One of the safest places to live in the country. That’s the view of Marlborough by its latest police recruit, Sergeant Vince Logue, who has taken on the role of being in charge of the neighbourhood policing team.
He agrees with the comment made by Wiltshire chief constable Brian Moore. “He’s probably right that it is probably the safest place on earth,” he says.
“There is usually a minority of people in any community – an absolutely handful - who commit the majority of offences. And we deal with them as effectively as we can.
“The detection rate for Marlborough and Pewsey is the highest for the whole of Wiltshire in regard to violent crime. It’s an extremely good picture that’s down to the current inspector in charge, Ron Peach, and his predecessor Andy Noble.”
Sergeant Logue, 40, a softly-spoken Irishman from Derry who has taken over following the retirement of Sergeant Ben Braine after 32 years in the Wiltshire force, has himself spent nine years on patrol in the county.
His career began as a security officer and store detective in London before becoming the first member of his family to join the police. Then, after serving eight years in another force, he transferred to Wiltshire.
A friend had invited him to the county for a weekend break and the countryside became an immediate attraction. “I thought it was a lovely place and decided that I wanted to transfer to the Wiltshire force,” he explained.
“I feel very comfortable here. Wiltshire as a whole is a lovely place to live – and Marlborough is one of the nicest bits of the county.”
As promotions followed, he has served in Warminster, Chippenham, Melksham and Salisbury, spending the past two years with the response team covering Devizes, Marlborough and Pewsey.
A single father, he lives with his two daughters near Devizes.
“There are no particular problems in the Marlborough area that concern us,” he adds. “There are not that many calls here for police help as there are in Trowbridge and Chippenham. Marlborough certainly isn’t as bad as some other places.”
But he is in no way complacent. His team keep a check on shoplifting and anti-social behaviour by teenagers, especially when they cause noise and nuisance late at night.
“The chief constable and the police authority do have a strategic plan for Wiltshire,” he points out. “Most of that is based around violence and violent crime and the management of offenders.”
“Serious crime incidences do come up from time to time, but there is not specific trend in this area.”
The huge mound that stands in the middle of Marlborough College is called by racier guidebooks Merlin’s Mount and is said to be his burial mound
.More reliable sources thought the sixty-two foot (nineteen metre) high mound was constructed by those domineering incomers from Normandy so they could build Marlborough’s castle on top of it and so lord it over the townsfolk down below.
Now new scientific research has confirmed that the mound was built way before any recorded sighting of that elusive fellow Merlin. Carbon dating of pieces of charcoal found deep within the mound prove it was built three thousand and more years before the Normans rode into town.
Dated now to about 2400BC, Marlborough’s mound becomes the ‘little sister’ of the world famous Silbury Hill – which dominates the skyline just westwards along the A4.
Peter Carey of the Bath architects Donald Insall Associates who are overseeing the mound’s extensive conservation, points out that this discovery makes Marlborough’s mound the second largest man-made, prehistoric construction in Britain. And as Silbury is the largest such mound in all of Europe, Marlborough’s mound may turn out to be the second largest in Europe.
Carey, who was at Marlborough College in the 1960’s, admits to being “carried away” by the news about the dating of the mound. He thinks it is the most significant archaeological discovery in Britain so far this century.
How could the experts have been so wrong? A.R. Stedman in his scholarly book Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Country (published in 1960 in Marlborough) comes down, with some rather strange logic, on the side of the Norman theory:
“This sixty-foot mound is certainly artificial, but whether it was raised, as tradition asserts, in prehistoric times as a barrow…or whether, more probably, it was raised in Norman times so that the castle could dominate the town…is unknown. That the Mound was built for the castle is confirmed by the fact that the Norman rarely put his castle on a spot with religious associations”
So scholars can’t be right all the time – especially when the science of carbon dating comes along to confound their theories.
Jim Leary, who led the recent English Heritage archaeological investigations on Silbury Hill, and took part in the investigations into the mound, says “This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape.”
“For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister; and now we have the answer.”
The mound has had three distinct ‘lives’: it was the base structure for a very important royal castle built by the Normans, used at times by Norman and Plantagenet kings and the scene for some historic events such as the general oath of allegiance to King John in 1209.
