Bulford village grew up on the gravels beside the river Avon. The parish itself is rectangular, extending eastwards from the banks of the river and the boundaries have remained unchanged for more than a thousand years. In the Middle Ages there was a settlement called Hindurrington, to the north of Bulford church, that was also on the river gravels. The name may have originated because the settlement was at the back of Durrington, which was on the other side of the river. The meaning of Bulford is difficult but the most likely explanation is ‘the ford where the ragged robins grow’ or ‘ragged robin island’. Bulut is Saxon for ragged robin and in the 12th century the name was Bultesford.
Apart from the gravels and alluvium alongside the Avon and Nine Mile rivers, chalk outcrops all over the parish. It is mainly a gentle rolling countryside with the only steep slopes in the south-east, where Beacon Hill rises to 204 metres. The Avon flows from north to south, with a substantial meander in its southern most stretch in the parish, while Nine Mile river flows from east to west to join it. Nine Mile river isn’t nine miles long but is thought to have been so named as carters reckoned it was nine miles to Salisbury when they reached it.
Various roads crossed the parish but there was no major road through Bulford itself. There was a north-south road across the parish from Marlborough to Salisbury, while the London to Exeter road crossed the south east corner of the parish. Around the mid 18th century the Oxford and Hungerford to Salisbury road was altered and ran from north-east to south-west across the parish. Until the 20th century there had been a traditional Avon valley landscape here with meadows along the banks of the Avon, arable fields on the gravels and lower slopes of the chalk downs, and rough pasture on the higher grounds.
This area has been occupied since Neolithic times, although not necessarily continuously. Most finds of artefacts have been made on Beacon Hill and these include items from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Romano-British and Pagan Saxon periods. There are many Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows on the downs and some prehistoric field systems. There would seem to have been a later Saxon settlement by the river, as two mills are mentioned in 1086. The population of the estate at the time of the Domesday Book was between 125 and 145, using a modern interpretation of the contemporary figures. There was enough land for nine ploughteams but eight are recorded, three on the land worked by Amesbury Abbey and five operated by their tenants. There were 35 acres of meadow and pasture land that cold have measured 3 miles by 1½ miles but may have been less than half that.
There was a church here in the 12th century and early settlement is likely to have occurred close to the river along a road, now a path that led northwards from Watergate Lane to the church and on into Church Lane. There are two 17th century manor houses, a mill and early farm buildings on this road. Other early settlement was along Water Street on either side of the Nine Mile river. The route from Water Street crossed the north-south road by the church and then went through the ford and on to Durrington. The early north-south route was superseded in 1761 when the present High Street became a turnpike road, taking the Salisbury traffic. A bridge probably replaced the river ford at the same time.
Although the eight earlier houses that survive in Water Street are mainly 18th century, they are probably on the sites of the copyhold farmhouses of the manor. The farming, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century was the traditional sheep and corn economy, with sheep used as walking dung spreaders that also provided wool and meat. The important crop however was corn. This would have been a fairly prosperous community in the 14th century and, despite the ravages of the Black Death a generation earlier, there were 125 poll tax payers (aged over 14) in Bulford and Hindurrington in 1377.
In 1539 there were still two watermills, although they may both have been in the same building, and there was at least one inn. In 1605 The Lamb was mentioned and there were 17 farms held on copyhold or leasehold. Building work was taking place at this time although only the larger houses have left a record of this. In 1618 Watergate House was built for Sir Laurence Washington. The house was later to be extended several times and there are also two late 17th century or early 18th century barns to the north-west of it. Bulford Manor, similar in style to Lake House, was also built in the 17th century and was also extended later. Around 1685 there was a fire in the village and several buildings, probably in the northern part of the village, were destroyed, leading to rebuilding of smaller houses.
A new mill was built between 1726 and 1735 and in 1765 this was making paper. It continued producing paper until the 1870s with a succession of families running the mill. In 1861 there was eleven people employed there – five men, one boy, and five women. By 1758 the farmstead called Hindurrington had been demolished; possibly the last link with medieval hamlet of that name. A school, near the churchyard, started in that year and was conducted in a cottage. In 1761 the road that is now the High Street was turnpiked and this shifted the centre of the village away from the earlier road, to the east, as houses were now built on the turnpike road. A new road was also built as a turnpike, from the north through Figheldean to join the London Road near Amesbury, and this ran through the eastern part of the village. By 1764 the Maidenhead was established in the village and it continued until at least the 1820s. A friendly society was meeting here in the late 18th century and this continued into the 19th century; there were about 112 members in 1812 when the village population was about 230. A new farm complex, Upper Farm, had been built by 1773 by the Avon in the north of the parish.
