Medieval Fovant Village location

Perhaps St. George’s church wasn’t so isolated ‘at the other end of the village’ when it was first built. Rumour has it that the large mounds still to be seen in a field in the vicinity of our church, could have been the remnants of houses abandoned during one of the periodic outbreaks of plague in the Middle Ages. Whether this is true or not we don’t know, but in any case this is too simplistic an answer. There were other reasons for the abandonment of village houses during this period and all should be given equal consideration.

‘As a result of plagues, falling population, decline in arable acreage, low corn prices, retreat from marginal lands and other farming changes of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the desertion and partial desertion of villages occurred in many parts of the region.’

J.H.Bettey – Wessex from AD 1000

Any of the following situations leading to the possible isolation of the church could have applied to Fovant.

  1. The effect of continuous plagues early 14th–mid 17th centuries
    • Death of landless peasants living in ‘hovels’ nearby
    • Destruction of above hovels because of infection
    • Ephemeral nature of such hovels, which were not built to last
    • Manpower shortage – which meant that survivors of a plague could more readily dictate not only working conditions or venues, but also the location of their own houses
  3. The production of woollen goods was a major industry in our area, therefore sheep had priority where land use was concerned. Much of the land around the church, Fir Hill Wood and Fovant Wood for example, was put down to pasture, almost certainly to accommodate sheep. 
  4. Again Bettey – ‘By the thirteenth century … enormous sheep flocks were being kept throughout the chalklands’ 
  5. The earliest of our stone cottages are dated as from the beginning of the 17th century therefore, their positions were chosen long after the church was built. 
  6. That most of our existing stone cottages are not close to the church may well have to do with the Enclosure Awards of 1787. The rationalisation of land use leading to the eventual demise of ‘strip’ farming left larger areas in the hands of individuals who, now having centralised lands, built their houses on that land. 
  7. It is interesting to note that the Rev. Eyre, Fovant’s rector at that time, was given a 10 acre field, South of Touching Head Copse, in consideration of the help he gave to the Enclosure Commissioners. 
  8. The Enclosure map of 1787 shows buildings on the church side of the lane, which are undoubtedly the Rectory, the Manor House and Manor Farm House. We don’t know as yet when these dwellings were built, but it is thought that in each case early smaller houses have been considerably added to. 
  9. Some outbuildings associated with these dwellings, and two houses, probably small cottages, situated NE of Turnbridge had been demolished by the 1920s.