Village History


This parish will forever be associated with Francis Kilvert, for it is the centre of the Wiltshire Kilvert country. He was born at Hardenhuish Rectory and from 1855 his father was Rector of Langley Burrell and Francis served his father as curate here twice. The three volumes of his diaries provide a good picture of life in this area in the 1870s.

The village lies two miles north east of Chippenham and the parish also includes Kellaways; Maud Heath’s Causeway between Wick Hill and Chippenham runs through the parish as does the later London to Bristol railway line. This is rich farming land and good dairying country.

The name Langley, means a long clearing or wood and is used both here and in the adjacent parish of Kington Langley, which might indicate that a long wood is the likelier meaning. The Burrell comes from the Borel family who held the estate in 1086. As the suffix seems to have appeared in the 13th century it may come from Peter Burel who held the manor in 1242.

Human usage and occupation of this area dates back to Palaeolithic times as flint implements from this period have been found here. Assemblages of Mesolithic flints have been found at Kellaways Farm and at Peckingell while Neolithic flints have also been found at Kellaways Farm. A pot from the Bronze Age has been found south of Bird’s Marsh and flints, pottery and human bone to the south west of Avon village.

It seems likely that there was Roman settlement in the parish, as building material has been found associated with pottery near Old Coppice and to the south east of Kellaways Farm. More pottery has been found south of Bird’s Marsh, north east of Kellaways Farm, where a brooch was found in the churchyard.

We know there was settlement here in late Saxon times and perhaps we can infer earlier settlement although little has been found. Before the Norman Conquest the estate here was held by Ulwi and it was probably similar, but of smaller population, to that recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Borel held the land of which there was sufficient for six plough teams. There were also eight acres of meadow and six acres of woodland. The population would have been between 90 and 100 people.

The Borel family held the manor until c.1300 but by 1304 the manor was owned by Sir John Delamare and later he, and his wife Alice, obtained a licence for an oratory (private chapel). The manor passed to Roger de Mortimer, Earl of March (d.1331) and was purchased by his son in law, Thomas, 2nd Lord Berkley, in 1343. He and his wife Margaret gave it along with £200 as a dowry for their daughter Joan on her marriage to Sir Reginald de Cobham. The Cobham arms are to be found on a wooden boss in the church roof and the family probably enlarged the church. Their son was also called Reginald and he, or a later Reginald de Cobham, was burned at the stake on Steinbrook Hill for heresy in 1413.

During this period there were several settlements here including:

  • Medieval village around the Langley House site
  • Medieval hamlet at Kellaways Mill
  • A settlement at Hill Corner, probably the home of Robert de Hulle, 1333
  • Medieval farmstead at Rawlings Farm
  • Earthworks in the Barrow Farm area
  • Village earthworks to the east of Barrow Farm

A range of coins, tokens, and metalwork as well as pottery has also been found.

In 1460 Margaret and her husband, Ralph Nevill, Earl of Westmorland were patrons of the church and therefore presumably he was the lord of the manor, although doubtless an absentee. From them it passed to daughter Matilda, who was a widow.

One person who definitely lived in the village at this time was Maud Heath, who owned land and houses both in the village and in Chippenham. She was concerned that the people of Bremhill, Foxham, Tytherton and the Langley area had a difficult passage through marshy and flooded land to Chippenham Market. On 12th June 1474 she made a deed of gift of land and houses worth £8 in rents per year to a trust to build a causeway from Wick in Bremhill to Chippenham. This 4.5 mile causeway of cobblestones passed over land at Kellaways that was a swamp during the winter months. A gift of this kind is unique in Wiltshire; you can still walk the well maintained causeway today and enjoy the fine view, as Francis Kilvert did, from Wick Hill.

The manor seems to have returned to the Cobhams in the later 15th century for Ann, daughter and heir of Sir Thomas Cobham, married Edward de Burgh, 2nd Baron Burgh of Gainsborough, who was patron of the church in 1489. In 1565 a member of the Burgh family sold the manor to John Reed (or Reade) and in 1601 it passed to Henry White, who also owned Grittleton.

