The tale of a house on an English village green: from 1066, through the Civil War and growing barley for breweries.

When I was young my parents used to belong to an archeology club and I would fieldwalk with them longing to spot something interesting. One particular memory is when I walked Faringdon bypass while it was being built in the summer of 1976. I was wearing my favourite halter-neck summer-dress and the sun was burning my back raw as I stared at the mud, longing to find a spearhead or a piece of pot.  I saw nothing. Ever.

But now I have found a lost, possibly saxon or norman, moat!!! Me! My name is on the Wiltshire records as the person finding a “potentially significant site” with my research used as a reference.

Great Chalfield is a manor near us that is still occupied, though, it was rebuilt in the Tudor period. You may recognise it no matter where you live because they have filmed some Poldark Scenes there. As you can see in the picture below the whole front element of a saxon moat is still in situ at Great Chalfield. That is what I believe the land in front of our house could have looked like, many years ago.

 

So let me tell you the story behind this discovery.

Obviously from this blog you know how much I love the real stories I discover in history and use in my fictional books. But it has been even more exciting discovering the stories about the place where I live.

Like most English villages, Poulshot, near Devizes in Wiltshire, has its myths and rumours about its history. But I became tired of hearing the things I knew could not be true because I have done so much research I can tell what is pure fiction. So I decided to go to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and look for the truth.

We know our house is old, but we have no idea how old and so that was where I began this journey, searching back through the information about who had previously owned our house. So, initially, I was looking for the story of my house and then it became the story of the village green.

What I knew before I went to the records centre is that our house has been around since 1786 at least, because an artist, John Baptiste Malchair, drew our house in 1786. our house 1786The image was drawn from the parlour of the vicarage on the far side of the road from where we are. The drawing below was sold by Sotherby’s a few years ago but we do not know who bought it.

I have a list of some owners of our house after this date, but I did not investigate from the current date, back. I was mainly interested in who owned the house at the time this image was drawn, and who had owned it previously. When was it built? Why was it built? What did the owners do? What was the village they had lived in like?

The first stop in my search was the Articles of Agreement for the Commutation of Tithes in the Parish of Poulshot, a document from 1837.

This document shows that Rev. David Hopkins owned our house, a nearby house and quite a few fields (I found out from his will that the land was 165 acres in total). Our house and the attached orchard, were being rented by John Gilbert, while Edward Gilbert rented a property named Manor Farm and the fields.

The houses and land stayed in the Hopkins family for another generation, and then remained in the ownership of a mother, then a sister. The land and property were then split among more distant relatives.

Below is a map of the land the document above describes but this was drawn in 1874 when the land was sold by the Hopkins estate.

img_4058

The village green is the area called ‘common’ on the image above, and the house weimg_4058 own half of, is at the bottom of the village green.  Plot number 283, homestead and garden. At the time the occupants of our house were also leasing plot 284, the orchard.

Before I progress, note that the 1874 map shows you what was owned by the Hopkins estate, not other properties. Ours was not an isolated house, other houses had been built about the green. In fact there were five farms in positions around The Green.

img_4004

The second map (on then left above) was drawn earlier, in 1840. The 1840 map shows you the other houses.

These maps told me something more than just that the house was let as part of a larger estate. Where the dotted lines run past the front of our house, is now the main road through the village.  Years ago houses, unless there was a reason to travel to them, were built on the roadside. They did not build closes, and estates. Houses were always on the edge of some network that connected them to daily life. A road. A canal. A river. A green But as you can see from the 1840 map, our house, is at one end of the green and it stands out on its own, that is when you realise it was not built on a through road. Our plot of land closes off the green.

This first step in my story told me two things about our village myths straight away too. All around Poulshot are what is known as the Green Lanes. They are really wide byways and bridle ways. I have lived in a few villages, and walked around many, and I have never seen track ways between fields as wide as these.

I have asked some of the other villagers, ‘What is the history of these lanes?’ No one I have asked has been able to tell me. Well, having seen the 1840 map, I now know they were the roads. Carts and carriages would have travelled around the village green behind the properties, on this main route. The road through the middle of Poulshot as we know it today was simply not there. The road across the green does not show up on maps until 1919, but it had not been there even in 1899.

