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Tidworth 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.


A pedestrian crossing, a parade of shops, ranks of flats and nondescript housing estates, sports ground, car sales and takeaway – anyone transported to the centre of Tidworth might think that they were in a workaday home-counties suburb, on the fringe of Watford, say, or Slough. But Tidworth is surrounded by wild and open downland, and there is no large town nearby; in terms of population Tidworth itself vies with Marlborough to be the largest ‘town’ in eastern Wiltshire. But Tidworth is not a town; it is a military garrison, and the largest of the four of these upstart, aberrant communities on Salisbury Plain. Furthermore, unlike the other three (Bulford, Larkhill, and Warminster), which all stand apart from existing settlements, Tidworth garrison has engulfed an existing pair of villages, each with unusual and eccentric elements in their long history.

The parish of Tidworth, the youngest in Wiltshire, was created in 1992 by amalgamating North Tidworth (always in Wiltshire) with South Tedworth (previously in Hampshire). The former boundary between them picked its way between barrack blocks and houses in a vaguely east–west direction, crossing the main road just north of the Oval. The endearing uncertainty about how to spell its name (not only Ted- and Tid-, but also Tod-, Tud-, Thud- and Tyd- have been used in the past) seems now to have been resolved in favour of Tid-, and Ted- is set to linger on only in Tedworth House and the Tedworth Hunt.

Perhaps too, now that the literal north–south divide has been extinguished, the old social distinction, South Tidworth for the officers, North Tidworth for other ranks, will also begin to disappear. Because, as a study published in 1986 made clear, Tidworth may be a very regimented place, but it is also a shifting, transient community, with a turnover of about one-third of its population each year. It has, too, a very high proportion of families with young children, whose soldier-fathers may be absent for five months or more in a year. Tidworth, especially for army wives, can be a bewildering and lonely sojourn, where few put down roots to bind together an inevitably unstable society.

The army came to Tidworth in 1897, and overwhelmed the existing community. By 1905, according to a report into charities, very few of the former residents were left, because all their cottages had been acquired by the War Office and used to accommodate its own personnel. By then, too, the eight barracks of harsh red brick with bizarre names to grate a Wiltshire tongue – such as Jellalabad, Candahar, Assaye – were nearing completion, and the landscape was being transformed. The history of Tidworth, therefore, divides naturally into two parts, before and after 1897, and it is logical to consider first the pre-army settlements, as the framework into which the modern garrison has been made to fit.

Before 1897 what has become Tidworth consisted of several distinct elements. There was North Tidworth, a small chalkland village which snaked around a meander of the intermittent River Bourne, and which had in previous centuries (as at Bulford) used the stream bed as its high street. Some 2km downstream to the south stood Tedworth House within landscaped grounds, which had displaced not only the village of South Tidworth, but also its church. In between, adjoining the Hampshire side of the county boundary, was the hamlet of Hampshire Cross, which probably originated as the place to which the evicted villagers of South Tidworth resorted when their cottages were taken down in the eighteenth century.

Both communities grew crops on the fertile soils over the river gravels to either side of the Bourne, and ground them in windmills on the downs, because the river could not be relied upon to turn a waterwheel. By the nineteenth century the former common fields of the various Tidworth manors, east and west of the river, had been eliminated by the farmers and landowners, who had consolidated their holdings; but as late as 1846 the rector of North Tidworth retained strips of glebe (relics of his former open-field acres) on the slope of Clarendon Hill and elsewhere. Away from the modest valley the territory of the two Tidworths consisted of rough chalk downland, overlain on Furze Hill and Sidbury Hill (the highest point on Salisbury Plain) by superficial deposits of clay-with-flints, which encouraged woodland. By the nineteenth century isolated downland farmsteads had been established at Warren Farm, Tidworthdown Farm, and The Pennings.

The earliest substantial evidence of human activity around Tidworth comes in the form of a notable series of linear earthworks, which radiate from Sidbury and criss-cross Dunch Hill to its south. Recent excavations have suggested that they represent territorial divisions created in the Late Bronze Age, about 3,000 years ago, and that by c. 800BC, when a reorganization of the landscape took place, they were losing their function. Some of their creators may have lived on Dunch Hill, where a Bronze age settlement was excavated in 1995. During the Iron Age a massively defended hillfort was constructed on Sidbury, and much of its extensive hinterland was cultivated. Traces of the small rectangular prehistoric enclosures of this period known as ‘Celtic fields’ survive on undisturbed parts of Tidworth’s downland. They were perhaps taken over in due course by one or more Romano-British farmsteads, since concentrations of Roman material have been found in various places, especially on Perham Down and Furze Hill. But the built-up area of Tidworth has masked or obliterated most archaeological evidence of occupation in the valley.

