A Brief History of Chitterne - a Wiltshire Village

Chitterne is a remote village on Salisbury Plain, surrounded by military wilderness. It could have died like Imber, but has survived and thrives.

Chitterne has a fascinating history dating back before records began. There are many remains of early settlements and signs of ancient farming activity scattered around the outskirts of the village. In Saxon times before 1066 three settlements existed, owned by Azor, Chenvin and Wulfwen. After 1066, under Norman rule, these three settlements became the two manors of Chitterne All Saints and Chitterne St Mary.

In the village itself the earliest buildings date from the 14th century, while the many grand houses are the result of the wealth created by sheep farming from the 13th to the early 19th centuries.

Chitterne was part of the large tract of land the new Norman King William gave to his devoted supporter Edward of Salisbury, sheriff of Wiltshire who lived in the castle at Old Sarum. Edward’s descendants remained loyal supporters and served under successive monarchs. Edward’s grandson Patrick, was created Earl of Salisbury. In 1196 William, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, died leaving a single daughter, Countess Ela of Salisbury, who inherited, and it was during her time that Chitterne flourished.

After the death of her husband, William Longespee, Ela founded Lacock Abbey and her Chitterne lands were given to the abbey in 1248. These lands and sheep farms subsequently provided the greater part of Lacock’s income for the next 300 years. Relics that remain of the Lacock nuns’ tenure in Chitterne include the graveyard of All Saints parish church and the graveyard and chancel of Chitterne St Mary church.

When King Henry VIII dissolved the monastic institutions, the Lacock lands reverted to the crown and were redistributed. The Manor of Chitterne All Saints was acquired in 1545 by the Temys family, relatives of the last Abbess of Lacock. Around 1600 the Michell family of Cornwall leased land in Chitterne All Saints, which remained in the family for over 200 years. Chitterne House, the Gate House, Chitterne Lodge and the walls and piers around the Sports Field all date from their tenancy.

Chitterne St Mary was granted by King Edward VI to William Paulet, Lord St John in 1547. The Paulet family held Chitterne St Mary for over 200 years. Several houses in St Mary date from the time of the Paulets; including White Hart House, once known as the White Hart Inn, Glebe House, The King’s Head and The Manor.

The two adjacent Chitterne parishes continued under separate ownership until the Methuen family of Corsham acquired both parishes, St Mary in 1758, and All Saints in 1771. In All Saints the Methuen’s principal tenants continued to be the Michell, later Onslow, family, who eventually purchased All Saints Manor Farm from Methuen. Buildings dating from the Methuen’s time include Clump House, the Old Vicarage, The Grange, and Elm Farm.

In 1830 the Longs of Rood Ashton, near Trowbridge purchased the Methuen Chitterne estate, and were Lords of the Manor of both parishes until the end of the 1800s. The Longs principal tenants in St Mary parish were the Wallis family, who lived and farmed at the Manor from 1825 for about 180 years.

The Longs’ left their mark on the village by donating the land for the Chitterne School, since closed, and land for the new church of Chitterne All Saints and St Mary’s in the centre of the village, which replaced the two old medieval churches. The number of residents of both parishes peaked in 1851 at over 800, which meant the old churches could no longer accommodate all villagers. After the closure of the school in 1967 the building was converted into a village hall. This hall was replaced by a new hall on the same site in 1999.

During the Longs tenure the fortunes of the village and farming community gradually declined. Some poor years in farming led to the village population numbers dropping to less than 500. The two parishes became the one civil parish of Chitterne in 1907. World War 1 was the final straw, leading to the Long family selling up. The era of ‘Lords of the Manor’ and the ‘Chitterne estate’ ended and village properties were sold off individually.

Between the two World Wars the War Department (WD) expanded its portfolio of land for troop training on Salisbury Plain. When farms in the old All Saints parish came up for sale, the WD purchased them including the associated housing for farmworkers. As a result, the number of farms dwindled from eight in 1950 to the three of today, Chitterne Farm having absorbed all the MOD owned farms.

Despite having no school, shop or Post Office, 21st century Chitterne is a vibrant thriving community of some 300 residents, with a busy calendar of meetings and social events at the Village Hall, on the Sports Field and at the Church.

Chitterne Green c1900

Thank you Sue.

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