Medieval Chippenham

The Diplomatic Record

The later eleventh and twelfth centuries did not see substantial royal interest in Chippenham resumed. The town went unnoticed by the numerous chroniclers of the Anglo-Norman period, making it unlikely that it was ever the site of important political or military events, as it had been in the ninth century. A reference to ‘the King’s Old Hall’ in a grant to Badenstoke Priory (c.1200x1228), may nonetheless indicate that Anglo-Saxon royal buildings were still standing in Chippenham. It is difficult, however, to find reference to the town in the later eleventh or twelfth century. When the name Chippenham (usually ‘Chepeham’) does re-emerge into the documentary record in the Pipe Rolls of Henry II, it is at first in the context of entries referring to the royal forest, or to the Monks of Chippenham. Like his Anglo-Saxon predecessors, however, Henry II did use Chippenham as a source of royal largesse. Reginald de Pavilli, a member of Henry’s household who had travelled with him to Ireland was granted sixty Librates of land in Chippenham, for which he accounted ten pounds to the exchequer a year for the rest of the reign.

Henry II’s reign, however, for the first time provide us with the names of a few of the wealthier inhabitants of Chippenham. Pipe Roll 14 Henry II (1167-8) preserves a list of the men of Chippenham who contributed to the Aid for the wedding of Henry’s eldest Daughter, Matilda, to Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony:

Name Contribution
Edric de Rugedun 20 shillings
Roger de Durhierd 2 marks
Radulph de Dicherigga 3 marks
Aedolf de Durhirda 1 mark
Wulric de Rigelega 1 mark
Ailwin de Rigelega 1 mark
Richard de Haga ½ mark
Erneis ½ mark
William de Rigelega ½ mark
Richard fitz Berewin ½ mark


This is just a few years before the probable date of the composition of the Dialogue of the Exchequer, with its frank admission that the breakdown of distinctions between the Normans and English was making enforcement of the Murdrum fine impossible. Chippenham provides us here with a case study of that process in action – a mixture of French/Norman names like Roger, William and Richard alongside Anglo-Saxon names like Edric and Wulric, though with the latter taking ‘de’ toponymic surnames.

Commercial, Social and Physical Development

The records of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries suggest a settlement of increasing complexity and commercial development. A charter of King John (1st April 1205) to Roger Torodvill granted him the right to hold a weekly market at Chippenham on Wednesdays and a fair for two days each year on the seventeenth and eighteenth of October. Walter de Godarville was granted similar privileges on July 1231. Henry III granted to Geoffrey Gascelin and his heirs an annual fair from 10th-12th June in 1267, and Edward II granted to Edward Gascelin a fair on 5th, 6th and 7th May in 1313, privileges which then supplemented a year later with a weekly Saturday market in gratitude for Gascelin’s service in Scotland. As is very often the case, the development of commerce seems to have been mirrored in the changing political status of the town. Eleventh century Chippenham had not been recognised as a borough, but from the early thirteenth century on, references to burgage properties in the town proliferate. It is called a borough repeatedly in the Veredictum of 1281, and from 1295, Chippenham was generally required to send two burgesses to Parliament (though with a break in the mid fourteenth century). Early members of Parliament were townsmen, though the late fourteenth century saw their replacement by men of greater property. Chippenham was taxed as a borough seven times between 1294 and 1336, and the records of fourteenth century taxation show that the town itself remained wealthy, as did the hundred. Indeed, it has been suggested that by 1377, Chippenham, which was second only to Salisbury in terms of portable wealth, may have been the most wealthy town per capita in Wiltshire.

Lordship and Dynastic Politics

In terms of local dynastic politics, the history of Chippenham in the high and late middle ages can essentially be divided into a Godarville/Gascelyn phase in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and a fifteenth century Hungerford phase. In the period after Domesday, the lands of the old royal manor of Chippenham were reorganised, split into the manors of Chippenham and Sheldon, Rowden, and Lowden. In July 1231, Henry III granted Chippenham and Sheldon to Sir Walter de Godarville (given in some sources as Cardevil or Cardevell), probably in recognition of his recent service against Llywellyn the Great in Wales. On his death in 1250, it passed to his daughter, Joan, who had married Sir Geoffrey Gascelyn. Geoffrey’s family continued to hold Chippenham. Edmund Gascelyn inherited the manor in 1287. Edmund Gascelyn the Younger succeeded in 1307. Eleanor Gascelyn (Edmund the younger’s wife) held Chippenham after her husband’s death in 1336, to be succeeded by their son Geoffrey, who seems, like many landowners of the mid fourteenth century to have struggled with the economic consequences of the Black Death and the consequent collapse of rents and soaring costs of labour. Geoffrey’s successor, his younger daughter Christina and her husband Edward Hales did continue to hold the manor for a short time, but after Edward’s death, Christina finally sold the manor to Sir Walter de Hungerford for £1,000. Chippenham retains, however, the use of the heraldry of the Gascelyn and Hussee families as the town coat of arms, which appears in many places in the modern town centre.