Keevil is a small civil parish in the heart of Wiltshire, situated just under six miles east of Trowbridge, two miles north east of Steeple Ashton and three miles south east of Semington. The parish was once three miles long and one and a half wide, but was reduced in the 1880s when Bulkington, a tithing in the east, was granted civil parish status; it remained ecclesiastically part of Keevil until 1969. The parish consists of 974 acres and in 2001 there were 432 people living there. This population has remained fairly steady over the years; in 1801 there were 466 people living in Keevil and 357 in 1901.
The boundaries which define the parish do not run along the lines of, for example, rivers, as is often the case. Its western boundaries run extremely close to Great Hinton and Steeple Ashton, and the village of Keevil is in the very centre of the parish, while the eastern boundaries approach the edge of the small village of Bulkington. Keevil lies on clay and is generally flat. Semington Brook is the main stream which runs through the parish.
To the south of the parish lies RAF Keevil; a former World War Two airfield still used occasionally for training by the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force.
Several small lanes criss-cross the parish; the main road is Main Street, which runs through the village and then fragments into Butts Lane and Martins Road. Main Street has also been known as Keevil Street and High Street. The main Trowbridge to Devizes roads runs through the very north of the parish. Here lies the small hamlet of The Strand, which was once known as Horseshoes. The pub that stands here is thought to once be called Horseshoes – hence the old name – and then was The Carpenters Arms in 1768. It is now known as The Lamb on the Strand.
There have been archaeological finds within Keevil, indicating there was some form of settlement during the Roman era. At the start of the 20th century several Roman coins where found by a Mr Worthy Ghey in Henley’s Field. In 1998 some late Saxon or early Norman stones were found in the garden of 73, Main Street.
The first mention of Keevil is in an Anglo Saxon document of 964; it referred to “Kefle”, presumably Keevil. Keevil is mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086 and in the years following boasts an impressive variety of spellings of the name. In 1086 it was known as Chivele and in the next few years was also recorded as being Kivele, Cyvel and Kyvelee. The name is thought to derive from the Cornish language; “chi” from the Cornish word “chy” meaning a field. “Vele” derives from the Cornish “wele” which means house or villa, so “Chivele” would mean a freeholders farm or
The manor of Keevil prior to the Conquest is said to have been the property of Brixi, but after 1066 it was granted to Ernulf of Hesdin (or Hesding); he still held it in 1086. At this time the population of the manor would have been between 160 and 190 people and there were good amounts of meadow, pasture and woodland as well as the common fields. The manor passed to a third Ernulf in 1141 but by 1160 the manor passed to the Fitz-Alan family. This family became the Fitzalans and then the Earls of Arundel when John Fitzalan married, in 1217, Isabel, the co-heir of Hugh, Earl of Arundel. Keevil descended through this family until Henry, Earl of Arundel sold it in 1560 to Richard Lambert.
Lambert built Keevil Manor House between the years of 1560 and 1580. An impressive building, found off a lane from Main Street, Keevil Manor House was extended in 1611, when an imposing two storey porch was added. In the grounds of the manor house stand 12 yew trees, known as the 12 apostles. It then passed to the Beach family, who were the residents until 1911 when it was sold in separate lots.
There is a local love story connected with this family; a William Beach of the 18th century forbade his daughter Anne to marry the local curate, William Wainhouse. William Beach locked his daughter in her bedroom for two years, hoping she would change her mind. Upon releasing her, Beach gave his daughter an ultimatum of marrying the curate and giving up her substantial inheritance or never seeing him again and keeping the money. Anne chose to marry Wainhouse, but died just three months into their marriage.
The majority of the houses standing in Keevil today are centred on Main Street. To the west of Keevil can be found a group of timber framed house with the most impressive being Talboys, built in the late 14th century. In the early 19th century much of this house had fallen into disrepair but in 1876 a major enlargement and restoration took place. It is now a Grade I listed building.
The economic history of Keevil, like so many rural parishes, is centred on farming. There was no real common in Keevil in 1600 and the common fields were enclosed in 1795. Only 44 acres of the Beach property was farmed by copyholders; this was mainly wheat and beans. Much of the other land and smallholdings had been brought together to form Westwood Farm, Longleaze Farm and Manor Farm. 1801 there were 400 acres of acres of arable fields in the parish. By 1914 nearly all the farm land was dedicated to dairy farming and that is still the case today.
Keevil was also involved in the cloth industry; this is similar to other villages locally.
Baldham Mill in nearby Seend was a fulling mill in 1371, as was Bulkington Mill in the 15th century. Clothiers lived in Keevil in the 15th and 16th centuries; Thomas Barkesdale being the most notable name and Bulkington Mill came into his possession in 1502. In the 16th century clothiers at Keevil included; Roger Winslow and John Smith. At the end of the 16th century Roger Blagden, a clothier, lived at Keevil; he built Blagden House, one of the more notable properties in the parish.
