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  • Paul Timlett

Old Winsley, Turleigh and The Elbow

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

Listeners to the podcast will have heard us talk about Sarah Lucas. Sarah moved from Wiltshire to Scotland some 30 years ago and is a keen follower of Hidden Wiltshire. She spent much of her early life living in Winsley and has fond memories of the area. She asked if we would do a walk there and take photographs of some of her favourite places. We were very happy to oblige. On a wet and windy January day Glyn and I met in Winsley where we were joined by another Hidden Wiltshire follower, Bo Novak. Bo knows the area well and agreed to show us around. We took the audio equipment with us and recorded some of our observations along the way as once again on a location recording we sought shelter from the strong wind and rain. We will feature this in an upcoming podcast.

Sarah told us that she had lived in a number of houses in Old Winsley, and that her grandparents had once owned a house called The Elbow overlooking the canal between Avoncliff and Murhill Wharf, so we chose a route that encompassed most of these places together with the lovely village of Turleigh. We had limited time on the day so had to leave out Avoncliff, although we had good views of it from above as we descended towards The Elbow. We parked on the road outside Burghope Manor, with some fields opposite, and began our walk.

Sarah told us some fabulous stories about Winsley. Her father was instrumental in turning the old primary school into the Social Club. The fact that it had a full sized billiard table and that he was the pre-war billiards champion of Wiltshire I’m sure had nothing to do with it! Her family once lived in Manor Cottages. One night in the 1980s the Manor House was burgled and a hoard of antiques was taken. Sarah’s father happened to be out of bed suffering a migraine and saw a van outside. Thinking nothing of it he went back to bed. When quizzed by the police about the van the next day he said that he hadn’t noticed the registration number. Undeterred Wiltshire Police called in a hypnotist from Cornwall who “put him under”. In his hypnotic state her father recalled enough of the number plate to enable the police to catch the culprits, and most of the antiques were recovered! The case was heard at the Old Bailey. In her gratitude the owner of The Manor at the time, Beatrice Knatchbull, gave Sarah’s father a large picture depicting an old cricket match. When I emailed Sarah to say we had completed the walk she had just been hanging the picture in her house in Scotland!

Our first stop on the walk was St Nicholas’ Church. The date of the first building here is unknown but the first surviving record of it seems to be from 1349. The tower is built in a style redolent of the 15th century, and a window in the chancel is possibly a remnant of a building of the 13th century. However the main building was changed substantially in the mid 19th century. The tower is clearly much older and has a number of stone panels above the door which have been worn away to the point where they are almost illegible. One of the photos shows the curious way the tower has been connected to the main building. I must admit the lighting in the main building took us all aback. It was like a boudoir and someone had clearly forgotten to put away the Christmas decorations as the nativity scene was still in place in front of the altar!

St Nicholas' Church, Winsley

St Nicholas Church, Winsley and Connected Tower

The Boudoir and Nativity, St Nicholas' Church

Inscriptions around tower door

We spent some time wandering the narrow streets of Old Winsley. There are beautiful old cottages everywhere. And of course we found our way to The Seven Stars pub, although sadly there was no time to go in. Next time – Bo assured us it would be worth it.

The Seven Stars, Winsley

From the pub we headed back in the direction of the church and went round a sharp right hand bend in the direction of the war memorial and we soon came to the steep lane towards Turleigh. After a little way we came to the spring which emerges from behind a little metal gate in the wall at the side of the lane. The water is crystal clear as it emerges, so much so that Bo filled her drinking bottle. She is either very trusting or has a cast iron stomach! The water flows directly into what are known as the Turleigh Troughs or Trows, a series of interconnected basins cut from stone which some say were the coffins of children. They certainly look like it. This was once the source of drinking water for the hamlet and fed some of the richer households which were later connected by pipe to the spring. A little further down the lane, past Turleigh Manor, we came across a little niche in the wall of a house with a water pipe. A plaque said it was placed in 1912 at private cost for the use of the village. Someone has nobbled the tap though!

Turleigh Troughs/Trows - tiny coffins?

Turleigh Village Communal Tap

Many of the houses in Old Winsley and Turleigh provide clues as to how self-sufficient it was as a community. There were several old brewhouses, the old post office, tannery, bakehouse and so on. All those businesses have gone and the buildings turned into chocolate box cottages. Clearly it’s a desirable place to live as someone had posted a card on the door of the old phone box in Turleigh (now the village library) seeking a house to buy in the hamlet. Money appeared to be no object.

Turleigh Manor is a fine looking house on the junction facing up the hill in the direction we planned to head. It was built in about 1700 for clothier John Curll and his wife Querina. Now there’s a name to conjure with! Behind it in the garden was an equally fine looking private chapel. Just down the hill from The Manor was an unusual house squeezed between two lanes. If you look carefully at the photograph you’ll see the external walls are not at right angles. It reminded me of the Flatiron Building in New York.

The Manor - Turleigh

The original Flatiron Building