On Tuesday evening on the 27th July 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.
Dr Kay S. Taylor, 2015 ISBN 9781906 641818 72 pages £6.95
The publication is one of a number of books in the series ‘Chippenham Studies’, aiming to describe subjects and places in the town and its vicinity.
Although the focus is understandably on the mill itself; the people who owned it, events that occurred such as the night attack and fire that destroyed the mill buildings in 1816, and the premises themselves, what is also included is a history of the manors associated with the mill, including Rowden and the Monkton Park Estate.
The twists and turns of ownership are laid bare alongside economic difficulties such as the impact of the corn law.
Also included is the information of the mill scale model of the C19 created by Michael Brotherwood in 2003.
Details abut the former uses and owners of properties associated with the mill and the redevelopment of the site which included the Island Park and the sad tale of the plane tree and the mill stone were fascinating. The photographs used to illustrate the text have been well chosen and varied, and the use of footnotes and a bibliography and index are a huge bonus for researchers.
The author notes that the mill was an iconic part of the town’s former landscape. This book is an interesting and detailed reminder of what was lost.
From Domesday to Demolition is available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre or to loan via your local library.
In his book on Wiltshire Gate Lodges James Holden states that: ‘The obvious purpose was to provide accommodation for the people protecting the entrances to estates, but they had a second role also. From the 18th century on, the grand houses of the gentry were often built out of sight in secluded locations. The passer-by could not see and admire the big house; only the lodge was visible. So the lodge stood in for the house, its appearance designed to make a statement about the wealth and good taste of the owner’.
Seend, near Devizes is a village of two halves. As you drive through the one long main street the north side of the road is lined by pretty cottages and respectable, solid Georgian houses. The opposite side is a different matter – a series of high brick walls mainly obscures the view south. However, behind these walls are a series of large and palatial mansions taking advantage of the spectacular views across Bulkington, Poulshot, Bratton, Edington and other villages right to the foot of the Salisbury Plain.
These are the houses of wealthy clothiers such as Thomas Bruges, the owner of Seend Green House in 1798, who built himself another mansion soon after 1805, now known as Seend House (you need to keep track of the several similarly-named houses here!). Although much of the construction material came from the just-demolished Seend Row House, there was nothing second-hand about the rather lovely classical, ashlar-faced Seend House with its pedimented centre bay and paired-column portico when it was finished, complete with twin Tuscan Lodge-houses at each end of the looped drive joining to the High Street. The growth of vegetation fronting the road means that the house is not visible. The only indications of the hidden architectural jewel are the themed lodges with their porticoed stone fronts in emulation of the house they served.
Orcheston is a small, quiet parish on Salisbury Plain, close to Shrewton. The river Till meanders through it, diving and reappearing intermittently. The older, traditional buildings are characteristic of many of the Plain’s surrounding villages – a pleasing blend of chequerboard and banded flints, limestone and from the later 18th century, brick. Before 1934 Orcheston was two parishes: Orcheston St George formed the south half, and Orcheston St Mary formed the north half, both existing as separate communities until the two met in the middle during the mid-20th century at Whatcombe Brow. A recommendation to unite the two parishes as far back as 1650 came to nothing.
Go to any town, whether it’s in Wiltshire or elsewhere, and look at its historic houses. We all notice the main features – the type of door, its windows, what material the main elevation is faced with etc, but how many of you have noticed the strange semi-circular little recess beside the front door? In the past these were as part of everyday life as an umbrella.
Throughout history up until as recently as 1900 England’s roads could be an impassable river of mud in the winter and in any period of wet weather (Hindle, Medieval Roads, Shire Anthology). Travel between towns could be arduous in bad weather, and even in towns paving could be non-existent or minimal. 15th century walkers from Kellaways, near Chippenham could take advantage of Maud Heath’s causeway and walk dry-shod to market with their basket of eggs, but these philanthropic endeavours must have been few and far between. Of course, there was sporadic paving and cobbles in towns such as Bath in the 18th century, but not in every town.
