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History

Band of Brothers collection to be digitised following £30,000 lottery grant

Part of the Kennet Valley at War Trust collectionPart of the Kennet Valley at War Trust collectionA collection of World War Two artefacts recalling the deployment of hundreds of American servicemen to the Marlborough area during the Second World War is set to be digitised as part of a community history project.

The Kennet Valley at War Trust has received £30,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project to conserve and enhance the charity’s collection of artefacts and to increase the number of ways in which the local community can access the collection and celebrate their local heritage.

Based in a small museum at Littlecote House, which was once home to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the Trust’s collection of Second World War artefacts is of regional significance.

The collection’s artefacts range from a three-ton Sherman tank turret, and an entire stable – used to billet four American airborne soldiers over the winter of 1943-1944 – relocated from the village of Aldbourne, to part of a German Heinkel 111 bomber’s wing.

British, Canadian and American military uniforms, civilian artefacts and photographs, personal testimonies, helmets, badges and spent ammunition also help to tell the story of the conflict.

Company E of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US 101st Airborne Division was brought back to prominence in Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ 2001 mini-series Band of Brothers.

The Trust’s museum was opened in 2007 by Ira Clyde Grube, a veteran of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US 101st Airborne Division.

The grant will help the Trust to produce an educational pack, which will be sent to 250 schools in North Wiltshire, West Berkshire and Swindon. Three walks exploring the Kennet Valley’s war time archaeology will be developed, and a series of 10 workshops will be delivered.

Meanwhile, Trust members and volunteers from Newbury College and Ramsbury Primary School will digitise the collection, which will be collated into a new website.

Trust spokesman Tim Green said: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and are confident the project will help young people and the wider community better understand and take pride in their local heritage.”

Newbury College’s interactive media course leader, Julian Bellmont, said: “The project is of enormous educational benefit to the students, enabling them to get actively involved in the local community.”

Lisa Flower, the history coordinator at Ramsbury Primary School said: “We look forward to trialling the new educational packs and online resources, and the opportunity to make more links with our local community, to bring history alive for our pupils.”

Bruce Steggles of Littlecote House said: “Littlecote House Hotel fully support the project and the Trust’s work to keep the history of the local community alive for present and for future generations”.

And Stuart McLeod, head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said: “The Kennet Valley at War Trust’s collection reflects many different aspects of civilian and military life along the valley during the Second World War and we’re pleased to announce our support for this project which will create a lasting digital and educational legacy of the local community’s wartime memory.”

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Revealed: how the skills of the king’s Sergeant Plumber prepared the way for a massive mansion at Bedwyn Brail

Between November 1548 and June 1549, the King of England’s Sergeant Plumber, George Hind, made several visits to a major Tudor construction site near Marlborough - now called Bedwyn Brail.  Excavating the Tidcombe Gate water tank at the end of the conduitExcavating the Tidcombe Gate water tank at the end of the conduit

Between 2007 and 2014 members of the Archaeology Field Group from the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society (WANHS) uncovered the engineering work Hind had designed – and, buried deep beneath Bedwyn Brail’s woodland, it was still in perfect condition with water flowing through it.

In privately owned woods close to the Wilton windmill, they had rediscovered the complex water system that would have supplied the Duke of Somerset’s planned mansion.  Its more immediate use was to supply his builders with water.

"The perfection of the system is breathtaking", local historian Graham Bathe told Marlborough News Online. "The top water engineer in the land, the king's Sergeant Plumber, came here to manage the project, at a time before water-pumps were invented.” 

“Everything had to be engineered so that water could gravitate wherever it was needed, from fountains to the kitchens and stables.  This mansion was to be vast, capable of housing and dining hundreds, including the king himself, and the water supply demonstrates state-of-the-art technology".

The discoveries are revealed in a paper by Graham Bathe, Robin Holley and Brian Clarke in the latest issue of the Society’s annual Magazine – Volume 107 of WANHM. [See below for details.]

Members of the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group at the head of the conduit - with water still flowing through itMembers of the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group at the head of the conduit - with water still flowing through itApart from this water supply, the Duke of Somerset’s new mansion was never finished – and probably never got substantially beyond the laying of foundations.

