Maiden History 2


Extracts from:
A History Of
Maiden Bradley

by H.D.Kitching

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773
(click on images to enlarge)


The earliest known reference to the village occurs in a Saxon land charter of King Cyncwulf of wessex,878AD, but it was in existence centuries before as not only is it situated on the ancient track way  between Exeter and Dover but the Roman road from Old Sarum to Uphill in the Mendips ( where lead was mined) also passed through the village, while the existence of Iron age fortifications on the Little Knoll, and between it and the Long Knoll, indicates that there where people here two thousand or more years ago.

The track way continued in use as long as the Saxon, and later, the Viking pirates continued to plague the English Channel, ie ,about 1000AD.

19th century Wiltshire historian Sir William Colt Hoare records the findings of various Roman remains in Bradley and we can assume therefore that there was some sort of Roman-British settlement here by 200 AD or so, and if Bradley is of Celtic origin, ie, Broard Liegh or wide clearing, it may be that the place acquired the second part of its name at about this time in history.

How long the Roman-British village existed after the last Roman Legions left Britain can only be conjectured, but presumably as the Saxon raiders gradually turned into settlers, the local Romano-British and Celts would have been driven away or assimilated into the population as slaves. It is a pity that the skeleton, enclosed in an elaborate lead coffin within a stone sarcophagus, dug up in 1965 in Bradley House grounds , and now in our local church, had no ' grave goods'  with it , for this might have provided a pointer to its age. As it is the authorities seem to think that being a pagan burial it must ante-date the general acceptance of Christianity in these parts and can be as late as 700 AD or so. If that is the date of internment , it would indicate that there must have been a thriving community in the vicinity including lead beaters and stone workers.

Although therefore there is no evidence of the continued existence of Bradley as a village between 400 and 870 AD the probabilities are that it was colonized by the Saxons and certainly at the time of the Norman Conquest it was a large and desirable manor.Some years befor the Norman conquest , the Lord of the manor was Tosti Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria and brother of Earl Harold Godwinson, later King of England. When Earl Tosti was outlawed, and banished from England, his estates, including Bradley, came to his brother King Harold but as the Normans did not not recognize Harolds assumption of Kingship and ignored any changes in land tenure between the death of Edward the Confessor and William 1's accession to the throne, in the Domesday Book the manor is recorded as having belonged to Earl Tosti. Had the Normans recognized Harold as King , the manor would have been ' Royal Demesne'  with certain privileges  accruing  to the inhabitants.


Although at Domesday, and for the previous century, Bradley was in the hundred  of Mere, it had earlier been in the 'Borough' of Tisbury, the smallest of the four boroughs into which Saxon Wiltshire had been divided, for defence and administrative purposes, the others being Wilton, Cricklade and Malmesbury. At the Conquest, the Manor of Bradley was the only one in Wiltshire granted to Walter Giffard, Count of Longueville, a relation of and Standard Bearer to, William I, but over one hundred, in various countries, were also given to him and it is pleasant to know that in an age when the great feudal nobles changed allegiance when they thought it opportune, Walter Giffard never swerved his loyalty. In addition to the grant of his many Manors, Walter was created Earl of Buckingham. He was Chancellor to William 11 (Rufus).

When Earl Tosti was owner, the area of the manor (Yarnfield included) was just over 4000 acre's, assessed at £12 per annum. When the Domesday survey of Wiltshire was made in about 1086, the area was the same but the assessment reduced to £10 per annum,and it was recorded that the arable area consisted of 10 hides(1,200 acre's) of which the Lord owned four,(his demesnse) and the remaining six being shared by three classes of inhabitant, a small proportion of whom (villeins) would actually own their share, a second class (bordars) who were one of many types of hereditary tenant's and a third class (serfs) who were to all intents and purposes slaves, who were allocated to the land and had few rights.

The survey shows that there were six villeins, as it where freemen, thirteen bordars or hereditary tenant's and fourteen slaves, making a total of twenty-three plus two millers, all of whom would have a dwelling house or hut ,and most a family. 

