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Parish History

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Chiseldon parish is situated at the north edge of the Marlborough Downs, south of Swindon. The main settlement, Chiseldon village, takes its name from the Saxon 'Ceosel Dene' stony or gravely valley. this refers to the steep-sided coombe running north from the centre of the village. The name was first recorded in the 9th century when both Alfred the Great and his father referred to Chiseldon and its church in their wills, requesting that it be given to the monks of the abbey in Winchester. The major part of the parish remained in the ownership of Hyde Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries circa 1538.

The Saxon village was built around the head of the combe where springs supplied water, with a mill in the valley below and the church on the hillside above. The church was rebuilt by the Normans circa 1175.

Other settlements in the parish are the hamlets of Coate to the north, Burderop and Hodson to the west, Badbury to the east and Draycott to the south. The parish boundary was outlined in the 10th century Saxon charter and has remained virtually unchanged until the 20th century.

Traces of earlier inhabitants can be seen in the form of Roman roads and buildings, Iron Age finds, Bronze Age barrows and Neolithic artefacts. Two prehistoric trackways, The Ridgeway and Icknield Way, cross the parish from east to west.

The area was mainly agricultural until the Midland and South West Junction Railway was constructed through the village in 1881. Many village men found work on the railway or in the railway works. New houses were built in the early 19000s to accommodate commuters working in Swindon.

A large military camp was built to the south of the village in 1914 and made a huge impact, the camp population being greater than that of the whole parish. The military presence continued until 1961, the same year as the closure of the railway.

With the arrival of the motorway across the north of the parish in 1971, Chiseldon became part of the M4 corridor, with associated housing expansion. Although now part of the Borough of Swindon, the parish retains much as its rural character.

The Camp

The camp was established in August 1914 on the outbreak of the Great War.  Between then and 1918 it was used primarily for infantry training, with up to 10,000 men in the camp.  The surrounding downland was extensively used for training, with grenade ranges and rifle ranges below Liddington Hill, and an extensive trench system was constructed near Lower Upham.​

In 1915, a 400-bed wooden hospital was built in J lines to deal with casualties evacuated from  France. This was later increased by a further 100 beds under canvas.  A second 1106-bed hospital was established in L Lines in late 1917, solely for the treatment of venereal disease.


After the Armistice the camp became a demobilisation centre and a holding camp for Commonwealth troops awaiting ships for home.
In 1922 most of the camp was sold by auction, leaving only A, B and C lines, then occupied by the  School of Military Administration and a Cookery School.


Five years later the Army Vocational Training Centre was established at Chiseldon to give long-serving soldiers leaving the colours a civilian occupation.  The men were taught by civilian instructors who lived in quarters in the camp.  A mixed farm was leased at Draycot Foliot and a dairy, greenhouses and workshops were built, and the skills being taught were utilised around the camp.

 The skills available allowed modern buildings to be built on the farm and a series of formal gardens to be created in the south of the camp.  During the 1930s produce from the farm and greenhouses were either used in army kitchens or sold on the open market.  A dairy herd was kept on the farm and surplus milk was churned into butter and cheese.

The outbreak of war in September 1939 brought all this to an abrupt end and saw the arrival of the Motor Training Battalion of The Kings Royal Rifle Corps, one of the first motorised regiments of the British Army.  Following their initial training, men came to Chiseldon and were taught to drive either a motorcycle, truck or Bren Gun Carrier, extensive use being made of the surrounding downland.  

In 1943 the KRRC left for Yorkshire and the camp came under the control of the US Army for the build-up to the invasion of Europe.
For the next two years both Chiseldon and Ogbourne camps were used to finish the training of the many thousands of US soldiers coming into Britain. Among the major American units were the 28th Infantry Div. 5th Armored Div. and the 17th Airborne Div.
From 7th of June 1944 the US 130th Station Hospital was based there as a receiving hospital for casualties evacuated from the fighting in France.  Locally-based Dakotas flew daily supply flights to the forward areas and returned with men injured only a short while earlier.  On arrival, they were examined and any urgent treatment was administered.  Having been cleaned and made comfortable, they were assessed and their dispersal arranged to specialist hospitals.  

During the seven months from June 1944 to January 1945 over 30,000 US casualties were handled by the 130th Hospital, with only twelve deaths -  testimony to the speed and effectiveness of the whole operation.

At the end of the European war in May 1945 the camp returned to British control, the occupants being German and Italian prisoners of war.  

By December it had returned to its pre-war function of preparing soldiers for their return to civilian life, with of a number of 4-week courses.  A further college arrived in October 1946 when the secondary school for the Polish 5th Infantry Division was located in the vacant Nissen huts of the 130th Hospital.

Many of the young Poles fighting in the British Army had received little or no secondary education since 1939 and this school provided an intensive series of courses that brought the pupils up to matriculation standards in two years.
By the beginning of 1948 these units had all ceased to operate or moved on, and Chiseldon became a transit camp for units between overseas postings, their usual stay being between 2 to 6 months.  

In November 1956 it became a Reception Centre for Hungarian refugees fleeing from Russian oppression in Hungary.

In 1962, with the end of National Service, the camp was closed, quickly becoming run down and neglected.  In 1972 it was finally demolished.

A memorial stone was erected by CLHG in 1999.

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The Museum

In 2003 the Parish Council approached Chiseldon Local History Group with a suggestion to use a redundant chapel in  Butts Road as a village museum.  The group gratefully accepted, and in August 2004 the museum was opened by Phil Harding of Wessex Archaeology and 'Time Team'.
The museum contains a comprehensive range of photographs and objects relating to the village, with updated displays each year.

The Cauldrons

The Chiseldon Cauldrons were discovered in November 2004 in a field to the south west of the village.  It was a unique find: the largest group of Iron Age cauldrons ever to be discovered in Europe.


A metal detectorist had discovered the badly-corroded fragments of a bronze bucket and, on removing them from the ground, found he then had a much stronger signal beneath.  A small hole was dug and about 25cm down an iron ring approximately 10cm in diameter attached to a  curved surface was revealed.  The site was closed down pending a decision on further action.

Initially, the find was believed to be either of medieval or later date, but material analysis of the bronze fragments showed that they were of Iron Age date.  This caused considerable interest, and Wessex Archaeology, together with a conservator from the British Museum, carried out a dig in June 2005.

Excavations revealed a 2-metre diameter pit dug into the chalk into which a number of bronze and iron cauldrons - now thought to be as many as seventeen - had been carefully placed.  Ox skulls had been placed above and below the deposit.

 

The cauldrons were excavated in blocks and stabilised before lifting and removed to the British Museum.  They are now being cleaned and conserved under laboratory conditions and the first cauldron has gone on display in the Iron Age Gallery of the British Museum.

CHLG has had a replica made of one of the Chiseldon Cauldrons, constructed by Hector Cole, a renowned blacksmith and metal worker who specialises in reproducing ancient metal objects using the techniques available at the time.

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