The History of Bremhill


Domesday Book - Analysis of that ancient Survey as far as it relates to this Parish - Village Churches at that time and the present. - Past and present state of Population.

The Parish of BREMHILL, in the deanery of Avebury, is situated partly on a commanding eminence, and partly in a luxuriant and extensive vale. It consists, by admeasurement, independent of a small rectory annexed (called Highway) - of nearly six thousand acres, chiefly of rich pasture and arable land.

In that most authentic record, Domesday Book, it is called Breme, where it is described as among the lands belonging to the abbey of Malmesbury.

As it will be the basis of some particular remarks in what follows, I extract the whole description from Wyndham's translation, correcting only some obvious errors.

"The same church (Malmesbury) holds Breme. It was assessed T.R.E. (in the time of king Edward) at thirty-eight hides. Here are thirty plough-lands (carncatae), and seventeen hides in demesne, and there are seven plough-lands; twelve servants (servi), thirty-two villagers (villani), and thirteen bordarers (bordani), occupy twenty plough-lands. Two mills pay thirty shillings. Here are twelve acres of meadow. The wood is three miles long and two furlongs broad: it was worth, when the abbot took possession, fourteen pounds, now sixteen. Here are seven plough-lands. Edward holds of the same manor four hides, and Teodricus. four hides. Here are seven plough-lands, and there are so many with two villagers (villani), nine borderers (bordarii), seven cottagers (cottarii), and four servants (servi).

"There is a mill among them of the value of sixteen shillings. Here are ten acres of meadow and four acres of thorns. The wood is one furlong square. They are both worth one hundred shillings. They who held these lands in the time of king Edward could not be removed from the church. Teodricus holds of the land of the villani one hide, which the abbot gave him; Edward also holds of the king two hides of this manor, and Gislebertus of him; a certain English abbot took these hides from the demesne of the church, and gave them to a certain bailiff, and afterwards to a military man (taino), who could not by any means be removed from the church. It is worth forty shillings a year. Willielmus de Ow also holds of the same manor one hide, which the abbot gave T.R.E. to Aleston. It is worth six (shillings)."

Such is the account of this parish in that ancient and most authentic record, which was completed in the year 1086, in William the Conqueror's reign, who ordered the same specific survey of every parish in the kingdom.

Before I conduct the reader through the different hamlets of Bremhill, in their present state, I shall make some observations on the survey here given.

In the first place we may remark that nothing is said of any church, or of any land or tithes belonging to such a functionary as a parochial presbyter.

Out of three hundred and twenty-four parishes in Wiltshire, only twenty-four with churches are enumerated in Domesday Book; of these, two are quite in ruins, and one of them was held by Nigellus, a physician.

The names of the places where there were churches, are thus specified:

Wilton, the bishop's residence before the cathedral was completed at Sarum.
Aldebourne (Aubburn).
Coombe (Castle-combe).
Ottone, Q.?
Nigravne, Q.?
Hastrede, Q.?
Hasebury, Q. Yatebury?

Of this number four belonged to foreign abbies; and only one, Aldebourne, appears as having a priest as well as church. The others belonged chiefly to the king, bishops, or abbeys. Whatever services were performed, the presbyter performing them had a precarious stipend, paid by those who held the land

It must at the same time be remarked, that neither the churches of Salisbury nor Malmesbury are included; but bishop Osmund, who established the new ritual, secundum usum Salisburiensis, died in 1099, thirteen years after the Domesday survey was finished. At the time of the survey the first cathedral must have been in its infancy; for the decree of removing sees from obscure places was not published till the year 1076, and Hermon, the last bishop of Wilton, died in 1078. Though it is said by William of Malmesbury that he began to build a cathedral on his new episcopal seat at Sarum, it is obvious he could have done little towards this great work, which was afterwards completed by Osmund the Norman.

The abbey of Malmesbury stood at the head of the lands held under it, and therefore there could be no occasion to specify its existence further.

Presuming that there were but few parish churches at the time of this survey, how can we account for the fact, that almost every parish, in two hundred years after, had a church and a clergyman? When we cannot appeal to facts, we must be guided by the most probable inferences.

There is no mention of a church at Maiden Bradley in this county in Domesday, but particular mention is made of the mother church, in a grant from Hubert in 1199. Now the duke of Buckingam, Walter Gifford, received this demesne as a compensation for his services to William in the battle of Hastings. That he was a very pious man, according to the piety of the day, we have this testimony (Hoare's Wiltshire, Hundred of Mere):

"He was buried in Normandy, in a church BUILT BY HIMSELF; for the fact is thus recorded in his epitaph:

Templi Fundator praesentis et aedificator,
Religiosorum praecipue monachorum
Cultor, multimode profiut ecclesiae.

The interence I draw is this, that a soldier, such as this Norman was, having possession of one of the great forfeited estates of England, would naturally expend some of his great property, from feelings common to the Norman warriors, in establishing a place of worship and building a church in this country, as he did in Normandy. In the same manner, and with the same feelings, William of Normandy and his immediate descendants strewed the kingdom with abbeys; and wherever the Norman barons settled, having dispossessed the English, they built and endowed churches to conciliate the favour of the saints to whom these churches were dedicated, through whose intercession they might have a long and prosperous possession. 'The monasteries were first founded, parish churches followed, built and endowed by the earliest Norman possessors, or their immediate descendants. So the son of Henry the First, the brave half-brother of Matilda the empress, built St. James's church at Bristol, and was there buried.

I shall say more on this subject when we come to the parish church; but we may observe, from Domesday Book itself, how false is that generally received


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