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Melksham Spa – an architectural hidden gem part 1

At the end of 2022 Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to prepare a talk on Melksham Spa for the reopening of Melksham Library. Having a good deal of information on the individual buildings, we thought this was a matter of collating what we already had and doing a bit more research before presenting our talk. We did not expect such an enthusiastic crowd on the day, many from the Spa itself, offering information about individual houses. With invites to come and see the architectural marvels at first hand, we couldn’t resist, and the overview below, was the result of several visits by kind permission of the owners who threw open their doors to us, and the researched written history.

Entering Melksham from the east, within the parish of Melksham Without, stands a collection of neo-classical buildings, like “stranded leviathans”, that hint to an enterprising period in the town’s history. These grandiose houses along Spa Road form part of what was Melksham Spa, a short-lived development of the early 19th century created to take advantage of the iron-rich waters found in fields at Bowerhill. Other houses were built closer to Melksham during the period (for example at 8-14 Spa Road) as lodgings for the Spa.

When a group of local gentlemen met in the Kings’ Arms in Melksham in July in 1814 to form the Melksham Spa Company, the aspiration was to capitalise on the chalybeate spring found in the ground at Bowerhill. Their plan was to build a spa resort to rival Bath Spa to the west and Cheltenham to the north. Lodging houses, a Pump House, Assembly Rooms and other facilities were built, including satellite buildings along Spa Road, but regretfully Melksham Spa never grew to the successes or scale of its competitors. The chalybeate spring was discovered at Bowerhill Farm in the 1770s when a shaft was sunk looking for coal 375 feet underground. Dr G. S. Gibbes wrote about the medicinal qualities of the water and described how the spring was discovered in his report in 1813.

“After penetrating to a great depth, the miners came to a very hard rock, on piercing through which, this water rushed upon them, and was so abundant that the scheme for finding coal was entirely abandoned. The shaft was filled up with timber and earth and the spring has ever since continued to flow above the original level of the field.”

The Melksham Spa company was set-up as a tontine (a system common in the early 19th century for raising money to finance projects where individuals bought shares and were able to pass on their interest/dividend to nominees) in order for local people to buy-in to the project. The nine acre site at Bowerhill included ten plots for large dwelling houses whose estimated costs were £1,000 per house. Costing 100 Guineas, each subscriber would be a mortgagee and seven years after completion of the building of the houses, the houses would be sold by public auction and the profits divided. Of the 10,000 Guineas needed, only 7,000 Guineas could be raised and the founders had to work within this restriction.

1820s engraving illustrating the 3 buildings & other facilities including the original pump house now demolished

We have not been able to find the original drawing plans and elevations from 1814 but remaining buildings of the site contribute to the architectural history of the area and also to our understanding of the architect, John Finden (1782-1849) little about whom is known. John Finden had offices in Fitzroy Square in London and in Bath and his brothers were the engravers William (1787-1852) and Edward Finden (1791-1857). John Finden’s son, George Finden (1811-1885), was also a well-known printmaker and line engraver. Finden was involved in alterations to the Lower Assembly Rooms in 1811 in Bath, which burned in 1820 and was finally demolished in 1933. Finden also designed Compton Castle at Compton Pauncefoot in Somerset for Sir Hubert Hunt between 1820 and 1825, as well as other buildings there including Windsor Lodge. At Melksham, Finden was responsible for the handsome houses that were known as 1&2, 3&4 and 5&6 Spa Buildings, now known as 399 & 400, 401 & 402 and 403 & 404 The Spa; as well as The Grove, Agra House (407&408) and Belmont (410). He also built Spa Cottage (405 &406) which is now demolished but was a single-storey pump room over the chalybeate well and the site is replaced with 20th century bungalows. The houses included stables set behind which exist still but are all now much altered.

WBR was fortunate to visit a number of the houses in the winter of 2022 and see some of the interiors first-hand. Many original features remain and what was immediately apparent from our visit was how the unity of design employed across the buildings gives a tangible design coherence to the houses 200 years later. The employment of a single architect to work on both the external elevations and the design of the interiors across the whole site allows a comprehensive and legible design code for the architectural historian to follow. The houses are examples of a pared-back neo-classicism where classical features are used with restraint. Planned to form a crescent of six, only three of the tall grandiose houses were built. They each are three storeys with a basement and their front and side elevations are faced in ashlar stone and rears are coursed rubble. The ground floor is slightly lowered and so is referred to as a basement; this was used as a service floor but is lit by full-height windows. The raised ground floor is accessed by a side external stair to a covered porch; the piano nobile, or principal floor, is immediately above and there is a top floor with smaller rooms.

