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.
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.
December 1903 saw the introduction of the Motor Car Act. A requirement of the new act meant that owners of existing and new vehicles had to register their motor vehicles with the local authority. Under the act, each registered vehicle was assigned a registration number, which had to be displayed at the front and the back of the car. This caused many car owners to complain, who felt they were being treated as if they drove Hackney carriages. The first car to appear in the newly opened vehicle register was a vehicle not owned by a wealthy landowner, as you may expect, but was, in fact, owned by Wiltshire County Council. This vehicle was purchased in 1902 and was used for official county business; in effect was the County Car.
“AM-1 was registered on the 12th of December 1903 to Wiltshire County Council, Charles Septimus Adye, the County Surveyor, County Offices, Trowbridge. 10hp Benz Parsifal; four seated tonneau body, painted blue with yellow lines; 17¾cwt; County purposes”.
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.
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.
Asked to do a piece for Local History Month I was considering various buildings and people of Warminster. Then with the ongoing Covid virus affecting us all I remembered my lunch time walk through the town park. A glorious spring day, people were meeting friends and family. A joyous sight, seeing grannies and grandads meeting up with young grandchildren, not seen for weeks, friends were picnicking from a distance. There was a lot of smiles and laughter. A real tonic for people after a long lockdown. We are so lucky to have this lovely environment to go to. Long may it be a place for meeting friends and family, for children to play in the playground, and paddle in the paddling pool. For friends to sit on bench’s round the lake, admiring the ducks on the lake, the glorious trees and lovely flowers. The Smallbrook Nature Reserve to walk through with lovely wildflowers and lots of birds, what’s not to like!
The History of the Park
The idea for the Town Park was originally suggested and designed as a Remembrance of the Coronation of King George V in 1911. This did not happen then, but was brought up again in 1922. After the First World War unemployment was high so it became a work creation scheme. A loan was received from The Ministry of Health in the December, and the Unemployment Grants Committee also paid an unemployment grant. Half the £8,000 cost of scheme was wages for the workers.
The site chosen was the town’s Old Refuse Tip in Weymouth Street, a boggy area, and the need for a major removal of soil, then levelling the site.
“Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject, that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their time in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to Inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souvereign remedy to cure or preserve from these Epidemic diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? – it would also form such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil Itch of overvalueing foreign parts..”
So begins the work of Celia Fiennes published as “Through England on a Side Saddle in the time of William and Mary” by her descendant Emily Griffiths in 1888. Celia Fiennes was born in Newton Tony, Wiltshire on the 7 June 1662 and died on 10 April 1741 in Hackney aged 78, buried on the 17th April in Newton Tony. She was one of England’s first female travellers and was unusual for her time in travelling the length and breadth of the country on horseback with only one or two servants for company.
She was born to Nathaniel Fiennes, a Parliamentarian colonel during the civil war and politician, and his second wife, Frances Whitehead. Celia spent most of her younger years in Newton Tony, living at the manor house on the west side of the High Street. The house was largely demolished in the early 19th century but its kitchen later became part of the Three Horse Shoes. Her parents were non-conformist and a group of Presbyterians met at their house, and in 1672 the house was certified for Presbyterian meetings.
Celia Fiennes mostly travelled during the period 1684-1703 but continued intermittently until 1712. Her earlier journeys were predominatly in the south, including to Salisbury, Bath and Stonehenge. In 1697 she travelled in the north and then in 1698 undertook her Great Journey travelling to Newcastle, the Lake District, Durham to the South-west Gloucester, Bristol and Cornwall (to Land’s End).
Remarkably, her travels emcompassed every county in England 100 years before the Stagecoach. She travelled sidesaddle on horseback, with only one or two servants staying in inns and sometimes in the country houses of her connections (often seeing these buildings in stages of construction). She wrote notes as she travelled and eventually wrote them all up into a memoir in 1702, originally intended only for family reading. Her explorations began as a way for her ‘to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise’ but her notes demonstrate she had a keen interest in the places she visited. She had a particular interest in mining and industry and also often remarks on the local food she eats, the roads she travelled on and the houses she stayed in: a valuable source for historians! Through her words we get a glimpse of 17th century everyday life. We might never have thought about what it would be like to travel the country without signposts but she highlights them as a notable feature remarking on ‘posts and hands pointing to each road with the names of the great towns or market towns that it leads to’.
Her travels in Wiltshire and its locality prove interesting reading. You can probably guess where she is referring to with this statement, visiting around 1690: ‘This… is reckon'd one of the wonders of England how such prodigeous stone should be brought there, as no such Stone is seen in ye Country nearer than 20 mile.’ If you guessed Stonehenge you are correct!
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