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Red Wheel plaque unveiled at historic pumping station

Peter Stone and Phil HardingPeter Stone and Phil HardingThe importance of Crofton Beam Engines in the story of the nation’s industrial past was celebrated on Saturday with the unveiling of a Red Wheel plaque from the Transport Trust.

The plaque – mounted on the wall of the boiler house – was unveiled by Peter Stone, of the Transport Trust, aided by archaeologist Phil Harding of TV’s Time Team.

The red wheel scheme – much like its blue plaque cousin – aims to promote significant heritage sites from Britain’s transport history. Launched in 2009, there are now more than 80 locations with a red wheel plaque.

It read: “Crofton Pumping Station 1807 House the oldest beam engine in the world able to fulfil its original role – pumping water to the summit of the Kennet and Avon Canal.”

Peter Turvey, chairman of the Crofton Branch of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, said: “Crofton Pumping Station is one of the most important industrial revolution sites in the country.

“Built to supply water to the summit level of the Kennet & Avon Canal, the pumping station is a unique working survivor of the technology which enabled British engineers to drain deep mines, supply water to canals and towns, and build docks and harbours throughout the world.

“For nearly 50 years the Crofton Beam Engines have been kept in working order by teams of dedicated volunteers and the skills needed to run it passed on to new generations. Long may it continue.”

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Archaeologists back in the Vale of Pewsey: what might follow the boy with the amber necklace?

Bronze Age burial of teenage boyBronze Age burial of teenage boyThe boy with the amber necklace had lain under Pewsey Vale soil for thousands of years - until he was discovered last summer by archaeologists from Reading University.   Unearthing the teenager's Bronze Age burial place at the Wilsford henge was just one of the main achievements of their dig last year.

On Monday (June 27), Dr Jim Leary and his team start a major new, month-long dig in the Vale of Pewsey to unearth more about the Neolithic people who lived there 4,500 years ago.  And they hope to make many more significant finds.

Previous excavations at Marden uncovered an extraordinarily well-preserved Neolithic building surface, thought to be the base for a ceremonial ‘sweat lodge’, and some fine Stone Age artefacts, including a long-tailed flint arrowhead.  And last year's discovery at Wilsford of the Bronze Age burial has encouraged hopes for further major results from the digs.

This year the Reading team will be investigating previously unexplored parts of both Marden and Wilsford henges.   These excavations will mark the second year of a three-year project led by the University of Reading, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum.

Dr Jim Leary explaining the 2015 dig to visitorsDr Jim Leary explaining the 2015 dig to visitorsDr Jim Leary, from Reading University’s Department of Archaeology and Director of its Archaeology Field School, believes their work has already transformed knowledge about the Vale of Pewsey in prehistory:  “Relatively few archaeological digs have taken place here, particularly compared to the famous sites of Avebury and Stonehenge to the north and south, but it is likely to have been the heartland to the prehistoric communities living in this internationally important landscape."

“Marden henge is directly in between these two more famous monuments, and may well be the key to understanding them both.”

Built around 2400 BC, Marden is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important prehistoric monuments – though only a barely visible hump shows where the henge and its mound once stood.

The dig will not only focus on Neolithic archaeology, but use modern scientific methods to investigate the role of the Vale’s environment such as the River Avon on settlements in prehistoric, Roman, medieval and more recent periods.

The excavation is part of the Reading University's Archaeology Field School academic work with archaeology students from Reading and a global team of volunteers excavating within Marden henge for four weeks - from June 27 to July 23.

Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress between 10am and 5pm every day except Fridays.   Group visits must book in advance.  There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site at the Open Day on Saturday, July 16. 

The Field School website has all the details.

The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes has a special display featuring finds from Marden Henge, including a remarkable Neolithic flint arrowhead that was discovered last year. The Museum is running special tours including a Director’s tour of the Museum and a visit to the site. Find out more at their website.


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Carnage: The Battle of the Somme centenary - men from colleges and towns like Marlborough’s killed in a costly lesson on modern warfare

Sir Edwin's Lutyens' 'Monument to the Missing of the Somme' at ThiepvalSir Edwin's Lutyens' 'Monument to the Missing of the Somme' at ThiepvalThe Battle of the Somme began early in the morning of 1 July 1916. It was an Anglo-French campaign fought over four and half months through the summer and autumn of 1916 across a front which stretched some forty-five kilometres from north to south.

During the course of that campaign, British and French armies advanced twelve kilometres at the point of their greatest gain, but still failed to capture either of their two target towns, Bapaume and Peronne.

Casualties (dead, wounded, missing, captured) amounted to about 420,000 for the British, 200,000 for the French, and 580,000 for the Germans.

Those bare statistics contain some figures of local interest. For example, six of the 42 members of St Peter's Parish in Marlborough who died in the war were killed on the Somme.

The numbers from Marlborough College are even more heart-breaking: twenty former members of the College died on the first day alone, and another ninety before the fighting in that part of France was over.

There was not a community in the country left untouched by this Battle.

If the battle failed to achieve the much-heralded "break-through", it did succeed in one of its objectives, namely saving the French at Verdun. During the course of the following winter the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line, surrendering five times as much territory as the British and French armies had won the previous year, and adopting an essentially defensive strategy until the spring of 1918.

The Lutyens monument, which sits astride the Thiepval Ridge at a point where the British took three months to advance less than half a mile, commemorates the 72,000 missing of the Somme, those who have no known grave. Ninety per cent of those men died between July and November 1916.

Stone marking Devonshire Trench: buried there are 163 men killed on 1 July 2016 during their attack on Mametz villageStone marking Devonshire Trench: buried there are 163 men killed on 1 July 2016 during their attack on Mametz villageIt is an imposing memorial whose "precise geometry and intellectual imagination subverts and elevates the simple form of the triumphal arch into a meditation on war and loss". Guarded by redoubts - fortress-like entrenchments on the crest of the ridge - thousands of British troops died in the course of wresting Thiepval village from German control.

Further north, other villages made equally impregnable by the steep slopes of the River Ancre's valley, likewise blocked the advance of the British forces.  One village only falling in November and another remaining in German hands after the battle was over.

How the Allied line advanced in the direction of Bapaume (click to enlarge)How the Allied line advanced in the direction of Bapaume (click to enlarge)What success was achieved on this part of the front came largely as a result of the threat to the German defenders of being outflanked by the eventual fall of the village of Pozieres on the Albert-Bapaume road, the capture of Mouquet Farm, and the partial successes of the battle of Flers-Courcelette in late September.

Prior to this it had taken the Australians forty-five days and nineteen separate assaults at a cost of over 27,000 casualties to capture Pozieres which dominated the central part of the ridge against which the British soldiers had to advance across the entire length of their part of the front line from their starting point on July 1.

Despite blowing mines to dislodge the Germans from their strong defensive positions at La Boiselle, progress up both Sausage and Mash valleys either side of the road to Pozieres was slow and costly. Charles Edmonds in A Subaltern's War described the scene at the village of Ovillers just two weeks after the first attack went in: "Among the wire lay rows of khaki figures as they had fallen to the machine guns on the crest, thick as sleepers in Green Park on summer Sunday evenings."

The aftermath of war: the remains of Delville WoodThe aftermath of war: the remains of Delville WoodFurther south and east where the slopes were less steep and the German defences weaker, there had been initial success against other villages, but further progress in this sector was hindered by large thick concentrations of trees - Mametz Wood, Delville Wood and High Wood - where it proved almost impossible to break the German stranglehold on the surrounding land.

At Mametz the 38 (Welsh) Division suffered 4,000 killed or wounded in the course of just six days.  In a similar period of time, three quarters of the South African troops who tried to capture Delville Wood became casualties.  And High Wood survived for over six weeks in German hands despite persistent but limited attacks which feature in Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That.

Beyond Maricourt and Guillemont either side of the River Somme the French were having greater success, thanks to the greater effectiveness of their artillery bombardment, the relative weakness of the German opposition, and the strength, skill and co-ordination of their infantry attacks.

They were, however, somewhat distracted by events at Verdun, and when the Germans brought up additional troops from that battle the French advance slowed. The village of Rancourt, one of the many such places devastated during French offensive and German defensive operations, is now an important site of remembrance, with its vast military cemetery, containing the graves of 8,566 Frenchmen.

