Kirby's 1885 History of Downton
From a Lecture given by Mr. Kirby, 2 March 1885

Part 1: Earliest Times
Part 2: Medieval
Part 3: Elizabethan

Part 1
We may take it for granted that Downton was one of the first places inhabited in this part of the country. Placed just above the marshes of the river valley on the one hand, and just below the forests that clothed the hillsides on the other, it was just one of those places of which the first settlers would take possession.

The earliest people of whom we have any evidence lived in round huts, with thatched roof and wattled walls, such as are now seen in Central Africa. They lived by hunting and fishing, and buried their dead in the barrows on the Downs. Within more historical times, it is known that some fifteen or sixteen centuries ago the whole of this part of the country was in the possession of the Belgae a partially civilized Celtic tribe from Northern France. Afterwards the Saxons gradually overran Southern England, in spite of the efforts of the Belgae to keep them back, as shown by the existence of the Grimsditch and similar works.

Downton would always be famous as the scene of one of the decisive battles in the history of this country. The battle was fought at Cerdic's Ford, or "Charford," in A.D. 519, between the Saxons and the Belgae, and ended in a victory for Cerdic, one of the most successful of the Saxon chiefs, who crossed the river at what was then a ford, and marched back to Winchester, where he was crowned king of the West Saxons. According to Sir R. Hoare, the Historian of Wiltshire, it was Cerdic who made the great earthwork called the "Moot" in Saxon meant a place of law or justice; and a "moot point" is still a term among lawyers for a point of law open to discussion.

The cathedral at Winchester was turned by Cerdic into a heathen temple, in which state it remained for more than a hundred years, until his grandson, King Kynegils, restored it in 635. About the same time Kynegils built the church of Downton; and as most Saxon Churches were of wood, that of Downton was probably like the rest. The edifice was dedicated to St. Lawrence, one of the "black letter" saints of our calendar, the 10th of August being his day. Downton Church, built by Kynegils, was endowed by Kenwald, his son and successor, who also gave the greater part of the parish to the See of Winchester. At that time Wiltshire was in the diocese of Winchester, and the See of Salisbury did not exist.

The "Doomesday Book," which is a survey of a great part of England, made by William the Conqueror for purposes of taxation, showed that the Bishop of Winchester possessed 97 hides of land in Downton. A hide was an uncertain quantity of land, about 100 acres of arable land, with a reasonable proportion of pasture - say 120 acres in all. It would not be far wrong, therefore, to say that the Bishop had nearly 12,000 acres of land in the parish. In demesne - that was, in his own occupation - his lordship had 13 plough lands, or as much land as 13 yoke of oxen could plough in a season - say 1300 acres. Then, as regards population, there were 40 servants of the British, 64 free villagers, and 27 bordarii, or cottagers, who had amongst them 17 plough lands. There were two mills rented at 60s. a year, equal to 200 at the present day. By two mills we must not understand two separate water-powers, but two pair of stones, one for grinding wheat, the other for barley, under one roof. Every lord of a manor had a mill in those days; and a mill was a source of more profit then to the landlord than now, as he compelled his servants to grind their corn at his mill, and to pay the accustomed toll for doing so. The old Writ of Secta ad Molendinum, for compelling a tenant to do this, was not abolished till about fifty years ago. Then there was a common pasture, three miles long by one and a half broad; and a wood two and a half miles long and three-quarters broad, where the tenants fed their pigs on acorns and cut their wood.

Four hides of land formed the endowment by King Kenwald of the Church of Downton, afterwards becoming the property of Winchester College. A hero of romance is said to have had his residence at Downton, one Sir Bevis of Hampton - that is to say, Southampton. He was a Saxon chief who offered a bold resistance to William the Conqueror. Somehow he became a hero of romance in the Middle Ages. Among other fabulous exploits, he is said to have thrown up Bevis. Mount as a bulwark against the Danes, and to have played at marbles with the stones. He now stands with his comrade, the giant Ascapart, as one of the guardians of the bar-gate of Southampton.

