Salisbury Stories and Tips

Stop # 3 Shrewton - the Sheriff's Town

The blind-house Photo, Devizes, England

Another five miles south brings me to the village of Shrewton. The surrounding area abounds with early settlements such as Addestone, Maddington, Rollestone and Bourton which are all part of the present-day parish. The three major estates of the area all formed together in 1236 to become “Sheriff’s Town” from which the latter day name is derived. This was due to Edward of Salisbury who held the estates and who was of course Sheriff of Wiltshire.

The village, like Tilshead, is surrounded by Neolithic barrows and has the remains of a field system to it’s north. Roman and Saxon artefacts have been unearthed around the place. Indeed, the area was probably at it’s peak during these times as the Domesday Book records that there was sufficient arable land for “25 villeins, 29 bordars, 2 cottars and 20 serfs”, as well as “21 plough teams”.

The village sits in the Till Valley and again, most of the earlier properties were constructed with the local flint and stone. It is the centre for a wide expanse of the Plain and this is reflected in the number of businesses that flourish here. The major sight in the village is the blind-house or lock-up, a domed stone building that sits adjacent to the main road. This was built primarily as a cell for local miscreants although it was also used to hold prisoners overnight who were being transported from the assize courts in Devizes to Salisbury gaol. It’s precarious position by the side of a major road caused it to deteriorate considerably, not least of all when it was hit by a tank during WWII, and more recently by heavy lorries, so in the 1980’s, it was moved brick-by-brick and rebuilt several feet away from the roadside.

The village church is well back from the road and is accessed via a short track opposite the present-day filling station. The church is only open one day per week and like the others I’ve seen today, is small, constructed with flint, and has a stubby tower. Like Tilshead, there are also Flood Cottages here at the northern end of the village which shows the extent of the damage from the 1841 disaster. These too have a wall plaque depicting the history of the houses but like those in Tilshead, these have also been rebuilt and have lost their original charm.

The downlands all around the village were ideal for sheep rearing and for growing wheat and barley. At one time, Shrewton possessed it’s own water-mill but by the mid 16th century, a wind-mill was in use at Maddington. This remained in use until 1841 but had been converted to steam by the 1890’s and fell into disuse by the early 1900’s.

Visitors will notice that the kerbstones here are edged with metal – this was done to protect them from the heavy tracked vehicles that regularly thundered through the village en route to the ranges. The military greatly increased their land ownership around the village in the early 1900’s and today, Shrewton is surrounded by huge camps such as Larkhill as well as the firing ranges.

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