The Village of Alderbury

The Village Sign

I have recently been looking at the southern most reaches of Salisbury and the villages of Alderbury and Britford and thought that it would be lovely to visit them both at the same time. I imagined a circular walk taking in the two lovely villages, their churches, open countryside and the River Avon with its one time canal. Looking on the OS map that does seem to be possible as footpaths appear to exist that meet up twice at the Avon at what could be river crossings. Sadly, however, it seems that this is no longer the case and in both instances the river cannot be crossed, or even reached! This begs the question as to why the paths are linked? An intriguing mystery and one I will come back to later. Despite this disappointment we made the most of our walk by investigating the village of Alderbury. It does have quite a bit of interest and history and the walk and day was completely redeemed by the lovely Revd Ruth Schofield who showed us around the wonderful church of St Mary and even unlocked the area of the church where the William Morris stained glass windows are resplendent in their arched alcoves. If for nothing else Alderbury is worth a visit for the church alone but there is much more to see, and with its amalgamation with Whaddon it forms quite a substantial and vibrant settlement which appears to have a lot of historical interest and characters.

The Church of St Mary Alderbury

Although the area to the south of the village has evidence of prehistoric inhabitants Alderbury itself was believed to have been founded in Saxon times with a settlement built around the location of the current church of St. Mary. By Norman times there was a church in that location and in the eleven hundreds King Stephen had an Augustinian monastery, known as the Ivychurch Priory, built to the east of the village. This priory was of some importance during Stephen’s reign. After the dissolution of the monasteries much of the area was leased to the Earls of Pembroke and Radnor and in the time of Queen Elizabeth I one of her favourites, Sir Thomas Gorges and his wife Helena, had had the impressive Longford Castle built. Later the castle came into the hands of John Robartes the first Earl of Radnor and it and its accompanying estate has been held by the Earls of Radnor since, albeit by a second creation of the earldom for William des Bouverie about 100 years after Robartes. As far as I can tell it is currently in the possession of the 9th Earl. The castle has been the subject of at least two novels and even from the small glimpse we caught of it, it gave a romantic and impressive, opulent air. Beyond the 18th century Aderbury seems to have continued life with little incident. In the 19th century a channel was built on the other side of the River Avon in order to form the ill fated Salisbury to Southampton canal, and a railway track, the subject of the canal’s early demise, was built to the south and east. The beautiful Victorian church was also built during that time. So plenty to discover on our walk as we found out.

Longford Castle from the footpath that led nearly to the river

For our visit we parked in the village hall which is on the southern most edge of Alderbury before it joins Whaddon. From there we walked away from the main street along a straight lane of bungalows and then onto a sunny tree lined track. At the end of the track we ignored a sign for the circular walk and turned right to skirt the village, vowing that we would return to the circular walk at some point.

Pastoral Scene Around Alderbury

Taking in pastoral scenes we continued on across a grassy path where the early morning sun on the dew gave us the impression of walking on crystals which we reluctantly crushed as we strolled along.

Grass Path with Early Morning Dew

Soon we came across a field of somewhat glamorous sheep, one or two of which seemed to be used to posing for the camera. In fact so much so that no sooner had I taken a photo of one than another was bleating at me to pick them next. Of course it could have been just my imagination and who knows what they were really thinking?

One of the Glamorous Sheep Striking a Pose

Beyond the sheep we turned right onto a tarmaced road and continued on to the curiously named Tunnel Hill which I think must have been named after a now defunct canal tunnel. On this road we found the church of St Mary nestled sweetly behind an ancient yew tree. Having heard that the stained glass was impressive we decided to pop into the church to see.

Inside the church exuded a wonderful warmth and we met a lovely lady, the Reverend Ruth Schofield, who was really kind and helpful. She told us all about various parts of the church and even opened up the area of the church where the William Morris stained glass windows were.

One of the William Morris Stained Glass Windows

I feel sure that some of the warm of the building was down to her lovely nature and I am grateful to her for spending the time talking to us and giving us details we would not have found for ourselves. Along with the William Morris stained glass there are many other beautiful windows and paintings and the tile work around the altar was amazing. She told us that the altar cloth was a more recent commission and it really did look lovely set against the Victorian tiles.

