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Village origins – Stanton St Bernard

Village origins

A short history of Stanton St Bernard


  • Stanton lies in the Vale of Pewsey on the north-south route between the henges at Avebury and Marden. There is evidence of Stone Age and Bronze Age activity and of Romano-British farming in the parish. On the hills, Wansdyke crosses northern part of the parish.
  • The earliest surviving documents relating to Stanton are three Saxon charters dated AD 905, 957 and 960. By this time Stanton was clearly a well-established and valuable farming estate. The boundaries set out in these charters are almost identical to the modern parish boundary.
  • By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Stanton was held by the Abbey of Wilton. Half the land was cultivated by the Abbey and the remainder by tenant farmers. There were two watermills.
  • After the Dissolution of the monasteries, the Wilton Abbey Estates, including Stanton, were granted in 1544 by King Henry VIII to William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke.
  • Agriculture has always been the dominant activity in Stanton, organised on the typical downland system of sheep grazing on the hills during the day and being brought down to manure the fields in the valley at night. The medieval ridge and furrow pattern of cultivation finally disappeared after the Enclosure Agreement of 1792. From then on the small farms were gradually absorbed into the larger ones, until by the mid 19th century, two large farms predominated.
  • The Kennet & Avon Canal opened in 1810 and crosses the parish south of the village. The industries that developed beside the canal at Honey Street provided employment for Stanton people. The Barge Inn was built in 1810 on the boundary between Honey Street and Stanton to serve the canal trade, selling groceries, meat and other supplies.
  • The railway, completed in 1862, crosses the southern tip of the parish and blocks the ancient route south via Beechingstoke. Originally the nearest station was at Woodborough. This opened up opportunities for dairy farming, milk being sent to London by train.
  • On 28 June 1917 the Earl of Pembroke sold the parish of Stanton and other estates at an auction held in The Bear Hotel in Devizes. This ended the link with Wilton that had lasted a thousand years.
  • The first mention of the church in Stanton occurs in 1267 but it is almost certain that it existed before that. The church tower dates from the 15th The medieval nave and chancel were demolished and rebuilt in 1830.
  • From the 17th century onwards there are references to a school provided by successive vicars. The existing school building was constructed in 1849 and was in use until the school closed in 1969. It is now the Village Hall.
  • A working forge existed in the centre of the village until recent years. There were at various times a carpenter’s workshop, a shoemaker, several ale houses, one or more grocery shops and a post office.
  • From 1936 to 1947 the fields between Stanton and Alton Barnes formed a grass landing ground which was used to train pilots and navigators during World War II. During the war, the canal was fortified as a line of defence against German invasion.
  • There is now one large farm in Stanton and the Pewsey Vale Riding Centre. Stanton people are engaged in many varied enterprises based in the village and elsewhere.

VK – January 2016

If you wish to know more, the book “A History of Stanton St Bernard” is available at a cost of £9.95 (all proceeds go to the Stanton St Bernard Millennium Fund). Email history@stantonstbernard.co.uk. Full details are in the Trading Post section of this website.