At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, there were two mills within the parish, thought to have been given by the lord of the manor Ernulf of Hesdin to the nuns of Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. The mills remained, in a dilapidated state, in 1327, attached to the manor of Keevil, and they stood at Baldham and Gayford to the east of the parish. Other industries within the parish include forges; in 1903 an Edward Moore had a forge at Martins Road. It is now used as an attached garage to the house there. In Kelly’s 1935 directory of Wiltshire are found many farmers, but also a shopkeeper, blacksmith and miller.
There is a long list of buildings that have been used for pubs, shops and post offices in Keevil. Some buildings had multiple or sequential uses. The Rose and Crown dates from the 18th century and was once the village pub but shut in 1971. It was the off licence in 1983. The Old Bakery is a building which was used for more than one thing; it was built in 1595 and was presumably a bakery at some time. In 1855 it was owned by John Grant who lived there as a grocer and in the 1880s John and Martha Collett took over. By 1923 the building had been used as a post office for several years. Other buildings which were shops at one point include The Weaver’s Cottage, The Old Cobblers and Beech Cottage. The post office seems to have moved around Keevil and the five premises which served as a post office are Beech Cottage, Weaver’s Cottage, The Old Post Office, The Old Bakery and number 75, Main Street.
Many of the cottages in the early 20th century were built with thatched roofs, notorious for catching on fire. On 13 May 1939 fire destroyed three cottages on Martins Lane, leaving the Bodman, Bull and Fry families homeless. It is thought that the thatch caught fire after a piece of burning paper blew up the chimney onto the thatch.
There are also many listed buildings within the parish. Keevil Manor House is Grade I listed, as are parts of its extremities, such as the front garden’s walls, stables and gate piers. Many of the houses which line Main Street are Grade II listed, including Number Seven, Number Nine, Blagden House, The Old Bakery, Box Tree Cottage and Vale House. The former Methodist Church is also Grade II listed
A big part of village life throughout the 20th century has been Keevil Airfield, formally RAF Keevil. As part of a national need for more air facilities, RAF Keevil was built on a site to the south of the parish, and partly in Steeple Ashton parish, in July 1942. It has three concrete runways and was built primarily by the Wates Group. In total the airfield is ¾ of a mile long and half a mile wide. It was initially used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and then quickly transferred to the United States Air Force (USAF), who knew it as Station 471. In 1944 it came back under the auspices of the RAF and Squadrons 196 and 299 of 38 group RAF arrived and gliders from these squadrons went on to play a part in the D-Day landings.
Air crews regularly came to train at Keevil until 1949 and today, it is still used occasionally by RAF and USAF training, or as a place to land aircraft temporarily.
Hercules and Chinooks can still be seen landing there. Up until 1965, the airfield was manned by a solitary USAF guard, who lived on his own in a small building on the edge of the airfield. At the end of the 20th century, the runways were used once a year as a motorcycle racing circuit. Bath and Wilts Gliding club were based at the airfield from 1963 until 1992. It is now home to Bannerdown Gliding Club, who arrived in 1992.
In September 1994 the Keevil Society held a commemorative day to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Pilots who flown from Keevil during the war came back to visit and attend a memorial service in St Leonard’s Church. A series of planes flew above the village for local people and visitors to see.
The minutes of the Keevil Parish Council are complete from 1895 until now, apart from a hiatus between 1924 and 1939. The inaugural meeting of the parish council was on 25 January 1895.
There have been many clubs and groups in the parish over the years. One of the most notable is Keevil and District Women’s Institute; formed in 1940, it still has a place in the village today. Founded as it was during World War Two the first products of the W.I. included camouflage nets. In 1941 the W.I. raised £100 to buy a machine gun; not normally the sort of activities one associates with the W.I., but after all, there was a war on. Later that year, they reverted to rather more conventional W.I. behaviour and formed a choir, which became known as “The Keevil Singers”. Later in the 20th century they expanded their membership and let in non W.I. members. A drama section was formed in the 1950s but was disbanded in 1970. Forever a group to stand up for women’s rights, in 1955 a cricket XI made up of members of the Keevil W.I. beat a team made up of their husbands.
The Tuesday Group grew out of the village’s Sunday School; after numbers attending the school dwindled during the 1970s, an alternative group decided to bring their children to church to socialise and learn about Christianity on every Tuesday afternoon in the church during school term time.
Keevil Neighbourhood Watch is though to be the first one in Wiltshire. In 1986, James Banfield, the chairman of the Parish Council, had the idea of starting a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. The parish of Keevil was divided into 13 areas and each area was made up of a team of at least ten volunteers. In January 1987 the first meeting of the group was held at Longleaze Farm.
Keevil Cricket Club was founded in August 1949 and matches were initially played in a field near Pinkney Farmhouse. The club now plays on a field at Keevil Manor, appropriately named the Cricket Field, which is a rather idyllic setting and surrounded by tall trees.
Keevil District Horticultural Society was established in 1852. Their first exhibition was on 22 August 1860 and was held at Steeple Ashton and later held in various local towns and villages. Keevil Flower Show, as it became, was extremely popular but stopped in the 1950s.