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Aldbourne

Aldbourne is a large downland parish, in the east of the county, where most of the land is over 150 metres. Most of the parish is chalk, with clay-with-flints covering parts of the higher ground. Aldbourne village is in the east of the parish while there are shrunken or deserted settlements at Woodsend, Upper Upham and Snap in the west. The hamlet of Preston, in the south-east is shared between Aldbourne and Ramsbury. Aldbourne village is at the junction of five dry valleys, near where a tributary stream of the river Kennet rises to flow south-eastwards in a sixth valley. On this site the local geological formation had caused a lake to form which once covered the area of the present Square and the sites of some of the buildings. The present pond is all that remains of this lake.

It is the pond that has brought about the nickname of Dabchick for anyone born, or living, in Aldbourne. Legend has it that long ago a dabchick was found on the pond and, not surprisingly in an upland village, no one could identify it. They brought out the oldest inhabitant, who declared it to be a dabchick and forever after that has been the local nickname. Some of the earliest bells made in Aldbourne in the first part of the 17th century bear the engraving of a small long-necked bird that is supposed to be a dabchick.

Land in Aldbourne has been occupied, if not permanently settled, for around 8,000 years. Earliest occupation and usage was in the upland areas and it was not until Saxon times that the site of the present village was substantially settled. There are good assemblages of Mesolithic flints dating from around 6,000 B.C., which would seem to indicate temporary settlements over a period of time. Many Neolithic artefacts have been found to the north of the village and it is believed that there was a reasonable population for the time in this part of eastern Wiltshire. This continued into the Bronze Age and 20 round barrows top the downs in this area; they include the well known Four Barrows. At this time there were settlements at both Upham and Woodsend. Occupation at Upper Upham continued through the Iron Age and into the Romano-British period.

The Roman Ermin Street crosses the Sugar Way while to the west the road from Cirencester to Mildenhall (Cunetio) runs roughly north to south. There are also substantial villa sites nearby, such as Littlecote, and Aldbourne parish seems to have been well farmed at this time. Apart from settlement and a field system in the Upper Upham/Shipley area there was a settlement in the valley between North Farm and Lottage, and there may have been a farmstead just outside the present village centre.

Saxon settlement has left far fewer traces, as most buildings and utensils were made of wood. It is thought that earliest settlement may have been on ground near the stream, to the south of Lottage Road. Later a wooden church was built on higher chalk land to the north-west of the stream. Upham was the centre of a royal manor, with a hunting lodge on the edge of Aldbourne Chase. The main house or hall in the village is likely to have been on the site of Court House, to the north of the church. It is thought that a wooden church may have existed here as early as the 7th or 8th century and by 1086 the church held two hides of land, sufficient for two plough teams, to provide for the church and priest.

The Domesday Book (1086) gives us the best picture of the community at the end of the Saxon period. Aldbourne was held by the king and had enough land for 45 plough teams, although this was not fully exploited as only 36 were being used. Of these the tenants had 26. There were four mills in the parish and a certain amount of meadow (probably outside the parish), pasture and woodland. Over the whole estate, roughly the modern parish, the population is likely to have been between 670 and 740 people. This included the present village site, then settled to the south and south-east of the church, and what were still probably substantial settlements at Upham and Woodsend.

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