Millennium Stone, Urchfont
|Population||1,075 (in 2011)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||Dorset and Wiltshire|
Urchfont is a rural village and civil parish in the southwest of the Vale of Pewsey and north of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, about 3+1⁄2 miles (6 km) southeast of the market town of Devizes. The hamlet of Cuckoo's Corner is in the northwest of the village; the parish includes the hamlets of Wedhampton (grid reference ) and Lydeway ( ). The population of the parish at the 2011 census was 1,075.
Urchfont village lies mostly to the north of the B3098 road which connects Market Lavington to the A342 Devizes-Upavon road. The parish narrows as it extends southeast onto Salisbury Plain and into the military training area.
There are remains of several bowl barrows on the downland in the south of the parish, and evidence of a late prehistoric or Roman field system on Penning Down. Medieval strip lynchets can be seen on the north-facing slope of Urchfont Hill.
Domesday Book in 1086 recorded a large settlement of 82 households at Lerchesfonte, with three mills, and land held by St Mary's Abbey, Winchester. The land (later as separate estates of Urchfont, Northcombe and Wedhampton) continued in the ownership of the abbey until the Dissolution in the 1530s.
The parish had three tithings, each stretching from north to south: Eastcott (in the west), Urchfont (central) and Wedhampton (east). Stert, to the north, was anciently linked to Urchfont for church purposes but had been made a separate civil parish by the time of the 1881 census.
A manor house was standing by 1487, and a new Urchfont House (later called Urchfont Manor) was built just west of the village in the late 17th century by Sir William Pynsent, 1st Baronet. Later owners included Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry (late 18th century) and Simon Watson Taylor (from 1843). Pevsner describes the house as one of the best of its type in Wiltshire. The Grade II* listed building housed an adult education college from 1947 until 2012, when it returned to residential use.
Downland in the south of the parish was bought by the War Department in stages from 1897, and today forms part of the military Salisbury Plain Training Area.
Origin of the name
The name of Urchfont is often thought to derive from the phrase "Church Fountain" and is possibly derived from Latin fons meaning 'spring, fountain, well' (cf. fount), or the first element may be a lost personal name such as Eohric. Over 100 variations of the spelling are recorded; e.g. Lerchesfonte (1086), Erchesfonte(e) (1175, 1605), Erkesfonte (1175), Archesfunte (font) (1179, 1376, 1426), Ur(i)chesfunte (1242, 1289), Orchesfunte (1259), Orcheffunte (1428), Archfounte al. Urshent (1564), Urchefount al. Urshent (1611), Urshent al. Erchfont (1695).
There was a church at Urchfont, linked to St Mary's Abbey, Winchester from at least the early 13th century. The present church of St Michael and All Angels dates from the late 13th and early 14th centuries, although the chancel arch and the font are early 13th; the west tower is late 15th-century and has tall pinnacles. The six-bay chancel has fine vaulting with carved bosses, observed by Pevsner to be like the aisles of Bristol Cathedral; vaulting in the south porch is described by Historic England as exceptional. The aisles were re-roofed in 1631 and 1787, and restoration was carried out in 1864 and 1900.
The eight bells include one which is possibly from the 14th century, and four from the 17th. Monuments include an aedicula for Thomas Ernle (d. 1725) of Wedhampton and the tomb of Robert Tothill sculpted by Peter Scheemakers in 1753.
There is stained glass by William Wailes, some dated 1852. The church was recorded as Grade I listed in 1962, and many of the monuments in the churchyard are Grade II listed, 18th-century chest tombs among them.
Eastcott tithing was part of Urchfont ecclesiastical parish until it was transferred to the new parish of Easterton in 1874. The church at Stert was annexed to Urchfont as a chapelry in the early 13th century, and this relationship continued after Stert was made a civil parish in the late 19th century. Today the churches at Urchfont and Stert are served by the Cannings and Redhorn team ministry, alongside six others in nearby villages.
The village is in the 'Urchfont and the Cannings' electoral ward. This ward starts in the south at Easterton, stretches through Urchfont to end in the north at Bishops Cannings. The population of this ward taken at the 2011 census was 4,350.
The village has tennis courts, a cricket pitch and a skittle alley (within The Lamb Inn pub). Urchfont Cricket Club played in the Wiltshire County Cricket League until 2017, and now play "friendly" matches against local teams.
The Berks and Hants Extension Railway was built through the far northeast of the parish for the GWR in 1862, providing a route from Hungerford via Pewsey to Devizes and further west. In 1900 the same company built the Stert and Westbury Railway, which diverged from the earlier line near Patney, east of Urchfont parish; later, part of the parish's northwestern boundary was redrawn to follow this line. The line through Devizes closed in 1966 and was dismantled, while the 1900 line is still in use as part of the Reading to Taunton Line.
