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. PD has suggested yet another correct grid reference for this monument OS Explorer map 130 Salisbury and Stonehenge SU 005476.
If you get within a 100m of the stone you will definitely spot it!
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.
Still in old Chitterne St Mary, Gunville was the name given to a group of two or three old cottages on the old Salisbury to Warminster coach road, in what we now call The Hollow.
The cottages were named Gunville in all censuses from 1861 to 1901. Previous censuses to 1861 are not as detailed so we are unable to tell if the name was in use any earlier. In one census, the 1881, the Vicarage is also said to be in Gunville, but that may be an anomaly.
By the 1891 census only two cottages were inhabited, one by Frederick Dewey, maltster, and one by George Naish, farm labourer. Both these men died before the next census. Frederick Dewey, who occupied one cottage for at least 25 years, died in 1895, and his neighbour George Naish in 1892. So although the cottages are mentioned in the 1901, they are marked uninhabited. In the 1911 census they are not listed at all and we presume they had been demolished.
The land the Gunville cottages once stood on was used to enlarge the Vicarage garden and provided space for a tennis court. In the late 196os, during the time of Rev. H. T. Yeomans, the Vicarage became redundant and was sold. It was renamed St Mary’s House under the new owners Mr and Mrs Wallis. In 1991 the then owners built a new house for themselves on the Gunville/tennis court part of the garden, calling their new house St Mary’s House and renaming the vicarage The Old Vicarage. Are you with me so far? So what all this means is, that two of the Gunville cottages stood on what is now the St Mary’s House plot at the western end of the village. The third cottage was probably on the opposite side of the track.
We stay in old Chitterne St Mary for Long Hedge Path.This is an old track alongside the Mead or water meadows, which in days of yore were flooded to provide a resource shared by farmers in both Chitterne parishes. The meadows were divided into plots, each plot named after the farmer whose plot it was. This way each farmer had access to early grass pasture for his sheep. Laurie Wallis told me that one plot was still known as Dean’s Mead in his grandfather’s time.
This path does not appear on the Rights of Way map but is still walked.
It starts at the Round House and does what it says on the tin – follows a long hedge through the Mead to the parish boundary with Codford – passing the ‘new’ Glebe Farm buildings en route. In fact if you carried on over the boundary it would take you to Codford St Peter via Green Road.
The long hedge ends abruptly at the parish boundary and the path takes a left turn for a short distance before reaching some old boundary stones and a stile.
If you cross the stile into Codford parish the path becomes Codford footpath number 6 on the Rights of Way map and continues towards Codford. This stile can also be reached from the road between Chitterne and Codford via footpath number 12, which takes you over a wooden bridge spanning Chitterne Brook.
If you are wondering where the maps I’ve been using recently come from, they were adapted by my other half from maps he drew in 2010 when convalescing from a pelvic injury. His rehabilitation required lots of walking so he devised a series of walking routes of increasing length for himself based on Chitterne. We both love maps and we thought the walks would make a good addition to the village website and so the map idea was born.
You can find Dave’s walking routes on http://www.chitterne.com if you click on the link below then ‘Village Life’ and ‘Walking’.
Back in 1984 there was a lot of excitement in the village when a film crew from London arrived to film scenes for ‘Return to Oz’ at Down Barn on London Road.
Michael Walker of Manor Farm, who farmed the land around Down Barn, grew a crop of maize alongside London Road to aid the transformation to Kansas. AW from Middle Barn appeared in the finished film as an extra and local schoolchildren at Tilshead Primary were treated to a day at the London studios to meet the 10 year old star Fairuza Balk who played Dorothy.
Interior shots of Aunt Em’s house were filmed at the camp cinema at West Down Camp, Tilshead, and further exterior shots of a journey by horse and trap were filmed near Tilshead Lodge.
Where is London Road? It is by-way number 2 on the Rights of Way map, and crosses Chitterne parish from east to west to the north of the village until it meets the Imber Range where it ends abruptly.
I walked London Road from west to east, starting with the section to the west of the C22 that was also known as Down Barn Road. This part of the road passed by Down Barn Field Settlement in earlier years, but Down Barn buildings were taken down after the War Department (MoD) took over the site in the 1930s. The site is now just within the Imber Range and out of bounds to civilians, but leased to local farmers when not needed for training.
A short section of the road is paved where it combines with the C22 between the double bends at the bottom of Breach Hill. It then passes Middle Barn cottages and carries on uphill towards Copehill Down Training Village, which it skirts to the north.
At Copehill Down trees London Road gets very messy as it crosses two tracks. The first is by-way number 1, the old Bath to Sarum coach road, and the second an MoD gravel road, before passing the MoD’s Copehill Down Training Village. Wiltshire Council has erected a Voluntary Restraint notice to motor vehicles on London Road to try and prevent further deterioration of the track.
After passing the training village the London Road follows the parish boundary before it leaves Chitterne parish and heads towards Orcheston and Maddington (Shrewton).
Tuesday 3 May 2016 update correction: removed reference to Percy and Mabel Potter living at Down Barn. Thanks to AC for this.