I’ve just taken a walk up the newly surfaced Hollow. What bliss to walk on the flat without fear of breaking ankles. It has been many years since I have been able to do that. The by-way had even lost its status as part of the Imber Range Perimeter Path as a result of its parlous state. So, well done the council and thank you!
For those of you who may not know its local name, I am referring to part of the old Sarum to Warminster coach road, which leaves the B390 on the western edge of the village and meanders up Breakheart Hill towards Warminster.
The resurfacing ends at another junction with farm tracks almost at the top of Breakheart Hill, but the by-way carries on straight ahead towards an old British settlement north of Quebec Farm and Knook Barrow, and eventually reaches Sack Hill, Warminster. Here I turned around and headed back the way I had come.
An extraordinary deposit of “the best clay in England for the making of clay pipes” is to be found above the chalk on Chitterne St Mary Down between the Codford and Shrewton roads. The hill is known as Clay Pit Hill. The almost pure white clay is mixed with round pebbles varying from small to about 5 inches across.
On a windy Wednesday in January 2007 I accompanied Rod and Dyana Fripp, from Perth, Western Australia, to Clay Pit Hill where, over 350 years ago, Rod’s ancestor, Edward Fripp, held a licence to dig clay for the manufacture of clay pipes.
Edward Fripp, Rod’s 12 x great grandfather, was born in Chitterne about 1616. He married Mary Merewether around 1650. Edward, and Mary’s brother, Christopher Merewether, were in business supplying clay from Chitterne to the Gauntlet family of tobacco pipe manufacturers in Amesbury.
The site of the old clay pits are on private land and covered in trees that shelter pheasant rearing pens. Before venturing out we had gained permission to visit the site.
At Clay Pit Hill the pits are deep craters, some with steep sides, some shallow, one filled with water, but all very obvious despite the undergrowth. I was astonished, as we had been led to believe that there wasn’t much to see, but we found the white clay and pebbles exposed near the wet pit, where the leaf mold had been washed away. Unfortunately the conditions for photography were poor.
Some years ago I came across a document at the Record Office (Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre) that mentioned the licence granted in 1651 to Edward Fripp and Christopher Merewether by Henry Paulet, Lord of the Manor. As part of their agreement they were licenced to dig for one year and permitted to remove 30 loads of clay and cart them to Amesbury. But it is obvious that many more than 30 loads of the clay have been dug from the pits, as some of them are deeper than a man is tall, even after 350 years of erosion and filling by leaf mulch. So presumably the clay pits were in use long before tobacco was ever brought to England. The clay is said to have been used in the building of Chitterne St Mary Manor, and the round pebbles decorate many a Chitterne garden, but it would be interesting to know who thought of using the clay to make tobacco pipes.
Fripp and Merewether also agreed to pay Henry Paulet £10 for the licence and give him 8 gross of pipes. That makes 1,152 pipes if my reckoning is correct. Lord Paulet must have been a heavy smoker.
The fragments of clay pipes in this photograph were dug up in the Round House garden. None of them have the Gauntlet identification mark so I suspect they are of later manufacture, but I like to think that they are made of Chitterne clay. Traditionally clay tobacco pipes are associated with curates and one Joseph Brown Morris, curate of Imber 1808-1815, lived at the Round House so perhaps he smoked these pipes.
It all started last December when he overheard LC say she had a target to run 20 miles every week in the coming year. It sounded like a good plan, not the running, but setting a weekly target for the whole year. A year when he would retire from his desk job after 55 years of work. He went for the idea, but what was his target to be?
Previously, in a good week, he would do three cycle rides of 30-40 miles each, so the weekly figure of 100 miles, rounding to 5000 miles for the whole year, seemed do-able barring work, illness and family circumstances.
He set his Garmin GPS bike computer to zero on January 1st 2019 and by the end of the month had averaged 121.5 miles a week. After retiring at the end of March he really got into the swing of regular cycling and was clocking up 500-600 miles a month.
Halfway through 2019 he was over 700 miles ahead of his target, and ignoring well-meant advice to take it easy for the rest of the year (typical Taurus), he raised his annual target to 6000 miles or 120 miles a week.
Currently (November 24th) his total mileage this year is 6192 miles with 5 weeks of 2019 still to go! He didn’t quite reach 100 miles on a single ride but came close with rides of 97, 95 and 91 miles. His favourite long-distance route is through Longleat, Frome, Radstock and the two tunnels to Bath and back via the canal towpath at 73 miles.
As a result of his efforts he finds hills much easier, and after working out what clothes to wear to suit the conditions, iffy weather doesn’t bother him. He lost 10kg in the first 6 months but has stayed at his new weight since, despite extra carbs at mealtimes and coffee and cake stops on rides. Suitable stops for coffee, cake and safe bike parking are a must, his favourite is the cafe at Fairfield College in Dilton Marsh.