Greek key motif on balconies, fluted pilasters, tulip/ serpentine ironwork in window light, rustication, use of the Doric & 6-panelled door with classical roundels.

The tall sash windows are placed symmetrically across the double houses which have four bays (two bays for each house). The houses are two rooms deep and the scale of the rooms gives an impression of height and light. A tall stair window with an arched head lights the central staircase. The raised ground floor windows are tall 6×6 sashes set slightly back in arched recesses. Rustication runs around the arches and across the ground floor. The piano nobile has taller 6×6 sashes and its grandeur is also detailed with iron-work Juliette balconies set on limestone platforms with a fluted decorative edge, running horizontally across the platforms. The top floor has slightly squatter sashes and the central block (numbers 401 & 402) is given status with a triangular pediment set centrally within the parapet roof. Each pair shares a back-to-back chimney stack. Finden played with the features of classical temple front when you consider the three buildings as a whole. A central triangular pediment sits on top of the central house and giant fluted pilasters stretch across the first and second floors of each house. The pilasters sit on a base of projecting ashlar. The narrow scale of this ashlar base complements the scale of the flat pilasters it supports. We are meant to imagine a classical order, probably Greek Doric, when we include the projecting cornice within the entablature of the roof and the Greek key ironwork of the balconies. The stone columns at the porch entrances remaining on one of the houses employ the Doric order. (A further description and appreciation of the Spa’s architecture will be continued in the next blog).

Rose Barclay, WBR Volunteer

A Common problem – Marginal settlement in Warminster

How many people living in Warminster now are aware that certain streets on the south side of Warminster were once part of a completely separate squatter community? We recently completed a historic building study on the south edge of Warminster Common, and were utterly fascinated to discover its unique identity. This area is now rather quaint, with the stone and brick houses on a much smaller scale than those found in the main town. There are some regular streets running through the main settlement, but with scattered housing around the edges joined by little leafy lanes, giving a higgledy-piggledy appearance.

It is hard to think that this was the forerunner of a modern sink estate, and apparently legendary in its vicissitudes of human behaviour. A settlement had begun in the western section of Warminster Common by the 16th century. Animal herders built shelters along the Cannimore Brook, soon to be joined by vagrants, those seeking work and possibly outlaws. Small dwellings were constructed, the occupants being attracted by the availability of land and good sources of water; the brook itself and springs. Dwellings constructed overnight on common and waste land resulted in squatters rights, which were eventually converted to freeholds. By 1582, a number of homeless people had constructed substandard houses of mud and straw or rubble stone with roughly thatched roofs.

Extract from the Andrews and Dury map of 1773. Warminster Common is not named, but is shown below the title ‘Sambourne’ as a separate settlement along the Cannimore brook.

Attempts were made between 1739 and 1770 to stop the expansion of substandard and overcrowded dwellings without success. Lord Weymouth in 1770 made a specific attempt to take over the freeholds of cottages on Warminster Common by inviting his ‘tenants’ to dinner:

Quoting from the writings of William Daniell in 1850:

…Somewhere about the year 1770, it is said, an effort was made by the Lord of the Manor of Warminster, to make the whole of the said cottage property tributary or leasehold, the same as he had recently done at the adjoining village of Crockerton. For this purpose, on a set day, a public dinner was provided at the Bell Inn in the said village; a ticket of invitation was left at each house, and notice given that each proprietor was to pay a penny. Previously to the appointed dinner-meeting, however, some meddling officious person (there are always such you know to be found on such occasions, – I think I could name him) thinking his lordship’s splendid and extensive domain was quite sufficient to support him and his family in their wonted wealth and dignity, without his coveting of hovels of the poorest of the poor, came to the conclusion, forsooth, that the proposed transaction very much resembled the one recorded in scripture, of wealthy king Ahab and his poor neighbour Naboth; and therefore kindling with indignation at it, he immediately went round to them, and suggested the said invitation to dinner was only a snare to entrap them. Ignorant and depraved as they then generally were, they easily took the hint, and behold! the steward and his friends had all the dinner to themselves; for not one of the cottage-holders attended. And well and truly do they deserve the richest thanks of all their posterity, for this noble act of just and laudable independence: for thereby the whole of the said cottage property soon became their freehold, (excepting one cottage, of which it is said, that it did afterwards comply). And if any thing tends hereafter to raise this place into any measure of respectability and importance, surely this act had no share therein: so complete was the failure, that it was never afterwards attempted…

By 1781, 1,015 people were occupying 200 houses on Warminster Common.

