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Ludgershall Concise History


This parish history by John Chandler is taken from his books 'Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire' (Hobnob Press, 2001, £20.00, ISBN 0 946418 07 1) and 'Devizes and Central Wiltshire' (Hobnob Press, 2003, £20.00, ISBN 0 946418 16 0). The books are the first two of a projected series of seven, under the series title 'Wiltshire: a History of its Landscape and People', which together will offer short histories of every parish in Wiltshire, including the areas now within Swindon Borough. The text included here is the author's copyright and should not be further reproduced for publication without his consent. There may be minor textual variants between the text posted here and the published version.

Dr Chandler will be happy to supply hardback copies of either Marlborough and Eastern Wiltshire, which includes histories of 34 parishes in eastern Wiltshire (from Tidworth in the south to Aldbourne in the north and Avebury in the west), with illustrations and maps, or Devizes and Central Wiltshire, which includes histories of 42 parishes in central Wiltshire, with illustrations and maps, for £20 each post free. He can be contacted: by email: John Chandler ; by post: c/o 8 Lock Warehouse, Severn Road, Gloucester GL1 2GA.


Ludgershall lies on the eastern edge of Salisbury Plain and is situated on the county border with Hampshire. To the north is Chute Forest whose western boundary, delineated in 1300, forms the northern boundary of Ludgershall parish. All the parish is on the upper chalk with highest land, Windmill Hill, at 187 metres in the west. The lowest land is in the extreme south where it is just over 100 metres above sea level. There is now no surface water in the parish but shallow valleys in the centre of the parish were once created by feeder streams to the River Anton and a deposit of gravel has been left in these. The name Ludgershall first appears in 1086 as Litlegarsele and could mean 'the nook of land where traps are set'. This could be an indication that this area was used as a hunting ground in Saxon times. The major route through the parish is the old Marlborough to Winchester road, which was turnpiked in 1762. Other early routes in the parish are Crawlboys Lane and Biddesden Lane.

There has been farming and settlement in this area since Neolithic times with and prehistoric finds have been made over a wide area. Sidbury Hill, in Tidworth parish, was used in the Bronze age and there are 2 Bronze Age barrows on Windmill Hill while a late Bronze Age axe has been found in the parish. Activity continued through the Iron Age, there is a hill fort on Sidbury Hill, and after the Roman invasion the area was well served by roads. The nearest used the line of Chute Causeway to the north and proximity to the road led to the building of villas that were often found near the major roads. There was one at Lambourne's Hill near Biddesden Bolton and, a little further away, near Weyhill and at Thruxton. Three headless Romano-British skeletons were found in a pit in the west of the parish; it is assumed that these were executed felons. The first indication of a village at Ludgershall is in Saxon times, when it was a very small settlement.

At the time of the Domesday survey (1086) Ludgershall was held by the powerful Edward of Salisbury. It was a very small settlement then with land for three plough teams and a population of around 40 people. There were small amounts of pasture and woodland while water was drawn from deep wells. It is likely that Edward of Salisbury, who was Sheriff of Wiltshire, built the first fortified residence here on the site of a Saxon house, built within a prehistoric earthwork. Being associated with a forested area Ludgershall would have been the focus for hunting and a centre for local administration and the collection of dues. For these and many other reasons, both physical and psychological a castle was built here between 1086 and 1103 when it was visited by Henry I. Initially it was a late 11th century timber building, behind substantial earthworks, being replaced by a stone keep early in the 12th century.

It is possible that a planned borough was created to the south of the castle on a small grid of streets, to the north of the Marlborough to Winchester road. This would have been in the early 12th century and is likely to pre-date the church, which was built to the west of it. The castle dwellers had their own chapels and the new holders of the burgage plots would have had to build their own church. This was one of the smallest boroughs in Wiltshire and although it had Parliamentary representation it did not grow as a town and developed no institutions. In 1138 the castle was fortified by John Fitz Gilbert for the Empress Maud who took refuge here after her army's rout at Winchester in 1141. Later it developed as a royal castle for successive kings and queens and many resources were lavished upon it. Henry II was here in 1175-6 while on a lengthy visitation of forests and the lands of the castle were imparked by 1203. It was improved by both King John, the walls were strengthened in 1211, and Henry III, who changed it into a country house. He often visited it, using it mainly for recreation in the mid 13th century, by which time it was not strategically important. His queen, Eleanor, may have spent most of her widowhood here. Later Edward I visited the castle on four occasions.

In 1248 the king granted a three day fair to Ludgershall, to be held on the eve, feast and morrow of St. Mary (7th-9th September). The royal chapel in the castle was dedicated to Saint Mary but by 1291 the fair was on the eve and feast of St James, to whom the town's church was dedicated. A market was also being held by 1255. After 1300 the castle was used only as a house, with a productive estate of farm, parkland and woodlands. The settlement itself may have developed as a local trading centre in the early 14th century and in 1377 there were about 135 poll tax payers in Ludgershall and Biddesden. This probably represented a population of about 180 to 190. The opening of the early 15th century saw the last work carried out on the castle, with repairs being made between 1403 and 1437. After that it was allowed to decay and was said to be 'clean down' in 1540 and a lodge was built on the site. The high or market cross was erected in the early 15th century; religious scenes are depicted in relief around the base of the cross.

