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
Stratford Tony is a small village 4 ½ miles from Salisbury. The river Ebble flows through it, and the line of the ancient Roman road known as ‘Icknield Street’ passes close on the west side of the village. The most notable occupant of Stratford Tony was the impressionist painter Wilfrid de Glehn, who lived at the Manor House from 1942 until his death in 1951. The population now only amounts to around 50 people.
Last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to investigate the old rectory, now a private house. The house presented a decorous early Georgian front with views across the lawns to the river below. As ever, we looked beyond the polite elevation to the hidden corners and roof spaces to reveal a very different story. Remains of a c1500 timber-frame were found embedded in replacement stone walls and in the roof which suggested that this was a much more humble farmhouse. Grabbed by the intrigue glands, our researcher Louise did what she does best, which is to squirrel out those hidden facts embedded in layers of old parchment. It turns out that it was quite possibly a grange farm for the Abbey of Lyra in Normandy (nothing to do with His Dark Materials or the constellation of stars!) and then the Priory of Sheen in Richmond, London.
Its transformation to posh rectory happened in the later 16th century when Lawrence Hyde acquired the advowson (the right to recommend a clergyman to a ‘living’ in the parish) from the Crown in 1560. Lawrence Hyde was part of the influential Hyde family of Wiltshire, he had benefitted greatly from the acquisition of land and property following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He held a lease from William Earl of Pembroke, of Wardour Castle and Park around the time he was granted the advowson at Stratford Tony. Members of the Hyde family held it for over 126 years up to 1686, when it then transferred to Edward Fawconer of Sarum.
By 1671 the glebe terrier noted a substantial rectory house comprising …A mansion house, a brew house, a wood house, a barn, a stable, a fodder house besides some skillings (cowsheds), an orchard, 2 gardens…. Lawrence and his son Robert Hyde installed three members of their own family as clerks at Stratford Tony. It is very likely, the patronage of the Hyde family resulted in substantial investment in the parsonage house, including the addition of a smart Georgian wing. This was extended further in 1791 by Reverend Stockwell, the rector at that time, who commemorated it with a datestone.
Warminster is a market town lying in close proximity to Salisbury Plain. Its history starts with the discovery of two Roman villas at Pit Mead, Bishopstrow. In Anglo-Saxon times it was a royal estate and residence, but it was not until the 13th century that it began to develop into the town we know now.
The earliest settlement was likely around the parish church of St Denys and nearby Manor House (now embedded within Manor Gardens), but nothing else survives. The town grew east from the site of the old Emwell Cross, an open space which tradition says was an old market site originally and now contains a grade II* stone obelisk commemorating the enclosure of the parish in 1783. At that time the eastern limit of the town was at the junction of George Street and High Street. In the early 13th century the ‘market of Warminster’ with a shop ‘covered in stone’ appears to have been a separate area based around the chapel of St Lawrence, a chapel-of-ease for St Denys (the Minster) which had become isolated on the north-west fringes of the town.
Very little is known about the medieval development of the town apart from the mention of houses in Church Street, High Street, West Street and Portway, and until fairly recently, only hints of older buildings behind later fronts have been coming to light. During inspection and recording when town centre buildings are redeveloped, more evidence has been uncovered of the survival of early fabric that could be medieval or early modern.
Historic England have long understood that there is more to many ordinary or modern-looking towns than meets the eye and are actively fostering groups to uncover their history through the physical fabric of bricks, mortar and timber. It has recently been discovered that the row of buildings between the Athenaeum in the High Street and North Row contain the substantial remains of jettied timber-framed houses, probably shop-houses of the late medieval/early modern period. No. 16 (Bon Bon Chic) was dated to 1513 in 2014. No. 6 High Street (Café Journal) was found to date between 1499 and 1531. Cordens (no. 4 High Street) is likely to be the oldest in the row from architectural details evident. Fragments of earlier buildings have been uncovered at the Bath Arms (now Wetherspoons) and 32 Market Place (Coates and Parker) which hint at the type of buildings that preceded the present shops.
Warminster has been underappreciated as a town in architectural terms. Wiltshire Buildings Record is hoping to bring out knowledge of exactly how Warminster is unique and special, and this should foster greater interest in our town. Thanks should be given to the Warminster Preservation Trust who have kindly donated £2,000 so we can kick this project off with dating some key buildings using dendrochronology. Watch this space!
