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Snap - The story of a lost village

A fascinating chapter of English rural history lies just off The Ridgeway, near Aldbourne in Wiltshire. Hidden in thick undergrowth and shielded by now mature trees is the deserted village of Snap.

Snap: Copyright Friends of the Ridgeway

Like many rural settlements, its early history is unclear. There is evidence of habitation in theimmediate area going back to Romano-British times .and there is a Roman road within two miles of the site. The earliest recorded reference to the village is as Snape in the 13th century and it is variously referred to as Snape, Snappe and Snapp before settling as Snap by the late 19th century.

Snap was always small. The 1377 Poll Tax returns show 19 people paying at Snape, which suggests a population of about 25 adults. It never grew much more than this over its history, although in 1812 there was a school for 16 children in the village. The school moved to Woodsend in 1855. The village never appears to have boasted a pub nor church nor chapel.

Like many small communities, Snap had a largely uneventful history. It survived the Black Death unscathed and the only apparent interruption to its peaceful life was a major battle of the Civil War close by in 1643.

Agriculture dominated village life. In addition to the more conventional forms, rabbits were an important part of the local economy. The nearby Aldbourne Warren was celebrated as producing 'the best, sweetest and fattest rabbits in England' and Henry IV had Aldbourne rabbits sent to London for his table. It was estimated that in 1720 there were 24,000 rabbits in the farmed warrens of the area!

The Enclosures of the 18th century consigned most of the men of the village to lives as farm labourers, existing on very low wages. The agrarian riots in 1830 in Wiltshire were put down ruthlessly and the ring leaders sentenced to transportation. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 opened up the way for foreign imports. The first grain was imported from the USA in 1875 and four years later USA imports exceeded the home production. The years 1871 to 1880 were unusually wet and the harvests poor. All over the country, farms were being abandoned and many were bought up by townspeople as the industrial economy accelerated. The two substantial farms at Snap were untenanted by 1890 and the population of Snap declined sharply as families moved away to try their luck in the burgeoning towns.

The final chapter of Snap's life commenced when Henry Wilson, a butcher and entrepreneur from Ramsbury, bought the two major farms in the village in 1905. The farms were used to keep his substantial sheep flocks and as a base for his sheep dealing. Deprived of the work that farms had offered when they were arable, the villagers departed. Soon only four elderly people were left, reducing to two by 1909 and finally the one remaining villager, Rachel Fisher, was persuaded to move to Aldbourne. By 1914 Snap was deserted.

Its dereliction was hastened by being used for military training for the Great War and many of the cottages were plundered for building materials. Today hardly anything is immediately visible to the casual observer but these words from 'Snap' by Kenneth Watts provide a suitable epitaph to a lost village.

The anachronistic depopulation of Snap for the sake of the sheep did not escape reproof.  In 1914 the local   MP described the Wilson family as oppressive and tyranical. Had he made this remark in the Commons, it would have been covered by Parliamentary privilege. As he made it at a public meeting, he was successfully sued by Henry Wilson's sons.

"The site of Snap is, today, a moving place full of that peculiar melancholy which is often evoked by places that have been inhabited for centuries past but which are now deserted. The sites of the cottages, their gardens, and to a lesser extent the farmyard, are all covered by trees and undergrowth including a number of garden shrubs that have survived almost a century of neglect."

The author has relied heavily on the following sources:
Richard Muir The Lost Villages of Britain and (especially)
Kenneth Watts Snap - the history, depopulation and destruction of a Wiltshire village