1896: Vastern Wharf and the Chalybeate Spas at Whitehill

The Chalybeate Spas at Whitehill Farm
From the Swindon Advertiser, 11th January 1896

[NOTE: Whitehill is not far from Vastern Wharf, home for many years of Adam Twine, some time Director of the Wilts & Berks Canal Company]

Mr W. F. Parsons, of Hunts Mill, Wootton Bassett, contributes to last month's issue of the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine some archaeological notes in continuation of an article in a previous issue on local archaeology.

Writing on the Saline Springs at Whitehill Farm, Wootton Bassett, he says that this is a remarkable saline spring of much repute. In the summer months large quantities of the water are taken away by visitors from the towns and villages within a radius of ten miles or more. On Sunday mornings, especially, in May and June, there may sometimes be seen as many as thirty – a hundred have been counted by Mr Adam Twine – persons at one time drinking the water or filling their various vessels. On one occasion (in May, 1879) the present tenant of the farm (Mr Hathway) had the number who came during the day counted, and they amounted to near upon four hundred.

The public have full and free permission to visit the place and take the water at all times. The well is enclosed with brick, and the water comes up slowly through an iron pipe, the length of which is not known. The field in which the spring is situated is usually reserved for the pasturage of young cattle, as it has been long known that they enjoy there an immunity from the disease known as “quarter evil”, or inflammatory fever, to which young stock are frequently subject.

It has been stated that Queen Elizabeth once paid a visit to the place from Fasterne – about a mile southwards, but it is doubtful if there is any truth in the assertion. The great and little parks of Fasterne [NOTE: usually spelt 'Vastern'], with the manors of Tockenham, Ashton Keynes, Rowde, and Chilton Foliatt were part of the dower and jointure of the Queens of England, commencing with Elizabeth of York (mother of Henry VIII), and ending with Queen Katherine Parr. In the Privy Purse, expenses of the former, mention is made that in 1502 and 1503 many deer were taken from Fasterne to other royal parks, and venison supplied from it to her house in the Minories, in London.

All the six wives of Henry VIII were successive owners in their turn, no doubt, for long or short periods, and it is recorded in a document unearthed at Longleat by the late Canon Jackson (of which the writer has, by his kindness, a copy), that Katherine Howard (during her brief career of two years as Queen) received of Dionisia Person (Parsons) of Queen's Court Farm, Tockenham, the sum of £13 6s 8d “in the name of a fine” for that farm, which sum she also subsequently paid to Katherine Parr, besides having to find “man mete, horse mete, and lodging for one night” for the Queen's surveyors when they came; but the audits were held at Fasterne.

If Elizabeth ever came to Fasterne it was probably in her infancy, with her mother, Ann Boleyn (who was executed when she was three years old), after whom the road between Coped Hall and Baynard's Ash appears to be named, as mentioned in the perambulation. It is not at all probable that Elizabeth came to Fasterne in her later years, as sir Francis Englefield, who resided there (being a Catholic) was regarded, and treated, as one of her enemies . . . . .

Sir H. B. Meux, Bart., has also on his estate at Christian Malford another chalybeate spring, which the people there aver to be superior even to that at Whitehill in its curative properties. It is situated in the meadow between the residence known as “The Comedy” and the road leading to Chippenham. In a most interesting work (in four vols., London, 1742), intituled [sic] “A Tour through the whole of Great Britain by a Gentleman”, this spring is incorrectly stated to be in the parish of Dauntsey, of which place it has a long and amusing account. The spa is thus alluded to:- “Tho' this place is often overflowed with water, yet there is none good either for brewing or washing, or any spring of sweet water. Here is a spring of a chalybeate kind which would turn to good account were it not in such distant and almost inaccessible part of the country occasioned by bad roads, which were a great protection to the inhabitants in the late Civil Wars, who were never visited by either party, but enjoyed an easy and uninterrupted repose, whilst their neighbours, on all sides, were involved in the calumnies of that unnatural war”.

The cheese made at Dauntsey is very highly praised, being considered as equal to Cheddar, and it is stated that there was not a single acre of arable land in the parish, nor any which did not belong  to Lord Peterborough, who was so much cheated and imposed on by widows of his deceased copyholders that he recommended in a humorous way “his manor of Dauntsey to all such as were apprehensive of dying”. The author, who was the celebrated novelist, Samuel Richardson (the author of “Pamela”, &c.), describes the tower of Dauntsey Church as one of the best built he had ever seen.

Aubrey, in his “Collections for North Wilts”, relating to Wootton Bassett, mentions that at “the parke here there is a petrifying water which petrifies very quickly”. This petrification is a calcareous deposit from the water derived from the coral rag. The spring is situated on the north side of the town at a short distance from it, on a piece of land originally of a hundred acres, called the “Lawn”, or “Lawnd”, mentioned in the petition to Parliament from the inhabitants in the time of the Commonwealth as being assigned to them for pasturage by Sir Francis Englefield, when he deprived them of their supposed rights in Fasterne Great Park. Aubrey also mentions “that at Huntsmill there is a well where the water turns the leaves, &c., of a red colour”. He probably saw this spring on his visit to Oxford from Draycot, by the side of the road, before the latter was diverted in 1793, at the time of the introduction of turnpikes. (Aubrey is said to have died on the road between Draycot and Oxford). The water still has that property from its ferruginous nature. From a quarry being opened in 1832 on the other side of the road it now rises there.