The Alter, St Mary's Church

There is a memorial in the church to Lieut. William Foster G.C. who gave his life on 13th September 1942 by falling on a bomb and shielding the blast from others. In doing this he saved around thirty others thereby earning the George Cross for his selfless bravery. His medal can be seen in the church next to his plaque. His death, 80 years to the day of my writing this blog, will be commemorated at the church by the laying of a wreath in his honour.

The Memorial to Lieut. William Foster G.C.

Thanking the Revd Schofield we took our leave of the church and on leaving we also paid our respects to the amazing 1500 year old yew tree as we walked down the church path. My photos do not do the church justice so I would definitely recommend you visit for yourselves.Your best chance of seeing the William Morris stained glass would be on a Sunday.

The 1500 Year Old Yew Tree in the Churchyard

Buoyed up by our chance encounter we continued on our walk heading down towards the river near Longford Castle and what might have been, at one time, a river crossing. The short walk from the gate gave us a glimpse of the castle but there was no way down to the river, even though the OS map suggests the public footpath takes you on to the great island. So we were left wondering what it was like and if it was deep at this location and how people in the past had made their way across. The sign on the gate said that the river was impassable so I imagined rapids and whirlpools but that might be a bit fanciful as it is more likely the location of stepping stones which are probably deemed too dangerous to cross for most of the year.

The Alderbury Ferry: From postcard published by E F Newman of 91 Fisherton Street, Salisbury (Image supplied by Nikki Copleston)

Well, with the route impassable there was nothing for it other than to rethink our walk. Initially I had considered making our way south and joining up with the circular walk that we had seen earlier. Instead, however, we decided to continue our walk around Alderbury and investigate the second possible crossing. So we headed back to the road and turned left onto Shute End Road, our curiosity peaked. The road was pleasant and for the most part treelined with a couple of large estates on either side. However, we had even less luck in finding the river at this location as the footpath was closed. Subsequently, I have discovered that there was once a ferry at this crossing. There is even an old postcard (published by E F Newman of 91 Fisherton Street, Salisbury) depicting the ferryman. Well those days have gone and along with it the prospect of crossing the river. With our second chance thwarted we continued on Shute End Road passing a number of interesting red brick houses on the way, including one with interesting stained glass windows known as St Marie’s Grange. An impressive building but perhaps not as impressive as the architect who designed it, a certain Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin who as well as having an awe-inspiring moniker was also the designer of the Palace of Westminster. St Marie’s is a lovely setting and Mr Pugin did live there with his family. However, if you believe Wikipedia, Pugin’s story doesn’t end there as it is thought he had to submit his design for the Palace of Westminster through another as it would have been rejected outright due to his conversion to Catholicism. Yet another interesting insight Into those days.

The Boundary Post Marking the Boundaries of Laverstock and Alderbury

Continuing on our walk, at the end of the road we turned right onto the main road through the village. At this corner you can find a parish boundary post and a cast iron milestone. Beyond the odd impressive lodge the area here is sparsely populated and we were grateful that there was a pavement next to the road as it was quite busy with cars at the time we were there. However, we were soon back in the main part of the village where we turned left up Old Road to see if there were any signs of the old Ivychurch Priory. It is on private land but we were please that we were able to see a small fragment of a wall from the roadside.

What Remains of the Ivychurch Priory (Wall to the right of modern building)

After this we continued along Old Street and took in the far reaching views between the buildings before taking a left fork in the road and on past the Green Dragon Public House. It is believed that there was once a tunnel from the pub to the church (or perhaps the priory) and it is said that monks used this tunnel to get to the pub. It is now believed to be haunted by these monks still making the journey to and fro from the church no doubt in search of a flagon or two of ale. It is also where Charles Dickens used to stay when visiting the area and is believed to have been the inspiration for the pub known as the Blue Dragon in his book Martin Chuzzlewit.

The Green Dragon, Alderbury

Beyond the Green Dragon is the ornate memorial and water trough. It was built to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII and in appreciation of the Earl of Radnor for providing the water supply.