A Brief History of Semington

A Brief History of Semington

Semington is an old settlement and people have lived here since at least the 12th century.  Earlier habitation in the area is indicated by the discovery of Romano-British pottery fragments near Whaddon and the evidence of Bronze Age settlements in fields adjacent to St George’s Road discovered by a 2021 archaeological survey.  The early history of Semington is closely bound up with the ancient manor (and nearby modern parish) of Steeple Ashton and was once part of the Whorwellsdown Hundred.  The land belonged to Romsey Abbey prior to the Dissolution when it was acquired by Sir Thomas Seymour who forfeited it to the Crown in 1549 when he was executed for treason.  In 1894, Semington and Littleton, together with nearby Whaddon were brought together as a new civil parish, with Whaddon subsequently being transferred to Hilperton parish.

The parish sits in the valley of Semington Brook, which rises on Salisbury Plain and joins the River Avon at Whaddon.  The Brook was the northern boundary of the parish for centuries and formed part of the southern border of the Forests of Chippenham and Melksham that date from 1228.  West of the aqueduct on the Kennet & Avon canal, the brook remains the northern boundary whilst to the east of this the boundary is now the canal.

Melksham Forest covered a 33 square mile area stretching from Calne in the north-east to Semington in the south-west, and during the 13th century, King John hunted in the Forest.  The settlements around Melksham were then mainly made up of small farm groupings, and Semington village is still surrounded by farmland and some of its farmhouses date from the 1500s.  The large open fields in Semington were extensively enclosed by the end of the 16th century and by 1813 only two small open areas remained.  The most prominent landowner in Semington after enclosure was the Duke of Somerset when arable farming constituted around 16% of the land.  Pasture and meadow primarily for sheep farming, which had been increasing in the area from the late Middle Ages, was the pre-eminent type of farming in Semington itself.

A prominent parish feature is the Kennet and Avon Canal.  This was begun in 1794 in order to provide a navigable link between Newbury and Bath.  The section from Foxhangers (below Devizes) to Bath, including the construction of a wharf at Semington and an aqueduct over the brook, was completed by 1804 and the canal was opened throughout its length in 1810.  Its main traffic was coal.  The Wilts and Berks Canal, completed in 1810, began at a junction with the Kennet and Avon at Semington and was a route to Abingdon via Melksham and Swindon.  When the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway opened in 1848, traffic on the canals began to terminally decline.  Although the station on the Devizes to Trowbridge branch line was called Semington Halt, the line of the railway has always been north of the parish.  The route was lost in the 1960s Beeching cuts although the line is still clearly visible in parts of the landscape.

In 2002, a book called Semington Past and Present was produced by the Semington History Project Group, and edited by Gabrielle and Doug Firmager.  It can be downloaded here and physical copies are available to buy from the parish council.  An extended history of the parish can be found on the Wiltshire Community History pages of the Wiltshire Council website.