The castle then passed from the Kings of England to their queens and eventually fell into disuse, before coming into the hands of the Seymour family of Wolf Hall fame.
Another ‘life’ started in the eighteenth century, when a house on the site was home to the Marquis of Hertford and his family, and Lady Hertford created what Peter Carey describes as “a wonderful and extravagant garden” - with the mound as its centre piece.
Lady Hertford gave the mound an extraordinary spiral ramp right round the outside, shielded from the common gaze by a hawthorn hedge. And she adorned it with several notable features including a shell grotto, a belvedere or viewing point and a water feature at the summit.
That the Hertford’s home was later the Castle Inn and a meeting place for Tory politicians need not detain us. It has since become part of the College buildings.
Now we know the mound had a third, much earlier ‘life’ – a prehistoric ‘life’. And the reason it was built around 2400 BC will almost certainly remain as lost in time, as mysterious and as subject to speculation, as Silbury Hill itself.
In an expensive and delicate operation, probes were drilled into the middle of the mound and surrounding ditch areas, and the carbon dating of the samples was carried out with the help of English Heritage. Six cores were drilled and four samples taken from different levels within the mound itself provided shards of charcoal that could be carbon dated.
This work – and plenty of careful conservation still to come – was made possible by initial gifts and a £1,200,000 legacy from former college student, Eric Elstob. On his initiative, the Marlborough Mound Trust was set up in 2000 and the first investigative work begun.
For more about Eric Elstob and the work to conserve and renovate the mound, see our companion story: “Marlborough Mound’s past is suddenly longer – will its future be longer too?”
And what about the Merlin connection? If Merlin was ever more than a brilliant invention of ancient story-tellers, he belongs in the so-called ‘dark ages’ rather than prehistoric times. Perhaps the slight similarity between the words Marlborough and Merlin was too much of a temptation for tourist guides of yore.
It is important to emphasise that as part of the College grounds, the Marlborough Mound is on private property and not open to the public. In fact at present there’s not a lot to see anyway – just a mound of trees.
Against the background of financial maelstrom affecting the parent Southern Cross Healthcare group, life at Marlborough’s Merlin Court is very much carry on as normal – with one significant fact emerging this week.
The purpose-built, 62-bedroom home is not for sale.
This was the reassurance that Mandi Short, Merlin Court’s manager, gave to a group of relatives of Merlin’s residents attending a regular meeting last night (Tuesday).
She told them the home is not one of the 750 homes in the Southern Cross group, which serve some 31,000 vulnerable elderly people, possibly being put up for sale by its owners because of a funding crisis.
Only if the much criticised endangered group were to fail would the home be sold, she pointed out, and then as a complete unit to a new owner.
And for the staff, residents and relatives the only apparent change would be the paperwork. Life at the home would continue as usual.
This came as welcome news to the group of supportive yet concerned relatives, for whom Merlin Court is regarded as a well-run caring home and a vitally important part of their lives and those of their loved ones.
Merlin Court is one of three Southern Cross homes in Wiltshire, the others being Ravenscroft, in Trowbridge, and Kings Court, in Swindon, but is not part of the care home operation of Wiltshire Council, which runs its own group of 32 care homes through the Order of St John.
But other local authorities do provide the funding for some of Merlin Court’s residents, an indication that it remains an approved care home, especially now that the government has guaranteed that it will step in to prevent residents being put under threat.
On its website, Merlin Court declares: “Welcome to Merlin Court, our purpose built home where we provide a high standard of care 24 hours a day. Our residents have varying needs from specialist nursing support to general assistance with everyday living.
“We offer residential and nursing care as well as specialist care for those with dementia.”
“We are very proud of our homely and welcoming atmosphere. We would be delighted to show you around so that you can experience it for yourself.”
Marlborough MP Claire Perry has won her battle to keep a lollipop lady patrol outside St Peter’s School, originally a temporary post funded by Wiltshire Council.
The contract for Mrs Catherine Palmer to continue her safety role on the zebra crossing outside the primary school ran out at Easter, and there were fears that it wouldn’t been extended as a result of council spending cuts.
It was Mrs Perry who helped St Peter’s persuade the council that they need a lollipop lady last October because of the extra heavy traffic created on the London Road by the Pewsey Road bridge replacement project.