In 2018, proposals were made to reinstate rail access in the Devizes area by building a station at Clock Inn Park, Lydeway, where the Reading–Taunton line is crossed by the A342. In 2020 the project received funding from the Department for Transport for a feasibility study.
Singer Elvis Costello has a summer home in the village.
Revd. William Noyes (1568 – 1622), Anglican clergyman of Puritan teachings. He was matriculated from University College in the University of Oxford, and gained his B.A. in May 1592. In May 1602 he was instituted Rector of Cholderton, Wiltshire, in the episcopacy of Henry Cotton.
The Urchfont Scarecrow Festival
The Urchfont Scarecrow Festival (a registered charity) was the first of its kind in Wiltshire. While other Wiltshire villages, including local rivals Lacock, have now established their own festivals on a similar model, the Urchfont festival predates them, having been established in 1997, and is amongst the best attended. The idea was first brought to the village by a resident who saw a similar festival in Derbyshire. In its entire history the festival has only been cancelled three times: once in 2001 because of the threat from Foot and Mouth disease and in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. Apart from those cancellations the 22 festivals to date have taken place on the weekend of the first bank holiday in May every year, and have grown to become a major local event attracting large numbers of local and national visitors while raising money for local charities and good causes.
Over 50 themed scarecrows made by villagers are distributed around the village, and visitors can buy a trail map which provides clues as to the identity of each scarecrow. There is also a children's trail and the village is a buzz with festivities.
Past festivals have included:
- 1997–2000 – No theme
- 2001 – Cancelled (Foot & Mouth)
- 2002 – Characters for the Young at Heart
- 2003 – Professions
- 2004 – Book Titles
- 2005 – Songs & Music
- 2006 – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
- 2007 – Film Titles
- 2008 – Scarecrow Pursuits
- 2009 – Musicals – Stage & Screen
- 2010 – Pairs
- 2011 – Advertisements
- 2012 – A, B, C
- 2013 – Singers
- 2014 – Myths & Legends
- 2015 – At the Oscars
- 2016 – A World of Firsts
- 2017 – From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
- 2018 – It's Showtime!
- 2019 – Back to the 80's
- 2020 and 2021 – Cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Urchfont.|
- "Wiltshire Community History – Census". Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
- Parish Council
- "Parish population 2011". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- Historic England. "Barrow north-west of Weatherhill Scrub (11010184)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
- Baggs, A.P.; Crowley, D.A.; Pugh, Ralph B.; Stevenson, Janet H.; Tomlinson, Margaret (1975). Crittall, Elizabeth (ed.). "Victoria County History: Wiltshire: Vol 10 pp173-190 – Parishes: Urchfont". British History Online. University of London. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
- Historic England. "Field system on Penning Down (215263)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 6 October 2020.
- Historic England. "Medieval strip lynchets (215269)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 6 October 2020.
- Urchfont in the Domesday Book
- Pevsner, Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget (revision) (1975) . Wiltshire. The Buildings of England (2nd ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 544–546. ISBN 0-14-0710-26-4.
- Historic England. "Urchfont Manor (1035857)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
- Wiltshire Council – Wiltshire Community History
- "Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Urchfont". Wiltshire Community History. Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
- Historic England. "Church of St Michael and All Angels (11364609)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
- "Urchfont". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
- Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 by Rupert Gnnis
- Historic England. "Pierce Monument in Churchyard (11183021)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
- "No. 24157". The London Gazette. 1 December 1874. pp. 6000–6002.
- Baggs, A.P.; Crowley, D.A.; Pugh, Ralph B.; Stevenson, Janet H.; Tomlinson, Margaret (1975). Crittall, Elizabeth (ed.). "Victoria County History: Wiltshire: Vol 10 pp155-159 – Parishes: Stert". British History Online. University of London. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
- "No. 25370". The London Gazette. 27 June 1884. pp. 2799–2800.
- "Churches". The Cannings and Redhorn Team. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
- "Urchfont and The Cannings ward 2011". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- "Urchfont C of E Primary School". Retrieved 12 June 2015.
- "Urchfont Dental Care". Retrieved 22 November 2018.
- "2017 Division 1". Wiltshire County Cricket League. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
- "The Wessex Ridgeway". Long Distance Walkers Association. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
- Oakley, Mike (2004). Wiltshire Railway Stations. Wimbourne: The Dovecote Press. pp. 99–101. ISBN 1-904349-33-1.
- Mills, Richard (31 January 2018). "Devizes' 52-year wait for train station could end". Wiltshire Gazette and Herald.
- Moore, Joanne (23 May 2020). "Devizes wins Government cash for train station project". The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
- Cohen, Lewis (2 February 2009). "Wiltshire funeral for cricket statistician Bill Frindall". The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
- "Urchfont Scarecrow Festival Charity". Charity Commission. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- "Scarecrow Festival". Urchfont Parish Council. Retrieved 14 April 2017.