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Church of St James the Great, Dauntsey
Dauntsey is located in Wiltshire
 Dauntsey shown within Wiltshire
Population 581 (in 2011)[1]
Unitary authority Wiltshire
Ceremonial county Wiltshire
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district SN15
Dialling code 01249 / 01666
Police Wiltshire
Fire Wiltshire
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament North Wiltshire
List of places

Coordinates: 51°32′10″N 2°00′40″W / 51.536°N 2.011°W / 51.536; -2.011

Dauntsey is a small village and civil parish in the county of Wiltshire, England. It gives its name to the Dauntsey Vale in which it lies and takes its name from Saxon for Dantes- eig, or Dante's island. It is set on slightly higher ground in the flood plain of the early Bristol Avon.

Today, the village is split by the M4 motorway, with a chain of historic smaller settlements spread either side of the motorway: Dauntsey Green, Dauntsey Church at the entrance to Dauntsey Park, and Sodom and Dauntsey Lock on the southern side of the motorway. Dauntsey Lock is on the former Wilts and Berks Canal (presently being restored), the course of which runs alongside the Bristol-London mainline railway.

Descent of the manor[edit]

de Dauntsey family[edit]

Arms of de Dauntsey: Per pale or and argent, 3 bars nebulée gules. These arms can be seen on various monuments within the parish church

The family which took its name from the manor of Dauntsey is said by Macnamara, op.cit, originally to have been called "Oldstock", which he deduced from its Latinised name Vetus Ceppus in early charters.[2] Ceppus or Cippus signifies in mediaeval Latin "stocks" in which a felon's legs and feet were locked.


The oldest memorial in the church is that of Joan Dauntesey who died c. 1455 and her third husband John Dewale[3] who preceded her. [4] Joan was the daughter of Sir John Dauntesey who died in 1413 and it was through her that the Dauntsey Estate went to the Stradling family. [4] Joan was born in about 1394, and when very young became the second wife of the elderly Sir Maurice Russell (d.1416) of Dyrham, Gloucestershire, who had only two daughters by his first wife. Joan produced for him a son and heir Thomas who nevertheless died as a young man in 1431 leaving a pregnant wife named Joan, whose resulting daughter named Margery died at two days old. Thus ended the line of Russell of Dyrham. Joan Dauntsey married again, almost immediately after Russell's death, to Sir John Stradling (d.1435) the second son of the lord of St Donat's Castle in Glamorgan. The marriage was possibly arranged by Russell's son-in-law Sir Gilbert Denys (d.1422) who was from Glamorgan and was related to the Stradlings. Stradling thus obtained a life interest in Joan's dower, consisting of one third of the Russell manors. The marriage was conducted with such haste that the obtaining of the necessary royal licence for a widow of a tenant-in-chief to re-marry had been overlooked. The couple were fined heavily in 1417 for their transgression, as the following entry in the Patent Rolls dated 8 July 1418 reveals:[5]

"Pardon, for 40 marks paid in the hanaper, to John Stradlyng, chivaler, and Joan late the wife of Maurice Russell, chivaler, tenant in chief, of their trespass in intermarrying without licence."

Thereupon commenced the Stradling family of Wiltshire. In 1428 a feudal aid was assessed on John Stradling for the manor of Dauntsey in the hundred of Malmesbury. He was then also lord of the manors of Smethcote and Castle Combe. Unexpectedly, during her marriage to Stradling, Joan inherited the entire Dauntsey patrimony, on the early death without progeny of her brother Sir Walter Dauntsey.

Sculpted alabaster tombstone of Joan Dauntsey(d.1457) & John Dewale. His shield of arms, of which only a chevron remains visible, is at top right

Joan outlived Stradling and married, thirdly, John Dewale, with whom she is buried as is witnessed by an alabaster slab in front of the high altar in St James's Church, showing the couple lifesize, he being dressed in full armour. Around the margin of the slab runs a much obliterated inscription:

Hic jacet Johannes Dewale armiger et Domina Johanna uxor eius quondam uxor Domini Mauricii Russel militis qui quondam Johannes Dewale obiit mense...die ultimo MCCCC...III. Et prefata Johanna obiit in primo die anno Dom....Quorum (aiabus p'pcietur ?) Deus. Amen

In English:

"Here lies John Dewale, esquire, and lady Joan his wife once wife of Maurice Russell, knight, which said John Dewale died in the month...on the last day 14...3. And the foresaid Joan died on the first day A.D....Of whom (may God spare their souls?). Amen"

Above her head are the armorials of Dauntesy, severely worn away, and above Dewale's head is his shield of arms on which only a chevron can now be seen.[6] Dauntsey folklore relates that the parish priest named Cuthbert murdered Edward, the last male member of the Stradling family. [4] The murder was caught on the evidence of a kitchen boy who had hidden himself in an oven and was an eyewitness. [4] Cuthbert was said to have starved to death hanging in a cage from a tree in the gardens. [4]


