Durrington is somewhat unusual community in that it is small village that has grown to the size of a town because of a large army camp that has been in the parish since the early 20th century. Perhaps, however, it would be fairer to say that it is Larkhill Camp that has the appearance of a town while the original village has been extended so that it now covers a similar area of land, between the Netheravon Road and the river Avon, as is occupied by Amesbury, further south. Larkhill Camp lies to the west of the village on the downs. Although the parish has the population of a small town the separate communities, lack of cohesive infrastructure and no centre means that this is not really an urban development. Without the army presence Durrington would probably have developed into a medium sized village based on an ancient settlement in the Avon valley.
The parish itself is long and narrow, stretching westwards from the river Avon to the watershed of the Avon and Till rivers. Much of it is downland and all the parish lies on the upper chalk, although there is an area of gravel and alluvium deposited near the river. Although the distinctions cannot now be seen, the village was in two parts, East End and West End, which also represented the manors, one set around Bulford Road in the east and the other around what is now the High Street in the west. Most of the farmsteads were in the West End. Both streets are set on the gravel within an eastern meander of the river Avon. The streets are aligned north and south and the church is between them at the northern end, giving rise to an early road, Church Street, linking the two. The village developed away from the two major roads through the parish. From east to west is the old Packway, between Bulford and Shrewton, that was part of a London to Warminster road. This was turnpiked in 1761 and remained a toll road until 1871. The north to south route lies to the west of the village and connects Upavon with Amesbury being used by some traffic from Devizes and Marlborough to Salisbury. This was a turnpike between 1840 and 1877 and c.1969 was diverted to avoid the Neolithic henge site of Woodhenge.
This area has been occupied, though not necessarily continuously, for 5,000 years. To the north east of Stonehenge the parish contains two important Neolithic site, Durrington Walls and Woodhenge, that are built over the site of a Neolithic village that included a long house. Durrington Walls is between 1,500 and 1,700 feet in diameter and encloses some 30 acres. It was constructed as a ceremonial centre around 2,400 BC and includes two circular timber structures that were probably buildings. Both this site and the smaller Woodhenge have an outer bank with internal ditch. There was an oval wooden building at Woodhenge. People lived here throughout the Neolithic period growing cereals, mainly barley, and keeping pigs and other animals. Trial flint workings have been found to the north-east of Durrington Walls. Settlement and structures here were all part of the much larger Stonehenge landscape.
Bronze Age boundary ditches and a small farmstead to the south of Woodhenge have been found, while during the Iron Age Durrington Walls was occupied by a small settlement. Pottery, a brooch, ring, knife, and chalk loom weights have been found here. South west of here, on the site of a Neolithic settlement, was a Romano – British village of the late 3rd or early 4th century.
There does not seem to be archaeological evidence of Saxon occupation but this is not unusual as buildings and utensils of this period were made of wood and little survives. That there was a small settlement here we know from the Doomsday Book (1086), which says that in the reign of Edward the Confessor the estate paid tax on 1½ hides of land. There were two estates in 1086, having land for one plough team and with five acres of meadow. The chalklands were not ploughed at this time but there was a larger amount of arable land (the gravels and alluvium) than in most settlements in the Avon Valley. The population at this time was probably only about 20 to 25 people from five families.
The two estates may represent the later two manors. West End manor was part of the King’s estate of Amesbury until 1120 but East End manor had different origins. At this time each manor had one open field and the extensive downland pastures were used by both. By the 14th century the sheep and corn economy was well developed and this pattern of farming continued well into the 19th century. The open field system evolved into a two, and then a three, field system. Population increased substantially and in 1377 there were 139 poll tax payers making Durrington one of the most populous villages in the hundred of Amesbury. In 1399 the West End manor was given as an endowment of the newly created Winchester College, and an excellent collection of documents on its management and usage has been preserved by the College. They have also provided the name for College Street.
The settlement remained a prosperous and fairly popular farming community although, apart from the church, there is little visual evidence before the 17th century. In 1610 East End Manor was extended with an east-west range, changing it into an L – shaped building. There are 17th century houses of timber and cob, with thatched roofs, surviving in College Road, High Street and Church Street. Presumably there were others in Bulford Road that were demolished when more recent houses were built. In 1676 the population was said to be 334 people. Despite evidence of a substantial amount of building work, mainly farmhouses, in the18th century the village did not really increase in size and remained concentrated around its two main streets. In the present High Street Parsonage Farm was erected c1700 (it was rebuilt in the 19th century), Hollybush in the early 18th century, Red House in the mid 18th century, Pinckney’s c.1769, West End Manor Farm and Church Farm in the late 18th century. In 1784 Brown’s Farmhouse was built in College Road. All these farmhouses were sited in the village itself as the land outside remained unenclosed. A new route to Milston had been established in the late 18th century or early 19th century when a bridge over the Avon to the Ham had been built. This remains as a footpath today. Further south a farmhouse by Bulford Bridge, outside the village, was opened as the Nag’s Head in 1731. A malting industry was established and this continued into the early 19th century.
