Garsdon parish, a short distance east of Malmesbury, originated as an estate apparently given to Malmesbury abbey in 701. In 1934 the parish, 1,128 a. (457 ha.), was added to Lea and Cleverton parish.
The streams which marked the western boundary of the parish and the western part of the southern may have been boundaries of the estate given to Malmesbury abbey, and the stream to the south, Woodbridge brook, was that called Garesburn until the late 13th century.
As in the case of its neighbour Charlton, Garsdon’s eastern boundary in 1225 may have been the western boundary of Braydon forest which ran roughly north and south between Swatnage wood in Charlton and Woodbridge brook: such a boundary would have been east of the site of Park Farm.
In 1228 the forest was extended west to Garsdon’s western boundary stream, in 1279 reduced to its 1225 boundary, and in 1300 reduced to an area well to the east of Garsdon.
After 1630, when Braydon forest was inclosed, its purlieus, apparently the land between the boundaries of 1279 and 1300, were inclosed by the lords of manors near the forest. After dispute in 1632, land was conceded to Garsdon by Thomas Howard, earl of Berkshire, lord of the manor of both Charlton and of Garsdon’s eastern neighbour Brinkworth, and possibly by other lords.
Garsdon was allotted 275 a. near the village of Minety (then Glos.): although it belonged to the lord of Garsdon manor until the late 18th or early 19th century that land, most of which was Minety farm in the early 19th century, was not added to Garsdon parish. The c. 200 a. east of the 1279 boundary which became part of Garsdon parish were possibly conceded by Lord Berkshire, who is unlikely to have had land near Minety. Garsdon’s boundary with Charlton was changed slightly c. 1882.
The grassy hill which gave Garsdon its name is a north-west and south-east ridge, rising from 76 m. near the church to 110 m. at the eastern boundary, and was a backbone for the former parish. The lowest land is in the south-west corner around the confluence of the two boundary streams, which are tributaries of the Bristol Avon. A third stream flows west through the former parish to join Woodbridge brook. Alluvium has been deposited in the south-west corner, and in the north-west corner Cornbrash outcrops. Elsewhere Kellaways Clay and Oxford Clay outcrop and there are areas of Kellaways Sand south-east and north-east of the church.
The Cornbrash favours arable, but much of Garsdon parish was for long pasture. In the 18th century, as presumably earlier, the arable was scattered in the south and west and there were extensive meadows beside the streams.
In the early 18th century there were coppices near the western boundary and south-east and south-west of the church. Much of the timber was cut c. 1750 and, although some new planting took place soon afterwards, thereafter woodland in the parish was sparse.
In the late 17th century the main Oxford—Bristol road ran east and west through the parish. The bridge carrying it across the western boundary stream was called Milbourne bridge in the late 18th and early 19th, Tanner’s bridge from the late 19th century. The road may have been of less importance by 1756 when a more northerly road through Charlton was turnpiked. A plan of 1819 to replace part of the turnpike road by a new road running south-west to Garsdon Mill was not carried out. In the early 18th century as in the late 20th the east—west road was crossed west of the church by a north—south road running between Charlton and Lea, and was left east of the church by a road leading north-east towards Charlton and Hankerton. The old Oxford—Bristol road follows the ridge in the east part of the former parish. That length of road or a group of buildings beside it was called Park Lane in the late 18th century; the road was so called in the late 19th century and later. At its east end it is crossed by a lane which marked much of the eastern boundary of the parish.
In 1377 Garsdon had 55 poll-tax payers, a high figure for a small rural parish. A tax assessment suggests that the parish was prosperous in the late 16th century. In 1801 the population numbered 143. The number had risen to 234 by 1831, but declined for much of the rest of the century. Between 1891 and 1901 numbers rose from 141 to 162; thereafter they fell again. In 1931, the last date for which separate figures are available, 119 people lived in the parish; it is unlikely that more lived in the former parish in 1986.
