BROKENBOROUGH: ONCE THE FAVOURITE RESORT OF KING ATHELSTAN

North Wilts Herald 1st July 1932 Saved by late Betty Rickards of Park Lane Farm

Of the thousands of tourists who visit Malmesbury very few find their way to Brokenborough, a village steeped in history and legend and barely a mile from Malmesbury Abbey.

Brokenborough lies in seclusion on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, and although bounded by the old Roman Fosse, it appears to be missed by even the most energetic travellers. Many Malmesburians have only a casual acquaintance with its history, although the natives of Brokenborough claim that their village is older even than Malmesbury.

A ROYAL PALACE

There is evidence that in the time of Athelstan, Malmesbury’s royal benefactor, Brokenborough was a resort of importance. The village boasts the site of a palace, which is known locally as Gold Hill. The palace was given by Edwin to the Abbott of Malmesbury in the middle of the 10th century, and it is regarded as having been a favourite haunt of King Athelstan.

Among other treasures of Brokenborough is a medieval barn. There is no doubt that it was used as a tithe barn, and it is in remarkably good condition. The interior embraces some fine woodwork, which has been well preserved, but the outstanding characteristics are two imposing porches of generous dimensions and a buttressed wall. One of the beams bears the date 1402, although evidence is lacking as to the exact origin of the structure. This barn is at Brokenborough Farm, now occupied by Mr G Organ.

Those who visit the small church at Brokenborough should not be satisfied with a casual glance. Some misguided folk who attempted restoration have robbed the church of part of its original form, but happily the church still retains much of interest.

TRANS-NORMAN WORK

Dedicated to St John the Baptist there is some Trans-Norman work in the nave, and the church has a squint, or legioscope, which was made to allow the lepers to witness the priests celebrating Mass. The pulpit is of the Jacobean period. On the eastern gable is a stone sundial, which has three divisions, and some of the figures are plainly discernible.

The churchyard has much to claim the attention of the visitor. There is one tombstone recording the burials of at least six members of the Pitt family and the epitaph of the family’s head, one Thomas Pitt, reads thus:

“Farewell, my wife and children dear,
It was the Lord who brought me here;
The loss is great that you sustain,
But Christ has made your loss my gain.”

THE BRISTOL RIOTS

Mr Paul Gladwin, one of Brokenborough’s most prominent residents, showed the writer a tomb near the church porch, which has an interesting association.

“In this tomb the adventurers who sympathised with the Bristol Rioters used to hide their plunder.” Mr Gladwin related “Some of the men of this district used to ransack the houses and to smash the farm machines as a protest against the resultant reduction of labour.

“When I was a lad, a Brokenborough man (who shall remain nameless) used to regale me with tales of the riots. He was one of the gang, and he told me that the last house that was rifled in this parish was The Bartons, which is now occupied by Mr Frederick Wood. A hole was made in a wall, and a boy of the gang was persuaded to get through and ransack the house. The booty was hidden in the churchyard.”

Mr Gladwin said that the gang were all caught, with the exception of the Brokenborough man, near Culkerton. After a very successful raid the gang began to celebrate at Trouble House, on the Tetbury-Cirencester road. They were captured and were deported to Botany Bay.

When the church was restored it was discovered that one of the corpses had been buried the wrong way round. The head was towards the east, and when this was found out the coffin was turned the customary way.

To the west of the churchyard is a site called Conigre, on which a Grange of Malmesbury Abbey formerly existed. The moat and the fishponds are still to be traced.

Brokenborough used to belong to Malmesbury Abbey, and, as part of their “rent” 40 small tenants were expected to supply the monks with 200 fowls and 700 eggs at Easter. Old chronicles show that in the days of Edward the Second there were 26 inhabitants of Brokineberg who had to make quarterly payments to the Abbott of Malmesbury. They include a number of names from which more modern ones have been derived, such as Jone de la Walecote, Rico le Heyward, Alic de Suttone, Thomas de Aqua, (of the water), John Ultra Aquum (beyond the water), Rico Dreu and Willo Piscford (the fisherman). Rogo de Fraximo (ash tree), Matild in la More, Rol Edward, and Jone Rodeman.

ANCIENT CAUSEWAY

“The Portway” at Brokenborough is a name given to a very ancient “Causeway”. It was marked by stones several feet in height, and the only one that now remains is found by the bridge over Newnton Brook on the Malmesbury Road. (Back Bridge ?)

 

Issue 2