History – Medieval

1066 to 1485

The Wiltshire Archaeological Society’s “The Rolls of Highworth Hundred 1275-1287” &; “Accounts And Surveys of the Wiltshire Lands of Adam de Stratton” and the Wiltshire Record Society’s “Court Rolls of The Wiltshire Manors of Adam de Stratton” (collectively referred to as “The Highworth Hundred Books”) provide an insight into medieval Merston.
Merston was part of the ancient Saxon administrative area of Wrth (Highworth &; around) which was governed by the manor of Sevenhampton which eventually passed to Adam de Stratton. The earthworks by Sevenhampton Church are a Scheduled Monument &; may be the remains of the medieval village & manor.
1066 to 1130: a discussion of the 1086 Domesday Survey is contained in the preceding section “Dark Ages”. The population of Norman England was about 2 million &; increased rapidly during the prosperous 13th Century to about 5 million.
The area now known as “Priors Farley” to the east of Rowborough Farm and Priory Farm to the south-west of the village might be evidence of Priory land but it is likely that the Priory owned land throughout the village as it was stated in 1300 to own “the manor of Marston”, quite probably the legal “ownership” of the village rather than a manor house.  Indeed there may well have been no Priory and no monks in the village at all, with the Priory’s interests being looked after by a bailiff, probably based at a farm near the church
The Highworth Hundred Books state that both South Marston &; the Priory of Farley had tithingman (lay policeman), suggesting separate communities; one, the common villagers (who nevertheless probably lived on Priory land &; owed services) and the other, the Priory servants, who lived at the Priory farm and were full-time employees.
The Highworth Hundred Books reveal a community at South Marston in 1280 of Eborard the chaplain, Willelmus the blacksmith, Walterum the miller, who worked the windmill which ground the corn, Thomas Poynant, Robertus Godchep, Willelmus Sculhard, Ricardum de Wyk (all tithingmen who served a one year term) & Willelmus Crome, Ricardum de marisco, Robertus Blech, Willelmus Wisside, Thomas Ward, Willelmus Ward, Agnes Warde, Agnes le Abbod, Matild Simond, the various farmers, shepherds & widows of the village.  Berton (presumably Burton Grove Farm) also existed as part of South Marston &; there was a significant de Berton family &; Robertus de Abendon, a landowner, who lived at Berton.  These were some of the people mentioned, others were not &; the community may have numbered between fifty &; two hundred.
A few villagers would have been freemen (freeholders, later called Yeomen, of land owned by the King, administered by the lord of the manor of Sevenhampton) or villeins (tenants, later called husbandsmen, of the local manor, owned by the Monks of Farley) or mere cottars who rented only hovels, or cottages, but held no land and peasant servants. The villagers worked their gardens &; allotments (tofts &; crofts) &; grew their crops on allocated strips of land spread throughout the open fields of the village, but in return they had to pay rent or taxes, attend the meetings of the local courts, help farm their landlord’s land (the Royal or manorial “demesne”) &; volunteer or pay for military service.
The Hungerford Cartulary refers to deeds which state that the village had two fields, the West &; the East, probably located either side of the brook from Hunts Copse to Rowborough Farm.  They would have been huge expanses of open arable land.  The land immediately adjoining the brook and much of the land to the south of the present A420 road would have been too wet for crops and instead would have been used as meadow (for producing winter hay for livestock) and pasture (grazing for livestock).  The rivulets and watery channels of the old marsh, primarily from the church down to the River Cole, can be seen in Aerial Photographs held by the National Monuments Record in Swindon.
It may well be the case that Medieval South Marston was a dispersed community due to the nature of the landscape, with the main village by the church, arable farming centres on higher ground at Burton Grove and Priors Farley and a wick (dairy farm) in the marsh, possibly at South Marston Farm where earthworks exist today.
The 1840 Tithe Award Map shows evidence of the Medieval East Field at Priors Farley: “The Old Feeding Ground”, “Long Great Feeding Ground”, “Upper Corn Ground”, “Corn Ground” and “Attertons Field”, the later shown in its strip form.  The stones which marked the strips in Attertons Field are shown on the plan to the 1918 Estate Auction.  Many field names can be traced back in deeds to medieval times.
The 1332 Wiltshire Tax List for “Southmershtone” reveals 24 taxpayers: Nicholas Poynant, Robert de Abyndone, Eleanor de Marisco, John Poynaunt, John atte Wyke, Robert atte Wyke, John Scolarde, Thomas Wythside, Thomas le Haywarde, William Felawe, the shepherd, Adam le Revehyne, Thomas Symmes, John le Riche, Thomas atte Stone, William le Clerke, Walter James, Thomas Richarde, Christine Beccle, Philip Warde, Walter Robat, Thomas Godshop, Maud atte Wydie &; William atte Leghe. There are some familiar names from 50 years earlier &; there is evidence of names changing from their earlier Norman origin/Latin spelling. There would have been children &; other, poorer villagers who were not subject to tax, suggesting again a community of fifty to two hundred, but how many were to die in the Black Death of 1349?
The Poll Tax of 1377 gives a village population of 93, indicating a tax of all inhabitants &; few or a hundred deaths from the plague. The Poll Tax of 1379 lists 15 names, presumably a tax of the wealthier only.  Three fields to the east of the church are called “dead pitts”; were they a Black Death burial ground?
The Hungerford Cartulary compiled by the Earl of Radnor in the 19th Century lists title deeds of lands acquired by the wealthy Hungerford family, principally in South Marston by Walter Hungerford in the 1440’s, including those which had been owned by Walter Hyldyet, Robert Hyldyet, Robert de Berton, John de Bertone, Richard de Abyndone, John de Borghton, Andrew le Heywarde, William le Cartere, William Hobbes, Robert Hobbes, John Marlebergh, John Longe, William Warde, John James, Richard Tybole, William Felawe, Andrew Pavy (alias Andrew Chipman), Robert Russell, Elizabeth Seyntomer &; Robert &; Joan More.  Elizabeth Seyntomer had held the manor of Bourton (presumably Bourton, not Burton Grove) from the Duke of York in 1405.
The Hungerford family’s principal residence was at Farleigh Hungerford &; there were obvious connections with the Priory of Monkton Farleigh, for whom it acted as administrator.  The Hungerford family may well have acquired the manor of South Marston from the Priory in the 15th Century and could have been the first dominant private landowner in the village.  From 1349 to 1430 subsequent reccurances of the plague continued to reduced the population; there were insufficient labourers to work the huge, open arable fields and new landowners turned to livestock farming, principally sheep, which required less labour, especially if fields became enclosed with fences, ditches and hedges.  The enclosure movement spelt the end of the medieval feudal system.1066 to 1485

