History Group

Village origins

A short history of Stanton St Bernard


  • Stanton lies in the Vale of Pewsey on the north-south route between the henges at Avebury and Marden. There is evidence of Stone Age and Bronze Age activity and of Romano-British farming in the parish. On the hills, Wansdyke crosses northern part of the parish.
  • The earliest surviving documents relating to Stanton are three Saxon charters dated AD 905, 957 and 960. By this time Stanton was clearly a well-established and valuable farming estate. The boundaries set out in these charters are almost identical to the modern parish boundary.
  • By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Stanton was held by the Abbey of Wilton. Half the land was cultivated by the Abbey and the remainder by tenant farmers. There were two watermills.
  • After the Dissolution of the monasteries, the Wilton Abbey Estates, including Stanton, were granted in 1544 by King Henry VIII to William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke.
  • Agriculture has always been the dominant activity in Stanton, organised on the typical downland system of sheep grazing on the hills during the day and being brought down to manure the fields in the valley at night. The medieval ridge and furrow pattern of cultivation finally disappeared after the Enclosure Agreement of 1792. From then on the small farms were gradually absorbed into the larger ones, until by the mid 19th century, two large farms predominated.
  • The Kennet & Avon Canal opened in 1810 and crosses the parish south of the village. The industries that developed beside the canal at Honey Street provided employment for Stanton people. The Barge Inn was built in 1810 on the boundary between Honey Street and Stanton to serve the canal trade, selling groceries, meat and other supplies.
  • The railway, completed in 1862, crosses the southern tip of the parish and blocks the ancient route south via Beechingstoke. Originally the nearest station was at Woodborough. This opened up opportunities for dairy farming, milk being sent to London by train.
  • On 28 June 1917 the Earl of Pembroke sold the parish of Stanton and other estates at an auction held in The Bear Hotel in Devizes. This ended the link with Wilton that had lasted a thousand years.
  • The first mention of the church in Stanton occurs in 1267 but it is almost certain that it existed before that. The church tower dates from the 15th The medieval nave and chancel were demolished and rebuilt in 1830.
  • From the 17th century onwards there are references to a school provided by successive vicars. The existing school building was constructed in 1849 and was in use until the school closed in 1969. It is now the Village Hall.
  • A working forge existed in the centre of the village until recent years. There were at various times a carpenter’s workshop, a shoemaker, several ale houses, one or more grocery shops and a post office.
  • From 1936 to 1947 the fields between Stanton and Alton Barnes formed a grass landing ground which was used to train pilots and navigators during World War II. During the war, the canal was fortified as a line of defence against German invasion.
  • There is now one large farm in Stanton and the Pewsey Vale Riding Centre. Stanton people are engaged in many varied enterprises based in the village and elsewhere.

VK – January 2016

We hope these images will help you to identify a possible worked flint. The collection was loaned to us by the Wiltshire Museum who kindly allowed us to photograph it.   We can’t show you the actual flints but you can see some fine examples of flint tools, with a lucid explanation of the periods of prehistory, at the Wiltshire Museum in Long Street, Devizes.

Some dates:

  • Palaeolithic: before c. 10,000 BC
  • Mesolithic: before c. 4,000 BC
  • Neolithic: before c. 2.400 BC


This collection was generously given to us by the Archaeological Field Group of the Wiltshire Museum. It is arranged chronologically:

  • Romano-British
  • Medieval
  • Post-Medieval (17th century and later)

If you’d like to examine the collection (perhaps for comparison with a find you have made or for general interest) contact us at history@stantonstbernard.org and we’ll be happy to show it to you.

To see examples of complete pots of all periods, visit the Wiltshire Museum in Long Street, Devizes.

Until recently archaeologists focused mainly on the landscape round Stonehenge and Avebury and the area between – the Vale of Pewsey – was hardly explored. This is now changing, as modern techniques are revealing prehistoric features previously obscured by centuries of farming in the fertile Vale. There is now considerable interest among archaeologists about this area.

The University of Reading Field School, led by Dr Jim Leary, continued excavation work this summer at Marden Henge and the ploughed-out henge at Wilsford. They also collaborated with Historic England who are investigating possible Roman settlements in the Vale. For Dr Leary’s report on the 2015 season’s work, go to https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/archaeology/?p=484. The Field School intend to return in summer 2016 to continue their work at Marden and other sites in the Vale.

So what about Stanton?

  • The pottery found during field walking in Stanton in 2010 showed an unexpectedly high proportion of Roman material, indicating that there may have been a Romano-British farm here. But where?
  • Some interesting finds have been made in Stanton gardens and in the surrounding area. These include a bronze axe head, an Austrian bayonet dated around 1840 and carved stones (one in the shape of hands joined in prayer, probably from a medieval tomb). Pottery fragments and several handles have been found: from an iron-age pot, a 13th century skillet and a 13th/14th century glazed jug.

Identifying finds: what to do if you find something intriguing

  • It is most important to record when and where you find an object and whether you found it on the surface or when digging a hole or trench (with approximate depth).
  • Please do not “over clean” the find – just wash the dirt off gently with plain water.
  • If you need any guidance on what to look for, photographs of the History Group’s Pottery Reference Collection can be found on this website, together with pictures of worked flints from the Wiltshire Museum. It’s even better to examine the pottery reference collection itself and we will be happy to show it to you. We’ll be interested to know of your finds for inclusion in our records (contact history@stantonstbernard.com).
  • Under the Portable Antiquities Scheme finds can be identified by the Finds Liaison Officer and, if significant, will be recorded on the national database before being returned to the finder. Several items from Stanton have been recorded in this way, one find being classified as “of national importance”. The Finds Liaison Officer visits the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes regularly. Stanton St Bernard History Group

November 2015