Thursday, September 8, 2011

Toothill Farm

Toothill in West Swindon was the site of the ancient Antiock's Well, famous for its miraculous and healing properties.  An Old English name for a meeting place or look out point, a farm at Toothill is first mentioned in 1594.

Toothill Farm has had many owners and occupiers during its long history and quite remarkably letters concerning an 18th century tenancy dispute have survived.

The Governors of Charterhouse administered the dairy farm at Toothill from 1605 when Thomas Sutton, founder of the now famous Charterhouse School, acquired it, along with two other properties, Whitehill and Mannington Farms, in the Manor of Mannington.

In a box of Charterhouse documents held at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell an exchange of letters between Jasper Yorke, David Smith and Thomas Melmouth record the contested lease of the farm at Toothill.

The multi talented Jasper Yorke, carpenter, joiner, farm bailiff and gamekeeper had acquired the lease through his marriage to Bridget Vilett whose father Charles Vylett appears as tenant on a 1685 lease.

By 1752 he was sub-letting the farm, a common practise in the 18th century, to David Smith. However, Smith appears to have ideas above his station. He wanted the tenancy for himself and wrote to the Governors complaining that Jasper was neglecting the property. He promised to undertake the not inconsiderable repairs and made an offer of £160 rent on the property £10 more than Jasper was paying at the time (over £19,000 by today's value).

A furious Jasper wrote to Thomas Melmouth at the Charterhouse offices that he was surprised Smith "should Act in so base a Manner." He asked that when considering the terms of a new lease the Governors "will give me the Preferrance before a Stranger." He concluded with a reference to Bridget, saying, "my Wife is very Uneasy about Mr. Smith's extraordinary Behaviour." Unfortunately the outcome of the dispute is lost and by 1780 another tenant was in residence. Mr Bound was recorded as paying land tax on Toothill and in 1789 his widow, Mary negotiated an 18-year lease on the farm.

At the time of the 19th century Tithe Commutation Act field names included Withy Bed, Little Toot Hill, The Hospital and Last Field while several fields were simply called 'New Inclosure' indicating the recent reorganisation of land.

Toothill Farm was sold in 1919. Bought by Wiltshire County Council it was converted into allotments for soldiers returning from service in the First World War.

Today the farmhouse in Bodiam Drive, a Swindon Borough Council owned property, overlooks the busy Western Way with the M4 just a stone's throw away, a far cry from the time when Toothill was a settlement some four miles from Swindon.  Home to various community groups, the farmhouse was threatened with closure in 2005. However £12,000 worth of repairs undertaken by the Council assured its future.

As Jasper Yorke confidently predicted in a letter dated Nov. 26th 1763 "and when those Repairs are Perform 'd which I am doing the Farm House will be a Sufficient Tennantable House for this Farm for a Hundred Years to Come."