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One of the highlights of the year is most definitely the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s annual forum (let’s call it NWD AONB!).  This year, the venue was the Bouverie Hall in Pewsey – the village at the heart of the Pewsey Community Area.

Local walking groups, conservation groups, businesses, landowners, tourism businesses, parish councils, heritage groups and others gather every year to learn what has been achieved in the previous year and what is planned for the future.

This year, much was achieved, with local businesses and groups benefiting from the Sustainable Development Fund that is managed by Oliver Cripps at the NWD AONB. Beneficiaries of this grant include the Pewsey Vale Tourism Partnership  and (in previous funding years) Wilton Windmill which I was also representing.

As usual it was an excellent opportunity to network with all the groups from across the AONB – so not just Wiltshire, but Oxfordshire and Berkshire as well.

Henry Oliver (Director, NWD AONB) provided an introduction to Historic Landscape Characterisation, using Hungerford and its Common as examples of the process and demonstrating how we, as residents or visitors, can ‘have a go’ at HLC – all we need is an inquisitive mind!

Emma Rouse – Wyvern Heritage & Landscape – then explained how HLC works and how important it is to understanding and communicating the importance of the NWD AONB.  Workshops followed aimed at collating attendees’ thoughts and ideas on how the NWD AONB should approach the HLC process and what we, as potential users of the information, would like to see being produced.

What is HLC?  Well, my understanding is that there are two main components – the Historic Landscape Environment Character and the Time Depth.  So, if you look at a countryside view, you might see an avenue of trees and what looks like bumps in the ground – this is the Historic Landscape Environment Character.  Investigation of these things shows that the avenue of trees were originally elm trees planted for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 and then replaced after Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970’s with a line of oaks.  The bumps in the ground are in fact evidence of medieval farming systems.  These are the Time Depth elements of the process.   Together they create a record of what we see today and how it came to be.  This is then mapped on to GIS (Geographic Information System) to form layers of information that can be used by planners, conservation groups, visitors, and, well, anyone really.

NWD AONB Mike Asbury briefing group

So, armed with our new-found knowledge, after a lovely lunch, we formed two groups – one visiting the iconic Pewsey White Horse and the other doing a Pewsey Village walk with Mike Asbury, a local historian who runs the Pewsey Heritage Centre.

Mike’s tour of the village was absolutely fascinating and I will attempt to recall a few of the facts that he told us and communicate them through Historic Landscape Characterisation – or at least my attempt at it (my apologies to the experts!).

Around the World

Butchers Hooks

Historic Landscape Environment observations:

In North Street, there is a lovely shop selling gifts, toys and homewares called Around the World.  Before you go in, have a look up – why do the eaves stick out so far in front of the shop windows and why have such elaborate metalwork to hold them up?

Time Depth:

The answer is that it used to be a butcher’s shop.  The overhang provided some shade into the shop, but also, more importantly, gave an area for the butcher to hang up the meat so people could see what was for sale.  In those days, the butcher’s was also the slaughterhouse, so the single storey part of the building is where the slaughtering went on and to the left of that is the remnants of the gully down which the blood from the butchering would flow into the street.

Pewsey Avon Bridge and Ford


Historic Landscape Environment observations:

Just by King Alfred’s statue, by the bridge, you can see that the ground slopes down into the water.  There is a sign for the Pewsey Avon Trail.

Time Depth:

Before the bridge was built, the means of crossing was as a ford.  The fords were an important tool for a carter – if the wooden wheel had shrunk as it dried out, by standing the cart in the water, the wood would swell and the wheel would fit properly again.

In 2010, the Pewsey Avon Trail was created using existing rights of way to take you from Pewsey to Salisbury.

 Evidence of the Window Tax Historic Landscape Environment observations:

A row of cottages in the High Street have two windows on the first floor, a window on the ground floor and a front door.

Time Depth:

However, on closer inspection one of the windows on each of the cottages is false – painted on after being blocked up after one of the many rises in Window Tax which ran between 1696 and 1851.

We rounded the walk off with a visit to the Pewsey Heritage Centre where Mike enlightened us on various artifacts in his inimitable, entertaining way.  The team in the Pewsey Heritage Centre is very knowledgeable and really brings your visit to the Pewsey Vale to life, so if you go there, please have a chat and ask questions if you have any.

I can’t help thinking that HLC will be something that schools, villages and parishes across the AONB and the Pewsey Community Area could really get involved in – recording the importance of things around us that we may take for granted on a day to day basis, but in fact have interesting stories to tell.  From a Pewsey Vale Tourism point of view,  the maps and information produced by the process will be hugely helpful to people looking at visiting the Vale.

Susie Brew

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