Returning to the car at West Lavington, I leave the village and head for Tilshead, a further four miles south along the A360. As I enter the place, I could be forgiven for assuming that it’s just another small military garrison with it’s “no tracked vehicles allowed” signs posted at the entrance to most of the side lanes. Tilshead is indeed an important military town but most of the installations are situated on the hillsides surrounding the town and do not as such impose upon this historic place. The name “Tilshead” derives from the name Tidwulr and refers to his area of land that would have supported one family. The source of the River Till is close by but in this instance, the name is purely coincidental. The Domeday Book records the village as having “66 burgesses”, making it one of the wealthiest and largest boroughs in Wiltshire, no doubt due to it’s position on the grasslands of the central Plain which supported thousands of sheep.
The first aspect you notice is that most of the buildings are constructed with stone and flint, some with a check pattern , others with alternate rows. The uplands here are full of flint and it makes for a cheap but immensely robust way of building a house, church, barn or whatever.
The church sits to the north of the main street and is also flint and stone. It is dedicated to St Thomas A’ Becket and dates from the 13th century, it’s stumpy tower barely higher than the chancel walls. Looking up at the chancel wall, you can see an original slatted wooden window, this dating to a time when glass was simply too scarce and too expensive to be utilised. Like it’s neighbour in West Lavington, it too sits in a tranquil little churchyard, overlooked by enormous yews. Heading west along the main street, to the left are the Flood Cottages. These were built in 1842 from public funds to support the needy of the parishes of Tilshead and Shrewton who had sustained losses in the flood of that year. It might seem rather strange for there are no major watercourses in the area. The inscription reads….
THESE COTTAGES WERE BUILDED IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1842 FROM A PORTION OF THE FUND SUBSCRIBED BY THE POOR OF THIS AND FIVE NEIGHBOURING PARISHES IN THE GREAT FLOOD OF 1841 ARE VESTED IN THE NAMES OF TWELVE TRUSTEES WHO SHALL LET THEM TO THE BEST ADVANTAGE AND AFTER RESERVING OUT OF THE RENTS A SUM SUFFICIENT TO MAINTAIN THE PREMISES IN GOOD REPAIR SHALL EXPEND THE REMAINDER IN FUEL AND CLOTHING AND DISTRIBUTE THE SAME AMONGST THE POOR OF THE SAID PARISHES ON THE 16 DAY OF JANUARY FOR EVER BEING THE ANNIVERSARY OF THAT AWFUL VISITATION.
(They weren’t big on punctuation back in 1842)
On 16th January 1841, a rapid thaw set in after two days of exceptionally heavy snow on the hills surrounding the village. The thaw caused a huge deluge of water to rush down into the village across land that was still frozen and therefore, could not absorb any of the torrent. By all accounts, a wall of water some ten feet deep hurtled through the village sweeping most of the buildings away before it. Fortunately, a warning was received and no villagers were killed although the damage to property was enormous, with barns, houses, fences and walls being totally destroyed as well as many head of sheep and cattle.
The village does boast an very good pub in the Rose and Crown where I have both eaten and had a beer on several occasions – like the rest of the village, it too is built from the local flint. Not that much else to say about Tilshead other than the fact that it does sit smack bang in the middle of the Plain and does suffer from extremes of weather, ranging from howling gales to white-out blizzards. If you like “rural”, then Tilshead could be right up your street.