William Daniell’s concern was not even the lord of the manor was in a position to eliminate the absolute squalor to be found in certain parts of the settlement by the late 18th century. Daniell had first-hand experience of living conditions as he was a parish officer, as well as being a Methodist preacher. He was very active at Warminster Common and set up a chapel there in Chapel Street in 1827. Daniell was a man of strong religious conviction and committed to improving the lives of his flock, he gained the nickname the ‘Bishop of Warminster Common’.

Daniell also provides in his book, some very harrowing descriptions of life in the settlement at Warminster Common at the end of the 18th and into the 19th century. [WSHC – Local Studies Library – WAR.940 – W. Daniell (1850) Warminster Common… – publisher Richard E. Vardy, London p.9-11] One account, not the worst, comes from a 70 year old woman in 1850 who was brought up in a typical hovel in the hamlet of Warminster Common at the end of the 18th century:

The following, I had from an aged widow now (1850) living, a native of Warminster Common:- “ I am upwards of seventy years of the age, I do not know my true age; all I know is, that I was a little girl when the men were hanged on Sutton Common: none of my family ever knew their ages. There were ten children, we could none of us read, we never heard the Lord’s prayer or anything else on religion all the while we lived with our parents; there never was any book kept in the house, we were never told of a Bible, we never went to any place of worship, we were never baptized; we wore no shoes or stockings, our clothing was chiefly ragged linsey, when it wanted washing mother did wash it while we were in bed and dry it against the next morning. We all slept in one bed-room, father, mother, and ten children lying together like pigs; our cottage, which was very small, had no plaster on the walls, no ceiling, no ground-floor, except the natural earth. It abounded with vermin; there were no ‘privies’ in any of the gardens in those days; scarcely anybody in the Common ever went to church: Sunday was always spent in all sorts of gaming, drunkenness, filthy conversation, backsword-playing, fighting, &c. ; then men lying in groups under the hedges in all their filthy working apparel, as ignorant of all good as the beasts that perish. Years after I left my father’s house, whenever I went to see my parents I was sure to carry-away plenty of vermin. All the filth of the house and family was placed in front, near the entrance of the cottage, the liquid part thereof always ran across the road, into the spring-water of which we all drank.”

Disease was ever present, typhus fever, small-pox and measles were suffered by inhabitants of the hamlet. The reputation of the place for crime was known as far as Devon. I wonder how many of the present day inhabitants have any inkling of how different life was once here?

Louise Purdy & Dorothy Treasure, Wiltshire Buildings Record

A Great Stink in Salisbury

Looking through correspondence of the Local Authority files the other day I came across some interesting letters. Wiltshire Buildings Record had been investigating a failing, ancient WC attached to a medieval house in Fisherton Street, Salisbury (we get to see allsorts!), which naturally led me on to looking at when the sewers had been constructed. Sewerage services are something we take for granted in our own homes, and we don’t think twice about it. However, not so long ago, what to do with waste, human and otherwise, was often an individual responsibility. In towns and cities you could ‘bucket and chuck it’ into the street with only a warning cry of ‘gardyloo!’ to alert those passing beneath. This is what happened in Salisbury until the middle of the 19th century, less than 200 years ago!

In 1845 a report on the sanitary condition of Salisbury was made by an inspector from the Health of Towns Commission. He felt that the high death rate was due to the nuisances in these places and to the low position of the city, but did not think that the general lack of efficient drainage could be easily remedied. At the time, however, nothing was done. Hitherto, Salisbury’s effluent had run along open watercourses that ran down the streets, but the incidences of cholera were reported as 200 cases one year, and the decision was taken to create a proper sewerage system.

Surprisingly, there was some stiff opposition to the sinking of raw sewage out of sight and harm. John Winzar, the medical officer to the overseers, was strongly in favour of keeping the open sewers; ‘Neither nature nor art’, he wrote, ‘could possibly have formed channels better adapted for effectually carrying away the sewage of the city’. Some of these channels had indeed been covered over some years back, but during the Cholera epidemic they had been opened up again, with ‘thousands of loads of filth removed’.

G23/701/1PC  Local Board of Health plan of city of Salisbury for sewerage and drainage scheme. 1854

Eventually, something had to give. The Area Board plan of 1854 showed where sewers were to be laid, and the connections to the houses. All well and good. However, looking through the contractor’s correspondence there were very many complaints about the works. The main problem was the smell of sewage. One such letter reads:

Dear Mr Paget,

On Friday, May 27th (1907) there was a recurrence of the bad smell from the sewage works affecting Barnard’s Cross. During the last few days there was quite an epidemic in the house, several of the students and three of the staff being affected. The symptoms were:- a slight degree of fever, as high as 100.4, sore throat, headache, nausea and loss of appetite, and diarrhea (sic).

