Posts Page

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

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