A Wiltshire Village in the mid-19th Century


For the October meeting we had David Scriven as our guest speaker. David has provided talks for the Society on several occasions in the past and is always a welcome guest. The idea for this talk was to show how family historians can use research methods and resources that he used in a similar way when studying his home village.

The village in question is Hullavington just north of the M4 with Chippenham, the nearest town, about five or six miles to the south. David grew up in Hullavington and began to develop an interest in its history for there are several properties that date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The house he lived in dated from the 18th century and his grandfather ran a farm only yards away from his house. David took the 1851 census as a means to start his research. He began to realize that place names and appearances of the village would change over the centuries. An example being the Village Green once had a pond and that usage of buildings could change. The people who lived there in 1851 also played a part in the changes that intrigued David during his research. One such was Joseph Neeld 1789 – 1856. He inherited a substantial inheritance which meant he became a wealthy man. His inheritance enabled him to become the biggest landowner in the area and who eventually became an MP and built the Jacobean styled mansion, Grittleton House. [Of which Pevsner thought distasteful!].

From the 1851 census, David noted that the 18th century building that housed the local school, had a Headmaster, John Flukes who was also Greenwich Pensioner, this being the equivalent to a Chelsea Pensioner, indicating that Flukes had been a marine.

Davis also noted that there were 12 farms in the area mainly arable and pastoral but there were also some woodlands from which a local timber merchant made good use.

A study of occupations during the 19th century showed that most men worked as agricultural labourers and the women might be employed as dairy maids or as domestic servants. The village did have a spike in growth in mid-century when a number of men were employed in the construction of the railway nearby. By 1901 the population had declined due to lack of work.

Other aspects explored by David were the ratio of women to men; the age group differences and the part that religion played in the village. There is a parish church, St.Mary’s, that proved to have undergone change during the Victorian era. There were also several nonconformist chapels which have since been converted to private houses. And there were once four pubs, then two. The last one, the Star Inn, closed recently.

David’s interesting talk emphasized how anyone could research a local area or village by using the many resources now available online. These include not only census returns but also parish registers, British newspaper archives and in many cases archives that produce period photographs and postcards.