Railway Hollow Cemetery with the graves of 107 Commonwealth soldiers (44 of them unidentified) killed in the battle - and two French war gravesRailway Hollow Cemetery with the graves of 107 Commonwealth soldiers (44 of them unidentified) killed in the battle - and two French war gravesThe Battle of the Somme began on a glorious summer day - July 1, 1916 - when in the short break between the lifting of the artillery bombardment and the infantry advance at 7.30am, soldiers reported hearing the skylarks singing - they still do in the poppy-strewn fields where the cemeteries mark out the line that was no-man's land one hundred years ago.

The Battle ended in the dreariness and dampness of a very soggy October and November when those same fields had been reduced to muddy quagmires, when the trees had been smashed to stumps and the villages crushed to piles of rubble.

In popular mythology the Battle encapsulates all that is seen to have been wrong with that war, indeed many wars - pointless but heroic sacrifice under the dubious leadership of at best distant, and at worst incompetent, commanders - the epitome of "lions led by donkeys".

In truth it was the point at which armies on both sides learnt the very painful lessons of this new form of industrial warfare, and began to devise the necessary strategies and tactics both to pursue it and to combat it.

[Photos courtesy of David du Croz - with thanks. Click on photos to enlarge them.]

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All the fun of the farm, at Open Farm Sunday

Waiting for a tractor ride on Open Farm SundayWaiting for a tractor ride on Open Farm SundayMarlborough Downs farmers threw open their five bar gates yesterday (Sunday) to allow hundreds of people a peek behind the scenes at a working farm.

There was a chance for children and adults to get close-up and personal with Hampshire Cross pigs, a couple of the 85 Aberdeen Angus beef cattle that graze the water meadows alongside the River Kennet, and some of the 140 Wiltshire Horn sheep, as well as an assortment of ducks, geese and chickens.

But the day was about more than commercial farming. The host, the 1,000 acre Manor Farm at Avebury Trusloe, is one of a group of farms that make up the Marlborough Downs Nature Enhancement Partnership.

Together, over a total of 25,000 acres, the Partnership farmers have pledged to encourage diversity and protect the area’s rare wildlife.

On the ever-popular tractor rides, visitors were told how the landscape around Windmill Hill was being managed to encourage grey partridges and corn buntings.

The entire farm lies within the Avebury World Heritage Site, and farmers told how they had to take care ploughing around ancient monuments, especially where an avenue of buried standing stones lie just inches from the surface of the ground.

Visitors also discovered how computer and satellite technology was helping farmers to effectively manage the soil by varying levels of chemicals during crop spraying and fertilising.

Three quarters of the farm is given over to the production of crops. Oilseed rape is harvested to fry the chips in burger restaurants, barley is used by Coors to brew their beer, and wheat is bought by Warburtons to make bread.

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Take a break from weeding and visit a garden with an exhibition of contemporary sculpture 

Coelenterates (aquatic invertebrates) sculpture by Carol Andrews in resin and steelCoelenterates (aquatic invertebrates) sculpture by Carol Andrews in resin and steelIf you have a Bank Holiday weekend of gardening ahead, you could always take time off and head to West Lavington Manor (SN10 4LA) to see a stunning private garden, a welcoming community run café and an exhibition of inspirational contemporary sculpture.  

Celebrating Art in the Garden, the 2016 sculpture exhibition at West Lavington Manor is being staged by the voluntary organisation The Friends of the Garden.  This year’s exhibition forms part of the Rural Touring Arts programme run by Wiltshire charity Pound Arts.

The Manor’s gardens cover more than four acres and incorporate seventeenth century terraces, lawns shaded by magnificent mature trees, a new Japanese garden, and extensive borders. Yew topiary frames many spectacular views.

These and other spaces magnificently showcase contemporary sculpture. This year 28 artists are taking part. They include Wiltshire artists Bryan Hanlon (from Swindon) and Alison Bowyer (from Marlborough.)  

Across the lake Bryan Hanlon's bronze heron hunkers down on the deck while Alison Bowyer’s peacock in fused glass and aluminium wire will stroll along the border.

Sculpture by other artists working in stone, ceramic, copper, steel and glass will provide visitors with the opportunity to appreciate how together, contemporary sculpture and landscape create a new dynamic and sense of place.


