Introduction

Sponsor

Victoria County History

Publication

Author

D. A. Crowley (editor), A. P. Baggs, Jane Freeman and Janet H. Stevenson

Year published

1995

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Pages

1-2

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'Introduction', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 15: Amesbury hundred, Branch and Dole hundred (1995), pp. 1-2. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=115422 Date accessed: 23 October 2014.


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INTRODUCTION

The 25 parishes of Amesbury hundred and Branch and Dole hundred lie on chalk, mostly on the south-east part of Salisbury Plain, and their downland bears many marks of prehistoric settlement, cultivation, and ceremony. Stonehenge, in Amesbury parish, was in 1984 with its hinterland designated a World Heritage Site. Between the downs the villages lie, sometimes several to a parish, close together beside rivers converging on Salisbury, those of Amesbury hundred beside the Christchurch Avon and the Bourne, those of the old Branch hundred beside the Wylye, and those of the old Dole hundred beside the Till. Most had a strip of land, stretching from the river to the downs, on which open-field husbandry was practised. A straight line dividing Amesbury and Dole hundreds may have been drawn at a formal partition.

Until the 20th century no landowner was pre-eminent in the two hundreds. In the Middle Ages the largest estates were those of Amesbury abbey and Wilton abbey. Amesbury then had some urban characteristics, and Ludgershall, where the king had a small castle, became a parliamentary borough, but in neither hundred was there a substantial town, and in neither has any trade or industry become prominent. The villages were numerous and small, the churches likewise. There were evidently two fortified houses in the 12th century, the Giffards' at Sherrington and the Husseys' at Stapleford. They have not survived, and the only manor house of more than local importance was that called Amesbury Abbey. The area depended on sheep-and-corn husbandry and its main markets were Wilton and Salisbury. From the 17th century meadows were watered; open-field cultivation continued until the 19th century in many of the parishes, and in the 18th new areas of open field were laid out in some. After inclosure farmsteads were erected on the downs in every parish. Until coverts were planted in the 19th and 20th centuries the area contained very little woodland. It was poorly served by railways in the 19th century, the opportunity for dairy farming was thus restricted, and large flocks of sheep were kept on the downs until c. 1900.

From 1897 the War Department bought estates on Salisbury Plain to provide land for military training. In 1994 the Ministry of Defence owned c. 26,000 a. of the two hundreds. Tidworth, Bulford, and Larkhill army camps were built and Amesbury and Ludgershall, each of which had a railway station, and later Durrington grew to serve them. About 1900 roads across the downs were closed and firing ranges were set up, and later much downland was rough grassland given over to training in the use of tanks. Boscombe Down airfield is centred in Amesbury parish, and in Allington and Boscombe there are land and buildings of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment based at Porton down. To the south-west, especially in the Wylye valley, the villages remain rural and the land agricultural.


Amesbury Hundred C.1840



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