The Story of Ramsbury’s Street Names
Ever wondered about the history or meaning behind street and place names in Ramsbury?
Ramsbury High Street
The main influences on the character of the village are its position in the valley of the River Kennet and its location on the route of the old London to Bath and London to Bristol coaching roads. While the footprint of the village and its major streets was largely established prior to the Norman Conquest, the present appearance is more recent. The High Street, for instance, as seen today is a product of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Several major fires are attested to have devastated the village in 1648, 1781 and 1862 and the subsequent replacement of large numbers of houses simultaneously has created a uniformity which is still evident.
In addition to the current collection of shops, pubs etc the numerous former shops and pubs in the High Street, together with other public buildings such as the Memorial Hall, the Library, former chapels and theatres, emphasise the historic importance of the High Street as a commercial centre. The number of “former” premises reflects changing consumer habits and illustrates the greater demand for housing.
The Church of the Holy Cross, which dates from the 13th century and stands on the presumed site of the Saxon cathedral, is set back behind the north side of the High Street.
It has been theorised that the current High Street was originally subsidiary to Back Lane as a thoroughfare through the village. The presence of transverse wall foundations under the High Street may suggest that it is of more recent development than Back Lane, and the latter also appears to form a more direct extension of the Marlborough Road leading in from the west. However, it is clear that in recent centuries the High Street has been the dominant location for public activity, with Back Lane dominated by a few substantial houses and landholdings.
The home to Ramsbury’s agricultural workers, destroyed by fire.
By 1066, the basic layout of Ramsbury had been largely established and has endured to modern times with only minimal changes. The main axis lies east/west in keeping with the orientation of the Kennet valley and the main roads running along it. Cutting across this main axis were several north/south lanes which led from the common fields in the north, down to the water meadows, mills, pastures and river south of the main village.
One of these lanes, Tankard Lane, was first recorded as such in 1677, its name possibly a reference to an ale house, perhaps “The Boot” which stood near the southern end. Built in the 16-17th centuries, The Boot is now a private house, a charming timber framed, flint and painted brickwork cottage with a long thatched roof – an excellent example of an early ale house.
Traditionally, Tankard Lane was populated by agricultural labourers who lived on predominantly wooded plots halfway between the river and the fields. In 1841 there were ten one-up/one-down cottages recorded along this lane, home to more than 60 people in total (including children). In 1862 a devastating fire raged for 2 days and burnt 25 cottages in the area of Oxford Street, Blind Lane (now Union Street) and Tankard Lane, poor quality housing built of timber and thatch.
By the 20th century, modern brick houses and bungalows had replaced some of the earlier buildings and the woodlands have been gradually felled. This 1920 oil painting of Richmond Cottage (which faces Tankard Lane) provides an glimpse of how this area would have looked in the 19th century.
The Ashley family are an old Ramsbury tanning and brewing family after whom Ashley Piece was named.
Ashley Piece was built from 1972, a large private estate of 62 houses.
In 1960 the fine but very neglected organ in Holy Cross was saved by the patronage of one of the Ashley’s – who paid for repairs rather than see a replacement with an electric one.
Today a line of fine headstones to the Ashley family can be found in the Holy Cross Church yard, just off the path to the main door.
Burdett Street links Back Lane to the High Street. In 1462 it was probably known as ‘Castel strete’ or ‘Castelwallstrete’ but was certainly known as Castle Street in 1680. Other earlier street names include ‘Nolbytstreet’, ‘Crooks’, ‘le Freorchard or ‘Old Garden’.
Take a stroll up Burdett Street with its 16th and 17th century timber frame and thatch cottages to get a feel of the likely early character of Ramsbury.
The essential characteristics of 16th century buildings in Ramsbury are timber frame construction, now with brick infill, and thatched roofs. Burdett Street, together with 36 High Street, gives a good impression of the early character of Ramsbury which would have existed before the fires. The surviving 16th century buildings are modest in scale.
Pipe-trenching work in the 1960s at the rear of Burdett Street uncovered five skeletons carelessly placed in a single grave. The archaeologists concluded that they were possible plague pits and pottery recovered from the fill had a 13th/14th century date.
Saxon Forge on Ramsbury High Street is the site of an iron smelting industry excavated by Jeremy Haslam in 1974. The industrial site was sealed by a later Saxon occupation layer. This discovery confirmed Ramsburys importance during this very early period. Animal bones and an anvil were also discovered at the site as well as other tools from the Saxon period.