Area 8: West Ilsley and Downland
Downland to the North and South Ridgeway between Letcombe Bassett in the West and West and East Ilsley to the South
The area is marked by the dominant form of the Late Bronze Age linear earthwork Grim's Ditch. There is significant cropmark evidence of Romano- British activity including potential Roman settlements. Later Medieval activity on the downland areas includes extensive areas of lynchets. Small ribbons of open downland survive. These are an important historical survival representing a fraction of the former extent of chalk downland pre 1800. Areas of intact parliamentary enclosure have survived adjacent to the Ridgeway and around Locking representing an important historical survival of 18th and 19th century landscapes in the AONB.
Present Day Historic Landscape Character
Today the area is dominated by new 20th century fields created by enclosing the remaining downland and reorganised fields created by modifying the underlying parliamentary field patterns. The mechanisation of agriculture in the later 20th century has led to an almost total re-organisation of these fieldscapes. These changes have created a landscape typified by very large arable fields with some earlier field boundaries remaining. Areas of parliamentary enclosure have survived adjacent to the Ridgeway and around Locking. Large regular blocks of post 1800 plantation woodland have been created on the South side of the area.
Today small ribbons of unenclosed chalk downland survive along the tops of the North facing chalk escarpment and in steep sided combes in areas where arable agriculture is impractical or uneconomic. This is however a fraction of the former extent of chalk downland. New gallops have been created adjacent to the Ridgeway on Warren Down.
Layers in the Landscape
The majority of sites in this area are known from cropmarks. Earlier prehistoric archaeology is scarce. Earlier Bronze Age round barrows are widespread, many existing only as ring ditches. Part of the Late Bronze Age linear earthwork Grim's Ditch is visible as earthworks and cropmarks on aerial photographs.
Later prehistoric activity is widespread across the downland areas, for example, near Letcombe Bassett - cropmarks perhaps denoting settlement exist within extensive field systems. In fact field systems are widespread across the area mapped from aerial photographs. These fields have generally been ascribed a later Iron Age/Romano-British date.
There is significant cropmark evidence of Romano- British activity including potential Roman settlements.
Possible Medieval and/or Post Medieval ridge and furrow and headlands are visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs.
Open areas of close-cropped chalk grassland formerly dominated this area either side of the Ridgeway which ran East-West across this area. This was used as grazing for animals. The land was also associated with small patches of scrub and gorse which were used as fuel. Chalk track ways fed from the villages to the South and North to join the Ridgway. These open areas were used as part of the common grazing regime that operated in many Downs parishes in the Medieval period. Some small areas were enclosed prior to 1700 through the creation of regularly-shaped, small to medium sized fields with boundaries composed mainly of hedges.
However, significant reserves remained as a major part of the sheep/corn system of agriculture until the early 20th century.
Historic Settlement Character
Apart from the isolated farms there is no pre 1700 historic settlement.
Historic Farmstead Character
Historic farms pre 1800 are not common and where they do exist they are isolated in the landscape. A few new 19th century farmsteads were also created for example at Angeldown Farm.