The exhibition is open daily 11am – 6pm from Thursday 26 May – Sunday 12 June. It is open Bank Holiday Monday, closed Tuesday, May 31 and Monday/Tuesday, June 6/7. Entry £7 per adult (with a seniors concession of £5 excepting June 11 - NGS open day). This entry fee includes an exhibition catalogue. Accompanied children under 16 are free.

Michael Savage checks two of his sculptures: Core & Leaf Form - both made in beaten & welded copperMichael Savage checks two of his sculptures: Core & Leaf Form - both made in beaten & welded copper



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St Peter's Church flies some special flags - and you can climb to the foot of the flagstaff for an amazing view

A new Marlborough tradition has been born at St Peter's Church: they mark thirty national days and anniversaries of relevant events each year by flying the appropriate flag, standard or arms.  This tradition began some years after the Church was declared redundant in 1974.  A Trust now runs the Church on a 99-year lease from the Diocese of Salisbury.

St Peter's 'flag days' vary from the day Thomas Wolsey was ordained in this church (10 March 1498) to the ten days of the Battle of Britain and back to the day King John granted Marlborough its Charter (20 June 1204.)  As people often ask why an unfamiliar flag is flying over St Peter's, we are publishing the full list below.

They also fly flags to mark specific anniversaries.  On Bank Holiday Monday (May 30) the White Ensign was flying to mark the day HMS Marlborough was adopted by the town - one of the regular days.  This year the Ensign is staying aloft for two more days to mark the hundredth anniversary of the important First World War naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland - in which the battleship HMS Marlborough played a significant role.

Some of the these flags and standards are regular ones you can buy, but many of the flags flown over St Peter's are so esoteric that they are specially made - by Marlborough resident, former ceremonial officer and embroiderer David Sherratt.  He also made the new banners in the Church.

A specially designed 1914-1918 War remembrance flag - designed by David Sherratt - is being flown to mark the hundredth anniversary of days on which individual Parishoners were killed during that war.    

Major York with the flag of the Shakepeare Family Arms Major York with the flag of the Shakepeare Family Arms Another example of David Sherratt's work is the Shakespeare Family Arms.  This is flown on May 3 to mark Shakespeare's birthday (1564). 

This is often celebrated on April 23 - which is inconvenient for as it conflicts with St George's Day - and that day certainly needs a flag.  However, by using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced during Shakespeare's lifetime, his birthday slides neatly forward to May 3.

The man who looks after the flags and often raises and lowers them, is Major Jeremy York, St Peter's Constable of the Tower.  He also organises - and often conducts - the tours of the church tower.  Some 1,500 a year make the climb raising about £2,000 towards the Church's upkeep.  

It is a fairly cramped climb up 137 steps to the top, but it is well worth it for the history you pass on the way up and the amazing views from the top.

1966: the bigger bells were removed from the Tower 1966: the bigger bells were removed from the Tower The surviving bellThe surviving bell The clock - still punctual after all those yearsThe clock - still punctual after all those years John Bayly was here John Bayly was here

Even on a dull Bank Holiday Monday, once you are 100 feet above street level the views of the town and its surroundings are a revelation.  You certainly get a unique view of the Marlborough Mound.

This Mound is hidden away in Marlborough College grounds and has only recently been proved to date from the same era as Neolithic Silbury Hill.  Later it was used by the Normans to raise the castle's keep above the homes of the hoi polloi.  And later still, the stone from the castle was used to build St Peter's Church.

Did you know the High Street curls so much?Did you know the High Street curls so much?   View from St Peter's Tower of the Marlborough Mound [Click on images to enlarge them]View from St Peter's Tower of the Marlborough Mound [Click on images to enlarge them]

As you climb the tower you pass through The Priests's Room (where the flags are stored), the ringing chamber (from which they used to ring the bells), the clock room (with its working clock), the belfry (now with just one bell) and so to the tower roof itself.

At one point you can see the signature of John Bayly - once of the Merchants House - inscribed into the wall.  Other graffiti are more recent and not so interesting!

The church's bells were removed in 1966 because their great weight was damaging the tower.  Only the smaller Sanctus or curfew bell remains - it was cast in 1741.  It now provides the chimes for the clock.

The clock was made by a Shropshire company in the very early years of the twentieth century.  It is regularly serviced by an expert who says it will not need a major overhaul for another 150 years.

It is known that a church on the site was dedicated to St Peter in 1223.  It was rebuilt in about 1460 - taking some of its stone from the castle.  In the later sixteenth century the dedication was changed to 'St Peter and St Paul' - and although the Trust bears both saints' names, it is now known once again as St Peter's Church

Tours of the tower are available most Saturdays and Bank Holidays between Easter and early October, and are possible at other times by appointment via the St Peter's website. St Peter's The charge (at the time of writing) is £2 for adults and £1 for accompanies children.  And once down again, there is a very good café in the Church serving good pick-you-up coffee - and very good cake.

St Peter's Church schedule of regular flag raisings through the year:

26 January        Australia Day                          Australian national flag

5 February        Waitangi Day                           New Zealand national

6 February        Accession of HM The Queen   Union flag

March (varies)   Commonwealth Day                Union flag

1 March             St David's Day                         Welsh national flag

10 March         Ordination of Thomas Wolsey
                           (1498 at St Peter's Church)     Wolsey's Arms

17 March          St Patrick's Day                        St Patrick saltire

21 April             Birthday of HM The Queen (1926) Union flag

23 April             St George's Day                        Flag of St George

3 May              Birthday of William
                                Shakespeare (1564)          Shakespeare family arms

19 May        Marlborough Charter Day -
                              Queen Elizabeth I (1576)    Royal arms of Elizabeth I

25 May         Wessex Day                                 Flag of Wessex

30 May         HMS Marlborough adopted by   Union flag or
                                               the Town                White Ensign

2 June          HM the Queen's Coronation (1953) Union flag

June (varies)Official birthday of HM the Queen  Union flag

15 June        Sealing of Magna Carta                  Royal standard of King John

20 June        Marlborough Charter Day - King     Royal Standard of
                                               John (1204)                King John

June (varies) Armed Forces Day                         Union flag

29 June        St Peter's Day                                 Flag of St Peter

1 July           Dominion Day                                Canadian national flag

4 July           USA Independence day                Stars and stripes

3 September Merchant Navy Day                      Red Ensign

6-15 September Battle of Britain                        RAF Association Standard

21 October        Trafalgar Day (1805)                 Union flag or White Ensign    

25 October         St Crispin's Day (Battle of
                                        Agincourt - 1415)         Flag of St George

26 October         Death of King Alfred the
                                             Great (899)             Flag of Wessex

November (varies)Remembrance Sunday          Union flag

11 November         Armistice Day (1918)             Union flag

29 November        Death of Cardinal Wolsey (1530)  Wolsey's Arms

30 November         St Andrew's Day                     St Andrew Saltire

(St Peter's flag is also flown on days associated with the Trust that looks after the church.)

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The last spin for Wilton Windmill, as volunteers prepare for sails to come down

Miller Charles Baxter at Wilton WindmillMiller Charles Baxter at Wilton WindmillThe sails have spun for the final time at the last working windmill in Wessex - at least for a while.

They are soon to be removed for much-needed renovation. Especially in need of repair are the patent sails, whose slats can be angled to catch the wind.

Last week, the final batch of the wheat flour was produced at the mill from the fields that surround it.

There is no ‘cheat mechanism’ at the windmill: flour is either produced by wind power, or not at all.

And for miller Charles Baxter, 2016 has been an unproductive year – and an indication of how precarious the industry was in Victorian times.

“We’ve only managed a handful of flour,” he said. By last Friday, the society was down to its last 10 bags.

The Wilton Windmill Society relies on the sale of flour to fund the day-to-day running of the historic building, which was erected in 1821.

Around £10,000 a year is needed to keep the millstones turning. Sadly, perfect milling days – dry weather with constant winds of between 16 and 18mph – have been in short supply this early in the season.

And now, the Wilton Windmill flour stocks are too.

The renovations of the sails, though, are being funded by Wiltshire Council, which has owned the property since 1971.

Volunteers are hopeful that the sails will be back up before the windmill provides a backdrop for a murder mystery evening.

Malice Through the Looking Glass is the latest murder mystery evening from Smoke & Mirrors theatre company. It takes place on Saturday, June 25 from 7pm, with tickets priced at £25.

See our What’s On calendar for details.

To see a video of the windmill in action, go to our Facebook page:


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