History of Norton Bavant


By Squadron Leader R G Woodman DSO, DFC

Westbury, Wiltshire, 1985

It may be presumptuous of me to write a history of the parish, not having lived there, but research into the Scudamore family when the manor was called Norton Scudamore, and of the Bavant family, had me visiting the village and countryside around a number of times.  As for the countryside thereabouts, Cobbett in his “Rural Rides” speaks for it splendidly:

“From Heytesbury to Warminster is a part of the country singularly bright and beautiful.  It is impossible for the eyes of man to be fixed on a finer country than that between the village of Codford and the town of Warminster.  There are two villages, one is called Norton Bavant and the other Bishopstrow which I think form together one of the prettiest spots that my eyes ever beheld.

Just when I was coming along here, the sun half an hour high; it shined through the trees most brilliantly; and to crown the whole, I met, just as I was entering the village, a very pretty girl, who was apparently going a gleaning in the fields.”

Early Man

One summer’s afternoon I sat on top of the Stone Age earthwork, Scratchbury Camp, looking down on the village of Norton Bavant, and the whole fascinating countryside around me.  A mile and a half north was the imposing earthwork fortress of Battlesbury, 23 acres enclosed by 4 ramparts, tumuli in the inner ditch, lynchetts cut in the hillside but partly smoothed away by modern ploughing.  To the north west was Cley Hill Camp, 800 feet high, a grass covered chalk prominence as if mother Earth had thrust a bosom to the sky; once standing out with solitary defiance from the wooded countryside.  Its slopes are precipitous yet a foss and rampart surrounds its summit where two tumuli show sharply against the skyline.  Below it, a short distance away, lay an outlying part of the manor of Norton.

Around me in all directions were tumuli, round and long barrows, with much of it dating back to Neolithic man, followed by the Celtic and Belgae tribes from Europe – the Romans, the Saxons and Danes, and then the Normans.

Scratchbury Camp, itself, is enclosed by a single bank and ditch enclosing 40 acres, containing 7 barrows, including a very large one.  Other earthworks nearby enclosed by a single bank and ditch, but otherwise less inaccessible are thought to have been cattle enclosures of the ancient tribes.

Site of the Roman Villa

It is on the far side of the Wylye in a meadow called Pitmead.  The site was first discovered in 1786. It had a tessellated pavement depicting the figure of a hare sitting in forme.  There were other pavements but these were, to all intents and purposes, vandalised and stolen.  When the site was surveyed in 1800 and 1820 two villas were found with several rooms and beautiful mosaic pavements of black and white and red.  Bones and sculls were also found.

Few traces of the villas and what was probably a store house remain.  It was possibly the home of a Romano-British trader and like that of the excavated site at Littlecote it was right alongside the river.

Before the Norman Conquest

Norton was the “North tun” of the Saxons, but it was in the possession of an Anglo-Scandinavian named Karlo.  He held 14 other estates in Wiltshire, a 20-hide estate in Surrey, two estates of 13½ hides in Hampshire, and a 5-hide estate in Somerset.  He was therefore a man of considerable possessions and probably went off with King Harold to fight at Stamford Bridge and Hastings.  He was to lose everything and nothing more is heard of him after the Conquest when members of his family, no doubt, were reduced to serfs.

After 1066

Karlo’s possessions were used to form part of the Norman barony based on Ewyas Castle in the Welsh Marches.  8 other estates in Wiltshire, formerly in the possession of Saxons, were also included.  Another 60 hides, mostly in Herefordshire, completed the barony.  5 hides were regarded as a knight’s fee.

Ewyas Castle was the first Norman stronghold raised in these islands.  It was constructed some years before the Conquest by Normans (sometimes referred to as Frenchmen) brought over by Edward the Confessor to defend the border territory against raids by the wild Welsh.  The chief of these Normans at Ewyas was Osbern Pentecost.  On the return of Earl Godwin and his sons from exile the Norman favourites of Edward the Confessor’s court were driven out of London and they fled to Ewyas and to two other castles in the Welsh Marches.  Later they were forced to flee to Scotland where (as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) they were killed to a man fighting for Malcolm, the king of the Scots.

