I belong to a history walking group and on Saturday we were told to meet at St. Peter’s Church in Marlborough. Marlborough is a small market town in Wiltshire about half way between Bristol and London. Most English People recognise the name because Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa attended Marlborough College a very exclusive public school. But I had no idea of the surprise we would find in the school grounds.
We visited Marlborough earlier this year and I wrote about my impressions here. I really liked the welcoming feel to the small town and was keen to find out more about it. We parked at the quaintly named Figgins Lane car park and made our way to the High Street. The town seemed strangely deserted as the regular Saturday market had been cancelled due to forecast high winds.
The wide High Street has a church at both ends. Thomas Wolsey later Cardinal Wolsey was ordained at St. Peter’s where we were meeting. Nowadays he is chiefly remembered as the brave man who refused to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. St. Peter’s church has been decommissioned and is now a teashop.
From St. Peter’s we walked a short distance to Marlborough College. This is the very expensive school that Kate the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa attended. According to their website, fees are an eyewatering £40,000 a year about twice the average U.K. salary. Unlike schools such as Eton and Harrow Marlborough College is fairly modern being founded in 1843 to educate the sons of clergy. The first building was originally the Castle hotel, a former coaching inn. By this time stage coaches were being replaced by trains and people could travel from Bristol to London in a day. The school has been fully co-educational since 1989.
We had not come to look at the school but at the hill behind. The large mound in the school grounds has interested archaeologists for a long time. It is known to be the motte of a Norman Motte and Bailey castle and local folklore says that the bones of Merlin are buried underneath it. Marlborough town motto is “Ubi nunc sapientis ossi merlini”. The earliest castle was built out of wood and would have been surrounded by a moat.
For a prehistorian the truth is far more interesting. Recently archaeologists have bored into the core and have found traces of charcoal in the base. Radio carbon dating shows that the charcoal can be dated to about 2,400 B.C. This would mean that the mound is the same date as the nearby Silbury Hill . They also found the remains of flying ants. As ants only develop wings in late Summer it must have been started in August or September and is what is known as a harvest hill. It is 20 metres high and 100 metres in diameter. It is difficult to imagine what it could have been used for. It would certainly taken thousands of man hours to build. The spiral path in my photo is a later addition.
This is the nearby Silbury hill which is much larger and is now a world heritage site. I added this photo to give a better impression of what Marlborough mound might have looked like.
The River Kennet
Marlborough has a very good supply of water due to the River Kennet a chalk stream which rises nearby and joins the Thames at Reading. The chalk filters the cold water which is very clean and supports a host of creatures and plants. We spotted a large trout lurking in the shallows.
At the other end of town the layout of a Saxon village can still be detected with houses clustered round a village green.
Marlborough High Street
Nowadays most people visit the High Street with its upmarket shops and restaurants. As in Tewkesbury narrow alleyways are hidden behind Tudor shop fronts. There was another row of houses where the road is now but these were destroyed in a series of fires in the 17th century and the road widened to make a fire break. One house is now a museum and has been furnished to show what life was like for its owner Thomas Bayly a silk merchant and his family. The merchants house We did not have time to visit this time but I hope to see more on my next visit.
Next week if all goes well we will be visiting Oxford and I look forward to sharing my impressions. Please add a comment. I read them all.