The origins of Tidworth as a distinct territory are obscure. The name, which means the enclosure or farm of Tuda, first occurs in a document purporting to date from between 979 and 1015. The Saxon Tuda, whoever he or she was and whenever he or she lived, may have pioneered the clearance and reclamation of scrub and woodland in part of what became the medieval forest of Chute. On topographical grounds Ludgershall and Biddesden appear to have originated as forest assarts colonized from Tidworth. By 1066 the remaining territory of Tidworth had been divided into no fewer than seven separate holdings, and the county boundary had been drawn between them, carefully picking its way across the valley along field banks which must already have been in place. The seven Domesday estates of Tidworth, three in Wiltshire and four in Hampshire, formed the basis of medieval manorial organization, each farming its transect across the valley. By the seventeenth century all but one, Zouch in North Tidworth, had passed into the ownership of the Smith family, whose successors built and enlarged Tedworth House.

The manor house of Zouch manor, whose nineteenth-century successor survives nearby as a white-rendered farmhouse, achieved more than local celebrity in 1662-3, when it was haunted by a poltergeist. William Drury, a vagrant drummer from Uffcott near Wroughton, who had become interested in wizardry during his career as a Parliamentary soldier, had his drum confiscated at Ludgershall by the local magistrate, John Mompesson of Zouch Manor. The drum was taken to Mompesson’s house, and for more than a year afterwards the household was troubled by incessant drumming, ghostly apparitions, and other diabolical occurrences. ‘I have plagued him’, quoth the Drummer, ‘and he shall never be quiet till he hath made me satisfaction for taking away my drum.’

Zouch manor finally passed to Smith control in 1832, so that when tithe commutation took place a few years later every acre of land in both parishes (apart from glebe) belonged to Thomas Assheton Smith III. As merchants and politicians the Smiths had acquired wealth and property, including lucrative slate mines on an estate in North Wales. The size and design of their seat, Tedworth House, during the eighteenth century is unknown, although one oak-panelled room in the present house is believed to be a survivor from it. At a date after 1759, and probably c.1784 when the old church was removed, a landscaped park was created around the house. This involved rerouting further east the old north–south road, which had followed the course of the Bourne, and demolishing the cottages which lined it. The position of the former South Tidworth village green, beside the Bourne a little south-east of the present house, can be deduced from the tithe map. Materials from the old church were transferred to a new site on the slope of Furze Hill, where they were used to make a mortuary chapel for a new burial ground. This survives and is still in use, approached along Church Lane. Some of the villagers of South Tidworth, as remarked earlier, seem to have been relocated to a new hamlet, Hampshire Cross.

The present Tedworth House, one of the most spectacular country houses in east Wiltshire, dates largely from 1828-30, with substantial enlargements in 1878-80, and subsequent adaptation as an officers’ club. The 1820s building campaign was for Thomas Assheton Smith III (Tom Smith), whose obsession was hunting. The stables and kennels which were built adjacent to the mansion could house 50 horses and 400 hounds, and they were at the heart of Smith’s proudest achievement, the creation of the Tedworth Hunt. By the time of his death in 1858, aged 83 (and still hunting), Smith had carved a territory for his hunt which extended from Salisbury to Marlborough, across Savernake Forest to take in the Andover district and Harewood Forest, and south along the Test to Mottisfont. More locally he removed woodland and cut rides all around the Tidworth area, fulfilling his aim to create a hunting landscape as the setting for his house and park. In hunting annals the Tedworth and its creator, Tom Smith, became legends.

Smith’s sporting interests extended beyond hunting to other manly pursuits, including yachting, rowing, cricket, billiards, boxing, and common assault. After his death, childless, Tedworth House was let to notable tenants, the elderly raconteur Cam Hobhouse (who had been Byron’s travelling companion and closest friend), and, from 1871, Edward Studd, whose three sons became to cricket what Smith had been to hunting. C.T. Studd, the youngest, seems to have been a paragon of Victorian values. From Eton to Cambridge, where he captained the cricket team, he played for England against Australia in the 1883 test match which resulted in the ashes, and excelled both in batting and bowling. He also embraced his father’s evangelical Christianity (Tedworth House had been adapted for prayer meetings and evangelists), and having renounced his fortune, spent most of his life, from 1885 to 1931, as a missionary and preacher in China and Africa.

By the 1880s Tedworth House had passed into other hands, and was undergoing large-scale changes. Sir John Kelk, a self-made civil engineering contractor, became squire of both Tidworths in 1878, and not only extended the house, but also built a new church, completed in 1880. St Mary’s, South Tidworth, reposing now in sequestered redundancy among trees between the road and the park, is surprisingly little known. The visitors’ book in 1997 provided evidence for only eleven visits during the previous year. Its architect, John Johnson, had designed Alexandra Palace, which Kelk’s company had built, and at Tidworth he achieved the Victorian Gothic ideal, a wholly original building set within the traditions of medieval detail, and with no expense spared on materials or craftsmanship. To enter it now is to walk into a mothballed world of high-church sanctity, utterly Victorian – yet everything is good as new.