The Queen's Head was built in the early 16th century, it may be the inn recorded in 1577. It was timber framed and although it was rebuilt in the early 19th century it retains a large early 16th century fireplace. By 1598 the main street was called High Street, including what has been Castle Street from the early 18th century. Its southern end, at the junction with Winchester Street, has always been a large open area on which markets and fairs were held from the early 13th century. In the early 17th century cloth working appeared in the community and at one time between 150 and 200 spinners were employed working at home. The industry continued into the early 18th century but was gone by 1757. In 1679 the borough was seriously damaged by fire, although the Queen's Head survived. Money was raised in churches for the victims and houses, and cottages in Castle Street and Butt Street were rebuilt. The timber framed Crown Inn, rebuilt in the early 19th century, opened in 1695 but by 1698 the earlier Falcon Inn, in the High Street, had closed.

In the early 18th century more cottages were built in Butt Street and by 1710 another inn, the White Horse had closed. However in 1728 the Half Moon opened and later, in 1756, the Star opened, although it had closed by 1796. The mid 18th century seems to have been a time of depression locally with the market declining, it had ceased by the late 18th century, and travellers making unfavourable remarks about the village. Around 1757 it was described as a 'poor thatched village' while in 1764 its houses were described as 'mean'. These comments continued to the time of William Cobbett in the early 19th century and it is thought that they mainly refer to the lack of gentility among the inhabitants, who were mainly labourers and tradesmen. More cottages were built in Castle Street while Erskine House was also erected. By 1773 both sides of St. James Street and Winchester Street had been built up. In the late 18th century Castle Farm was built on part of the castle site.

At the end of the late 18th century and beginning of the early 19th century there were public health problems with both gaol fever and small pox being common causes of deaths. Matters improved in the early 19th century and when common land was enclosed in 1835 two acres to the south of Dewey's Lane were allotted to the parish as recreation, and have remained so. There were three schools by 1846 and a National School was built in 1856. By this time there was much arable farming and the chief crops were wheat, barley, oats and turnips, as they remained for the next 100 years. In 1867 the Prince of Wales was built, a large red brick building that was closed between 1956 and 1965 and adapted for flats. In 1882 the village was connected to the railway network when the Marlborough and Andover Railway (later the Midland and South Western Junction Railway) built a line to the south of the Andover to Devizes road. The railway station was built to the south of the junction of Winchester Road and the High Street.

The early 20th century has seen the real growth of Ludgershall. Around 1900 Walter Faber, the M.P. for Andover from 1906 to 1918 began to build Faberstown on the eastern border of Ludgershall parish. At the beginning of the century the needs of nearly army camps combined to transform the community into a small town. Many shops and businesses were established and much council and private housing was built. Early building was to the east of Bell Street c.1903, with terraces of cottages in Andover Road and houses to the west of Simonds Road c.1905. An increasing population brought about the establishment of a police station in 1908. Various schemes for mains water supply had been proposed from 1901 and Walter Faber had constructed a water tower at Faberstown in 1903. These came to nothing and despite an outbreak of fever in 1910, caused by unfit water from the Winchester Street well, most households did not have piped water until 1914.

Shops had been opened in Andover Street from 1900 and during the First World War two cinemas opened in the town for the local troops. Much effort was put into providing comforts for soldiers and the Methodist mission hall was opened as a 'Soldiers' Welcome'. During the war, in 1917 the 3 ponds, which had become inconvenient and smelly in hot weather were finally filled in. More houses were built after the war, particularly on the former common land. Short Street was built in the late 1920s and South View and Central Street from the early 1930s. Between 1930 and 1935 houses were built on the Astor estate, to south of Tidworth Road, and mains electricity arrived in this growing community in 1933.

The Second World War saw further developments. Army depots were built to the north and south of Tidworth Road and a fire station opened in the High Street. A senior school also opened near the Ludgershall boundary with Tidworth. The War Office transferred the Army Medical Store to a site west of the railway station; the stores were rebuilt in 1971 and 1982. In 1943 a railway line from the army depot south of Tidworth Road was built to join the Ludgershall to Tidworth line that had been opened in 1901. The U.S. army prepared vehicles for the invasion of Europe at the depot in 1943-4.

After the war sewerage works were built in the southern corner of the parish and a substantial programme of house building began. In the early 1950s the council estate to the east was enlarged with Coronation Road, Linden Close and Perham Crescent while c.1955 Army married quarters comprising some 60 houses were built in New Crescent and Roberts Road. In the 1960s houses were built in Recreation Road, Byron Close, Meale Road, Hei-lin Way, Fleming Close and Crown Lane. The 1970s saw building in Wood Park, Spray Leaze, St. Nicholas Close, Lady Diana Court, Prince Charles Close and Old Common Way. The railway station had closed to passengers in 1961 and closed completely in 1969. It was demolished in 1974 and houses built on the site. By the 1970s Ludgershall and Faberstown were basically one community although divided by the county boundary. In 1980 a health centre opened in Central Street and in 1990 a garage and supermarket opened in Andover Road. Also in 1990 private houses were built in the east of the Astor estate. In 1992 a boundary charge saw Faberstown brought into Wiltshire to officially become part of Ludgershall and Wiltshire.



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