A very big thanks to the “Heritage Lottery Fund“ for their support of “Digging for Dilton” including the creation of this website.
Their support helped promote and encourage a community spirit which has brought many people previously unknown to each other into close and supporting friendships; something that can only be good for the village as a whole.
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Dilton Potted History
For the purposes of this brief history some liberties have been take with modern administrative boundaries. The village of Old Dilton, originally Dilton, is now in Westbury civil parish but has been included in Dilton Marsh as, in some respects, the two are associated with one another. Both were in the ancient parish and hundred of Westbury and an outlying part of the otherwise compact manor of Dilton lay in le Mershe (Marsh) and for that reason the later settlement here was called Dilton Marsh. The modern civil parish of Dilton Marsh includes other distinct early areas -the hamlet of Penleigh, Bremeridge, which was linked to Dilton by 1377, and Brookway, of which part is the virgate of land given to Walter of Brookway in 1249 by the prior of Monkton Farleigh. Dilton itself had little land suitable for houses and there would have been scattered settlement throughout the other areas from an early date. Dilton itself was important to all the other settlements as it possessed first a chapel, then a church, which was needed by everyone for christenings, marriages and burials. Today Dilton consists only of six or seven houses, Old Dilton Farm and the redundant church of St. Mary. The new settlement of Dilton Marsh now has nearly 1900 inhabitants.
The civil parish of Dilton Marsh is fairly low lying with clay in the north. South of the village the land rises to 128 metres in Chalcot Park where the Upper Greensand gives way to chalk in the south and south-east. The land is well wooded in the south and the large estate of Chalcot is here. A stream flows from Dilton Marsh village northwards through Bremeridge while the Biss Brook flows through Old Dilton. An early drove road, possibly used in Romano-British times, passes from east to west through Old Dilton. The A3098 Westbury to Frome road divides Dilton Marsh from Old Dilton but there are no main roads passing through any of the villages or hamlets.
Early activity and settlement would seem to have been in the south of the parish and at Old Dilton. This makes sense as much of the northern part of the parish was low lying marsh. At Dilton a collective burial of seven or eight disarticulated skeletons were found beneath a round barrow that dates from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Also from the Bronze Age are a banded bucket urn from Chalcot House and a looped palstave at Old Dilton. It is most likely that there was Iron Age settlement here but the substantial evidence comes from the Romano-British period. There seems to have been an east to west line of settlement through Short Street, Chalcot Park and Hisomley and some authorities identify three district settlements here.
There is little evidence of Saxon settlement as houses and most utensils were made of wood. It is likely that land was slowly cleared at Old Dilton, which was probably first permanently settled at this time. There is no separate entry for Dilton in the Domesday Book (1086) but it is likely that, with Bratton, it was part of the 4 1/2 hides held by William Scudet for ‘Keeping the King’s larder’. Between the two settlements there was land for seven ploughs with four serfs on the manorial estate and 20 bordars, or cottages with a little land. There were two mills and there is most likely to have been one at Dilton, 20 acres of meadow and 4 acres of wood. The total population of Dilton at this time is likely to have been in the region of 40 to 50 people.
A chapel seems to have existed at Dilton in Norman times when the manor was owned by the De Anesize family. There were few favourable house sites in Dilton once the manor house and farm had been built on the flattest land. The nucleated village cannot have been very large at any period but there would have been houses elsewhere in the manor. From the 13th to the 14th century Dilton was held by the Dauntsey family. In 1315 a water mill, doubtless the Domesday one is mentioned. A taxation list for 1332 groups people under the heading of ‘Mersshe’ indicating that the Marsh was the centre of population for taxation purposes. Whether this includes people at Dilton is unclear, although as the amount of taxes is low, 17/10¾d (89 pence) compared with 31/4 1/2 d (£1.57p) at Bremeridge, and 13/8d (68p) at Penleigh, it may only refer to people living around the Marsh. Interestingly of the nine people taxed, eight have surnames in the modern sense but one still reflects his place of origin, Michael atte Mersshe. Although both Dilton and the Marsh were centres of population for taxation purposes, from now until the 17th or 18th century Dilton was the more important. On the manor of Dilton in 1348 the farming practice was for half the arable land to be sown and half to lie fallow each year, indicating a two field system. There was a mill at Penleigh in the 15th century, which ground corn and grist until the early 20th century.