The Monks of Farleigh & the Highworth Hundred Books.

The Wiltshire Archaeological Society’s “The Rolls of Highworth Hundred 1275-1287” & “Accounts And Surveys of the Wiltshire Lands of Adam de Stratton” and the Wiltshire Record Society’s “Court Rolls of The Wiltshire Manors of Adam de Stratton” (collectively referred to as “The Highworth Hundred Books”) provide an insight into medieval Merston.

Merston was part of the ancient Saxon administrative area of Wrth (Highworth & around) which was governed by the manor of Sevenhampton which eventually passed to Adam de Stratton. The earthworks by Sevenhampton Church are a Scheduled Monument & may be the remains of the medieval village & manor.

1066 to 1130: a discussion of the 1086 Domesday Survey is contained in the preceding section “Dark Ages“. The population of Norman England was about 2 million & increased rapidly during the prosperous 13th Century to about 5 million.

The area now known as “Priors Farley” to the east of Rowborough Farm and Priory Farm to the south-west of the village might be evidence of Priory land but it is likely that the Priory owned land throughout the village as it was stated in 1300 to own “the manor of Marston”, quite probably the legal “ownership” of the village rather than a manor house.  Indeed there may well have been no Priory and no monks in the village at all, with the Priory’s interests being looked after by a bailiff, probably based at a farm near the church

The Highworth Hundred Books state that both South Marston & the Priory of Farley had tithingman (lay policeman), suggesting separate communities; one, the common villagers (who nevertheless probably lived on Priory land & owed services) and the other, the Priory servants, who lived at the Priory farm and were full-time employees.