He says he enjoys having a target, it encourages him to get out on the bike and now he is starting to think of a new target for next year. One idea was to try to ride every single day, but he’s convinced that would be doomed to failure. Perhaps a plan for next year would be to do one century ride per month?
Clay Pit Hill is the highest hill in Chitterne parish at 178 metres. It lies south of the village between Chitterne and Codford and from the top you can see the hills beyond the Wylye Valley. The hill is named for the place where clay was dug in the 17th century and carted to Amesbury to be made into clay tobacco pipes. More about this here: Clay Pits
There are two public paths to reach Clay Pit Hill from the village: via a bridleway off Shrewton Hill and via the old Warminster to Sarum road at the top of Shrewton Hill. Both of these eventually join in with the old cart track between Maddington (Shrewton) and Codford that forms the southern part of the Chitterne Parish boundary.
The bridleway starts from the B390 to Shrewton, just outside the 30 mph limit, and cuts south across a field. Usually the path is cleared by the farmer if a crop is being grown, but when I walked it recently the path was unmarked.
Set off across the field heading toward the left end of a line of trees and come to the first bend of the bridleway dog leg, a left then a right.
At the line of trees the bridleway turns left and becomes a well-defined gravel track for some way before taking a right turn. Follow the bends of the track until you see a finger post on your left marking Codfod Drove.
The track bears right but in fact you are leaving the bridleway and joining Codford Drove.
The Codford Drove marks the boundary between Codford Parish on your left and Chitterne Parish on your right. Before you get to Clay Pit Clump you will come across the trig point on the right of the track.
I carried on from the trig point toward Clay Pit Clump. This patch of trees covers the old clay pits and is private land. If you wish to see the clay pits you will need the permission of the farmer at East Farm, Codford.
Turn left at Clay Pit Clump and you are entering Codford Parish. Straight on follows the parish boundary and takes you across fields in Codford parish to emerge eventually on the Codford Road. I turned around at this point and retraced my steps.
The other way to get to Clay Pit Hill starts at the top of Shrewton Hill almost opposite the water tower, where the old Warminster to Sarum road heads off toward Yarnbury Castle. Follow this track for several hundred metres until you reach a finger post on your right. This point is known as Oram’s Grave. It marks a junction of two parish boundaries, between Chitterne, Maddington and Codford. In the old days suicides were buried where the parish boundaries met in order to confuse the spirits of the dead. More about Oram here: Oram’s Grave
If you head from here toward Clay Pit Hill on Codford Drove you will eventually come to the same junction with the bridleway that I mentioned earlier, and so to the top of Clay Pit Hill. This track is most probably the track taken by the carters who carted the clay from the clay pits to Amesbury.
Breakheart Hill lies northwest of Chitterne and divides the village from the Imber Range live firing area. There are two public ways up the hill from the village. Via Imber Road or via The Hollow, otherwise known as the old Salisbury to Warminster coach road.
Imber Road starts from the Tilshead Road in the village, crosses Chitterne Brook, passes between Manor Farm and old All Saints churchyard, through Chitterne Farm West farm buildings and continues on up the hill. It is a hard surfaced road until the crest of the hill, where it suddenly stops as you reach the firing range danger area. At this point, looking ahead, you can see Breakheart Bottom, a dry valley within the danger area. (Incidentally, E M Forster mentions walking through Breakheart Bottom on page 171 of his book called “The Creator as Critic and other Writings”).
Before the land was taken for military training the road to Imber crossed the valley and passed the site of yet another Field Barn settlement called Penning Barn. A reminiscence of Penning Barn from a 1992 copy of Chitterne Chat, edited by Jeanne George says:
“A stable of 10 carthorses used to graze the large paddock on Penning bank behind the barn …and pigs, saddlebacks and large whites, were bred there and free-ranged in the paddock.”
At the top of Imber Road a gravelled restricted by-way extends to the left and right, almost following the crest of Breakheart Hill. Turning left the by-way brings you eventually to the top of the Hollow and from it you can see for miles across the Imber Range in one direction and back towards the village in the other direction.
The Hollow starts at the western end of the village in a part of Chitterne once known as Gunville. Although the by-way was originally the stone-paved coach road to Warminster it is now a muddy uneven track much loved by 4 x 4 drivers and trail bikers. It is now in such a poor state for walkers that it has almost lost its status as part of the Imber Range Perimeter path. Walkers following that route are warned and directed toward the easier path via Imber Road.