Kelk’s death in 1886, leaving the house and estate to his son, Sir John William Kelk, brings us almost to the opening of the military era, and it will be worth considering what legacy remains of the earlier Tidworth. Tedworth House, the palatial stables, exquisite church, park, Home Farm (to which the hunt’s kennels were transferred), and the burial ground discreetly set apart, with reconstructed medieval chapel, are all, despite a century of military embellishment and adaptation, mostly as Kelk left them. One absentee, unfortunately demolished during the 1950s, is a turreted observatory which Tom Smith built on the top of Furze Hill as an early warning system in the face of the 1830 agricultural riots. North Tidworth retains its plain medieval village church, offset to the west overlooking the main road. By no means the most beautiful church in Wiltshire, it was rebuilt in stone during the fifteenth century (the font is much older), and then repeatedly patched up (especially around the west tower) in red brick. Nearby, in Plassey Road and along the old road line behind the Ram Inn, are scatterings of older cottages, including thatch and vernacular banded flint. Further along the Ludgershall Road is Manor Farm (recently restored), and a block of three estate cottages, inscribed JWK [John William Kelk] 1890. A range of four brick almshouses, originating in 1691, which stood below Zouch Farm, have been demolished during the present century.

Also pre-army is the framework of roads through Tidworth. The villages lay on one line (and close to another) of an important route from Salisbury to Oxford via Hungerford. As mapped in 1675 this road followed the River Bourne northwards and then eastwards through the Tidworths, turning up the Ludgershall road and then striking north again (opposite the present Kennet Road junction) towards Windmill Hill. The present Salisbury to Marlborough main road (A338) through Tidworth was turnpiked in 1835 and its course straightened north and south of the Ram Inn junction. Past Tedworth House, as we have noted, the main road had already been realigned further east, and the older line is now preserved as Meerut Road and the beginning of Bulford Road. Use of the main road declined in the later-nineteenth century, as the railway network developed elsewhere, and Colt Hoare’s 1826 assessment of North Tidworth, as ‘a small retired village’, must have held true. In common with most Salisbury Plain villages its population (240 in 1801) rose steadily to mid-century (417 in 1841), and then dropped back again, to 241 in 1891. South Tidworth was much the same, many of its inhabitants living at Hampshire Cross; this hamlet stood around the road junction (approximately now Meerut, Lowa and Landre Roads, west of the Oval), and some of its cottages remain, but much of the site has been replaced by army installations on a slightly different line. The present downland road to Bulford, which sets off from here, is not a pre-army feature; it was built in 1909-10.

For Tidworth, the world began to change in 1897. The attractions of Salisbury Plain for military training of a more permanent nature than summer manoeuvres in tented camps resulted in the wholesale purchase of large tracts of downland between 1897 and 1899. Tidworth, which Kelk had been trying to sell in a depressed land market for several years, was among the earliest and largest of these War Office acquisitions, and Tedworth House was by far the grandest building which came the army’s way. They did not really want or need it, but having tried and failed to auction it, sell it privately, or let it, in 1898 they decided that this white elephant should become the offices and residence of the commanding officer.

From here the garrison was planned and executed, an ambitious scheme unparalleled in Wiltshire since the building of Swindon railway village sixty years earlier. Eight similar barracks were to be constructed side-by-side, along a curving line which follows the 400-foot contour below Clarendon Hill. The plan, it is said, was based on the deployment of troops at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. But when it came to naming the barracks any thoughts of the Great Rebellion were dispelled, and instead heroic deeds of Empire and Raj during the nineteenth century were commemorated, alphabetically (west to north-east) from Aliwal to Mooltan. Between the barracks the dividing roads were given a similarly eastern flavour, with names (again in alphabetical progression) such as Dasna, Jamrud and Kirkee. Bazaar Road linked them all, separating the barrack blocks to the south from the married quarters (48 per barracks) to the north. These, in defiance of the pervading oriental ambience, were christened by their occupants ‘Merthyr Tydfils’, who noted their similarity to Welsh colliery housing. South of the barrack blocks curved another linking road, the Grand Trunk Road, and beyond were the officers’ messes, each inscribed with its Indian name; it is these which the casual visitor sees today behind security fences from the Bulford Road.

