AHA Group Visit to Devizes Guided Tour and the Wiltshire Museum

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On Friday 23rd September we were treated to a fun and interesting tour of Devizes. Our guide dressed in doubtful medieval attire pointed out the many clues to the town’s architectural heritage, some not easily apparent. The name Devizes evolved from the Latin name “Castrum ad divisas”, the castle at the boundaries. The town council turned down the opportunity to buy Devizes castle, so it is unfortunately privately owned and not open to the public. The current building is a Victorian attempt at a replica of the original castle which was dismantled in 1648 following a parliamentary order with the stone from it being used for other buildings. Part of the motte and bailey castle has survived despite being largely built over.

The castle saw action in two civil wars. The first less known between Empress Matilda and King Stephen in 1130 and the second between the Royalists and Parliamentarians in the 17th century. Devises has more than 400 listed and protected buildings and our guide pointed out
some of the many having ancient timber frame structures dating back 500 years or more. Naturally an ancient town like Devises has many legends, some of which were relayed to us with gusto by our guide. Following our tour of the town, which included a quick look inside the church with Norman origins we had lunch and then met at the Wiltshire Museum.

The museum is home to the best Bronze Age Collection in Britain and includes finds from around Stonehenge including the famous Bush Barrow gold. Ten galleries chronicle the history of Wiltshire over 500,000 years.
A temporary exhibition which attempted to relate the local landscape to the works of Thomas Hardy was interesting but did not live up to the promotional hype. We also felt the Stonehenge gold could have been exhibited better. However, despite these small criticisms the museum is well worth a visit. We had a very interesting afternoon there.

A big thank you to John Hawkes for taking and supplying the photographs for this trip.
Prepared by: John Alchin

AHA Group Visit to Shaftesbury

Visit to Gold Hill Museum, Abbey Ruins and to enjoy Shaftesbury Fringe Festival

Once again, the AHA Group found itself in the position of having to cancel the above scheduled visit on Friday 22nd July.

Sadly, it seemed as though everything was against us! The weather was extreme for us Brits and we could not take any risks with some members who have health issues, in addition, two of group tested positive for Covid.

But we will not be defeated! There is no group visit for August, which has been our annual practise. We will be back for our September visit to Devizes, a tour of the Museum followed by a guided tour of the town. As per our normal procedure, we will be sending out details of this event.

Prepared by:
Rosemary Crumplin-Clark


AHA Visit to Stratford-sub-Castle

On Friday 24th June we met our Blue Badge guide and old friend of the AHA Group, David Richards. He was in his usual good form for the planned visit to Stratford-sub-Castle.

We were there to learn about the roguish Pitt family and their connection with the old Rotten Borough of Old Sarum, which was only abolished by the Great Reform Act of 1832. He started by explaining the chequered history of Jack ‘Diamond’ Pitt who, after 3 very profitable periods working in colonial India both against and for the British East India Company, managed to acquire a huge uncut diamond. This very large diamond was sold to France to initially embellish Napoleon’s sword hilt. It was subsequently removed and placed in his coronation crown. The remains of the uncut diamond ended up in Russia as part of their crown jewels. At this time, Pitt turned his attention firstly to buying influence in the form of the Rotten Borough of Old Sarum and then to buying properties and farmland (a lot of it). Indeed, to this day, certain members of the Pitt Dynasty remain prominent landowners.

Diamond Pitt’s original elegant home, which he had built remains a sizeable property in Stratford-sub-Castle as do a few other old houses in the village. The village would remain (apart from post WW2 developments) largely recognisable to Pitt the Younger. The dynasty produced two prime ministers, both of whom relied upon the Rotten Borough system for their power and influence. During the walk around the village, we saw the site of the old Parliament tree under which at election times the few eligible electors would gather to bargain their votes, which usually went to the highest bidder. However, in the case of Old Sarum, Diamond Pitt had all the important votes in his grasp well in advance of any election.

Apparently, Pitt the Younger did not become Prime Minister in his twenties via talent alone. He knew how to fully exploit patronage to his personal advantage, being schooled in his corrupt ways by past generations of his family, who were extremely adept at the art. The old church was a delightful building, located close to glorious, thatched cottages and a few elegant houses which must have been built for wealthy families.

As usual, David was a complete master of his subject and was able to answer our many questions with humour and precise information. The tour lasted about two hours, by which time we were in need of some refreshments. Taking our leave from David, we journeyed to the next village Lower Woodford for lunch at the Wheatsheaf, thus concluding yet another very successful AHA outing.

Prepared by: Ron Bryan – AHA Organiser