Tomb of Sir John Danvers(d.1514) & Anne Stradling(d.1539)
Brasses, top of Danvers-Stradling tomb

Edward Stradling's sister Anne married Sir John Danvers and so introduced the Danvers family to Dauntsey. [4] To the north of the chancel is the tomb of Sir John and Lady Anne. [4] Above the tomb are fragments of a stained glass window with Sir John and his wife kneeling with their sons and daughters. [4] Anne outlived her husband by 25 years, and had a canopied tomb built for herself on the south wall of the chancel. [4] To the north of the chancel stands the chapel that houses the marble tomb of Henry Danvers, created 1st Earl of Danby by Charles I, on the east end of the tomb is an epitaph written to his step father by the George Herbert the poet who stayed some time at Dauntsey Park. [4] On the north wall of the chapel is the Bissett Memorial noting a charitable distribution of coal to the poor. [4] On Henry's death in 1643 the estate passed to his younger brother Sir John named after his grandfather. [4] His political views differed from his brothers, he sat in judgement on Charles I and with the restoration was condemned as a regicide, he died in 1655, his coffin was to be dug up and destroyed as a traitor but it was never found. [4]


As a result the estate and church were forfeited to the Crown and then granted to the Mordaunt family in 1690, whose name is linked with Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough. [4] The arms of the Earl can be seen above the South door. [4]

20th century[edit]

In the 20th century, Lord and Lady Meux occupied the house and Lady Meux left her mark on the church by removing the original stained glass window and replacing it with another in memory of Sir Henry Meux. [4]

St James the Great Church[edit]

Doom Board, 14th century, above rood screen, Dauntsey Church

St James the Great Church, situated on the edge of the village, can be accurately dated back to 1177 when Malmesbury Abbey claimed it.[4] In 1263 it was given to the Lord of Dauntsey Park House and has belonged to the village ever since. [4] In the 14th century the nave, north and south aisles were added.[4] The bell tower (1620) and northeast chapel (1656) were built for Henry Danvers, 1st Earl of Danby and family.[7] In 1763 it was given the name St James the Great of Dauntsey. [4] There are many historical features in the church, from dates etched into pews by bored youngsters to the prime historical feature the medieval doom board; one of only five painted wooden tympanums in the country.[4] It is situated above the rood screen with Christ in the centre of the top.[4] The two characters under Jesus are John and Mary the mother of Jesus, these have been over painted in the past by residents of the manor house who had themselves put into the painting. [4] To the right are two figures Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden of Eden by St Michael whelding his sword.[4] At the bottom left are the dead in their shrouds, some have discarded their shrouds and are on their way to St Peter's gate and the others are headed for the yaws of the Devil depicted by a firebreathing monster at the bottom right.[4] The painting was designed to put the fear of God into all who looked upon it. [4] This is the third paint scheme of the tympanum. Prior paint schemes did not display the Last Days; rather, they likely reflect the religious attitudes of the local lords.[8] The First World War memorial window situated at the east end of the south aisle was designed and made by Kempe and Tower whose logo, a black tower above a golden garb or wheatsheaf, can be seen on the bottom left of the window.[4] There are more features, including the ceiling and oak boxed pews. [4]

The church is a Grade I listed building.[7]


Dauntsey railway station, closed in 1965, was situated on the GWR line between London and Bristol. It had three platforms, two for the main line and one for the branch line to Malmesbury.


  • Dictionary of Welsh Biography, Welsh Biography Online, Stradling [1]
  • Histed, Lucy. A Guide to St James the Great, Dauntsey, c. 2007 (Booklet in church)
  • Macnamara, F.N., Memorials of the Danvers Family, 1895 [2]
  • Plumtree, James. 'The earlier paint schemes and possible contexts of the Dauntsey Doom'. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 107 (2014): 156-162. [3]
  • Victoria County History, Wiltshire, vol. 14, 1991, Malmesbury Hundred, Dauntsey, pp. 65–75 [4]


  1. ^ "Dauntsey Census Information". Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 10 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Macnamara (1895), p.228
  3. ^ Macnamara, F.N., Memorials of the Danvers Family, 1895, p.233, for corrected spelling of Dewale
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab History of St. James the Great, Dauntsey[full citation needed]
  5. ^ Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1416-1422, p.120, July 8, 1418, Waltham
  6. ^ Macnamara (1895) was in error to state (p.233) that the arms above Dewale were those of Russell, which do not feature a chevron
  7. ^ a b "Church of St James, Dauntsey". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Plumtree, James (2014). "The earlier paint schemes and possible contexts of the Dauntsey Doom". Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 107: 156-162. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Dauntsey at Wikimedia Commons