People of Fovant

Much more useful for our purpose of seeing the residents of Fovant as people rather than statistics, are the records of the successive Earls of Pembroke, whose archives are now kept at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

Wilton House, the seat of the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, was built on land given to the Herbert family by Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the early 16th century

Wilton House
Image reproduced by permission of the Wilton Estate.

The family also acquired many of the villages of the surrounding area, one of which was Fovant. Manorial surveys followed and it is from these very detailed lists of what property the village contained, who lived where, and how much rent or service each person owed to the Earl, that we get our first knowledge of the people of the village and the sort of life they lived.

Pembroke Manor Court Rolls

As can be seen from this small extract from the Manor Court rolls, selected from various entries made between 1742 and 1820, every aspect of the villager’s life was prescribed. Attendance at the annual Manor Courts, usually held at The Cross Keys Inn , was mandatory and backsliders in this respect were fined:

‘All the freeholders, leaseholders and copyholders of this Manor who owe suit and service at the court and have this day made default in not appearing and do amoni (fine) them each as follows, to wit: freeholders 6d., leaseholders 1s.0d., copyholders 2s.6d. each and so assessed.

George Hulott to continue as Hayward for the year ensuing.

A new erected cottage be set up; by Robert Day in the Common Ground of the Manor without leave (permission) of the lord of the Manor.

William Goodfellow being dead since the last general court…his copyhold to be held by his wife Ann for her widowhood.

William Young (to be presented) for not keeping up and maintaining a gate belonging to Broadmead Common…ordered to be repaired within a week under penalty of 10s.0d.’

All the villagers were Pembroke tenants, who rented not only their cottages but also, in varying degrees, land of some kind or another. Some tenants were obviously of higher standing than others and as such their holdings were listed in some detail.
For instance in the Pembroke Land Survey of 1632:

Robert Feltham holds by indenture…the capital messuage or farm place of Fovant manor for his life; rent £7.13s, 4d, and 6qr, of oats; remainder to John Feltham for life at the same rent. To which a dwelling house of 4 ground rooms lofted over, 2 barns of 12 rooms, 2 stables, an ox house with other necessary house for husbandry, an orchard and a hopyard, meadows called Uckers Mead, Glides Mead and Oddy Mead, closes called Stewards Mead and Home Close, 120 acres of arable called Alldeane, closes of Arable called Broom Close, Timber Hayes, Wood Close, a parcel of arable called Furzy Hill Grove and another called Heathy Down; with common pasture for 16 horses, 33 other beasts and 360 sheep Worth £120.

Robert Feltham was undoubtedly a very wealthy man, as were the thirty-seven other tenants by indenture or copy, whose names and details of their holdings follow those of Robert’s. Unlike these more ‘landed’ tenants, most Fovant villagers rented a small cottage which usually had a large garden in which vegetables would be grown.

Naming of names

Some of the field names can be tied to actual people who feature in many of the Pembroke records – Goodfellow’s Coppice, Hickman’s Orchard, Nightingale’s Main. One or two of the farms were named after their owners – Gerrard’s Farm, Ing’s Farm. Village surnames have been used when naming small groups of village housing – Jay’s Folly, Wyatt’s Orchard and Clay’s Orchard.

One of our roads, Mary Barter’s Lane, is named after a past resident. During the 17th century, there were six ladies of this name and one each in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Which of them could the lane have been named for? Those of the 17th century are unlikely candidates. She of the 18th century is a possibility, for she was the daughter of the miller, and the mill was situated at the bottom of the lane. Alternatively, it could have been the Mary born in 1820, who, according to Doctor Clay, lived in a cottage at the junction of Mill Lane with Mansion Lane. For the first time we have a wealth of names, some of which, Martyn, Jay, Nightingale, Jarvis, Strong, Goodfellow and Barter, will keep cropping up.

Fovant’s residents are no longer anonymous – at last we are beginning to know about ‘real’ people – who they were and what sort of life they lived.