By the 16th century the manor of Dilton was owned by Edington Priory and we have more information and records. A church house, for the secular business of the church, was built and a timber-framed corn mill, probably on the site of the earlier mill. There were now three common fields, a large one, Clay field (South field) and two smaller ones, Great Sands (South Sands) and Little Sands (North Sands). It is possible that Great and Little Sands were originally one large field in the earlier two field system. The main areas of farming would have been corn and sheep with some cattle kept. By this time the cloth trade was very important in the whole area and a fulling mill in Dilton Vale, to the north of the corn mill, is mentioned in 1542. Handloom weaving would have provided a major part of their income for smaller landholders, while there is likely to have been one or two larger weavers or small clothiers. In 1545 Dilton had two taxpayers, including John Bush, lord of the manor, and Penleigh two. In 1576 Dilton and Chapmanslade together had four taxpayers while Penleigh and Broucke had six. In 1587 Sir Walter Hungerford bought Dilton manor and his family owned it until 1684. The Apple Tree Inn, later Bridge Farm, was built in the later 16th century or early 17th century. Throughout this time settlement at the Marsh will have been scattered farms and cottages.
Weaving remained important in the 17th and 18th century but by the 18th century most industrial activity was at Dilton Marsh. At Dilton a small area on the steeper banks of the stream, to the south of the church, was cleared and houses built in the early 17th century but this is likely to have exhausted available land in the village. After that new building took place at the Marsh with the earliest nucleated settlement in St. Mary’s (formerly Slob) Lane and Silver Street, which became the main village road. Many handloom weaver’s cottages were built on the waste and lean-to workshops at the side or rear, while on a much larger scale the present Penleigh House was built in 1710. During the century Dilton Marsh became firmly established as the major settlement and by 1798 had two fairs, on Easter Monday and on 13th September.
During the first half of the 19th century Dilton Marsh remained an important centre for handloom weaving, although by the 1820s weavers were becoming impoverished as work was taken by the new factories in the towns. Around 1800 two new buildings were erected on the site of Wooller,s Mills, being now known as Boyer’s Mill, and Boyer’s House was built in the early 19th century. There were many weavers at Stormore, or St. Maur, Common and in the 1830s new weaver’s houses were built opposite the church. Early signs of the distress caused by the mechanisation of the industry had occurred in 1817 when weavers gathered at Dilton Marsh, collected all woven cloth, and marched to Warminster to protest at the low prices of woven cloth. In 1819 unemployed weavers were set to digging land while children were taught to knit stockings to provide an income. By 1840 there were still about 150 handloom weavers in the village although weekly earnings on one loom was only eight shillings (40p) with the husband working all day and the wife all night. Where there were older children two or three looms might be worked in one cottage to provide a larger income.
An enclosure award for Westbury and Dilton in 1808/9 confirmed the shape of Dilton Marsh village. The cottages built on the waste were given the land between the building and the road, giving them the long front gardens that we see today. The village had evolved as a long street village with a few houses along roads branching off from this east-west route. Compared with Dilton the village of Dilton Marsh was now large and popular, although there were still 23 houses, two unoccupied, in Dilton in 1841 and Dilton Court was built in that year. Old Dilton Farmhouse had been built in 1800, but apart from these larger houses all building was taking place at the Marsh. The public houses, apart from the Black Dog outside the village, were all at Dilton Marsh, including the Weaver’s Arms and the George. There do not seem to have been any shops or craftsmen at Dilton by the 1850s but in Dilton Marsh there were eight shopkeepers, two shoemakers, a tailor, a coal haulier, and a carpenter and wheelwright. Dilton Upper Mill (a large spinning factory) and Dilton Lower Mill (fulling and spinning) had both closed although these had been prosperous in the 1820s.
In 1867 St. Mary’s Home was established in Slob, later St. Mary’s, Lane as a convent. It provided Sunday and night schools for girls and also looked after some orphans. From 1879 it taught orphan girls to qualify as schoolteachers, and continued in this until 1893. By 1888 Dilton Marsh Fair was on 24 September. Dilton Marsh became a civil parish in 1894 and later that decade had its own parish council. Much employment for villagers was in leather working at Westbury Leigh, at Leigh Works, and in the brickworks of W.H. Laverton at Penleigh. Around the turn of the 20th century several rows of brick houses were built, probably for the workers at Leigh Works (Boyer’s Mill).
In the early 20th century public houses had increased to four, with the George, the King’s Arms, the Price of Wales, and the Apple Tree. Part of the parish was given up in 1934 when an area in the south-west, including the northern side of the village street at Chapmanslade, was included in the new civil parish of Chapmanslade. After the Second World War small council estates were built at the western end of the village. Although Dilton Marsh had expanded greatly there was no mains sewerage system in the village until the mid-1960s. A survey in 1961 found that some 10% of houses were disposing of raw sewerage through illegal gullies into open ditches. A new scheme was approved in 1962 and by 1966 a total of 355 properties had been connected to a new mains sewer. After this scheme the housing estates of Shepherd’s Mead, Greenacres, Friar’s Close, and Clay Close were given planning permission, while infilling also took place in the village centre. The population increased substantially in the 1970s, from 1,306 in 1971 to 1,881 in 1981. The Bristol City and England footballer John Atyeo was brought up in Dilton Marsh and lived there until 1970.