Our Enterprising Ladies

It’s always nice to be able to report a good news story and doubly-so when it promises to bring pleasure to the village for years to come.

A month or so ago, several of our village ladies got together and discussed what they would like to do to bring a bit of colour to some of the verges around the village.  This initially started with them looking at the old planter near St Peter’s Church – which had seen better times and was suffering a little, having been hit by a passing delivery truck; probably more than once.   They approached the Parish Council to ask if we could replace this damaged planter and provide a second for a near-by site and in return, they offered to look after them.   At the September meeting of the Parish Council, there was unanimous agreement to fund this and the ladies were given the go ahead to choose two suitably robust planters for the village.

Now our ladies don’t let grass grow under their feet and within a couple of days they had not only purchased the two planters planters at a considerable discount, they had roped in one of their sons as a ‘delivery driver’, filled the planters, sited them and bought a third planter and all well within the budget the Parish Council had set aside.  Of course our enterprising ladies haven’t stopped there and we were then asked if they could get two more planters to replace the old ones along the High Street/A303 – for many years looked after by the late and much-missed Brian Jones.  These had been damaged by stone strikes, strimmers and simply the wear and tear of sitting alongside such a busy road.   Again, we had the offer to look after them, so,of course, we’ve said yes.

The evergreen shrubs will give some much needed winter colour and they have been under-planted with spring bulbs, so should be a riot of colour in the early part of the year.

So a huge thank-you to Heather, Karen, Maggie and Teresa (and profound apologies if we have left anyone out!) not, of course,  forgetting Sam.  If anyone else wants to “adopt a planter” and has a public space in mind on which to site it, then do get in touch with the Parish Clerk and we will see what can be done.

Nobis villa in agro?

Our apologies for using a Latin title for this post, but we hope you will soon see why.  Back on the 31st of July we published a news item entitled “What Lies Beneath” having seen Wiltshire Archaeology at work in the field that runs alongside the Winterbourne Stoke to Berwick St James road, close to the boundary between two villages and close to the River Till.

What we didn’t say at the time and have resisted saying in public until now  is that we had an idea what they might have stumbled across – but little hard evidence.  Our hypothesis was based purely on the area where the ground penetrating radar was being used, the known history of the Till Valley, the clusters of springs along the route of the Till and what appeared to be “missing” from the local archaeology.

Having seen Wiltshire Archaeology at work, we turned to Google Earth to see if there was anything there that might confirm our suspicions.  In the Pro version of Google Earth, you can examine the latest images of an area, but also historical imagery.  Those images taken in winter, with low sun angles, are often very good at showing up ground features that aren’t obvious at other times of the year.  If you get really lucky, you can sometimes see ground features because of the different rate of growth of crops that overlay stone foundations.  We weren’t that lucky, but we did find an image taken on 26th January 2005 that had some possibly interesting features.

It’s quite hard to see, but at the end of the large arrow, there seems to be a large rectangular feature about 60ft by 20ft in size, which runs pretty much East-West in its longest dimension.   In other words, it has a similar footprint to St Peter’s Church.   To the East are two or three much smaller square foundations.

This had all the features of a Romano-British site, but we still didn’t want to set hares running because of a phenomenon called pareidolia.  The human brain is very prone to ‘seeing’ familiar images of shapes, people and animals when you look at a picture or view –  Donald Trump’s image on a piece of burnt toast, clouds that look like flying saucers, etc.  Although we thought it might be a Romano-British site bang on the route of the proposed southern bypass, we still weren’t sure.

So back to the title: Nobis Villa In Agro? – Do we have a villa in the field?

On Friday, following the announcement of the northern bypass preference, we asked Highways England consultants what had been found and they offered that it was “possibly a Roman-British site”.  However, that was their working hypothesis and still needs to be confirmed – they noted that the site could be much more recent than that and the truth is only likely to be uncovered through excavation.

The reason for mentioning this now, is of course its potential for developing local tourism in the future.  Mosaic floors (and that is a huge stretch of the imagination!) are very good at bringing in the tourists and boosting the local economy.

We’ve also noted the ground penetrating radar being used north of the A303 more recently, suggesting that even more interesting sites are turning up there as well.  All the archaeological work that has and is being undertaken as part of the Highway England planning will be published and we will provide links to all that directly affects our Parish.  It’s then up to us how we best exploit it.

The Wait Is Over!

Well, barring any more last minute hitches, it seems that with no fanfare whatsoever, Winterbourne Stoke has been connected up to the outside world with fibre.  I know we thought we had been here before and only yesterday, we were preparing to announce yet another unforeseen delay, but today, all the broadband providers are showing that we can sign up up for superfast broadband today.

I signed up earlier today and am told that BT are offering a “guaranteed” 44 Mbps at New Street.   PlusNet are offering 34 Mbps.   I haven’t bothered to check with any others yet.

Those of you who signed up with Wiltshire Online may have received an email from them showing the likely speeds at your property.   Mine looked like this:

So, it would seem that BT are claiming glass half full speeds and PlusNet are claiming the glass half empty speed.  I expect that other ISPs will fall between these two extremes – subject, of course, to where you are in the village and what you are prepared to pay.   Please note, that unless you specifically ask for fibre, and pay for it, your internet speeds won’t automatically improve.

