Hidden In The Countryside

The Wansdyke at Morgan’s Hill near Devizes

A series of four parallel earthworks cut the line of the Icknield Way south east and south west of Cambridge.  They are up to 5 miles long and up to 34 feet high.  Most people have never heard of them.

The Wansdyke is a linear earthwork which stretches from Marlborough to Bath, with some interruptions.  That is a distance of about 40 miles.  In places it is about 20 feet high.  Most people are completely unaware of its existence.

In the 1860s and 1870s the Victorian antiquarian General Augustus Pitt Rivers excavated a number of long linear earthworks in East Yorkshire.  They were generally known as the Wolds Entrenchments.  Pitt Rivers’ conclusion was that they were built by a people expanding westwards from the area near the coast, fortifying as they went.  The Wolds Entrenchments are generally forgotten today, yet there are dozens of them. They are easy to find, run for miles, and are typically several feet high.

Pitt Rivers also excavated a major earthwork astride the Roman road between Salisbury and Blandford Forum, about two miles from the Chalke Valley.  Called the Bokerly (or Bokerley) Ditch, it is about 12 feet high in places today.  There is a car park where the A354 crosses it.  Occasionally, curious tourists wander over it and wonder who built it.  But the great majority of people have never heard of it.

Pitt Rivers considered that the Bokerley Dyke and the Wansdyke (which he also excavated) were  late or post-Roman defence works.  There are hundreds of these earthworks.  They are spread across much of England (but very little of Scotland or Wales).  In total they are hundreds of miles long.

Grim’s Bank: one of a series of earthworks associated with the Roman town of Silchester, Hampshire.

They would have taken hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of man-hours to build.  Very few have been excavated.  The most famous is Offa’s Dyke, excavated over eight seasons in the 1920s and 30s by Sir Cyril Fox.  The few that have been dated with any rigor have been shown to be late- or post-Roman.  In the 1960s the chief archaeologist of the Ordnance Survey considered them to be ‘[t]he most impressive monuments of the Dark Ages in Britain’.  Yet today they are almost entirely forgotten.

These Dark Age dykes raise four key issues. The first is to find out how many there are, where they are, and how big they are.  The other three issues should be applied to each earthwork in turn:  ‘who built it?’,  ‘why did they build it?’  and finally ‘why did they build it there?’  (‘there’ in the sense of locally, regionally and nationally).  If you do that, you come to some interesting conclusions.  I shall be talking about my findings at this year’s Chalke Valley History Festival.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Audio from a talk by Barry Strauss at Chalke Valley History Festival 2016.

Thanks to Shakespeare, the death of Julius Caesar is the most famous assassination in history. But what actually happened on 15 March 44 BC is even more gripping than Shakespeare’s play. With a fresh perspective, American historian Professor Barry Strauss sheds new light on this fascinating, pivotal and carefully planned paramilitary operation and the mole in Caesar’s entourage who betrayed him.

New Festival Site – Plans For A Smooth Traffic Management System

This year, Chalke Valley History Festival will run from the 26th June to 2nd July at a new site, Church Bottom in Broad Chalke. It is an intimate spot, lying amidst ancient chalk pasture well away from the village and so noise from the festival should not greatly impact villagers.

As the Festival is new to the village, we are keen to cause as little disruption to the village as possible and with this in mind, we are working towards having a traffic management system in place which will help traffic flow smoothly and enter the festival site easily.  We are working closely with Wiltshire Council to achieve this.

The Council have suggested that we apply for a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order, so that GFI Event Services can implement a ‘one way route’ during busy periods, in particular over the weekend.

Our proposed route in for traffic coming into the village from Salisbury is to enter Broad Chalke via Long Bridge, past the school.  We are applying for a oneway road system during that week. Traffic exiting from the school will be directed to leave via Broad Chalke and on The Causeway. Exiting traffic from the Festival site will be directed also via The Causeway. There is no intention to use Knighton Road or Bull Lane and we have been advised to have the road closed to non-residents but obviously residents and friends/family of those residents will have full access.

Throughout the Festival week, there will be AA signs in place giving detailed information so that the system is clear to both village and non-village traffic. All Festival car parking will be in Church Bottom and there will be no parking in Bury Orchard.

With regards our air displays, this year we have another amazing line-up of wonderful historic war birds for the Festival weekend. All flying will take place over agricultural land and in accordance with the guidelines set down by the Civil Aviation Authority. The flight path is not over any houses in Newtown.

Finally, we are offering free weekend entrance tickets for Broad Chalke residents.  If you would like to take this offer up, please call the Box Office on 01722 781133 from 26th April.

Please do also contact us if you have any questions about these plans – you can also leave feedback here.

The Festival Team

Firing WW2 Artillery! Highlights from the Chalke Valley History Festival 2016

We love this CVHF 2016 highlights video by our friends at WW2 Nation! It includes talks with British Dambuster George “Johnny” Johnson, German Knight’s Cross winner Günter Halm, a battle re-enactment, the Blitz Party, a British Cromwell Tank and the firing of the legendary 25 pounder British Artillery gun..

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

Audio recording of Claire Tomalin’s talk at Chalke Valley History Festival on 27 June 2015.

Award-winning and best-selling biographer, Claire Tomalin vividly brings to life one of our best-loved diarists – Samuel Pepys. This enormously likeable and sensitive man lived in London during an extraordinary age, from the execution of one king to the restoration of another and beyond. No-one has given Pepys and the age he lived in more flesh and colour.

Histrionics 2016

The hilarious historical quiz show was back in 2016 at the Chalke Valley History Festival! Tom Holland was in the chair with Ian Hislop and Dr Alice Roberts pitting their wits in a series of all-new rounds and challenges against Charlie Higson and Andrew Roberts.

VIDEO: KISSINGER 1923-1966: THE IDEALIST by Niall Ferguson

No American statesman has been as revered and as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Hailed as the ‘indispensable man,’ he also attracted immense hostility. In his talk at our festival on 30 June 2016, renowned historian, Professor Niall Ferguson revealed an extraordinary panorama of Kissinger the man: from his Jewish upbringing in Germany to his rise as one of America’s most influential politicians and grand strategists.

CVHF 2016: Niall Ferguson (Part 1) from Chalke Valley History Trust on Vimeo.

New site for 2017

History Hub: James Holland Talks To Dan Snow

Dan talks to James about his current work, his love of sharing history knowledge via the internet and his career highlights.

History Hub: James Holland talks to Dan Snow from Chalke Valley History Trust on Vimeo.

Highlights of Knight’s Cross Winner, Günter Halm’s talk at CVHF

Günter Halm, a veteran of the Second World War, fought under Rommel in the Deutsches Afrikakorps, won the Knight’s Cross for his part in the First Battle of Alamein in July 1942 and later served in Normandy. In his talk at Chalke Valley History Festival on Saturday, 2nd July, he discussed his wartime memories in what was a truly fascinating morning.

CVHF 2016: Günter Halm Highlights from Chalke Valley History Trust on Vimeo.