Archaeological evidence of Saxon* terrace cultivation on the side of Pewsey Hill along with burial mounds know as "barrows", show that this area was settled as long ago as the 6th century CE** with possible evidence of an underlying Iron Age settlement dating as far back as c. 300 BCE**†. Evidence of post Roman culture has been found all along the Avon and Kennet river valleys with additional discovery of a Roman mosaic pavement in Manningford Bruce.
Literature from the Saxon era refers to Pewsey as "Pevisigge"or "Pev’s Island" after a local land owner named Pev. It gained its charter in 940 CE and the Parish was granted equal portions of river meadow, woodland and downland grazing land. The original charter is now preserved at Winchester College, a Public (privately run) school in Winchester .
King Alfred was crowned King of Wessex in 870 CE and owned much of the land in the Pewsey Vale. Legend has it that he went off to war and left his wife in the care of the people of Pewsey. Upon his safe return, he granted the inhabitants of Pewsey the right to an annual feast. This feast accounts for the Feaste Ball now held every other year, and has been incorporated into the modern day Pewsey Carnival - held for two weeks in September and originally designed to raise funds for Savernake Hospital.
A statue of King Alfred, unveiled in June 1913 to commemorate the coronation of George V, still stands in the centre of Pewsey.
Referred to as "Pevesie" in the Domesday Book° of 1086 CE, Pewsey was said to have had 46 villagers, 24 tenant farmers, 6 serfs and 7 mills.
A "Poor House"was established in 1823 with a permanent move in 1836 to its last location on Wilcot Road when all the local Parishes combined to create the "Pewsey Union Workhouse". This Poor House was designed to be a self-supporting community of poor and vagrant people and had land available to farm to achieve this. Self-sufficiency was not always possible and the Poor House was subsidised by Parish rates. Husband and wives could not co-habit and families were split up into Mens, Womens, and Children’s blocks.
The buildings that comprised the new 1836 Poor House were later converted into Pewsey Mental Hospital in 1930, which housed up to 500 long-term residents for a variety of real and "social" illnesses. It was not uncommon to find residents there in the late 1970’s that had been there for 50 years for no reason other than because they’d had the misfortune to have a child out of wedlock in their teens! The site has now been redeveloped and turned into private housing.
The arrival of the Kennet & Avon Canal in 1810, and the railway in 1862 secured Pewsey’s place in modern history.
The Bouverie family, who lived in the Old Rectory, (a Georgian Style House built around c. 1710) were the most prominent family at the turn of the century. They had a great deal of influence on the church, the schools, the administrative and social life of Pewsey. The first Bouverie Hall was located beside the old Phoenix Hotel and is what prompted the building of the new modern Bouverie Hall in 1989. It is now the centre for activities in the village including concerts, amateur dramatics performances, farmer’s markets, WI market, Wiltshire College computer classes, old time dances, church sales and much more!
With parts of the modern building dating as far back as the Saxons c. 1150, and other parts from the 13th-15th centuries, it was under Canon Bouverie in 1889, that the Church of England church, St John the Baptist was completely restored.
Between the two World Wars the first Council Houses (low-income, government supported housing scheme) were built and a modern sewage disposal system was constructed. During WW II, Pewsey was primarily affected in the manner of petrol rationing, Black Out, and appearance of Home Guard and Wardens. Due its reliance on farming, the community was not as severely affected by food rationing as some communities. Pewsey was bombed a few times, but it is believed this was either done by bombers simply jettisoning their load on the way home, or in error. Unexploded incendiary devices were dug up by builders when renovating The French Horn pub in the 1980s.
Remnants of village life in Pewsey during the last few hundred years are still a part of modern life. The Old Village School on River Street, that was still used as late as the 1970s, has now been converted into flats. The old Phoenix Hotel on North Street has also been recently converted into flats – but the appearance of the original building has remained virtually unchanged.
The old Whatley’s foundry off the High Street, used as an Iron and Brass Foundry as well as Water Engineering (making water wheels, drills and pumps) as early as 1875, has been up until recently used by modern day Whatley & Co (Pewsey) Ltd. for water engineering and a car accident auto-body repair centre. The building also houses The Heritage Centre.
Ball House, a black and timbered thatched cottage located on Ball Corner has been and is still a private residence dating back to the 14th century. It is considered the Oldest House in Pewsey.
Modern life has also made its way to Pewsey, in the way of a newly renovated Co-op grocery store, a fully equipped sports centre and swimming complex, new housing estates to accommodate the growing community, and the development of small industrial estates on both ends of town. The population is now around 5000 residents – many of which have family ties to the village going back generations.
To view photos of Pewsey past and present, please see the Photo Gallery.
For more information and detail on the history of Pewsey, please visit Pewsey Heritage Centre website.
* 5th-11th centuries CE
** BCE = Before the Common Era (also referred to in Christian terms as BC)
CE = Common Era (also referred to in Christian terms as AD)
† c. = Circa (approximate time period)
° Domesday Book – Census book written in the era of William the Conqueror in 1086 CE detailing the ownership of all land, stock, etc in all of England at that time.