I write a monthly article for the Parish Magazine serving the two local villages, alternating local history and local wildlife. Here they are:
8. MARVELLOUS MR. MOLE
The ‘Wind in the Willows’ is well represented in our neighbourhood by at least one of the heroes of that wonderful book: Mr. Mole! It’s probably the soil that makes it so conducive to their colonisation and breeding. I am always fascinated to see new heaps turn up during my regular walks in the area-and popping up in my garden!
When I first moved here and told my former neighbour he rang immediately and said “please be kind”. Of course! Unless you have a Wimbledon style grass court, or a bowling green why would you get neurotic over some mole hills? Alan Titchmarsh proclaims that huge manicured lawns are deserts. Nothing much for wildlife or to delight our senses. I do like a bit of grass- but just as a foil or break against which all the other shapes and ‘rooms’ of the garden can work. So please don’t flood them, or gas them or trap them. Just let them be. Just remove the heaps. Calm down! It won’t notice.
Moles are so industrious: they can tunnel over 20 metres of tunnels in a day! But why all those tunnels? They are in fact worm traps- the mole is very sensitive and as soon as a worm falls through the mole knows exactly where to retrieve it. A mole needs to eat the equivalent of its own body weight every day so stores hundreds of worms in its larder! And they can survive on the barest minimum of oxygen of any mammal. Moles are not blind, as most people believe. They do have eyes and internal ears, but these are very small to prevent them being clogged up and damaged during tunnelling. Although they can see, the mole’s eyesight is poor, with no ability to detect colours, just light from dark and movement. However, the mole has a special weapon to help it find other animals underground - an area of bare pink skin on the snout covered in tiny pimples that detect movement and the scents of prey and other moles. Researchers have found that their digging motion is akin to that of swimming. They have strong paws.
The average lifespan of a mole is about 4 years but some species of mole have been known to live until they are 6 or 7 years old. Moles breed between March and May. The gestation period is 30 days and 1-2 litters are born a year. Each litter has 3-6 young which are suckled for 4-5 weeks and become independent of their parents at about 2 months. Outside the mating season, moles lead solitary lives, each one in its own system of tunnels.
My cat was once totally transfixed by seeing a heap appear! But then so was I! Sad to think that they were once hunted and farmed for their fur/skins to adorn silly selfish humans. We seem to have evolved fractionally since. So just be calm- accept the moles in your garden as a blessing. All creatures are. Be kind. If you don’t then Mr. Ratty and Mr. Badger will be very displeased with you!
7. THE FAMOUS STUDLEY CARROTS
Do you grow carrots and if so do you have success? The reason I ask is that if you do then you are part of an old Studley tradition that goes back a few hundred years! Our area has seen Celtic farmsteads, Roman villas (at Bowood, Sandy Lane, and Studley where there was also a temple) and then Saxon. Throughout Norman and Medieval period our area was part of the Royal Forest of Chippenham which was gradually hived off and sold to the local manors and nobility.
However, but by the late 17th. century (approximately the reigns of King Charles II and the later Stuarts) Studley carrots had become renowned both for their quantity and for their quality!
It would seem that vegetables were the coming thing from this time onward and the Studley (and later also Derry Hill) areas became full of allotments. The produce would have been packed off to markets at Chippenham, Calne, and Bath, and with the coming of the Canals in the 18th. century even further afield. By the time of the railway in the 19th. century it was possible to send our vegetables to the London markets via the railway siding at Blackdog Hill.
The allotments included the southern part of Studley Common of approximately 25 acres on the land which became Blounts Nursery on the west side of Studley Lane, and which was laid out as inclosed strips of c. 2 acres each by 1728. Earlier it was Common pasture used by cottagers of Studley. Vegetable allotments were also laid out along the A4 and down the east side of Studley lane behind the cottages. On the area called The Red Hill, there were also allotments between the old cottages of Derry Hill and the A4 in the area which is now Chapel Street, Lansdowne Hall etc. To the north of Studley Corner and Studley House Farm was the wooded area of Bodnage Copse. Close Wood (to the west of Blounts and running down Derry Hill to Pewsham was there of course. There were also wooded areas just to the north of Norley Lane.
In 1883 the allotment part of the old Common (that is the eastern half of Blounts) was laid out as 8 allotment between The New Road and Studley Chapel. The same map shows allotments and vegetable plots in the entire area between The New Road and Old Road (Rag Lane). Maps of 1890, 1901, 1924, 1938, 1960 and 1974 still show these allotments as being there.