In the mid 17th century the manor house and rectory were involved in some scandalous conduct. Around 1649, in the first year of the Commonwealth, a young man named Thomas Webb came to the area as a preacher. Apparently leading a blameless life and of pleasant conversation he gained the goodwill of many people and eventually became the parson of Langley Burrell. He increased his popularity by refusing tithes, which he could afford to do as his glebe was worth £70 a year. Shortly after the death of his second wife he took Mary White, wife of the owner of the manor and patron of the living as his mistress. He also married a local girl and upon her complaining about his frequent liaisons with Mary White he arranged for his friends to persuade his wife to have an affair with a local man. By his design he ‘discovered’ them in bed after he had been preaching and therefore forced his wife to accept his own adultery. Webb also morally and sexually corrupted a young man of the county and then encouraged him to travel, with a young woman, preaching around the country. Webb had moved into the manor house to be close to his mistress; how much Henry White knew or guessed we do not know, but eventually Mary White turned against Webb and with others gave written evidence against him.

He was examined on charges of adultery and blasphemy and Mary White on adultery but as the penalty for adultery was death there were few convictions and he was acquitted. However the County Justices at Chippenham did eject him from the living and be published a manifesto protesting his innocence. Edward Stokes, one of the examining magistrates who committee him for trial for adultery, published the truth of the affair in the Wiltshire Rant. So ended an extraordinary episode in this quite corner of Wiltshire. There are no parish records for this period and so unfortunately we cannot find the marriages of the protagonists.

By 1660 the manor was owned by John Widman, a grandson of the first Henry White, who sold it to Samuel Ashe of Freshford, Somerset. So began the long association of the Ashe family with Langley Burrell. In the later part of the 17th century many of the local roads were in a poor state and there were frequent disputes over their repair in 1651 an agreement was reached between Chippenham, Langley Burrell and Hardenhuish on the maintenance of the roads which did alleviate some of the problem. The Maud Heath Trust obviously had funds at the end of the century as in 1698 they erected the 12 foot high monument by the river at Kellaways. This features a three faced block sundial with Latin inscriptions.

The present date of construction of Langley House appears to be open to question. Joseph Ashe succeeded his father Samuel and it has been written that his account book indicates that he built the new house in 1711. However various writers have also given the date of 1750 (by Robert Ashe), c.1770 and 1780. Although estate accounts are missing for 1750 the only indication of building work occurs in the accounts for 1780 and the house certainly has the appearance of a late 18th century building. In 1820 the Langley Brewery, on the site of the present public house was established.

Following a meeting in 1811 the Maud Heath trustees carried the causeway over the lowlands by the river at Kellaways by the means of 64 brick arches. They raised the money for this by auctioning the leases on two cottages for a period of 14 years. They raised over £800 from this, a surprising amount until you discover that the occupiers of the cottages were each allowed a vote in Parliamentary elections for Chippenham. In c.1825 they were each let for £40 a year. The money from the auction was used for the bridge and extensions to the causeway.

On 7th September 1822 occurred the flight and riot between the men of Chippenham and the men of the two Langleys that was retold to Francis Kilvert by John and Hannah Hatherell on 4th February 1873. The quarrel between the town and villages had been brewing for a long time and there was a history of ill use of Langley men. Kilvert firmly places the blame on Chippenham whose men folk had been abusing and injuring the Langley men whenever they came to Saturday market. The men of Kington Langley arranged to go into Chippenham in force one market day to avenge themselves upon the Chippenham men. Some men from Langley Burrell joined them and between 30 and 40 men, armed with sticks and bludgeons, made their way into the town. There was fighting in Chippenham streets when fists, sticks and stones were used and then the Langley men retreated up the hill as far as the Little George, by a turnpike gate. Here they stood their ground while the Chippenham men taunted them.

With the Chippenham men out of the town, with the element of surprise and with the advantage of higher ground the 30 or 40 men of the two Langleys drove an estimated 200 Chippenham men before them. The number of Chippenham men may have became a little larger with the passage of 50 years. Dreadful injuries were inflicted upon the Chippenham men and, as always the case in these situations at least two innocent men and their families suffered. Hull the saddler, and Reynolds the tinman came out to try to calm the riot. Both were killed.