The first Norman baron of Ewyas was a man named Alfred of Marlborough, a nephew of Osbern Pentecost, although his parentage is not known.  In the Domesday Inquest he is shown holding lands in Herefordshire and in Gwent both before and after the Conquest, and as there are two hamlets named Marlborough and Great Marlborough to the south of  Ewyas this is how, most likely, he got his territorial surname.  Not from our Wiltshire Marlborough.  The English spelling of his Christian name suggests that he had at least half English parentage.

The Domesday Inquest

At the time of the survey, Norton was held by Alfred himself with no under-tenant.  Before 1066 it paid tax for 11 hides.  It included land for 8 ploughs of which 6 hides were in the lord’s demesne.  2 other ploughs and 2 slaves.  12 villagers and 8 smallholders had 6 ploughs between them.  2 mills on the Wylye paid 40s.  There was 10 acres of meadow, pastureland 4 furlongs long and 2 furlongs wide, and woodland ½ league long and 4 furlongs wide.  The value of the manor had decreased from £24 to £14.

This drop in worth of Norton from £24 to £14 between Anglo-Saxon times and 1086 was the largest amount of any manor in Wiltshire.  This might have come about due to the manor being reduced in size to extend the hunting area of the royal forest of Selwood, and this might account for the two detached parts of the manor.

Some 115 acres, and containing Hendford Marsh Mill, is detached 2 miles west at a place formally called Rodhurst in Norton, now named Butler’s Coombe after a family, le Boteler, who held it early on from the Scudamores.  The other outlying part was on the Somerset border some 6 miles from Norton.  The villeins of Norton had right of common there but did not exercise their right because it was too far away.  Part of it, Elmwell Wood, is spelt “Ernewella” in early documents – “the grove of the eagles”.  Dartford Wood is named after later owners of the manor, Dartford Priory.  In 1888 these outlying parts of the manor were transferred, the former to Warminster and the latter to Corsley parish.

Norton Scudamore

Within 2 years of the Domesday Inquest Alfred of Marlborough had either died or forfeited his barony.  The king granted it to Harold, son of Ralph, early of Hereford, and grandson of Goda, sister to Edward the Confessor.  Harold also kept the profits of the manor of Norton for himself because he included the tithes of Norton in a grant he made to the abbey of St Peter’s, Gloucester, about the year 1120.  But by 1166 Godfrey Scudamore, lord of Upton Scudamore (another Ewyas fee) had become under-tenant at Norton.

The Scudamores were descended from a knight named Ralf who was sent with other knights to Ewyas after the Conquest to rebuild and strengthen the castle and do guard duty there with their men.  They also held the Ewyas fee of Fifield in south Wilts and other fees in Herefordshire.  The male line came to an end in Wiltshire in 1382, but continues to the present day in Herefordshire.

Not much is known of the Scudamores as lords of Norton but they are well documented in connection with their capital manor, Upton Scudamore.  By 1166 the Scudamores were holding 5 knights’ fees of the Ewyas barony; 2 in Upton, 2 in Norton and 1 in Fifield.  4 of these were of the ancient feoffment (before 1135) which indicates they were lords of Norton before that date.

They were made sheriffs of Dorset and Somerset by the future King John.  Later they joined the baronial opposition to the king and in 1216 the constable of Devizes Castle was ordered to take all the lands of Peter de Skydemore in Norton, Upton and Fifield and deliver them to Godeshal de Maghelin for him to hold during the king’s pleasure.  They were restored to Peter immediately after the king’s death.

The heir, Sir Godfrey Scudamore, lost all these lands again when, on the 18 October, 1222, the sheriff of Wiltshire had orders to seize them by the king’s demand because of Godfrey’s trespasses in the royal forest.  The eastern boundary of the royal forest of Selwood stretched from East Knoyle to Earlstoke so that the manors of Upton and Norton were entirely within the area designated as a hunting forest.  They were restored within a year.

The Testa de Nevill, set down in 1243, records that Sir Godfrey Scudamore held two knights’ fees in Norton from Robert Tregoz of the honour of his barony of Ewyas Harold.

