The parish of Little Bedwyn is nearly 600 years old. The settlement after which it is named was called East Bedwyn, and it shared the parish with the neighbouring village of Chisbury. Only Chisbury appears in the Domesday survey of 1086, although it is almost certain that a settlement at East Bedwyn existed at the time. The boundaries of a Saxon estate called Bedwyn were recorded in 778, and superficial examination of the bounds have led some historians to believe that they follow the bounds of the modern parish. However, many of the ancient boundaries cannot be identified, and it is unlikely that the two territories were ever that similar.
East Bedwyn The modern village of Little Bedwyn appears to be a textbook mediaeval settlement, where a cluster of ancient houses are gathered around a small village green between the church and manor house. However, appearances can be deceptive, for the manor ceased to be a single entity long before the end of the mediaeval period. As with the manor, so with the history of East Bedwyn; nothing seems to be as it appears.
Chisbury Chisbury manor house and farm occupy a unique location within an Iron Age camp. Sadly the ramparts are overgrown with mature trees, and there is little to impress the casual visitor from the road. However the view from St. Martin's chapel reveals a truly remarkable location, which is confirmed by a glance at any aerial photograph.
Any continuity of residence within Chisbury camp is almost certainly symbolic as the original hillfort has probably been occupied and abandoned several times in its 2,000 years of history. Chisbury village has usually been viewed as a quiet backwater to the village of Little Bedwyn, but there was a time when the roles were reversed. Chisbury is the Cinderella of East Bedwyn; once upon a time it was a large Domesday estate whose land extended into Froxfield and East Bedwyn. Nowadays, it is a quiet rural treasure in an otherwise overpopulated landscape.
Gilbert de Breuteuil was the first Norman lord of Chisbury manor. He was a retainer of William Fitz Osbern, one of King William's most loyal and trusted servants. Gilbert de Breuteuil was given a large number of estates, probably to serve his masters in defending the Welsh marches. However his family appears to have failed in the male line in the early twelfth century, and the Columbars acquired most of the Breteuil estates in Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Berkshire. In the early thirteenth century, Michael de Columbars acquired the office of warden of Chute forest through marriage. The office passed to his son Matthew who died childless.
The death of Sir Matthew de Columbars resulted in a series of disputes, which ended with possession of Chisbury manor passing to Sir John de Cobham. Despite failure in the male line, treason, and estate sales, his descendants held Chisbury manor for three hundred years.
Puthall, Knowle, and Henset These small mediaeval estates are little more than farms today. Any earlier settlements, such as a suspected mediaeval village at Moam's meadow in Puthall, have long disappeared. However, the survival of a mediaeval chapel at Knowle farm indicate a grander past, as do records of a deer park at Puthall. The Knowle estate, sometimes part of Chisbury manor, was enlarged with the land of Henset in the fourteenth century, and it was held by the very last of the Esturmies. The illegitimate son of Sir William Esturmy, John, and his heirs held the Knowle estate until the early Tudor period.
The Puthall estate was confiscated by the crown after the execution of its tenant Sir Henry de Tyeys, following the collapse of the Contrariant rebellion in 1322. The estate passed to his widow, and was eventually acquired by the Esturmies. Sir William Esturmy granted Puthall to Easton priory.
Cynewulf and Bica In 778, king Cynewulf granted an estate at Bedwyn to one of his minsters, called Bica. Numerous attempts have been made to map the bounds of Little Bedwyn parish to those of Bica's estate; all have failed.
The north-eastern boundary of Bica's estate appears to be the confluence of the Bedwyn and Froxfield streams, a few 100 yards east of the Pelican Inn in Froxfield. This raises the intriguing possibility that a large proportion of Froxfield parish was included in the eighth century estate. The early history of Froxfield is closely associated with Chisbury manor, and glimpses of their association is revealed through numerous mediaeval records. Unfortunately for historians, there are never enough records, and too few answers for so many questions.