Cottages in Amesbury
Amesbury shown within Wiltshire
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Amesbury // is a town and civil parish in Wiltshire, England. It is most famous for the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge which is in its parish, and for the discovery of the Amesbury Archer—dubbed the King of Stonehenge in the press—in 2002. It has been confirmed by archaeologists that it is the oldest settlement in the United Kingdom, having been continuously occupied since 8820 BC.
It has a population of 8,907. The 2011 census recorded 32,874 in the wider Amesbury area, with just under 11,000 in Amesbury itself, a growth largely due to recent housing development coinciding with the creation Solstice Park, a business park on the A303 road.
Amesbury is located in southern Wiltshire, eight miles north of Salisbury on the A345. It sits in the River Avon valley on the southern fringes of Salisbury Plain and has historically been considered an important river crossing area on the road from London to Warminster and Exeter. This has continued into the present with the building of the A303 across the Avon next to the town. Originally the town developed around the water meadows next to several bends in the river, but in time has spread onto the valley hillsides and absorbed part of the military airfield at Boscombe Down.
Ancient and medieval history
The land around Amesbury has been settled since prehistoric times, evidenced by the monument of Stonehenge. Other finds in the parish point to large scale prehistoric structures and settlements in the whole area, including the numerous monuments around Stonehenge, the discovery of a Neolithic village in the neighbouring parish of Durrington by the Stonehenge Riverside Project, and continuing excavations at Boscombe Down where Wessex Archaeology found the Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen. They are now on display at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Amesbury is recognized as the oldest UK settlement.
During the Iron Age a large hill fort now known as Vespasian's Camp was built alongside the Avenue and overlooking the River Avon. The fort could easily have catered for up to 1000 people, and was probably surrounded by smaller settlements and farming communities.
Roman remains are poorly documented at Amesbury, but excavations have revealed Roman structures in the Stonehenge Landscape, and Wessex Archaeology have discovered a large Roman graveyard in the area of the Amesbury Archer burial. It is likely that there was a large Romano-British settlement overlooking the River Avon at this point.
It has been suggested that the name of Amesbury is derived from Ambrosius Aurelianus, leader of Romano-British resistance to Saxon invasions in the 5th century. If this is the case he is likely to have used the hill fort as a stronghold. It is possible that an order of monks established a monastery in the area that was destroyed by the Saxons before they settled the area in the 7th century. Amesbury is also associated with the Arthurian legend: the convent to which Guinevere retired was said to have been the one at Amesbury.
In 979 AD a Benedictine abbey, the Abbey of St Mary and St Melor, was founded on what may have been the site of a previous monastery by Dowager Queen Ælfthryth. In 1177 the abbey was dissolved by Henry II and replaced with a double priory of the Fontevrault order. Eleanor of Provence was buried in the abbey on 11 September 1291. At some point in time it seems likely that the church became the parish church, and it is possible that this is why it was spared destruction in 1540 when, as part of the reformation, the priory and all other associated buildings were destroyed. Amesbury became an estate and was given to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford by the crown.
The Seymour family held Amesbury estate until 1675 and had several grand homes built, including Kent and Diana houses, and a new mansion in 1660. The estate subsequently passed to the Bruce family, and then to Lord Carleton, who bequeathed it to his nephew Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry. It remained in the Queensberry family until 1824. It is believed that at some point in the early 19th century, William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry planted the Nile Clumps to commemorate Admiral Nelson and had the hill fort landscaped as part of the grounds around the mansion. In 1824 the Antrobus family acquired the estate and it remained in their hands until 1915 when, after the last heir was killed in France, Lord Antrobus sold the grounds–-including Stonehenge-–to private bidders. The mansion remained in their hands until 1979.
With the establishment of the military Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down in 1939, Amesbury began to expand. As it sits on the A303 commuter belt, Amesbury has seen substantial developments on the land between the old town centre and Boscombe Down. Several new housing estates have been completed, and the most recent one – Archers Gate – has taken its name from the discovery of the Amesbury Archer. At the Boscombe Down junction of the A303 a new mixed business development known as Solstice Park has been built and plans have been submitted for a Regional Distribution Centre for a major retailer.
Amesbury has 4 main schools:
- The Stonehenge School, a specialist maths and Computing comprehensive school
- Amesbury Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School
- Christ the King RC Primary School
- Amesbury Archer Primary School
Sport and leisure
Amesbury in popular culture
Although Stonehenge falls within the parish of Amesbury, the town does not directly benefit from the monument's fame. However, Amesbury has appeared in the public eye on its own merits in the past.
In 2002, the discovery of the richest Bronze Age burial site yet found in Britain was made at Amesbury. The remains of two men of apparently aristocratic rank were accompanied by over 100 objects including arrowheads, copper knives and the earliest worked gold in the country. The occupant of the more richly furnished grave has become known as the "Amesbury Archer".
The town is linked to the Arthurian legend as it is popularly believed that Guinevere retired to the original convent at Amesbury after leaving Arthur. Legend holds that she is buried in the grounds of the former Abbey.
On 3rd 4th and 5th May 1965 The Beatles stayed at the Antrobus Arms Hotel during the filming of Help! on Salisbury Plain. The Antrobus Arms and the former Plaza Cinema were both used as locations for the filming of a BBC Miss Marple mystery.
- Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
- William Carpenter (Rhode Island) – An Amesbury resident who settled in America in the 1630s.
- Brown, Mark (1 May 2014). "Britain's oldest settlement is Amesbury not Thatcham, say scientists". Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- Office for National Statistics : Census 2001 : Parish Headcounts : Salisbury Retrieved 8 September 2010
- Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 1
- Wessex Archaeology The Amesbury Archer: Background
- "Amesbury in Wiltshire confirmed as oldest UK settlement". BBC News. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
- Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 3
- Wessex Archaeology: Boscombe Down Graves
- Wessex Archaeology: Boscombe Down Settlement
- Applebaum, Shimon (1983). "A note on Ambrosius Aurelianus". Britannia 14: 245–246. doi:10.2307/526352.
- Elfinspell: Amesbury Monastery
- Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 16
- British History Online: Houses of Benedictine nuns: Amesbury
- Wiltshire County Council – Church Information
- Catholic Encyclopaedia: Order and Abbey of Fontevrault
- Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 24
- Wiltshire County Council – Community History
- Amesbury Town Council Minutes
- "Welcome." Avient. Retrieved on 8 August 2011. "With head office in Harare, Zimbabwe, Avient has two further offices; one in continental Europe and the other in the United Kingdom."
- "Contact Us." (Direct link to frame) Avient Aviation. Retrieved on 8 August 2011. "UNITED KINGDOM Units 6 & 7, Minton Distribution Park, London Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7RT. United Kingdom"
- Young, Christopher; Chadburn, Amanda; Bedu, Isabelle (July 2008). "Stonehenge World Heritage Site Management Plan". UNESCO: 62.
- Time Travel Britain: Amesbury
- The Antrobus Arms Hotel
- Chandler, John and Goodhugh, Peter (1989) Amesbury: history and description of a south Wiltshire town. Amesbury Society ISBN 0-9506643-2-4
- Crowley, D. A.; Pugh and Stevenson (2003) A History of Amesbury, Bulford and Durrington. ISBN 0-86080-444-5
- "Wiltshire County Council Community History"
- Crowley, D. A. (ed.) (1995) A History of Wiltshire; vol. 15: Amesbury Hundred; Branch and Dole Hundred. Oxford: Oxford University Press
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