These cases were spread all through the house, and did not occur among girls who were particularly associated together. This is the first time I have been able to associate anything more than a temporary nausea and loss of appetite with the smell, but Miss Black tells me it was much worse than usual. The occurrence of this trouble in such a severe form seems to have been a source of great danger to the students – both from the point of view of their general health and from the interruption of their studies by illness extending for over two days or more. I need hardly point out to the committee that should such a smell arise, at such a critical time as the certificate examination it is extremely probable that the majority of the students would not be able to complete their final examination.

Believe me,
Very Truly Yours,
WW Ord

A further letter, backing up Ord’s complaint came from the training college to the Town Clerk:

Dear Sir,
Nuisance arising from the sewage works
After evidence given by the Barnard Cross College together with a letter read from the medical officer as to the fowl (sic) smells arising from the sewage works and consequent damage to the health of the students, I am requested by the training college committee to express a strong hope that the authority will lose no time in carrying out such improvements that may abate this intolerable nuisance.

I am, yours sincerely,

Ralph Paget, hon sec (Salisbury Diocesan training college to Mr F Hodding, town clerk)

For the scientifically-minded interested in whether a smell can actually cause harm, I found out that in themselves, smells do not cause harm. A smell is a neural response to airborne molecules binding to receptors in the mucus membranes of your nose. You can’t be harmed by a smell any more than you can by a colour. But the chemical that causes the smell can harm you. Sewers can produce a cocktail of harmful gases including ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulphide, and carbon dioxide. Any of these would have harmed the poor girls at Barnard Cross College.

Dorothy Treasure, Principal Buildings Historian
Wiltshire Buildings Record

My work experience with the Wiltshire Building Record

Hi, my name is Maddie and I have just completed year 10 at Abbeyfield School in Chippenham. I was very lucky due to family connections in July, to find a work experience placement with the Wiltshire Buildings Record (WBR) based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

I started off my work experience by having a detailed tour of the History Centre. Ruth, the education officer kindly showed me and some year 12 students around all the different departments, also pointing out safety precautions we needed to keep in mind. After the tour, I was taken by the WBR to Malmesbury to see a couple of buildings which they had either recorded or were in the process of recording. It was an exciting opportunity for me to see the WBR in action when surveying a building. They showed me around a very old terrace house in the High Street which they were recording at the time. The owner was so kind to allow me to join the surveying team in her home.

High Street, Malmesbury

It was very impressive to see how the WBR team could estimate the age of parts of the house, from measurements, appearance and artistic style. I liked how everyone in the team had their own roles looking at different aspects of the house, with some looking at the structure of the building and others researching the history of the house. I had the chance to look in the roof space of the building, whilst Dorothy, who was in charge explained the different aspects of the roof to me. I never realised how much could be learnt about the age of the house from its roof.

Next after lunch, we headed for Abbey House Manor, next to Malmesbury Abbey. We met Lesley at The Old Bell Hotel first who had kindly agreed to give us a guided tour. It was an amazing house, huge with a lovely garden.

Abbey House Manor, Malmesbury

The building is being renovated at the moment but due to the WBR surveying it previously we were allowed to see it again by its new owners. It was so exciting to go down into the cellars. It was explained to me that we were in an undercroft, the oldest part of the building dating from the 13th century. It had been part of Malmesbury Abbey in the past. After the tour we returned to the hotel where we were treated to a cool drink. It was a very hot day. The décor in the hotel was out of this world!

For the rest of the week I spent my time in the History Centre. I was introduced to the main archive, a huge collection of historical documents and maps. The History Centre was calm and well laid out and almost like a library and in some parts it was. The WBR had its own office and archive and so part of the day I worked in there. I assisted with the research into the history of a manor house in Corsham. It was interesting to see the variations between different aged maps and to see how Corsham became more built up over the years. I was asked to look at different editions of Kelly’s trade directories in the Local Studies Library to discover who lived in the manor house from Victorian times into the 20th century.

Due to my study of crime and punishment at school, I looked at plans of Devizes Prison as well. The prison was built in 1808 but no longer exists. The shape of the new prison, a regular polygon was fascinating to me and the fact that the prison governor’s house was at its centre. Most of the plans had lots of detail, to explain the arrangement of cells and other facilities, it helped us to understand what really went on in each section of the prison over time. What we did discover in the plans was a drawing of a treadmill, a form of punishment for prisoners. It was added to the prison in the 1820s. Tom an archivist kindly removed the plastic cover so we could get a better photograph.