There would also be the big house, where normally the Lord of the Manor would reside. As Earl Tosti owned even more land and houses than Walter Giffard, it is unlikely that either ever stayed in Bradley, except on visits of inspection, but even so, there must have been some sort of Manor House where the Seneschall or Bailiff lived and which could put up the Lord and his retinue at need. The stuff of such a house plus the verderers and persons enforcing the game laws and Manorial customs must have numbered at least ten or so, which means that the village must have had over a hundred inhabitants, taking four as the average household. 

This was certainly a large village in these days, for Horningsham and Baycliffe (both Manors) had only a dozen borders between them, while Warminster, a Royal Borough (and one of the six Wiltshire towns to have had a Mint) had 30 burgesses, 15 villiens and 74 others (including 13 swineherds). On the same basis of four to a household, this would give Warminster a population of 500 or so.

On the death of Walter Giffard, his title and possessions passed to his son, also Walter, who died leaving a sister, who married a Fitzhamon, their daughters joint heiresses married respectivly  William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Gloucester. During the second Earl's lifetime or that of his sister, the manor was given to him by a relative, Alicia De Cagny, as a marriage portion, on her marriage to another of England's great feudal nobles, Baron Manser Bisset, who owned over 200 manors and whose  principal estates were in Worcestershire, He also had considerable holding in Normandy. Thus instead of the manor being held in chief ie, direct of the King it became, after the second Earl's death , and the marriage of his granddaughter to the Earl Of Pembroke, part of the 'Honor of Pembroke' which meant that the Lord of the manor of Bradley rendered his homage and feudal dues though an intermediary, namely the Earl of Pembroke.

The feudal obligations in respect of this manor was one knights fee, or in other words, the duty to provide a knight, and his menie, when called upon, up to a maximum of fourty days service a year. As time went on the inconvenience of rendering this obligation in person was recognized, and money in lieu was accepted the amount of a knights fee being fixed at £1 per annum. Baron Manser Blisset and his wife Alicia probably never resided in Bradley, except for visits, his affairs being looked after by his seneschal, Humphrey de Bradley, from 1150 or so

Whether the village suffered at all from the lawlessness of King Stephen`s reign, history does not record, but as Manser was both a powerful noble, and a favourite at court, and the village somewhat isolated, perhaps it escaped any major trouble. At any rate, when Henry 2 succeeded to the throne in 1152, Manser (who was high in favour at the new Court) in common with many of his peers, decided perhaps for the good of his soul in the hereafter, to establish and endow an asylum for girls afflicted with leprosy.

Accordingly, sometime in the early 1150`s, Manser had a leper asylum built, on or near where the present Priory ruins stand, or it is possible that he utilised an existing building. At any rate, the site was ideal, for it was on the bank of a fast-flowing stream, the utilisation of which could not but assist even the most rudimentary ideas of hygiene. Perhaps Osmond, the miller, whose mill and mill pool was just below the asylum, had other ideas. At any rate, he duly bequeathed the mill to Mansers institution. 


Originally the leper asylum was put in the charge of a society of seculars, headed by a 'proctor'. What manner of men the proctor and his assistants were is difficult to envisage, but they must have been extraordinarily  brave and devoted, for leprosy was regarded with even more horror then than it is now. We know little of the history of the leper institution between the foundation and 1189; it had three proctors during that period , and a few years previously  permission had been granted by Hubert, Bishop of Sarum, for Manser to build a chapel for the use of the leprous sisters, dedicated to St Mathew.

In the year 1189, after the death of Manser Bisset , Bishop Hubert of Salisbury decided to replace the proctor and his helpers by a Prior and Canons of the Augustinian order. This was done and institution was henceforth known as the priory of St Mary and St Lazarus.  It prospered and flourished under Royal protection, King John and his son Henry 111 in particular being extremely generous . One of johns grants in 1214 was for the October fair , while Henry 111 in 1267 also granted it a market. In these days such rights would mean little or nothing to a village such as this , but in those days, the rights brought in many different kinds of fees.

