Ela of Salisbury’s Convent Church at Lacock

At Lacock Abbey the National Trust currently have an installation to mark the site of the 13th century convent church founded by Ela (pronounced eelah) of Salisbury.

The glass panels on the site of Ela’s convent church

Chitterne was part of the large area of southern England inherited by Ela following the death of her father William Longespee in 1226. Soon after this she donated her Chitterne lands and farm to her newly founded abbey at Lacock, and the thousands of sheep kept at Chitterne became the Lacock nuns’ main source of revenue.

The installation consists of three panes of glass depicting a stone arch, scenes of abbey life in medieval times and Ela’s seal. These are positioned on the grass that now covers the convent church site.

The second glass panel depicting scenes of convent life
The last panel with Ela’s personal seal

I was expecting a little more than these when I visited, but all inside the abbey was as usual, there were no new items concerning Ela on display.

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Ela of Salisbury’s Convent Church at Lacock

Chitterne Barn

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.

chitterne-barn-1895
A shearing gang at Chitterne in 1895  (Institute of Agriculture, University of Reading)

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.

chitterne-barn-interior-mar-1983-1
Chitterne Barn interior March 1983
chitterne-barn-interior-mar-1983-2
Part of the barn roof structure March 1983

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.

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Stage 1: After colour coding and labelling each timber in the structure, the corrugated iron roof covering the old thatch has been removed and the remains of the thatch is being stripped off
chitterne-barn-jul-1983-2
Stage 2: The rafters and wall section of aisles have been removed
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Stage 3: The purlins and second rafters are being lowered using ropes. The main posts were shored up while the tie beams were raised and then lowered

To read what happened to the barn later go to: chitterne.com/history/barn.html

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.

Chitterne Barn

Plenty of Sheep in 1833

This turned up from the marvellously vigilant H & W after they spotted the reference to Robert Fisher in the tale about Thomas George.

fisher, robert sale of sheep

This advert was published in the Salisbury & Winchester Journal of the 16th September 1833. I am amazed that Robert Fisher expected buyers to turn up at Chitterne to see the sheep at such short notice. The advert was published only a couple of days before the proposed auction and yet I imagine it would have taken a considerable time to travel to our village in those days.

But how farming has changed! It was all sheep in 1833, thousands of them turning the Plain into a vast white carpet,  Nowadays shepherds have difficulty finding shepherding opportunities around here and the downs are more often dotted with black cattle.

Robert Fisher and family from Leicestershire didn’t stay at Chitterne Farm long. They arrived in about 1815 or 16 and left before 1851. Only a clutch of gravestones in All Saints cemetery remind us they ever lived here.

Plenty of Sheep in 1833