At Lacock Abbey the National Trust currently have an installation to mark the site of the 13th century convent church founded by Ela (pronounced eelah) of Salisbury.
Chitterne was part of the large area of southern England inherited by Ela following the death of her father William Longespee in 1226. Soon after this she donated her Chitterne lands and farm to her newly founded abbey at Lacock, and the thousands of sheep kept at Chitterne became the Lacock nuns’ main source of revenue.
The installation consists of three panes of glass depicting a stone arch, scenes of abbey life in medieval times and Ela’s seal. These are positioned on the grass that now covers the convent church site.
I was expecting a little more than these when I visited, but all inside the abbey was as usual, there were no new items concerning Ela on display.
Over 400 years ago a date was chiselled into the stone surround of the front door of The Manor, which may mark the date the Manor was built.
The manor of Chitterne St Mary had been held by the Paulet family since 1547. After the dissolution of the monasteries King Edward VI granted the manor to William Paulet Lord St John, later created 1st Marquis of Winchester. If the date in the photograph refers to the building of the house, then it was built during the time of the 4th Marquis of Winchester, another William Paulet, who died in 1629.
William Paulet, 4th Marquis, Baron St John, lived at Basing, Hampshire where he entertained Queen Elizabeth I at Basing House. His shield of arms sported a trio of short swords or daggers beneath a coronet, indicating a member of the peerage.
You may see this distinctive shield if you ever visit the public house known as the Three Daggers at Edington, previously the Paulet Arms, but re-named by public preference.
Lastly, the Manor has a few more inscriptions on the outside. Most significant of these is this one, to be found on the extreme right at the front where a wing was demolished in the 1800s. C or G W was perhaps the author of the demolition? Could the W be for Wallis?
The last two marks, both to the left of the front door, are difficult to discern and even more difficult to explain, though the one on the right appears to be A I.
This concludes our look into inscriptions on buildings in Chitterne. Many of the inscriptions and dates on buildings chart the times when the Chitterne manors changed hands, The Manor representing the Paulets and Chitterne House the Michells. The Long family clearly had Chestnut Cottages and Pitts House built, and Richard Hayward Pitts Cottage, but what about the Methuen family and the Abbesses of Lacock Abbey? I suspect the Methuens were the builders of Clump House, and the nuns of the Great Manor (sportsfield site), the original Manor Farmhouse and the Gate House, but I wonder who had Chitterne Lodge built?
In an ideal world every house would have a datestone and at least the initials of the builder.
A bit of a change this time. Not a track or path but an area of the village on the road to Tilshead called Nunnery Corner. This is where the road makes a right-hand sweeping curve around the tall stone and flint walls containing the Gate House and grounds.
The name comes from the local legend that Lacock nuns lived on the site of the Gate House in medieval times. The area is very ancient. The Chapel of St Andrew, dating from 1142, stood there even before the founding of Lacock Abbey in 1229, although the present buildings are more likely to date from much later.
Chitterne was the largest of the manors held by Lacock Abbey. During the 300 years that the Lacock nuns held land in Chitterne All Saints and Chitterne St Mary they farmed sheep, thousands of them, which proved to be a very profitable enterprise for the abbey. The Abbess of Lacock employed bailiffs and stewards to manage her Chitterne farms. Produce, such as wool and wheat, not used by the nuns themselves was sold at market. In 1257 King Henry III granted Chitterne a regular Monday market and also a week-long fair for the feast of St Peter and Paul. Just imagine, a market every week in our village! Now we haven’t even one shop.
A tragedy occurred at Nunnery Corner in 1905, when 10-year-old Florence Grant was crushed to death by a traction engine. Her brother Freddie carved a cross with his pocket-knife into a stone in the Gate House wall to mark the spot. Florence was buried in the village on 5 November 1905.
Source: ‘Beyond the Cloister: the Nuns of Lacock and their Wiltshire Estates’ by Anne E Bailey; Wiltshire Local History Forum magazine issue 88.