The name Swallowcliffe means ‘swallow cliff or slope’ but ‘swaelwa’ or ‘swallow’ can also mean the name of a stream; this suggests Anglo-Saxon origins.

Swallowcliffe is in the Vale of Wardour 12 miles from Salisbury and 8 miles from Shaftesbury lying north west to south east with the A30 running from the north east to the south west of the parish. In the south Swallowcliffe borders Alvediston and Ebbesbourne Wake, marked by the rivers Nadder and Ebble; in the west it borders Ansty and Tisbury, in the north Wardour, and in the east Sutton Mandeville. There has been little change to the boundaries since 940.

There are chalk outcrops in the south at Swallowcliffe Down where the land rises to 221 metres; this was common pasture in the 18th century. There are greensand outcrops in the centre and the north of the parish, including Choulden Hill in the east, and thick woodland on the northern boundary. Open fields were located north and south of the Salisbury to Shaftesbury road. In the northwest, clay is exposed by the eastern tributary of the Nadder and there was a pond at the source of this stream according to maps of 1773; it had disappeared by 1886 according to O.S. mapping. Another pond was situated by the Salisbury to Shaftesbury road and east of the village; it was known as ‘London Pond’ in 1773 but was drained in the 20th century.

The village grew up around the church which was east of the stream until the 19th century when it was rebuilt in a slightly different location.

Indications of early settlement have been found on Swallowcliffe down which suggest habitation in Mesolithic times; there is clear evidence of an Iron Age farmstead or village where the boundaries of Ansty, Swallowcliffe and Alvediston now meet. Deep storage pits investigated suggest the presence of farmers and weavers.

In 1966 excavations by Faith and Major Lance Vatcher on behalf of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, revealed a very rare and large Anglo Saxon grave and a primary burial in a bowl barrow. The grave contained iron bed fittings, two glass palm cups, a bronze-mounted, iron-bound wooden bucket, a tinned bronze diadem, ring and strip satchel or box fittings, a comb, an incense burner, a casket, a spoon plus bronze and other metal objects. The casket contained fourteen identifiable finds including a bronze spherical container with ring-ended handle, the silver spoon, 5 silver safety pins, a tinned bronze strap-mount, an amber bead, a clear glass bead with applied decoration of opaque yellow glass, a tapered iron rod, a pair of knives, and a bone comb. Traces of textile were detectable on the knives and spindle, and it is possible that the group had been contained in a textile bag. A bronze sprinkler, constructed in three parts; two hemispheres of thin silvered bronze soldered together and a hollow cast bronze ring-ended handle, which was soldered to the pole of the upper hemisphere. The grave was covered by a turf mound within which a spearhead was found in the final phase of turf mounding.

Domesday tells us that there were seven households, and 8.5 hides of land that were taxed. Swallowcliffe was divided into three parts. The first held by Wilton Abbey included one unfree tenant and two smallholders, two ploughlands and two acres of meadow. The second was owned by Alward and comprised two unfree tenants and 1.5 ploughlands and the third was owned by Brictric and comprised two unfree tenants and one ploughland; the total value was just under £5 and the population was approximately 40- 60 people at this time.

In 940 King Edmund gave land to Garulf and by 1066 this had been split into those three parts mentioned. They passed to the Crown at the dissolution and were granted in 1544 to Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke by 1551, and stayed with the Pembroke title.

Wilton Abbey’s lands were held by Robert Giffard and passed with Fonthill Gifford, they had been partitioned by 1209 and two parts were assigned to Robert de Mandeville and passed with his descendants.

Three parts of the Giffard Swallowcliffe estate passed eventually to Sir Thomas West who died in 1343. It passed down through his family and was sold by a later Thomas West in 1544 to Sir John Mervyn; his granddaughter Christine Tuchet inherited in 1611 with her husband Henry, later Sir Henry Mervyn. This was later sold to Edward South in 1614 and was owned by Robert Hyde by 1685. The greater part of the estate was eventually sold in 1742 to Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, descending with that family until its sale in 1918 to M.S. Waters. In 1947 the executors sold the estate represented by Red House Farm to C. Featherstone Coles who then sold in 1954 to J. S. Whittle. It was then sold again in 1958 to H.R.C. Matthews, the owner in 1984.

