Tisbury, which is often called the capital of the Nadder Valley, is set in a secret area amid beautiful scenery. Although a village it has many of the aspects of a small town, and is the commercial and service centre for a large rural area. It is set among the chalk downs but here the chalk has been worn away to expose the underlying limestone. These upward foldings of limestone then developed cracks and joints after they were exposed, and the centre of the uplifted fold eroded leaving a valley with the former downward slopes as ridges. This has ensured that there is a plentiful supply of oolitic limestone for building purposes with both Portland and Purbeck rocks forming outcrops of high ground to the north of the Nadder.
There is also a type of coral, Isastraea oblonga, found here. Locally it is called starred agates and this is its only occurrence in England. A piece was found in the grave of a young woman buried in Kent 100,000 years ago. In the valley there is exposed clay and some deposits of alluvium near the rivers. Nearly all the parish is suitable for woodland, pasture or arable farming and so it has always been a favoured area for settlement with wood, stone, water and good farming land. In historical times the chief form of husbandry has been a sheep and corn economy until the 19th century although more cattle and pigs were kept than in other Wiltshire parishes with this form of husbandry. In the later 19th century there was a change to more grass for cattle and ploughing up land for root crops and as the number of cattle increased so sheep numbers declined. By the latter part of the 20th century the area supported mixed farming, mainly cereals and dairying.
Tisbury is slightly unusual for a large Wiltshire parish, with early settlement, in that no main road crosses the parish, and no road in it was turnpiked. The only road through the village is that from Chilmark to Fovant, which is joined by a minor road from the west at Tisbury. Historically the modern civil parishes of West Tisbury and East Tisbury were one and much of the early history below relates to this whole area, which includes Wardour and Hatch. The later history, and histories of churches and schools, is concerned only with the modern parish of Tisbury, formerly East Tisbury, which contains the nucleated village and Wardour.
There is evidence of prehistoric activity here, although unfortunately some of the earliest traces have gone. There was a possible henge monument, stone circle or chambered tomb, probably of Neolithic date, near Place Farm. The remaining three central stones were removed to form part of the grotto at old Wardour Castle, c.1792, and a skeleton was found when the centre stone was moved. The stones were in one of three fields near the junction of the Chicksgrove and Chilmark roads; all three fields are now Cemetery Field. The favoured interpretation of these remains is that it was a henge monument. There is also evidence of Bronze Age occupation between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago.
Castle Ditches, so called by the 16th century, to the south east of the village, is an Iron Age multivallate hill fort of 24.5 acres. The ramparts are still up to 10 metres high and there is evidence of an inner ditch. A substantial hill fort such as this would indicate a reasonable sized settlement, both in the fort itself and probably also of people in the surrounding area, who would use the hill fort in troubled times. Mixed farming would have been practised in small rectangular fields with a wide range of cereals grown. Livestock was mainly sheep, goats and oxen, with pigs in the wooded river valleys. Doubtless this way of life remained little changed during the Roman period although the hill fort would have fallen into disuse shortly after 43 A.D. as this area came under Roman control at an early stage of the invasion. The Romans quarried stone at Chilmark, and probably Tisbury, and some remains and earthworks have been found to the north of the village. This area of Wiltshire does not seem to have been sufficiently wealthy, or close enough to a centre of influence, for estates based on villas.
The first known settlement of the village site of Tisbury came in Saxon times. This was probably a defensive site, the name indicates this, and it is possible that it was part of King Alfred’s Burghal Hidage, providing one of the fortresses prepared for defence against the Danes. Tisbury was certainly occupied by the West Saxons who, by 759, named it Tissebiri – Tysse’s Burh. A monastery was here by 700 and may have been established by 674. An early, if not the first, abbot was Wintra who is mentioned in land documents. In 705 the Synod of the Nadder was held here, which was attended by a young monk named Winfrith, who is better known, particularly in continental Europe, as St. Boniface. The fact that Tisbury hosted this synod is a good indication as to the importance of the monastery here. The monastery was probably one large building, with a separate church and outbuildings. It was razed to the ground in the 19th century during the early Norse raids and the monks were slain.
When King Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey, c.880, the lands of Tisbury were given to the Abbey. It is at this time that the village is first mentioned although it is likely to have already existed for 150-200 years. It is most likely that the village had a stone church, probably on the site of the present one. In 984 King Ethelred confirmed the grant of the Tisbury estate to the Abbess of Shaftesbury. The grange, or administrative headquarters, of the estate was at Place Farm, where the medieval buildings of Shaftesbury’s farming operations can still be seen.
By the time of the Norman Conquest Tisbury was a reasonable sized village and the Domesday Book (1086) gives us some idea of this although the population is for the whole estate, not just the village. Using modern interpretation of Domesday figures it would seem that over 300 people lived on the estate and interestingly there were no serfs listed. The village itself is likely to have been in the lower part of the present High Street and around the church. There was a Saxon routeway between Ebbesbourne Wake and Warminster and this was on solid bedrock in Tisbury and so did not deviate when bad weather caused deep mud elsewhere. The upper part of the High Street follows this line and so you may still walk where Saxon traders travelled. By the late 11th century there were four mills, meadowland, pastureland and woodland on the estate, which had land for 40 plough teams.
