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Ancient Highways

Lower Road, as we now call it, runs through the heart of Bemerton village, from Salisbury on one side to Quidhampton on the other.  The road also connected with Fugglestone St Peter, between Quidhampton and Wilton, but the Fugglestone hamlet - the area around the Wilton Garden Centre - has now almost disappeared.


At the western end of Lower Road in Quidhampton, the road originally continued ahead through the Wilton Park wall, to connect with Minster Street near Wilton House and the centre of Wilton.  At the eastern end of the village, the road to Salisbury was along the High Bath Road, now called Wilton Road, via Church Lane or Cherry Orchard Lane.   But among the earliest of our landscape features were the valleys, the ridges that ran along them and the rivers that ran through them. 


The River Nadder rises from several springs and streams at Donhead St Mary, near Shaftesbury, and meanders towards Wilton, passing Quidhampton and Bemerton before reaching Salisbury.  Although the name ‘nadder’ is rooted in the Celtic languages, meaning ‘flowing’ or ‘winding’ water, popular folklore likens the river’s movement to one of Britain’s few indigenous snakes – the adder:  in old English, ‘an adder’ became ‘a nadder’ which in turn became ‘the Nadder’.  But the River Nadder flowing past Bemerton was not always known by that name .

River Nadder at Bemerton

In 1664, Parliament passed an Act to make the River Avon  navigable between Salisbury and Christchurch.  The Act also included an option for the Earl of Pembroke to make the river between Wilton and Salisbury navigable.  Work began on adapting the river south of Salisbury but due to technical difficulties, flooding and lack of funding the project was eventually abandoned.  The option available to the Earl of Pembroke to allow barges and boats to pass Bemerton on their journey between Wilton and Salisbury was never exercised


Early maps and diagrams show the stretch of river between Wilton and Salisbury as the Wylye, with variations in the spelling including the ‘Wye’ and ‘Wiley’.  In 1838, when the village of Bemerton was put up for auction, the sales programme referred to several properties “sloping down to the River Wiley.”  But 50 years later, in 1888, another auction programme described the river as “The Nadder (or Wylye)”, so change was clearly afoot.  In the early part of the 20th century locals still referred to the river as the joint Wylye and Nadder.  So, what happened? 


Wilton took its name from the River Wylye. Given the importance of the town as the ancient capital of Wessex, the water flowing downstream was known locally as the river from Wilton – the river Wylye.   But when the production of maps became more sophisticated, and later formalised by Ordnance Survey, standardisation resulted in some rivers being renamed. Rivers were classified according to their status as either a dominant water course or a tributary.  The Nadder, being the dominant river, replaced the Wylye on maps along the lower reaches of the river as it passed Bemerton before joining the Avon in Salisbury.  


Change takes time to become accepted, particularly in an era where the concept of consultation may not have been widely practiced, so it is not surprising that the river was described by different names at different times.  Change without consultation appears to have been repeated in later years when Bemerton was ‘rebranded’ - some say unjustly so - by the local authority.

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