History of Amesbury
Amesbury’s history extends as far back as the Iron Age, when a large hill fort – Vespasian’s Camp – was built overlooking the River Avon. Over the years, Roman structures have been excavated in the Stonehenge landscape. Most recently, a large Roman graveyard was discovered, which included the famous Amesbury Archer.
It is widely believed that the name of Amesbury derives from Ambrosius Aurelianus, who led the Romano British resistance to Saxon invasions in the 5th century.
There is also an association with the Arthurian legend, the convent at Amesbury being the one to which Guinevere retired.
The Abbey of St Mary & St Melor was founded in 979 AD, dissolved by Henry II and replaced with a double priory. The priory and associated buildings were destroyed during the Reformation, but the Parish Church survived. Amesbury became an estate, and was given to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford.
The estate remained in the Seymour family until 1675. Several grand homes were built, including Kent and Diana houses.
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.
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 their property until 1915 when, after the last heir was killed in France, the grounds were sold - including Stonehenge - to private bidders. The mansion, however, remained in their hands until 1979.
With the building of the military establishment at Boscombe Down in 1939, Amesbury began to expand. There have since been 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.
The Future of Amesbury
The retail industry in Amesbury is expanding with the addition of large supermarkets on the outskirts of the town – Lidl, Tesco and B&M. Solstice Park continues to bring further businesses to the area, including Home Bargains and Holiday Inn.
The current national economic crisis is having its effect on local businesses, and work is underway to encourage new businesses into the town centre.
The large housing developments on the south side of Amesbury – Archers Gate and Kings Gate – brings with them new leisure facilities for residents and visitors. Play parks, sports fields and pavilions, a second cemetery and allotment space are becoming available as the developments progress.