History of Berwick St John
Berwick is a small village on the Wiltshire, Dorset border. To help provide an insight into the history of our village we, thought it would be interesting to publish a few historical articles and accounts written about our village.
An article taken from the Tisbury Rural Deanery Magazine January 1961
“During the year 1961 the church, as it now stands, becomes 100 years old. The parish itself is an ancient one, and from 955 to the Reformation belonged to the abbey of Wilton, being acquired by the Pembroke family at the Dissolution of the monasteries. The Earl of Pembroke is still the formal patron of the church. Amongst very old farms or estates which continue their uninterrupted existence are Easton Farm, Upton Farm, Upper and Lower Bridmore, Ashcombe and Rushmore. The manors of Easton Bassett, Upton and Bridmore, for much of the middle ages belonged to the Lucy family; it is known that Sir Robert Lucy died in Berwick in 1261, and the thirteenth-century effigy of a knight in the north transept may well commemorate him. The manor of Bridmore has been divided into two since the reign of Edward I. It is quite likely that it derives its name from Britmar, who in the Domesday Book is the tenant of Wardour. There is a Britmore Farm in the parish of Donhead St. Andrew. Numerous other families are known to have held these various farms and manors, such as the Groves and the Shelleys. Chapel Farm was, until quite recently, part of Donhead St. Andre w, with a chapel-at-ease. In an eighteenth century register at Donhead there is a note in the then rector`s hand, stating that his Easton parishioners now hear service at Berwick St. John, as the chapel has been ruined beyond repair during the late Civil Wars. One or two fragments of this chapel are thought to have existed until a few years ago, but a careful search in the immediate vicinity has revealed no trace of them. It is probable that the stones of this old chapel are now built into the walls of the farm buildings.”
An article taken from a Western Gazette report dated January 9th 1931
“Scenes taken from village history formed part of an entertaining programme given on Friday and Saturday at Berwick St. John in aid of Church funds. They were presented entirely by local people. The production of this pageantry was undertaken by Mrs Dineley and suggestions as to suitable scenes for presentation, with historical facts came from the Rev. W. Goodchild, formerly rector of Berwick St. John, and a well known antiquary. By kind permission of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, the performances were given in the hall of the Ferne Estate Yard. This building was illuminated electrically, a fact which enabled Mr Mark Dineley, who prepared all the stage properties, to arrange some very effective lighting. All the scenes depicted some specific incident in Berwick`s history, and the last, which told of the origin of Berwick`s nightly curfew bell, has an unbroken link with the present day. People in the village and adjacent villages, took a keen interest in the production, and on both Friday and Saturday there were crowded audiences. As the curtain rose, a modern boy and girl (Master George and Miss Rosa Arnold) were complaining that Berwick was a dull old place, where nothing ever happened. From an alcove stepped a courtly figure in silken knee-breeches and powdered wig (Mrs B. Parham) who announced himself to be Charles Bowles, the historian author of the “History of the Chalke Valley”. He reproved the children for their statement and bade them wait with him while he would show them some incidents which had occurred in their village in past ages.
Romano British Life
The first episode was set on Winklebury Hill about the year 200 AD, and during the time of the Roman occupation. The wife of a Romano British farmer (Mrs M Burge), clothed in coarse hopsack, was discussing with her son (Mr J Burge) clad in a knee length tunic and sandals, with a skin about his shoulders, the expected arrival of the Roman tax gatherer. The son told her that he had lost the best cow while he was taking the herd to water at the dam in Donhead. Further conversation was cut short by the arrival of the tax gatherer (Mr C Hiscock) and his escourt, a magnificently caparisoned soldier (Mr A Lane) who was armed with a spear. The tax gatherer, dressed in a flowing white robe which reached to the ground, and bare headed, demanded of the old woman, the best cow, and the usual measure of corn and honey. On being told that the best cow was lost, he said that the second best cow should be sent, and as he left with his escourt, the old woman shook her fist at the departing figures. She told her son to take the goods to the Roman camp as decided, and added, in a fierce whisper, that if he could not lose the second best cow before he got there, he was no son of hers! “See what the people of Berwick had to endure”, Bowles told the children. “Their Roman overlords certainly built dams so that the herds might drink, and made roads, but heavy dues were expected, and I doubt not, that even in times of bad harvests the taxes had to be paid in full, while the poor depressed Britons existed as best they could, on the little, if any, that remained”. As the curtain fell, a choir of local people sang “Oh, who will o`er the downs so free”.
