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An Ancient Hall in Swindon

During a visit to Cricklade I was asked to pop in to see a cottage in Swindon. This cottage and another similar one nearby were all that were left of an ancient hamlet and were now surrounded by modern houses, giving a very suburban flavour to the area. The cottage had once been a prosperous farm but was subsequently divided into two cottages, a not unusual development for a farmhouse in the 19th century.
On the ground floor were two original rooms, the core of the cottage before it was extended. A heavy 17th century beam ran from the gable end fireplace to the cross wall and this immediately aroused my interest; when an open medieval hall with a central hearth is floored over, the beam supporting it often has one end lodged in the chimney breast, which is added at the same time.
By the time I got to the first floor I was excited to see the start of a heavily-plastered cruck blade with arched brace of what must have been a hall truss emerging from the stone wall, and disappearing through the ceiling. Crucks are a very distinctive form of timber-framing not seen in Wiltshire after about 1530: our dendrochronology project is collecting data on this very subject. Barely containing myself, I arrived at the attic floor via a steep, winding stair to be confronted with the massive and heavily smoke-blackened top parts of a 14th century roof. There were two main frames complete with characteristically skinny wind-braces, some original chunky rafters, and smoke-blackened battens, though the thatch had been replaced.

Image: Apex of one of the smoke-encrusted cruck trusses

The timbers had been cut about to allow circulation within the attic space, but originally the impressive cruck frames would have been only viewed from the ground. To get some idea of what a medieval dwelling house would have been like when built, go into an old tithe barn such as that at Lacock or Bradford-on-Avon and be impressed by the sheer scale and size of the timbers and height to the roof. A farmhouse would have been smaller, but still impressive. The hall truss over the open fire would have been the most decorative, with chamfered bracing, parts of which remain. In the 17th century the old hall was clad in stone, hiding or replacing the original timber-framing and its wattle-and-daub panels. Houses like this had to change with the times to stay useful, or be replaced. I suspect there are many more hidden medieval halls out there just waiting to be discovered, even in the most unlikely places!

Dorothy Treasure, Wiltshire Buildings Record



Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel

Late last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to look at Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel. Now lying empty, this was the first of two Baptist chapels to be established in Westbury Leigh, an ancient village now within the town boundaries of Westbury. As there was no Anglican church until 1880, the Baptist church was the established church in the village, having a strong nonconformist tradition encouraged by the Baptist stronghold in Southwick.

Stephen Self, a clothier, allowed the use of a barn, called ‘Self’s Barn’ near his dwelling house in Leigh as a meeting place for Baptists after 1693. According to William Doel in his book, ‘Twenty Golden Candlesticks!’ they continued to worship until 1714, when Mr Self converted the barn into a chapel, fitting it up with seats, galleries & c. This barn stood on part of the site of the present chapel, the freehold of which belonged to Granville Wheeler Esq.

By 1796 the congregation had so increased as to make it necessary to build a new Chapel. A meeting was held and a resolution passed to undertake the work, which was carried out at a total cost of £1,361. The new chapel was able to accommodate five hundred people, which gives an idea of the many devout souls in Westbury Leigh alone, not counting those in the main town of Westbury!

The interior was equally impressive, with ranks of dark wood pews on the ground and first floor gallery, with a grand organ and pipes over the entrance. In front of the raised minister’s desk was in effect, a small swimming pool designed for total immersion baptisms – I only hope the water was warm! Each pew had a small metal bracket which puzzled me until one of our recording team informed me that the congregation would all swig back a small glass of wine at the same time at a certain point in the proceedings.

In all this faded grandeur was a very human touch – a pew-back covered in the graffiti of small boys whose duty was to pump the organ handle until the introduction of electricity for this purpose in 1956.

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Corsham High Street Project Update

On Friday 28th September Helen Winton and I gave a talk to the Corsham Civic Society at the Pound Arts Centre. Helen outlined how many fine 17th and 18th century stone houses there are in the High Street resulting from the wealth generated by the cloth trade. John Leland, when he visited in 1541 described ‘Cosham’ as ‘a good uplandisch toun’, which suggests that it was a thriving place even then. But what remains of this earlier town, if anything? Corsham seems to have sprung fully-formed in stone with no apparent trace of timber-framing.

Smoke encrusted roof truss at 11 High Street

After Helen had comprehensively set the scene, my half of the talk concentrated on a case study; a pilot study just to examine the potential for earlier building in the town. No.11 High Street is a stone building at the south end of the High Street listed as being later 17th century, now housing an optician. The opportunity to study this building came during re-roofing works. Larry La Croix of the project was given permission to clamber up the scaffolding to photograph the nooks and crannies of the roof – a position which was to prove extremely fortuitous as the remains of two separate smoke-blackened roofs, perhaps of the 15th century were revealed. The sooting had come from an open hearth of a once timber-framed building.

None of this early structure is visible from the outside, now encased in stone, or the ground floor so we were very lucky to get this evidence. Helen Winton was also able to look at another High Street house and also reported smoke-blackening in its roof. We await the outcome of the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to explore further. If you would like to support this project by volunteering we would love to have you. Contact me on or come in for a chat at the History Centre on a Tuesday.
Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Deadly Game: death of a poacher at Red Lodge Farm

Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to look at Red Lodge Farmhouse, Braydon. This was a farm created in the mid-17th century out of the royal forest of Braydon, which had formerly been a royal hunting ground. The house is of great interest and reflects changing ownership over time until the 20th century, as does almost every house we look at. This time, however, it was a very human tragedy that took our attention in particular.

Andrews and Dury 1773 map

By sheer coincidence I was on my way there and had called into another farm at Brinkworth nearby. When I mentioned my destination, the farmer exclaimed that his great, great uncle, Hezekiah Matthews, had been killed as a poacher at Red Lodge in 1882, and gave me a transcript of the poor man’s inquest.

Hezekiah Matthews had been one of a group of poachers, all cousins from Brinkworth, who were looking to bag something for the pot on the night of 27th December 1882. Because of previous incidents, a watching party consisting of the Neeld Estate head keeper, William Collins, Henry Reeves, Henry John Reeves, Thomas Reeves, and three others ambushed them, and after a struggle, apprehended them. Unfortunately, two of the keeper’s party were accidentally shot, and Hezekiah Matthews received a blow to the head. They were all taken off to Red Lodge Farmhouse to await the doctor and the police, who were coming from Purton.

The following is taken from an account of the inquest in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette dated 15th February 1883:
‘The doctor found nothing serious, and the three prisoners were conveyed later on to Cricklade, to be taken before a justice of the peace for the purpose of a remand. Before arriving at Cricklade, Hezekiah, who had spoken but little since the capture, showed alarming symptoms, and when Cricklade was reached he was taken to Dr. Langley, who made a minute examination, and finding his condition precarious, suggested his removal to the Purton Cottage Hospital. He was accordingly conveyed thither, but died shortly after his admission, not having recovered consciousness since his arrival.’

An inquest was heard to determine the cause of death. Henry Reeves was found to have delivered the fatal blow, but was himself at Purton Cottage Hospital, having been one of those who had been shot. The inquest was adjourned until the following February to allow Reeves to recover so he could attend. After hearing all sides, the jury returned the verdict:
“That Hezekiah Matthews was feloniously killed by Henry John Reeves striking the deceased upon the head with a bludgeon in Braydon woods.” The verdict having been accordingly given, the Coroner made out a warrant for the commitment of Henry John Reeves on a charge of manslaughter.

Needless to say, the current owners of the farmhouse had no idea of the dramatic events that had been played out in their very living room 130-odd years ago.

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Goodbye to a Medieval Pub in Downton

In early times, the parish of Downton formed part of a great estate granted to Winchester cathedral. The village itself was divided topographically into three sections which were linked by bridges. Settlement had developed in the High Street, so called in 1452 in a document in Winchester College archives, and from the mid-15th century the area was called the east borough.

The King’s Arms, at the junction of Church Hatch and High Street, a solid-looking brick building with a tiled roof, was known to be a public house in 1628. We know who owned and occupied the King’s Arms in the mid-C18 from the Guildhall Library insurance documents.  These refer to James Russell, a schoolmaster of Downton, who took out a policy in 1755 ‘on his house only being the King’s Arms Inn at Downton …in the tenure of Lucy Loveday, Innholder… Brick, Timber and Thatched, Brewhouse only adjoining, Thatched. Two Stables only belonging, Thatched, £10 each.’ He paid £250 on the inn and £30 on the brewhouse.

This historic pub has now closed after at least 350 years of serving customers, and probably a good few years before that. The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments (England) investigated it in 1980 and found the substantial remains of no less than three medieval timber-framed ranges inside, hidden by the mid-C18 facelift. This is the type of detail that makes the building archaeologist’s job so absorbing – separating successive layers of alteration which can be driven by fashion, fortune and function.