In 1249 William le Fevere (the Smith) claimed that he had been unjustly dismissed of a half acre of land and a certain heath in Rodhurst by Godfrey de Eskidimor and others.  Sir Godfrey was amerced and William recovered his land and heath.  Three years later the same William acknowledged on 5 May, 1252, that he held a free tenement of 64 arable acres and 300 acres of pasture from Godfrey Scudamore in Rodhurst and Norton by rent and ward of Ewyas Castle.  This was at Butler’s Coombe.

The Inquest Post Mortem of Sir Peter Scudamore, who was slain in a quarrel with Richard de Bath, found that he held Norton worth £40 from John de Tregoz for which he paid 17s 3 ½ d by the year for the ward of Ewyas Castle.  It also found that Alice de Bavant, daughter of Peter de Escudamor, was his next heir and that she was of full age.  She had married the baron Adam de Bavant.  However, Sir Peter Scudamore had made provision for the male line to continue at Upton Scudamore by giving that manor to his nephew, Walter Scudamore.

The Bavants

An ancestor of the Bavants had ridden in battle with the Duke of Normandy before the Conquest.  Their fees in England were mainly in the south-east where they were tenants-in-chief of the king as barons.  Sir Adam de Bavant, who had been called to parliament, died on 11 November, 1292.  His widow, the heiress Alice Scudamore, took to the Bavant family on the death of her father, Sir Peter Scudamore, the manor of Norton Scudamore (subsequently to become Norton Bavant) with demesne, other lands and tithes, farm, a corn mill two fulling mills and the rectory with tithes.  Also the manor of Fifield Scudamore (now Fifield Bavant) with lands and services in the towns of Wilton, Gurston and Brydesmere.  The manor of Trowe, Alvidiston, Wilts.  The manor of Bradle, Isle of Purbeck.  The manor of Bilhay, Wilts.  Woods and lands at Emwell (Corsley), Widhill, Ditchampton, Fugglestone and Little Durnford, Wilts.  The manor of Colwinston, Glamorgan, with rents and farms.  The manor of Moldeston, St Keyne, Herefordshire, and the manors of Poston and Parva Hatfield in the same county.

The son and heir, Roger de Bavant, was a minor at the time in the wardship of the king.  He did not enter upon his inheritance until 1306 when he proved his age and was later summoned to parliament as a baron.  He was succeeded by Sir Roger de Bavant II who had married Hawise.  By 1344 the family had amassed great debts of some £5,000, an enormous sum in those days and far more than their net worth.

What caused the decline in the Bavant fortunes is not clearly known.  How could he have wasted this great inheritance which included his father’s barony as well can only be conjectured.  Possibly high living with easy money borrowed from the Jewish moneylenders.  Sir Roger granted all his lands (except two manors in Sussex) to the king who subsequently gave him an income from them for life, then returned them to Roger but with reversion to the king.

The day before Roger Bavant died he devised all his lands back to the king at the same time disclaiming a deed which had been sealed with a forged seal, wherein his estranged wife, Hawise, claimed that his estates were entailed to her and her issued.  In 1358 the king granted Norton Bavant to William Thorpe and William Peek for their lives, and they ensured an annuity to Hawise.  After their deaths it was to go to the Dominican nuns of Dartford, Kent.  Thorpe was connected with that house and was probably acting for it.

Hawise and her son and heir, John Bavant, also contrived to obtain Upton Scudamore and tithes and rents in Thoulstone.  Hawise finally surrendered her rights to the Bavant inheritance in 1361.  Joan, daughter of Roger Bavant and Hawise, and Sir John Dauntsey, her husband, also put in their claim to the manor of Norton Bavant but finally relinquished all rights in 1373 in return for the grant of the manor of Marden from the king.

John Bavant, the heir, came of age in 1358.  When he found he had no inheritance and had surrendered all claims to the former possessions of the Scudamores – Sir Walter Scudamore paid him 100 silver marks – he went off to Italy to become a Franciscan monk.  In 1372 the king included the Bavant lands in a great endowment of the Dominican Priory of Dartford, Kent (See Appendix I).

The Dominican Priory of Dartford

Although the king granted these Bavant lands to the Dominican nuns of Dartford he found that some of them, formerly Scudamore, were in the Marcher border country of Herefordshire and Wales.  They were shunted back and forth between Bavant and the king, the king to trustees, the king to the Dominican nuns of Dartford, the nuns to the king, innumerable times.  Finally the king had an inquisition on these lands finding that the overlord of Ewyas Castle, Sir Lewis Clifford (who had married Alianor the widow of the former overlord, Roger la warre) was taking the profits from the former Scudamore manors to the disheirison of the king, and that many bondsmen had flown to gain their freedom.