So when did the road appear? Nora Dixon, who wrote about life in Poulshot Village in 2002 explains in her book that The Parish Council applied for a road to be put in across The Green in 1896, and then again in 1905 using a new idea for a reason for a new main road, ‘extraordinary traffic over the roads in the parish by traction engines hauling timber, which caused great injury to the roads.’ The new main road that ran straight through the village and over the village green was laid in stone in 1909 and flattened by a steamroller brought down from Devizes 😀

But, as you can see in the 1786 drawing, above, there was a narrow pathway across The Green before the road existed. This was a cobbled track and is still buried under the grass. It was (and still is) claimed to be a pathway put in place by Monk’s and I am told it goes all the way down the hill to the village church.

But not everyone believes that is true.

Anthony’s Walk (Vol, v, page 374) “There seem as always to have been a strong tendency to connect any old track or causeway either with monks or nuns. A walk near Warminster, known as the Nuns’ Pass, was in 1777, the subject of a descriptive poem of 35 pages, and very recently when the question of relaying part of the time-worn causeway some two miles in length, which travers the village of Poulshot, was introduced to the Urban District Authority at Devizes, it was at once identified as an old Monk’s Walk, in accordance with usual tradition.” 

It makes far more sense to me that the cobbled track was put in because while carts and horses would have used the roads and travelled around the edges of the green, (although in those days roads were no more than mud tracks). In the watercolour painting below you can see what those tracks may have sometimes been like. Travellers who were walking or droving animals to market, may well have there taken the short cut over the green. As would the locals. As recorded in a letter from John Aubrey (1626-1697) Poulshot was a ‘wet and muddie place’. (An aside: I have loved the fact that most of these records are pre-Victorian and therefore pre the inventions of exact spelling and grammar; so refreshing for someone with dyslexia). So why not build a pathway that means you can keep your feet dry. The leather shoes of history, would have been no match for persistent damp and mud. Which is why people wore metal or wooden clogs called patterns underneath their shoes when they went outside (otherwise in the towns they were likely to step in animal or human waste while in the country it was mud).

thomas-rowlandson-midwife-going-to-a-labour-1811_a-g-4036689-8880731

I would not like to have to balance on those when it was icy, and I do not think they would have been much use on a muddy track turned into a quagmire by the rain in winter, as Diana Sperling showed by her painting of her life experience. No, a much better idea to put in a path.

The last thing to say in this post about the village is to give you another example of a potential old path used to keep feet dry.  I cannot share a picture of the cobbled path that runs across the green,  but here is an old brick path that we found a couple of feet down in our garden when we built our extension. This runs towards where we know our outdoor toilet was, and it was at the same level as the original foundations of the house. So perhaps it went to the toilet… or you never know perhaps it is a continuation of the Monk’s path.

img_1846

There is a lot more to be said (obviously), I have barely scraped the surface of this story, but for today I will give your eyes a rest.

Thank you for joining me in this historical investigation/adventure. I have felt a little like a time traveller in the days I was immersed in this research.

I will post the next chapter soon.

 

Perfect Period Drama

from Jane Lark

The rule of the red thread of destiny says that everything that is unresolved will be resolved.

~

The Thread of Destiny

~

The Lure of a Poet

Delicious Reading_with poet

Discover all of Jane Lark’s books

 

Discover hours of period drama (2)

 

 

 

 

Lord Byron’s influence on the new books

In 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Newstead Abbey, the property that Lord George Byron inherited from his great uncle in 1978, when George became the sixth Baron Byron.  Byron was a colourful man, and led a life full of intrigue. I had read his work and read letters and stories about his life, but I went to his home to seek more inspiration. He is of course the perfect draw for storytellers, when you are seeking ideas for captivating characters. That is why I went to his home, because I wanted to be able to touch on his life and discover what it was really like rather than just read about him in books. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I went there, because I walked into room after room of inspiration.

As most people know, Byron was a lover of the macabre and Newstead oozes that in a way that made me wonder what came first, the house he inherited or his love of gothic style games. Of course, you can tell from the name, that the property was previously a medieval abbey. What Byron inherited was a tumbled down medieval ruin that had been rebuilt into a Tudor manor. This is probably easier for me to imagine than it is for others to see  because Newstead Abbey has had many later amendments to its layout. But Lacock Abbey, which is just up the road from me, was also converted from an abbey into a stately Tudor home, and that is still very much as it was in the Tudor period.