The Duke of Somerset (eldest son of the Seymours of Wolf Hall) had become Lord Protector (or regent) for his nephew, the young Edward VI, who was Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour’s son. After their deaths, Somerset was in virtual control of England and his powers seem to have gone to his head. He sought out regal trappings and ordered personal building schemes on a megalomaniac scale - including Somerset House and Syon House in London.

Plans for his Wiltshire house were cut short when he was accused of felony, his Wiltshire lands seized and, soon after, was executed.  The mansion would have replaced his father’s Wolf Hall where he and Jane Seymour were brought up, but which was simply not grand enough for the man who had become Lord Protector of the realm.

The Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group have discovered the amazingly preserved system that collected water from four natural springs and from seepage along the conduit’s length, and channelled it into a carefully constructed storage tank at Tidcombe Gate.

The collection of seepage along the length of the conduit was engineered through a band of rubble on its eastern (uphill) side.  This band was called ‘the vault’ in the Tudor letters about the construction as the WANHS paper makes clear:  

Archaeologist Jo Ramsay clearing water from the excavations Archaeologist Jo Ramsay clearing water from the excavations “There was debate about whether enough coarse quarry stone was available for ‘the vault of the conduit, being a thousand foot long’, when such stone was also needed for the foundations and infill of walls.”

It has long been known that there was an ancient ‘great ditch’ running through the Brail – since 1880 it has been marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a ‘Conduit’.  Most of the rediscovered conduit was inserted below the great ditch – the total length of the conduit is 469.9 metres.

The extent of the brickworks was a great surprise to the archaeologists.  The use of bricks in this sort of sixteenth century water system is rare in England.

From the surviving letters in the archives at Longleat, it is clear that enough local clay was dug to create up to two million bricks – about 100,000 of them were made on site and used for the water system’s conduit.

Sergeant Plumber Hind was also known for his work on lead roofing – ‘plumber’ comes from the Latin for lead: ‘plumbum’.  We will probably never know why Hind chose to make this system almost entirely from brick rather than lead piping – but the amount of water this mansion would require certainly gives us a clue.

Excavations underway Excavations underway The authors of the WANHS paper believe that the use of brick showed just how large Somerset’s new house was planned to be.   This brick conduit could certainly carry in excess of 25 times more water than the usual diameter of lead piping.  And, as the archaeologists have now proved by their discoveries, the brickwork was very durable.

The other unusual thing about this water system is the very shallow gradient of the system.  The Brails conduit has an overall fall of 1 in 150 which may be the shallowest channel gradient recorded for systems of this period.

Water systems relying on gravity-flow had been installed in royal palaces, castles and some great religious houses since the late twelfth century.  But the Tudor period saw great advances in water and plumbing technology – and Sergeant Plumber Hind was at the forefront of the advances.

The unearthing of this massive and rare water supply system in Bedwyn Brail, studied in conjunction with the surviving documents about its construction, gives a unique glimpse into the Tudor period.  But, tantalisingly, it also shows what a huge and powerful house Lord Protector Somerset had been planning – before his ambition and unbending self-importance tipped him into ultimate disgrace.

[Individual copies of the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Magazine – Volume 107 (2014) can be bought from the Devizes Museum.  It is free to members of the WANHSociety.] [Click on photos to enlarge them.] [With thanks to Graham Bathe for his assistance on this article.]

LORD PROTECTOR SOMERSET

The downfall of the Duke of Somerset (formerly Edward Seymour) was caused in part by his penchant for building on a flamboyant and extravagant scale, which he funded by pillaging dissolved monasteries.

In July 1548 he persuaded his nephew, King Edward (then aged 10) to give him Reading Abbey and he soon employed George Hind to take as much lead as possible from the Abbey buildings.  He obtained about 450 tons of lead as well as other reclamation materials to be used for his grandiose building programme.  (The remains of this Abbey can still be seen in the town.)

In October 1549 one of the charges against Somerset was that “he did convert, to his own use, lead and material from Sion, Reading and Glastonbury of great value”.  In fact lead and stone from Reading ended up in a new water conduit for Windsor Castle.

GEORGE HIND - SERGEANT PLUMBER

George Hind was awarded the office of Sergeant Plumber by Henry VIII in 1542.  He was charged to carry out plumbing work at all the King’s palaces and works in England.  He was paid a salary of 12 pence a day.  And he was also awarded an annual livery, vesture [clothing] and fur or, if he preferred, 40 shillings instead.  (For comparison, the steward at Wolf Hall at about this time was paid £3.10s a year.)

The post of Sergeant Plumber was one of seven expert craftsmen the Tudor Kings appointed.  The others were master mason, carpenter, joiner, painter, glazier and – most importantly – locksmith.

 

 

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Did our ancestors get it wrong and create Silbury and Avebury to mark the source of the Thames?

 

Here’s something to ponder on as you lie on the beach or wait for the barbecue to heat up – or the rain to stop: did our ancestors believe the River Kennet was the head waters of the sacred River Thames?

Dr Jim Leary who led the most recent exploration of Silbury Hill and proved the Marlborough ‘Castle’ Mound was in fact Silbury’s ‘little sister’, has given the idea some new currency and weight.

In a lengthy article about Silbury Hill in the August issue of the magazine ‘Current Archaeology’, Jim Leary notes that Silbury, Avebury and West Kennet long barrow are “at the head of the River Kennet, which flows directly into the Thames”:

“Today, we say the Thames flows up through Oxford, but that’s the result of modern cartography making the longest tributary the head of the river.”

“I think Neolithic people could easily have seen the River Kennet and the River Thames as one and the same. The largest henge in the country, at Marden, lies at the head of the River Avon, so – if Silbury was considered the head of the Thames – we are looking at a focus on the sources of major sacred rivers.”  

This is a very challenging notion.  It forms part of the centuries’ old search for an explanation of the location of ancient monuments as well as their purpose.  They are, after all, monuments for which we have no contemporary written accounts, let alone written clues.

We have to imagine a world without even a school atlas, without the tape measure  or the theodolite and certainly without aerial photography.

Dr Jim Leary Dr Jim Leary When, long, long ago, you were walking towards the setting sun on the southern bank of the great River Thames, at its junction with the Kennet (as modern maps name it) you would surely not attempt to cross it to continue along another, then nameless, branch of the two merging rivers – which we now call the Thames.

You would simply fork left and follow the southern bank of what we now call the River Kennet.  And when you reached the point at which this river, which you thought was still the Thames, rose from the earth, you might well build something significant to mark the river’s birth.

The problem is that we are unlikely ever to know.  Unless archaeologists come up with some truly amazing piece of evidence, it will remain a mystery.  And Dr Leary’s theory will waft about among the universities and experts, and may one day come to be called ‘accepted wisdom’…or it may remain a hypothesis.

The official record of the recent exploration of Silbury (see Marlborough News Online’s earlier article), provides, Dr Leary, says “this generation’s statement about Silbury Hill”: “But every generation creates the hill that they want.  In that sense, it is still serving its purpose to this day.”

Much the same can be said about the theories on most of the why’s and wherefore’s of Neolithic times.

 

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Exciting archaeological finds from the second year’s dig at Avebury’s West Kennet Avenue

 

They have dug and scraped on the hottest day of the year and they have had to abandon the site for a day because of torrential rain, in between they have unearthed some amazing finds – and made it almost impossible not to come back next year for a third summer dig Avebury’s West Kennet Avenue.

Archaeology students mostly from Southampton and Leicester universities have re-opened one trench from last year’s dig and opened another major area of investigation in West Kennet Avenue.  This involves moving tons of turf and soil and getting down to a level of soil that has never been ploughed (“intact soil”) and so holds flints and other artefacts such as pottery shards, where they were dropped.

This part of the Avenue was chosen because it had been investigated by the marmalade millionaire Alexander Keiller in the 1930s and he had located a gap in Avenue’s stones.  Such a gap must have been left for a reason – perhaps because there was a building or other special structure that had to be preserved.

Photo: Mike Robinson with permission from The National TrustPhoto: Mike Robinson with permission from The National TrustMany of the finds from the newly opened trench are from the Early Bronze Age – probably 800 years after the Avenue was created.  

Among these finds are several flint arrowheads – including one miniature barbed and tanged arrowhead (photo left) which the project's experts say is deliberately miniaturised.  Whether it was made as a gift, a toy or for a ritual purpose is another matter altogether.  Whatever the reason for making it, the workmanship is extraordinary.

Dr Josh Pollard is very enthusiastic indeed about the finds they have made in the past two weeks: “It’s brilliant stuff – the finds are really nice.”

Dr Josh Pollard (left)Dr Josh Pollard (left)This dig is part of the long term Between the Monuments programme which aims, as National Trust archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall puts it, “to put the people back into the Avebury site.”  Finding out more about the routine lives and residence of the people who built and used Avebury’s henge and avenues should help understand why these monuments were made and why this site was chosen.

It is a collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Josh Pollard), University of Leicester (Dr Mark Gillings), Allen Environmental Archaeology (Dr Mike Allen) and the National Trust (Dr Ros Cleal & Dr Nick Snashall.)

On Tuesday (August 5), with only two full days to go before the dig had to finish and with some rain showers during the morning, people from the surrounding villages were shown over the site and heard about the project’s progress.

Despite the buckets, wheelbarrows and spades (there was even someone spotted wielding a pick axe – albeit on the upper layers of soil), archaeology makes use of all the latest technology.  This year laser measuring equipment has been used on the site.  

Dr Mark Gillings & soil samplesDr Mark Gillings & soil samplesAnd those plastic bags behind Dr Gillings (photo left) contain soil samples which will be analysed and may reveal tell-tale signs of plant life, what animals were about and so on.  This is important as the soil is so acidic that snail shells and bones are not found – but pollen and chemical residues will be preserved and identified in the analysis.

Another recently available technique allows scientists to tell what different sizes and shapes of flint cutting tools were used for.  This high-magnification process has shown one tool found last year was used to cut nettles – from which string and cords were made.

Another exciting find in one of last year’s trenches is what looks to the experts like the remains of a ‘possible hearth’.  It was nearby in this trench that they discovered in 2013 twelve certain or probable stake-holes in a pattern that could justify the theory that they were part of a dwelling of some sort: it is very tempting to add two such finds together to make a dwelling.

And then, just when the students thought they had unearthed some really good and significant finds from many centuries BC, someone finds a mediaeval coin.  Mind you, this coin far smaller than our five pence piece and paper thin, so spotting it amidst the soil and recognising that it was anything at all worth keeping from the spoil heap, is a testament to these students’ growing expertise and enthusiasm.

As ever, it is a matter of funding being available to allow a third year’s dig to reveal even more of the evidence of the human lives that flourished in between Avebury’s stones.

A find - perhaps?A find - perhaps? That Mediaeval coinThat Mediaeval coin A spoil tipA spoil tip

 

 

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Evidence of hauntings at the Merchant's House - or is it just the wonky walls?

Sam Pinkney and Ally Stott of the Merchant's House with Greg Rudman from XRAISSam Pinkney and Ally Stott of the Merchant's House with Greg Rudman from XRAISThere was a good turn out at St Peter's Church, April 3, to see if ghosts had returned to Marlborough's historic Merchant's House.

Back in the 1970s, when the building was occupied by WHSmith, the live-in manager became fed up with ghostly disturbances and invited his father-in-law - who was a priest - to exorcise the building. Apparently the supernatural entities did not like this turn of affairs and headed next door, which at the time was Dewhurst Butchers.

Ally Stott, a Merchant's House trustee, invited the Newbury-based XRAIS (Xeno Research and Investigative Society) to see if there was paranormal activity left in the building.

Ally knew XRAIS from a previous investigation into the former Greenham Common airbase morgue.

Greg Rudman from XRAIS is an engaging and entertaining speaker who assured his audience that XRAIS was a not-for-profit organisation. "We don't do this for the money," he explained. "We enjoy visiting historic properties and enabling people to feel more confident in them."

Greg described himself as someone who didn't believe in ghosts but had an open mind, and was a debunker rather than a ghost hunter. "We are under no pressure to produce results, therefore there is no need for any of the data collected to be fabricated." He explained that they were not scientists, but used scientific methods to collect the best evidence possible and didn't use mediums, ouija boards or other methods based on human interpretation.

