Page images

The date of these interments of former inhabitants of this part of England must always be a matter of speculation; and so far do they date back, that probably when Cæsar landed, they presented to him the same appearance as they do to us. Other earthworks of various descriptions break the even surface of the downs, the nature and purpose of which are far more difficult to explain. Some appear to have been small enclosures, which the Rev. A. C. Smith suggests were pens for cattle yards enclosed by high banks, into which the animals were driven for safety from the wolves, or equally rapacious hostile tribes. Those who have occasion to travel along the turnpike road leading from Salisbury to Blandford, can hardly fail to notice as they approach Woodyates Inn, one of the most remarkable earthworks in the kingdomknown as Bokerley Dyke. This great earthwork consists of a bank and ditch-with the ditch towards the north-stretching, as far as it remains at present, from the northern end of Cranbourne Chase, across the open down south of the village of Martin, to the wooded heights of Martin Wood and Boveridge. Very great as the labour must have been of throwing up so large a mound, it bears every trace of being the work of a very rude people. Without a plan, and without its proposed course being marked out, it is perpetually altering its direction; and to a person standing on its highest part towards Cranbourne, it seems to resemble in its course rather that of a river than of a preconcerted work of man. An imaginative mind may picture to itself a barbarian race labouring with savage energy at this great work, but almost without control from any master mind. Some chief, perhaps, whilst urging on his men, might notice that the work was tending somewhat to the right or left of the intended course, and would set the workers right: after some few yards in the proper course, however, the work again diverts, which necessitates another change; and thus the dyke obtains its somewhat erratic form. The present age justly prides itself upon its engineering triumphs-its railway cuttings and embankments; and great works they are, but the means of executing them are equally great, owing to the strides which science has made, and the infinite improvement in the manufacture of implements. This

dyke would be dug, and this great mound thrown up, by a people who had no implements to help them besides a pointed stick perhaps, to loosen the soil, or a flint, attached by leathern thongs to a handle to act as pickaxe, and nothing approaching nearer to the navvy's barrow than a rude wicker basket to be carried on the shoulders. A glorious sight it must have been to watch these swarms of fiery men at work, their wild hair streaming in the wind, with all the symmetry of their sinewy limbs exposed to view.

It is far from improbable that in the year 1685, this very earthwork sheltered the Duke of Monmouth in his flight from Sedgmoor. He and his two companions, as is well known, abandoned their tired out horses in the neighbouring Cranbourne Chase: there it was that the Duke changed his dangerously conspicuous clothes for those of a labouring man; and as he must have crossed the open downs to reach the place where he was taken (a field in the parish of Horton), he probably chose the cover afforded by this dyke to shield him from the view of those who were in search of him, and who would narrowly watch the open down. A quarter of a mile or less from the point at which the dyke intersects the Blandford turnpike road, stands Woodyates Inn, in former times a well-known posting house. Though it still may possess a pair of posters, it is better known and frequented as being the training establishment of Mr. William Day. At this inn King George III. always changed horses when on his way to Weymouth, and the room that was built for his use on these occasions, together with its outside flight of steps, is still remaining. The downs in this neighbourhood afford likewise many traces of the occupation of England by the Romans. The Roman Road from Bradbury Rings in Dorsetshire, passes by this inn on its way to old Sarum. Straight as a bird can fly, it crosses hill and dale, and many portions of it remain as when first made, except that roadway and embankment alike are covered with turf. From the end of the enclosed land, beyond Woodyates Inn, towards Blandford, over the hill into the village of Gussage St. Michael, it remains untouched, except in some few places where gaps have been cut to allow waggons and carts to cross it. In form it resembles a narrow railway embankment, but

for what purpose it was thus raised on hill and in valley alike, it is is difficult to determine; possibly the idea may have been that the most effective drainage was thus secured.

Another interesting relic of the Roman occupation of this part of the country is presented by the earthwork, known as Soldier's Ring, in the parish of Damerham. It is situated on the down to the right of the road leading from Martin to that village. This misnamed ring, being in reality square, shows, equally with the Roman Road, that it is the work of a civilized people. Planned with accuracy, and executed with exactness, we can see exactly how a Roman Legion entrenched itself.