Allotments of course would not have been those we call them today. They would have been 1 or 2 acres or more and used as small holdings like a full time job selling to the markets. Today all of the thriving magnificent allotments and nurseries have gone. The present lay out of the land shows remains of elements of these long established traditional tracts. So keep up the tradition now and grow those carrots!
6. WINTER WILDLIFE SLEEP
Nature is in abeyance at this time of year. Deciduous trees have shed their leave, summer visiting birds have flown south. All seems silent. Or is it? Certainly some creatures are hibernating: ladybirds are huddled together in the gaps of window frames, hedgehogs sleeping, frogs hibernating at the bottom of ponds, under sheds or in heaps of leaves. But many creatures are active. And whilst plants and trees seem dormant within a short time they are preparing for new growth: you only have to look at the new buds that peep through by February, and even the first bees are sometimes out. Primroses, crocuses, snow-drops and many other flowers are getting ready, and our native birds are still singing to cheer us each day.
Some creatures find their way into our homes for winter, ladybirds as Ive said. I once had a family of field mice (the long tailed mice that hop as oppose to scurry like the so called house mouse) overwintering inside the bottom of my freezer in the potting shed ! They just want a snug place for a couple of months and will soon be back out into the land given half a chance. But though we now have milder winters creatures can sometime be caught unaware by a sudden cold snap. It is sometimes hard for time to find water to drink or even food, so keep your bird feeders stocked up (field mice will also help themselves!) and ensure there is unfrozen water somewhere in your garden. And if you have garden fire first check and gently turn over the debris in case creatures are nesting inside. The same is true when you dig the garden: I once dug up a family of new born field mice- I popped them into an old hamster nest box and part buried it and by next day mother had taken them off somewhere else. I once also had a juvenile fox in my greenhouse that had lost its way: made sure it could get out of the garden and after a feed of dog food for a day or two it found its way back home.
Make sure your fish pond is kept unfrozen (an airline is best; if not don’t crack the ice, melt it) and make sure birds have plenty to eat and drink in winter. And come spring please remember that it is illegal to destroy birds nests, or to cause distress or harm to any wildlife in general. Please be a good steward and friend- you will be rewarded. It is surprising what is going on during the depths of winter. Go for walks and see what you can find!
Further info/Links: Our group:https://www.facebook.com/groups/StudleyDerryHillWildlife/
Wilts Wildlife: http://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/
5. SANDY LANE PROVIDENCE CHAPEL
Wiltshire Non-Conformism has a long and thriving history since Tudor times, as our community shows: Studley Methodist Chapel, Derry Hill Little Zoar Baptist Chapel, and Sandy Lane Providence Chapel. The latter is just off the Melksham Road if you turn left at the Lansdowne Arms/Golden Gates. Worshipers had to walk miles in those days, which attests to both their faith and self discipline. During the Civil War of 1642-49 the cloth towns like Chippenham, Calne, Newbury and Reading were staunchly Parliamentarian, and somewhat Puritan/Non-Conformist.
Meetings of nonconformists were held at Providence Chapel from c. 1790, and in 1811 a meeting house there was said to be old and in poor repair. A Baptist congregation was formed in 1810 and a chapel, of ironstone with ashlar dressings and called Providence, was built in 1817. A schoolroom was added in 1825. The building itself is curiously marked by a cross, which is incorporated in the stonework above the front door. In 1847 five members were transferred from Little Zoar Chapel and it would appear that Sandy Lane Church was experiencing the tensions affecting Baptist Churches all over the country. In the same year, the Church decided to replace "Watts and Rippon's Hymns" by "Gadsbys". In 1848 extensive renovations were carried out. No Pastor was ever appointed after this time. In 1877 there were eleven member's and although there were a few subsequent additions, the last Baptismal service took place in August 1883 when two candidate's were Baptised by W. H. Pocock.
The last two Deacons' were James and George Lane both of whom died in 1903. Before 1910 James. C. Pocock of durlett Farm, Bromham conducted one service on a Sunday, if no Minister were available. In 1914 he handed over the management of the Chapel to "Gad Wiltshire" of Studley, who conducted afternoon services until December 1937, reading a sermon, when no minister could be obtained. He handed over responsibility to H. B. Pitt of Trowbridge and W. H. Taylor of Melksham. This arrangement continued until 1956 when Mr Pitt's illness compelled him to hand over responsibility to the Trustee's, who appointed Mr Shiles of Chippenham and later Mr George Wiltshire of Studley. On Census Sunday in 1851 there were three services at Providence chapel with an average attendance of 45. Services were held twice each Sunday until c. 1910, once each Sunday until c. 1956, occasionally thereafter. In 1958 the last regular attender from the Village moved away. The chapel (still standing) was a private house by 1996.