Ground floor plan of Devizes Prison in 1808

Elevation showing the treadmill in use dating from the 1820s

One afternoon, Ruth arranged for me to visit the conservation laboratories at the History Centre to see conservation actually happening. I was surprised by the amount of scientific equipment and the complex techniques being used.

Finally, I was asked to record details from second hand books donated for the book stall at the WBR Annual Study Day in October, to assist with pricing them. Most of them were focused on architecture, which is to be expected. I am pleased to say I got through about five boxes.

Overall, I had a very interesting week and would like to thank everyone at the Wiltshire Building Record and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for making me feel so welcome and giving me such an opportunity.



Lacock: A Most Unique Village

On a summer evening last year I led a free walk around Lacock for the Festival of Archaeology.  It was a showery day and I had my fingers crossed for a dry walk, which unfortunately didn’t work!  We had to shelter at least once while the heavens emptied a torrent on us.  The village is a huge draw for tourists, not just for the Abbey, but also to see the where so many dramas and movies have been filmed, Harry Potter not the least, both in the village and in the Abbey.  What makes Lacock so special?  The newly-revised Pevsner volume on Wiltshire edited by Julian Orbach states that Lacock village is ‘one of the best in the country, compact and without any loss of scale anywhere, and with a wealth of medieval buildings, both apparent and disguised.  The extraordinary degree of preservation is thanks to the Talbot family who owned nearly every house until they gave the estate to the National Trust in 1958’.

Outside 2-5 High Street, Lacock – a range of medieval timber-framed hall houses.  Image credit: Tom Sunley

The village as it stands is said to date substantially from the early 14th century, though there is a documented settlement before then, probably soon after Lacock Abbey was founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as an Augustinian nunnery.  At the same time she also founded Hinton Charterhouse Priory in Somerset, about 20 miles from here.  Both were in memory of her husband William Longspee, whose tomb can be seen in Salisbury Cathedral.

The village was started soon after the Abbey and is said to have been completed in 1247.  Very little of this original village remains, though there are 13th century fragments of what look to be the very first building on the site inside at King John’s Hunting Lodge in Church Street. Every one of the buildings lining the four core streets are listed, and there are more grade II* buildings than you can shake a stick at, something of a rarity considering the normal rate of development elsewhere.  Here you can see seven centuries of buildings in a 10-minute walk around in a variety of materials: ancient crucks, timber-frame, rubblestone, fine ashlar and brick.  What you won’t see is concrete or anything after about 1926, the date of the extension to the 18th century Red House in Church Street.

Our walk started outside the Red Lion pub, a hostelry dating from just after 1722.  The wide High Street was documented as the first part of the village to be built and was the heart of the village in the 18th century, when the market was held here, and in the impressive 14th century Manor farm barn which is opposite.  The great arched entrance from the High Street is still visible, though it is now long since blocked up. This was not the earliest market place, however. When Lacock was first built the original market was held in the wide open space outside St Cyriac’s church.  The narrowness of Church Street suddenly flares out at the junction with East Street, as the houses step back.  The Abbey was granted a fair in 1237 and a weekly market on Tuesdays in 1242.  At that time the village was bustling not with tourists as now, but with tradesmen such as grocers, dyers, masons, butchers, blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelwrights and more over the centuries.  During the 19th century Lacock had its own workhouse, situated at the east end of Church Street opposite St Cyriac’s.  This became a tanyard by the mid-19th century and a unique drying shed for bark remains, used as part of the tanning process.  The gravelled yard where cars now park was once occupied by tanning pits.  The smell must have been horrific, urine being one of the components of the leather cure.

Though Lacock is small by village standards, it had a pub on every street (the Georgian stone Carpenter’s Arms backs onto East Street); the impressive mellow brick Red Lion in the High Street with its unique semi-circular pediment; the quaint George Inn, licensed since 1361 once using canine slave labour to turn the spit, and the ancient charm of the Sign of the Angel, a very beautiful and impressive stone building of 1480 said to have a priest hole over the arched passageway.

The more you look, the further you realise how rich the architectural heritage of Lacock is, quite apart from the splendour of the Abbey and its environs.  Our walk took an hour and half, and even then, some buildings, remarkable in their own right, were not looked at simply to get around in the time we had.  Lacock’s historic buildings extends further than the four main streets, Cantax Hill, Lover’s Walk, The Wharf and Bowden Hill all have remarkable buildings worth remarking on beyond the scope of this blog.

Dorothy Treasure

Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

In defence of interesting stones

When is a stone not just a stone? – when it is a guard stone, also sometimes known as a glance stone. None the wiser? Don’t worry – I’m not about to try and convince you of these stones’ magical or archaeological properties, etc., but to make you see what is so easily missed in many historic street scenes in both town and country.

