Sally in the Wood

on Tuesday, 18 June 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Tales

An intriguing enquiry regarding the origins of the road ‘Sally in the Wood’, which can be found just over the border in the parish of Bathford, Somerset, has led us to take a look at the origins of the name. The road forms a section of the A363 as it journeys through Home Wood towards Bathford. Explanations of the road name are many and varied, and they are also closely related to the parish of Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire.

John Chandler in his book ‘The Reflection in the Pond’ gives us three versions of the tale. The first is of a supernatural nature, and was published by Kathleen Wiltshire in 1984. It tells the story of a young couple who knocked down a girl dressed in white when she ran from trees across the road in front of their car. Another version, this time by Maggie Dobson and Simone Brightstein relate that Sally was murdered in the woods or imprisoned in nearby Brown’s Folly, or that she was an actual road accident victim. Katy Jordan in her book ‘The Haunted Landscape’ mentions that Sally in the Woods does have the reputation of being an eerie place, where ‘no birds sing’, so you never know...

A Civil War element to the origin of the name has also been suggested. It relates to a skirmish that took place before the Battle of Lansdown in July 1643 when the Roundheads were ambushed by the Royalists. ‘Waller had made a temporary bridge across the Avon below Claverton, and crossed his troops by it to the Monkton Farleigh side, where they laid an ambush for their opponents, ‘in the Woodland-wald-grownd in the foote of the hill’’. The following day a fight appears to have begun and continued up to Monkton Farleigh and over to Batheaston. The term ‘sally’ at that time had the meaning of ‘a sudden rush out from a besieged place upon the enemy’.

The third and final version that we know of relates to a Sarah Gibson, baptised at Monkton Farleigh in 1732 and who married a gamekeeper from nearby Warleigh Manor in 1762. Unfortunately, upon his death she was evicted from their cottage. Her family had moved away to Bathford and she is said to have inhabited a little hut in the nearby woods through which the turnpike was driven in 1792.

Henry Duncan Skrine of Warleigh Manor, who was a Justice of the Peace and a Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset in the 19th century, recalled his childhood memories of Sarah Gibson in which she was accounted a witch. ‘Her smoke-dried hut was like an awful cave to us children, and her thin shrill sepulchral voice still rings in my ears. At her death the carpenter who acted as sub-bailiff burned the cottage down, and declared to us children that he saw something on a broomstick go out of the chimney’! (Howells, 2010).

I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions on the matter!

As regards the origin of road names, it was very common for roads to be called after the people who lived in and around them. Sir Charles Hobhouse noted in his book ‘Monkton Farleigh’, published 1882 that ‘the majority have had their origin in the combined vanity and industry of man. Men, as David says “think that their houses shall continue forever, and call the lands after their own name”’.  There have been many occurrences where road names have derived from, for example, the person who has a shop at the end of the lane, and other such associations.

I came across another ‘Sally’ road, this time just over the border in Shaftesbury, Dorset. It was called ‘Sally King’s Lane’. I wonder what the story of this Sally is?...

Julie Davis
Local Studies Assistant


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