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Rockley is surrounded by the past. In Neolithic times, travellers used the old ways over the downs. Long and round barrows show that people of the Stone and Bronze Age populated this area, there are signs that the Romans farmed here, and Rockley is associated with the Knights Templars who must have passed through on their way to Temple Bottom.
There have been many spellings of Rockley:
Rochelie 1086 (Doomsday Book)
Rooks Clearing or Wood?????
There is an old saying : "When the rooks leave Rockley forever, Rockley Manor will fall".
In the 13century much of the pasture of the township was split into Severals, however up until the 18 th century, open field cultivation continued with common Sheep Down creating the boundary between Rockley and Ogbourne Maizey but shared by both villages. Common arable land lay in Dene and Temple Bottom and most probably also in the Winterbourne.
In the 18th century Rockley was the meeting place for the Hundred Court of Dunworth. The men of Dunworth complained bitterly at the distance they were required to travel. The Saxons laid the foundation of our modern Parish by dividing the counties into Tithings and Hundreds but it is unclear as to why Rockley was chosen as the meeting place.
In 1885 William Tanner owned the Rockley Manor estate and Rockley owes much to the Tanner family who built the school and gave the ground for the building of Rockley Chapel of all Saints.
The list of Owners (which needs checking!) is given as:
1674 William Grinfield
1742 “Steddy” Grinfield
1775 Revd William Stratton Lydiard
1810 – 1818 Thomas Mynors Baskerville
1820 – 1824 Sir Hugh Smyth Bt
1824 – 1824 Sir John Smyth Bt
1849 – 1853 Sir Hugh Smyth
1856 – 1859 John Tanner
1859 – 1898 William Tanner
1898 – 1911 Jane Tanner
1911 – 1926 Hugh de Heinz Whatton
1926 – 1933 Mrs Whatton
1933 – 1937 Mj Ernest Fitzherbert Wright
1938 – 1958 Dowager Lady Wakehurst
The Earl & Lady Hardwick (1943?)
1958 - 1962 Capt Guy Holland
1962 – 2001 John Ronald Lees-Millais
2001 – Dr Andrew Rickman
The two names in bold are owners who are quoted by Frances Gay (Headmistress of the School)
Rockley’s Lost Treasure
Rockley Chapel of All Saints was built in 1872 but alas was closed in 1961. In the 13 th century there is mention of a chapel at Rockley dedicated to St Leonard whose saints day is celebrated on the 6 th November. There were three altars. The Rector and the people of Rockley failed to keep the nave, chancel, walls and roof in good repair and in 1409 the parishioners were blamed for the bad state of the doors and for allowing the grave yard stile to become defective. By 1583 the building had been demolished and no later references have been found.
Hard Times in Rockley
On November 23rd 1836 Peter Withers was arrested in Rockley for joining with other labourers to the destroy threshing machines belonging to William Canning, a Rockley farmer. They felt driven to such drastic measures by fear of starvation, their wages too low to support their families. The introduction of the Enclosure Act had taken away many of their common rights and they feared that the new threshing machines would make it even harder for them to find work. A hammer thrown by Peter Withers injured Mr. Codington, a special constable who had tried to stop him. Peter was sentenced to death but was later reprieved and transported to Van Diemens Land. This was a harsh, but only too common, sentence
Hag (witch) stones can be found on the downs around Rockley. They were hung in the stables by old horsemen to keep away witches. When horses, which had been stabled overnight were found to be covered in sweat in the mornings, these wise old stablemen would say that the horses had been ‘hag ridden’ . The truth was that the horses had been used in the night to carry smuggled goods. Along the downs above Rockley is Green Street (also known as the Old London Road) which leads to the Ridge Way. This was an ideal route for those:
·‘Four & twenty Ponies trotting through the dark, with brandy for the Parson , Baccy for the Clerk’,
and were the children at the Old Eagle told to
·watch the wall my darling while the gentlemen go by’?
[If you wake at midnight and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that ask no questions isn't told no lie,
Watch the wall my darling, while the gentlemen go by.
Five and twenty ponies, trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the parson; 'baccy for the clerk;
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
And watch the wall my darling as the gentlemen go by. Rudyard Kipling.]
Turn from the Marlborough to Broad Hinton road, into the hamlet of Rockley and there, on a triangle of green with the intriguing name of Rockley GodCake stands a Sarsen stone with the markings "Sarum 30", "London 77", "Swindon 11" and "Bath 34". Apparently the stone once stood near the Old Eagle public house (also known as The St Johns Arms) where the old coach road past Four Mile Clump entered Rockley before climbing up to the Barton Down and joining the London to Bath and Bristol coach road over the Fyfield and Overton Downs. This was long before the A4 became the main route. This sarsen stone is among the Listed Buildings etc. of Rockley. During the Second World War the milestone was moved into the Manor court/stable yard and an earlier photograph shows Lady Hardwick (Lord & Lady Hardwick owned and lived in the Manor House) with the stone in 1943. One explanation for its removal was that, during the war, all sign posts and many milestones were removed in case England was invaded by the enemy. This was done to confuse the enemy, but by all accounts they were not the only ones to be confused by the lack of signs! An alternative explanation could have been due to the presence of the American Tank Corps who were in and around Rockley. They were not overcareful with tanks and standing stones, so perhaps the stone was moved not to confuse the enemy, but to keep it safe from our allies. After the War, Peter Greenway remembers that the stone was replaced on Rockley’s Godcake. This would have been around 1947 / 48.