The Scudamores still retained part of Norton Bavant after it had passed to the Bavants and then to Dartford Priory.  (See Appendix II Translation of original charter.  Also Appendices III, IV, and V).

The Dartford nuns were in possession of Norton Bavant until the Dissolution of the religious houses in the reign of Henry VIII.  The nuns adopted free tenant farming of their lands and as early as c1400 the largest of the tenant farmers at Norton were a family named Benet, who were to become the future owners of the manor.  The name does not occur in earlier charters and deeds of the manor although a John Benet, mentioned in an inquest Post Mortem of the baron of Ewyas in 1300, might have been an ancestor.

When Norton passed to the crown at the Dissolution the manor farm was held by the Benet family, it having been let to them by the nuns in 1519.  In 1609 the whole manor (except certain leaseholds) were granted in fee to George Salter and John Williams.  In 1611 a number of tenants (16) joined together to buy the freehold of their holdings for £1,842 10s of which £1,069 was paid by William Benet, and he held the manorial rights with the manor farm.

The Benets continued to buy more land in the manor, continuing there until the 19th century, but from 1725 their chief seat was at Pythouse near Tisbury.  The heir in 1856 was Vere Fane son of the Rev Arthur Fane and his wife, formerly Lucy Benet.  Having assumed the surname Fane-Benett he also added the maiden name of his wife, Standford.  But the Fane-Bennett-Standfords now have no land interests in Norton Bavant.

Norton Bavant House was lived in in 1858 by two maiden sisters of John Benett M P Ethelred was a noted geologist, cataloguing fossils, and was given a doctorate of civil law by St Petersburg, although because of her name she was mistaken for a man.  The house was let for many years until bought by Sir Kenneth Nicholson.  Most of the Norton manor property north and east of the railway was sold to the War Office and is now part of the Defence Department’s battle training area of the Imber Ranges.

Two small Anglo-Saxon estates in Middleton became Norman manors, one held by the family of Giffard, lords of Brimsfield, Glos, and the other by the earls of Salisbury.  Finally they became part of the Norton Bavant manor estate.

Some of the mills on the Wylye dated from Saxon days, early on being corn mills but some becoming fulling mills with the development of the woollen cloth trade.  The right of turbary – the right to dig turf in Pitmead – was anciently connected with the manor.  In 1260 an unusual custom called “Nhuteselver” (nutsilver) was a tax due from the manor, not noted elsewhere in Wiltshire.

The Church of All Saints

There was no doubt an Anglo-Saxon church at Norton Bavant.  Small thatched buildings they were and in a number of villages the stonework in the foundations of the Anglo-Norman churches show that the later churches were built on the same sites.  At Norton we only know that a priest was there in the middle of the 12th century but as the Scudamores were then in possession of the manor it would be fair to assume that they built a Norman church as they had done at Upton Scudamore (where some of the early work can be seen) and at Fifield Bavant.

The earliest work in the present church are part of a Norman font, the 14th century arch to the chapel and the same period for the two lower stages of the tower.  The chapel housed a chantry at the altar of St Thomas the Martyr in the mid 14th century and this was possibly a Scudamore endowment but no details have survived.

The Bavants were patrons as lords of the manor, Lady Aleysia de Bavant (Alice Scudamore) in 1298 followed by her heirs Sir Roger de Bavant I, named in 1322, 1329 and 1332, then Sir Roger de Bavant II in 1335, 1348 and 1351.  First mention of the Prioress of Dartford as patron is in 1381, although her title was queried in the script.  The vicars are also named for these dates.  (See Sir Thomas Phillips: Institutione clericorum in comitau Wiltoniae W.R.O.).

Most of the subsequent rebuilding and extensions to the church date from c1500 onwards at the cost of the Benett family and others.  The chapel contains many monuments to this family and has a fine pair of iron gates at its entrance.  The Benetts prospered as wool merchants and cloth manufacturers, and brass shields in the chapel bear their merchant marks and pairs of shears.  One of the bells in the tower, cast at Bristol, is now over 600 years old.

