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Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire - A Short History

A beautiful well-preserved village about three miles from Trowbridge, Steeple Ashton was not named for its church steeple, but for the fact that it was the "staple" or market place for the wool trade from the countryside around. In the 15th century it was also engaged in the cloth industry. Changes in the processes of cloth manufacture entailing the use of running water, which the village does not have, brought the decline of this industry and the village turned to farming. The manor was bought by Walter Long of Whaddon in 1630 and the family remained Lords of the Manor until 1924 when the estate was sold. The magnificent church of St Mary the Virgin dominates the village and can be seen for miles around. It once had a steeple as tall again as the present tower, but it was struck by lightning and fell in 1670 and again in 1675 when rebuilding was abandoned. The registers have been well preserved - the baptisms and burials dating from 1538 and marriages from 1558 are in Wiltshire Record Office together with a wealth of other material relating to the village. Of interest to family historians, are various Vicar's Visiting Lists from 1770 to 1827, the Vestry Order Book 1828-35 and the Churchwarden's Accounts 1543-1668. The village school was started in c1840 and some log books exist, but may have not yet have been handed in to the WRO. A Sunday School was in existence in the mid 1800s and the attendance records are in the WRO.

The depression in agriculture in the 1800s caused distress in the village. Two Berrett brothers left for America in the 1820s. Unemployed Moses Angel was hung for murder in 1828. In 1843, on the death of their father, the Stileman sons left for Australia, the family having been in Ashton House on the Green since about 1500. Mormon missionaries arriving in 1845 converted many of the villagers and a party comprising members of the Berrett, Dunsdon and Smith families left for Utah in 1849. Several village men became Mormon missionaries and left for Utah in the next few years - Berrett, Kemp and Griffens amongst them. In 1864 a further party of Berrett, Barnett and Dunsdon family members left for the Salt Lake Valley. Members of the Berrett and Togwell family also moved to Woolwich to work at the Arsenal there in the 1850s.

Every summer the village is visited by the descendants of various emigrant families and also by the Silverthorn family, who hold an annual family gathering there. Other researched families are the Longs, Axfords and Cantellos- The many monumental inscriptions in the church have been listed.