In the 12th century quarrying continued and it is now believed that much of the stone for Salisbury Cathedral came from Tisbury and not Chilmark, as had been previously thought. Tisbury itself was probably a village of many homesteads, each with small holdings of land. These farmers, and the quarrymen, would have been tended by the healing order of the Knights Hospitaller who were based at Ansty from 1211. A Norman church had been built in the village between 1180 and 1200 and an early and important priest was Stephen of Tisbury (died 1246), who was also Archdeacon of Wiltshire. Afetr his death and by some political manoeuvring Henry III installed his half brother Aymer as priest when the position of Abbess of Shaftesbury was vacant. The Abbess later recovered Tisbury and also appointed chantry priests who lived in a room above the north porch of the church, until 1540.
The southern part of the Tisbury estate was probably forested and may have came under the harsh Forest Laws in the 12th and 13th centuries. From the 12th century more sheep were introduced into the area and these were probably pastured in the north. There were small medieval settlements in many parts of the estate including Lower Chicksgrove, Stoford (later Upper Chicksgrove), Hazledon and Bridzor. Wallmead was a farmstead by the 12th century, there was a manor and hamlet at Oakley, and several other hamlets throughout the area.
Cloth production is evidenced by mention of a fulling mill in the early 14th century and weavers are mentioned from 1372 to 1762. By 1334 this was a wealthy and populous parish, which including Hatch, was given the fifth highest assessment for wealth in the county. It seems that Tisbury suffered badly in the Black Death of 1348-9, which cut the population drastically and caused much land to remain uncultivated. It was especially bad in Hatch, in West Tisbury. In 1349 about 75 deaths of customary tenants, and doubtless their families, were recorded by Shaftesbury Abbey. However the village and estate seems to have recovered well as by 1377 there were 433 poll tax payers, making this one of the most populous parishes in the county.
Most interestingly there were no grants of fairs or markets to Tisbury. Various Abbesses of Shaftesbury must have felt that there would be little profit in this and the reasons may include lack of major routes and the fact that much of the produce was taken to other markets by the abbey. Medieval survivals of the abbey’s grange here are the outer gatehouse and the abbess’s house of the early 14th century, and the inner gatehouse and barn of the 15th century.
The original Wardour Castle was built by Lord Lovell, who was granted permission for this by Richard II in 1392. It was modelled on a French design as an embattled dwelling and was not intended for defence. The name Wardour comes from Old English ‘weard’ and ‘ora’, meaning watch and slope, and could indicate that a Saxon look out post was constructed during King Alfred’s defensive works. The castle was confiscated from the Lovells in 1461 and passed through several owners until being bought by Sir Thomas Arundell of Lanherne in 1544. By this time the Abbey of Shaftesbury had been dissolved and the Tisbury lands were sold by the Crown to Sir Thomas. It is hard to know what effects this would have had locally but a regular pattern of life under a long established and reasonably benevolent landlord must have suffered some changes.
During the 15th century the village had expanded. The main village street was the upper part of the High Street while North Street (Hindon Lane today) had houses and homesteads along it by 1444. Quarrying was still taking place throughout the parish and weaving was a local industry. By c.1500 all the arable land had been enclosed enabling more efficient farming to be carried out. This was part of a modernisation programme by Shaftesbury Abbey, whose grange at Place Farm had two larder houses, stables, houses for oxen, hay sheds, charcoal sheds and a fishpond within its walls, and the present great barn and three fishponds without.
By around 1600 all the pasture land had been enclosed and so by the time of the Civil War Tisbury was made up of efficiently run farms and estates. In 1605 the current Sir Thomas Arundell had been created Lord Arundell of Wardour and, like his predecessors, was a Roman Catholic. The Catholicism of the Arundells had enabled their servants, estate workers and many others in the area to remain true to the old faith and they were therefore natural Royalists.
During the Civil War the 2nd Lord Arundell was away from home on the King’s business and had asked his wife, Lady Blanche Arundell, to defend the castle to the last extremity. She was aged 61 and had a garrison of only 25 trained fighting men plus servants when on 2nd May 1643 Sir Edward Hungerford, with 1,300 men of the Parliamentary Army, demanded admittance to search for Royalists. He was refused and sending for Col. Strode and more troops, he laid siege to the castle and turned his guns on the walls. The castle was not built for defence and had only 50 men in total, although the female servants loaded guns for them. As the men were not offered quarter, Hungerford’s terms of surrender were refused.
He then attempted to undermine the walls by mines, fired fireballs in at the windows and set off explosives at the doors. After five days the castle was threatened with complete destruction and Lady Blanche agreed to surrender on condition of obtaining quarter for all and safe conduct for the ladies of the family. Hungerford, typically, did not honour all of the agreement, the castle was plundered, the whole park, lodge, and outbuildings, etc. were laid waste and the ladies made prisoners. The castle was placed under the command of Col. Edmund Ludlow. Lord Arundell had died of his wounds after the battle of Lansdowne, and his son, Henry 3rd Lord Arundell, laid siege to his own castle, blew up much of it and caused the Parliamentary garrison to surrender in March 1644. Lady Blanche had retired to a life of seclusion at Winchester.
