« PreviousContinue »
Swindon and its Neighbourhood.
By the Rev. J. E. JACKSON, M.A., F.S.A.
HE Town of Old Swindon stands upon a hill a little in
advance of the northern escarpment of the Wiltshire chalk downs. The hill consists of three or four strata, one of them yielding the whitish building and paving stone known in Geology as the Portland rock; so called because the quarries where that stone is best known are in the Isle of Portland. Swindon is one of the very few places in North Wilts where it is visible, but it probably lies near the surface not far off. It seems to have been known in early times, for a few months ago an ancient vault was laid open in the town, bearing strong marks of Saxon architecture : and the roof of that vault was of Swindon stone. Upon the plains near Swindon are found, of various sizes, many of the grey grit tones known by the name of Greywethers. Generally, these are found lying on the surface of the chalk, their original position : but here they have somehow found their way down to the oolitic plains in advance of the chalk hills. It was from stones of this kind that the greater part of our famous Antiquities at Abury and Stonehenge were constructed. Dr. Maton says that a large block of Greywether, 12 feet by 8 feet, is in Burderop Wood, and that with the Greywethers sometimes are intermingled blocks of siliceous conglomerate, called Hertfordshire pudding-stone.
About 200 years ago, as we know from an eye-witness, John Aubrey, there was one of these large stones standing up in monumental position in a field on Broome Farm, just behind the town; and in another enclosure near it there was a row of smaller stones. Every one of these has disappeared, but their site was probably on that part of Broome Farm which is, or lately was, called the Longstone Fields. Broomo Farm itself was anciently the property of the Alien Priory of Martigny in the upper valley of the Rhone. At the Reformation it was granted to Edward Seymour, the Protector, Duke of Somerset. From his descendants it passed, by the marriage of one of the ladies, to the Wyndhams, Earls of Egremont, from whose family it was purchased by the father of its present owner, Mr. Goddard.
Of these there are four at no great distance, and they stand nearly at four points of a square; Swindon lying centrally among them: two on the south, Badbury, alias Liddington Castle, and Barbury: two on the north, Blunsdon, and Ringsbury, near Purton.
Of their history, when and by whom, made, attacked or defended, nothing is known. Some Antiquaries, like Dr. Stukeley, have amused themselves and misled us, by giving names to Wiltshire camps, calling this “Vespasian's” and that “Chlorus's.” There is no real evidence for such nomenclature; and without a great deal of speculation, perhaps no one particular event can be identified with any one of them.
So far as an Antiquary could describe them, they have been described in the great work on “Ancient Wiltshire" by Sir R. C. Hoare; but the idea sometimes occurs to one that full justice will not be done to these intrenchments until they have been surveyed by an eye that has been trained to the subject of military fortification. They may have been constructed in times inferior in many ways to our own; but a good deal more of professional skill than we are apt to give those times credit for must have been required, to choose throughout this whole country proper points for defence, and then to defend each point properly.
There are some very ancient roads in the neighbourhood, but as none of them seem to have passed directly through Swindon, it is probable that the town has come into existence since they were formed, A Roman road or street runs nearly quite straight for many miles, from Cirencester by Stratton (which takes its name, Street-town, from that circumstance) to a place called Nythe Bridge, somewhere near the line of the railway, and then onwards past Wanborough to the Ogbournes and Newbury. At Nythe Bridge, a second Roman road forked off towards Marlborough. The name of Nythe is the present form of the Latin word Nidum, and Sir R. C. Hoare considers that there was a station there, at what is now called Covenham Farm.
Of “Nidum” Sir R. C. Hoare says: “Mr. Carpenter, an intelligent old farmer, fifty years at Covenham, eighty-five years of age, had found every mark of Roman residence, in coins, figured bricks, tiles, &c., but unfortunately had not preserved them. Every heap of earth, every new-made ditch, and every adjoining road, teemed with Roman pottery of various descriptions, from the fine red glazed Samian and thin black, to that of a coarser manufacture.
