Area 24: Shalbourne Vale and Wick Down

Downland and Chalk Escarpment arching between Collingbourne Kingston to the West, Shalbourne to the North and Ashmansworth to the East

There is considerable time depth present relating to the prehistoric period with Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites being particular rich. Ribbon like areas of unenclosed chalk downland survive across the area. These are an important historical survival representing a fraction of the former extent of chalk downland pre 1800. Compared with other areas large blocks of parliamentary enclosure survive especially in the vicinity of Graton fields with their distinctive regular linear form providing evidence of the 19th century enclosure of the landscape.

Download the full Historic Landscape Character Area Description and Significance Statement

Present Day Historic Landscape Character

Ribbon -like areas of unenclosed chalk downland survive across the area associated with steep slopes not suitable for modern agriculture and with small recent regular woodland plantations.

20th century enclosed fields dominate including new fields created post 1900 which enclosed the remaining large areas of downland. Other 20th century fields relate to the reorganisation of previous fields .These are modern fields formed through the consolidation of existing, historic, enclosures into more regular holdings, usually to enable more efficient, mechanised arable agriculture.

Compared with other areas large blocks of parliamentary enclosure survive especially in the vicinity of Graton fields with their distinctive regular linear form.

The small historic parks and gardens survive in today’s landscape

Layers in the Landscape

There is a density of prehistoric archaeology in the area especially on the edge of chalk escarpment and higher chalk hill including on Hippenscombe Bottom, Maccombe Down and Wexcombe Hill. These are not as dense as recorded around the Avebury environs but include concentrations of Neolithic long barrows, for example , on Tidcombe Down, Fairmile Down and the Town Barrow. The area also has concentrations of Bronze Age round barrows on Wexcombe Down, Tidcombe Down, Scotspoor, North Hill Fairmile Down, as well as undated ploughed out ring ditches.

Dated later Bronze Age and Iron Age sites are infrequent though there are dense concentrations of field systems probably of a prehistoric or Roman origin. For example to the South of Collingbourne Ducis, on the escarpment edge at Hippenscombe, between Grafton and Wexcombe Down, and along the Ham Hill escarpment.

Early Medieval (Saxon traces) are more common including the Saxon burials at Boxley Copse and the modern villages with Saxon origins such as Shalbourne, Fosbury. There are many examples of Medieval village earthworks including abandoned sites and traces around existing villages again such as Shalbourne. Other Medieval sites on higher downland areas include Pillow Mounds and Ridge and Furrow on areas which are not density settled today such as Tidcombe Down and Ham Hill.

This area marks the transition between downland and areas of open fields. the Medieval landscape was based around nucleated settlements set amongst open fields on the lower valley sides and utilising common grazing on adjacent or nearby downs. Most of this area cuts across linear parishes which exploited this range of land uses. Some open field to the East of Cadley had been enclosed by 1700. This process is far less widespread than in adjacent areas and most of the open field and downland were enclosed through Act of Parliament in the early 19th century or through post Parliamentary Enclosure. These created regular grid like fields in the landscape.

Small local historic parks were created between 1700 and 1900 in the East of the area at Ham Spray House and around Ham manor house.

Historic Settlement Character

The area is only associated with two pre 1800 nucleated villages in the North at Shalbourne and Ham situated at the top of a steep combe and chalk stream which flows North West. These have undergone limited settlement expansion in the 20th century.

Historic Farmstead Character

There are only a few historic farm clusters in this area. Large courtyard farms, geared to large-scale arable production, are the dominant farmstead type. These include some of the earliest of this type (dating from the 18th century and earlier) in the country. Complete examples with one or more threshing barns, stabling, cartshed and a granary are very rare.