The Lost Settlement of Fisherton Anger
Do you believe in ghosts? This is a question that these days I find difficult to answer. My reasoned mind has always believed that there are perfectly rational explanations for the reported hauntings and eerie phenomena that occur. Yet, in one house I lived in, events and happenings although minor did make me wonder if I needed to rethink this logical stance. The phenomena we experienced such as the lights flickering and the TV changing channels of its own accord we felt, at least at first, could be put down to dodgy electricals and neighbours with similar remote controls. However, we couldn’t explain the smell of tobacco when none of us smoked, nor the fact that one of the cats was regularly spooked by something that wasn’t there. Then there was the revelation that one of us also heard voices and might have seen shadows. Well, how else could we explain it other than it might be a ghost? Oddly, even if all this was attributable to “a haunting,” I never really felt scared. I imagined that if it was a spirit then it was most likely a benevolent previous owner who was playfully interacting with us, although thinking about it, there is a chance that they didn’t much like the cat!
Well, of course, most likely the connection with ghosts was merely the product of a fertile imagination but what if it wasn’t? What if maybe, just maybe, there was something in it? And what if the activity related more to the area where the house was built rather than a previous inhabitant? For the location of the house, although now deemed to be part of Salisbury, was indeed that of the former parish of Fisherton Anger; a parish with a chequered history. A past that, at times, is rather horrifying and brutal. A location that has tales of witches, executions, drunkenness and debauchery and could have been the last resting place of a mad prince.
So this blog isn’t about Salisbury but the lost settlement of Fisherton Anger that can be found hidden in plain sight or lurking if you look in the secret places.
If you think of lost settlements in Wiltshire, you might think of the villages abandoned in prehistoric times or more recently relatively speaking as a result of the plague. The names of Snap, Shaw and Imber all ring a bell but do you ever consider the settlement of Fisherton Anger?
The settlement that was Fisherton Anger predates that of New Sarum (modern day Salisbury), but is now hidden amongst the expansion of the city and lost its identity completely in the early 1900s. It was once a village of a few houses, which included a mill, a church and a manor; all of these settled along the lower reaches of the River Nadder before it joins the Avon, other dwellings existed around what is now Salisbury station and the road to Elizabeth Gardens. Little is known of the early settlement but its church of Saint Clement is believed to have been built during Norman times. Nothing remains of the church now other than the secret garden that was once the graveyard. Some of the stone from the church was moved to build St Paul’s the appearance of which resembles that of the old church. Images of the church can be seen in sketches and even a painting by Constable of the location. It is possible Constable painted this at the same time and assumed spot of his famous painting of the Cathedral, as all he would need to have done was to turn 180 degrees to see Fisherton Anger.
Well, that was early Fisherton Anger, a quiet farming settlement, but that was to change with the expansion of Salisbury and a need for less wealthy visitors to have nearby accommodation. So by the 1500s a number of local houses and inns were built along Salisbury’s Fisherton Street. One or two of these were owned by Mary Young of Great Durnford and might have been part of the once massive Tropenell estate. Fisherton began to get a reputation for having too many inns and indeed for some of these places being used as brothels. By the 1500s there was need for a gaol, which was built by the bridge over the Avon. The reference to the gaol can be seen by the depiction of shackles on the nearby clock tower. Adding to all of this, just outside to the north of the settlement stood the gallows. These were believed to have been located at the intersection of Wilton and Devizes Roads. There is evidence that, from martyrs to highwaymen this place of execution was put to regular use and sometimes quite gruesomely. For instance, in the early 1500s if you were a protestant England was a brutal place and Salisbury was no different than other cities. On the 24th March 1556 three Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake as a result of Mary 1st’s desire to return the nation back to Catholicism. Plaques to these martyrs appear in the Cathedral close and on the Emmanuel Reformed Church, which is located on Wilton Road close to where the martyrs perished.
As time went by, parts of Fisherton Anger retained its reputation as a place of ill repute and likewise the inhabitants were likely to be tarred with the same brush. This might have been the case for poor Anne Bodenham who was brought to trial as a witch. Anne was most likely unwittingly drawn into a conspiracy to murder and ended up as a scapegoat. It is doubtful that she truly was a witch, but whatever the truth of the matter, the poor woman, a parishioner of Fisherton Anger, was executed in 1653 for witchcraft. Her resolved showed as she never admitted to being a witch despite, no doubt being pressed hard to do so. Perhaps a reflection on the strength of character of the residents of the parish.
There is another sad story from the 1600s that relates to Fisherton Anger, one of conjoined twins. The twins were born to a Mary Waterman in the early hours of 26th October 1664. At the time, their birth caused quite a stir. Sadly, the twins only survived for 24 hours but their story doesn’t end there. Their conjoined bodies were embalmed and exhibited in places such as Winchester, Oxford and London. In London they were drawn to the attention of Samuel Pepys who went as far as mentioning it in his diary on Friday, 11th November 1664. The twins were labelled as a monster, but perhaps these days we would see the parading of the children in such a way more monstrous.
After the 17th century Fisherton Anger grew and incorporated an infirmary and what was then known as a lunatic asylum. The gaol moved to the York Road area of Salisbury and was mentioned by Celia Fiennes in her book of travels. By the 1900s this had been turned into an army HQ ahead of WW1.
The asylum became known as the Old Manor Hospital and remained a psychiatric hospital until 2003. It is currently known as Fountain Way and is being converted in to residences for the over 55s. Much of the facades and buildings of the Old Manor remain in place, and this includes the rather attractive Avon Villa. The villa was very much part of the old hospital and is where, some say (with no proof), that a member of the royal family; Prince Albert, one of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, may have resided there at the end of his life hidden away from the many suspicions that were beleaguering him. Whether Prince Albert or not it is said that an apparition of a forlorn man can be seen at the window of the third floor of the tower of the villa…but it is just hearsay.
So this final ghost story brings me full circle to the start of my post and the end of my exploration of the lost settlement of Fisherton Anger. I hope you have found the hidden details interesting. Oh, and by the way, in case you are wondering, I sometimes wish I still lived there in my old house.
For more information see:
For a more in-depth YouTube video on the village see Jamie Wright's lecture at the link below: