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