Kirby's Lecture on Downton's History, 1885
Part 2

The manorial form of tenure in Downton parish is the most ancient in England, dating back, as the lawyers say, "to a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." There are two manor's - the Bishop's or principal, now belonging to Lord Radnor, and that of the parsonage to Winchester College. Every manor consisted originally of four parts - (1) the demesne of the lord; (2) the land of the free tenants; (3) the copyhold land; (4) the waste or common land. The copyhold was so called because the tenant's title deed was a copy of the entry in the Court Roll. Copyhold tenants were originally serfs, or little better; but in some manors they gradually acquired in early times the dominion over their lands to the extent of disposing of them as they pleased; paying a fine to the lords on every change of ownership. This was called copyhold of inheritance. In other manors, usually those of the church, the tenants merely acquired the rights of holding their lands for so many, lives on the dropping of which the lands reverted to the lord, unless he chose to grant them for fresh lives. This is the tenure of the Downton parsonage manor.

The Conquest made very little difference to Downton. It belonged to the bishop before the conquest, and it belonged to him after. The town has not been honoured by many royal visits since the days of the Saxons; but Henry II. must have passed through it during 1157-8, when he granted his two charters to the city of Winchester, both of which are dated from Salisbury. King John was in Downton three times, and probably stopped at the old court house which used to exist in the borough. His first visit was in January, 1206, on his way from Clarendon to Bere Regis; his second in January 1207, on his way to Sturminster; and his third a year or two later, on his way to his Castle at Wareham.

With regard to the relation between Downton and Winchester College, we must remember that the rectory (endowed 1200 years ago by Kenwald), that is the glebe, tithes, and advowson, or right of presenting the clergyman, belonged to the See of Winchester. This continued to be the case after the foundation of the See of Salisbury, though after that event the rectory of Downton made an annual payment of half a mark, 3s. 4d., to the Bishop of Salisbury, as an acknowledgement of the fact of Downton being within his diocese. This annual payment is still made by the College, though it is not the Bishop who gets it, but the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. William of Wykeham was Bishop of Winchester in 1380, and was thinking of endowing a college for the maintenance and education of the 70 poor scholars whom he was then paying a schoolmaster to educate. On May 4th, 1380, he obtained permission from Richard II. To "appropriate the income of Downton parsonage to the Bishop's table for the maintenance of his scholars." Up to this time the rectory had been enjoyed by a resident rector, but when the income was appropriated to the purpose of maintaining the Bishop's poor scholars at the foundation of Winchester College, it was necessary to set apart an endowment for a vicar. I have here the "ordination" or original document of this new endowment for a vicar, dated May 18th, 1383, by which he was to receive the small tithes, including the tithes of swans and peacocks, which were then regarded as articles of luxury for the table, and all oblations and offerings, and to pay all outgoings except the repairs of the chancel, with payment of 3s. 4d. per annum to the Bishop of Salisbury. It is witnessed by John Edington, Archdeacon of Surrey; Henry Thorpe, notary public; John Berford, Robert Bossett, William Bleche, William Bennett, and others, parishioners of Downton.

The vicarage having been thus endowed, in April 1385 the Bishop obtained a license to annex the parsonage or rectory to his new College of Winchester, and on the 1st September, 1385, he did annex it to the College, to be held by them and their successors for ever for the support and maintenance of the scholars upon the foundation of the College, upon which trust it continues to be held. This is how the great tithes of Downton have come to belong to Winchester College.

There are no indications of Saxon work about the present church of Downton, which was built in Norman times. The arches dividing the nave from the side aisles resemble on a smaller scale those in the western nave of St. Cross, near Winchester, and may have been built at the same period, namely, the latter part of the reign of Henry I., or 1135. The chancel is of the latter part of the 14th century.

The first vicar, Nicholas de Alresford, was appointed by the Bishop in the year 1383. His successor Thomas Turk, was appointed by the College in 1401; and between him and the present vicar, a period of 480 years, there have been 19 vicars, averaging 25 years apiece. The troubles of the College, as owners of the property began very soon. In 1413, Thomas Stratton was vicar, and he alleged that the endowment of the vicarage was not enough, and went to law with the College. The Bishop referred the matter to the Archdeacon, who inquired into the true value of the rectory and vicarage, and the result was in favour of the College. But the question was not settled until the year 1426, when Nicholas Young was vicar. At this time there was a dispute of long standing between the lords of Standlynch and the vicar of Downton, respecting the tithes of Standlynch, which had a chapel of its own. Thomas Merriot, lord of Standlynch, and Nicholas Alresford, the vicar, were at law on this question as early as the year 1399. The dispute was not finally settled until 150 years afterwards.

