In the beginning of course there were no people. The environment was far from conducive to human life, indeed, much of the land was covered with marshes, swamps or shallow seas, over which roamed animals of varying shapes and sizes.
By the time man appeared in what was to become Fovant, the landscape had altered considerably. Our then heavily wooded valley initially attracted the nomadic hunter-gatherers who tended to be seasonal visitors, but as man learned to domesticate animals and plant and harvest crops, family groups began to lead a more settled existence. Such groups, usually sited on hilltops, normally had limited contact with each other, but they did band together in the face of a common enemy.
The major common enemy of the people of these times were the Romans who, after a few punitive expeditions, finally invaded Britain in AD 43. Although our earliest ‘Fovant’ inhabitants were not directly involved in the ensuing battle, which took place at relatively nearby Maiden Castle, obviously their lives were influenced by the occupation which followed the Roman victory. Over the following four hundred years of Roman rule the people of the area adapted to, and indeed adopted, many ways of Roman living, although largely speaking life went on in much the same way as it had done before the Roman invasion.
During the 4th century the Roman Army was recalled to Rome in order to defend their own country, leaving the indigenous population prey to other invaders from across the North Sea. By the end of the 5th century Anglo-Saxon raiders had subdued much of the south of the country. As they started to colonise the land they had conquered, they made written records known as the Saxon Land Charters. Those parts of these charters which refer to ‘Fovant’ give much information about the geography of the area, but tell us little if anything about the people. However, we do glean from the Charters that enough Saxons settled in the valley near our river to form the beginnings of a village – our village, which they named Fobbefunta.
The Normans also left written records, notably the Domesday Book, and thereafter written records started to proliferate, but the populace as individuals remained somewhat anonymous. Much more useful for our purpose of actually naming the residents of our village are the manorial records of the successive Earls of Pembroke, whose archives are now kept in Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.
Following in the wake of the Pembroke Surveys a host of records came into being through which we can trace family names, many of which are still represented in the village today. Although the legal requirement to keep Parish Registers did not come into being until 1837, many Parishes had kept such records long before that date. The earliest census schedules dealt only with statistical evidence of the country’s population, but those from 1841 onwards are an absolute gold mine of social details of the actual people who lived in our village. Names and relationships can be gleaned and families traced from the inscriptions on the headstones in the graveyard or those on our War Memorials. Family bibles, personal diaries, annotated photographs and indeed interviews with our senior citizens all help to see past villagers as real people rather than statistics.
It’s a long way from the hunter-gatherers of prehistory to those of us who live here today, but we are all Fovant villagers.
Click on the links below to find more information on the people of Fovant:
Conquerors from the Iron Age to the Normans
Content last updated
19 October 2015