The Highworth Hundred Books reveal a community at South Marston in 1280 of Eborard the chaplain, Willelmus the blacksmith, Walterum the miller, who worked the windmill which ground the corn, Thomas Poynant, Robertus Godchep, Willelmus Sculhard, Ricardum de Wyk (all tithingmen who served a one year term) & Willelmus Crome, Ricardum de marisco, Robertus Blech, Willelmus Wisside, Thomas Ward, Willelmus Ward, Agnes Warde, Agnes le Abbod, Matild Simond, the various farmers, shepherds & widows of the village.  Berton (presumably Burton Grove Farm) also existed as part of South Marston & there was a significant de Berton family & Robertus de Abendon, a landowner, who lived at Berton.  These were some of the people mentioned, others were not & the community may have numbered between fifty & two hundred.

A few villagers would have been freemen (freeholders, later called Yeomen, of land owned by the King, administered by the lord of the manor of Sevenhampton) or villeins (tenants, later called husbandsmen, of the local manor, owned by the Monks of Farley) or mere cottars who rented only hovels, or cottages, but held no land and peasant servants. The villagers worked their gardens & allotments (tofts & crofts) & grew their crops on allocated strips of land spread throughout the open fields of the village, but in return they had to pay rent or taxes, attend the meetings of the local courts, help farm their landlord’s land (the Royal or manorial “demesne”) & volunteer or pay for military service.

The Hungerford Cartulary refers to deeds which state that the village had two fields, the West & the East, probably located either side of the brook from Hunts Copse to Rowborough Farm.  They would have been huge expanses of open arable land.  The land immediately adjoining the brook and much of the land to the south of the present A420 road would have been too wet for crops and instead would have been used as meadow (for producing winter hay for livestock) and pasture (grazing for livestock).  The rivulets and watery channels of the old marsh, primarily from the church down to the River Cole, can be seen in Aerial Photographs held by the National Monuments Record in Swindon.

It may well be the case that Medieval South Marston was a dispersed community due to the nature of the landscape, with the main village by the church, arable farming centres on higher ground at Burton Grove and Priors Farley and a wick (dairy farm) in the marsh, possibly at South Marston Farm where earthworks exist today.

The 1840 Tithe Award Map shows evidence of the Medieval East Field at Priors Farley: “The Old Feeding Ground”, “Long Great Feeding Ground”, “Upper Corn Ground”, “Corn Ground” and “Attertons Field”, the later shown in its strip form.  The stones which marked the strips in Attertons Field are shown on the plan to the 1918 Estate Auction. Many field names can be traced back in deeds to medieval times.

The 1332 Wiltshire Tax List for “Southmershtone” reveals 24 taxpayers: Nicholas Poynant, Robert de Abyndone, Eleanor de Marisco, John Poynaunt, John atte Wyke, Robert atte Wyke, John Scolarde, Thomas Wythside, Thomas le Haywarde, William Felawe, the shepherd, Adam le Revehyne, Thomas Symmes, John le Riche, Thomas atte Stone, William le Clerke, Walter James, Thomas Richarde, Christine Beccle, Philip Warde, Walter Robat, Thomas Godshop, Maud atte Wydie & William atte Leghe. There are some familiar names from 50 years earlier & there is evidence of names changing from their earlier Norman origin/Latin spelling. There would have been children & other, poorer villagers who were not subject to tax, suggesting again a community of fifty to two hundred, but how many were to die in the Black Death of 1349?

The Poll Tax of 1377 gives a village population of 93, indicating a tax of all inhabitants & few or a hundred deaths from the plague. The Poll Tax of 1379 lists 15 names, presumably a tax of the wealthier only.  Three fields to the east of the church are called “dead pitts”; were they a Black Death burial ground?