The strange name, however, of GodCake is possibly due to the following: "GodCake was a cake sent by Godparents to their Godchildren on New Year's day. They were used by all classes, and varied in price from a ha'penny. They were invariably made in a triangular shape an inch thick, and filled with mincemeat, They were very popular and the cheaper ones were hawked around the streets". It would seem that Rockley's GodCake took its name from these cakes. Ref: "Words, Words, Words, Notes and Queries" Mary Roberts
Rockley lies in a valley. The soil is well drained, being of chalk and covered with flint and sarsen stones. Early settlers built their homes in the valley, where there was plenty of water for themselves and their stock. Each cottage had a well, fed by underground springs. These days water is pumped from a borehole into a reservoir and from there it is piped to the cottages. Rockley’s bourne known as the Hungerbourn (or sometimes the Woebourn) because of the association with hardships endured as a result of wet harvests and ruined crops. It rises in several places in Rockley, flowing beneath Rockley Manor, across the park, crossing the Marlborough/Wooton Basset road just below Old Eagle Cottages and then along the valley to join the Og at Bay Bridges. When there is a strong rise, the bourne runs deep for several weeks.
An old gypsy saying is that ‘the bournes run strongly every seven years’.
Many of the Rockley Cottages, walls and farm buildings are of Sarsen Stone. The surrounding Downs are littered with Sarsen; dig almost anywhere in Rockley and you will come across these stones. The name Sarsen is said to have come from mediaeval times when the Saracens were well known as foreigners and their name was applied to these foreign stones.in a limestone district. Alternatively, the name may have developed from the AngloSaxon SAR, meaning trouble and STAN meaning stone. Looking at some of the huge Sarsen stones unearthed from the many trenches being dug in Rockley at present, it would seem "trouble stone" would be the more likely derivation.
In Rockley Firs - a tale of poaching.
About the beginning of the First World War, Alfred Williams of Swindon collected and collated folk songs from the area of the “Upper Thames”, amongst which was “In Rockley Firs”. Willams said of this song:
“This is of Wiltshire origin. Rockley Firs is near Marlborough, and was a noted rendezvous of poachers in times gone by. Hares were in great abundance ; I have heard of a case in which a poacher claimed to have killed three at one shot. There were frequent encounters with gamekeepers, and it may be to one of these that the song refers. Obtained of William Preston, Grafton, Oxon. He is an old earth-stopper, and remembers to have heard the song near Cricklade, many years ago.”
Unfortunately, although Williams was diligent in recording the songs, he could not read music, so the entire volume lacks any indication of what the tunes might have been. In this case, Shirley Collins ( a noted English folk singer ) matched the words to an old melody “Sweet Jenny Jones”. Note that the reference to “Cole’s Kitchen” has nothing to do with the current restaurant in Marlborough – this was named after the current proprietor, apparently almost as an afterthought! Many of the songs collected were from David Sawyer of Ogbourne St Andrew, although he later worked in Swindon and was bureid in Stratton St Margaret.
In Rockley Firs where I was sought,
I thought that night I should have been caught;
The moon shone bright, the stars gave light,
And from them all I ran away.
I went to the tavern on Sunday night,
I called for a pottle, likewise a pipe
A special warrant it was brought in,
And taken I was in Cole's kitchen.
I slept at Cole's all that long night,
Mark Hanks came in before 'twas light,
And says, " Young man, you must away
From Marlborough jail, this very day."
He mounted a gig in Marlborough town,
And off to Salisbury I was bound;
In irons strong they bound my hands,
So I was forced to go at their command.
I stood my trial, I am got free,
I am not transported, you all may see;
'Twas in a dark cell where I did lie,
Where locks and bolts like the bullets fly.
A Williams – Folk Songs of the Upper Thames
The Lost Rifle Range
A rifle range ran from Old Eagle to Rough Down (the Golf Course) and was used by the College, Home Guard, Army and Police from 1927 (or earlier) to 1976. There were 5 targets and ranges to 600yards were used. A Mr. Marsh, who had "stately dentures and pebble lenses" was Range warden and sited his hut at the butts. He stayed there during shooting, until a stray round went through the hut and changed his mind!
Bob Curnick recalls grenade training and Lewis Guns (light machine gun) being used during the Second World War. The Home Guard (or Local Defence Volunteer) was partly made up by stable lads who, being short, had difficulty throwing the grenades from the slit trench. On one occasion a grenade went straight up, fell back into the trench and only prompt action by Company Sergeant Major Smith saved the day. Fortunately, training grenades were fitted with somewhat longer fuses than normal, but Smith’s action saved a nasty situation, and he received an OBE. On another occasion, a Mr. Simms was being taught to use the Lewis gun, and put some rounds through the thatch of Mr. Christopher's cottage which sat atop of the Down above the butts.