In 1785 Thomas Fisher, rector of Bishopstrow and vicar of Norton Bavant, said that there had been no collections in the church of Norton – the communicants were very poor people, objects of charity.  And in 1634 some of the villagers of Norton were found guilty of playing the game of fives on Sunday, although the church was in decay.

During the last few centuries vicars often held the benefice of Norton in plurality with other nearby livings.  Today it is joined with Sutton Veny.

There was a small chapel, dedicated to St Stephen, in Middleton, the oblations belonging to the vicar of Norton but no more is known of this thatched building after 1443 when already it was partly ruinous.  Sometime before Domesday (1086) Osbern Giffard had given his manor of Middleton to St Stephen of Fontenoy, Calvados.  Following the forfeiture of the Giffards’ lands, those of the lords of Brimsfield, they were given by Henry VI in 1441 for the foundation of Eton College.

The Village

The village of Norton Bavant is by-passed by the main road to Salisbury from Warminster, and stands spread out by the waters of the Wylye, today seemingly remote from view.  Like other villages on or near the chalk downs it had few nonconformists – just the odd Anabaptist and Quaker – and a permanent place of worship was never established in the village.

After the middle of the 19th century provision was made for a village school and it continued with an average attendance of some 25 children until 1921 when it was closed.  The children are now conveyed by coach to larger schools nearby.

Norton Bavant House, close by the church, is a substantial mansion of stone which was built in 1640 and altered somewhat in 1720.  It has seven bays, being two storeys with a hipped roof.  A shell-hood on carved brackets is over the doorway.  Some of the outbuildings appear to be Tudor.  In 1783 the nearby Vicarage was part brick and part stone with a thatched roof.  It contained a parlour and two good small chambers.

Two old cottages, dated 1635, were made into one by Col John Benett-Standford.  With thatched roof, leaded panes in the small windows and dripstones above them, and in the warm red brick, they are very attractive.

Sources Searched
  • Ancient Deeds: Record Office and British Museum Collection
  • A T Bannister: “The History of Ewias Harold”
  • Brudenell Deeds
  • Cobbett’s: Rural Rides
  • Close Rolls
  • Charter Rolls
  • Chancellors Rolls
  • Curia Regis Rolls
  • Dartford Priory Records
  • Feudal Aids
  • Fine Rolls
  • Hungerford Cartulary (WRO)
  • Historical Mss Commission
  • Hastings Deeds, Huntingdon Library, California
  • Inquisitions Post Mortem
  • Patent Rolls
  • Pipe Roll Society
  • Nicholas Pevsner: Wiltshire
  • Sir Thomas Phillips: Institutione clericorum in comitau Wiltoniae (WRO)
  • Rolls Series
  • Rotuli Parliamentorum
  • Warren Skidmore: “The Scudamores of Upton Scudamore”
  • Testa de Nevill
  • Victoria County Histories
  • Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine
  • Wiltshire Notes & Queries

Appendix I – Extract from Inquisition of Priory Lands

Having included the Bavant lands in the great endowment of the Priory of Dartford the king in 1372/1373 had an inquisition taken of all the prioress’ manors and lands including Norton.

“The manor of Norton with its appurtenances, the advowson of the church of the manor with the chantry in the church, and certain members to the same manor belonging to wit: Silleigh (Bilhay), Ernewell (Emwell), Trowe (Trow), and West Withill (Widhill).  And also all rents and services with the appurtenances of all our tenements in the parishes of Weremenetre (Warminster), Rolveston (Rollestone), and Madyngton (Maddington), with their appurtenances in the county of Wilts; and all rents and services which they hath in Burton-atte-Nashe, and attemore, with all the appurtenance of our manor of Norton, in co. Dorset.  The manor of Fiffehide (Fifield Bavant) with its appurtenances, lands, tenements, rents, services, escheats, reversions, and all other things pertaining to the said manor of Fiffehide which were formerly belonging to the prioress and convent in Gerardston (Gurston), Wilton, Degehampton (Ditchampton), Foulston (Fugglestone), and Little Derneford (Durnford) in the county of Wilts; and all lands and tenements, meadows, rents and services with their appurtenances, which they have in Purbeck, in co. Dorset (manor of Bradle), pertaining to the same manor of Fiffehide with all other manors of this manor, and the advowson of the church of Fiffehide and St. Michael, in west street, in Wilton, also the knight’s fee, and all other lands and tenements belonging to the same.”

