Southwick Village History

Until the mid 19th century the history of Southwick has been intertwined with that of neighbouring North Bradley, as the two modern civil parishes had been one entity until 1866. The modern parish of Southwick lies to the south-west of Trowbridge on the road to Frome. Modern housing has created a rectangular settlement, largely to the south of the road, which itself runs south-west to north-east. The parish is in the clay vale and is bounded in part by the river Frome to the west. Until 1937 the area of Rode (Road) Hill was part of the parish but this is now in the parish of Rode in Somerset.

There are few archaeological finds and features in the parish and these do not suggest continuous occupation. They include a Neolithic axe hammer, and a Bronze Age palstave axe, and there is undated evidence of an enclosure and a bank. It is said that earthworks and barrows were destroyed at Rode Hill in the early 19th century. In the north remains of Romano-British pottery was found in a field, which may indicate that there was a farmstead here. In the Saxon period the estate was included within Steeple Ashton, being held by Romsey Abbey. For this reason there is no separate entry in the Domesday Book and we do not know if a settlement existed here in 1086. It is likely that there would have been farmsteads and cottages but whether these constituted a nucleated settlement or not is unknown.

Until the mid 14th century this area was treated as part of Edington but from that time it was part of the ancient parish of North Bradley. The landscape was more wooded than today, being part of the forest of Selwood until 1300. There was settlement here in the early Middle Ages with a village around and to the north-east of the junction of the Bradley road with the Trowbridge-Frome road, and a moated house at Southwick Court, further to the north-east. The route through Southwick, from Tellisford Bridge, on the river Frome, to North Bradley, was on the packhorse road between Bristol and Salisbury, which was used from medieval times for carrying goods on horses or donkeys. By the 14th century the village was moderately prosperous; in 1332 it was larger than North Bradley, which has remained the case since then, and of a similar size and value to Edington.

In the 16th century Southwick Court increased in size when a wing was added in 1567, while Manor Farm at Hoggington was also built in that century. Handloom weaving at home had grown in importance from the 15th century and weavers' cottages were built on common land. By the 16th century weaving was as important to the economy of the parish as farming, but although there were many cloth workers no large clothiers were based here. Instead cloth was woven for the clothiers of Trowbridge.

Whittaker's Farm, in the west of the parish was built in the late 16th or early 17th century, while Vagg's Hill Farm, to the north-west, is dated 1618. Various cottages and houses, now demolished, were built during the 17th century and in 1692 the Tellisford packhorse bridge was rebuilt, partly at the expense of the parish while much of Southwick Court was rebuilt in 1693. Also around this time the house called The Poplars was built.

Perhaps the most influential event was the rise of the Baptists in Southwick from the mid 17th century onwards. After the Restoration (1660) they met in Witch Pit Wood, under the protection of Cutteridge landowner, William Trenchard, who was both a justice of the peace and a member of parliament. Later, protection was also provided by Anthony Bissie when a meeting house was built at Pig Hill Barn. Gatherings of up to 2,000 people from Southwick and neighbouring towns and villages attended these meetings and the impact on the village must have been considerable. A chapel was eventually built in 1707 and the Southwick Baptists gave rise to many chapels in other local communities. The Baptist feeling was so strong that, even in 1908, a tank for complete immersion had to be included when the Anglican church was built.

At the start of the 18th century there was still much common land. The village itself was built around a common green while Rode Common lay to the west. Part of this was enclosed in 1792 and the remainder in 1805. There was an inn at Rode Hill called the Green Man, or Fives Court. Both names indicate an early origin. The Green Man was appropriate in a medieval forested area while the game of fives was played in churches and inns from an early period. Medicinal waters were also found and exploited at Rode Hill in a minor way in the 18th century. At this period there was jealousy and fighting between the weavers of Bradley and Southwick, the latter being reinforced by a large settlement of cloth workers at Rode Hill. Much of this jealousy was caused by perceptions of who was getting the most work from local clothiers. The Fleur de Luce (Lys) existed by the 1770s and survived on the Trowbridge road until the 1960s. In the 1770s there was a fair at Rode Hill devoted to cattle and cheese, indicating the preponderance of dairying in local farming. By the 19th century this fair was for cheese and pleasure and it survived until around 1870 when it took place on the Monday after Rode Revel Sunday, the first Sunday after 9th September.