The Hungerford Cartulary compiled by the Earl of Radnor in the 19th Century lists title deeds of lands acquired by the wealthy Hungerford family, principally in South Marston by Walter Hungerford in the 1440’s, including those which had been owned by Walter Hyldyet, Robert Hyldyet, Robert de Berton, John de Bertone, Richard de Abyndone, John de Borghton, Andrew le Heywarde, William le Cartere, William Hobbes, Robert Hobbes, John Marlebergh, John Longe, William Warde, John James, Richard Tybole, William Felawe, Andrew Pavy (alias Andrew Chipman), Robert Russell, Elizabeth Seyntomer & Robert & Joan More.  Elizabeth Seyntomer had held the manor of Bourton (presumably Bourton, not Burton Grove) from the Duke of York in 1405.

The Hungerford family’s principal residence was at Farleigh Hungerford &; there were obvious connections with the Priory of Monkton Farleigh, for whom it acted as administrator.  The Hungerford family may well have acquired the manor of South Marston from the Priory in the 15th Century and could have been the first dominant private landowner in the village.  From 1349 to 1430 subsequent reccurances of the plague continued to reduced the population; there were insufficient labourers to work the huge, open arable fields and new landowners turned to livestock farming, principally sheep, which required less labour, especially if fields became enclosed with fences, ditches and hedges.  The enclosure movement spelt the end of the medieval feudal system.

History – Dark Ages

DARK AGES
AD 410 to 1066
Domesday &; Royal Land
The Roman Empire in Europe came under attack &; the Romans left Britain in the Fifth Century. The Britons who remained were over time raided by Saxons from Germany who settled in this area and they were raided by Vikings from Scandinavia. The Saxon King Alfred reigned in Wessex in the Ninth Century but the Vikings returned &; ruled from time to time until in 1066 the Saxon King Harold faced an invasion from William, the King of Normandy in France.

AD 410 to 1066

Domesday & Royal Land

The Roman Empire in Europe came under attack &; the Romans left Britain in the Fifth Century. The Britons who remained were over time raided by Saxons from Germany who settled in this area and they were raided by Vikings from Scandinavia. The Saxon King Alfred reigned in Wessex in the Ninth Century but the Vikings returned & ruled from time to time until in 1066 the Saxon King Harold faced an invasion from William, the King of Normandy in France.

History – Roman

Pottery fragments found in and around South Marston
Pottery fragments found in and around South Marston

ROMAN

AD 43 to AD 410
Durocornovium
The Roman town of Durocornovium was located at Covingham, less than a mile from South Marston, on the junction of two Roman roads, the Ermin Way &; the road south to Mildenhall (Cunetio).  The Ermin Way connected London via Silchester to Cirencester (Corinium), the second largest Roman town after London.  Durocornovium was founded in the First Century as a military camp but it became a merchant town covering more than sixty acres &; having a population of several thousand at its peak in 350AD.  Excavations were made in the 1970’s and the site of the Mansio (an inn) is a Scheduled Monument.  See The Romano–British Small Town at Wanborough by A S Anderson et al.
It is likely that Durocornovium was supplied with agricultural produce by farms &; villas in the surrounding countryside .
The Dobunni tribe accepted Roman occupation &; embraced a Romano-British culture.
From the 1st to 4th Century AD, South Marston is likely to have been a large Romano-British farming settlement.
The following is a brief list of where Roman features and finds have been found in the parish, with links to more detailed information.
Roman pottery and coins have been found throughout South Marston.
West of the village centre http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/search/fr.cfm?rcn=EHNMR-1261774&;CFID=27621&;CFTOKEN=48210211
Alfred Williams in “A Wiltshire Village” mentions the existence until about 1840 of a Roman camp at Rowborough farm with stone walls four feet high enclosing an area of an acre on a mound; did a straight Roman road lead from the Ermin Way to Rowborough?  Maps show a spur off the Ermin Way which lines up with Rowborough Lane &; a track through South Marston Farm &; an archaeological feature (200m track) recorded by the County Archaeologist in the field adjoining Marston Farm.  Was it a causeway over the marsh?
To the South of the village centre, numerous Roman artefacts have been found.

AD 43 to AD 410

Durocornovium

The Roman town of Durocornovium was located at Covingham, less than a mile from South Marston, on the junction of two Roman roads, the Ermin Way & the road south to Mildenhall (Cunetio).  The Ermin Way connected London via Silchester to Cirencester (Corinium), the second largest Roman town after London.  Durocornovium was founded in the First Century as a military camp but it became a merchant town covering more than sixty acres & having a population of several thousand at its peak in 350AD.  Excavations were made in the 1970’s and the site of the Mansio (an inn) is a Scheduled Monument.  See The Romano–British Small Town at Wanborough by A S Anderson et al.

It is likely that Durocornovium was supplied with agricultural produce by farms & villas in the surrounding countryside.

The Dobunni tribe accepted Roman occupation & embraced a Romano-British culture.

From the 1st to 4th Century AD, South Marston is likely to have been a large Romano-British farming settlement.

The following is a brief list of where Roman features and finds have been found in the parish, with links to more detailed information.

Roman pottery and coins have been found throughout South Marston:

Alfred Williams in “A Wiltshire Village” mentions the existence until about 1840 of a Roman camp at Rowborough farm with stone walls four feet high enclosing an area of an acre on a mound; did a straight Roman road lead from the Ermin Way to Rowborough?  Maps show a spur off the Ermin Way which lines up with Rowborough Lane & a track through South Marston Farm & an archaeological feature (200m track) recorded by the County Archaeologist in the field adjoining Marston Farm.  Was it a causeway over the marsh?

To the South of the village centre, numerous Roman artefacts have been found.

Pottery fragments found in and around South Marston
Pottery fragments found in and around South Marston
These have been recovered from an area of approximately 10 acres. There is a great deal of common and day-to-day pottery, typical of low-status sites. Starting from the bottom of the picture, we see light coloured, rough pottery; next is typical greyware; then there is a good selection of black burnished ware. The remainder contains a small quantity of English-made Samian ware, a very small quantity of decorated pieces, metal pins, and one piece of Roman glass.
Further south of the village centre, more Roman finds were unearthed when the police station was built. These included North Wiltshire greywares, black sandy wares, Savernake ware, sandy orange and buff wares.
The Government’s website on flooding shows how the village would look if there was flooding in the area. The water level would have been something like this in Roman times, when the village centre was probably very marshy, if not often under water. All of the sites listed above skirt this area.
We are aware of these sites because of recent developments and archaeological investigation. It has been noticed that these are probably the only places that have been investigated. If this is the case, it’s also possible that these sites covered much wider areas. The items recovered over 10 acres that are a short distance from the police station finds, suggest this might be the case.
It is likely that the proximity of Ermin Street and Wanborough made South Marston an ideal farming area. The excellent soil and plentiful supply of water would have contributed to a good yield that could easily be transported for distribution elsewhere. (Ermin Street was the route to Cirencester – the second largest Roman town after London).
All of this leads us to the conclusion that during Roman rule in Britain, South Marston was a large, bustling, farming community.
There is much more work to be done yet. If anyone can help, it would be much appreciated.
We have yet to answer many questions: there are a number of hedgerow tracks in the village. How old are they?  They are quite straight but does that mean they are Roman?  Did the Romans make pottery in the village?  There is a lot of clay in the village, and Roman kilns are known in West Swindon.If this was a large community, where did they worship?  Where did they bury their dead?
Within the parish, we also have a possible Roman fort and a possible Roman villa that are yet to be investigated.  Who dug the quarry to the north of the village and why?  A lot of iron stone has been found nearby – was this what was being dug out?

History – Iron Age

700 BC to 43 AD

Currently, there is little evidence of Iron Age activity within the parish. This is probably due to a typical lack of evidence for Iron Age sites, the small time frame (less than 750 years) and because no one has yet looked for this specific period.