Sir Peter Scudamore shortly after 1250 acquired the advowson of the church of St Michael’s on West Street in Wilton.  In 1298 the advowson was vested in his daughter, Alice de Bavant, and later passed from the Bavants to the Priory of Dartford.

Appendix II – Charter from Brudenell Deeds

“know men present and future that I Robert Hereman of Norton Escudemore, give, grant and by this my present charter confirm to Walter Escudemore, lord of Upton (Scudamore), and his heirs, all of my tenement with all my lands which I had of Peter Escidemore in the vill’ and fields of Norton Escudemor.  Witnesses: Walter de Pavely, Warin Maudut, Robert de Vernon, Reginald de St Martin, John de Inham, John de Kingeston, Knights; Walter de Park, Nicholas Malemains, Nicholas de la Mare, Robert Cole of Doninton, Robert Gocelin, Robert Swoting, and many others.”

This charter is among the Brudenell Deeds.  No date, but soon after 1293 when Norton had already passed to the Bavants.  Not that the manor is still called Norton Scudamore.  The Scudamore name was spelt many different ways over the centuries.

Appendix III – Charter from Hastings Deeds

“To all the Christian faithful to whom the present writing may be seen or heard Peter Escudemor, son and heir of Sir Walter Escudemor, Knt., of Upton Skidmor (sic) greets in the Lord.  Know that I have surrendered, granted, and by this my present writing confirmed to Thomas Warston and Alice Dansy (Dauntsey) of Norton Skidemor all the land and tenements with their pertinencies everywhere that the aforesaid Sir Walter, my father, formerly acquired of Robert Hereman in the vill’ and fields of Norton Skidemor.  And I also surrender and grant to the same Thomas Warston and Alice Dansy 13 acres of arable land which the aforesaid Sir Walter, my father, recovered from Lady Alice de Bavant in the Court of the Lord King by writ warranty.  To have and to hold for the terms of their lives…rendering annually to Peter and my heirs and assigns 40x at four terms of the year equally, viz, at the feast of Purification, at Easter, at the feast of Nativity of St John the Baptist, and at the feast of St Michael, for all services, taxes and secular demands saving the royal service which pertains.  Witnesses: Robert Swoting, Peter Scarlet, Edward le Botiller, Thomas de Helmesford, William de Muntemulle, and others.  Given at Upton Skidemor on Wednesday in the feast of St Batholomew, apostle, 17 Edward II (24 August 1323).”

This charter is among the Hastings Deeds which are now among the English historical documents at the Huntington Library, California.

Appendix IV – Charters from Hungerford Cartulary

“Final concord of the Court of the lord King at Westminster, Michaelmas in three weeks, 32 Edward III (8 September 1358) before Robert de Thorp, John de Stonford, Henry Greene, Thomas de Seton, Henry de Motelew, justices, between Walter Skydemour, Knt., and Alice his wife, querent, and John Bavant, deforciant, a release and quitclaim to the manor of Upton Skydemour and it’s pertinencies, for 100 marks of silver.”

Appendix V – Charters from Hungerford Cartulary

“This indenture, made at Upton Skydemor on the Saturday in the feast of St Giles, 32 Edward III (1 September 1358) between Walter Skydemour, Knt., and Alice his wife, and John Bavant, and agreement that John Bavant will release by a fine with warranty all his right and claim to the manor of Upton Skydemour and all its pertinencies, and in all the lands and tenements that John Scarlet and Agnes his wife hold from the same Walter and Alice for the term of their lives in Norton Bavant, the fine to be made before All Saints next (1 November 1358).  Witnesses: Sir John Mauduyt (Mauduit), Sir John Pavely, Sir Edward Clivedon, Sir Thomas de Kingeston, Sir Richard de Penleigh, Knts., Peter Pypard, John Talebot, John Westbury and others.”

These two documents are in the Hungerford Cartulary at the Wiltshire Record Office.