Amesbury

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Amesbury is a town and civil parish in Wiltshire, England. It is most famous for the prehistoric monument and World Heritage Site of Stonehenge which is in its parish, and for the discovery of the Amesbury Archer—dubbed the King of Stonehenge in the press—in 2002. It has a population of 8,907. Amesbury is also close to the Figsbury Ring landscape (NT). There is a dovecote at Netheravon, which is in care of English Heritage.

Amesbury Priory was granted a market charter in 1317; Wiltshire County Council currently organises a general market in Salisbury Street on Wednesdays.

Eleanor of Provence, queen of England, died in Amesbury on 24/25 June 1291, and was buried in Amesbury Abbey.

Amesbury is located in southern Wiltshire, eight miles north of Salisbury. It sits in the River Avon valley on the southern fringes of Salisbury Plain and has historically been considered an important river crossing area on the road from London to Warminster and Exeter. This has continued into the present with the building of the A303 across the Avon next to the town. Originally the town developed around the water meadows next to several bends in the river, but in time has spread onto the valley hillsides and absorbed part of the military airfield at Boscombe Down.

The nearest railway station is located at nearby Grateley, on the London to Salisbury line.

The land around Amesbury has been settled since prehistoric times, evidenced by the monument of Stonehenge. Other finds in the parish point to large scale prehistoric structures and settlements in the whole area, including the numerous monuments around Stonehenge, the discovery of a Neolithic village in the neighbouring parish of Durrington by the Stonehenge Riverside Project, and continuing excavations at Boscombe Down where Wessex Archaeology found the Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen.

During the Iron Age a large hill fort now known as Vespasian’s Camp was built alongside the Avenue and overlooking the River Avon. The fort could easily have catered for up to 1000 people, and was probably surrounded by smaller settlements and farming communities.

Roman remains are poorly documented at Amesbury, but excavations have revealed Roman structures in the Stonehenge Landscape, and Wessex Archaeology have discovered a large Roman graveyard in the area of the Amesbury Archer burial. It is likely that there was a large Anglo Roman settlement overlooking the River Avon at this point.

It has been suggested that the name of Amesbury is derived from Ambrosius Aurelianus, leader of Romano British resistance to Saxon invasions in the 5th century. If this is the case he is likely to have used the hill fort as a stronghold. It is possible that an order of monks established a monastery in the area that was destroyed by the Saxons before they settled the area in the 7th Century. Amesbury is also associated with the Arthurian legend: the convent to which Guinevere retired was said to have been the one at Amesbury.

In 979 AD a Benedictine abbey, the Abbey of St Mary and St Melor, was founded on what may have been the site of a previous monastery by Dowager Queen Ælfthryth.[9] In 1177 the abbey was dissolved by Henry II and replaced with a double priory of the Fontevrault order.[11] Eleanor of Provence was buried in the abbey on 11 September 1291. At some point in time it seems likely that the church became the parish church, and it is possible that this is why it was spared destruction in 1540 when, as part of the reformation, the priory and all other associated buildings were destroyed. Amesbury became an estate and was given to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford by the crown.

On John Speed’s map of Wiltshire (1611), the town’s name is spelt both Amesbury (for the hundred) and Ambersbury (for the town itself).

The Seymour family held Amesbury estate until 1675 and had several grand homes built, including Kent and Diana houses, and a new mansion in 1660. The estate subsequently passed to the Bruce family, and then to Lord Carleton, who bequeathed it to his nephew Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry. It remained in the Queensberry family until 1824. It is believed that at some point in the early 19th century, William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry planted the Nile Clumps to commemorate Admiral Nelson and had the hill fort landscaped as part of the grounds around the mansion. In 1824 the Antrobus family acquired the estate and it remained in their hands until 1915 when, after the last heir was killed in France, Lord Antrobus sold the grounds–-including Stonehenge-–to private bidders. The mansion remained in their hands until 1979.

With the establishment of the military Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down in 1939, Amesbury began to expand. As it sits on the A303 commuter belt, Amesbury has seen substantial developments on the land between the old town centre and Boscombe Down. Several new housing estates have been completed, and the most recent one – Archers Gate – has taken its name from the discovery of the Amesbury Archer. At the Boscombe Down junction of the A303 a new mixed business development known as Solstice Park has been built and plans have been submitted for a Regional Distribution Centre for a major retailer.

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