A Thumbnail History - Laverstock & Ford Parish Council

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A Thumbnail History

from Wiltshire Community History Website

Laverstock is an early settlement that has been somewhat dwarfed since the bishops of Sarum built their new city on the western side of the river Bourne. Laverstock, on the eastern side of the river, has been able to retain a separate identity from its larger neighbour during the city’s expansion in the last century because of this river and the railway line that also follows the river valley. In this valley are fertile alluvial soils and gravels that would have been used for arable, meadowland and pasture while the Upper Chalke of the surrounding downs was used for grazing.

The forest of Clarendon extended into the eastern part of the area, which includes Ford in the north and Milford in the south. Ford was originally Winterbourneford, indicating that the river Bourne only needed a specific fording place when the winter rains heightened the river. The name Ford was first adopted in 1605 but the earlier name was still being used as late as 1896. The name Laverstock comes from Old English and means the fenced or enclosed settlement where the larks are. Milford is the ford by the mill.

Prehistoric activity and settlement extends back to Neolithic, and may be even Palaeolithic, times. There were Neolithic flint mines on Burrough’s Hill and traces of several barrows have been found here. Evidence survives of both Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements in the parish and there is a Romano-British settlement and cemetery on Cocky Down. The Roman road from Old Sarum to Winchester passed through Ford, and is now part of the Clarendon Way footpath.

There has been continuous settlement here from the 6th century, and probably much earlier, with 6th century pottery being found at Milford. Apart from Laverstock there was another Saxon settlement at Mumford, probably at the confluence of the rivers Avon and Bourne, which survived until later medieval times. Much of the land was in the gift of the king and a good deal of it was given to Wilton Abbey. There was probably an early Saxon church here and certainly a stone one in later Saxon times. King Aethelwulf (839-58), father of Alfred the Great, visited this small settlement as he lost his gold ring here and it was not found until 1780. The Saxons greatly improved the low-lying land for farming, draining much of the marshy areas. The first mention of Laverstock by name occurs in 949 in a charter granting some land in Laverstock to Aelsige, the king’s goldsmith. There is a large Saxon cemetery at Petersfinger, which could indicate the site of a battle or may have been used over successive centuries for normal burials.

By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) there was a reasonable settlement here. The greater part of the land was in the possession of Wilton Abbey with small amounts of land held by officers of the king. In total there was land for 41/2 ploughteams with households of 6 villiens (men with 30 acres), 8 bordars and 6 cottars (men with about 5 acres of land). There was a mill, 18 acres of pasture and 3 acres of meadow but around a quarter of the land was in the king’s forest of Clarendon. The population is likely to have been in the region of 80-110 people. Later the Saxon church was rebuilt in the Norman style.

Pottery kilns have been found to have operated from the 13th century and there was also a fulling mill at Mumford by this time, indicating a weaving industry. Some land in Laverstock was granted to Ivychurch Priory, which foundation would have also tended to spiritual needs in the community, and the great medieval royal palace of Clarendon to the east would have had social and economic impact locally. Milford Bridge had been built by the 14th century while in the north the later St. Thomas’s Bridgeis named after St. Thomas à Beckett, who used to walk this route.

The church was destroyed by fire in 1410 and had to be rebuilt while after the dissolution of monasteries in 1539 the lands of Laverstock had a variety of owners. The 15th, 16th and 17th century is largely a time of farming for the local landowners with one generation succeeding another with no momentous events. In 1650 the parishes of Laverstock and Ford were officially united but this probably provoked little interest in most people although they may have been troubled by the depredations of Roundhead or Royalist and the movements of troops nearby.

Around 1700 the present St. Thomas’s Bridge was built (it was widened in 1900) and the present Milford mill erected. In the 18th century the parish was dominated by big houses – Laverstock Hall, Laverstock House, Laverstock Hill and Burrough’s Hill – with the houses of farm labourers along the roads and with Manor Farm, and the mills being the other substantial buildings. By 1754 Laverstock House had become a lunatic asylum and was receiving patients. It was licensed from 1774 and was one of the leading institutions in the county and the region. It took three types of patient; private patients, paupers who were too disruptive for the workhouse (paid for by the Overseers of the Poor), and criminals who were guilty but insane. We know that in 1814 weekly charges were 14 shillings (70p), and that patients were sent here from places throughout the country. The asylum provided a source of employment for local people.

During the first half of the 19th century farming was still the most important industry and farm labour the most common work. In the early 1830s the first school was built and endowed by Bishop Burgess. It served as a Sunday school and a National School until 1888 when the present school was built. From 1894 it became the Reading and Recreation Room until around 1916. Over the centuries there had been flooding in the valley but in 1841 this was severe when the Laverstock Bridge was washed away and one man died.

In 1847 the Bishopstoke (Eastleigh) to Salisbury railway line was built, with a terminus at Milford. This station was damaged by fire in 1858, after which a tunnel was built through the hillside and a new station opened at Fisherton, closer to the city. In 1857 a further line, Salisbury to London, was built joining the Southampton line at Laverstock Junction. By the 1850s the church was in a poor state of repair and was replaced by a new one, to the east of the original, in 1858. The following year the newly formed Salisbury Volunteer Rifle Corps was provided with a rifle range on Cocky Down.

There were never more than two or three shops and bakeries in the village but by the early 1860s there was a post office on the Green. Beer had been brewed and sold in the village from around 1830 but it was not until 1871 that the first beer retailer is listed. This was on the site of the Duck public house that was built in 1906.

The 20th century has probably seen more development than the preceding millennium, with the change from a rural community growing wheat and barley to an outlying suburb of Salisbury. The present manor house was built, in the Elizabethan style, in 1904, and also in 1904 part of Milford Without was added to the parish. After the First World War the expansion of housing began with council housing on the eastern side of Salisbury. This area was transferred to the city in 1927. Around 1933 mains sewerage was put in which was a considerable help when Laverstock Park was sold in 1936, leading to the building of over 200 houses in Mayfair Road, Beechwood Road, Greenwood Avenue, Melvin Close and Napier Crescent.

During the Second World War there were two barrage balloons tethered here (one damaged the church bells in 1945), and the Home Guard had an observation post on the top of Laverstock Down. The Laverstock and Ford Social Club was formed during the war years, at the Old School Room, moving to their present premises in the early 1950s. Mains water was installed after the war and former stables adjoining Church Road were converted to a village hall, replacing the Old School Hall. Milford Station, used only for freight, closed.

In 1955 Laverstock House Mental Home closed and by 1966 a total of 42 houses had been built in the grounds. Further housing was built on a 12-acre site at the Hall. In 1964 a new village hall was opened and also from that year to 1974 several of the Salisbury secondary schools moved into new buildings in Laverstock. By the end of the 20th century the only large house remaining is Burroughs’ Hill with new housing estates covering the sites of the others. The post office and the Duck are still there along with shops serving the modern estates.

This extract copied from the Wiltshire Community History website, click here
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