The downs in almost every part of the county are marked by military works-British, or Roman, or both. Hardly a hill-top can be found which has not its encampment, and nowhere is this to be noticed more frequently than on the range of Downs from Westbury to Salisbury: beginning with Bratton Castle, follow Battlesbury, (with Clay Hill away to the right) Scratchbury, Knook, Oldbury, Yarnbury, in quick succession. At the time when the people of this country were fearing invasion under the first Napoleon, some of these hill-tops on the downs were prepared to be used as beacons, faggots and other materials being collected ready to be lighted to signal from the coast the enemy's landing. Melbury Hill on the borders of Wilts, but actually in Dorsetshire, was one of those selected for the purpose, and the story used to be told in the neighbourhood, that some person either from mischief or else misled by some fire in the distance, set the beacon a light and spread consternation through the country. Beacon Hill near Amesbury, was probably so called from having been used, at some time or other, for a similar purpose.

In the last century some of the turnpike roads in the county of Wilts ran along upon the highest ridges of the downs, and still there are several places where the old milestones are remaining, though the road itself has long ago sought the shelter of the lower ground. On the downs above Westbury are several of these deserted stones-marking out to a certain extent the old road which led from that town to Salisbury, A similar, now disused,

road was carried over even a more exposed ridge between Shaftesbury and Salisbury, commencing on White Sheet Hill. Though this road extended for some sixteen miles, it passed but one solitary house, still remaining, and known as Fovant Hut, a miserable place of refreshment, frequented occasionally by drovers, and the few who cross at that point from one valley to the other.

Whilst speaking of the downs above the town of Westbury, and the old milestones to be seen there, mention must be made of another stone standing on the same downs between Imber and Tinhead it marks the spot where, some 25 or 30 years since, a robber fell dead. The late Mr. Deane of Imber, on his way home from Devizes Market, was attacked by three men who robbed him : this took place at Gore cross in the parish of West Lavington. The men were afterwards pursued by Mr. Deane and some friends whom he called to his assistance, and the robber, whose death is recorded on the stone, fell dead from over exertion in his attempt to escape. In many parts of the downs the tracks made in former times by the pack horses may still be observed, especially where the path led up a steep ascent; as in such spots the track is often very deeply cut: the exertions of the horses ascending and decending would loosen the chalk and flints, and every shower of rain would wash them down, and thus the track would gradually cut deeply into the ground.

The subject of the matter of this paper has been chiefly drawn from the southern part of the County of Wilts, as being best known to the writer, but the downs in the Northern part are doubtless just as rich in matters of interest: Avebury, Silbury Hill and the Wansdyke alone afford subjects which would fill a volume. Nor yet is the south exhausted whilst Stonehenge, the Cursus, Vespasians Camp, and other earthworks remain untouched upon. The Botany, -the peculiar ornithology of the downs-the latter especially, have claims upon our notice; but it is hoped that enough has been already said to point out subjects of interest even on the barest portions of the down, so that he who crosses them, if he will but use his eyes, need not complain that his journey has been tedious.

A Geological Sketch of the Calley of the Kennet.

By the Rev. JOHN ADAMS, M.A.


T was remarked by Sir J. Awdry in the opening address which he gave at Hungerford, as President of the Wiltshire Archæological Society, that the enjoyment of travelling would be much increased if men would keep their eyes open, and accustom themselves to notice the physical features of the countries through which they passed. Let any-one follow this hint in going from Marlborough to Reading, and he will experience the truth of the president's remark. The scenery which he traverses will be clothed with new fascinations, and he will find it deeply interesting to think about, as well as pleasant to gaze upon. Several striking features in the general aspect of the country will at once arrest his attention, especially if he can look around him with a geological eye. As he leaves behind him the richly wooded slopes of Savernake Forest, and begins to follow the course of the river,-"The Kennet swift for silver eels renowned," he will notice, that the land on both sides of the valley rises in gigantic terraces, cut through at frequent intervals by ravines; and that on the south side it stretches away for several miles in a plateau, covered with luxuriant trees. Beyond this woodland he will gaze with admiration on the Hampshire hills, springing abruptly from the plain, like the lofty coast-line of some inland sea. One might travel far across the hills and dales of England without finding a scene of such varied beauty as this. But, independently of its beauty, each feature in the landscape has another and deeper interest to the man who will look below the surface, and study the physical character of the country; for this crystal river with its fertile meadows, those broken terraces covered with foliage, and yonder range of stately hills, rising almost bare and treeless from the forest-like plain, will, if we thoughtfully examine them, unfold to us the secret of their origin, and teach us some

« PreviousContinue »