Sunday, 19 July 2009

Kingston Deverill / Defereal: Place in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series ****


The parish of Kingston Deverill, which since 1934 has included the village of Monkton Deverill, is part of the Deverill Valley. This encompasses six villages on the Wiltshire Downs where the western edge of Salisbury Plain dips into Somerset. Longbridge is the principal village & its parish includes neighbouring Crockerton. The other Deverills are Hill, now in Longbridge parish, & Brixton.
The name Deverill refers to the River Deverill which flows through the whole valley. It rises to the west of Kingston and flows north, passing through the six villages. At Crockerton it meets the Shearwater stream and becomes the River Wylye. The name Deverill literally means ‘diving rill’. There are points along its route where it peters out and flows underground, hence the disappearing rill or stream.
The name Kingston goes back to the Conquest, after which the land was owned by the Crown. It was probably given this name to distinguish it from the other Deverills, none of which, since the Conquest, have been royal property. Monkton means Monk’s Farm. At the time of Domesday it belonged to the church of St. Mary of Malmesbury.
The valley has been continuously inhabited by farming people since at least 3500BC, & there are numerous tumuli, earthworks & barrows. A round barrow on Middle Hill in Kingston Deverill was found to contain a rare and beautiful necklace made of a glass-like substance found in the Baltic. This provides proof of trade between Wessex and the continent. The first evidence of organised villages is around 600 B.C. An Iron Age site is on Cow Down at Longbridge Deverill. The settlement on Cold Kitchen Hill was occupied until c350 B.C. Another Iron Age site is near Keysley Farm between Kingston Deverill and Pertwood.
During the centuries preceding the Roman invasion the pattern of life changed. Field systems became more elaborate. The ‘Celtic’ types of field appeared, these being small irregular enclosures ditched & banked as a protection against damage by wild animals or possibly raiding bands. Fine examples of these may be seen on Pertwood Down, the surface of which has not been ploughed since early days. Around 60 A.D strip fields appeared & some of these continued to be used until the enclosures at the end of the 18th century. The outlines of these can still be seen on the north slope of Court Hill at Kingston Deverill. It is possible to trace the names of those who farmed these strips as late as 1780. Other lynchets are well outlined at Monkton Deverill & there are many places in the valley where these strip fields can be seen.
There is an Iron Age site to the east of Keysley Farm in Kingston Deverill, & this may well have been the settlement site associated with the field system on Pertwood Down. Here black soil containing the rudest pottery & animal bones was found but archaeological research in this rich area has been extremely scanty.
The valley continued to be both active and important during Roman times. Two Roman roads crossed at the ford at Kingston Deverill. One was the ancient lead road from Portchester and the other from Poole. The two join at the boundary between Monkton and Kingston Deverill. There were probably Roman villages at Longbridge, Hill, Monkton, Kingston and Lower Pertwood.

Danes Bottom at Kingston Deverill

There is a strong connection with King Alfred, and his famous battle against the Danes at Ethandun. Alfred gathered his forces together at two meeting places, and it is possible that one of these was Court Hill at Kingston Deverill. There are three Sarsen Stones in a field next to the church, which were found by a farmer on King’s Court Hill. It is said that King Egbert held court here. Local tradition says that Alfred climbed neighbouring King’s Hill to view the enemy’s position. It is therefore quite possible that Alfred used these Sarsen Stones on King’s Court Hill as a meeting point.
Prior to the Reformation, the Church was the main landowner in the Valley. At Domesday William the Conqueror confiscated much land from the English nobility, but left the holdings of the Church well alone. Longbridge, Crockerton and Monkton belonged to the Abbots of Glastonbury from the 10th century. After the Reformation the three villages were bought by Sir John Thynne and sold in the 1940s to help pay death duties. The Ludlows owned Kingston and Hill from the 16th century and 15th century respectively. This family was to become well known as supporters of the Roundheads during the Civil War. Lt. Gen. Edmund Ludlow was one of the signatories of the death warrant of Charles I. Lord Weymouth bought these lands in 1737, bringing the whole valley into Thynne ownership.
St. Mary the Virgin Kingston Deverill

The church of St Mary the Virgin at Kingston Deverill was rebuilt in 1847, although the tower is reputedly 14th century. It consists of a nave, chancel, tower & south aisle. There was a Methodist chapel in the village in the 19th century. The church of St Alfred the Great at Monkton Deverill was rebuilt in 1845. The nave & chancel are all in one & there is a 13th century tower. Sadly, this church was declared redundant in 1970.
There are sixteen listed buildings in the two parishes, including farmhouses dating from the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries. There are also 17th & 18th century houses & cottages. The Rectory at Kingston, which served both parishes, was built in the 18th century & extensively altered in 1858 by Manners of Bath, the architect responsible for Kingston Deverill church. A cottage in Monkton Deverill has the Ludlow arms over the door. The Ludlow family had large estates in the Deverills from the 14th century & later married into the Coker family. Thomas Coker is said to have moved to this cottage from Hill Deverill Manor in 1737, and to have taken the arms with him.
Until World War II the main source of employment in the valley was farming. The chalkland is excellent for growing corn, and large numbers of sheep were kept to fertilize the soil. By combining the growing of crops with keeping cows and sheep, making cheese and butter and selling milk, the farmers have always managed to make a living. As early as 1289 there were 1143 sheep on Brixton Downs. These sheep were traded at local sheep fairs and the thriving market at Warminster, and continued to be a good source of income down the centuries. By the early 19th century corn prices had risen; times were good in the Deverill Valley. Unfortunately this was soon to change. In the 1880s corn began arriving from abroad, soon to be followed by more foodstuffs. The Wiltshire farmers saved themselves by turning to fresh milk production instead. After the Second World War the farmed acreage of the Deverill parishes more than doubled. This was achieved by using land cleared by tanks that had used the Downs as a training area.
At the time of the Domesday survey the estimated population figure for the whole valley is 680. The largest community was Monkton with approximately 285 residents, and Kingston Deverill the smallest with only 34. Hill Deverill was divided into five separate holdings, and supported a population twice that of Longbridge, although both were of similar size and value. Monkton was twice the size of Kingston and had land for nine ploughs as opposed to Kingston’s three. The whole situation had changed greatly by the time of the next survey in 1676, when Longbridge was by far the largest community, with Kingston in second place. This pattern has remained constant ever since. Reasons for the larger size of Longbridge could be its position at the lower end of the valley, adjacent to the north –south river valley, the greater amount of flatter land, the influence of the Thynne family, or a combination of any of these.
Like many villages, the Deverill Valley provided most of the services that people needed at the beginning of the 20th century. Farms were the main employers, and most services, such as a blacksmith, shoemaker or carpenter, were available at Longbridge. Brixton was able to support a village shop until 1915. There were Post Offices at Kingston and Longbridge, carriers at Kingston and Crockerton, and pubs at Monkton, Longbridge and Crockerton. There was a Reading Room at Crockerton, where men could read the newspaper or play games such as billiards or cards. Mains water and electricity were brought to the north of the valley in the mid 1930s, but did not reach the south until after World War two. Until 1895 both villages had their own school. Monkton then closed, as it had just 20 pupils. Kingston remained open until 1969, when there were only thirteen children. The children then attended Sutton Veny School.
The War brought great change everywhere, and the Valley was not immune. Mechanisation meant fewer men were required on the land. Those who stayed expected better living conditions, which prompted a new house building programme funded by the farmers and the council.
The Valley continues to be a thriving community, although most people travel to work. It is able to support three churches, two pubs and a primary school. There is a garage with a Post Office, two small trading estates at Crockerton and nearby Sutton Veny, and a vineyard.

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