Garsdon village is on the ridge along the main east—west road between Garsdon Manor and the junction with the Charlton and Hankerton road. The church is north of the road, Garsdon Manor and the rectory house south of it. Several cottages along the main road south-east of the junction in 1720 had been demolished by 1773. Church Farm was built on their site between 1773 and 1813. Buildings on the south side of the main road were demolished or replaced in the mid or late 19th century, and a Sunday school was built near the church in 1886.
From the 18th century or earlier the parish contained scattered settlement and several hamlets. In 1720 there were buildings west of the village near Tanner’s bridge; 19th-century cottages stood there in 1986. Garsdon Mill, north-west of the village, may have been on its present site from the 13th century. Between 1773 and 1813 two houses were built west of the Charlton—Lea road near the northern boundary: the hamlet was called Noah’s Ark in 1827 and later. In the 20th century two bungalows and farm buildings were added east of the road. Park Farm stands on the site of buildings which were beside Park Lane in 1720, but none of its buildings appears older than the 19th century. Further east there were several cottages near the western edge of Upper common in 1720; Hill Farm and Greenhill Farm stand there, each with a farmhouse apparently of the 19th century. A farmstead and cottages beside the Charlton and Hankerton road north-east of the village were standing in 1720 on land called Hazell Heath in 1773. The farmhouse, called Garsdon Heath Farm in 1828 and later, was rebuilt in the late 18th century or the early 19th. A nonconformist chapel and two cottages were built north-east of it in the mid 19th century. A few houses were built on scattered sites in the former parish in the later 20th century.
In 701 King Ine apparently gave to Malmesbury abbey 5 manentes at Garsdon. Ulueva held GARSDON in 1066. She may have held it as a tenant of the abbey, but it was later claimed that Queen Maud gave it to the abbey in 1081. Malmesbury abbey held Garsdon in 1086 and retained it until the Dissolution. In 1543 the Crown granted Garsdon manor to Richard Moody. Richard (d. 1550) settled the manor for life on his wife Catherine, later wife of William Basely. On her death in 1556 it passed to Richard’s son Richard (d. 1612). The younger Richard was succeeded by his son Sir Henry (cr. a baronet 1622, d. 1629), whose son Sir Henry sold it in 1631 to Sir Laurence Washington. Sir Laurence (d. 1643) was succeeded in turn by his son Laurence (d. 1661) and Laurence’s daughter Elizabeth, who in 1671 married Sir Robert Shirley, Bt. (from 1677 Lord Ferrers, from 1711 Earl Ferrers). Earl Ferrers (d. 1717) devised Garsdon manor to Laurence Shirley, his tenth son, who died in 1743. Laurence’s son Laurence became Earl Ferrers in 1745. He sold the manor in 1758 to Paul Methuen (d. 1795). Methuen was succeeded by his son Paul (d. 1816), whose son Paul (cr. Baron Methuen 1810) sold it in 1843 to Thomas Howard, earl of Suffolk and of Berkshire. The manor passed with Charlton manor and the titles to Charles Howard, earl of Suffolk and of Berkshire, who between 1934 and 1939 sold Garsdon Manor and Manor farm to A. S. Butler and his wife Lois. In 1945 the Butlers sold the house and farm, c. 350 a., to E. H. and E. E. Higgins; E. E. and I. R. Higgins sold the land in 1977 to the Refuge Assurance Company, the owner in 1986. Mr. D. Allen owned Garsdon Manor and 5 a. in 1986.
Garsdon Manor was in the early 16th century and probably earlier used by the abbot of Malmesbury as a lodging. It was probably occupied by members of the Moody and Washington families in the later 16th century and the 17th. The oldest part of the house is the east—west back range which has an early 14th-century raised base cruck roof of four bays. Most of the supporting walls have been rebuilt or repaired but the lower courses and a mutilated buttress on the south side are apparently medieval. The roof of that range appears to have covered an upper room but surviving floor levels are the result of alterations. Another range of building, running north from the older range’s eastern end, incorporates four 16th-century windows, some of which have been reset. That newer range was shortened, probably in the mid 19th century when buildings between the house and the road north of it were demolished. A threestoreyed block was built on the south side of the 14th-century range at its eastern end apparently in the early 17th century. Its thick internal ground floor walls may, however, be part of an earlier building. The principal room on its first floor has an elaborate chimney piece and a ceiling decorated with strapwork. The house was altered and a new staircase made in the late 19th century.
The remaining lands of Garsdon manor, c. 750 a., passed with the titles from Charles, earl of Suffolk and of Berkshire (d. 1941), to his son Michael, who sold them in 1945. Church farm, 164 a., was bought by R. E. Organ, whose daughter Miss M. Organ owned it in 1986. Park farm and Garsdon Heath farm, c. 300 a. each, were owned in 1986 by F. L. Lewis & Sons and by Mr. D. G. Topp respectively.
In 1086 there was land for 6 ploughteams at Garsdon. On the demesne of 1½ hide there were 2 teams and 6 servi; 5 villani and 5 coscets had a total of 3 teams. There were 10 a. each of meadow and pasture, and woodland ½ league long and 2 furlongs broad.
The soils in parts of the parish favoured arable, and early tillage may have been in open fields, but there is no direct evidence of such fields. Whitehill green, east and south-east of Garsdon Manor, was a common pasture until the 17th century; and north-east of the village the Heath, c. 10 a., was a common pasture which adjoined a namesake in Charlton. The lord and tenants of Garsdon manor shared with many others grazing rights in Braydon forest and its purlieus. They were excluded from the forest when it was inclosed in 1630 and from all but their own allotments of the purlieus c. 1633. The grassland in the eastern part of the parish was apparently inclosed by the lord of the manor except for 30 a. near the eastern boundary, Upper common, assigned for use by the tenants in common. The Heath was inclosed between 1821 and 1839; 22 a. of Upper common were inclosed after 1839.
In 1210 stock on the demesne of Garsdon manor included 16 oxen, 1 draught beast, and 6 cows; tenants paid rents totalling 16s. In 1535 the demesne was held on lease, as were two holdings of pasture, one of 40 a. and one much smaller, presumably several and perhaps formerly part of the demesne. All or part of those pastures and part of Whitehill green were imparked in the early 17th century. The park, roughly square with the manor house in the north-west corner, was walled and in 1678 measured 200 a. Other demesne lands, all several, were then held as farms of 90 a. and 273 a. Although still walled, by 1721 the 200 a. had been disparked and divided into two holdings; parts of the wall were still standing in 1757. The demesne lands, including the former park and land in Lea, comprised 750 a. in 1759 and were held as seven farms; the largest included 112 a. of arable, 81 a. of meadow, and 86 a. of pasture in 1766.
Garsdon manor had less copyhold land than demesne. Two copyholders held a total of 56 a. in 1759, when 380 a. of former copyhold land were held on leases by five tenants. By 1776 all copyholds had been converted to leaseholds.
In the late 18th century and the early 19th the farms in the parish became fewer and larger. In 1776 there were farms of 337 a., 264 a., 171 a., and 137 a., and five of between 20 a. and 100 a. In 1821 there were only four farms, all compact. Manor farm, 337 a., occupied the western part of the parish, and Park farm, also 337 a., the south-eastern part; the lands of Church farm, 173 a., lay mainly north of the church and those of Garsdon Heath farm, 170 a., east of it. In 1759 and 1839 there were c. 700 a. of meadow and pasture, c. 300 a. of arable.
In the 1860s and 1870s there were 700–750 a. of pasture and 200–300 a. of arable; the principal crop was wheat. In 1866 there were c. 200 sheep, 188 cattle including 83 cows, and 77 pigs. The area of pasture increased, numbers of cattle and pigs rose, and the size of the flock decreased in the late 19th century. Between 1906 and 1936 there were usually more than 300 cattle and 200 pigs, fewer than 100 sheep. Nearly the whole parish was pasture, with some arable in the north and west. By the 1980s the area of arable had increased, mostly in the west; cereals and rape were grown. The pastures were still mainly used for dairy cattle.
