top of page

West Knoyle

This tiny village nestling in the West Wiltshire Downs is a deeply rural area with agriculture,  pastoral and mixed, the main industry.


A mysterious event took place here on 5th January 1718.   Christopher Fricker took the parish registers to his house in the village, the reason for which is not known.  The following night his house was broken into and the registers burnt.  The culprits were never caught so the reason for this terrible act of vandalism has never been known.  Local legend handed down through the generations says the registers were destroyed to remove all traces of a compromising record/s which would cause embarrassment to someone in the parish.



Interestingly, when the Rector began the new Baptism Register, he first entered the names and birth dates of all the children of the late William Willoughby who were born between 1691 and 1711; four Yeomen of the parish added their signatures to confirm the paternity of the children.


The name of the parish has evolved through the ages from Cnugel in AD950, to Chenvel, Childe Knoel (1200), Cnoel Hodierna, Knoel, Cnoyle Oderne, Knahill (1675), Knoyle Parva and Little Knoyle to today's West Knoyle.

Family & Parish History : West Knoyle : Baptism Register
The Parish Church

St Mary the Virgin is 12th century, turreted and ornamented with pinnacles.  The 5 bells are dated 1605, 1661, 1665, 1671 and 1887 (4 are unsafe), and there are several tudor-arched doors and windows.   Curiously, the church displays a male exhibitionist gargoyle in the feet-to-ears position on the south-east corner of the tower.  


Please reload


Schooling took place from 1859 in the harness room of an old stable.   A single room school was built in 1874 at a cost of £340 with a contribution from the then-Prince of Wales.  The school closed in 1927; since then the children of West Knoyle have been educated in nearby Mere.  School Entertainment 1891 & 1898

Newspaper Articles

Newspapers are a treasure trove of information for family history researchers and social historians alike.  The tiny parish of West Knoyle receives little 'real news' coverage, but you may find your ancestors mentioned in the court columns as perpetrator or victim of crime.  Alcohol related offences and poaching were the most common misdemeanours brought before the petty sessions in the 19th century, all reported with monotonous regularity. 


Primarily, articles shown are those that contain the names of parishioners to assist family history researchers however, these should not be presumed to be all that appear in the newspapers in the given years or that there are no articles in the years omitted.

Two Killed at Willoughby Hedge 1843

Please reload

Please reload

The Willoughby Family

The Old Manor House in West Knoyle was built c1530 by Christopher Willoughby, the illegitimate son of Sir William Willoughby of Turner's Piddle in Dorset. The descendants of this wealthy and influential Royalist family remained prominent in the village for some 200 years during which time they were generous benefactors of the Church.   The Willoughby's of West Knoyle

Local Folklore

In a woody coppice in West Knoyle is a well, more akin to a foul smelling hole in the ground, known locally as Puckwell.  The word Puck, meaning hobgoblin, is derived from the middle English "pouke" and old English "puca".  Hobgoblins were believed to be well-dwelling spirits.  Early church practice was to bless the well and mingle the Pagan cult with a suitable Saint but at some wells this never happened and, allegedly, didn't at the one in West Knoyle so Puckwell remains a goblin's well - one which has never been Christianised.

Contributing to Photo Galleries etc

The information and images on this page are of great interest to researchers in the UK and worldwide who are tracing their family history. If you would like to share photographs of your ancestors who were born or married in West Knoyle, picture postcards or other information relating to the village, please email us.  Contributions really will be appreciated.  Thankyou.

Population Figures

A census was not taken in 1941

1801-184    1811-210    1821-208    1831-206    1841-206    1851-180    1861-187    1871-202    1881-199    1891-158   

1901-160    1911-137    1921-123   1931-117     1941-n/k     1951-131    1961-131    1971-110    1981-138    1991-139   2001-159


West Knoyle's Neighbours

East Knoyle, Sedgehill, Kingston Deverill, Monkton Deverill and Mere are all within 3 miles. The towns of Gillingham and Shaftesbury (both in Dorset) are 5 miles distant.


Civil Registration District

July 1837 to January 1978 Mere Registration District, then Salisbury


Parish Registers held at WSHC

Baptisms         1718-1989 (BT's 1608-1717)

Marriages        1719-1978

Burials             1718-1991 (BT's 1607-1717)

There are no entries in the Marriage Register between 20 April 1745 & 24 June 1754


Baptisms                     1608-1699      1700-1799      1800-1837    

Marriages                    1608-1675      1711-1799      1800-1837    

Burials                         1607-1696      1709-1799      1800-1837 


Census                         1841       1851      1861      1871      1881      1891      1901      1911


Voters Lists                 1872      1915   

Electoral Registers     1918      1953      1954      1960


Kelly's Directories      1848      1855      1867      1875      1880     1898      1915      1923      1931      1939

Beneath the rugged elm and yew tree shade

Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap

Each in their narrow cell forever laid

The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep

Misc Information

Please reload

During World War 2, there were visible reminders of the war all around - soldiers billeted in neighbouring villages and endless military convoys on the road from East Knoyle to Shaftesbury.  Three men of the parish lost their lives - Clifford Charles Fulcher, David Warburton and Robert Pugsley.

WW1 and WW2

At the time of the First World War, the population of West Knoyle was about 130 and events far away probably had little effect on the practicalities of the day to day lives of the parishioners.  Apart from the absence of their menfolk in the village, there would have been no obvious signs to the people of Ansty that the country was at war.  But it was not only sons, husbands and fathers who had gone, most of their horses had gone too - from lightweight hunters to heavy cart horses, all required for the war effort leaving the farms bereft of their best working animals.  

The Memorial Plaque in St Mary the Virgin church commemorates two men of the parish who lost their lives in the WW1:


Edwin Gatehouse 

Harold Mead 

Another two casualties with strong connections to West Knoyle have been identified:


William Henry Hayter

Edward Cornelius Thick


All material on the Wiltshire Footprints website is subject to copyright law

Information is for personal research only; no part of this website should be copied or published elsewhere

without written permission from Wiltshire Footprints.

West Knoyle People

bottom of page