The Old Turnpike Road

The Old Turnpike, which runs along the top of the downs, variously named as The Turnpike on Salisbury Plain, The Ten Mile Course and The Great Western Post Road, is now a byway. How old it is we do not know. It certainly did not exist in 500 BC when the Early Iron Age village at Fifield Ashes was in being, for the lynchets of that period ran right across the crest of the downs.

A turnpike gate opposite Chiselbury was shown on Andrew & Dury’s map of 1773, and at some date which is not known, the gate was removed to Fovant Hut .

In ‘ An Actual Survey of the Great Post Roads between London and Falmouth’ , by Cary in 1784, Fovant Hut or The White Hart is shown. (White Hart, a name familiar all over England for inns, is possibly a scribe’s error for ‘White’s Hut’. White was probably a former occupier of the Hut; for the hedge running south from the turnpike almost opposite the Hut is called ‘White’s Hedge’. It is the boundary between Fifield Bavant and Ebbesbourne Wake.)

Fovant Hut did a brisk trade in the old days, and was the recognised meeting place where champions from rival villages engaged at fisticuffs. It was also to Fovant Hut that Parson Chaffin was wont to saunter, fiddle in hand. There he met other pretended fiddlers, whose object in coming there was not to scrape their instruments but to watch for deer which, pestered by flies, might stray from the woods of Cranborne Chase and seek sanctuary in the valley.

In 1725 the Earl of Pembroke placed numbered milestones along the road, and planted a tree by the side of each ‘to make them more observable’. Although the milestones have long disappeared, several lime trees at about the right intervals can still be seen, nearer to Wilton. Unfortunately, none has been identified near Fovant.

Cunning Dick, who used to tether his horse in Garston Wood, and many other highwaymen ‘worked’ the turnpike.

In February 1768 a petition from ‘the gentlemen and inhabitants of the neighbourhood’ was sent to Parliament asking that the use of the old road should be discontinued, and that the lower road ‘ from Barford new bridge through Fovant to White Sheet Hill’ should become the official coach road. This came into force in 1787.

The New Turnpike Road

The present main road from London to the west runs through the top of the village. It was made in 1702, and became The Turnpike under Salisbury Plain in 1787. The Cross Keys inn for a short time after 1787 became the headquarters of The Trustees of the Turnpike under Salisbury Plain; but they soon moved to the Glove Inn at Donhead.

The Pembroke Arms inn was built about 1790 to serve as a posting inn where horses were changed. There was a bell at the inn, which was rung to summon the ostlers when a horn was heard in the distance. The post-boy of every coach sounded his horn as he approached the village. The coaches ceased running about 1854 about which time the railway was built through Dinton.

The Mail Coach from London to the West left Wilton at 6.30 a.m. each morning. The daily Mail Coach from the West to London passed through Fovant and arrived at Wilton each evening at 7.0 p.m.
Postage from Fovant to London by Mail Coach was 9d.

The so-called Fovant gate was situated on the Fovant–Compton Chamberlayne boundary, where there was a house, and is marked on the Enclosure map. ‘Tailor’ Foyle was the last gatekeeper. Other gates were at Wilton, with a bar across Burcombe Lane near the turning at the west wall of Wilton Park, near the present railway bridge at the western end of Salisbury and at The Glove, Donhead. The charges were 4½d. per carriage and 1½d. for the rider of a horse.