“There are no regularly raised earthen-works or enclosed camp to be seen here, but in several of the fields there are great irregularities of ground and excavations which indicate the site of ancient buildings, and which, if properly examined, would doubtless produce much novelty and information. In a meadow on the eastern side of this farm there was formerly a deep cavity, which is now filled up. The farmer informed me that he had traced a road, paved with large flat stones, leading directly from the Roman road up
to it, but not extending beyond it. This was probably the site of a temple. On the western side of the old Causeway, and in a field belonging to Mr. Goddard, of Swindon, there are some great irregularities in its surface, from which many large stones have been extracted, and which evidently denoted the substructure of ancient buildings. In the modern road which intersects the station (of Nidum), I noticed half a quern; and in a heap of dirt, I picked up a piece of coral or (Samian) pottery, elegantly ornamented with vine leaves, and in no one Roman Station have I ever found so many fine specimens of Roman pottery, without the assistance of the spade, as at this place."
There is another very ancient road, called the Ridgeway, that runs along the top of the Chalk Downs, over Hackpen, and by Barbury Castle, then across the valley, and so by Liddington Castle into Berkshire. It is said that this is part of a road which has been for ages, and is to this day, used for driving cattle all the way from Anglesey into Kent: and yet that there is no turnpike gate to pay, nor bridge to cross, for several hundred miles.
The Welsh cattle-drivers along that ancient ridgeway probably know very little about the matter; but if they do happen to be familiar with the traditions of their race, it must be with some suppressed regrets that they look down from those heights upon the plains of Wilts. Those plains, and Swindon itself under some other name, once belonged to the older people whom we now call Welsh ; and long did they fight to save their lands from the grasp of us the invading Saxons. One very celebrated battle took place, according to some opinions, very near the town.
The Saxon kingdom of Wessex, of which Wiltshire was a principal part, was formed by the two kings, Cenric and Cerdic; but the old Britons still held their own to the north of it, and their principal line of defence lay between Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath. It remained for the third and next king of Wessex, Ceawlin, to expel them beyond those places, still farther forwards towards Wales. He succeeded in doing so, and all seemed to be going on well for him, when, says the historian William of Malmesbury, “about that time, A.D. 592, an unlucky throw of the dice on the tables of human life” turned those tables against King Ceawlin. He had so mismanaged matters as to make himself an object of detestation to both parties, not only the Britons, but his own people the Saxons. They accordingly combined, and in that year destroyed his forces in a great battle, in which he lost his kingdom, went into exile and died.
William of Malmesbury, taking his account, as he says, from older writers, places that battle at Wodensdike. One
One copy of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle calls the place Woodsbergh, and another copy of the same Chronicle calls it Wodensbergh. Supposing the battle to have taken place in Wiltshire, then if it was at Wodensdike it would be at what we now call Wansdyke. If it was at Woodsbergh, it may have been at Woodborough, which is very
near the Wansdyke. If it was at Wodensbergh, that is not improbably Wanborough. Dr. Guest, who is endeavouring very elaborately to throw some light upon the events of this obscure period, says that beyond all question Wanborough was the place ; and certainly the convenience of its position, with respect to the old roads, seems to favour his opinion very much.
SWINDON. In Camden's account of Wiltshire, Swindon is not even mentioned. In another old work, “ Cox's Magna Britannia," it is mentioned, but only thus : “Swindon is so inconsiderable a place that our histories take no notice of it.” Many years before the Conquest the land belonged to the Saxon Crown of Wessex, and had been, by charter, granted to a Saxon Thane or Nobleman, and so became what was called Thane-land, free from certain burdens. About the time of Edward the Confessor, A.D. 1050, that Saxon nobleman, whose name was the Earl William, had given it back to the Crown in exchange for some other lands in the Isle of Wight. Consequently, at the Conquest it was again in the hands of the Crown. At the time of the great survey called Domesday Book about A.D. 1084, the lands called Swindon had been divided among five proprietors, two larger and three smaller ones.
The largest was a person of whom nothing more appears than that his name was Odin, and that he had filled the office of Chamberlain to William. The next largest landlord was the Bishop of Bayeux, a foreign prelate. Of the smaller proprietors, one was Alured of Marlborough, a small owner here, but of comfortable dimensions elsewhere. The two remaining ones were Uluric, and Ulward, who, as he is called the “King's Prebendary," was probably not badly off in the world. All these five estates are registered in the Great Survey under one and the same name of Swindon. Besides these is Wicklescoté, now called Weslecot.
At Wicklescote, in after times, we find successively the names of these owners—Bluet, Bohun (holding what he held there under the Manor of Wootton Basset), Everard, the Darells of Littlecote, and the Lords Lovell, who had a vast property in this neighbour