With a range of impressive looking equipment including infrared cameras, digital recorders, an EMF meter, thermometer, a super sonic ear and a laser grid, Greg and his team set their traps in the Merchant's House to see if any hauntings took place overnight, 22-23 February 2014.

Paranormal goings on could include residual (like a recording of a regular everyday occurrence), object (where 'energy' has passed to a loved, old piece of furniture, etc), poltergeist or restoration (where spirits are disturbed by renovations).

Before discussing the results, Greg explained how they debunked many paranormal interpretations of ordinary occurrences: draughts which caused cold spots; external noise filtering through the property from the close street and adjoining buildings; the 'fun house effect' from the disorientation caused from old uneven walls, floors and stairs.

Many an erie presence has been explained by 'a moth landing on their arm' and noises from 'gurgling stomachs.' Hairs standing up on necks can often be attributed to individuals being super-sensitive to electricity, especially when old wiring is present.

Zac and Toby Pinkney trying out some of the ghost-hunting equipmentZac and Toby Pinkney trying out some of the ghost-hunting equipmentGreg and his team collect data overnight, not because it's scarier but because there is less noise pollution, less to discount, and then they watch and listen to all the evidence in 'real time'.

During their stint as philosophical researchers they have spent 400 hours investigating fifteen of the 'greatest locations in the south-east...that's a lot of time in the dark!'

So onto the results. At the start of their visit, a door unlatched itself and, try as they might, they could not make it repeat this feat. This, they thought, discounted the effect of uneven floorboards and walls.

In the top middle bedroom they heard a distant male voice talk and exhale, and heard the sound of a door unlatching several times.

In the main room they heard three high pitched voices.

In the middle room, they heard a female exhaling.

Although the audience could not make out the sounds from the event's audio system, Greg's surprise at the male voice was evident from the visuals on the projection screen.

Greg would like to return for more research, not least because the night of XRAIS's visit was very windy which could have caused the unexplained sounds.

One young man asked Greg for his scariest experience and Greg described his visit to the former St Bartholomew's School in Berkshire. During their usual introduction to potential spirits, Greg heard not one response, but three. Three requests to make their presence known was rewarded with three loud bangs, the second and third right next to the researcher. "It scared me—" said Greg, struggling for a polite word and rewarded with laughter from the knowing audience, "—white."

Their research will be available on www.xrais.co.uk.

And at Marlborough News Online we know of at least one Savernake-based seven year old who'd like XRAIS to debunk his bedroom of witches under the bed, monsters in the wardrobe and ghosts in the creaky walls.

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Plenty of men in uniform, but no need to fear the parking wardens on Civil War weekend

The English Civil War Society in actionThe English Civil War Society in actionThe Roundheads hate the Cavaliers, and the Royalists have little time for the Parliamentarians. But there’s one uniform no-one need fear in Marlborough this weekend – that of the parking attendant.

Marlborough Town Council has persuaded Wiltshire Council to waive parking charges during a re-enactment of the Battle of Marlborough, which takes place this weekend.

Three thousand people are expected to attend the event. The English Civil War Society will bring pitched battles to The Common, recreating the events of 1642 when defending Parliamentary soldiers supported Parliament against King Charles and his Royalist troops, while a Living History event in the Priory Gardens will give people the chance to learn a little more about life in 17th century Marlborough, with displays of crafts and trades.

The battles - which residents are warned will be very noisy - take place from 3pm until 4pm on Saturday and Sunday, with Living History events taking place between 11am and 5pm on both days.

A Royalist gun battery Living History event takes place on The Common from 11am until 2.30pm each day, while a religious debate takes place at St Mary’s Church - which bears the scars of the original Civil War battle - from 11.30am to 12.30pm on Saturday, and a wreath laying ceremony takes place at the Castle & Ball on Sunday.

It was in a yard near the old inn that the Royalists finally broke through into the main part of the town after breaching the barricades at The Common. A blue plaque at the Castle and Ball commemorating Marlborough’s stand against the Royalists was put up in 1995.

And the best news is that, like the parking, all events are free of charge. 

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Wolf Hall: one of the Marlborough area’s missing tourist attractions

If Wolf Hall still stood imagine how many tourists would flock to the Marlborough area to see the mansion that gave its name to Hilary Mantel’s popular historical novel.

Marlborough has not been lucky when it comes to surviving tourist attractions.  The area has, of course, the Avebury and Silbury Hill World Heritage Site – a granddaddy of an attraction. 

There is the ancient Ridgway and Barbury Castle and the Downs themselves and the ancient trees of Savernake Forest – they are all popular.  And the Kennet and Avon Canal and Crofton Pumping Station.

The town has the Merchant’s House, two fine churches, the startling width of the High Street and some wonderful old listed buildings.

But there’s a lot missing: Marlborough castle vanished long ago and Marlborough Mound – now proved to be Silbury’s contemporary ‘Little Sister’ – is out of bounds to the public.  And if, as is thought likely, the Mound had its own henge – that’s gone beneath the water meadows.

The great fire of April 1653 deprived future generations of Marlborough’s Guildhall, the original St Mary’s church, the County Armoury and 240 houses.

One of the main missing attractions is Wolf Hall – the home of the Seymour family near Burbage. The novel of the same name by Hilary Mantel – telling the story of Thomas Cromwell who became Henry VIII’s ‘fixer in chief’ – together with volume two of her ‘Cromwell trilogy’, Bring Up The Bodies, have been best sellers and made her a double Booker Prize winner (2009 and 2012).

Her books have started a Wolf Hall ‘industry’ which would have brought crowds of tourists to the Marlborough Area – had Wolf-Hall-the-building survived.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptations were a sell-out at the Swan Theatre in Stratford and the two plays are now moving to London’s Aldwych Theatre.  

Part of the delay in the publication of book three of the trilogy (to be called The Mirror and the Light) is due to the time she has spent working with playwright Mike Poulton, director Jeremy Herrin and the cast on the two RSC stage plays – with which she is delighted.

Next month the BBC starts shooting a six episode television series for broadcast in 2015 based on both books.  The series will star Mark Rylance as Cromwell and be directed by Peter Kosminsky who lives in Wiltshire.

There will not be a cinema version of the books as Ms Mantel does not want her complex story and complex characters constricted into a movie length format.  And we can definitely rule out a musical.

In the first book, Hilary Mantel uses Wolf Hall as something of a tease: it is not mentioned until the title of the final chapter: “To Wolf Hall”.  And the last words of the book are simply “Wolf Hall” – pointing obliquely ahead to Anne Boleyn’s execution and Henry’s new queen, Jane Syemour.

 

What and where was Wolf Hall and why did it disappear?  The place is first mentioned in Doomsday Book as ‘Ulfela’ and that Anglo-Saxon pronunciation or a variation of it may well have survived into Tudor times.

[Although once spelled ‘Ulfhall’ and later ‘Wulfhall’, and more recently many signs and some books use ‘Wolfhall’, we will follow Hilary Mantel and recent Wiltshire Council signposts and use ‘Wolf Hall’.]

In December 1302, Edward the First visited Wolf Hall on his way from Marlborough Castle to the royal castle at Ludgershall.  But it became famous two centuries later as the home of the Seymour family – notably Sir John and Lady Margaret Seymour who produced three remarkable children:  

Jane, who married Henry VIII as his third queen, gave him a son (Edward VI) and died soon after the birth.

Edward, who became Protector Somerset to the young King Edward VI, abused his powers, was disgraced and beheaded.

And Thomas, who had grandiose ideas about marriage attempting to court both Lady Jane Grey and Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, but had to make do with Henry VIII’s widowed queen, Catherine Parr, as his wife.  Facing multiple charges of treason, he too was executed. It did not help his case that he had shot dead one of the young king’s pet spaniels.

The Seymour children’s dire fortunes were mirrored by Wolf Hall’s relentless decline.

Local stories – perhaps trying to attract tourists – used to claim that Henry and Jane were married at Wolf Hall, but this was not true.  He did visit Wolf Hall on his summer progress in 1535 – and, as Mantel tells in Bring up the Bodies, wooed Jane there.  

