Administration of the Manor

The administration of the Manor was carried out by an Administrator, under the supervision of an annual “Court Baron”, at which proceedings were recorded by the Steward, or his deputy, in the Manorial Court Rolls. Two volumes of these records, covering the years 1788 to 1821, have survived. The first business, at each Court session, was the presentment of a regulation in regard to straying cattle. This is fully set out in the first year and repeated in succeeding years, followed by the appointment of Hay-wards and Tithing-men, one of each for Caundle and one of each for Woodrow. The duty of a Hayward was to look after hedges and fences and to impound stray cattle in The Pound, which at that time was situated where the Jubilee Oak now stands at the cross roads at the upper end of the village. The duty of a Tithing-man was to preserve good order and enforce observance of the Sabbath, a forerunner of the early village constable. During the 19th Century, the cattle pound was relocated from where the Jubilee Oak tree now stands, to the area still known as The Pound, at the right hand side of the rear entrance to Manor Farm.

A sufficient number of tenants were required to attend, in order to constitute a meeting of the Court. The proceedings were held, either in Court (now Manor) Farmhouse, or in the Tithe Barn in Court Barton. Apart from the appointments, the entries recorded in the Court Rolls refer mainly to reports on straying cattle, the repair of buildings, reports of deaths and changes of tenancies, nuisances and encroachments. From 1852, some of the responsibilities of the “Court Baron” appear to have been taken over by the Vestry Meetings, at which appointments were then made for a Guardian, a Way-Warden and two Overseers responsible for the assessment, and collection, of rates to pay for hand-outs to the poor. The Guardian replaced the Tithing-man and the Way-warden. Later it became the normal practice to draw up a shortlist of names for Overseers, for presentation to the Justices, who made the final choice. The Vestry proceedings were not entirely under the control of the church officials, however they did have a strong influence, and the affairs of the parish and the church must have been closely inter linked at this time. It was the vestry meeting that obtained the new burial ground in Drove Road and founded the primary school. In 1894, under the terms of a local government act, passed by the Houses of Parliament, the administration of parish affairs was transferred to a Parish Meeting.

Manor Farmhouse, Brunsell Farmhouse, Woodrow Farmhouse, Barley Close and Trooper Cottage, were all constructed during the early part of the 18th Century. The Bake House, which was originally a Malt House, before becoming the village bake-house, has a date of 1784 on its western gable. The construction of these farmhouses, at this time, suggests that it must have been around this period that the amalgamation of the tenanted small-holdings and the enclosure of the remaining mediaeval open fields, to form the larger farms, were taking place. This is confirmed by the estate map of the parish, dated 1709, held among the Stourhead documents at the Wiltshire Record Office. An inset in the map illustrates the profusion of small tenancies, which still existed in the south and east of the parish at that time. In other parts, much larger fields, with boundaries similar to those of today are shown. By the end of the 18th Century, the process was complete, with one farm of 400 acres, five of around 200 acres and three of 50 to 75 acres. This resulted in a reduction from 35 tenants of over 250 parcels of land, distributed all over the Parish, in 1709, to nine tenants in 1797 of consolidated farms, which today total no more than 175 fields. In 1709 some 40 fields, approximately 16 per cent, are marked as “arab1e”. These are mostly in the area where the corn brash seam bulges in the south of the parish. Now there are very few, such as the valuable home pastures, which have never been under the plough. Forty-six of the old 1709 field names have survived the intervening years and are still in use today, although some of these have become distorted.

There were two licensed premises in the parish, the Catherine Wheel, later re-named the Trooper, and a second at Gwyers, formerly the residence of the Guyer family, near the crossroads at Jubilee Oak, which George Stokes opened as an Ale House in the mid-19th century. With the exception of Middle Woodrow, which was absorbed with Higher Woodrow Farm, the main farms continued with the same acreage as when they had first been formed. They changed tenants periodically and each successive generation of farmers came to the fore in other village activities, providing those qualified to sit as Jurors or to vote at elections and to officiate at Manorial Court proceedings. Many of the existing cottages in the village, including the Old Vicarage, Grange Cottage and the houses and Bridge at Port Knapp (Cat Lane) are from the early part of the 19th Century. The foundations, at least, of some of these cottages may be much older, for the 1709 estate map shows many buildings in the village on sites close to their present locations.

For the 19th Century, information provided by census returns and vestry and church council meetings minutes, is more readily available. The population rose from 277, at the time of the first census in 1801, to a peak of 450 in 1851 and then fell again to 234 by 1901. The number of inhabited houses rose from 53, in 1801, to 94 in 1861 and then fell to 67, with as many as 12 unoccupied, in 1901. There had grown up around agriculture, upon which the prosperity of the village depended, most of the ancillary crafts and trades required to establish the village as a self-supporting unit. As well as a post office and general stores, the village had its own baker, dairyman, blacksmiths, carpenters, boot-makers, cordwainers, plasterers, basket-makers, publicans and a saw-yard. But the general decline in the fortunes of agriculture, in the second half of the 19th Century, gradually eroded the situation. The increasing population could not be found employment in the village, starting the trend of migration towards urban areas.