Parents backed the school’s bid to maintain Mrs Palmer’s service – gas main works are now adding to the traffic problem – and in particular after an incident three months ago when Mrs Palmer was shaken by a car that hit her lollipop out of her hand and sent her flying.
Now Mrs Perry is claiming victory after receiving a letter from Dick Tonge, Wiltshire’s cabinet member for transport, with the welcome news that the county will continue to fund the lollipop patrol.
“The post was originally a temporary measure to help traffic congestion in Marlborough,” Mrs Perry told Marlborough News Online. “But it was clear that the pupils at the school needed this extra support going forward – it is a very busy road.”
“I have been working closely with St Peter’s to argue the case for funding the post and, despite several set-backs, we have now got the result we wanted.”
“A very sensible decision.”
Defiant Marlborough Town Council is to launch its own tourist information centre following the closure by Wiltshire Council of the public library based facility – with the Mayor’s parlour as its potential site.
Councillors voiced their angry concern at the loss of the TIC at Monday night’s meeting of its Finance and General Purposes Committee, when the county was accused of “dumping” the town it cared nothing for.
“We do seem to have been stuffed again by Wiltshire and I’m extremely upset about it,” protested Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured), who has chaired an emergency working party seeking a solution to the tourism centre’s disappearance.
“We have been dumped again by Wiltshire. They have not only destroyed our tourism but also our parking by introducing high charges that no tourists will pay.”
The meeting decided adopt a proposal made by Marlborough activist Val Compton and the two former Wiltshire tourist information centre employees for the town to have its own new centre, to be launched on July 1 with a £5,000 loan from the town council.
And to set it up initially in the Mayor’s parlour, used mainly as a robing room, in the town hall, while seeking permanent funding from other sources to maintain it, including Wiltshire’s own Marlborough Area Board.
“We are in desperate times,” declared Councillor Pitts. “And we need to take desperate measures to get something going by July 1. This is a stop gap solution so that we can catch the end of the tourism season and get people back into touch with Marlborough again.”
Former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, chosen as the new chairman of the F&GP Committee, declared: “Clearly we have to pick up this commitment ourselves. We can’t accept what has happened now that Wiltshire have axed it.”
“We have to stand up and show leadership. And there is no other place for the TIC to go but here in this town hall.”
And Councillor Guy Loosmore, another member of the working party, agreed.
“What is happening may not be ideal, even temporary,” he said. “But if we don’t do anything then the council is failing the community. We will lose out otherwise.”
“We have been clobbered by Wiltshire. They have no interest in this town.”
It was Councillor Nick Fogg, himself a Wiltshire councillor, who proposed that the town council, if it passes the tourism plan at its next meeting, seeks funding from the Marlborough Area Board, and he was supported by Councillor Peggy Dow, also a Wiltshire councillor.
He congratulated all the members of the working party on their efforts, and said: “What you have done is fantastic.”
The proposal, outlined by Val Compton, is for Christina Ramsden and Robert Chrodi, the two tourist centre staff made redundant by Wiltshire, to run the new facilities as part-time managers, together with the support of band of enthusiastic volunteers, on a three-month basis. They will be self-employed on short-term contracts.
St Peter’s Church was the original site suggested for the facility but this has now been ruled out as “a non-runner” and the Mayor’s parlour and/or the entrance of the town hall earmarked as the site.
This would give time for the town council to seek financial backing for a permanent centre from the Marlborough Area Development Trust, Community First and the Area Board to fund the project on a permanent basis.
Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, whose executive has already backed the proposal, is another target for funding, the town’s own retailers benefiting from increased tourism activity, together with some funding too from the town council once its initial loan is repaid.
“All this would give us a suitable degree of independence,” said Councillor Pitts. “It would be a double-edged sword and provide a regular revenue stream coming in.”
The town council will now be presented with a business plan for the new information and tourism centre, which itself is expected to bring annual revenue of £10,000 from the sale of souvenirs and guides to the area.
Modest fees will also come from hotels, bed and breakfast properties, restaurants and pubs listed on a new Marlborough tourism website. High fees charged by VisitWiltshire, which receives £500,000 funding from Wiltshire Council, have resulted in only one hotel in Marlborough being listed and only one out of the town's pubs and restaurant shown to be available in the area.