There is no surviving picture of Wolf Hall as King Henry saw it.  We know it had a long gallery, a ‘Little Court’, a ‘Broad Chamber’, a chapel, a kennel for hounds, and a tower.  

Undated picture of Wolf Hall's barnUndated picture of Wolf Hall's barnAfter Queen Jane died, Henry visited the house again in 1539 – and on that occasion Wolf Hall’s great barn (with an inside space 172 feet long by 26 feet wide) was decorated for a banquet.

There were plenty of staff to entertain royalty.  Wolf Hall employed 44 men and seven women – including a steward (on the princely annual salary of three pounds and ten shillings) and two spit turners (known as ‘turn-broches’, each on thirteen shillings and fourpence a year.)

The great barn survived in a very dilapidated state into the twentieth century until it burned down.  Wolf Hall had vanished long before – some of its parts taken to build the first version of nearby Tottenham House which became the Seymours’ home in about 1582.

However, well before then the Seymours had become less than enamoured with Wolf Hall.  If Thomas Seymour had grandiose ideas about marriage, brother Edward, as he rose to power as Protector Somerset, developed grandiose ideas about his homes.

He turned a dissolved monastery in Middlesex into the grand Syon House. He tore down a church and the homes of three bishops to build Somerset House on the banks of the Thames.

And then he began to build a very grand country retreat in what is now the woods of Bedwyn Brail.  Work on this stopped when he was beheaded.  

All that remains is a water conduit, but archaeologists are still hopeful they will find some foundations for this grand house – another tourist attraction lost to the Marlborough area.

With that sort of competition Wolf Hall did not stand a chance.  Things got worse for the house when Edward’s son and heir, Lord Hertford spent years in prison or under house arrest, and many more years paying off a huge fine – keeping him well away from Wolf Hall and its maintenance.  

Hertford had crossed Queen Elizabeth by marrying (or at least having a child by) the sister of the executed Lady Jane Grey, Catherine Grey who, under Henry VIII’s will, had a claim on Elizabeth’s throne.  The Queen wrote in a letter about Hertford’s liaison with Catherine: “The Queen’s majesty is much offended.”

By 1569 the house’s tower had ‘become ruinous’ and was pulled down.  And later that year, when Hertford finally got free and went back to Wolf Hall, he wrote a letter saying it was “beyond repair”.  Interestingly, he wrote the name of the Seymours’ decaying home as “Ulfhall”.

The Tudor house once known as The LaundryThe Tudor house once known as The LaundryFor those tourists seeking to place the original Wolf Hall in the landscape, it almost certainly stood on the slope between the Victorian manor (largely hidden by trees) at the top of the hill and, down the hill, the house known on many maps (for example the Ordnance Survey of 1893) as The Laundry.  

This latter house is easily recognised for its tall Tudor chimneys – it has one Tudor wing and one wing re-fronted during the eighteen century.  It may have been built on the site of Wolf Hall’s laundry – down the hill and close to a water supply.  

Now Wolf Hall is very little more than a large dairy farm, a manor, a canal bridge and words on signposts.

In the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century the name Wolf Hall was given common currency again as a railway junction.
Wolf Hall Junction was where the Swindon-Marlborough-Andover line left the Hungerford to Devizes line.  Alas, both railways, junction and nearby Grafton station have vanished.

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell (RSC photo by Keith Pattison)Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell (RSC photo by Keith Pattison)A key part of Hilary Mantel’s story concerns the disgrace of Cardinal Wolsey for whom Thomas Cromwell had worked so hard.  In the books and plays, Wolsey reappears after his death as Cromwell wrestles with his conscience.

Wolsey could not deliver the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn and her faction brought Wolsey down.  

In the RSC play when Cromwell is asked whether he wanted to punish Queen Anne for what she did to Wolsey, he replies bleakly: “It’s beyond grudge.”

If tourists are looking for solid evidence of those times and are surprised Wolf Hall is no longer there for them to inspect, they can visit St Peter’s Church in Marlborough, the church at which Wolsey was ordained priest on 10 March 1498.

[The bizarre story of the Earl of Hertford is brilliantly told in Graham Bathe and Andrew Douglas’ paper for the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society’s Wiltshire Studies for 2012 – from which information for this article has been taken.]

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