The tale of a house on an English village green: from 1066, through the Civil War and growing barley for breweries.

When I was young my parents used to belong to an archeology club and I would fieldwalk with them longing to spot something interesting. One particular memory is when I walked Faringdon bypass while it was being built in the summer of 1976. I was wearing my favourite halter-neck summer-dress and the sun was burning my back raw as I stared at the mud, longing to find a spearhead or a piece of pot.  I saw nothing. Ever.

But now I have found a lost, possibly saxon or norman, moat!!! Me! My name is on the Wiltshire records as the person finding a “potentially significant site” with my research used as a reference.

Great Chalfield is a manor near us that is still occupied, though, it was rebuilt in the Tudor period. You may recognise it no matter where you live because they have filmed some Poldark Scenes there. As you can see in the picture below the whole front element of a saxon moat is still in situ at Great Chalfield. That is what I believe the land in front of our house could have looked like, many years ago.


So let me tell you the story behind this discovery.

Obviously from this blog you know how much I love the real stories I discover in history and use in my fictional books. But it has been even more exciting discovering the stories about the place where I live.

Like most English villages, Poulshot, near Devizes in Wiltshire, has its myths and rumours about its history. But I became tired of hearing the things I knew could not be true because I have done so much research I can tell what is pure fiction. So I decided to go to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and look for the truth.

We know our house is old, but we have no idea how old and so that was where I began this journey, searching back through the information about who had previously owned our house. So, initially, I was looking for the story of my house and then it became the story of the village green.

What I knew before I went to the records centre is that our house has been around since 1786 at least, because an artist, John Baptiste Malchair, drew our house in 1786. our house 1786The image was drawn from the parlour of the vicarage on the far side of the road from where we are. The drawing below was sold by Sotherby’s a few years ago but we do not know who bought it.

I have a list of some owners of our house after this date, but I did not investigate from the current date, back. I was mainly interested in who owned the house at the time this image was drawn, and who had owned it previously. When was it built? Why was it built? What did the owners do? What was the village they had lived in like?

The first stop in my search was the Articles of Agreement for the Commutation of Tithes in the Parish of Poulshot, a document from 1837.

This document shows that Rev. David Hopkins owned our house, a nearby house and quite a few fields (I found out from his will that the land was 165 acres in total). Our house and the attached orchard, were being rented by John Gilbert, while Edward Gilbert rented a property named Manor Farm and the fields.

The houses and land stayed in the Hopkins family for another generation, and then remained in the ownership of a mother, then a sister. The land and property were then split among more distant relatives.

Below is a map of the land the document above describes but this was drawn in 1874 when the land was sold by the Hopkins estate.


The village green is the area called ‘common’ on the image above, and the house weimg_4058 own half of, is at the bottom of the village green.  Plot number 283, homestead and garden. At the time the occupants of our house were also leasing plot 284, the orchard.

Before I progress, note that the 1874 map shows you what was owned by the Hopkins estate, not other properties. Ours was not an isolated house, other houses had been built about the green. In fact there were five farms in positions around The Green.


The second map (on then left above) was drawn earlier, in 1840. The 1840 map shows you the other houses.

These maps told me something more than just that the house was let as part of a larger estate. Where the dotted lines run past the front of our house, is now the main road through the village.  Years ago houses, unless there was a reason to travel to them, were built on the roadside. They did not build closes, and estates. Houses were always on the edge of some network that connected them to daily life. A road. A canal. A river. A green But as you can see from the 1840 map, our house, is at one end of the green and it stands out on its own, that is when you realise it was not built on a through road. Our plot of land closes off the green.

This first step in my story told me two things about our village myths straight away too. All around Poulshot are what is known as the Green Lanes. They are really wide byways and bridle ways. I have lived in a few villages, and walked around many, and I have never seen track ways between fields as wide as these.

I have asked some of the other villagers, ‘What is the history of these lanes?’ No one I have asked has been able to tell me. Well, having seen the 1840 map, I now know they were the roads. Carts and carriages would have travelled around the village green behind the properties, on this main route. The road through the middle of Poulshot as we know it today was simply not there. The road across the green does not show up on maps until 1919, but it had not been there even in 1899.

So when did the road appear? Nora Dixon, who wrote about life in Poulshot Village in 2002 explains in her book that The Parish Council applied for a road to be put in across The Green in 1896, and then again in 1905 using a new idea for a reason for a new main road, ‘extraordinary traffic over the roads in the parish by traction engines hauling timber, which caused great injury to the roads.’ The new main road that ran straight through the village and over the village green was laid in stone in 1909 and flattened by a steamroller brought down from Devizes 😀

But, as you can see in the 1786 drawing, above, there was a narrow pathway across The Green before the road existed. This was a cobbled track and is still buried under the grass. It was (and still is) claimed to be a pathway put in place by Monk’s and I am told it goes all the way down the hill to the village church.

But not everyone believes that is true.

