Posted by: travelrat | October 9, 2011

Amesbury Heritage Day

Abbey Gardens

Last year, I was walking down Salisbury Street in Amesbury, when a couple stopped me and asked for directions to the stone circle. I’d only spoken a few words when they said not Stonehenge; we’ve been there! We meant the other stone circle.

For a moment, I was rather puzzled. Then, the penny dropped.

‘Oh, you mean Avebury?’

Fair enough, the names are similar … but Avebury is the best part of thirty miles away. So, what else is there to see here? they asked, Well, there’s an interesting church, and a rather nice coffee shop and … er …

Now, at Avebury, you can pop into the Alexander Keiller Museum to view artefacts from, and interpretative displays of the Avebury circles, but at Stonehenge, you have to go to the Salisbury Museum to find these. Similarly, the Amesbury Archer, who was recently discovered near Boscombe Down; most of the artefacts, as well as ‘Archie’ himself, got spirited into Salisbury.

But, nevertheless, there’s history here, as was shown at a recent Amesbury Heritage Day. We were told about an excavation that showed there’s been a settlement here since the earliest days … before Stonehenge was built; even when Britain was still joined to continental Europe. It’s estimated that around 100 people lived here, at a time when the population of all of Britain was only around 20,000. So, it was a pretty important place in those days. You can read about the excavation at http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/open-eye-you-never-know-what-you-might-unearth-2365369.html

Amesbury is also the burial place of Eleanor of Provence, consort of King Henry III. On the death of the King, she entered a convent at Amesbury, and specifically requested to be buried there … although it hasn’t been discovered where, exactly, she was buried. But, the carving of a crowned head in the church may be Eleanor … 20X great-grandmother to our present Queen, and ancestor of most of the crowned heads of Europe.

At Amesbury Abbey, we were shown the Chinese summer house, and told of the artificial cave in which composer John Gay is supposed to have written The Beggar’s Opera. But, the Abbey is not normally open to the public, and is unlikely to be to any great extent, for it’s now a nursing and retirement home.

We also visited a couple of historic pubs; the Antrobus Arms where the Beatles stayed during the making of A Hard Day’s Night (personally, I think it would be more historic if Elvis or the Rolling Stones had stayed there) and the George, an old coaching inn within which there’s a small aviation museum.

History, as someone once said, is all around us. But, in this case, there’s little we can actually see. Can this be built on to attract ‘Joe Tourist’? They are certainly trying their best; let’s see what happens.

Was this Queen Eleanor?

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Responses

  1. Hi Keith,
    Love your photo of the Abbey Gardens, what a beautiful place. A very interesting place if you are into history. Personally it doesn’t matter much to me if there is not a lot to see, just being in the place that provided that history can be more than enough.

    When we were in Turkey of course we went to one of the original Seven Wonders, we went to the Temple of Artemis, nothing to see except a couple of pillars and a lot of rocks, a few on the tour were disappointed, but Hubby and I thought it was fantastic, knowing the history and exactly what to expect when we got there I think makes a big difference.

    • I think you may have something there … after all, people often visit old battlefields (esp. WWI or US Civil War ones) even though there’s nothing to see nowadays but, at best, a green field, at worst, an industrial estate or something.

      In fact, I remember on Crete, repeatedly coming across a coach party who’d come especially to see stuff from the Battle of Crete, although there’s little to see outside the museums, memorials and graveyards.

  2. The top photo is stunning. What a gorgeous place. Loved hearing about the history of the area!


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