Dorothy Treasure Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record
During a visit to Cricklade I was asked to pop in to see a cottage in Swindon. This cottage and another similar one nearby were all that were left of an ancient hamlet and were now surrounded by modern houses, giving a very suburban flavour to the area. The cottage had once been a prosperous farm but was subsequently divided into two cottages, a not unusual development for a farmhouse in the 19th century.
On the ground floor were two original rooms, the core of the cottage before it was extended. A heavy 17th century beam ran from the gable end fireplace to the cross wall and this immediately aroused my interest; when an open medieval hall with a central hearth is floored over, the beam supporting it often has one end lodged in the chimney breast, which is added at the same time.
By the time I got to the first floor I was excited to see the start of a heavily-plastered cruck blade with arched brace of what must have been a hall truss emerging from the stone wall, and disappearing through the ceiling. Crucks are a very distinctive form of timber-framing not seen in Wiltshire after about 1530: our dendrochronology project is collecting data on this very subject. Barely containing myself, I arrived at the attic floor via a steep, winding stair to be confronted with the massive and heavily smoke-blackened top parts of a 14th century roof. There were two main frames complete with characteristically skinny wind-braces, some original chunky rafters, and smoke-blackened battens, though the thatch had been replaced.
Image: Apex of one of the cruck trusses
The timbers had been cut about to allow circulation within the attic space, but originally the impressive cruck frames would have been only viewed from the ground. To get some idea of what a medieval dwelling house would have been like when built, go into an old tithe barn such as that at Lacock or Bradford-on-Avon and be impressed by the sheer scale and size of the timbers and height to the roof. A farmhouse would have been smaller, but still impressive. The hall truss over the open fire would have been the most decorative, with chamfered bracing, parts of which remain. In the 17th century the old hall was clad in stone, hiding or replacing the original timber-framing and its wattle-and-daub panels. Houses like this had to change with the times to stay useful, or be replaced. I suspect there are many more hidden medieval halls out there just waiting to be discovered, even in the most unlikely places!
Late last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to look at Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel. Now lying empty, this was the first of two Baptist chapels to be established in Westbury Leigh, an ancient village now within the town boundaries of Westbury. As there was no Anglican church until 1880, the Baptist church was the established church in the village, having a strong nonconformist tradition encouraged by the Baptist stronghold in Southwick.
Stephen Self, a clothier, allowed the use of a barn, called ‘Self’s Barn’ near his dwelling house in Leigh as a meeting place for Baptists after 1693. According to William Doel in his book, ‘Twenty Golden Candlesticks!' they continued to worship until 1714, when Mr Self converted the barn into a chapel, fitting it up with seats, galleries & c. This barn stood on part of the site of the present chapel, the freehold of which belonged to Granville Wheeler Esq.
By 1796 the congregation had so increased as to make it necessary to build a new Chapel. A meeting was held and a resolution passed to undertake the work, which was carried out at a total cost of £1,361. The new chapel was able to accommodate five hundred people, which gives an idea of the many devout souls in Westbury Leigh alone, not counting those in the main town of Westbury!
I have been asked to write a few words about the participation of Wiltshire Buildings Record in the ‘survival’ of a suburban library in Swindon. To partly fulfil the requirement in WBR’s constitution, that is, to provide information to those who have any interest in Wiltshire’s heritage building stock, an ‘outreach’ policy has been pursued for the past few years, when volunteers and opportunities have been available. With a fixed location like a local library it is a situation where the public comes to a WBR source for advice or research resources. So the base is an intermediate role between archive and buildings of the area.
Wiltshire being a geographically large county contains a diverse mix of vernacular building styles, so the libraries’ resources need only reflect its own close vernacular characteristics. Volunteer-run village museums could offer the same opportunities but do not have as many communal facilities. Aldbourne on the Marlborough Downs, provides a very well-run active Heritage Weekend in March from their own created museum including tours. There was a large scale village street map on which almost every building was dated, a very creditable achievement. Purton to the west of Swindon has long had a museum in the same Victorian building as their County Library. The WBR’s published book stock is on sale at Beechcroft Library providing some basis for research. There are four schools within a half a mile radius, but with restrictions of all sorts weighing down on the education system they rarely use the facilities. Display boards of the history of Stratton buildings are on show with the contents eventually going to the WBR archive.
Clive Carter, Wiltshire Buildings Record Volunteer