The following Sunday constables and others came from Chippenham and arrested men from Langley. Those tried and sent to jail included John Thomas, the carpenter, Farmer Matthews of Rawlings, and Henry Knight. After the arrest the Langley men were left at a Chippenham public house chained to a long iron bar, Kilvert complains that hardly any Chippenham men were arrested despite the Langley men having been provoked and been beaten black and blue. For a clergyman, Kilvert seems to have taken the ‘eye for an eye’ view rather than turning the other cheek.

John Hatherell also told Kilvert that old Langley Common was a great place for the playing of games on a Sunday. Football, hockey and other games ere played all over it. The Rev. Samuel Ashe used to stand under the trees and when the ball, a pig’s bladder, came near him, prick it with a pin as he disapproved of games on a Sunday. However, the young men foiled this and brought a spare one, which they blew up once the Rector had gone.

Meanwhile the Maud Heath trustees continued their good work erecting stones by the causeway in 1827 and 1838 while in 1853 they had an iron bridge built over the Avon at Kellaways. In the village a school was built by Robert Ashe in 1844 and remains on the west side of the Chippenham to Kington Langley road, although now converted to domestic use. Robert Ashe died in 1855, the year in which part of Langley Burrell parish was transferred to the newly created parish of St Pauls, Chippenham.

Also in that year Robert Kilvert became Rector of Langley Burrell; he had formerly been at Hardenhuish but his wife was related to the Ashe family and he was offered the living at Langley when the Ashe family relinquished the rectorship themselves. Francis Kilvert had been born at Hardenhuish Rectory in 1840 and was ordained as a deacon in 1863, becoming a priest in 1864. A new house, close to Langley Common, was provided as the rectory and the old Rectory demolished in 1857. The new rectory was a 17th century house which had been enlarged in 1739 by Adam and Martha Tuck, who are believed to have employed John Wood the elder. It was further extended in the 1840s and sold to Squire Ashe in the 1850s.

Francis Kilvert assisted his father as curate on two occasions and much can be found about life around Langley in Volume 2 of Kilvert’s Diary, ed. William Plomer, 1938. A few extracts from this are:

23 September 1871
The Wood family told Kilvert about balloons that passed over Langley, having ascended from Bristol. Their daughter Ellen remarked that the balloons usually came over at tea time.

11 October 1871
Kilvert rose at 5.30 am to catch the 7.15 train from Chippenham to Weymouth. Fares were higher than expected at 16 shillings and 9 pence second class.

27 October 1871
I have rarely seen Langley Church and Churchyard look more beautiful than they did this morning. The weather was lovely and round the quiet Church the trees were gorgeous, the elms dazzling golden and the beeches burning crimson. The golden elms illuminated the Church and Churchyard with strong yellow light and the beeches flamed and glowed with scarlet and crimson fire like the Burning Bush. The place lay quiet in the still autumn sunshine. Then the latch of the wicket gate tinkled and pretty Karen Wood appeared coming along the Church path under the spreading boughs of the wide larch, and in the glare of yellow light the bell broke solemnly through the golden elms that stood stately round the Church. To-day we had one of those soft, still, dreamy, golden afternoons peculiar to Autumn.

Tragically Kilvert died at the early age of 39 through appendicitis, shortly after his marriage. His father died in 1882 and was followed in 1885 by Robert Martyn Ashe, the Squire Ashe of the Diaries and Mrs Kilvert’s cousin. Squire Ashe was succeeded by his daughter, Thermuthis, who took a very active part in village affairs. She died in 1935 and her heir Major Charles Scott-Ashe, the eldest son of Emily, Squire Ashe’s second daughter took over the manor. He died in 1978 and was succeeded by Dr. Robert Scott-Ashe from Canada.

In 1961-2 Wiltshire County Council replaced the bridge over the Avon at Kellaways, the trust having relinquished responsibility for this to the highways authority. Langley Burrell came under the care of the Rector of St. Paul’s, Chippenham, while in 1979, Langley Burrell, St. Paul’s, Hardenhuish and Kington St. Michael became a team ministry. Despite its closeness to Chippenham Langley Burrell retains a quite rural flavour and the church and Langley House would not present too changed a picture to the Kilvert family whose religious and social life has been recorded for posterity.

Reproduced with kind permission from Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre