Amesbury, known variously in history as Ambrosbury, Ambresbury and Amblesberie is at the centre of a population of approximately 28,000, located 14 miles west of Andover and 9 miles north of Salisbury in the county of Wiltshire.
Amesbury is one of Wiltshire’s most attractive little towns, the refuge of Guinevere, the centre for Shrewton, Durrington, Bulford, Figheldean, Boscombe Down and much of Salisbury Plain including Stonehenge and Old Sarum.
To stand and gaze upon the downland of Salisbury Plain and the hills that stretch away into the distance, is to experience a peaceful pleasure and an awareness that man has been living in this place continuously for over 4000 years.
The importance of the area can be assessed by the evidence that remains today; the numerous earthworks; over 200 burial mounds; Stonehenge, built between about 2000BC to 1000BC and its nearby predecessor, Woodhenge.
Amesbury has in recent years grown in size and modern housing estates have been built. These however do not detract from the charm of Amesbury, a place that goes back to the earliest days of history.
1979 was Amesbury’s millennium year, a thousand years since the Abbey was established.
Vespasian’s camp and Stonehenge are reminders of prehistory whilst Amesbury’s handsome cruciform church is of Norman origin and is the surviving part of a once great Abbey. The classical mansion now called Amesbury Abbey is on the original site.
Amesbury Abbey is now a private nursing home. Its gardens and grounds are private. The estate is only opened to the public twice a year so that they may view the ‘Chinese Summerhouse’ designed by Sir William Chambers, who also designed the ‘Pagoda’ at Kew. The summerhouse was restored in conjunction with English Heritage in 1986 and has received a Europa Nostra award for excellence. For dates of opening see local press.
Industries in Amesbury included a clay pipe factory, run by the local Gauntlet family. The exact site of the factory is not known, the pipes were so highly thought of as to become famous throughout the land and copied by other manufacturers.
Probably the oldest building in the town is the parish church. A precise connection of this building with the former Abbey is difficult to deduce, as the only evidence of the Benedictine religious house was found in 1853 around 300 metres north of the Parish Church.
A walk around the central part of the town will still reveal the inherent traditional character. In the High Street, Salisbury Street and Smithfield Street are 18th century, 19th century and earlier buildings which, although in many cases superficially modified for present day domestic and commercial requirement, still exhibit their original architectural style, with small close-set windows and half-hipped roofs.
One can still see the chalk block and cob construction typical of the region in several of the walls of the houses and gardens. Lamp brackets, formerly used to support the street oil-lighting can be seen on the wall of the former grammar school across the road from Barclays Bank in the High street. Alas, the once numerous thatched roofs have now dwindled to three: two near the library and one beyond the church.
High Street and Church Street, with their coaching and travellers inns would have dealt with the east-west traffic.
Salisbury Street, which used to be twice as wide as it is today, contained the weekly markets, with the market house and stocks situated on the corner of Salisbury Street and Church Street, where Lloyds Bank stands today.
A little to the west, straddling the A303 Amesbury by-pass can be seen a spread of beech clumps arranged and planted almost 200 years ago to represent the English and French ships of the line at the Battle of the Nile on the 1st August 1798. Though somewhat shrouded in history, it is believed that Emma Hamilton, Nelson’s paramour, caused them to be planted sometime after his death at Trafalgar. Indeed, they are sometimes called the Trafalgar Clumps.
At the time the land belonged to the estate of the Baron of Amesbury, Duke of Queensbury, who also held an honorary rank of Admiral. He befriended Lady Hamilton after Nelson’s death and the trees were probably planted at her behest.
The Battle of the Nile eclipsed all previous naval victories and was a masterpiece of naval strategy with lessons that have lasted into the present century. It is very fitting that such a memorial should have been commisioned. Unfortunately, it has not always been recognised as such.
Formerly known as ‘Little Amesbury’. This little hamlet has loosened its ties with its parent town over the years, due not least to the intervening Iron Age fort and the river meandering providing a natural barrier. Today it displays charming period dwellings, with good thatched and timbered cottages.
There is also West Amesbury House 17th century with mullion windows, containing within remains of a medieval house. Thought to be associated with the Priory at Amesbury.
Today’s visitors are following a tradition which goes back into ancient times. As well as serving the needs of the people of Salisbury Plain, the town has traditionally served as a resting place for travellers, at one time on foot, horseback and mail coach, but now by car, bus and bicycle.
Amesbury today offers visitors a range of useful services, a variety of places to eat and good quality accommodation.