All the barracks, and therefore all the Indian names in Tidworth, date from around 1904-5. Ninety years on they are being demolished or refurbished, although Lucknow and Mooltan have been listed, and so should survive in their original form. The central block of four was designed as infantry barracks (although one – Delhi – served as the military hospital from 1907-77), and they were flanked on either side by pairs of cavalry barracks, a function phased out during the 1920s. A large triangular area between Jellalabad and Lucknow (caused by the curve of the contour) was filled with a variety of communal and social buildings, including a bakery and a butchery, a corrugated iron market, welfare institutes, a Wesleyan soldiers’ home (1907), a school and a garrison theatre (1909), a church (1912), and an electric cinema (1913). This last became possible because of the pioneering use of electricity in the garrison, supplied from a generating station which was built in Candahar Barracks in 1913.

Military Tidworth arrived by train. Before the ambitious building programme could be implemented a railway was constructed (in 1900-1) from the Swindon to Andover line at Ludgershall. Nearby in Brimstone Bottom a navvy village of corrugated iron sprang up to accommodate the railway and construction workers, and, like similar erections, it was nicknamed ‘Tin Town’. A station was built on rising ground east of the main road, and Station Road linked it to the barracks. After the construction phase was complete, Tidworth Station (which actually straddled the county boundary) swarmed with troops, and a bank and parade of shops, known to the soldiery as ‘Robbery Row’, were built along Station Road. Here Tidworth wears its most suburban aspect – and not surprisingly, because this development, of the first world war and afterwards, synchronizes precisely with a hundred and more nondescript station approaches in ‘Metroland’ Greater London. The bank’s architect, (Sir) Edward Maufe, went on to design Guildford Cathedral. From the station a light military railway ran across the main road to the barracks; it had gone by the 1950s, and in 1955 the line to Ludgershall closed to civilians. It continued in military use until 1962/3 and was then removed; the site of Tidworth Station is now occupied by a supermarket.

Military activity also took place at an early date in the area north of the station towards North Tidworth village. Here Ordnance Road marks the approach to an extensive area of stores which had developed from c.1903 until 1963 as an ordnance depot, and were subsequently used as field workshops. But most expansion of Tidworth to the east, north and west of the village has been for service and civilian housing since the 1950s. The largest estates, Zouch, Wylye Road, and Mathew (on the site of world-war-two barracks) all date from the 1960s. In 1971 the population of North Tidworth alone reached 7,700.

In addition to the barracks of the garrison, Tidworth has accommodated military camps and installations elsewhere in the parish. The traveller from the north encounters first the military cemetery, on the slope below Sidbury; it was established in 1903, and alongside British casualties commemorates more than 250 Australian and New Zealand first-world-war soldiers. Also by 1903 a map records temporary summer camps at the Pennings, on Windmill Hill, south of Tedworth House, and at Perham Down. Of these only the last became a permanent installation, when its tents were replaced by huts in 1915, and by more substantial buildings (for tank batallions) during the 1920s and 1930s. Further barracks were built along Somme Road between Perham Down and Ludgershall in 1938, but of these only overgrown tarmac vestiges remain. Perham Down itself was rebuilt between 1972 and 1974.

Tedworth House, which we left in about 1900, remained the grand and expensive residence of the commander-in-chief until 1915, but then became the officers’ club until 1978, when it was demoted to an officers’ mess. Between the wars it was well known for its polo arena, constructed in 1925, and for the annual military tattoos held there on summer evenings by searchlight, from 1920 until 1938 (and then revived 1966-76). Spectacular affairs, in their heyday they attracted crowds of 150,000 spectators, drawn from a wide area of southern England and beyond. World war two brought a new use for Tedworth House, which from 1942-5 became the headquarters of the American first infantry division, and for more than three years Tidworth was overrun by American soldiers. Their weekly dance at Tedworth House seems to have been a powerful draw for servicewomen and local girls. It is said that the ‘Hokey-Cokey’ was invented there in 1943. Another consequence of such occasions became apparent in 1946, when Tidworth and Perham Down were used as transit camps for 640 ‘GI brides’ and their 176 babies, on their way to America.

NOTES (location: SU2348; area: 1,254 + c. 900ha; population (estimate): 8,074)
General: VCH 15, 153-63; VCH Hants 4, 391-4; Croman, D J, A history of Tidworth and Tedworth House,1991; James, N D G, Plain soldiering, 1987, 29-85
Social problems: Fanshawe, P G, ‘Mothers in an army town: a survey’, Early Child Care and Development, 25, 1986, 79-160; Prehistory: Bradley, R, et al., Prehistoric land divisions on Salisbury Plain, 1994; WANHM 90, 158; Poltergeist: Hoare, R C, Modern Wilts: Amesbury hundred, 1826, 93-9; Underwood, P, Hauntings, 1977; Tedworth Hunt: Holloway, E, Portraits of the Tedworth fox, c.1994; VCH Hants 5, 531-3; South Tidworth Church: Guide, 1985 (Redundant Churches Fund).



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