Area 3: Barbury Downs
This area, which forms the western side of the Marlborough Downs is formed by an area of chalk Downland bounded by the river Og to the east and the escarpment above the Avebury Plain to the west.
This area has a key association with the Avebury World Heritage Site, including an important concentration of Mesolithic Flint Scatters and the wealth of Neolithic monuments associated with the Henge at Avebury itself. There is also an important complex array of archaeological features across Fyfield and Overton Downs. Together these form an extremely rare and intact survival representing an important landscape palimpsest, the diverse elements of which contain evidence of changing settlement, agriculture and economy from the prehistoric to Post Medieval periods.
Significant areas of open downland survive. These are an important historical survival representing a fraction of the former extent of chalk downland and providing an illustration of former pre 1800 land use. There is a rare survival of an unmodified 18th and 19th century landscape around Rockley Manor. 20th century military features in the area of Wroughton Airfield are an important survival with strong illustrative value relating to the history of warfare in the 20th century.
Present Day Historic Landscape Character
The present day historic landscape character is dominated by 20th century enclosures intermingled with large surviving areas of open chalk downland. The 20th century enclosure can be divided into two types:
- Firstly reorganised fields were created around the edges of the area by modifying earlier 18th and 19th century enclosure and the small areas of pre 1700 enclosure. These were formed through the consolidation of existing, historic, enclosures into more regular holdings, usually to enable more efficient, mechanised arable agriculture.
- Secondly in the centre of the area new fields were created by ploughing up open chalk Downland. These fields are usually regular in shape and have straight boundaries following the morphology of the downland areas.
Some areas of 18th to 19th century enclosure remain unmodified in the western side of the area and to the west of Rockley Manor.
A significant 20th century industrial feature is the area of Wroughton Airfield in the north of the area.
Today significant areas of open downland survive located especially in thin ribbons in areas where arable agriculture is impractical or uneconomic such as the edge of chalk escarpments or the edge of steep valleys.
Layers in the Landscape
The archaeology of this area is so rich that this short overview is not sufficient to do it justice. This includes not just the more well-known prehistoric sites but also Roman and later archaeology as well. Mesolithic evidence is important and includes concentrations of flint scatters. The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age evidence is particular rich this includes sites within the boundary of the Avebury World Heritage Site which overlaps with the south west corner of the area. This includes the area to the east and south of the Avebury henge including the well-known monuments of the West Kennet Avenue, and the Sanctuary. Whilst other Neolithic long barrows, the many Bronze Age round barrows and other associated sites are less well known, together they define one of the richest and most varied areas of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and ritual monuments in the country. Also within the World Heritage Site but again less well known are the complex array of archaeological features across Fyfield and Overton Downs. These offer an important dimension to understanding the development of the prehistoric ceremonial complex at Avebury and its immediate environs. The remains are also broadly representative of those visible across much of the Marlborough Downs before the changes brought about by intensive agriculture in the 20th century. Together they are an extremely rare and intact survival representing an important landscape palimpsest, the diverse elements of which contain evidence of changing settlement, agriculture and economy from the prehistoric to Post Medieval periods.
Open areas of close-cropped chalk grassland formerly dominated this area. This was used as grazing for animals. The land was also associated with small patches of scrub/gorse which were used as fuel and meandering open chalk trackways used to cross this area. These open areas were used as part of the common grazing regime that operated in many Downs parishes in the Medieval period. Large swathes of common Downland, between a third to a half, were enclosed during the 18th and 19th centuries. On the edges of the area this was created through parliamentary enclosures of the late 18th and early 19th century.
Historic Settlement Character
Historic settlement character pre 1700 was limited to occasional isolated farmsteads including at Manton and Rockley Manor. These were joined by a handful of farms in the 18th and 19th century and a few more in the 20th century as arable farming spread into the area.
Historic Farmstead Character
Where historic farmsteads do exist these are likely to have loose courtyard plans or 19th century regular courtyard plans.