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.
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: