From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
Cottages, Amesbury - - 863744.jpg
Cottages in Amesbury
Grid reference: SU1541
Location: 51°10’0"N, 1°46’60"W
Population: 8,907  (2001)
Post town: Salisbury
Postcode: SP4
Dialling code: 01980
Local Government
Council: Wiltshire

Amesbury is a small town in Wiltshire, at the edge of Salisbury Plain. It is most famous for Stonehenge, which stands a few miles to the north and which is within its parish. These connections and more have made it a town much visited in wild legends and fantasy literature.

At Amesbury too was discovered the "Amesbury Archer", a burial unearthed in 2002 and connected at least in popular imagination with the mysterious lure of Stonehenge. A genuine link to ancient times may be found in its name, which appears to mean "Ambrosius's town" perhaps after a sub-Roman local lord – a connection with the historical British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus may have no basis beyond supposition based on the name but it is a connection often made.

The town had a population of 8,907 at the 2001 Census.

Eleanor of Provence, Queen of England, died in Amesbury on 24/25 June 1291, and was buried in Amesbury Abbey.


Amesbury is in southern Wiltshire, eight miles north of Salisbury on the A345. It sits in the River Avon valley on the southern fringes of Salisbury Plain and has historically been considered an important river crossing area on the road from London to Warminster and Exeter. This has continued into the present with the building of the A303 across the Avon next to the town. Originally the town developed around the water meadows next to several bends in the river, but in time has spread onto the valley hillsides and absorbed part of the military airfield at Boscombe Down.[1]

The nearest railway station is located at nearby Grateley.

History and prehistory


Ancient and mediæval history

The land around Amesbury has been settled since prehistoric times, evidenced by the monument of Stonehenge. Other finds in the parish point to large scale prehistoric structures and settlements in the whole area, including the numerous monuments around Stonehenge, the discovery of a Neolithic village in the neighbouring parish of Durrington by the Stonehenge Riverside Project, and continuing excavations at Boscombe Down where Wessex Archaeology found the Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen.[2] They are now on display at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.

During the Iron Age a large hill fort now known as Vespasian's Camp was built alongside the Avenue and overlooking the River Avon. The fort could easily have catered for up to 1000 people, and was probably surrounded by smaller settlements and farming communities.[3]

Roman remains are poorly documented at Amesbury, but excavations have revealed Roman structures in the Stonehenge Landscape, and Wessex Archaeology have discovered a large Roman graveyard in the area of the Amesbury Archer burial.[4] It is likely that there was a large Anglo Roman settlement overlooking the River Avon at this point.[5]

It has been suggested that the name of Amesbury is derived from Ambrosius Aurelianus, leader of Romano British resistance to Saxon invasions in the 5th century. If this were the case he is likely to have used the hill fort as a stronghold – though in truth there is no connection with this particular Ambrosius an more than any other. Amesbury has become enmeshed in the Arthurian legend, possibly as a result of the possible connection with Ambrosius Aurelianus or the magnetic influence Sonehenge has on all legend: one idle tale has Guinevere retiring to a convent at Amesbury.[6]

In 979 AD a Benedictine abbey, the Abbey of St Mary and St Melor, was founded by Dowager Queen Ælfthryth.[7] In 1177 the abbey was dissolved by Henry II[8] and replaced with a double priory of the Fontevrault order. Eleanor of Provence was buried in the abbey on 11 September 1291. At some point in time it seems likely that the church became the parish church, and it is possible that this is why it was spared destruction in 1540 when, as part of the Reformation, the priory and all other associated buildings were destroyed. Amesbury became an estate and was given to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford by the crown.[9]

On John Speede's map of Wiltshire (1611), the town's name is spelt both Amesbury (for the hundred) and Ambersbury (for the town itself).

Modern history

The Seymour family held Amesbury estate until 1675 and had several grand homes built, including Kent and Diana houses, and a new mansion in 1660. The estate subsequently passed to the Bruce family, and then to Lord Carleton, who bequeathed it to his nephew Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry. It remained in the Queensberry family until 1824. It is believed that at some point in the early 19th century, William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry planted the Nile Clumps to commemorate Admiral Nelson and had the hill fort landscaped as part of the grounds around the mansion. In 1824 the Antrobus family acquired the estate and it remained in their hands until 1915 when, after the last heir was killed in France, Lord Antrobus sold the grounds–-including Stonehenge-–to private bidders. The mansion remained in their hands until 1979.[10]

Recent history

The Greyhound Inn at Amesbury

With the establishment of the military Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down in 1939, Amesbury began to expand.

As it sits on the A303 commuter belt, Amesbury has seen substantial developments on the land between the old town centre and Boscombe Down. Several new housing estates have been completed, and the most recent one – Archers Gate – has taken its name from the discovery of the Amesbury Archer. At the Boscombe Down junction of the A303 a new mixed business development known as Solstice Park has been built and plans have been submitted for a Regional Distribution Centre for a major retailer.[11]


Avient Aviation has its United Kingdom offices in the Minton Distribution Park in Amesbury.[12][13]

Sport and leisure

  • Football: Amesbury Town FC, which plays at Amesbury Recreation Ground

Amesbury in popular culture

Stonehenge falls within the parish of Amesbury and the town sees many visitors who have come to visit it, though oddly the connection is no much exploited by the town as a whole. Amesbury has appeared in the public eye on its own merits in the past.

In 2002, the discovery of the richest Bronze Age burial site yet found in Britain was made at Amesbury. The remains of two men of apparently aristocratic rank were accompanied by over 100 objects including arrowheads, copper knives and the earliest worked gold in the country. The occupant of the more richly furnished grave has become known as the "Amesbury Archer".[2]

In 1965 The Beatles stayed at the Antrobus Arms Hotel during the filming of Help! on Salisbury Plain. The Antrobus Arms and the former Plaza Cinema were both used as locations for the filming of a BBC Miss Marple mystery.[14]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Amesbury)


  1. Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 1
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wessex Archaeology The Amesbury Archer: Background
  3. Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 3
  4. Wessex Archaeology: Boscombe Down Graves
  5. Wessex Archaeology: Boscombe Down Settlement
  6. Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 16
  7. Houses of Benedictine nuns: Amesbury
  8. Wiltshire County Council – Church Information
  9. Chandler & Goodhugh, p. 24
  10. Wiltshire County Council – Community History
  11. Amesbury Town Council Minutes
  12. "Welcome." Avient. Retrieved on 8 August 2011. "With head office in Harare, Zimbabwe, Avient has two further offices; one in continental Europe and the other in the United Kingdom."
  13. "Contact Us." (Direct link to frame) Avient Aviation. Retrieved on 8 August 2011. "UNITED KINGDOM Units 6 & 7, Minton Distribution Park, London Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7RT. United Kingdom"
  14. The Antrobus Arms Hotel


  • Chandler, John and Goodhugh, Peter (1989) Amesbury: history and description of a south Wiltshire town. Amesbury Society ISBN 0-9506643-2-4
  • Crowley, D. A.; Pugh and Stevenson (2003) A History of Amesbury, Bulford and Durrington. ISBN 0-86080-444-5
  • "Wiltshire County Council Community History"
  • Crowley, D. A. (ed.) (1995) A History of Wiltshire; vol. 15: Amesbury Hundred; Branch and Dole Hundred. Oxford: Oxford University Press