The next episode was laid in the church of Saint John at Berwick. Sometime in the years 1520 – 30. Three monks from Glastonbury Abbey, (Mrs J Smart, Mrs A Lane and Miss K Foot) clad in brown habits and cowls, carried into the church three bells, and the works of a great clock, which were the contribution to the newly built church, of Richard Beere, the Abbot of Glastonbury. A village maiden (Miss K Bartlett) watched the proceedings with more than usual interest, and when Brother Richard was temporarily left by his colleagues, she ran to him, pinned a rose to his habit, and kissed him. The choir sang, “Ring Out Sweet Bells”. Bowles told the children that if they pretended a little, Brother Richard came back some years later, when the great Abbeys had been broken up and freed from monkish vows, married the village girl, settled down in Berwick, and made clocks.
The third epistle told of the flight of the Duke of Monmouth, after his defeat at Sedgemoor in 1686, and it was laid in Monmouth`s Lane, Berwick, which takes it`s name from the incident. The lane is situated between Berwick and Alvediston, and leads southwards to the downs. The Duke of Monmouth (Mrs C Foot) and Lord Grey (Mrs Jacobs) were seen traversing the lane in the night, guided in their flight by Halliday, a Gillingham boy (Miss Mary Hannam). Grey prevailed on Monmouth to hide his sword, on the grounds that it`s retention might tend to establish his identity, and hardly had this been done, when footsteps were heard approaching, and the trio disappeared. A poacher (Miss Betty Hannam) appeared, looking about him, and discovered the hastily discarded sword, and took possession of it, with the remark that he could sell it to the mummers. The musical number for this was, “All through the night”. Bowles said to the children, “Monmouth hid his sword in that lane just as you have seen, and the poacher found it soon afterwards. He sold it to the mummers and they used it in their plays for years and years. It is now in the Bristol museum. Monmouth never got away though. They caught him on the Chase, over the hill.”
The incident which led to the ringing of the nightly curfew bell in Berwick was the subject of the final episode. The scene being laid on the Oxdrove at the top of Easton Hollow sometime between 1658 and 1720. John Gane (Miss P Bradley) was seen stranded in the fog on top of the downs, having completely lost his sense of direction. The clock of the Berwick church, striking the hour of ten told him the direction of the village, to which he was eventually able to make his way in safety. He was welcomed by Mrs Gane (Miss E Abbot) and their children (Misses F Smart and L Emm), and related to them the story of his adventure, registering a vow that the bell of the church should be rung every night during the winter months, to guide belated wayfarers. “Ring the Bell Watchman”, was sung by the choir (leader Mr R Foot). Bowles told his little listeners that they were making history today, just as surely as the people he had shown them.
Enthusiasm at the final curtain there was prolonged applause, and when the performers appeared together on the stage, there were numerous calls for Mr Mark Dineley, who, however, did not appear. In addition to the pageant, a sketch entitled “Impossible Perkins”, was given on Friday afternoon by Miss E Dunstan, Miss M Sargeant, and Miss P Bridle, and on Saturday evening, a little comedy, “Quits”, was presented in excellent style by Miss C Farquharson and Miss P Adsell. Vocal items were given by Miss C Farquharson, Mr P Lyden and Mr F W Pullen (who also led community singing with Miss M D Cox at the piano. The choir which took part in the pageant, was accompanied at the piano by Mrs Webb. At the close of Saturday`s performance,the rector (Rev G Harris) expressed his gratitude to Mrs Dineley for her excellent presentations, of so unusual an entertainment. It was so good, he said, to see the life of their village, as it had been , in the past ages. Many people, perhaps had learned things that they did not know before, and he believed that the educational value of the production could not be over estimated. He was indeed grateful to Mrs Dineley and all who had been associated with her. At the Rector`s call, hearty cheers were given.”
Notes on Winklebury Hill, from, “The Iron Age and its Hillforts” (1971)
Copied from LindaRenoth’s school notebooks by her daughter Rosa Denton, both genuine Berwick residents…
“Above Berwick St. John a track runs along the hilltop from north to south. Winklebury occupies the northern 5 ha(?) of a steep sided promontory whose edges are defended by a single rampart and ditch. The neck of the spur is cut off by two straight stretches of rampart and ditch, set obliquely to each other, which an entrance between. Midway along the interior of the fort is a slighter curved line of defence running from east to west, with an entrance gap towards the eastern end. Close study of the earthworks by Richard Faeces has shown that they represent three stages of construction, and each apparently unfinished. He considers that the two straight ditches across the speller, that are irregular in height and appearance, represent the first construction by a gang of labourers. Later, a defence around the crest of the spur was begun, but again not completed. Dumps of material can still be observed lying within the rampart line. The final attempt was to construct the smaller circular enclosure at the top of the spur. There is an entrance at the north, carrying a farm track. Excavations by Pitt-Rivers in 1881-2 recognized two periods of construction, one with storage pits belonging to the Iron Age, and another to the Belgic period, when additional defences were commenced.”
An interesting book has been published by an author in the village entitled, ‘The Biography of a Country Church’ and is available at £5.00 (plus postage) from Winklebury Publications, Berwick St John, Shaftesbury, Dorset, SP7 0EY