In 1529 the Bishop of Salisbury made an award that the Lord of Standlynch should pay 3 6s. 8d. a year to the College, and 30s. a year to the vicar in lieu of tithes, and have the privilege of attending the church at Downton; while the vicar, on his part, was relieved from the obligation of finding a minister for Standlynch Chapel. This 3 6s. 8d. a year is now paid by Lord Nelson to the College. Standlynch seems from the earliest times to have been an independent chapelry, or district, of Downton.

Kirby's Lecture on Downton's History, 1885
Part 3

The parsonage of Downton, consisting of the advowson, or perpetual right of presentation to the vicarage, the parsonage farm and glebe, and the manor, of which the cultivated portions were occupied partly by free tenants, and partly by serfs, or bondmen, has thus been held by Winchester College for exactly 500 years. The College acquired some additional lands in Downton by purchase in the 15th century, but the greater portion of these have been enfranchised. Its farm house and glebe were always let on lease to tenants; and, in 1581, the College had the honour of having no less a personage than Queen Elizabeth herself for their tenant of the glebe and tithes under a lease for ten years, at 73 6s. per annum.

The Queen's object in taking the lease of a parish in Wiltshire was this:- Queen Elizabeth was not only a penurious, but also a very needy queen. It was her way, when she wished to reward a faithful servant, to do it at the expense of somebody else. In this case it was Mr. Thomas Wilkes, of London, the clerk to her Privy Council, who was to be rewarded. The object of the Queen in taking this lease was to make it over to Mr. Wilkes. The Queen's letter to the College is missing, but there exists the draft reply of the College protesting and excusing themselves from compliance, and letters to the College from Sir Christopher Hatton, Leicester, Walsingham, and others, counselling the College in plainer and plainer language to comply with the Queen's request. I have here the counterpart lease to the Queen, showing that the College had to give way at last. This sort of thing must have been not uncommon, for Her Majesty did exactly the same at Andover, and she tried the same thing with regard to one of the College manors in Dorset.

Of course Mr. Wilkes' only object in getting the Queen's lease was to make something by it, so he sold it to the Raleigh family, who are believed to have built the present parsonage house; not the house, but the house in which Mr. Mannings resides. Sir Carew Raleigh, elder brother of Sir Walter, held the lease in 1608, and it remained in the Raleigh family during the reigns of James I. and Charles I. Gilbert, Sir Carew Raleigh's second son, who was born at Downton in 1608, was rather a distinguished man in his way. An original portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh used to hang in the great parlour at the Parsonage, but it is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

After passing families, the lease of the parsonage was sold in 1720 to Mr. Anthony Duncombe, and passed from him to the Shafto family. The town of Downton was an ancient borough, and returned two members to Parliament until the Reform Act of 1832. It is a borough by prescription, as the lawyers say, and not by charter, like modern towns such as Salisbury. Boroughs by prescription date back to Saxon times, always. The earliest corporations like that of Winchester, were originally voluntary associations for mutual benefit and protection, like the trade guilds of the middle ages. They were highly protectionist, always taxing as highly as they could anybody who was not free of the corporation.

Like other more important corporations, the borough of Downton had a mayor, whose legal title was alderman. He was elected annually at the court for the manor. Originally, no doubt, he was entrusted with the government of the borough, but in later times his chief duty consisted in seeing to the wholesomeness of provisions exposed for sale, a duty to which our ancestors attached greater importance than we do. In the first Parliament of Charles I. the influence of the Earl of Pembroke, who had acquired the leases of the Bishop's as well as of the parsonage manor obtained the return of his kinsman, Edward Herbert, as one of the members. From time - that is to say, from the year 1621 - the borough was a close borough in the hands of the principal landowner. The election was held at the ancient cross in the borough, which marked the spot where the market used to be held in the days when Downton was a market town. The returning officer at elections was the deputy steward. There were constant disputes whether this was the deputy steward of Bishop the of Winchester, or the deputy steward of the lessee of the manor. It is to be feared that upon the whole Downton was a rotten borough.

The market has been long extinct; but the two fairs, on the 23rd of April and 2nd of October, are still held. They were established by Sir Joseph Ashe and Mr. Giles Eyre, of Brickworth; Sir Joseph Ashe provided the Free School, and endowed it with the profit of these fairs.