Community faith in action can achieve wonderful things. Our chapels and our church prove that. To get bells for Christ Church in Derry Hill would be our contribution to that heritage.
4. LOCAL BUTTERFLY WATCH 2014
When I was a child I used to call them “flutter bys”. It seemed to me a more appropriate name than something to do with butter! Various researchers state that it is from the Middle English buterflie, butturflye, boterflye, from the Old English butorfl?oge, buttorfl?oge, buterfl?oge, perhaps a compound of butor (beater), mutation of b?atan (to beat), and fl?oge (fly). One thing is certain, a more colourful and beautiful sign of the health and beauty of your garden and of our local landscape you will not find. H.R.H. Prince Charles refers to them as “animated flowers”: how beautifully apt!
They are part of the order of insects known as Lepitoptera and they have been around for at least 50 million years! They only live for about a year and start off as eggs laid by the adult, glued to a leaf. The outer covering is a ridge hard shell life substance and inside is a layer of wax to prevent it drying out. They then change into caterpillars and then cocoons, and then that miracle of nature- metamorphosis into the butterfly!.
Species Count: Although recording only started in July we have identified 37 species around Studley Lane, Norley Lane, Stanley Lane, the old Blounts nursery, and the footpath down to Studley Corner. BUTTERFLIES: Peacock; Comma; Red Admiral; Brimstone; Large White; Small Tortoisehell; Orange Tip; Speckled Wood; Ringlet; Small Skipper; Gatekeeper; Small Heath; Meadow Brown; Small White; Green-Veined White; Holly Blue; Dark Arches; Common Plume; Black Arches; Garden Tiger; Essex Skipper; Common Footman; Mother of Pearl; Painted Lady; Marbled White; Common Blue.MOTHS: Hummingbird Hawkmoth; Red Underwing; Swallowtail Moth; Cinnebar; Brimstone Moth; Peppered Moth; White Plume moth; Large Yellow Underwing; Silver Y; Pyrausta aurata. Next year we hope to add other places to our sites list.
Symbolism: Represents the soul, immortality, beauty, the urge towards purity and light. Its change from egg to caterpillar to cocoon then butterfly has always fascinated mankind. It reflects our own need for spiritual evolution. It is often found in ancient and in Christian art. There are over 57 species of butterfly and 1400 species of moth in Britain.
Further info/Links: Our group:https://www.facebook.com/groups/StudleyDerryHillWildlife/
Wilts Wildlife: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/
Please Help! Butterflies and moths give us so much: pleasure, calm, and of course with bees the pollination of flowers, fruits and vegetables on which we depend for our very existence. And they are having a hard time of it with loss of habitat, pesticides, etc. Can you help them out and return the favour by making a home in your garden? Some of their favourite plants are: lavender, buddleia, scabiosa, lilac, verbena, aubrietia, catmint, dahlia, heather, rockrose, honeysuckle, bluebell, coreopsis, cosmos, cornflower. See the our list of 100 best plants on our website. Why not plant a small area as your own butterfly meadow/wild garden: you will be rewarded!
Next year we hope to have some wildlife education projects.
3. EARLY SAXON STUDLEY
Our neighbourhood comprised farming settlements and villas during the Roman Empire from 43 ad. The legions left by 450 and the old Roman ways declined. In 552 the West Saxons overran Salisbury and in 557 at nearby Dyrham, under Ceawlin, they defeated and killed in battle the Romano-Britiish tribal kings of Caer Gloui(Gloucester/Glevum), Caer Ceri (Circencester/Corinium) and Caer Baddan (Bath/Aqua Sulis) and thus overrunning West and North Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. It must have been a bewildering time for the local Brythonic (Celt/Briton) inhabitants of our area as the newcomers drew near and life rapidly changed (a similar fate befell the Saxons hereabouts 500 years later when the Normans seized control and imposed the harsh serfdom of the feudal system).