In the late 17th century the Arundells built Wardour House near the castle and by the early 18th century they had landscaped the grounds around the castle. New Wardour Castle, with its superb Roman Catholic chapel was built in the 1770s. Further building was taking place in the village including a workhouse by 1769 and cottages in the Quarry area from 1773. In the latter part of the 18th century new quarries were opened and there was much new building in the northern part of the village. This continued into the early 19th century with larger houses, such as Tisbury House, by 1838, and the rebuilt Hillstreet Farm, constructed.
In 1825 a short lived industrial venture began with the building of a cloth factory at the southern end of Fonthill Lake. There was a 6-storey block, a 5-storey factory with 3 water wheels, a drying house and a dyehouse. The buildings were erected by the eccentric Mr Farquhar, a retired gunpowder maker, and completed by 1827 with a house and 24 cottages. The idea was to weave a superfine woollen cloth and 200 people, mainly from Gloucestershire, were employed. Despite an abundant supply of water the venture failed, probably as this was a remote area, with poor communications and a factory could not compete with the steam powered ones of western Wiltshire that were sited near canals. The machinery was sold in 1830 and the buildings demolished between 1838 and 1886.
Tisbury was divided into three parishes in 1835 – East Tisbury (Tisbury village), West Tisbury and Wardour. By 1846 there were 40 stone quarries, although not all were in use. They were mainly used for local buildings as, in the first part of the 19th century, Tisbury stone was expensive in London as there was no local canal or railway for transport. After the opening of the railway line the situation changed and there was a stone yard at the railway station in the latter part of the 19th century. The Salisbury and Yeovil Railway opened this line in 1859 and Tisbury Station was built to the south of the village. At first this was a single line, it was doubled by 1870 but in 1967 it was reduced to a single line across the parish again. After the coming of the railway Tisbury began to take on the appearance of a small town; the Arundell Arms was also built near the station.
The Rev. R. E. Hutchinson had become vicar in 1858 and he, and his wife, had a great influence. They built churches and schools and helped with the welfare of many villagers. They did however expect obedience and the strict observance of rules. In 1868 Archibald Beckett bought the old workhouse and converted it into a brewery. It was destroyed by fire in 1885 and rebuilt. In 1869 he purchased a large part of the area called Paradise (now the lower end of the High Street) and built the lower part of High Street, the Benett Arms Hotel (1875) and 4 shops. New Road, now The Avenue, was built in 1881 and this took much traffic away from The Cross at the top of the High Street. The South Western Hotel was built in 1884, providing another hotel near the railway station, and the Victoria Hall was built in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee. In 1885 P. J. Parmiter began making agricultural machinery and the business expanded greatly. In 1889 a police station was built in New Road and if you turned the corner from there in 1900 you would have found, rising before you, the High Street now lined with shops.
The 20th century saw the establishment or improvement of many services and, later in the century an increasing number of houses being built. A sewerage works was built at a cost of £600 in 1908, and in 1911 the water works was constructed with a 120,000 gallon reservoir and 10 miles of piping; the total cost being £11,000. Around this time the outdoor swimming baths and dressing shed were built at the old ‘Tanyard’ by Hugh Morrison, MP, and in 1914 the local fire brigade were founded, while a reading room and library had opened next to the infants’ school in 1913. The Wilton Royal Carpet Factory established a branch in the former assembly rooms of the Benett Arms in 1911.
During the First World War Tisbury Hospital opened at the Vicarage (1915-19) providing 15 beds (later increased to 40) for soldiers. In the four years it was open it cared for 1380 patients. After the War many new houses, mainly council ones, were built, in 1930 a health clinic was opened, and in 1939 a new fire station erected in Park Road. The years following the end of the Second World War also saw a large number of houses built, including 56 council houses on the Churchill Estate. From 1958 to the 1970s there was more building on the north side of The Avenue, formerly New Road, with 95 council houses, including 44 bungalows for the elderly. More council houses were built in the 1960s and 70s and to cope with the increasing number of dwellings a new sewerage works was built, to the east of the village in 1958.
To promote Tisbury as a shopping centre the Tisbury Traders Association was founded in 1960, initially with 24 members. They organised several activities for the village and for some years provided a free bus service to bring in people from other local villages. They still put up the Christmas lights in the village each year. A combined fire and police station was built in The Avenue in 1974 and in 1976-7 P. J. Parmiter & Sons Ltd built a new factory employing 150 people. In the 1980s an estate of 56 houses, south of Union Road, on the old workhouse site, was built and more private houses continue to be built to this day. The High Street still has a wide range of shops along its length and several new businesses have been attracted to the village. The former brewery has been converted to residential use and Tisbury still has the appearance of a small rural town.