There were two mills at Garsdon in 1086. Records of a water mill in the parish survive from the early 13th century; from the 16th century, as presumably earlier, it was part of Garsdon manor. Probably in 1228 and certainly in 1720 the mill stood on the parish’s western boundary. It was used in 1950 for the preparation of animal feed, and in 1986 was a private house. The building comprises an apparently 18th-century western range of two storeys with attics, and a 19th-century eastern extension of three storeys.
There were weavers in Garsdon in the late 16th century and the early 17th. In 1766 there was a tanyard west of the village beside the bridge to which it later gave a name. From 1855 or earlier bricks, tiles, and pottery were fired in a kiln west of Garsdon Heath Farm. In the 1880s and 1890s the brickworks was owned by J. E. Ponting, a Malmesbury ironmonger. It had been closed by 1910. Probably in the mid 19th century a quarry was opened on the Cornbrash near the parish’s north-western corner, where there was a lime kiln; another was opened further east in the 1880s. Quarrying had apparently ceased by 1911.
Courts were held for Garsdon manor in the 16th century as, presumably, at other times, but none of their records survives.
Apparently in the early 17th century a cottage was built at the expense of the wealthier inhabitants for the poor of Garsdon. Its use as an almshouse was confirmed in 1659. It was perhaps one of four cottages a little east of Garsdon Manor which were held by the overseers of the poor in 1821. The cottages had been demolished by 1839.
Poor rates in Garsdon parish in the early 19th century were close to the average for Malmesbury hundred. Expenditure on the poor had risen from £30 in 1776 to £180 by 1812–13 when 16 people received permanent and 51 occasional relief. Thereafter the cost of poor relief fluctuated, reaching peaks of £242 in 1817–18 and £268 in 1830–1. In the period 1833–5 the average annual expenditure was £114. Garsdon became part of Malmesbury poor-law union in 1835 and of North Wiltshire district in 1974.
There was a church at Garsdon in 1265. Although in 1340 Malmesbury abbey was licensed to appropriate it, the living remained a rectory. By the mid 16th century Lea church had been annexed to Garsdon rectory; Garsdon and Lea and Cleverton were considered a united benefice in the earlier 20th century. In 1987 the benefice of Garsdon, Lea and Cleverton, and Charlton was created.
From 1298 or earlier Malmesbury abbey held the advowson of Garsdon. Until the Dissolution the abbot presented all known rectors but one; in 1511 the king presented, perhaps because the recently elected abbot had not then been confirmed. After the Dissolution the advowson passed with Garsdon manor. John Purie in 1612, William Palmer and Elizabeth Herne together in 1640, and J. D. King in 1763 each presented a rector by grant of a turn. In 1843 Thomas, earl of Suffolk and of Berkshire, sold the advowson to Joseph Neeld. By 1859 it had passed, presumably by sale, to Henry Gale. In 1869 Gale himself was presented to the rectory by the Revd. W. W. Gale and J. W. P. Gale. In 1877 J. W. P. Gale presented T. S. Gray, who in turn presented his successor, R. W. Hay, in 1895. By 1905 the advowson had passed to Hay’s wife Margaret. In 1922 she sold it to the Church Association Trust, later the Church Society Trust. The trust and the bishop of Bristol became joint patrons of Garsdon, Lea and Cleverton, and Charlton in 1987.
A pension of 10s. paid from Garsdon church to Malmesbury abbey was confirmed in 1265. In 1291 the abbey’s income from the church was in the form of a portion of tithes worth 10s. In 1535 the abbey took 10s. and the abbey’s chamberlain took tithes worth 3s. 4d. The rectory was then valued at £10 9s. 8d., a little above the average for a living in Malmesbury deanery. About 1830, however, the combined income of c. £350 from Garsdon parish and Lea and Cleverton parish was only about the average for a Wiltshire benefice.
