A Brief History of Bourton


The Road


The original road was a narrow, steep, pack horse trail called Long Lane which runs along the ridge to the north of the village. It was fine while the principle form of transport was the horse. It wasn’t however suitable for carts. For these a lower route through the village developed and started to support considerable traffic including coaches and carts pulled by teams of up to eight horses. In 1756 the Wincanton Turnpike Trust was established to repair/build and maintain a road from Milbourne Port through Bourton to Willoughby Hedge. This included two new sections in Bourton, one to by-pass the High Street and the other to provide a wider and more direct route from Chaffeymoor to Leigh Common. It is likely that these segments were in place by 1823 when the new Quicksilver Mail coaches started operations. The heyday of the Mail coaches was quite short because in 1859 the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway opened its line from Salisbury to Gillingham and the following year extended westward. Following the arrival of motor vehicles the road was straightened and widened several times and eventually acquired a Tarmac surface. Initially the A30 was considered the main route to the south-west but after World War II the emphasis switched to the A303 which became very busy indeed. Towards the end of the 1960’s consideration had already been given to the provision of a by-pass around the village but it wasn’t until July 1992 that the current by-pass was opened.


thumbs_2012-10-10-09-42-28The Red Lion public house (built around 1830) became a staging post for coach traffic. The Lamb inn provided accommodation for coachmen and servants. The Red Lion finally closed in the mid 1990’s. The Lamb had closed long before that and became first a bakery and then the village shop which itself closed down in 2011. At the eastern end of the village there was an inn called the Cock where, in the middle of the eighteenth century, the Methodist preacher John Wesley used to stay. The building later became Wesley House. Only a few yards from the site of the Cock the White Lion stands at the bottom of the High Street. It was formed around the middle of the nineteenth century from two houses and a cottage which date from about 1800.

The School


The Elementary Education Act, commonly known as Forster’s Education Act, was introduced in 1870 and set the framework for schooling of all children between five and twelve. This led to the building of a Church of England or National School to educate the poorer children. The school was financed partly by a grant from the National Society for Promoting Religious Education and partly by funds raised by the Vicar, the Rev George Glover. In July 1983 the school caught fire as a result of work on the flat roof. Fire engines from Mere and Gillingham arrived within 15 minutes but were unable contain the fire. Four months later the school reopened in temporary buildings. The present school opened in September 1985.

The Mill

Water Wheel

  Photos of Bourton Iron Foundry – click here

For many years the river Stour had been the centre of the cottage industry which had grown up around the processing and spinning of flax. William Kip’s map of 1610 is not very detailed but even so shows Longlane Myll approximately on the site of the current mill. In the 18th century an industrial spinning process was invented and around the middle of the century Daniel Maggs built a mill for the processing and spinning of flax. This was on the on the site of what is now Bullpits and was powered by a waterwheel driven by the Stour. A few years later William Jesse built another factory, downstream and close to Main Road. This was known as the High Street Factory. Over the next 40 years it expanded and produced Linsey-woolsey a rugged cloth woven from linen and wool. In 1782 it was employing over 250 people and had a large blacksmith’s shop powered by an undershot waterwheel in the river adjacent to Bourton Bridge. There were two rope walks, one was built beside the river between the two factories and the other was associated with the High Street Factory. The Maggs factory also expanded and a new mill, powered by two waterwheels was built slightly down-stream from Bullpits on the present factory site. Around 1800 it absorbed the blacksmith’s shop from the Jesse mill. The engineering side expanded and by 1810 it was producing farm implements. When sand suitable for casting was discovered at Breach Close it allowed the factory to expand into iron founding. In 1820 a complete new factory was built on the Maggs site. It was driven by two waterwheels. in 1821 It became Maggs & Hindley. At this time 140 workers were employed across the two arms of the business. In 1837 the famous 60 foot diameter waterwheel was built to power the flax mill while a year later in 1838, a new foundry was built and was powered by two more, smaller, waterwheels. Towards the end of the 19th century the flax mill closed down and the buildings were used to expand the foundry. At the same time the waterwheels became redundant as the entire works was powered by steam. From 1890 to 1910 the foundry was at its peak and is said to have employed over 200 men and boys. Stationary (i.e. not self-propelled) steam engines up to 100hp were being sold world-wide. During the First World War the production was changed to munitions, mainly casings for Mills Bombs, a type of hand grenade. In the valley above the mill site there are three 18th century dams. On the afternoon of the 28th June 1917 a violent thunderstorm and extremely heavy rain led to the failure of New Lake dam in the early morning of Friday 29th June. There was no loss of life but the damage was considerable. The foundry was wrecked, walls were demolished and heavy machinery uprooted and moved. Over 200 tons of coal was washed away and to all intents and purposes disappeared. In 1918 the big water wheel was scrapped and the metal probably used for munitions. After the war work continued with the production of small specialised units for the shipbuilding industry but in 1927 the business was taken over by Dodmans of King’s Lynn and the Hindleys and some of the workforce also moved there. After Hindley’s closed the factory was taken over by the Farma Cream Co. which established a plant for processing and drying milk. This later became United Dairies, then Cow & Gate and finally Unigate. In 1984 Unigate announced its intention of closing the factory at which point there was a management buy-out under the name of the Summit Food Group. In 1992 the Summit Food group went into receivership and the factory was taken over and operated by Freeman Foods which itself went out of business in 2002.

Local mile and Boundary Stones

There is a programme underway to discover and replace where possible, missing local mille and boundary stones.

To see the photographs old and new stones click…here

Brick and tile works

The Kimmeridge Clay on which the village stands allowed the establishment of two brick and tile works, the Breach Brick, Pipe and Tile Works were at what is now Miller’s Close and the Upper Brick, Pipe and Tile Works were in Brickyard Lane. The Brickyard Lane branch was supplying bricks, tiles and pipes to local builders well into the 20th century.


Towards the middle of the 19th century there was a thriving tanning business near Tan Lane but it closed when it could no longer compete with the mass production of leather in the great industrial centres.


The importance of farming is well illustrated by the number of farmhouses in and around the village. As well as flax for the local linen industry, wheat, barley and oats were grown but dairy farming was the most important element, ”grass being plentiful and of good quality”.

Bourton Map 1888 – 1913

A complete map of Bourton as it was in 1888 – click here to open

Bourton as it was with Gillingham & Shaftesbury

Old photographs- click here to open