The King’s Arms proximity to St Laurence’s church, a particularly large and splendid church which accommodated congregations from as far afield as Redlynch, Morgan’s Vale and Charlton, must have been advantageous to the King’s Arms, set right at the entrance to Church Hatch. The church dates from 1150 and represents flourishing trade from early on, which had increased by the 15th century; the date of the King’s Arms. The town used to send not one, but two members to parliament. It is likely therefore, that such a large and commodious inn would be used as a regular meeting spot not only for recreation, but business.

The Salisbury Journal periodically advertised auctions held at the King’s Arms, for the sale of an estate, houses, brick kilns and timber; also a meeting of the Association for the Protection of Property on April 8th 1811 and mention of a ‘stray ox left at the King’s Arms’ on Sept. 10th 1804 – not a common occurrence today!  The Wiltshire Buildings Record’s annual study day in October 2017 was on the subject of inns, taverns and alehouses, and this year on October 20th 2018 we will be looking at timber-framed houses.  Details available soon.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please contact me at the History Centre.

Dorothy Treasure. Wiltshire Buildings Record

A Mystery Building in Redlynch

Redlynch is a very interesting example of a former forested area that has only been populated to any great extent over the last two centuries. The earlier buildings are in local brick, including this interesting example in Slab Lane, next to The Old Thatched Cottage, now known as The Hollies, a remodelled house of the 17th century. The subject of the study, an early-19th century brick and stone outbuilding, is approximately 5 metres to the east of The Hollies.

The outbuilding is of two bays and set at right-angles to The Hollies. It is constructed of local rubblestone and flint dressed with local brick. It is unusual in that the north-west elevation facing The Hollies is entirely fenestrated with 6 large windows, indicating a need for light on both ground and first floor. At this time Redlynch had smithies and a foundry while broom making was a traditional local trade that continued until the Second World War. It is possible that the outbuilding was used in such a way, but with many of these small ancillary buildings we just can’t tell exactly. I suspect that the uses changed over time according to the needs of the person who lived there. A wide original double doorway suggests workshop use.

Mapping of 1822 shows that an outbuilding existed on the present site which belonged then, as now, to the Mitchell family. The later tithe mapping of 1840 is unfortunately torn at that point, but does not show an outbuilding existing on the present footprint. The first real evidence of the outbuilding is shown on the 1901 edition of the Ordnance Survey.

Little is known for certain about the use this building was put to. Local information suggests the building was used as a hay store and a barbershop within living memory. The lack of interior plastering suggests a workshop or two-storey storage. Workshop use is perhaps more likely originally, because of the amount of light originally coming in. A stable would have had doors facing the house. As always, any information that would help discover what went on in here would be gratefully received.

Dorothy Treasure. Principle Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

A House of Medics

WBR recently looked at Wolseley House in Market Lavington. This fascinating house is tucked away at the east end of the village. The land on which it stands apparently once belonged to the chantry of the parish church. Examination of the physical fabric showed that it dated from the early 18th century, as the listed building schedule suggested, and the rough dates of additions. What the list does not do is tell you about the succession of occupiers and what they did. Our redoubtable researcher Margaret researched the history and among other facts she found that from 1826 until the early 20th century the house was occupied by those of the medical profession. In 1831 the parish registers show William Tucker, a surgeon, as both owner and occupier of a house and land on which 9/- tax was paid. The house next door (now called Ivy Lodge) was also curiously occupied by a general practitioner in 1851.

It was then found that this concentration of medics was probably due to the proximity to Fiddington House, which had become a private lunatic asylum in about 1817. Other medics occupied the two houses after 1831 including a James Herriot, a general practitioner (not the vet!), and William B. Pepler described as a ‘surgeon and apothecary’.

By 1881, the Lush brothers, William Henry and John Selfe, both practising as surgeons, had moved into the two adjoining houses. John Selfe Lush was said to be living at ‘Ivy Cottage’. He was medical officer for the No.7 District of the Devizes Union, and also medical superintendent of the nearby Fiddington House Asylum. His brother William Lush was the public vaccinator for the 7th District. An anonymous reminiscence recalls that the two brothers used to visit their patients who lived out of the village on horseback. After 1910 this long period of occupation by medics was broken, though Fiddington House continued in existence until at least 1936.

Dorothy Treasure. Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record