In the past long, dragging garments could be kept out of the mud using pattens outdoors. Effluent, both animal and human, was dumped freely in the street or open sewers. Salisbury once had a network of these open sewers that flowed down the main streets until the watercourses were covered over. Pattens were metal or wooden overshoes or clogs that would not have looked out of place besides 70s platform shoes. They could be slip-ons or could be tied in place with cloth bands and raised indoor shoes, which were thin-soled and expensive, above the sludge level.
By the 18th century we start to see boot-scrapers at the entrances to any building to keep down the level of mess, which must have been a constant headache for any housekeeper. These came in three main forms: the free-standing type embedded in the ground next to a door; portable scrapers, some with brushes, which are still available today and used on muddy wellies; and built-in boot-scrapers which were part of the design of a building. Teddington House in Warminster is dated c1700 and has not one but two arched recesses on either side of the door, once with iron bands across. These are the type that remain, sometimes without their iron bands. Some decay away and lose their decorative features, such as a chamfered surround. Sometimes they are filled in entirely.
The need for boot scrapers in towns pretty much disappeared with the introduction of tarmac for roads and pavements by Edgar Hooley in 1902. He was walking in Denby, Derbyshire when he noticed a patch of smooth road. He later found out that a barrel of tar had overturned and had been covered up with slag from a nearby furnace and modern road surfacing was born.
Today these once-vital structures have fallen into disrepair and are probably hardly noticed. One near me has been turned into a fairy house complete with tiny bits of furniture and figures so that children on their way to the nearby school can appreciate it. It would be interesting to see the cut-off date for these scrapers in dated buildings, as I am guessing they likely stopped abruptly in 1902. If anyone has any thoughts on this under-researched subject, then let me know.
Buildings Recorder, WBR
Whilst on a recording visit to an early-mid 18th century house in Stratford I came across a feature that I had not seen before, or to be clearer – I may have seen it before but presumed it was a faint daisy-wheel - an apotropaic mark seen inside and on the outside of houses throughout Wiltshire.
Daisy wheels are usually regularly divided with four or more pairs of petal-like scribed lines. They are thought to have been placed there to protect a building from bad luck and as a solar symbol, they ritualistically dispelled ‘darkness’.
High up on a corner stone of the building we thought we’d identified one of these daisy wheels when Peter Filtness, who had been recording the building with me, recognised it as a mass dial. I must admit I was completely mystified, not having studied churches much.
This was a scribed circle with what looked like a few randomly-scratched lines, not the chrysanthemum-shaped petals I was used to seeing. It was more like a sun-dial than anything, and in fact, worked in much the same way.
Apparently, without the aid of a clock, a priest was able to determine at what time to say mass from casting a shadow across the appropriate line with a straight rod acting as a gnomon in the central hole. Sounds simple!
The mass dial became known as a service dial after the Reformation, masses being Catholic. The principle of literally marking time was exploited generally and indicating mass times was only one of several uses of this clever device that was simply made up of a few scratched lines radiating from a central point. Obviously, they relied on daylight to cast the requisite shadow so had to be set on the south side of the church. They were also conveniently set at eye-level. Mass dials went out of use in the 16th century with the advent of the mechanical clock.
Some 3,000 of these dials have been recorded in the UK and no doubt there are others, like this one, which turn up in unexpected places on reused stone. The house we were looking at started life as a humble two- or three-cell farmhouse. There was an assumption that the very large and well-cut corner stones might have come from Old Sarum up the hill, but still, the haulage costs of such heavy stones would have been considerable. Why not use even more local material?
It was after a bit of research that it was discovered that St Lawrence church, just nearby, had its tower rebuilt in 1711. Was this after a collapse? It is not likely that we will ever be able to answer the question of where the stone might have come from except perhaps by divine intervention!