The earliest form of village government was undoubtedly in the hands of the Church. Since Church attendance was virtually total, most people came under its influence and the fear of hell and the hope of heaven were very effective ways of controlling the populace. It must be said, however, that though the church was mainly concerned with its parishioners’ mortal souls, it also cared to a large extent for their physical welfare.
The responsibility for such pastoral care lay largely in the hands of the Churchwardens, who, according to the 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor, were called upon to nominate annually ‘four, three or two substantial householders’ to join them in becoming Overseers of the Poor. This group was to be responsible for raising, by taxation, ‘such competent Sums of Money as they shall think fit … towards the necessary Relief of the Lame, Impotent, Old, Blind, and such other among them being Poor, and not able to work’. A task of considerable complexity.
The Fovant Churchwardens’ books date from 1795 and it is interesting to note the repetition of the familiar surnames, Martin, Futcher and Simper, many of whom were re-elected annually. In 1833 our Churchwardens decided that a sum of £56, known as the Poor’s Money, whose provenance was unknown and which had been in the care of a previous Rector, should be lodged in a Savings Bank. A painted notice board, still to be seen in our church, recording this fact, states:
By the recommendation of the Commissioners of Charities, the sum of FIFTY SIX POUNDS of the Charity Monies of the Parish of Fovant, was deposited in the Savings Bank at Salisbury on the 8th of January 1833 in the names of the Minister, Church Wardens and Overseers, the interest thereof to be distributed Annually amongst the Second Poor, and those most deserving and receiving the least relief from the Parish.
James Futcher. Churchwarden
This charity is still in operation today.
Associated with the Poor’s Money is an area of downland close to West Farm in Fovant, known as Poor’s Land. Under an Inclosure Act of 1786 for inclosing the common lands of a parish, this small piece of ground, measuring 1 acre and 32 perches, was awarded to the poor of the parish of Fovant in lieu of certain rights of common, which they had previously enjoyed. This strip of land was later exchanged for a similar area nearer to Fovant and was to be ‘allotted to the poor of the parish, as the minister, churchwardens and overseers think fit’ (Clay)
In 1953 a letter from the Charity Commission mentions that it is rented to Mr Waters of West Farm for 15/- p.a. remitted to the Poor’s Money account.
In 1962 the same Commission notes that the land is now rented by James Futcher who owns the land adjoining, and who later bought it outright for £5.
After the Norman invasion, the conquerors imposed their own feudal rule throughout the country. All important posts in Church and State passed into Norman hands and castles were built the length and breadth of the land. All played their part in subduing the resentful English and imposing Norman rule. Additionally, in 1085 Norman commissioners travelled all over England making an assessment of the value of assets, the use of the land, the tenants and the status of the resident peasantry. Nothing and nobody escaped notice and all was recorded in what we know today as the Domesday Book. Fovant had a brief mention in this book, which states that:
The church itself (St. Mary at Wilton) holds Fovant. TRE is paid geld for 10 hides. There is land for seven ploughs. Of this land 5 hides are in desmensne, and there are two ploughs and seven coliberts. There are eight villans and seven bordars with five ploughs. There are two mills rendering 17s. 6d. and eight acres of meadow, pasture 4 furlongs long and one furlong broad, woodland two furlongs long and one firlong broad. It is worth £7 10 shillings.
- TRE – ‘tempore Regis Edward’ – pre conquest, in the time of Edward I.
- Geld – land tax, normally on a Hide, the amount of land considered necessary to support one family.
- Desmesne – land held by the Lord, not by tenants.
- Colibert – a freed man, former slave.
- Villan – a villager, not a freeman, subject to the Manor Court.
- Bordar – a peasant of lower economic status than a villan.
- Furlong – a measure of land 40 perches long. A Perch varied between 14 and 18 feet
- Render – to give a customary payment usually in kind, sometimes in money.
The Pembroke Era
With the creation of the first Earl of Pembroke in 1551 the village, being Pembroke property, came under the direct jurisdiction of the Pembroke Manorial Courts. The feudal system, well entrenched by centuries of custom, perpetuated by the Earl, still held sway.
A Manorial Survey carried out for the first Earl of Pembroke in 1631–2 consisted largely of the names of the tenants of the manor and the rents they had to pay. Additionally, extensive Manor Court Rolls listed what service, in time or kind, each tenant owed to the Lord of the Manor. Among the many and various Manor Records were those known as ‘Custumals’. According to W.G. Hoskins in his book Local History in England these ‘set out in some detail the customs of the manor which all tenants were obliged to observe under penalty of forfeiting their tenements in serious cases, or some monetary fine for more trivial breaches. Manorial custom had the force of law on each particular manor, and was enforced in the manor court.’
Undoubtedly the people of Fovant were a captive workforce during this period.
Civic and Secular
Gradually a more socially aware local government evolved. Coming within Salisbury’s civic and episcopal area, Fovant benefited at a distance from the more widespread ministrations of these bodies. Of more direct influence on village affairs, however, was when, with the Public Health Act of 1872, Fovant became a constituent of Salisbury and Wilton Rural District Council. Eventually, with the setting up of the Parish Council in 1896, the villagers obtained a direct link with established local government and so finally had a voice in the ordering of their own lives.
Click on the links below to find more information on charities in Fovant and village officials: