On Sunday 13th May our group outing to the historic town of Devizes enjoyed a town walk in miraculous sunshine. Our very local guide, John Girvan, told us about the Norman motte & bailey castle, located on the boundary of three manors – from which the town seems to take its name. The town grew up in the large outer bailey of the castle and its semi-circular street pattern still reflects this medieval boundary. The early Norman church survives, unlike the castle, and its large central tower preserves fine original windows, still with some Anglo-Saxon detailing. All around the town early timber framed buildings survive, but many are hidden behind brick and stucco facades.
After a buffet lunch of excellent home cooking, coffee and cakes to die for at the Crown Centre, a former inn, we went to the Devizes Museum and were introduced to its collection by the Director, thanks to John Howard arranging this for us. (John is a founder member of our Group, who recently moved to Devizes and is now an active volunteer at the museum, doing work in the extensive document collection of an archive of national importance). The museum’s treasures include stone tools from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age; precious metal object from the Bronze, Iron, Roman and Saxon periods, including a golden breast plate from the Bush Barrow excavations and a 6.000 years old, highly polished jade axe, a precious, high status object which originated in the north Italian alps.
We ended the day with a visit to the flight of 16 locks, which bring the Kennet & Avon Canal up 72 m to the top of Caen Hill and the Devizes town wharf. This feat of engineering by John Rennie was not finished until 1810, finally connecting the Avon with that of the Kennet/Thames navigation. Although the canal of 87 miles had been built by 1801, goods had to be unloaded from their barges and taken up and down the hill by horse drawn trams until the large number of pound locks to control the water levels needed for the barges were fully operational. Thanks to much restoration work in the late C20th they still are.