The rector was presumably entitled to all the tithes of the parish subject to the portion due to Malmesbury abbey. By the early 19th century tithes on 92 a., part of Park farm, had been replaced by an annual payment of £5 4s. In 1839 the tithes and the payment were valued at £170 and replaced by a rent charge.
In 1341 the rector held 1 yardland and 1 a. of meadow. There were said to be 10 a. of glebe in 1608 and 18 a. in the late 17th century and the early 19th. In 1822 by an exchange 16 a. of glebe were replaced by 12 a. around the rectory house. The glebe house recorded in 1671 was perhaps that of stone standing in 1783. A new house, built in 1815, has a tall two-storeyed central block with east and west wings, and was much enlarged in the late 19th century. It was sold in 1950, probably with the 12 a. of glebe.
Nicholas of Stratton, rector 1309–17, was licensed in 1311 to be absent from the parish for a year to study; he was later the subject of actions for debt. Charges made in 1553 against the rector, Thomas Harmer, that he did not hold services at a reasonable hour or say the Lord’s Prayer daily, as required, and that quarterly sermons had not been preached, may indicate that he opposed the Edwardian reformation; he was deprived in 1553 or 1554. John Herne, rector 1640–70, was said to have been sequestrated and imprisoned during the Interregnum. He had recovered the living by 1662 but the church then had no surplice and some prescribed books were missing. Joseph Simpson, rector 1763–97, and T. A. Methuen, rector 1814–69, both held other benefices and were not resident. During their incumbencies Garsdon was served by curates, one of whom John Davis, curate c. 1780, helped to found a Congregational church in Malmesbury. In 1783 a service was held in Garsdon each Sunday, in the morning in winter and in the afternoon in summer. Communion was celebrated at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun, and there were c. 10 communicants. On Census Sunday in 1851 a congregation of 37 attended the single, morning, service. From 1950 the rector lived at Lea, and between 1974 and 1987 Garsdon with Lea and Cleverton was served by a priest-in-charge.
ALL SAINTS’ church, so called in 1763, is built of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings and has a chancel with north vestry, a nave with south porch, and a west tower. Only the tower dates from before 1856. Before that date the plan of the church, which consisted of a chancel, a nave with south porch, and the tower, was apparently 13th-century or earlier. The chancel and nave each had windows of the 14th and 15th centuries, and the porch was of the 15th century or the early 16th. The lower stage of the tower was built in the 15th century, the upper in the 16th. The undivided nave and chancel built in 1856 to designs by Coe & Goodwin are taller and wider than their predecessors and have windows in 15th-century style.
In 1553 the parish kept a chalice weighing 11 oz., and 2½ oz. of plate were taken for the king. By will proved 1687 Eleanor, Lady Pargiter, formerly wife of Laurence Washington (d. 1661), gave two chalices, a flagon, and a paten. The 17th century pieces were lost in the late 18th century or the early 19th but were recovered c. 1820 and were still held by the parish in 1986.
There were four bells in the church in 1553. A medieval bell and one recast in 1586 were the only bells to hang there in the late 17th century. They were replaced c. 1880 by a ring of eight tubular bells by Harrington, Latham, & Co., which remained in the church in 1986.
There are registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials from 1682.
In 1662 William Midge and his son William were presented for failing to receive communion at Easter. The elder William refused to pay the Easter offering; the younger described the Prayer Book as popery.
No other evidence of dissent in the parish has been found before 1827, when a house was certified for Methodist meetings. In 1860 Primitive Methodists built the Jubilee chapel at Garsdon Heath. It was still in use in 1986.
There may have been a day school at Garsdon in the 1840s. By 1858 children from Garsdon attended the school in Lea.
Charity for the Poor.
By will proved 1643 Sir Laurence Washington gave 12d. a week from Garsdon manor to buy bread for or to be given in cash to the poor of the parish. In the 18th century the rent from 3 a. of the manor was apparently used for doles or clothing. By 1834 the charity had been lost.