Following an interesting article on cornerstones in buildings in the Oxon Recorder Winter 2021 I was inspired to think about cornerstones, and also guard stones, in my home town of Warminster. These occur in a couple of narrow lanes in Warminster town centre and I’ve noted them in passing, but given little thought to what they were doing there.

Guard stones at North Row, Warminster

The Oxon Recorder speculates that these may have had several purposes originally; the most obvious, as observed in the very narrow North Row which leads off the High Street in Warminster, was to prevent traffic striking the walls. Wikipedia describes a guard stone: A guard stone, jostle stone or chasse-roue (French lit. “wheel chaser”), is a projecting metal, concrete, or stone exterior architectural element located at the corner and/or foot of gates, portes-cochères, garage entries, and walls to prevent damage from vehicle tires and wheels. This is also true in Chinn’s Yard on the opposite side of the road. These can be rough local stones just leant against a wall, which over time become set into the asphalt in a road when this is resurfaced. They are unspectacular, and anachronistic in today’s bare, tarmacked roads and lanes.

Guard stone in Chinn’s Yard, Warminster
Guard stone at entrance to Poles Farmyard, Swallowcliffe

They are not only found in narrow passageways, but also in rural settings, such as the guard stone set at the entrance to a farmyard at Poles Farm, Swallowcliffe. Here it is obvious that the guard stone is a reused padstone that once carried a post in an open-fronted building on the site, repurposed to prevent cart-wheels from knocking off the corner of the building. Some houses have curved corners for the very same reason. It is illuminating that as you walk along a pavement and come across a curved corner on a house, that you are looking at a time before the pavement was made, allowing carts and other wheeled traffic to get very close to the building. The very many now-redundant shoe-scrapers built into the walls of historic houses come from this time before modern road surfacing, and indicate how different the roads must have been, especially travelling in foul weather.

It is also suggested that the other projecting stones – cornerstones – are ‘beefing up the land under a corner [of a built structure] to increase stability’ as seems to be the case at the aptly-named Corner Cottage, Frog Lane, Chilmark. Perhaps more rarely, cornerstones can be symbolic in that they indicate a boundary or other significance. An example of this is quoted at the Market Hall in Pembridge, Herefordshire where one of the posts of this structure rests on a previous medieval market cross THE MARKET HALL, Pembridge – 1081729 | Historic England . Whether this is a conscious reuse to indicate continuity of a site, or merely convenience cannot be established. So many customary practices were not necessarily passed down in print, but by unwritten tradition.

Where guard/glance stones occur in Conservation Areas they are presumably protected as one of the features that make a place unique. However, Google Conservation Areas and guard stones together and nothing comes up. Does this mean they have received no special consideration? They were no doubt as useful as bollards, walls, posts, or any other more obvious street furniture, but their literally lowly status seems to have made them almost invisible. Maybe it is time to look down and note where guard stones occur, and try to record them systematically before they disappear when a road is resurfaced.

Dorothy Treasure, Principal Buildings Historian

Wiltshire Buildings Record

On a Brambly Ridge near Dilton Marsh

About two miles north of Dilton Marsh is the ancient manor house of Bremeridge, which we were fortunate to be able to visit a month or so ago. It was once one of the smaller manors that made up the parish of Westbury. Its settlement dates from at least the late 12th century, and a hoard of gold nobles of Edward III (1327-77), Richard II (1377-99) and others were found outside the back door in 1877. It has a commanding view from its ‘brambly ridge’ of the valley north towards Fairwood and Rudge on the Somerset border.

The National Heritage List for England suggested this was an altered 18th century house, which its exterior features indicated. The only clue to its far more ancient beginnings were its monumental double-skin studded door, worthy of any church. As we looked, we realised that this door was still attached to a vestige of timber-framing that survived after the house was rebuilt in the late 18th century. As we looked deeper, we realised that buried within this substantial building was an original three-bay timber-framed yeoman farmhouse; deeply-chamfered beams, and the original through-passage could all be seen and deciphered in the original plan. It was in the roof that the whole story of the house was told, as it so often was.

At one end of the long range was the remains of a cranked collar and tie beam truss roof with angled struts, rather in the manner of goats’ horns. This was an indication that we were probably dealing with a house of the second half of the 16th century. Incidentally, in urban areas such as Salisbury the same kind of roof would not be seen after 1550. It is recognised that a time-lag effect operates whereby new fashions in building are often introduced in cities or other important sites, percolating down to towns and then villages and hamlets in due course. Here we speculate that the farmhouse, long in the ownership of Edington Priory, was rebuilt for a new owner some time after the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541.

