St Mary Bourne Revisited


Communications and roads in and around St. Mary Bourne


The means of travelling were so deficient that few ventured beyond the neighbouring market towns, hunting in the day, and drinking and smoking at night, formed the summary of much of the country life, to which old prints and songs bear testimony. To travel to Andover by cart a distance of five miles took over an hour, the cart was hooded in bad weather and had fixed wooden seats and moved just faster than on foot. It went on Mondays and Fridays (Market days.) The carriers cart was regarded as so much a local institution that, when one day the news came around that his horse had dropped dead in the shafts on a journey, a collection was made in the village to help him to purchase a successor. The post was brought from Andover five miles by foot. The postman who brought it took letters on to a neighbouring hamlet and stayed there all day using a small hut. In the evening he took the hamlets collection back to the village, where he picked up the bigger load and walked again back to Andover. (Kathleen Innes)






Pack horses

Some hundreds of years ago, and before the introduction of a road wagon, and when the idea of a coach had not yet entered the traveller’s brain, this was a famous way for the conveyance of goods from the north to the south of England. The means employed were pack horses, and long strings of these might have been seen wending their way along White flood and up the sharp hill to five lanes end, old roadster long used to the duty of leader, or lagged behind to lighten the journey with a friendly chat with some fellow traveller. Smuggled goods found a passage through the country in this way, and valuables such as could not be purchased in provincial towns. Tobacco, brandy, and even foreign brocades and silks from seaport places often filled a corner in the packman's bundle, and met ready exchange with cutlery and other commodities in the interior. The late Mr. John Moore, who died at the advanced age of ninety, placed in my possession two black, rudely made, squat, globose bottles which had contained spirits obtained of a packman by his grandfather. They are of about the date of the end of the seventeenth century, and probably contained hollands. The packhorses travelled in lines laden with bundles or panniers, the baskets being about three feet in length, two feet in depth, their width being about one or two feet. The horses backs were padded, and the panniers were suspended by hooks attached to a curved billet of wood which crossed from side to side; and it has been suggested that the Inn sign known as the "Crooked Billet" derived its name from this apparatus.

In my possession are several small globular bells of pleasant tinkling sound, which were picked up in the village from time to time. They are of the seventeenth century, and there is little doubt they were worn by packhorses. One specimen has a transverse bar of iron attached to it for fixing apparently to a cross bar. They are smaller than the bells which were formerly worn on the market teams of the farmers, although the early examples of market bells were globular. Such bells were once universal among the farmers, and the object of their employment, in addition to any small pride in their use on the part of the employers or carters, was the necessity of warning any counter traffic in narrow roads during the night or early morning. Another motive that I have heard stated was the scaring away the demons of the night from obstructing the wains by putting what the carters call "Spells" on the wheels.

The blunderbuss then was a necessary appendage, for foot pads, and people calling themselves "gentlemen," frequented the roads, which made it their business to empty the traveller’s pockets. There are stories of such "gentry" frequenting this neighbourhood, and among others Bolter, who was an accomplice of the notorious Turpin; but this refers to a period long subsequent to the time of the pack horses. Bolter's favourite spot, so report says, was Hogdiggin corner, and the roads about Woodcut, in order to be in readiness for folks travelling between Newbury and Winchester. Strange tales are current respecting him that he had a horse which used to wake him when anyone approached. He met a felon's well deserved fate at Winchester, and the wife of Brown, the tailor of this village at the time, made a journey to the gallows to touch the dead man's hand for the cure of some disease with which she was suffering. A barbarous custom permitted in those days. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

The Bolter, Dr. Stevens refers to must be Thomas Boulter born at Poulshot, near Devizes Wilts. in 1748 a millers son, whose father was also a Highwayman who had been sentenced to death, but through the intercession of several of his friends, his punishment was transmuted into transportation to the colonies for fourteen years in 1775. Thomas Boulter junior was sent to the gallows at Winchester on Wednesday, 19th, August, 1778 along with James Calderwell his accomplice. Boulter’s career had lasted for three years. (It is also said he used to feed this horse with bread soaked in wine.) (Kevin Holdway)









Books were but seldom published, and these only in London and a few of the principal towns. News came by post letters, restricted chiefly to the wealthy, which were passed about from family to family till they were almost thumbed to pieces. People travelled in road wagons chiefly, which were excessively crowded. A few coaches were introduced at the end of the seventeenth century, between places of importance, for even the roads between such towns as Newbury and Reading were almost impassable. What, then, must have been the condition of those of St. Mary Bourne?

Then the main road was merely a swampy drove, almost impassable to vehicles in winter. The river ran at will down the road and across it, and in times of flood was dangerous to travellers

The following notice of the floods appears under the head of "John Bull, his account of the floods, written by his father’s orders December ye 23rd. 1797".

" A memorandom of a flood Sunday, February ye 8th., People at church obliged to be carryed home on carts and with horses, the waters rising so fast while morning service continued between 11 and 12 O’clock, being the third flood in a fortnight by snow and sharp frost and quick thaws. 28th February ye 1st; but ye 8th.of February was heavey and shocking, the banks of the water courses brake out and the street full of water and no passing."

Thirty years ago, on the top of the hill known as five lanes end (being the spot where Hungerford lane crosses the St. Mary Bourne road to Andover), a direction post stood, bearing on its arms “Hungerford” and “Winchester”, showing that the lane must have been at one time a main road. It is an old packhorse way, and was probably used for centuries as such, when no other method of traversing the country was possible from the swampy state of the valley in winter, and when the rugged hills were not convenient for vehicles. As late as forty years ago, when there were no county bridges, fords were of frequent occurrence, not less than three such occurring between St. Mary Bourne and Hurstbourne Tarrant. And when in winter the brook became swollen and the road flooded travellers were compelled to traverse the outlying water in journeying from village to village.

Swamp-ton, the name of one of the St. Mary Bourne tithing’s, lying along the valley, has been thought to point to the condition just described; but the word is written “Suantune” in Domesday, and doubtless has its origin in the Anglo-Saxon “Suan” a swain, herdsman, or servant, in reference to the serfs of the manor at the time of the survey.

The packhorse road is still observable at Lower Week, and traversing the hills west of St. Mary Bourne it continued onwards to Hurstbourne Tarrant, where it appears to have taken the line of the hill-country through Tangley to Hungerford, a portion of the direct Roman road through the former place being called Hungerford lane on the six inch Ordnance map. The road is doubtless older than the period of the Conquest, the name “gang”, which is applied to a passage over the brook near Stoke village implying that there must have been a ford at this point in Saxon times. It was the custom of the Saxon people to designate their roads according to their width; “anes waenes gang” representing their four-foot road, or single wagon-way; and “twegna waenes gangweg” their eight-feet or double wagon track,--a disposition which assorts with the dimensions of some or our winding country lanes. In places where the packhorse road is still used the sunken state of the way below the banks on either side suggests long usage without adequate repairs. (Dr.Joseph Stevens)