An unverified rumour

Just over a month ago we published a sales brochure for a house in Easterton, now known as Willougbys. (click here) The brochure refers to a story that Oliver Cromwell stayed at this house.

A single, small, typed document has just come to light and that refers to this incident as well.

Document about Easterton House which refers to a possible civil war incident in the Market Lavington area.

Document about Easterton House which refers to a possible civil war incident in the Market Lavington area.

This document, as can be seen, is about a house in Easterton called Easterton House which was once used as the Vicarage for the parish. We have no reason to doubt what most of this document says. It is the first paragraph – a kind of preamble to the main focus – which refers, again, to Oliver Cromwell.

It says, ‘A great battle was fought on the Wiltshire Downs just above Market Lavington and it is said that Oliver Cromwell slept in a farm house, in Easterton, the night before the battle.’

We would really like a historian who knows to confirm or deny this story of a battle on the downs above Market Lavington. Of course we are only about 6 miles from the site of the Battle of Roundway but surely nobody would describe Roundway Down as ‘above Market Lavington’ when it is the other side of Devizes.

Any help or ideas on this would be gratefully received.

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16 Responses to “An unverified rumour”

  1. Tony Rowlands Says:

    The comment about ‘a great battle was fought on the Wiltshire Downs just above Market Lavington…’ may have been inspired by the earthwork known as Gibbett Knowl, a Civil War battery at SU 02769 53462. It was a square enclosure, of which only the western side survives.

  2. Dave Hillier Says:

    I reckon there’s a couple of clues in reference to the “great battle”

    The text states,, Wiltshire Downs, NOT Salisbury Plain, surly the Plain was known as this, in the middle of the 17th century?

    And “just above” Market Lavington,, maybe this is as Devizes is above on a map, i.e. North of Lavington,,,,

    Therefore in my opinion it’s most likely to be Roundaway hill Devizes. ( just a thought)

  3. Norman Merritt Says:

    I have lived in this area all my life and have never heard of any battle on the top of lavington hill
    Although at the time the road to Salisbury would have gone through
    Lavington and I would imagine it was a well travelled road so it is possible that a large army would have passed through on their way
    To Salisbury or to meet up with the 3.000troops camped at winter
    Bourne Stoke on their way to the battle of Basingstoke.
    But I would have thought that would have been documented in
    Village history at some point
    As regards the gibbit know L I think that was modified by the army
    In their early presence on Salisbury plain
    Any one with a long memory of that area will remember a green
    Tin shed to stable the horses and a tower about 30ft to direct the gun fire the guns at this time were fired from the gibbit field into
    The pumping station valley below pond farm. This is the reason
    The pumping station had armour plate window shutters and a
    She’ll proof concrete roof added to it

    • Dave Hillier Says:

      In reference to the “Great Battle ”
      Like Norman, I’ve never before, neither, heard or seen anything documented in regards to this taking place near Market Lavington.
      However, if the document states this took place on the “Wiltshire Downs” surly in the mid 17th century wasn’t Salisbury Plain known as Salisbury a Plain, ?

      Therefore why state Wiltshire Downs, as opposed to Salisbury Plain?

      As for the “just above” Market Lavington, is it possible that this is simply looking on a map, and Roundway Hill, Devizes, is north of Lavington, making it just above?

      Just a thought!

    • marketlavingtonmuseum Says:

      Great stuff Norman. Thanks for all the info.

  4. Tonyr1 Says:

    Mr Merritt’s recollections on the use of Gibbett Knowl and the Pond farm Pumping Station for artillery practice made fascinating reading. I wasn’t aware of this. I assume the tower was what was known as Urchfont Tower, which was not far south of Gibbett Knowl and the way to Litttle Farm. Could Mr Merritt give us a rough date when the artillery practice took place? Any more recollections of the Pumping Station or Little Farm would be very interesting.

  5. Tonyr1 Says:

    There is a typo in my last comment: the tower was un-named (it was not Urchfont Tower) and it was to the East of the Knowl. It was Little Farm that was to the South.

  6. Norman merritt Says:

    Hi tonyr1 The lavington area has been home to the British army since the 1800s. On my map dated 1888 it shows between the
    Fiddington track and lime kiln farm was a rifle range known as flagstaff We have detected this field but gave up due to the large
    Amount of lead bullits in the ground from the martini-Henry rifle in use from1871 to 1888 with the British army
    When the army first took over a small area of the plain the farms were still working farms and the pumping station below pond farm
    Was used to pump water to all the outlaying farms .the building
    Contained two beam engines and was armour plated on all windows and roof in lavington museum there is a photo of pond
    Farm with a large military camp dated 1909
    The field guns fired from gibbit field were still horse drawn and the green shed was used to stable the horses .there were 12 rings
    Inside to tether them up the field gun would be a 15 pounder with
    A range of 4.000 yards
    The pumping station is still there (minus its beam engines)
    The tower is long gone but debris from the green shed is still there
    The track up to the downs in white street easterton was recut to zig zag up the hill to make it easier for the horses to pull the guns up
    To gibbit field it used to go straight up

  7. Tony Rowlands Says:

    Thank you Norman. This is all very interesting. You sound like you may actually have seen the guns yourself. Are you able to say in roughly what year the horse drawn field guns were using the Gibbett Knowl. If the pumping station had beam engines then it was steam powered and someone would have to have been employed to stoke it with coal.

  8. Norman merritt Says:

    Concentrating on the pumping station this time .I remember my father telling me all about it on our many walks around the plain
    It was easy to get to then .the track was still a good track to walk
    The working of the beam engines when water needed to be pumped was shared between the farms on a rota basis and of
    My grandfather going to do his bit on the rota
    Going down to the pumping station on his pony and trap
    The pony and trap was then put into the stables part of the pumping
    Station and the steel doors and window shutters were locked in
    Position and then he carried on with the beam engined until it was safe to come out
    How they got the days and times they were firing I don’t know
    But would love to

  9. Norman merritt Says:

    The army first started using the plain for excercises in 1898 so I
    Would assume it would be from about that time date wise
    The war department only had a small part of the plain then but as
    The guns got bigger and the First World War they took over more and more ground

  10. Norman merritt Says:

    Further information on the green shed mentioned above .speaking
    To a friend about it I was told it was the Americans that caused the
    Demise of the shed
    In the late 70s the American air cavalry with their bell Huey Cobras
    We’re on excercises at the top of lavington hill on various targets
    On the plain one of them being the green shed he said after they
    Had finished the shed was just about standing but looked more like
    A colander more holes than tin
    I remember the excercises at the time I was at the op hut with my
    Son and nephew watching. The choppers land and rearm and
    Re fuel.
    On talking to the American officer in charge we were shown around
    The station and the equipment. They were now based in Germany
    But most of the crew were Vietnam veterans
    That is something that would not happen today

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