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Bishopstone and Hinton Parva are villages and a civil parish just west of the county border with Oxfordshire. They lie about six miles east of Swindon within the Swindon, Wiltshire, England, unitary authority, the dominant economic force in the area. It is rather an anomaly that these unique and quintessentially rural English villages are administered by Swindon Borough Council which has a pro urban growth agenda. Until 1946, the two villages belonged to separate civil parishes. A downland hamlet, Russley Park, is also included in Bishopstone parish. According to the Office of National Statistics (2010) the parish has a population of approximately 700 persons.
The picturesque villages are located on the historic Icknield Way and served by a well renowned pub in Bishopstone known for local organic food. Both villages include protected conservation areas, designed to preserve their character for future generations, and they boast a number of thatched cottages.
Bishopstone has a clearly defined village focus centered on the village mill and mill-pond. It is often used as a base for walkers, with excellent access to the Ridgeway National Trail and the North Wessex Downs, which are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Hinton Parva or more properly Little Hinton is a ribbon like development, probably once East Hinton with a nucleus around the church and West Hinton being a collection of farms. The beautiful main coomb behind the village hall has a well managed wild flower meadow and is owned by the National Trust.
The parish is long and narrow, running south-east to north-west, approximately 5.75 by 2 miles (9.25 by 3.25 kilometres). Its boundaries, as was the custom within the region, seem to have been defined artificially to give it chalk downland, escarpment and spring-line and clay lands suitable for varying agricultural purposes. The old saying, as different as chalk and cheese, originated in Wiltshire, where the low-lying western parts of the county were suitable for dairy production, while the chalky uplands in the east encouraged sheep farming. The sheep provided valuable meat and wool, and dung to fertilise the thin chalk land soils for growing wheat and barley.
Bishopstone: a Saxon name simply meaning the farm (tun) of the bishops. Archaeological evidence has shown that settlement, within the village, extends back to the 6th or 7th century. However, in this pre-1946 parish, 10,000 years of occupation is evident from findings of Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools, a Bronze Age barrow and Iron Age settlement, to two Roman villas.
It was, for many years, part of the Ramsbury Hundred. A hundred is a division of land that appears to have been introduced in the 10th century. The first written record is in 1208 [i]
Taxation returns suggest that Bishopstone was fairly prosperous until the 16th century, but then it apparently fell into decline.
During the 18th century the village began to spread south of the road and the number of farms reduced, while those that remained grew bigger. In 1784, the then parish measured 3,520 acres, of which 1,725 were arable, 700 meadow and lowland pasture, and 800 upland pasture and downland. By the 19th century most of the land had become concentrated into a few large farms. By the Second World War, only three of these remained – Manor, Prebendal and Eastbrook.
Distinctive features of the landscape are the strip-lynchets in the coomb south of the village. These are a series of steep terraced surfaces called shepherd’s steps that probably evolved when medieval villagers needed to increase the amount of arable land available.
St Mary’s Church dates back to the 12th century. A manor house was demolished in the 19th century. The mill, opposite the mill pond, was re-built in 1818. In Villages of the White Horse (1913), the fine Wiltshire writer Alfred Williams rated Bishopstone the prettiest of all the down-side, taken all round. H.W. Timperley wrote that Constructed from a variety of local materials, it snuggled into the downs as if it had grown there rather than been built.
Further information on the village can be obtained in: An Introduction to the History of Bishopstone by GI Parker; The Sparrow Hunters and Just for a Lark by RH Wilson, each priced £5.00 plus P & P – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hinton Parva: was another of the spring-line Saxon settlements, Hinton meaning the farm of the monks. The parish was recorded in a Saxon charter purported to date back to 854[ii]. Like Bishopstone, archaeological evidence dates back into prehistory. There were at least two Roman settlements, and a Saxon village around the church.
St. Swithun’s Church probably dates back to the early 11th century. For more information see The History of the Church of St. Swithun’s, Little Hinton, by Paul Williams (published 2012) which is available at Swindon Reference Library.
It is said that three mills existed[iii]. One, Berry Mill, is known to have been just south of Hinton Marsh Farm and was in use until the early 20th century; its demise was recorded by Alfred Williams also in Villages of the White Horse (1913). Another, mill just to the north of the manor, could well have been in existence in Saxon times as its land is respected by the old parish boundary.
History & Background – click here for details – Bishopstone & Hinton Parva archeology map, history and sources
[i] CR Elrington (Ed); 1983; Victoria County Histories, Volume XII, page 3
[ii] TR Thomson; 1960; The Early Bounds of Wanborough and Little Hinton, Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine, Volume 57, page203
[iii] CR Elrington (Ed); 1980; Victoria County Histories, Volume XI, page 162
For more local mapping click here –> Bishopstone & Hinton Parva Maps