Anthony’s Walk (Vol, v, page 374) “There seem as always to have been a strong tendency to connect any old track or causeway either with monks or nuns. A walk near Warminster, known as the Nuns’ Pass, was in 1777, the subject of a descriptive poem of 35 pages, and very recently when the question of relaying part of the time-worn causeway some two miles in length, which travers the village of Poulshot, was introduced to the Urban District Authority at Devizes, it was at once identified as an old Monk’s Walk, in accordance with usual tradition.” 

It makes far more sense to me that the cobbled track was put in because while carts and horses would have used the roads and travelled around the edges of the green, (although in those days roads were no more than mud tracks). In the watercolour painting below you can see what those tracks may have sometimes been like. Travellers who were walking or droving animals to market, may well have there taken the short cut over the green. As would the locals. As recorded in a letter from John Aubrey (1626-1697) Poulshot was a ‘wet and muddie place’. (An aside: I have loved the fact that most of these records are pre-Victorian and therefore pre the inventions of exact spelling and grammar; so refreshing for someone with dyslexia). So why not build a pathway that means you can keep your feet dry. The leather shoes of history, would have been no match for persistent damp and mud. Which is why people wore metal or wooden clogs called patterns underneath their shoes when they went outside (otherwise in the towns they were likely to step in animal or human waste while in the country it was mud).


I would not like to have to balance on those when it was icy, and I do not think they would have been much use on a muddy track turned into a quagmire by the rain in winter, as Diana Sperling showed by her painting of her life experience. No, a much better idea to put in a path.

The last thing to say in this post about the village is to give you another example of a potential old path used to keep feet dry.  I cannot share a picture of the cobbled path that runs across the green,  but here is an old brick path that we found a couple of feet down in our garden when we built our extension. This runs towards where we know our outdoor toilet was, and it was at the same level as the original foundations of the house. So perhaps it went to the toilet… or you never know perhaps it is a continuation of the Monk’s path.


There is a lot more to be said (obviously), I have barely scraped the surface of this story, but for today I will give your eyes a rest.

Thank you for joining me in this historical investigation/adventure. I have felt a little like a time traveller in the days I was immersed in this research.

I will post the next chapter soon.


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A real 19th century masked ball ~ experienced through the eyes and emotions of a courtesan

Harriette_Wilson00We are in to the last thirty-three pages of Harriette’s memoirs now, and I will warn you she does not build up to a wonderful wrapped up ending. Her memoirs sort of fizzle out, after this random clutter of stories. But this particular story, is a little gem, which has been thrown in at the end, out of context and in an incorrect period of her life. But I will share it, because she is speaking about a London event that was monumental at the time. The famous masquerade (a masked ball), held at the Wattier’s gentlemen’s club. Wattier’s was the cool men’s club. White’s was more for parliamentary men. Wattier’s was where the men who liked to play hung out, including the rogues and rakes. The men of the club came up with an idea to celebrate the end of the Peninsular War, and peace with France, with a party, a party where women would be welcomed into the gentlemen’s club, and where courtesan’s could mix, concealed behind masks, with women of the beau monde, as equals for one night.

This masquerade fascinates me, as I have read about it from about five different perspectives, in various people’s letters, written at the time, as well as in Harriette’s memoirs. It was an extremely widely attended and talked about event in 1814, two hundred years ago.

So today I will be telling you about this fabulous party, from Harriette’s view, but before I do, as always, here is the background to this series of posts for anyone joining today (sorry if you want to read this story from the beginning you are going to have a lot of reading to do, but all posts are listed in the index – start at the bottom of the list). For those of you who have been following Harriette’s tales, who’ve already read this, then head to where I have marked the text bold.

In 1825 Harriette Wilson, a courtesan, published a series of stories as her memoirs in a British broad sheet paper. The Regency gentleman’s clubs were a buzz, waiting to see the next names mentioned each week. While barriers had to be set up outside the shop of her publisher, Stockdale, to hold back the disapproving mob.

Harriette was born Harriette Debochet, she chose the name Harriette Wilson as her professional name, in the same way Emma Hart, who I’ve blogged about previously, had changed her name. Unlike Emma, it isn’t known why or when Harriette changed her name.

She was one of nine surviving children. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother a stocking repairer, and both were believed to be from illegitimate origin.

Three of Harriette’s sisters also became courtesans. Amy, Fanny and Sophia (who I have written about before). So the tales I am about to begin in my blogs will include some elements from their lives too.

For a start you’ll need to understand the world of the 19th Century Courtesan. It was all about show and not just about sex. The idle rich of the upper class aspired to spending time in the company of courtesans, it was fashionable, the thing to do.

You were envied if you were linked to one of the most popular courtesans or you discovered a new unknown beauty to be admired by others.

Courtesans were also part of the competitive nature of the regency period too, gambling was a large element of the life of the idle rich and courtesans were won and lost and bartered and fought for.

