Highworth (St. Michael)

HIGHWORTH (St. Michael), a market-town and parish, in the union of Highworth and Swindon, hundred of Highworth, Cricklade, and Staple, Swindon and N. divisions of Wilts; containing, with the chapelries of Broad Blunsdon, South Marston, and Sevenhampton, and the tythings of Bury-Blunsdon, Eastrop, Fresdon, and Westrop, 3939 inhabitants, of whom 891 are in the town, 48 miles (N. by E.) from Salisbury, and 77 (W. by N.) from London. The name is expressive of the elevated situation of the place, and the extensive prospects which it commands. At the time of the Norman survey this was part of the royal demesne. The chief historical event connected with the town occurred during the civil war, on the 27th of June, 1645, when Major Hen, the governor of a royal garrison here, who had fortified the church, was summoned to surrender by the parliamentary troops, who, on their way to Taunton, had drawn up before it: after a short resistance he yielded, and the besiegers took 70 prisoners, with arms, and a considerable booty. The mark of a cannon-ball, which did much damage to the building, is still discernible. In the following month a skirmish took place here, in which great slaughter appears to have ensued on both sides; for on sinking a fence in a field west of the church, a few years since, a vast number of skeletons in high preservation was discovered, imbedded in the sand, at the depth of five feet. The Town is situated between the Thames and Severn canal, which passes about four miles to the north, and the Wilts and Berks canal, about the same distance towards the south: the Great Western railway also passes on the south. The houses in general are built of stone; the streets are partially paved, and the inhabitants are well supplied with water from springs. There is a small subscription library. The market is on Wednesday; and fairs are held on August 13th (Old Lammas-day), for horses, cattle, and sheep, and October 11th, a statute-fair for hiring servants. The town is under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who meet weekly at Swindon. A bailiff is appointed annually at the court held by the steward for the "manor of the borough of Highworth;" but his office is only to collect quit-rents. At this court, also, constables are selected for the town; and the day following, a court for the hundred is usually held by the steward for the manor, when the constables and tything-men for the different parishes and places in the hundred are chosen. He likewise holds, once in three weeks, a court of pleas, or court baron, for the manor or borough, and ancient hundred of Highworth; it is supposed to have been established by charter of Edward I., and debts under 40s. are recoverable in it. The town probably sent members to parliament at a very early period; a writ was addressed to the bailiffs in the 26th of Edward I., to which no return was made, nor does it appear that the elective franchise was ever afterwards exercised, though writs continued to be sent to the bailiffs until the 24th of Edward IV. The £10 householders now vote in the return of members for the borough of Cricklade.

The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £44. 8. 4.; patron, the Prebendary of Highworth in the Cathedral of Sarum: the great tithes have been commuted for £1150, and the vicarial for £430; the impropriate glebe comprises 40 acres. The church is an ancient building, erected in the reign of Henry VI., with a tower at the west end, which, as well as the other parts of the church, is surmounted by an open parapet; on the south side is a chantry, or monumental chapel, hung round with pieces of armour. There are chapels at Broad Blunsdon, South Marston, and Sevenhampton; and a place of worship for Independents. A national school was erected in 1835; and there are several donations for apprenticing boys, and other purposes, the principal of which is Baston's charity, producing about £50 per annum. The poor-law union of Highworth and Swindon comprises 16 parishes or places, of which 15 are in the county of Wilts, and one in that of Berks; and contains a population of 15,559.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.