Tisbury is often referred to as a town but it is in fact strictly a village. Town much better describes the rural centre it has become today – a hidden gem.
The town is set amongst beautiful rolling chalk downland overlooking the Nadder valley. It has a population of around 2000 people and lies 13 miles (21km) west of Salisbury in southwest Wiltshire. It is the centre for a large rural area and designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of only 36 in England and has its own well served railway station.
There is evidence of prehistoric activity and Bronze Age artifacts have been found in the area and a probable henge (stone or wood circle) monument with some evidence of settlement 3-4000 years ago. To the southeast of the town there is a quite large (inaccessible to public) hill fort known as Castle Ditches. There are many of these earth constructed hill forts scattered throughout Wiltshire. An Iron Age hill fort often comprises concentric earth ditches and ramparts which can be sometimes very large in diameter. During ancient times these fortifications usually formed places of refuge for a wide area of surrounding population in times of trouble. Occasionally hill forts were occupied. For example, the hill fort at Old Sarum (the original settlement of Salisbury) city was occupied by the Romans and the Normans before being abandoned.
The first known settlement of the village was in Saxon (400-1066 A.D) times as a fortress site to defend the area against the Danes who were slowly encroaching from the east and north. It is believed that there was a large important monastery in the village but this was destroyed by the Vikings.
The village was and still is very much within the sphere of influence of Shaftesbury just across the county border in Dorset, where an Abbey was founded by King Alfred and the land around the village formed part of the Abbey’s estate. The local medieval administration centre for the area was the Abbey Grange Place Farm. The thatched 15th century Tithe Barn is a particularly good example, being the largest expanse of thatch in England.
After the Norman Conquest of England (1066) the village grew and although based on a rural economy it was of some importance. Although generally chalk there is exposed limestone, and quarrying became part of the economy of the village. It is now believed that the stone that was used to build the ‘new’ Salisbury Cathedral, started in 1220, came from this area.
Cloth production formed an increasing part of the economy and weaving continued for several hundred years. The town prospered until the Black Death (the plague which affected much of England and Europe and resulted in many deaths 1348-1350) but later in the century the population had recovered.
A landmark of interest to visit in the area is Wardour Castle which was built at the end of the 14th century and lies 2-3 miles (4-5km) to the southwest of Tisbury. It was really a fortified luxury dwelling and very unusual in having six sides, a grotto and a lake. The castle was badly damaged during the Civil War of 1642 by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army but repossessed by the then Earl of Arundell, 1644 who maintained it as a ruin after he built New Wardour Castle close by. The Old Wardour Castle is open to the public and maintained by English Heritage. Open to the public: April to end Oct, daily, 10am-6pm, rest of year Wed-Sun until 4pm; closed 1-2pm every day for lunch. The new castle is residential and there is no public access.
As with so many towns and villages in England the construction of the railway linking Salisbury to Yeovil in Somerset brought a measure of prosperity to the area. It was then that the village really became a rural town. Set on the edge of Cranborne Chase overlooking the Nadder valley the town continues to be a vibrant community with the ability to commute easily into Salisbury and Yeovil by rail and beyond to London and Exeter in the west.
So why not escape the well trodden paths to Stonehenge and the West Country and stop awhile to visit some of the most beautiful and tranquil countryside that Wiltshire has to offer. If you are traveling by road the town is but a short trip from Salisbury on the A.30. Drive westwards out of Salisbury via the ancient borough of Wilton for about 11-12 miles (17-19km) then turn right and head north for Ansty or Swallowcliffe. Even better take the train. Tisbury