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Alton Barnes, Alton Priors and the hill above - A History

David Carson MBE is an interesting man. A former Army Reservist and Cadet Force Officer, he has lived in Alton Barnes for most of his life. His family have farmed in the area since the 1880's, and his fields below the Alton Barnes White Horse feature on a Led Zeppelin album cover. As often happens in this day and age, I got to know David through social media during the lockdown. In those dark early days, I was trying to provide a bit of light by posting daily pictures of rural Wiltshire landscapes on Twitter, and this led to many connections with other Wiltshire folk and David was one of them. So, when we started the Hidden Wiltshire podcast, he was one of the people I reached out to as a possible future guest.

We met in Alton Barnes in the spring of 2021 to discuss it, as David had an existing talk written out which covers the history of the local area. As he walked us around the village and into Alton Priors, we quite quickly realised that this would be much better as a visual talk. We left with the idea that we would collaborate on a video once the weather improved.

Life can be busy, and we tried to pencil in some dates. After a few cancellations and then the holiday season in the summer, it was September before we got together with camera and recording equipment. Paul Timlett and I also roped in our young adult sons, Adam and Rohan to assist on the day. Prior to this day I had been visiting the area on several occasions during the summer with my drone, to get some aerial footage we could use in the final edit.

The recording took most of the day. In the morning, David drove us up on the hills in his Land Rover. It was a curious experience to park up right next to Adam's Grave. In the afternoon we descended to the villages. Paul's story board and direction on the day kept us on track, so had a narrative we could stitch together in the editing. Not everything went perfectly. Up on Adam's Grave, an extended family arrived to have a picnic right next to where we were filming, and we struggled to keep them out of shot. While sitting on sarsen stones on Milk Hill, curious cows crept up behind us and tried to grab our lunches from the rucksacks! There is a bloopers video that I pulled together but have not made public to preserve our modesty.

Weeks later, I pulled hours of footage together in some editing software and spent hours stitching a documentary together. The final version covers a lot of ground. We talk about the Neolithic past of Golden Ball Hill and the origins of its name. At Adam's Grave we describe the Neolithic long barrow burial chamber, and the medieval battles up there referenced in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. From there we move to the Wansdyke and talk about its mystery, referencing a recent archaeological work done by UCL which will finally provide us with a date for it. Down in the villages we discuss the Ridgeway and the Churches in Alton Barnes and Alton Priors, covering a rich history that links to the English Civil War and ends up with the tale of the Swing Riots, where a drunken mob attacked the farm that David's family now work on.

This documentary certainly contains a huge amount of history, from the Neolithic through to the present day. The beautiful landscape is also the real star of the show. In the end it was a very rewarding piece of work for all of us, and we hope you enjoy it too. You can watch it below.

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Mark Nurse
Mark Nurse
Feb 21, 2022

I really enjoyed the documentary. Thank you for making it 😁

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