Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lydiard Green - England's Front Line of Defence

The hamlet built on waste land on the edge of Lydiard Millicent has certainly come up in the world.  With property prices nudging half a million pounds, Lydiard Green is today a particularly sought after area.

The settlement at Lydiard Millicent had a tumultuous early history.  Seized by the new Norman king in 1066 the estate at Lydiard was given to William FitzOsbern for his part in the Conquest, while the hamlet at
Lydiard Green was the result of the 17th century enclosure of common land, bringing wealth to the already rich and new levels of poverty to the poor.   By 1766, Frederick St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke owned about 800 acres in the parish in addition to most of neighbouring Lydiard Tregoze.


published courtesy of Wiltshire Community History 

But by the mid 19th century life at Lydiard Green was relatively peaceful if not prosperous.  In 1851 Jacob Morse farmed eight acres with the help of his wife, his sister and his four children.  Alongside the spinster Sly sisters who ran a grocers shop, the cottages at Lydiard Green were home to agricultural labourers employed on local farms.

A Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1863.  Lay preacher and local farmer J.J. Webb hosted the traditional Whit Monday tea party for the congregation at Church Farm and the adjoining Manor Gardens. 
The 1910 Inland Revenue records available for consultation at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, list property owners and occupiers in the parish of Lydiard Millicent, among them local butcher Harry Howard at number 7 Lydiard Green.




Just across the road from Harry’s shop undertaker Thomas Peer rented a property from Viscount Bolingbroke, which Harry later bought in the 1930 sale of the Lydiard Park estate. The business closed when Harry retired in 1962, the counters, marble slabs, hooks and scales still in place when the new owners took possession in 1986.

In the summer of 1940, less than a year into World War II, the quiet hamlet at Lydiard Green was to unexpectedly find itself in the front line of the country’s defence system. 

With Hitler occupying much of Europe, a German invasion of Britain became a very real threat.  Built to protect London and Britain’s industrial heartland, the General Headquarters Line (GHQ) ran from near Highbridge in Somerset, along the Kennet and Avon canal to Reading and around the South of London to Essex, before heading north to Yorkshire.  A stretch of this 14ft wide and 6ft deep anti tank trench passed through Lydiard Green. 
published courtesy of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery



To further fortify the network of anti tank trenches a series of concrete pillboxes were constructed, approximately 28,000 across the country.  Three pillboxes were built close to the road at Lydiard Green, two FW3/28’s and a smaller F/24 model.  Designed to withstand a direct hit by any shell up to 6”, these pillboxes were pretty much indestructible. 


A FW3/28 pill box at Tidmarsh, Berks.

At the end of the war the anti tank trench was filled in but many of the pillboxes still remain, some protected by English Heritage, but many are vandalised and becoming increasingly more dilapidated.

For more information about the threatened invasion of Britain and the UK World War II defence structures log onto http://www.pillbox-study-group.org.uk/