However at Lacock some of the ruins have been kept in place underneath the Tudor house, so you can still walk about the nuns’ cloister in the middle of the property and in and out of great arched rooms that were once kitchens, storage rooms and the chapter house with its wallpainting and medieval tiles still in situ. At Newstead some of the outer ruins have been preserved . Below you can see the magnificent arch of an old abbey window, that was kept as nothing else but a piece of artwork in the gardens. The arch is not even the entrance to the garden; that is through a very small door to the left.

cropped-img_3758.jpgIn Byron’s day, the stairs were at the front here, though, and the steps went up to the first floor, so the door opened in to what was once the Abbey’s great hall, where the monks would have dined with any travelling pilgrims as guests. Lacock does still have it’s steps that lead directly to the great hall.

The other abbey that has stuck in my mind, as another property sold off by Henry VIII to his nobility from them to turn into a house, is the home that belonged to Jane Austen’s family – Stoneleigh Abbey. At Stoneleigh the entrance directly to the first floor has also been removed, but it’s Jacobean wing gives another context to help you imagine how Newstead would have looked in Byron’s day. Byron’s house also had a newer wing, which he used for guests.

Byron did not inherit much money to accompany his title, and so he could not repair and redecorate the house to any great extent. But he did choose a few small rooms to make a bit more luxurious. Today the other rooms have been changed and completed by the owners who have lived in the property since Byron’s day, but the rooms Byron had decorated are still very much as they were.

The dining room.

 

The study. Where he wrote when he was at home.

The library, where the goblet he had made from a skull he had found in the gardens was kept. It is only a replica on the table, though. The wife of the man who bought the property from him had it destroyed.

IMG_3985

A cellar in the undercroft of the Abbey, beneath the great hall, where he had a table and chairs put out to host small parties, for his friends and female guests.

Lastly his bedroom, which contains the bed he had brought to the Abbey from Cambridge.

The room Byron decorated for himself was in the medieval area of the house, on the opposite side of the house from the Jacobean wing that his guests used (and am I guessing where his mother lived as she shared the house with him and looked after it when he was not there).

To reach his rooms the passages are narrow, climbing up spiralling stone medieval staircases with leaded, small windows cut through the stone, that leave passages cold and shadowy.

There is one example of what the rooms that Byron was unable to renovate would have looked like at the time, (and felt and smelt like – which is why I like going places because pictures only let you experience one sense). This room was Byron’s dressing room. Image the large hall below in the same state then…

If you have already read The Thread of Destiny I am sure you can now see whose house this is in the book. The great hall had its roof replaced and the room was redecorated by a later resident, but in Byron’s day it was where he used to fence and shoot.

IMG_3766

Byron used his house as a playground, but he also used the vast grounds that surrounded the Abbey to play in. He kept a pet bear and entertained the bear (without a leash) in the grounds, even playing blind man’s buff. On one side of the grounds is a large lake, where his Great Uncle (who I think was just as eccentric as Byron) used to have mock naval battles with real boats. Byron loved his dogs, and he swam in the lake everyday when he was at home. One game he used to play in the lake with one of his favourite dogs, was to throw himself into the lake instead of a stick to get the dog to drag him out. (My George’s follies are ideas from elsewhere, though, Byron’s uncle was not much of a folly man).

At the back of the house are beautiful formal gardens.

 

Many other inspirations for the stories in The Thread of Destiny and The Lure of a Poet come from Newstead Abbey, because there is a fabulous area there that has been set up as a museum of Byron’s possessions. In the pictures below are just a few of things that made me think of elements of the stories that have become the first books in The Wickedly Romantic Poets series.

The story in the first of my new books, The Thread of Destiny,  begins at the home of my George, Bridge, Lord Bridges, The Duke of Stonemoor, and as his home is very much as Byron’s was, his character is also very Byronesque. – and how wonderful to be such an exceptional character during your lifetime that a word is created to describe the essence of the personality shown by your life and your work. 

There will be lots more reality based behaviours from my poets in the rest of the series that will be out in 2019.  

Perfect Period Drama

The rule of the red thread of destiny says that everything that is unresolved will be resolved.

~

The Thread of Destiny

~

The Lure of a Poet

Delicious Reading_with poet

Discover all of Jane Lark’s books

 

Discover hours of period drama (2)