By 1773 settlement had expanded eastwards along Church Street and on College Road, the dog leg road linking Church Street with Bulford Road but there was no other settlement in the parish. Around 1800 Durrington Manor was built, possibly on the site of an older house; this became a hotel after the Second World War and was later converted to flats. Another farmhouse, Collin’s was built in the early 19th century and in 1823 the open fields and common pastureland were enclosed. The land continued to be worked from 11 farmhouses in the village however and the amount of arable land increased. By the late 19th century there was slightly more arable than pasture with barley being the chief crop. There were around 3,000 sheep in the parish on the downland. By the 1880s barns had been erected on these downs.
In the 19th century the junction of High Street, Church Street and, to the west, Hackthorne Road became the centre of the village and the base of a medieval cross was moved into the centre of this junction, to become a traffic hazard in the 20th century. There would seem to have been a certain amount of unemployment in agriculture as in 1838 the parish vestry collected a rate to raise money to enable paupers to emigrate. Around the middle of the 19th century Durrington House was built (it was demolished soon after 1961) while by 1851 the Plough Inn had opened; it had possibly had a beer only licence before this. There seems to have been little building in the village in the second half of the 19th century and the village only slightly increased in size.
With an eye to the possibilities of early tourism the Stonehenge Inn was opened at the junction of the Upavon to Amesbury and Bulford to Shrewton roads. William Toomes was a beer retailer here originally but by 1889 Lewis Toomes had built the Stonehenge Inn and advertised it as a posting house with its own brewery and livery and bait stables. Its success was possibly one of the reasons for the closure of the Nag’s Head between 1889 and 1895 although the licensee had been a widow whose son took over the Plough. An indication of changing times to come saw the closure of Durrington Mill in the 1880’s and the establishment of racehorse training at Durrington House, that continued into the 20th century.
The changing epoch began in 1898 when much of the parish was acquired by the army. From 1899 the part of Salisbury Plain to the north west of the village was used for artillery practice and a camp was set up on Durrington Down. By the beginning of the First World War there were three tented camps known as Durrington, Larkhill, and Fargo Camps. In 1914 the Larkhill light military railway was built from Ratfyn in Amesbury to Fargo Camp and a large military hospital was built at that camp. During the war the tents at Larkhill Camp were replaced by huts and in 1916 the Stonehenge Inn was rebuilt by the Portsmouth United Brewery, who had acquired it. The war memorial was built on the base of the ancient cross. From 1920 Larkhill Camp became the headquarters of the School of Artillery and permanent brick building were put up.
The military expansion caused a decline in all types of farming as most of the land was occupied by the army. However the rapid rise in population, from 427 in 1901 to 3,005 in 1921 brought about the establishment of many shops and business. Banks were opened from 1919, houses and shops sprang up on both sides of Bulford Road, as far south as the Bulford to Shrewton road, a tin cinema opened on Larkhill Road, two new schools were built and housing was developed off the main streets. A village hall was built in the High Street, there were 18 shops, two motor engineers, two refreshment rooms and many other business. In the 1920s many homeless families moved into empty army huts while other huts were taken down and re-erected elsewhere for homes.
By 1928 the light railway was shut down, but building work at the camp was in full swing. In the late 1920s detached houses for married officers and semi-detached houses for soldiers were built in Strangways and Fargo Road, while in the 1930s new barracks and houses were built in the camp. By the late 1930s there were continuous lines of settlement from Bulford Bridge to the Stonehenge Inn, to the south of village, including 60 council houses on the north side of Larkhill Road (1927-32), and private housing on Bulford Hill. In the village itself council houses were built in Meads Road, on the southern part of the High Street, and there was more public and private housing in the village. In the camp two new officers’ messes were built in neo-Georgian style in 1938 and around that time most of the buildings of the military hospital were removed.
After the Second World War a large council estate was built south of Coronation Road in the 1950s, and extended in the 1960s, while many more houses were also built at Larkhill Camp. Durrington continued to expand in the 1960s, after a drop in population in the 1950s owing to fewer military personnel being in the parish. By 1971 the population had increased by 1,997 in 10 years with most of Larkhill Camp being rebuilt on the original grid system of roads. Barracks and workshops were mainly built to the north of the Packway and houses to the south of the road. Alanbrooke Barracks were begun in c.1960, Stirling, the headquarters of the Royal School of Artillery, in 1966, and Roberts in 1964. Larkhill now resembled a small town with the Packhorse Inn (1962), a medical centre, swimming pool and NAAFI. Many trees were planted and this is now one of the most wooded settlements in Wiltshire. In the village more shops and a police station opened and private bungalows were built in the grounds of Durrington House.
Population remained static in the 1970s although more private houses were built in new roads to the east of Bulford Road and west of Stonehenge Road. A branch library opened in 1971 and a sports centre and swimming pool, at the eastern end of School Road, in 1974. In a village appraisal, conducted by the parish council in 1975, it was found that there were 15 shops, 12 service industries, 2 banks, a library, 3 schools, 1 clinic with 2 doctors, and 3 small factories. The MOD was by far the largest employer and it was noted that there was no substantial industry and a lack of coherent community pattern.
During the 1980s and later new houses were built in the old part of the village, with some infilling. There were a few new houses on the Ham and some old peoples’ bungalows in College Road. By 1992 the artillery range covered about 800 acres in the west of the parish and Durrington is still very much an army-orientated community.