Semley seems to have been part of an estate that King Eadwig granted to the Benedictine Wilton Abbey in AD 955. The Abbey retained the manor of Semley until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when it surrendered all its lands to the Crown. In 1541 Henry VIII granted Semley to Sir Edward Bayntun and his wife Lady Isabel, but in 1572 their son Francis restored it to the Crown.
In the same year Elizabeth I granted Semley to Matthew Arundell or Wardour Castle, who was knighted in 1574. Sir Matthew's son Thomas Arundell was created Baron Arundell of Wardour in 1605. The Wardour estate has held land at Semley ever since, but between 1806 and 1820 the 9th and 10th Barons sold off 882 acres (357 ha) of the manor. By 1839 about 550 acres (220 ha) at Semley remained in the Arundell family. In 1962 Mr. R.J.R. Arundell sold Legatt's Farm and in 1985 he owned about 440 acres (180 ha) at Semley.
Hook Manor is a Jacobean manor house built in 1637-37. It is built of local stone quarried about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) away at Tisbury. the south porch may have been added in 1655 and the hall had been divided into a smaller room and two passages by 1815. In 1935 the house was remodelled to designs by the architect T. Lawrence Dale, who reunited the hall and added a neighbouring room to enlarge it. Dale also removed the porch, added a staircase and a service wing.
John Benett of Pythouse bought the 882 acres (357 ha) of Semley Manor that the Arundells sold between 1806 and 1820. By 1839 his total estate at Semley amounted to 1,064 acres (431 ha), but by 1847 about 350 acres (140 ha) of the land he had bought from the Arundells had been re-sold. The bulk of Benett's acquisitions at Semley remained with his heirs until his grandson Vere Fane Benett-Stanford died in 1894 and his widow became married to Charles Thomas-Stanford in 1897. The estate then passed to John Benett's great-grandson John Fane-Benett-Stanford, who died in 1947. In 1952 the estate sold Amberleaze Farm and Glebe Farm.
Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster had bought Bowmarsh Farm and Hart Hill Farm and in 1847 bought Westwood Farm from John Benett. This gave him a total of about 350 acres (140 ha) at Semley. This estate descended by the Marquess's daughter Octavia to her husband Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart, 7th Baronet. After the death of the 7th Baronet in 1903 and Lady Octavia in 1921, their son Walter Richard Shaw-Stewart held about 850 acres (340 ha) at Semley. He then sold off about 250 acres (100 ha) including Westwood Farm between 1924 and 1927.
Church and chapels
By 1191 Semley had a Rector and therefore presumably a parish church. The Church of England parish church of Saint Leonard was rebuilt in the 19th century to designs by Thomas Wyatt. The rebuilding of the chancel was in 1866 and the remainder of the church was demolished and replaced in 1874-75. The new church is a Gothic Revival building in Perpendicular Gothic style with a tall west tower that has a spire on its stair-turret. A late-13th century effigy of a priest was salvaged from the north porch of the mediaeval church and is re-set in the new church.
In 1553 St. Leonard's had a ring of four bells. One of these was cast by Robert Burford of London in about 1410 and remains in use at St. Leonard's today. William Cockey of Bristol cast the present treble bell in 1733. Mears and Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast four more bells including the present tenor in 1878 to complete St. Leonards' present ring of six.
In 1976 the Diocese of Salisbury united St. Leonard's benefice with Sedgehill. In 1985 East Knoyle was added to the benefice. The parishes of Charlton, Donhead St Andrew and Donhead St Mary have since been added to form the present Benefice of Saint Bartholomew.
Semley and East Knoyle had a Baptist congregation by about 1820 and opened a Particular Baptist chapel at Semley in 1823. It was still in use for worship in 1985. The chapel is built of stone and slate and was made a Grade II listed building in 1987.
Semley's farmland has long been mostly pasture. Its small amount of arable land was partly enclosed by the 14th century and mostly enclosed by the 16th century. Semley's pasture was mostly common land in the Middle Ages but about 500 acres (200 ha) were enclosed between 1599 and 1769. Proposals to enclose the remaining 300 acres (120 ha) of Semley's common pasture were defeated in 1813 and 1836 and they remained in common in 1985.
A National School for the parish was built in 1841. A teacher's house was built in 1866 and a second classroom, for infants, was added in 1882. It is now Semley Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School.
In 1859 the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway was completed through the parish and opened Semley railway station close to the A350 about 1.25 miles (2.01 km) west of the village. There sprang up a dairy organising milk distribution from the local farms. British Railways closed the station in 1966 but the railway remains open as part of the West of England Main Line. Semley's public house, the Benett Arms, has traded as such since at least 1867. It may be the same as the New Inn at Semley recorded in 1855 and 1865.
Much of Semley's pasture had long been devoted to dairy farming, and in about 1871 one Thomas Kirby started a business close to Semley station buying milk and sending it by rail to London. Kirby expanded his business with other depots in south Wiltshire and Dorset in the 1880s. By 1889 it was trading as Semley and Gillingham Dairies, and in 1890 it became Salisbury, Semley and Gillingham Dairies. United Dairies (Wholesale) Ltd. bought the business in 1920 and added a factory at Semley by 1924. In 1928 United Dairies added milk pasteurisation and storage facilities and a cheese-making facility. In 1944 the cheese room was converted to an egg store. In 1959 United Dairies merged with Cow & Gate to form Unigate. By 1985 Unigate had closed the Semley factory and it was being divided into smaller units for industrial use.
- Crowley, Freeman & Stevenson, 1987, pages 66-79
- Pevsner & Cherry, 1975, page 466
- "Bell Founders". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- "Semley S Leonard". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- The Benefice of St. Bartholomew
- "Semley Baptist Church, Sedgehill And Semley". British Listed Buildings Online. British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- Crowley, D.A. (ed.); Freeman, Jane; Stevenson, Janet H. (1987). A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 13: South-west Wiltshire: Chalke and Dunworth hundreds. Victoria County History. pp. 66–79.
- Pevsner, Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget (revision) (1975) . Wiltshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 466. ISBN 0 14 071026 4.
Media related to Semley at Wikimedia Commons