This ancient farmhouse must have looked very picturesque with its old, studded door, but the story in the roof tells us that in the later 18th century there was a disastrous fire. One charred roof truss in the centre of the house must have backed onto the timber fireplace (yes, a timber-framed fireplace! Though covered in fire-retardant lime plaster on the inside – they weren’t that stupid!). The top part of the truss had burnt away and was supported, strutted and braced in a later 18th century manner, which tells us when this must have happened.

Timber-framed fireplaces were usual before about 1600 and accidental fires were a regular occurrence. In a town or city they could change the landscape forever, such as at Marlborough where the great fire of 1653 burnt down 244 houses. Other notable fires occurred at Ramsbury (1648), Hindon (1754), Heytesbury (1765) and Colerne (1774) and no town or village ever escaped unscathed.

An estate plan of Dilton Marsh dated 1852 ref 3809/1/1

Out of the ashes rose the present stone house, and the opportunity was taken a few years later to extend and redevelop it on more comfortable lines. The descent of the manor was also varied; it was kicked around as an investment football between speculators until it was bought in 1867 by Charles Phipps of Chalcot House nearby. Prior to that in 1852 William Stancomb, a local worthy and Victorian wheeler-dealer (his descendant’s description – not mine) owned Bremeridge, and sold a great chunk of its lands to the Great Western Railway. The sound of trains clearly drifts up the ridge to the house today, where it is on its own journey into the future as a comfortable and characterful family home.

Dorothy Treasure, Principal Buildings Historian
Wiltshire Buildings Record

The Fortunes of a Wiltshire Parish Rectory

Stratford Tony is a small village 4 ½ miles from Salisbury. The river Ebble flows through it, and the line of the ancient Roman road known as ‘Icknield Street’ passes close on the west side of the village. The most notable occupant of Stratford Tony was the impressionist painter Wilfrid de Glehn, who lived at the Manor House from 1942 until his death in 1951. The population now only amounts to around 50 people.

Last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to investigate the old rectory, now a private house. The house presented a decorous early Georgian front with views across the lawns to the river below. As ever, we looked beyond the polite elevation to the hidden corners and roof spaces to reveal a very different story. Remains of a c1500 timber-frame were found embedded in replacement stone walls and in the roof which suggested that this was a much more humble farmhouse. Grabbed by the intrigue glands, our researcher Louise did what she does best, which is to squirrel out those hidden facts embedded in layers of old parchment. It turns out that it was quite possibly a grange farm for the Abbey of Lyra in Normandy (nothing to do with His Dark Materials or the constellation of stars!) and then the Priory of Sheen in Richmond, London.

Its transformation to posh rectory happened in the later 16th century when Lawrence Hyde acquired the advowson (the right to recommend a clergyman to a ‘living’ in the parish) from the Crown in 1560. Lawrence Hyde was part of the influential Hyde family of Wiltshire, he had benefitted greatly from the acquisition of land and property following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He held a lease from William Earl of Pembroke, of Wardour Castle and Park around the time he was granted the advowson at Stratford Tony. Members of the Hyde family held it for over 126 years up to 1686, when it then transferred to Edward Fawconer of Sarum.

By 1671 the glebe terrier noted a substantial rectory house comprising …A mansion house, a brew house, a wood house, a barn, a stable, a fodder house besides some skillings (cowsheds), an orchard, 2 gardens…. Lawrence and his son Robert Hyde installed three members of their own family as clerks at Stratford Tony. It is very likely, the patronage of the Hyde family resulted in substantial investment in the parsonage house, including the addition of a smart Georgian wing. This was extended further in 1791 by Reverend Stockwell, the rector at that time, who commemorated it with a datestone.

The rectory fell out of use in 1923 when the benefice was merged with that of Bishopstone and became a private house. The first lay owner, a major Collison implemented a transformation which was very typical for its time. Distinct fashions occurred at different periods, and for the humble farmhouse a ‘gentrification’ was inevitably made in the later 18th century/early 19th century period followed in the second half of the 19th century and earlier 20th century by a ‘rustication’, part of the Arts and Crafts movement, which undid all the first effort and put back a pre-Georgian type of interior. This trend was replicated in middle-class homes everywhere in Wiltshire and Wiltshire Buildings Record has seen and recorded many such schemes, some overseen by architects such as at Jesses, Dinton where the architect was known to be Biddulph-Pinchard, and some by local builders, very likely implementing the ideas of the owners themselves, and no doubt accommodating finds from reclamation yards and demolished houses. The old rectory at Stratford Tony was no exception, and any elegant fireplaces, plasterwork and dado rails were done away with in favour of dark 17th century panelling and a reproduction fireplace.

