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Amesbury: A Brief History

Amesbury may not impress us with a sense of history in the way that other, much younger towns do. And yet this small Wiltshire town, hidden in the valley of the Avon, can trace a clear record of human activity and settlement going back to before the formation of the British Isles. 

Recent discoveries at Blick Mead, near Vespasian's Camp, make it clear that man has lived at Amesbury for more than 8000 years. The Mesolithic base camp, identified by the Open University staff and students makes Amesbury the oldest continuously occupied place in Britain

8000BC

WHERE IT ALL STARTED

A few years ago a during an archaeological dig conducted by the open university at blick mead, next to Vespasian's Camp, an amazing discovery of tools, footprints and bones was achieved. Using carbon dating it was proved that Amesbury was the oldest continuous settlement in the British Isles. 

4000BC

MOVING EARTH

Four thousand years later Neolithic farmers set about moving earth. The first phase of Stonehenge, the Cursus and Durrington Walls were all built then 

2000BC

THE STONE MASTERS

A further 2000 years and our Bronze Age ancestors were ready to start working in stone. They were still moving earth, Many Barrow cemeteries and an avenue leading from Amesbury testify to this, but over the next few hundred years they also upgraded Stonehenge by the addition of Blue Stones from Prescelli and Sarsens form Marlborough Down 

500BC

HILLFORTS

And it didn't stop there. 1500 years later, in the Iron Age, the people of Amesbury were still moving earth. This time they were creating the hillfort known as Vespasian Camp. A fort of this size would have served up to 1000 people.

979AD

ABBEY AND CHURCH

By the 10th Century Amesbury was already an old and influential place, and as the headquarters of a Royal Estate would have been home to a Royal Palace and a Minister. The Reformation of the Abbey on 979 and subsequent monastic developments reaffirmed this importance - For the next five centuries Amesbury would be dominated by the Church 

You can read much more on the history of the Abbey Church here: CLICK HERE

1872AD

VICTORIA'S ARMY

A Royal Estate Again.

Sleepy Amesbury, ambling down the slow path to obscurity, was rescued by the most unlikely agency.

In 1872, large-scale military manoeuvres took place centered on Beacon Hill. Over the next twenty-five years 42,000 acres of land were purchased on Salisbury Plain and Amesbury was reborn as the distribution and service center for the military population.  

1914-45AD

AN ARMED CAMP

In the years 1914-18 and 1939-45, Salisbury Plain was the focus for military training and mobilisation with vast numbers of British and Colonial troops billeted in the camps and villages. The battlefields and the dead of two world wars are commemorated everywhere - except at the places where they prepared for their last journey. The only memento is the 'Apple Track' - the line of the Military Railway is marked by trees grown from discarded apple cores.

Come Visit Us

There is so much more to explore about our Wiltshire Town, including being the home of MOD Boscombe Down, which for decades was home to UK Defence Test and Evaluation and is still home to the Empire Test Pilot School. 

If you would like to learn more please come visit us

Also there are a number of books and items available in our shop HERE

Words for the Amesbury History above by Fred Westmoreland