Swallowcliffe Manor was called ‘Place Farm’ or ‘Upper Farm’ in the 18th century and ‘Manor Farm’ in the 19th century reverting to ‘Manor House’ c1890. It is a two storey house built of ashlar with mullioned and transomed windows and gabled attics. The house may have been rebuilt to a ‘T’ shape in two stages in the 17th century.

Sir Henry Parker (heir of Robert Hyde) owned a smaller part of the manor in 1753; these were probably the lands later owned by Henry Gerrard, then Morgan Blandford and by the early part of the 20th century by J. H. Shorland. The estate was then broken up. Barber’s Farm, the largest part, was bought by M. S. Waters who sold some of the land and the farmhouse and incorporated the remaining into Red House Farm.

Other land acquired before 1528, may have been part of the Mandeville estate and passed into the possession of the South family c.1606.

The land held by Brictric in 1086 was later acquired by the Earl of Salisbury who gave it to his daughter and it descended with that family and was last mentioned c.1401.

Walter Barrow and his wife Isabel held a small estate at Swallowcliffe and this was eventually conveyed to Thomas South in 1568.

In 1335 land was given by Thomas West to the hospital of St. John in Wilton to endow a chantry in Swallowcliffe church. This hospital owned about 27 acres and a house in Swallowcliffe until the early 20th century; the remainder of the land was sold in 1952.

Glebes and tithes of Swallowcliffe church were part of the endowment of the canonry of Swallowcliffe and were taxed as such. In 1553 it was worth £8 13s. 4d. Glebe in Swallowcliffe amounted to 27 acres or more in the late 12th century; then 31 acres in 1650 and 46 acres in 1843. Prior to 1600 it had also included a farmhouse. A later farmhouse fell down between 1823 and 1853 and another burnt down c.1943.

Tithes were valued at £316 in 1843. In 1853 the prependary transferred his estate to the ecclesiastical commissioners who sold the 43 acre farm to H. J. Lever in 1892. It has been sold on a number of times and has since been broken up.

The main landowners were the Pembroke family and in the 19th century James Hillier Shorland. The Manor House was built alongside Common Lane and is thought to be the oldest building in the parish apart from the church. Other buildings of interest include Middledean, once known as Dean House and located south east of the village; it dates from the 19th century and the east front was rebuilt in 1863.

In 1773 and to the north west of the village were houses in Rookery Lane as well as a mill. To the south east was London Elm, originally a farmhouse of c.1743 and then becoming an inn by 1757 and remained so until the early part of the 20th century. A Friendly Society met here, founded in 1848, until 1907. The property had become run down by 1984.

Most properties were built of stone with tiled or thatched roofs in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Parsonage Farm suffered a fire during the First World War when the thatch caught alight from a smouldering beam.

In 1334 Swallowcliffe was one of the smallest settlements in the Dunworth Hundred. In 1377, 93 poll tax payers represented about a fifth of that same hundred and in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the least populous parishes. In 1810, 217 people were recorded, 282 by 1941 and the population count peaked in 1871 at 361. This may have been due to the occupation of new cottages after an increase in new building. These 75 households contained many trades typical of the time; farm labourers, carpenters, Cordwainers (shoemakers), shepherds, blacksmiths and apprentices as well as millers and wheelwrights. Women were mainly employed in domestic service but there were also a few dressmakers. The two biggest employers were Thomas Mayo and Samuel Hayter, both ultimately responsible to the Pembroke Estate. Interestingly the village had a relatively young population at this time; 164 people were under the age of 20 and 64% were actually born in Swallowcliffe. By 1951, the recorded population was 192, by 1971 it was 203 and in 2011, the most recent census, it stands at 174.

Local field names include ‘London Elm’, ‘Picked Close’, Quarry Hill’, ‘Range Hill’ and ‘Rookley’. Lower Farm was built in the early part of the 18th century as a long range building and includes an earlier 17th century fireplace. It was divided into three cottages but had become one single house again by 1920. It was known as ‘Brook House’ in the 1960s.

Farmhouses in the south of the village include ‘Alfords’ in the High Street dating from the early 19th century and Poles Farm, of late 17th century origin; this building was originally of one storey but had a second storey added in the 18th century.

Tan yards existed by the stream north and south of Common Lane c.1707, and were situated amongst the buildings of the farmhouse west of the stream and on the south side of the lane. In 1852-1858 the property became the Royal Oak and was extended on the east side.

The name ‘Choulden Hill’ means ‘calves down’ and suggests that cattle farming took place fairly early on; common pasture for cattle was situated north of the village.

The land to the south was used for sheep, especially Swallowcliffe Down which could accommodate 800 grazing sheep and corn was grown north and south of the Shaftesbury road.

In the 12th century there were two open fields, increasing to three by the 18th century; West, Middle and East or Buxbury, and they covered 460 acres. The two farms, Upper and Lower, held the demesne lands and these included leaseholds and copyholds of the manor c.1739. Land in the north was also used for common pasture until 1633 when about 460 acres were inclosed; the majority were allotted to the manor, 85 acres to the lease and copyhold tenants and 20 acres to the poor.

Common husbandry ended with parliamentary inclosure in 1792 when a further 652 acres south of the village was inclosed. Again the bulk of this was allotted to the manor and the remaining 174 acres divided between four freeholders in the village.

In 1380, 250 sheep were recorded as well as 20 oxen, five cows and two bulls; by the 1790s most of the farms were leasehold and relatively small in size, varying from about 27 to 67 acres. There were water meadows amounting to 13 acres on Upper and Lower Farms c.1785.

By the 1880s barley becomes the main cereal crop grown locally and between 1866 and 1916 the amount produced doubled in quantity. The growing of root crops gradually declined during the same period. The number of sheep also declined but had numbered over 1,000 during the 19th century. The number of cattle, in contrast, had increased from 37 in the 1860s to 108 in 1916; in 1918 a flock of 600 sheep and 130 cows were kept on Manor Farm.

By the 1920s Swallowcliffe had Manor, later Red House Farm and two smaller farms; namely Barber’s and Pole’s. By 1984 Red House Farm was arable and Poles was a small dairy farm; Barber’s Farm had been incorporated into a farm in Sutton Mandeville.

Woodland within the manor was probably inclosed and hedged by the manor in 1547 and in 1843 there were 59 acres of woodland in the north of the parish and none in the south. Some plantations existed around Red House Farm and north of the main A30.

The Mill, located north of Rookery Lane and dating from the 13th century was probably part of the manor and remained as such until the 19th century. In 1903 it belonged to H. J. Lever but by then was no longer in a working condition. Mill House is of a stone range design and the lower floor is thought to date from the late 17th or early 18th century; the large mill pond was constructed in the 19th century. The eastern range was added and used as a granary.

From ‘Swallowcliffe not so long ago’ Mr. Percy Hayter remembers the mill working:-

It was a corn mill with the pond at the front and a big wheel at the back. The wheel was still there when we were children – it was in a big alcove and the water went under the house to turn it and then through the meadows.’

While agriculture was the main employer there is also evidence of early textile production, doubtless for purely local demand. A portion of an upright loom was discovered in one of the pits excavated on Swallowcliffe Down. This type of loom had threads suspended from the top of the frame that were tensioned by weights attached at the bottom and these weights, sometimes made of chalk or baked clay, were discovered in the base of the pit with a section of the wooden loom. One of the other pits was a store for the weights and weaving combs were also found made of bone. It is known that weaving took place in this area in the early Iron Age. Poll tax records also suggest a healthy cloth making area stretching along the river; both a weaver and a draper are listed at Swallowcliffe prior to 1550.In 1898 there was a Post Office, miller, carrier, numerous farmers, a blacksmith with apprentices, carpenters, a grocer and linen draper, wheelwrights, boot maker, shopkeeper, and two public houses.

Mr. Hayter’s father made cider and describes the method as follows; the apples were shredded in a mill, then placed in horsehair bags and into a press, collected into barrels and left to ferment. The cider was usually ready in 2-3 months. He also mentioned everybody’s self sufficiency alluding to the keeping of pigs and fowls by most households, and the help provided by the community at harvest.

There were two limekilns on the downs either side of the road and they were used to make lime mortar for building.

The ridgeway running south west and north east over Swallowcliffe Down was part of the London to Exeter road in the 17th century and this was turnpiked in 1762. By 1788 the trust had lapsed when the Salisbury to Shaftesbury road was turnpiked becoming one of the main routes between London and Exeter and was eventually disturnpiked in 1864.

The road from Sutton Mandeville to Ansty in the north of the parish and dating from the 10th century still survives as a track today. Another ancient trackway known as High Cross Lane in 1792 joined this track from the Salisbury to Shaftesbury road near the Sutton Mandeville boundary and in 1984 was known as Hacker Lane. The eastern boundary was also marked by a 10th or 11th century road and in 1773 a road ran east from the Salisbury-Shaftesbury road to join it at Buxbury Hill; this is also now a track. The lane north of the church was known as ‘Common Lane’ from the 18th century.

Swallowcliffe is nearly two miles from Tisbury station on the Salisbury to Yeovil branch of the south western railway.

The courts of Dunworth hundred were attended and from 1742-1881 the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery held manorial courts at Swallowcliffe.

These courts appointed tithingmen and officers and dealt with breaches of manorial customs as well as any deaths of leaseholders and copyholders.

Paupers lived in cottages of the prebendary before 1630. During the 18th and 19th centuries expenditure on the poor in Swallowcliffe was the sixth highest in the Dunworth Hundred. The most spent was in 1817 and 1818, totalling £306-£320. Swallowcliffe became part of the Tisbury Poor Law Union in 1835 and became part of the Salisbury District Council in 1974 until that ceased to exist in 2009.

Overseers of the Poor were allotted nearly 20 acres of land near the boundary with Sutton Mandeville when the common pastures were distributed in 1663; this was leased for £20 p.a. in the early 19th century rising to £100 by 1970. After inclosure in 1792 the poor of the parish were allowed to take furze for fuel from three acres of land allocated for such purposes but by 1900 little was cut and part of the land was then let for allotments. Two cottages had been built there c.1813 and these were rented. The total rents of the allotted land and cottages were distributed amongst the poor; money being given to households according to size, as well as to single people. By 1970 the Poor’s Land and Fuel Allotment charities were merged as the Almshouse and Relief in Need charity. The cottages became almshouses maintained by the charity income and surplus funds were used to help the needy in Swallowcliffe.

The eastern end of the village used water from the spring and other houses had wells. At one time there were over 30 wells recorded, one measuring over 100 feet deep. Some people were employed as well diggers, especially during the First World War when wells were required for the soldiers at the nearby camp at Fovant. Mains water came to the village in stages after the First World War. Swallowcliffe was part of the Tisbury Union, the Dunworth Hundred, the Tisbury Petty Sessional Division and the Salisbury Diocese; from 1934 it was part of the Mere and Tisbury Rural District Council.

The London Elm public house closed in the First World war period and a slogan was carved into the downs opposite saying ‘drink more milk’ in the 1920s. The two are probably unrelated.

The school is now closed as are the shops, there is no resident vicar and no cider is made.

The sale of the estate in 1918 meant that many people bought their property; some being purchased by Mr. Waters and sold off after World War Two.

The main development in the 19th and 20th centuries was along Rookery Lane almost creating a separate village and the school and the vicarage were built towards the end of the 19th century. The village hall was opened in 1934. Council housing was also built on the north side of Rookery Lane in the 1950s between the old and the new settlements.

The farm buildings at Manor House known as Lower Farm were replaced between 1843 and 1886 by three farmsteads outside the village, these were called ‘New Buildings’ and later ‘Higher Farm’ to the east; ‘Barber’s Farm’ to the south and ‘Stonehill Buildings’ later called ‘Red House Farm’ located south of the Salisbury to Shaftesbury road.

In 1339 Sir Thomas West was granted a Wednesday market and an annual fair on June 28th and June 29th, but no other records survive of such events.

A Slate Club was held every year at the Royal Oak when a dinner was cooked and served at 1.00 p.m. for members and wives of the club. This was followed by speeches and then the Ansty Band played music for dancing in the road outside the pub; stalls sold sweets and brandy snaps and there were swing boats and hoop la.

Today Swallowcliffe is a typical Wiltshire small village community with many events taking place. There is a Swallowcliffe Society, interested in the history and natural history of the area, a debating society, the local pub, the Royal Oak has been purchased by a village consortium of three village men and a fellow local investor who made the brave decision to buy it in 2012. Great support was shown by the villagers, permission was given by the planners and the hard work commenced in April 2014. The pub has been lovingly restored with quality craftmanship and there is a refreshing mix of old and new with traditional beams and stone floors sitting beautifully alongside stylish modern wooden furniture by local designer Matthew Burt. The pub reopened in September 2015 with a party for all the village and local community.