However, if you brave the series of puddly dips and rises and climb up the western end of Breakheart Hill, at the top you will be rewarded with a view across the Wylye Valley towards the hills beyond. On the way up if you look carefully on your left you may even spot one of the original coach road milestones hiding in the bank behind a small tree: Warminster 8 Sarum 14.
It must have been a sight 250 years ago to see a laden coach and horses struggling up out of the village via this route, perhaps after a night spent at the White Hart Inn. No wonder it was known as Breakheart Hill.
Can you help pinpoint the year this aerial photo was taken? The pumping station is there and so is the old Village Hall, so sometime between 1988 and 1998. Glebe Farmhouse appears to be newly constructed, but I don’t know when that was built, and St Mary’s House doesn’t exist. Any ideas anyone?
The highway robbery of Matthew Dean in 1839 led to the erection of two monuments, which still exist. The first is alongside the A360 between Gore Cross and West Lavington and marks the spot where the robbery took place. The second stone is just inside the Chitterne parish boundary at Chapperton Down. It marks the spot where one of the fleeing robbers, Benjamin Colclough, fell down and died.
The Chitterne Robber’s Stone is inside the Minstry of Defence’s Imber Range Danger Area, where live firing takes place during military exercises and public access is generally prohibited. A recent exchange of emails about the Chitterne stone with a keen photographer led to his disappointment. Not necessarily because of the Salisbury Plain by-laws – he could have chosen a quiet time to visit the stone – but because the photo of the stone on the history pages is out-of-date. Since the photo was taken a protective fence has been erected around the monument, rendering it less appealing for atmospheric photography. The text of the article about the robbery on the history pages needs up-dating too. Here is a better version:
Matthew Dean, an Imber farmer, was making his way home on horseback from Devizes market to Imber on 21st October 1839 when he was attacked at Gore Cross by four men. They pulled him off his horse and robbed him of three £20 pound notes from North Wilts Bank, a sovereign and a half in gold, £2 in silver and his hat. His horse ran off and after recovering Dean followed them on foot.
Nearby he came across James Morgan, a farmer from Chitterne, who rode after the four men and saw one of them discard his smock. Meanwhile Dean enlisted the help of John Baish, carter, and James Kite, the farmer at Gore Cross farm. They joined the pursuit on horseback with Morgan, but losing sight of one robber, carried on chasing the other three.
Eventually the three robbers sat down exhausted and Morgan left to get more help leaving Baish and Kite to guard them. William Hooper, a farmer, came to help with a loaded gun and a faster horse, but after threats and retorts the robbers made off again and ran for about a mile and a half. One robber fell and they left him and chased after the other two. Hooper’s brother James joined the others and when he confronted the two robbers they threw down their sticks and surrendered.
But Kite and Baish were reluctant to take hold of the robbers and yet another argument broke out. James Hooper went to get more help and the two robbers made off again with William Hooper, Morgan, Kite and Baish in chase, now joined by Hooper’s shepherd and his son. After about a mile the robbers were exhausted but still armed with large fold sticks. They threatened Mr W Sainsbury who came to assist with the arrest, but upon being threatened in return with Sainsbury’s whip and two pistols, they surrendered. While the shepherd was sent to Imber for a horse and cart the whole company headed towards West Lavington. The robbers gave up their arms when the cart arrived and rode in it to the Lamb at the bottom of Rutts Lane, West Lavington, where they were handed over to the constables. Deans pocket book with the £20 notes was found intact on the downs.
Next morning James Morgan found the body of Benjamin Colclough on the downs. Colclough had been a hawker, thirty-five years old, and had died from a ruptured vessel in his brain. At his inquest the jury gave a verdict of felo-de-se, ‘one who deliberately puts an end to his own existence, or commits an unlawful act, the consequence of which is death.’ His body was buried at Chitterne All Saints without funeral rites.
The fourth robber, Harris, was caught soon after and detained for further examination. He had been seen with the other three at various times near the site of the robbery and was found near a hayrick where he had probably spent the night. Dean swore he was one of the robbers, so he was kept in Devizes prison with the two others pending trial.
At the trial the three, Thomas Saunders, George Waters and Richard Harris, were found guilty and sentenced to 15 years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, present day Tasmania.
The stone monuments, built by Mr Sheppard of Bath, were erected by public subscription on the same day in August 1840, as a warning to those ‘who presumptuously think to escape the punishment God has threatened against thieves and robbers’. The ceremony was attended by many, and refreshments were provided at Tilshead Lodge by ladies of the locality.
This update is thanks to more recent research about the robbery and its aftermath by Lyn Dyson and Quentin Goggs. Their book, ‘The Robbers’ Stone’, is a mine of information and has much more on the trial and what became of the robbers. If you want to know more I recommend getting hold of a copy. It was published in aid of West Lavington Youth Club in 2012 and is available online.