Many Southwick houses were built on roadside wasteland in the latter part of the 18th century with leases of land granted later. Most of the older houses on the north side of the main road date from this late 18th or early 19th century period. In the years between the 1790s and the 1830s the cloth workers had only intermittent work and were therefore a heavy burden on the parish poor rate. This was largely levied upon the farmers, who paid a set sum per acre farmed. Many cloth workers were given help to pay house and loom rents so that they could stay in their own homes. There was no workhouse but over 100 people in the 2 villages were housed in cottages owned by the parish. In 1831 pauper labourers were allocated to farmers, but as they did not work well this scheme was unpopular with the farmers and was soon abandoned.

Common land in Southwick was enclosed in 1805 and the large village green, now covered by houses and the church, began to be built upon. New farmhouses, including Dillybrook, Romsey Oak, Chancefield and Odessa, were built and much of the enclosed land was ploughed, possibly because of the need to grow more grain owing to the effects of the Napoleonic wars. The villages of North Bradley and Southwick became separate civil parishes in 1866, and by now they were independent of one another in several ways, although they still enjoyed various communal activities and some Southwick villagers would have attended Bradley church, as the only Anglican church in their parish was at Rode Hill.

Handloom weaving finally ceased in the 1870s and from then large numbers of villagers walked to Trowbridge each day to work in the mills. Gradually the younger ones would find houses in the town and move there permanently. In 1871 Rode Hill had 94 inhabited houses, and several empty ones, with a total population of 366. There were few gardens as the houses were built in terraces in short 'streets'. Cottage rents were between one shilling (5p) and two shillings (10p) a week. The loss of cloth workers greatly reduced the population and many of the cottages were demolished. At this time the division in farmland was about 50% arable and 50% pasture but from now pasture began to increase as dairying dominated the local farming economy. In 1885 the parish boundaries were tidied up and the area of Southwick was 2,473 acres.

In the 20th century changes such as mains water, from the late 19th century, electricity and the provision of a garage and filling station occurred. In 1890 there had been 2 shops, a blacksmith, a threshing machine proprietor and a road contractor, while in 1867 there were 3 shops, a baker, a smith, a tailor, a grocer and draper and two stone masons. At both times the main commercial interest was farming. In 1927 there was only one shop but there was also Southwick garage, a post office and telephone call office, steam haulage and removal contractors (Barnes Brothers), a blacksmith, a coal dealer, a house decorator and a stone mason. Although it had lost some shops, Southwick gained several businesses in the early 20th century and dairy farming still dominated the local economy. In 1937 Rode Hill was transferred to Somerset and Southwick parish reduced to 2,255 acres.

The population of Southwick had been generally falling from a high point of 1,562 in 1821 and by 1901 it had dipped to 871. It steadied at between 717 and 826 between 1911 and 1961 when there were 737 people in the village. This well illustrates the steady drift of people from a rural farming area into a nearby town and the trend was not reversed until the 1960s when substantial areas of new housing were built for car-using commuters. This began with the demolition of the Fleur de Lys and the building of houses and shops to the south of Trowbridge road around that site. By 1971 the population was 1,326 and further housing estates to the south of the Frome road and west of the Bradley road increased the number to 2,001 by 1981. The number of shops and businesses also increased and the population steadied and was 1,896 in 2001.

Council : Wiltshire Council
Web Site www.wiltshire.gov.uk

Parish Council Southwick Parish Council

Churches: Information on both current and disused churches and chapels.
Baptist Church, Southwick
Chapel, Southwick Court, Southwick
Church of St. Thomas, Southwick
General Baptist Chapel, Southwick
Methodist Chapel, Southwick
Old Baptist Chapel, Southwick
Providence Baptist Chapel, Southwick