Architecture

A Common problem – part 1: Marginal settlement in Warminster

on Friday, 27 May 2022. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

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.

 AD_Warminster_map.jpg

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:

In defence of interesting stones

on Wednesday, 02 February 2022. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

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.

Stones set into tarmac at the base of walls running alongside a roadside
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.

Cinema Comes to Wiltshire

on Friday, 17 December 2021. Posted in Architecture, Archives, Wiltshire Places

A grand building façade with boarded windows and a large sign above second story reading 'Palace' with bright blue sky behind.
The façade of the former Picture Palace, Chippenham as it looks today

Cinema as an art form has its origins in the late Nineteenth Century, when a range of techniques were developed to give paying audiences the impression of moving images beamed onto a screen. Most techniques deployed a machine through which a sequence of connected photos were driven. These amusements were usually presented by travelling exhibitors, who toured society gatherings, music halls or fairgrounds. By the 1900s photographs had made way for cellulose nitrate film which though effective in purveying motion, were also highly flammable. Following several fires the government was prompted to regulate this fledgeling industry

The resulting Cinematograph Act of 1909 gave local councils the power to grant annual licenses for the exhibition of films, provided safety precautions were in place. Breaches of these safeguards could result in a fine of £20 – a considerable sum to any proprietor. Demand for moving pictures was huge and following the Act various entrepreneurs invested their money in creating permanent cinema buildings. Though by no means complete, here are a few fine examples of early picture houses in Wiltshire.

A partially coloured plan showing building elevation for 'Queen's Hall' 'cinematograph theatre' with three archived doorways in the centre of the building.
Designs for frontage of the Queens Hall Cinematograph Theatre, Salisbury, 1910 (ref G23/760/22)

In 1910 two rival companies established cinemas in Salisbury, both located on Endless Street. On 24th August 1910 planning permission was submitted to build a new Electric Theatre situated at the north-east corner of Endless Street and Bedwin Street. The request was made by the Grampino Syndicate, based in London’s Crystal Palace, and was approved by the City of New Sarum on 1st September. Designs for the venue, to be known as the Queens Hall Cinematograph Theatre, show an impressive classical frontage, with three sets of welcoming doors. This was a single-screen venue, with seventeen rows of seats on the ground floor, plus a further six rows on an upstairs balcony. The upstairs foyer also had a small sweet shop, demonstrating that even at this early date refreshments were seen as an integral part of the movie-going experience.

On a Brambly Ridge near Dilton Marsh

on Tuesday, 26 October 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

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.

Roof trusses in the shape of an A with black charring in the centre of the A shape and beams also running perpendicular to the A.

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.

Lacock: A Most Unique Village

on Tuesday, 03 August 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

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’.

A group of people stand looking at a range of white medieval timber-framed hall houses

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.

Book review: From Domesday to Demolition: A History of the Flour Mill in Chippenham, Wiltshire 1086-1957

on Thursday, 22 July 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

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.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

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