Sometime in the 13th century Bradley  acquired its prefix 'maiden' and just why is pure surmise, but the most likely explanation would be an allusion to the original unfortunate patients of the leper asylum, referred to in contemporary charters as the 'leprous maidens'. 

The two major events in English internal history of the fourteenth century, the black death and the peasants revolt, do not appear to have affected the village. The black death was endemic in Bristol and district by 1349, but although places quite near us , such as Witham Friary, suffered heavily, the village does not seem to have been unduly affected, for there still exists land surveys of 1367 and 1365 , which show that all the Priory lands where still tenanted and worked . Furthermore the contemporary taxation records confirm this, showing that Maiden Bradley had 245 tax payers, responsible collectively for 65 shillings (the respective figures for Mere being 489 and 210 shilling). It should perhaps be explained that in the mid thirteenth century , the old system of tax assessment , based on land and knights fee , gave way to a collective tax or levy based on the value of certain objects  of personal property or 'movables' .  Naturally this would hardly effect the ordinary people of the area, and thus although in the village  there were 245 possible tax payers , the actual number paying would be Lord of the Manor and other knights and squires.

The peasants revolt of the 1380's does not seem to have affected the area , for this was the period when extensive additions  to both church and priory were being made, and in 1390 the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Priory. 

Most of the little we know of the fourteenth and fifteenth, century period relates to the priory , and can be found in 'The History of Maiden Bradley Priory' by Mr Hugh Kitching. And moving to the sixteenth century ,from its records we know there were at least two inns in the village owned by the priory, one 'Le Swan' and the other La Bell. One Coles was the landlord of the' Swan' in 1509, and his rent being 32/- per annum, while Thomas Ruggesley was landlord of 'La Bell' at 20/- per annum. Where Le Swan was is not known, but may have been in Church Street just south of the cross roads, but there was a public house still going in 1805. 'Bell Ground' was the name of a narrow strip of land which ran from the rear of the Bell to Back Lane, and would have been used for growing vegetables, keeping pigs , and possibly the grazing of travellers horses. It was the first house in Church Street to the north of the present 'Somerset Arms'.

The village itself was in two sections as it were. The original village was between the church and the cross-roads ,and the other, the Priory village between the cross-roads and the mill with a maze of lanes and streets. The main street in the Priory section ran from the Frome road (opposite Katesbench ) to the Priory and was called 'Pley Street'. It still exists as a farm track. There were several houses fronting into 'Pley Street', which was also where the Priors six day fair was held . Another road running roughly parallel to Pley street, on the Frome side was 'Le Mill Lane', which still exists as the entry road to the Mill Pond and Priory Farm. Unfortunately the names of other streets are lost, except for the easternmost, which was called Cox's Street'. This street began at Carver's Gate and the present Horningsham Road follows it for about 500yards from Carver's Gate , then swings right  while Cox's Street went straight on and then down the hill through Penny's Wood, where a left handed turn bought it to the East Common, above the Mill Pond where it divided , the road running downwards becoming Coxes Lane.

Luckily , many of the street names , of the original village are recorded in various old records, but the whereabouts of most of them cannot be fixed with any certainty. The ten names so far found are : Church Street, East Street, The Highway, Hollow Lane, Honeypot Lane Little Street, Little Lane , Midland Way, Stony Lane,  and 'The Way South Towards mere'. If High street and The Highway are one and the same , as they probably are,. The Midland way , from its context in some thirteenth century land charters , may well be what is now the private road to Rodmead farm.

When in 1536, the priory in common with hundreds of other small religious institutions in the kingdom , was dissolved, the village must have felt the effects for there must have been two or three dozen families entirely dependent upon the Priory for their leavings; some would be lay brothers responsible  for the running of the mills, brew house tannery and the like-industries of which the priory was the hub, while others would be shepherds and general agricultural workers,for the Priory still retained its Home Farm.