In the 19th century the population rose steadily from 228 in 1801 to a high point of 408 in 1851. From then there was a decline, common to most Wiltshire parishes, to 341 in 1891. It was only the purchase of much of the parish for army training in the late 1890s that stopped this decline and sent the population of the parish soaring. More land on the higher ground would have been ploughed for growing corn during the Napoleonic Wars, but this reverted to pasture soon afterwards. Farming continued in a fairly prosperous state until the 1870s. By 1844 the Rose and Crown in the High Street was open (it was rebuilt in 1896) taking advantage of this prosperity and also the increasing traffic on the turnpike road. Roads in the parish were disturnpiked in 1871. A new school was built in the High Street in 1874 and later in the 19th century a vicarage was built in Milston Road.
From around 1898 much land was used for military training. A total of 1,039 acres had been bought from Miss Seymour and 1,917 acres from the Bulford Manor estate. Rifle ranges were set up and Bulford camp, tented at first, was established. Until now there had been very few buildings in the east of the parish. The population in the 1901 census included 435 construction workers, building huts for the camp, and 608 soldiers. There were 343 others, just an increase of two on the parish population of 1891. From now the camp, a mixture of huts and tents in the early 20th century, became the dominant influence in the parish. In 1906 the Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway was extended as a single track through the village to a terminus in the east of the parish. The villagers benefited with a public station to the south of the village and the southern end of the High Street was renamed Station Road. Station Terrace was created in 1931 when 16 council houses were built here. There was a military passenger station at the camp and a goods depot at the terminus. From 1905 to 1977 Bulford was the principle base of the Royal Artillery, while also being the base of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force from 1914 -1918. From 1977 it has been headquarters of South Western District Command.
Around 1910 permanent red brick barracks were built either side of Marlborough Road. Shops and the branches of banks quickly followed. In 1914 Sling Barracks were built to replace tents and the New Zealand forces were based here. Between 1914 and 1918 the village Reading Room was used as the Church of England Soldiers’ Institute. After the war the Kiwi was cut on Beacon Hill to commemorate the New Zealand troops at the Camp. More barracks were built between 1922 and 1938; originally named after First World War battles, they were renamed after 1931.
During the 20th century the village itself grew to the north, south and east, mainly through house building to accommodate civilians working at the Camp. In the late 1920s a police station, along with 3 terraces of 4 council houses each, was built on the eastern side of Milston Road. The village school was too small to take all the children from the Camp and so the Haig County Primary School was built there in 1929. Mains water arrived in the village in 1934/5, while in 1937-8 houses were built for soldiers and their families on the site of Sling Barracks. This site was expanded further in 1952 and 1968. Naturally there was major activity in the area during the Second World War and many troops passed through the area.
After the war the village expanded eastwards and council housing replaced temporary housing to the north-east of the village. Between 1950 and 1951 a mains drainage scheme had been built and connected to the Ratfyn treatment works at Amesbury, making the building of large numbers of houses more feasible. By 1955 over 80 houses had been built near Salisbury Road.
In the 1960s the eastwards extension of the village met the westward extension of houses at the Camp, and a little later John French Avenue was built to the north of these houses. Housing increased greatly at the Camp with the building of the Australian estate, to the ease of Kiwi Barracks, in 1963, the Irish estate in the north-west and the Canadian estate in the west in 1968. By now the Camp had most of the facilities of a small town – churches, hospitals, schools, sports grounds, theatre, cinema, shops, police station (1960), a shopping centre (1970s), a NAAFI and the Saxon Warrior Inn (1974). It was at its largest extent in the 1960s and 1970s and covered 640 acres.
In the village a new school was opened in John French Way, in 1971, while in the 1980s an estate of private houses and a club were built. There has been some recent infilling in the old village, including a large house built in the grounds of Orchard End House.