WJ Arkell in “A Regional Essay” suggests that the name Burton Grove Farm means fortified farm and that the site is likely to have a prehistoric origin. There is a spring there, and they are usually of special significance to ancient peoples.

Given the great deal of Iron Age activity surrounding South Marston, (for instance, the Ridgeway has numerous Iron Age forts along it) it is likely that Iron Age farms would have been present, at least on the higher ground away from the current village centre.

There is some evidence for this.

To the west of the village centre, Middle Iron Age features have been found. More detail can be found here

Whilst close to there, to the north west of the village centre, there is evidence of activity dated to the Late Iron Age/early Roman period. More detail can be found here.

Finally, iron stone has been fo und to the north of the village centre, and in a few other areas. A quarry exists to the north of the village that may have been used for the extraction of iron stone. As yet, we do not know when the quarry was in use, or what was taken from it.

Iron StoneThe photo’ shows a variety of samples of iron stone found near the quarry.

As a guide to scale, the squarish piece (left most in the middle row) is approximately 5cm x 5cm and weighs 120g. The total weight of these pieces is 1170g. These samples are all poor quality, containing very little iron, but they may have been discarded for this reason.

History – Bronze Age

2,300 BC to 700 BC

Hunter-gatherers smelted bronze for tools &; formed farming settlements.

Archaeological Data Service shows finds around South Marston as people settled in the fertile River valleys below the Ridgeway.

There is a possible Bronze Age round barrow (or possibly a Medieval motte) in the north of the parish: Source

There is another possible Bronze Age round barrow to the south of the parish: Source

Items Found:

Bronze Age scraper This Bronze Age Scraper was found in 2007 in a field to the north of the village centre.

It measures 5cm x 3cm.

History – Prehistoric and Stone Age

During the Jurassic period (about 200 million years ago to 140 million years ago), South Marston was beneath a warm shallow sea. During this time the Corallian Beds were deposited. Unsurprisingly this means that there are vast deposits of fossil coral beneath the village. However, most of it is covered by Kimmeridge clay. This was deposited towards the end of the Jurassic when the sea became deeper.
The pictures below show typical Corallian fossils found in the area:
Two views of an ammonite fragment.
Two small ammonites, some belemnite fragments and some bivalves.
A large coral and a close-up to show the detail.
A selection of coral pieces.
The bivalves are similar to Palaeonucula calliope. Others fossils have been found including a spiral shell similar to Anchura pennata. Iron stone is also evident in places.
Next time you’re digging in the garden take care, the remains of aquatic dinosaurs have been found in the Kimmeridge clay of Swindon.

During the Jurassic period (about 200 million years ago to 140 million years ago), South Marston was beneath a warm shallow sea. During this time the Corallian Beds were deposited. Unsurprisingly this means that there are vast deposits of fossil coral beneath the village. However, most of it is covered by Kimmeridge clay. This was deposited towards the end of the Jurassic when the sea became deeper.

The pictures below show typical Corallian fossils found in the area:

  • Two views of an ammonite fragment.
  • Two small ammonites, some belemnite fragments and some bivalves.
  • A large coral and a close-up to show the detail.
  • A selection of coral pieces.

The bivalves are similar to Palaeonucula calliope. Others fossils have been found including a spiral shell similar to Anchura pennata. Iron stone is also evident in places.

Next time you’re digging in the garden take care, the remains of aquatic dinosaurs have been found in the Kimmeridge clay of Swindon.

Sources and links

There are many good Internet sources to be found, including:

The Jurassic geology of Great Britain:http://www.soton.ac.uk/~imw/Geology-Britain.htm

Search for “Midvale Ridge”: http://www.swindon.gov.uk/landscape_spg__may_05_.pdf

Useful geology maps: http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/east_wiltshire_landscape_character_assessment_part_1_maps_-_fig.2_geology.pdf

The British Geological Survey at: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/education/timeline/entertimeline.html

Search for “South Marston”: http://www.redorbit.com/




Stone Age

500,000 BC to 2,300 BC

The Ridgeway, three miles to the south of South Marston, was a major route for nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers who used stone & bone for tools & weapons.