Be aware that the map reference for this grade 2 listed stone monument quoted on the Historic England website is wrong! The correct OS Grid reference is 006477 Sheet 184 Salisbury. Thanks to PT for this information.
The Arch was the hump-backed bridge over the Cut (Chitterne Brook) in Townsend. Arch Cottages were the four terraced cottages numbered 20, 21, 22 and 23 alongside the Arch.
During the second World War the bridge was flattened and the narrow road widened either by Italian prisoners of war (Chitterne Chat May 1992) or by conscientious objectors (see blog: Who Lined The Cut? dated 23 Jan 2017). Unfortunately I have no photograph of the old bridge, but it looks, from this old map, as if the road at that time made a sharp bend where it crossed the bridge.
The cottages appear on maps as far back as 1826. In 1882 the four cottages were owned by Joseph Dean of Chitterne Farm, but the gardens behind and alongside were part of the Chitterne estate owned by Walter Hume Long of Rood Ashton. According to a schedule of Corn Rents dated 1882 Joseph Dean was letting the cottages to shepherd Henry Farley, and others, but the schedule is probably out of date because Henry Farley had left Chitterne by 1881. The census that year has Thomas Coles, William Grant, Frederick Grant and John Furnell and families living there. Thomas and Frederick were shepherds, and William and John were agricultural labourers, most likely employed at Chitterne Farm.
The four cottages continued to be occupied by farm workers in 1891. By 1901 and 1911 one cottage was uninhabited. The vicar, Rev. John Canner, recorded Sidney and Ellen Parrett and Harry and Ellen Beaumont living in two of the cottages in 1925; and then we have no further information as the names of the occupants in the 1939 register are redacted. Presumably the cottages, as part of Chitterne Farm, were under War Department ownership by then.
By the time George and Jessie Clarke came to live here in 1966 some of the cottages were condemned. The Clarks bought number 20 first and later the other three when they came up for sale. They made 20 and 21 into one dwelling for themselves, moving in 1971, and 22 and 23 into another to rent out. George Clark died in 1976 and Jessie in 2005. The two cottages, 20 and 22, remained in the same family until quite recently and have since been renovated again.
For over 200 years, until July 1983, Chitterne Barn stood in a hollow on the Plain to the east of the village, alongside the old Bath to Sarum road. It was part of the Field Barn Settlement known as Two Barns or Twain Barns, about 2.5 km from Chitterne village. Two Barns belonged to Chitterne Farm. In 1871 all five cottages at Two Barns were inhabited but by 1901 only shepherd Charles Munday and carter Job Tilley and families lived there, while three cottages lay uninhabited. Two Barns came into the possession of the Ministry of Defence in the 1930s.
The barn was a huge thatched oak structure dating from the 1700s, when sheep and corn farming was in its heyday. It had been described as “an agricultural masterpiece” and, rather than destroy it in 1983 to make way for the proposed army training village, the MoD chose to preserve it.
The subsequent loss of the building in 1993 has already been covered in the Chitterne website history pages; this blog concerns the dismantling of the barn in 1983. New information has come to light recently, which, along with some wonderful photographs taken by AS during the dismantling process, needs to be in the public domain.
The following two photos were taken by DR in March 1983 before any dismantling took place. The barn had been used by the army as a briefing shelter for some time.
The next three photos were taken by AS during July 1983 as the barn was being dismantled in stages by the Dundry Slopes project. Project staff included a bricklayer, a plasterer, a civil engineer and a carpenter. The well qualified team were to carefully dismantle the barn ready for re-erection at Bristol.
I am very grateful to volunteer librarian CB at the Weald & Downland Museum, Singleton, Chichester, West Sussex for prompting this blog by kindly sending me a copy of the Chitterne Barn report written in March 1983 by Dave Richards; to AS of Chitterne for donating the photos he took in July 1983, and to DR who photographed the barn before its removal.
Two curious newspaper cuttings turned up in my email folder this week, thanks to my eagle-eyed researcher friends J&RR. The first is a newspaper cutting from 1786 telling the sad tale of a chap who worked on Chitterne Farm and got his foot stuck in a rut on Chitterne Down.
Chitterne Down is the area of high land on your left as you head towards Shrewton on the B390 after passing the turning to the Copehill Down training facility. The 1773 Andrews and Drury map of Chitterne has Chitterne Down marked, not totally accurately, but at least it is of the same era.
A search of the burial records revealed an Edward Derrys of Beverstock, Gloucestershire buried at Chitterne St Mary at about the right time on the 14 March 1786, perhaps he was the unfortunate man.