But the ‘Celts’ did not simply vanish nor were all driven out to Wales or Cornwall, though some did. There were alliances of Celts and Saxons to fight other Saxons. But the early Anglo-Saxon laws which placed the price of reparation (wergild) for the killing of a Saxon between 2 and 5 times higher than that of a Celt suggests that they were largely absorbed into the Saxon society as second class citizens. Our modern dna shows a high percentage of Saxon male chromosomes and female Celtic chromosomes. And overall it goes back in a steady and specific inheritance to at least 37,000bc to early Cro-Magnon- for example there is a man in Cheddar village who is directly descended from the Cheddar caveman 10,500 bc!
The name Studley is thought to derive from the Proto-Germanic ‘st?da’ from the Proto-Indo-European ‘sta’ (stand, set). It is cognate with old High German ‘stuot’ (herd of horses), German ‘stute’ (mare) , Old Norse ‘stóð’, Swedish ‘sto’ (mare). The Indo-European root is also the source of Albanian shtazë (“animal, beast”) and Old Slavic stad. And ley or leah was a pasture. So together it would seem that Studley means: the place of the horses pasture.
Anglo-Saxon place names are very specific: for example ing, stoke, stud, leigh, ton, ham. Thus we have Reading: Raeda’s inga: (the people of Raeda); Wokingham: (the settlement of the people of Wocca); Chippenham: the ham of the people of Cippa. (a local Saxon chieftain). So Studley bordered on the strong-hold of this Saxon chieftain. But in the Anglo-Saxon tongue there is also the word ceap meaning market. The Saxons for many hundreds of years were not a unitary state or nation, but (like the Celts before them) a series of tribes (Angle, Saxons, Jutes) each with sub-branches (Wilsaetas, Somersaetas, Dormsaetas) which can be seen in many of our county names Norfolk (North Folk); Suffolk (South Folk) Essex (East Saxons); East Anglia (East Angles) Middlesex (Middle Saxons); Sussex (South Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons) and then below that local clans each with its own chieftain. In our area were the Wilseatas sub-branch under the main branch of the West Saxons, and we bordered on the kingdom of the Hwicce. Later these chieftains became the governing “earls’ of a ‘shire’ (county) under the tripartite kingdom of Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex and in time under Athelstan: England.
So after the splendour of the palatial Roman and Romano-British villas probably belonging to the patricians and merchants of Bath, the economy became localised, and each village became a world of its own held in a system of family ties and homage to a greater chief accepted by a number of villages. Saxon life, Studley Common, the Vikings and more I will tell another time.
Democracy would have been simpler in those days. A gathering of folk at a symbolic place (later the village Cross or green) would have meant direct decisions at the moot orallthing. The modern equivalent would be something akin to the Parish Council. So when you go along to the Lansdowne Hall for the parish council meeting once a month don’t go confusing our councillors by asking questions in Anglo-Saxon, or agreeing to a decision by rattling your spear or sword on your shield as our ancestors did!
2. LOCAL WILDLIFE- AN INTRODUCTION
We humans often regard ourselves unique in Creation and evolution. If so, then it follows that like a good gardener and in the image of The Oneness we needs must be a protector of Nature and living things. For our sake as well as theirs. Living here in this lovely corner of North Wiltshire we are blessed with many delights to lift our spirits and many opportunities to fulfil our learning and enhance our skills and enrich our children.
The old saying goes: “a gift for a gift”. And if we give and care we will be rewarded, especially if we do not seek it. The joy, companionship and learning I find in caring for Nature and observing it enriches my life beyond measure. It brings new ways to embellish my home, my garden and my way of living. And if you have a problem, or feel low, a little walk or potter around in the garden soon soothes and solves all away. There is healing all around.
I was born and brought up amongst English fields, woods and hills. For children of our two villages Nature is not only a resource for education and humanising it can be fun. What bird song was that? What difference between the wing edge and pattern of those butterflies? Why are the frogs croaking? The variety of bird flight, the courtship rituals of all creatures. It is a comfort and inspiration, an endless book and the most wondrous dvd you will ever come across!
Look up into our skies this time of year and you will see the spectacular acrobatics of the swallow and slow graceful gliding of the buzzard and the red kite. And in your garden you’d be surprised how many species of creature you could count. How many different butterflies do you have? What has sprung up in your garden from seeds dropped by birds? ( I have several tiny saplings and quite a few flowers they have gifted me) And all around us, over in the beauteous Park, along our leafy lanes and footpaths many mammals go about their busy lives.