So courtesans obviously aspired to be one of the most popular, and to achieve it they learnt how to play music, read widely, so they could debate, and tried to shine in personality too. They wanted to be a favoured ’original’.

The eccentric and outspoken was admired by gentlemen who liked to consort with boxers and jockeys, and coachmen, so courtesans did not aim for placid but were quite happy to insult and mock men who courted them, and demand money for any small favour.

‘It was the most brilliant assemblage I have ever witnessed. Amy, Fanny, and I were promised tickets from the very beginning; but poor Julia was not popular. After making vain applications to half the town, and to all the members of the club who were stewards of the feast, she at last addressed herself to Lord Hertford.

‘I am not a member of Wattier’s; therefore I cannot obtain a lady’s ticket for you,’ said his Lordship; ‘but, if you like to go in boy’s clothes, I have one at your disposal; but not transferable mind.’ Memoirs and letters are such fab things; who would have thought they would be giving out men’s and ladies’ tickets? I presume to ensure numbers did not become too uneven so that people had partners to dance with.

Julia was very shy and did not like boy’s clothes; but Julia’s legs were perhaps the handsomest in Europe, and then Julia knew there was no remedy; so after accepting Lord Hertford’s polite offer with many thanks, I accompanied her to Mr Stultze, the German regimental tailor and money-lender in Clifford Street.

We asked Stultze’s advice about a modest disguise for Julia, and he referred us to a book full of drawings therein exhibited, the dress of an Italian or Austrian peasant-boy and girl, I forget which; but I remember that Julia wore black satin small-clothes, plaited very full around the waist… fastened tight at the knee, with a smart bow, fine, black, transparent silk stockings, black satin shoes, cut very short in the quarters, and tied with a large red rosette, a French cambric shirt, with beautifully small plaited sleeves, a bright blue, rich silk jacket without sleeves, trimmed very thick, with curiously wrought silver bell-button, and a plain round black hat with a red silk band and bow.

I, as Julia’s fair companion, was to wear a bright red, thick silk petticoat, with a black satin jacket, the form of which was very peculiar and most advantageous to the shape. The sleeves were tight, and it came rather high upon the breast. It was very full-trimmed, with a double row of the same buttons Julia wore. My shoes were black satin, turned over with red morocco; my stockings were of fine blue silk, with small red clocks; my hat was small, round and almost flat, the crown being merely the height of a full puffing of rich pea-green satin ribbon. The hat was covered with satin of the same colour, and placed on one side at the back of the head. The hair was to fall over the neck and face in a profusion of careless ringlets, and, inside my vest, an Indian amber-coloured handkerchief.

Stultze brought home our dresses himself in his tilbury, on the morning of the masquerade, being anxious that we should do him credit. Everything fitted us to a hair. The crowd was expected to be immense., and we were advised to get into our carriage at five in the afternoon, as, by so doing, we should stand a chance of arriving between nine and ten o’clock, at which hour the rooms were expected to be quite full.

Fanny chose the character of a country house-maid. She wore short sleeves to show her pretty arms, an Indian, glazed, open, coloured gown, neatly tucked up behind, a white muslin apron, coloured handkerchief, pink glazed petticoat, and smart little, high, muslin cap.

What character in the name of wonder did Amy choose? That of a nun, forsooth! (LOL 😀 – Harriette strikes another hit upon the sister she hated. )’

Harriette and Julia remained in the street in their carriage from five until nine, delayed by the sheer number of carriages arriving. It was really common for long queues of carriages to form outside popular balls and events and for people to sit in carriages for hours, waiting for their carriage to reach the door. But I think four hours was exceptional.

At last we arrived and were received at the first entrance-room by the Dukes of Devonshire (Georgiana’s son, Hart – reference the film – The Duchess) and Leinster, dressed in light blue dominos. They were unmasked, this being the costume fixed on for all members of the Wattier’s club. The newspapers described this most brilliant fete (Now that is interesting I am beginning to wonder if they used the word ball then, that is twice when I have read about actual balls they were called fetes… Mmm, interesting)  in glowing colours long ago, and much better than I can do; I will therefore merely state that it exceeded all my highest flights of imagination, even when, as a child, I used to picture to my fancy the luxurious places of the fairies described in my story-books…

Harriette will continue telling us more about this wonderful moment of history, next week…

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romances, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’ and ‘I Found You’ a bestselling novel in the contemporary chart. Currently reduced to $1.99 in the USA from $7.

Book 3 in the Marlow Intrigues series, The Scandalous Love of a Duke, will be published on the 3rd April, and is now available for pre-order, click on the cover on the right-hand side to order. Jane’s novels, The Passionate Love of Rake and I Found You, will also be available in Paperback on 17th April and are available to pre-order. The Illicit Love of a Courtesan and I Found You, are already available in print in the USA. 

Why not also read A Lord’s Desperate Love the story of two of the characters from The Passionate Love of a rake which Jane is telling for free here, there is a link to each part in the index of posts. 

Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark