About Highworth

Five months later, on the 27th June 1645, the garrison fell to the parliamentarian forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax. They were to remain in command until an order was passed in the House of Commons on 14th August 1646, 'that the garrisons of Malmesbury and Highworth were to be slighted and dismantled and the forces be disbanded or disposed for the service of Ireland'. The garrison was dismantled some two months later in October.

The town was affected by the high mortality rate at this time caused not only by the inevitable loss of life which war brings but also by the epidemics carried by the troops and by general malnourishment. Highworth's burial registers record a high level of deaths in 1646 when the town was hit by a severe outbreak of plague. As a garrison town, Highworth would have been burdened with free quarter, the practice of having soldiers billeted with a householder who was obliged to provide them with board and lodging and fodder for their horses. This often meant food being taken from the mouths of the townspeople. As the war progressed and armies ran out of money the households would have to provide this free of charge hoping that they would be reimbursed at a later date. In practice this very seldom happened. Business too was seriously affected. The presence of troops in the town greatly discouraged the dealers and graziers from attending the market and trade moved to more peaceful places such as Swindon.

Recovery was slow after the hostilities but there was a resurgence in both the market and the economy which appears to have strengthened by the end of the 17th century. Many of the buildings in the centre of the town were either rebuilt or remodelled in the early 18th century and this is reflected in their Queen Anne and Georgian appearance. Recent archaeological work carried out on the site of the new Barrett homes before building started has revealed the existence of 18th century brick kilns which would have supplied materials for the houses in Highworth and the surrounding area.

In the early 18th century the last of Highworth's waste land was taken into cultivation and in 1778 the common fields were enclosed by Act of Parliament. This eradicated the last rights of poorer country folk to graze their livestock on what had formerly been 'Common Land'. This common grazing was divided up among the large local land-owners, leaving the landless farm workers solely dependent upon offering their labour to their richer neighbours for a cash wage.

The economic effect of this on smallholders and cottagers began to be seen when in 1791 another Act allowed the town to build a workhouse 'for the town is very populous and the poor thereof exceedingly numerous'. The workhouse, built along Cricklade Road, has now been turned into private residences.

Throughout England the industrial revolution and the agricultural depression of the 1820's together with the introduction of horse-powered threshing machines which could do the work of many men led to the outbreak of the Swing Riots in the August of 1830. Not only were the targets of the rioters perceived oppression, such as the workhouses, tithe barns and threshing machines destroyed but the more underhand rick-burning and cattle maiming were used to reinforce their demands for higher wages and the cessation of the introduction of threshing machines.

Highworth Historical Society

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Our Next Monthly Guest Speaker

22nd May 2017
The Frome Hoard
by David Crisp
Discovered in 2010 by the speaker, a metal detectorist, this was the largest hoard of Roman coins ever found in Britain.

Prices for Lectures:
Members: Free of charge
Visitors: £3.00

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If you have any information, documents or photographs regarding the history of Highworth and surrounding villages and are willing for us to include them on this website we would love to hear from you.

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