact the population, 301 in 1811, seems to have fluctuated relatively little over the last three centuries, rarely dropping much below 250 or greatly exceeding 350.
The most important building affected by the obliteration of half the village was the church, and it is fortunate that an illustration exists of it before demolition. It was an undistinguished building, apart from an ornate parapet around the chancel roof, and had a very plain squat west tower. Its replacement, which was itself declared redundant in 1974, is interesting for two reasons, its position and its architecture. The site chosen lies halfway between East and West Everleigh, set back from the main road behind trees. A new rectory was built adjacent to the churchyard, and remained in use until sold in 1960. Later, in 1844, a village school was built halfway between East Everleigh and the church; it has now closed. The church is Gothick, rather than Gothic, in character, and is a good example of pre-Victorian ecclesiastical architecture. It retains its original gallery and pews, and facing the visitor on entering is a massive monument in slate and marble, resembling a huge chimney-piece or over-mantle, to its builder, Francis Dugdale Astley, who spent more than £14,000 on the project.
But Astley’s grandiloquent memorial impresses less than a small brass at eye level on the inside of the chancel arch. This was one of many relics brought from the old church, and commemorates an Everleigh rector’s wife, Susanna Tesdale, who died in 1650. The name Susanna, as the brass explains, means ‘lily’ or ‘rose’ in the original Hebrew, and her epitaph is poetry of an unusually high standard:
The lillie of valleys by his spirit
His pure spirit, made we a lillie whit:
The Rose of Sharon, by his bloods merit;
My soule advanced, to a roses hight.
Susanna a lillie and a rose though pale,
Here like a whit lillie shee fading lies:
By vertue of the roote of David shall,
With orient colours like a red rose ries.
NOTES (location: SU2053; area: 1,327ha; population (1991): 249)
General: VCH 11, 135-42; Hoare, R C H, Modern Wilts: Elstub and Everleigh, 1826, 3-12; Edwards, W A, Everleigh: some notes on its story, 1967
Village removal: Britton, J, Beauties of Wiltshire, 3, 1825, 349; WANHM 41, 133; Military activity: James, N D G, Plain soldiering, 1987, 88-9; Tunnel: Folklore 65, 165-8; Wilts Gazette & Herald, 24.11.1988