To help engender our enrichment I have launched a Facebook community, This wildlife group will be for us to explore what can be seen in the area within Derry Hill, Studley, Stanley, Dumbpost, Bremhill, Ratford, Lower Whiteley, Bowood, Sandy Lane, Nocketts Hill and Forest Gate: the furthest points being a distance that can be reasonably undertaken for a nice walk. Here you can post your photos, partake of sighting lists, and ask questions. I hope you will join. Just go to It is: Studley & Derry Hill Wildlife. In time I hope we can organise events, walks, study projects. We will also offer guidance sheets, and tips on how you can help wildlife and bring more to your garden. I hope you will join in. All ages are welcome!
In forthcoming items here in the parish magazine I will tell the story of various creatures, their mythology, folklore, life cycle, habitat, and how you care for and attract them to your garden.
For example the butterfly is an emblem of the soul and its purification; the wren the sign of winter and the robin that of early spring. The bee is a symbol of St. Ambrose and of sweet wise words, the owl that of knowledge, the hare of diligent service, the turtle dove of fidelity and affection, the rose of completion and perfection, and the fish an early Christian symbol. The frog is associated with creation and resurrection. Bees and butterflies love flowers which are blue. The red kite got its name from the Old Norse/Saxon term for “glide”. Moles store many hundreds of worms in their larder. And like us many species of animal mate for life, and are diligent parents.
In your time in the garden or walk around the locality, just stop every now and then and listen and look. You’d be surprised what you find. I never tire at what there is in my garden. Take a moment in your life to smell the flowers, hear the buzz of the bee, the song of the robin or blackbird, the scurrying of little mammals, the rustle of the leaves. Feel yourself to be a part of this vast and beautiful picture.
Nature is sacred, yet so much is under threat even in our own country from much vaunted “progress” and once a species is gone it is gone forever. All wildlife is having a hard time to cling on to existence. But you and I can help. And we will be rewarded.
To be a good steward and friend of Nature can bring a condition of grace yet alone honour and joy. Let us explore and share together the abundance around us. And it’s good exercise and good fun and free!
1. BLACK DOG HILL
There was once a Black Dog Inn on what is now Black Dog Hill. The Hill probably took its name from the Inn, but the Inn probably from the dog!
The Hellish Black Hound:
Ghastly Black Dogs are a nocturnal apparition, often association with ill-omens and also punishment of wrongdoers. Though usually linked with The Devil or with Hell Hounds they are in fact an essence from deep in antiquity- as is the case of Herne The Hunter, or Woden’s Wild Hunt, or Cwm Annwyn. The creature is supposed to be larger than a normal dog and distinguished by glowing eyes and very large fangs. They frequent places of execution, ancient track-ways- and cross roads: could the beast once have frequented Studley Cross Roads? Travellers seeing it at the brow of the hill as their toiled their way up it and along Rag Lane! in Connecticut, are said to behave benevolently.
Black Dog Inn
Between 1745 and 1848, there stood Black Dog Inn, which gave its name to the hill, and later to Black Dog Halt railway station of the Chippenham and Calne Line, located at the east end of the village. In 1761, new pub called the Rose and Crown, was opened. It was re-named The Soho Inn by 1830 and survives and thrives to this day.
Black Dog Halt
Near the (former) railway bridge over the Bristol road a private rail siding and halt called Black Dog was built for the then Lord Lansdowne as a private stop on the Great Western Railway for Bowood House. . It was opened on 3rd. November 1863. A stationmaster's house was built in 1874. The then Lord Lansdowne had a special compartment in one of the Calne line’s autocoaches. Later he was persuaded to allow the halt to be used by the public.
After the British Rail takeover the halt was turned into a request stop. Black Dog Halt became a public station in 1952. The Halt was closed in 1963 and soon after the buildings were demolished. Today the site of the halt is being used as part of the national cycle route.
Black Dog Rail:
A single-line broad-gauge railway which followed the left bank of the Marden was opened between Chippenham and Calne in 1863 by the Calne Railway Company. It bridged the Bristol road 1.5 km. west of Calne and had a station on the south-west edge of the town. The line was operated by the G.W.R., converted to narrow-gauge in 1874, and bought by the G.W.R. in 1892. The Chippenham–Calne line was closed to freight in 1963 and to passengers in 1965.
I have always loved history since I was a small child- it gave me a sense of oneness with the land and its ongoing traditions. History can give us a sense of place, of belonging and of community. Without history together with a love for local wildlife and nature we become rootless and in time lose contact with Creation and life’s purpose and prospect.
Finally: be careful on your way home late at night from the local pub- if you see a large shadowy four legged creature with eyes glowing in the dark near Studley Cross Roads and Black Dog Hill don’t wait around to enquire further!