“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Great Flood of 1841

People who live outside of Wiltshire will probably have never heard of the Great Flood of 1841, which saw extensive flooding across parts of Salisbury Plain and the destruction of many homes in the surrounding villages.

The flood occurred in January 1841 and was triggered by an extremely wet autumn followed by a period of heavy snow across Salisbury Plain. Snow which fell onto solidly frozen ground. On the 13th January the snow covering the plain began to melt and because the ground remained frozen the water could not soak into the ground. This melt water began to flow down the valleys and eventually found its way into the various local watercourses. On the 16th January the River Till at Shrewton suddenly rose by an astonishing seven and a half feet. Similarly, small streams such as the Chitterne Brook became a raging torrent that burst their banks and had enough power to sweep away bridges.

Most of the properties in the area at the time were built from clay or cob (a mixture of soil and straw) and their foundations were no match for the force of water that assailed them.

The low-lying villages of Shrewton, Orcheston, Tilshead and Chitterne bore the brunt of the flooding and all told around 72 houses were destroyed, leaving around 200 to 300 people homeless and at least three people dead. Had the flooding occurred in the dead of night the death toll would have been much higher.

In the wake of the flooding a relief appeal was organised that raised enough money to rehouse all of those that had lost their homes and even had a surplus that enabled the construction of 14 “Flood” Cottages across the local villages. The rents from these properties provided money to buy fuel, groceries and clothing for local poor people. Examples of these Flood Cottages can be found in Shrewton, Orcheston and Tilshead, and each bears a plaque which reads:

These Cottages
Builded in the Year of Our Lord
From a portion of the fund subscribed by the public
to repair the losses sustained by the poor
of this and five neighbouring parishes in  
The Great Flood of 
Are vested in the names of
Twelve Trustees
Who shall let them to the best advantage
and after reserving out of the rents
a sum sufficient to maintain the premises
in good repair
shall expend the remainder in 
Fuel and Clothing
and distribute the same amongst the poor of the 
Said Parishes 
On the 16th day of January for ever 
being the anniversary of that awful visitation. 

For those that want to get a feeling for how high the waters rose, there is an another monument to the flooding that is set into the wall of Mill House on Orcheston Road in Shrewton. A marker stone in the wall shows the level to which the water at Shrewton rose, it marks 4 foot 6 inches above ground level and 7 feet 6 inches above river level!

The Tilshead "Flood" Cottages.

The Orcheston "Flood" Cottages.

Pictures: Wiltshire (October 2015).

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Monday, 5 October 2015

The Fosse Way Standing Stones

Alongside a section of the Fosse Way in Wiltshire, three standing stones surmounted by a cap stone can be found arranged in the style of an ancient burial chamber.

The Fosse Way is an ancient Roman road that ran for 182 miles linking the Roman settlements at Exeter and Lincoln, via the other Roman settlements at Ilchester, Bath, Cirencester and Leicester. The name of the Fosse Way derives from the Latin word for ditch and for the early part of Roman rule in Britain the Fosse Way marked the western border of Roman control. The Fosse Way may have started life as a defensive ditch and then latterly been converted into a road, or the initial construction may have been a road supported by a ditch - the jury is still out on that one.

The standing stones in question can be found on the Bannerdown Road as it passes between Batheaston in Somerset towards Colerne in Wiltshire. Whilst these standing stones look like an ancient monument they are actually a fairly modern construction that marks the point where the boundaries of the counties of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Somerset historically met. The stones were erected in February 1859 and were erected over three slightly older stones dating from 1736, each of which are said to be inscribed with the initials of one of the three counties (i.e. G, W & S).

A quick Internet search reveals that this is not the only “Three Shires Stone” in the country and other tripoints (a point where three counties meet) are also marked with monuments, whether these be standing stones, oak trees or a wood!

If you ever visit the Three Shires Stones on the Fosse Way, do keep your eyes peeled. Apparently nearby in a dry stone wall there are a few carved words that tell the story of an unfortunate person who was murdered on the Fosse Way. My brief inspection of the wall failed to uncover the inscription, but a more careful eye may be able to discern the inscription and the tale that it tells.

The Three Shire Stones on the Fosse Way.

Pictures: Wiltshire (August 2015).