At the dissolution, Thomas Seymore (as then spelt) (The Lord High Admiral) and brother of the first Duke, was owner of the site of the Priory and its local lands but he did not live long enough to enjoy them and on his death they went to his brother, the 'Protector ' the first Duke Of Somerset. On his death there was some doubt as to the ownership of the Priory and its local lands  and the Marquis of Winchester was appointed to adjudicate . His award (now in the county archives) gave the Priory and Manor to John Seymore, eldest son of the Proctor , and on his death, childless, a few years later, an act of parliament of Edward vi  provided that the late Protector's second son, by his first marriage, Sir Edward Seymore, should inherit , and the property has remained in the family ever since.


At this time in history, there were several large houses in or around the village but we know that the Mompessons were in South Court, the Ludlows in Baycliffe and the Lamberts in what were the Maiden Bradley Stores and Post Office. There are other possible sites, Katesbench farmhouse (then much larger and sometimes described as a Manor), the south Mill House down at Dunkerton (no trace of this remains, but there was still a large house there in 1805, called "Shoard`s house "). It was below where the springs come out of the hillside in Dunkerton. There was the Penstones old house, still occupied by William eldest son of Lord Stourton, in 1536, near Yarnfield. There was also a `Grange' at Yarnfield and a large house and park between Baycliffe and Perryfarm.

There may also have been a fair sized house on or near the site of the present Bradley House. Shortly after 1565 the Lamberts, who went to live near Winchester, sold the D`Aungers Manor to Sir Edward Seymour for £460 and this included their Manor House (now styled "The Old Manor House"). The Seymours, although they now owned South Court and Katesbench, could not get possessions of the former home or farms pertaining to each owing to the long leases granted by the last Prior, and it may be that Sir Edward intended to do up the Lambert`s house for himself and his family when visiting the village.

Certainly it was at about this time that the house was rebuilt  and the magnificent Elizabethan oak staircase was installed. Clearly it was intended to add another storey to the building for the staircase goes right up to the present roof, but in the result that storey was never added nor is there any record of Sir Edward ever living there.

The village does not seem to have suffered unduly as a result of the Civil War( 1642-1646), but by the commonwealth it was visited by such a severe and prolonged attack of the plague that it and its inhabitants were cut off completely and no one allowed out for a space of ten month's (May 6th 1646-February 4th1647). naturally being debarred from trading in the surrounding markets, the village suffered financially,  and had to live on relief ordered by the Justices of the neighbouring parishes.  As the church registers are not complete for this period, we do not know how many people died of the plague.

In 1671 small pox broke out in endemic form in the village and Sir Edward, fearing that the forthcoming October Fair and Market  would spread the disease, instructed all town criers to announce that the Fair and Market where not being held. Whether Sir Edward intended it or not , the announcement was taken by all concerned as meaning the permanent abolition of both spring and Autumn Fairs and Markets, And in 1672 everybody in the village Gentlemen, Farmers ,Tradesmen and tenants signed a petition successfully calling for the immediate resumption of both Fairs and Market.

The Fairs gradually diminished in importance over the years  until by the end of the 19th Century they had been reduced to one day affairs with only three or four stalls selling cheap refinery and sweets.

Presumably Sir Edward and Lady Anne continued to live at Bury Pomeroy in Devon after the restoration ,but for how long is not known ,for some time between 1660 and 1680 Italiante Palace within a thirteeth century castle suffered a disastrous fire, which brought downe the roofs . It was then decided to build a new house at Bradley rather than repair that at Bury,  And we know from a gossipy letter of 1682 , in the Portman papers, that in that year the building of Bradley house was in progress. Although Bradley house was not completed until 1705-1710 it had a final face lift by Colin Cambell the famous contemporary architect who was building nearby Stourhead. Lukily  the plans and drawings still exist and can be seen in Devizes museum . It was a vast affair the main central portion being a100 yrd's long. Most of it was pulled down circa 1820, the present house being one eighth of the original size.