This has been a long time coming and many villagers have helped to keep the pressure on BT and Wiltshire Council over nearly a decade.  Thank you to all of them for their efforts and persistence – having been told categorically back in 2008 that we would never have a fibre broadband service some of you kept pushing!

Please let us know how you get on with a fibre connection, or if you don’t sign up for the new service, whether your existing broadband improves at all, stays the same or gets worse!

Historic England Research: Exploring the Landscape of Stonehenge

Villagers may be interested in the the sixth issue of Historic England Research.

As Duncan Wilson, the Chief Executive of Historic England, says in his introduction:

“Given the current, and understandably passionate, debate about how best to manage serious and increasing traffic congestion on the A303 as it crosses the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, the focus on Stonehenge is timely. In this case our focus is not on visitor or traffic management through the site, but instead on how research by Historic England and others is continuing to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the Stonehenge landscape – an important ambition of the World Heritage Site Management Plan.”

Whatever your views on the proposed bypass for Stonehenge and our village, it is well worthwhile being aware of the latest views of the archaeologists involved in excavations within and on the borders of the World Heritage site.  As Sun Tzu wrote in the “Art of War” …

知己知彼,百戰不殆。

and as paraphrased later in English: “It pays to know your enemy”.
Of particular significance to us all may be the map on page 10, which shows just how arbitrary the boundaries of the World Heritage Site actually are and how there is much largely undocumented archaeology lying to the west of the A360 both to the north and to the south of the A303.

Onboard and Online: The Events Committee

Apologies for the somewhat short notice, but we have just been advised that there will be a meeting of the Events Committee at 7:30pm on Monday 12th June in the Solstice Rest.  We understand that all villagers are welcome to attend.

For those of you who are new to the village and are unaware of what the Events Committee is , or does, or perhaps have lived in the village for a while and still aren’t too sure about things, we have attached the groups constitution here: WS Events Committee Constitution.

 

Out With The Old, In With The New!

A happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year to you all; 2017 has arrived.

It is likely to turn out to be a very important year for Winterbourne Stoke.  Possibly this will be one of the most important years in the long history of the village as it should herald changes that will impact on the fabric of our day to day lives.  They are likely to introduce a range of social changes that we need to grasp and embrace to fully benefit from, or, we can try and fight against them through fear of change and risk losing many of the advances and advantages that such change can bring.

Of course, not all change is necessarily good and we are all going to have to look very carefully at what is going on and weigh things up carefully.  Even that isn’t going to be straightforward, as we need to think not only about how these changes are going to impact us, but also how they will affect our children, our grandchildren and generations not yet imagined.

So, what are these events that are going to be so important?

First, we have the coming of Superfast broadband.  It’s long overdue and many villagers are going to embrace even a modest improvement in speed with open arms, provided the service is reliable.  Hopefully, the whole of the core of the village should get speeds of 24 Mbps or above.   Those of you who have had access to reasonable broadband speeds at work and outside the village generally will know of at least some of the benefits this type of service can bring and there are many more to come: from education and health, to social inclusivity and recreation.  Even those who fight against the tide will notice the benefits as faster broadband speeds impact on house prices and attract businesses which would not be viable without such improvements in speed.  More business may lead to more jobs and a diversification of employment.

Second, is the A303.  The Highways England plan to create a world-class Expressway to link the south west and south east of England is well underway.  They are planning to go out to public consultation on the possible routes early this year where we will all be able to have our say.  After the consultation, Highways England plan to combine the feedback received with further technical analysis (a lot has been going on in the background over the last year!) and they will use this to decide their “preferred route” and this will be formally put to the Secretary of State for Transport this summer.  With luck, the Development Consent Order process will be completed and work will begin in 2020.

Just like the Superfast broadband, it will bring benefits in communication, and accessibility.  It has the potential to improve lives, health and quality of life for villagers.  Moving the A303 from the heart of the village may impact positively on house prices, but may have a negative effect on some of the businesses like the garage and the pub which may need to evolve to survive.  That said, the same change will introduce possibilities for new businesses that would not be possible with the existing infrastructure.

The key to Winterbourne Stoke making the most of these changes is engagement and timeliness.  We need to engage early, with each other, with all the bodies and organisations who are going to be involved and we need to make our voices heard – collectively and individually.  Your Parish Council will do its part, but we need everyone to do their bit.

In the past, change has been slow in rural communities, sometimes even glacial.  That isn’t going to be the case for us over the next few years.  We aren’t going to have the luxury of pontificating on things for weeks, or months on end.  Information and decisions are going to be needed in days at most, if not hours.  If you think this is a bit of hyperbole, think again.  The Highways Agency now has a Twitter feed for improvements to the A303 Stonehenge section.  The traditional ways of engagement are simply too slow and cumbersome in today’s world, so we will have to play the game with the rules in the new rule book, not the rules we might wish to have.

If we do this well and responsibly, we can leave a legacy to be proud of.

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