St Mary’s Chancel is all that’s left of Chitterne’s two old 15th century parish churches, making it one of the oldest buildings in the village. The nave of St Mary’s Church was demolished about 1861, leaving the chancel for use as a mortuary chapel. Nowadays it’s just used for occasional church services.
Ivy covers the end wall in this photo dating from the early 1900s. Note the old thatched barn on the right where Birch Cottage is now. The barn belonged to the church when the vicar of St Marys parish received part of his pay from the tithes raised on the crops grown on church land. Typically a tenth of the value went to the vicar. ‘Glebe’ land was church land, so Glebe Farm was the church farm, and the barn stood in Glebe Farm’s stockyard.
In this photo taken a little later the ivy has been removed and the site of the old nave has started to be used for burials. Note behind the chancel, in both photos, the old cob wall that once formed the boundary of the graveyard. The wall was knocked down and replaced by a fence in 1928 when Ushers Brewery, owners of the King’s Head Inn, gave a part of the inn’s land to enlarge the graveyard.
Recently, when a house the other side of that fence was sold, it was unclear who was responsible for maintaining the fence. A trip to the History Centre in Chippenham to see the original 1928 deed provided the answer: the fence is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council.
I admire the medieval builders of this church, they had the good sense to site it far enough away from the Chitterne Brook for the dead to be buried in dry ground.
We stay in old Chitterne St Mary for Long Hedge Path.This is an old track alongside the Mead or water meadows, which in days of yore were flooded to provide a resource shared by farmers in both Chitterne parishes. The meadows were divided into plots, each plot named after the farmer whose plot it was. This way each farmer had access to early grass pasture for his sheep. Laurie Wallis told me that one plot was still known as Dean’s Mead in his grandfather’s time.
This path does not appear on the Rights of Way map but is still walked.
It starts at the Round House and does what it says on the tin – follows a long hedge through the Mead to the parish boundary with Codford – passing the ‘new’ Glebe Farm buildings en route. In fact if you carried on over the boundary it would take you to Codford St Peter via Green Road.
The long hedge ends abruptly at the parish boundary and the path takes a left turn for a short distance before reaching some old boundary stones and a stile.
If you cross the stile into Codford parish the path becomes Codford footpath number 6 on the Rights of Way map and continues towards Codford. This stile can also be reached from the road between Chitterne and Codford via footpath number 12, which takes you over a wooden bridge spanning Chitterne Brook.
St Mary’s footpath, Right of Way number 7, was the usual path across Garston field between the old parishes of Chitterne All Saints to Chitterne St Mary. In the past it was flanked by horse chestnut trees, those are mostly gone now, but it is still the most used path across Garston.
The path starts at the kissing gate near the old footbridge opposite The Grange wall and crosses a corner of Manor Farmhouse paddock towards a pair of gates to enter Garston.
Garston straddles the boundary that once divided the two old Chitterne parishes. It was shared by farmers in both parishes at one time, but now it is part of the Ministry of Defence estate leased to Chitterne Farm. I have not been able to discover the origin of the name, which was always pronounced ‘Gasson’ by old time villagers, but the ‘ton’ part usually means ‘farm’. ‘Gars’ could be someone’s name, or it may mean triangular or spear-shaped. The name is not unique to Chitterne, there is a Garston area of Liverpool, and a Garston at Great Cheverell.
Garston must have been part of the estate originally owned by Lacock Abbey when the main drive to the Great House passed through it, but by the 1820s, when the house fell or was burnt down, it was owned by the Michell family. There is a reference to the Great House estate as ‘Milbournes’ in the 1400s and Sir Thomas Milbourne held land in Chitterne at that time, so this may well have been the land he held from the nuns of Lacock. Sir Thomas was attainted for treason by Richard III, fought at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 on the Lancastrian side, and was made Constable of Old Sarum Castle by Henry VII, he died in 1492.
Back to the footpath that passes through this ancient field. It passes by the site of an old barn that belonged to Chitterne St Mary Church farm or Glebe Farm. This is what Ernie George had to say about the barn:
The Chitterne great barn in great, great grandafther Thomas’s time, was on tithe land, farmed by Glebe Farm, as also, was the stockyard and large meadow which lay below. All in the twentieth century has disappeared. The lower walls and foundations of the great barn were still there beside St Mary’s footpath in the 1920s, by the 1940s overgrown with grass but still discernible. In the 1950s the farmers of All Saints Manor Farm broke up the ground all around and amongst the trees for cereal sowing, and so all signs of the barn disappeared, so also did some of the trees (at this time the land was owned by the War Department, and controlledy Durrington Land Agents). The boundary wall and main entrance gateway of the great walled estate were taken down. The stone pillars surmounted with large decorative stone globes were re-erected at the Duchess of Newcastle’s estate in the Wylye Valley.
The site of great barn in Garston is marked by the flat area of ground behind the garden of number 6 St Mary’s Close. Glebe Farm stockyard was directly in front of St Mary’s Church, on the site now occupied by Birch Cottage. The cob wall fronting the stockyard can still be seen. The large meadow on the other side of the road stretched from the B390, alongside Codford Road, to Spot’s Pool in Codford parish. The entrance gate to the meadow was directly opposite the entrance to the stockyard, this led into the triangular part of the meadow known as Tithing Field, now part of St Mary’s Lodge grounds.
St Mary’s footpath joins Churches Path (see last blog) at the pair of gates to St Mary’s Chancel churchyard.