Thus it is that most houses are a very pleasing and individual mix of styles reflecting their owners fashion and fortunes. Of course we can only speculate from known examples what some houses looked like in the past, as one scheme may obliterate partly or wholly the previous scheme in a phenomenon noted by Pam Slocombe as ‘alternate rebuilding’.

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Witshire Buildings Record

Wonderful Warminster – the Warminster Buildings History Project

Warminster is a market town lying in close proximity to Salisbury Plain. Its history starts with the discovery of two Roman villas at Pit Mead, Bishopstrow. In Anglo-Saxon times it was a royal estate and residence, but it was not until the 13th century that it began to develop into the town we know now.

The earliest settlement was likely around the parish church of St Denys and nearby Manor House (now embedded within Manor Gardens), but nothing else survives. The town grew east from the site of the old Emwell Cross, an open space which tradition says was an old market site originally and now contains a grade II* stone obelisk commemorating the enclosure of the parish in 1783. At that time the eastern limit of the town was at the junction of George Street and High Street. In the early 13th century the ‘market of Warminster’ with a shop ‘covered in stone’ appears to have been a separate area based around the chapel of St Lawrence, a chapel-of-ease for St Denys (the Minster) which had become isolated on the north-west fringes of the town.

Very little is known about the medieval development of the town apart from the mention of houses in Church Street, High Street, West Street and Portway, and until fairly recently, only hints of older buildings behind later fronts have been coming to light. During inspection and recording when town centre buildings are redeveloped, more evidence has been uncovered of the survival of early fabric that could be medieval or early modern.

The drawing dates to before 1832 and shows the Old Ship Inn on the site of the junction between the High Street and the Close. The old town hall stands next to it. Note the stocks! Both buildings are now gone.

Historic England have long understood that there is more to many ordinary or modern-looking towns than meets the eye and are actively fostering groups to uncover their history through the physical fabric of bricks, mortar and timber. It has recently been discovered that the row of buildings between the Athenaeum in the High Street and North Row contain the substantial remains of jettied timber-framed houses, probably shop-houses of the late medieval/early modern period. No. 16 (Bon Bon Chic) was dated to 1513 in 2014. No. 6 High Street (Café Journal) was found to date between 1499 and 1531. Cordens (no. 4 High Street) is likely to be the oldest in the row from architectural details evident. Fragments of earlier buildings have been uncovered at the Bath Arms (now Wetherspoons) and 32 Market Place (Coates and Parker) which hint at the type of buildings that preceded the present shops.

Warminster has been underappreciated as a town in architectural terms. Wiltshire Buildings Record is hoping to bring out knowledge of exactly how Warminster is unique and special, and this should foster greater interest in our town. Thanks should be given to the Warminster Preservation Trust who have kindly donated £2,000 so we can kick this project off with dating some key buildings using dendrochronology. Watch this space!

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

A Bratton Wool Loft?

Wiltshire Buildings Record held its 40th AGM in Bratton on the 22nd June 2019. The weather was beautiful and a miraculous interlude in a succession of grey, stuffy days that had come before. After the business meeting Mike Manson of the Bratton History Association (BHA) gave us a presentation on the origins and development of Bratton, which was apparently once three separate settlements.

The wealth of fine houses hidden down picturesque lanes were derived from the woollen industry in the 17th and 18th centuries.  West Wiltshire was dominated by a small group of entrepreneurs who controlled the woollen industry as landholders, buyers and employers. The most prominent family in Bratton and Westbury was the Whitakers; wool merchants whose impressive home was the Courthouse in Court Lane, dating from the medieval period and onwards.

Iron replaced wool in the 19th century, as Dennis Gardner, another BHA member explained in a separate presentation. Reeves ironworks produced agricultural machinery and was the largest employer in Bratton until the early 20th century.

Fuelled by much cake and tea, we went out down a positive rabbit-warren of unexpected leafy lanes, guided by Mike. Owners of houses were moved to come out and investigate at the sight of a large bunch of strangers all staring steadily in their direction. All were friendly though, and a mine of information.

Much of the timber-framing we saw appeared to be 17th century, or 17th century improvements of earlier buildings. In at least two cases this included a chute at the front, possibly to load fleeces directly into a wool loft at the top of a house (as found in a WBR recording of Court Lane farmhouse a few years back).  There was much speculation over this, with the conclusion that many villages had their own peculiarity in building, influenced by the prevailing economic activity. In Bratton’s case this being its woollen industry in the 17th century and possibly later. As usual though, more research is needed to prove this link.

Dorothy Treasure

Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record