Area 2: Avebury Plain
Chalk escarpment and downland on western side of the AONB running from Heddington south of Calne to Overtown to the west of Wroughton, including Avebury to the south.
One of the densest concentrations of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity in Britain including the Causewayed Enclosure at Windmill Hill, the Henge and Stone Circle at Avebury, the Beckhampton avenue and numerous Neolithic Long Barrows and Bronze Age Round Barrows. Surviving areas of open chalk downland have a strong historic interest as they can be used to provide an impression of the landscape prior to enclosure in the 18th and 19th century.
Present Day Historic Landscape Character
Today ribbons like areas of unenclosed escarpment survive along the top of chalk escarpment to the north infilled with pre 1700 enclosure. Pre 1700 enclosure also survives either side and of the Kennet and the Winterborne stream. Open grassland also survives on areas with archaeological earthworks including deserted Medieval villages and Windmill Hill Neolithic enclosure.
In the rest of area post 1900 enclosure dominates. This is split into two type’s firstly reorganised fields along the base of the eastern chalk escarpment and to the south east of the area around Avebury. This type is usually created through a mixture of boundary removal and realignment of existing fields. There is usually some trace of the prior field-system visible in these modernised fields. Elsewhere amalgamated fields dominate. These enclosures are created by the removal of boundaries between fields and are also often known as prairie fields.
Regular areas of post 1900 woodland plantation have been created across the plain and infilling the ancient woodland which stretches across the top of the chalk escarpment to the north.
Layers in the Landscape
The dominant archaeological traces in this area are prehistoric often surviving as extant monuments. This partly relates to the fact that the area was grazed unenclosed chalk grassland during the Medieval and early Post Medieval period meaning that these monuments were not subject to ploughing until post 1700. The southern tip of this area is dominated by the Avebury World Heritage Site, one of the densest concentrations of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity in Britain including the Causewayed Enclosure at Windmill Hill and the Henge at Avebury itself, the Beckhampton avenue and numerous Long Barrows.
The area subsequently became a focus for Bronze Age activity including importance concentrations of Bronze Age Round Barrows. Later Prehistoric activity represented by prehistoric field systems on the chalk escarpment on the eastern edge of the area.
The Medieval landscape was composed of communities within open fields utilising common grazing on adjacent or nearby downland. The only place that this pattern survived into the 1700s was between Broad Hinton and Broad Town to the north of the area. Pre 1700 enclosure dominated this landscape by this date with open land surviving along the edge of the chalk escarpment which marks the northern edge of the area.
Historic parkland dating to 1700 to 1900 was created around Compton Bassett House including areas of replanted ancient woodland.
Historic Settlement Character
The historic settlement pattern is spread into two types. Along the base of the chalk escarpment which bounds the north and west of the area there are a series of irregular row settlements. These are characterised by dispersed Settlements intermittently found along a routeway in this case running up the escarpment or along the bottom. However, to the east settlements become more nucleated. These are all located on the spring line at the base of the escarpment. On the plain itself settlements are nucleated grouped around a single point, often the church or manor house. These are arranged down the Winterbourne or down the infant Kennet River.
Historic Farmstead Character
A few isolated historic farmsteads dot the plain with other examples on the edge of historic settlements. There is a low-medium concentration of pre-1750 farmstead buildings.