The village does not seem to have been effected by Monmouth's rebellion and defeat at Sedgemore in 1685, although neighboring Frome, Wincanton and Wanstow lost many menfolk , executed as rebels.

In 1688 Sir Edward died , his son also Sir Edward went on to become Speaker and M P for Devon and after his wife's death  remarried to Letitia of Popham of Littlecote , they had six sons and a daughter . Letitia was buried in the family vault below the memorial to the Speaker in Maiden Bradley Church.

The second son of the second marriage was Francis, ancestor of the present Marquis of Hertford of Ragley Hall and it was through this connection that the late Marquis claimed the Dukedom in 1923 when the present Dukes grandfather was eventually declared the heir by the House of Lords.

At the time of the completion of the building of Bradley House the numbers employed there would have greatly increased  the village population ,for the staff would have numbered fifty or so. In 1956 there were still people in the village who could remember the time circa 1910 , when Bradley House indoor staff numbered thirty five or so, several of them footmen who still wore wigs , brocade coats ,white breeches , silk stocking and buckle shoes when serving meals and attending church services.

Roughly where the village bus shelter now stands was the pest house, where everyone suffering from smallpox  or similar contagion would be immured until quarantine was over .Presumably when an epidemic broke out the only remedy was to quarantine the whole village as was seen in 1664 and 1670, for the pest house was not a large building.

In  the second part of the Eightieth century the Seymours  began buying back those portions of Bradley that had previously been sold, mainly in Yarnfield and had bought back most of the Manor by 1780 except Perry Farm , which they acquired in 1811.

Perhaps it would be interesting at this point to think of how ordinary people would have lived in the late Eighteenth century.

Two centuries ago Maiden Bradley was a feudal village and as already stated the Duke owned practically every house in it , and almost all the land. There were about 150 houses in the village and two main streets -High Street (formerly East Street) and Church Street. Except  for perhaps half a dozen house , nothing remains of the old buildings  for there was a fire in the village early in the 19th century and most of the old cottages and thatch went up in flames. It was perhaps just as well , for most of the old cottages were little more than hovels-mostly two room affairs with floors of beaten earth, no glass in the window ( just wooden frames) and very scantily furnished, i ,e . there might be a country made chair or two  plus a cupboard and table and clothes chest and benches and stools to sit on at table. Crockery was coarse and scarce and consisted of mugs and drinking utensils. Plates were trenchers of Sycamore wood and cuttlery was restricted to your own knife , and spoons made of horn .The hearth fire was kept alight throughout the year for it was the only source of heat and means of cooking. Kitchen utensils would consist of an iron kettle, stew pot and frying pan , most cottages had a primitive loom and spinning wheel, for clothes where mainly home made. The other room would be the communal bedroom .

Indoor sanitation was non-existent the loo being an earth closet in the garden known as  Jericho , It is remarkable , when one remembers  that the Romans had and introduced into England, central heating and sanitation fifteen hundred years earlier. to think that with their departure and the advent of Anglo-Saxons all those advantages disappeared in the Dark Ages.

A village such as Bradley was almost self supporting, about the only things not made or found locally being salt and iron .

The earliest known references to public houses in the village relate to 'Le Swan' and 'La Bell' in 1509 . When the former ceased to exist is not known , but 'La Bell' was still going in 1805.

 In the 1779 rate record three Inns are mentioned , The bell The George and The Shoulder Of Mutton . Where the George was we do not Know, but it was presumably a coaching Inn, and would therefore have been on one of the two coaching routes running through the village . It did not last long and by 1783 its place had been taken by The New Inn - the Old Manor House in Church Street (more recently used as the village shop and Post Office) , it outlasted all others  and was still going until the Somerset Arms was built in 1865.

Map of the Civil Parish of Maiden Bradley, 1890