Bemerton - Then and Now
Bemerton today looks very different from George Herbert's time, but the changes have largely occurred over the last 180 years, since the sale of the Manor in 1838. For perhaps 800 years before that the place described as Bymerton in the Domesday Book of 1086 changed very little. It was a small farming community, with a few scattered houses and a tiny 'Chapel of Ease', St. Andrew’s church.
In George Herbert's Time
Many of those who have written about George Herbert, starting with Izaak Walton, have talked about Bemerton as a tiny, remote and rural parish. But Herbert's parish was not just Bemerton, it was Fugglestone-with-Bemerton, and Fugglestone was very much a suburb - not of Salisbury but of another ancient town, Wilton, seat of Herbert's kinfolk the Earls of Pembroke. Local historian John Chandler has given us a splendidly descriptive picture of the whole parish in George Herbert’s time
So the major link in the 17th century was with Wilton: even in 1773, the local map shows a lane linking Bemerton with Wilton but no direct road into Salisbury. We believe that when George Herbert went to the Cathedral to pray and make music he walked across the meadows to the Cathedral, a walk the George Herbert in Bemerton group sometimes retraces today.
The Next 200 Years
Bemerton remained a small, mostly tenant farming community until well into the 19th century even though there were changes to farming methods that affected both the landscape and the way of life. In South Wiltshire the continuing development during the 18th century of the water meadows, which had just started in Herbert's day, had a real impact on everyday life for with them came an early spring crop of hay that meant that animals could be over-wintered so that there could be fresh meat all year around.
19th Century Changes
When changes came in the 19th century they were dramatic:
- The purchase of the Manor of Bemerton by the Earl of Pembroke's Wilton estate in 1838 led to the selling off of small plots of land for building to house a growing population.
- The coming of the railway at Fisherton (between Bemerton and Salisbury) in the 1850s led to the building of a series of terraces that now make up much of the village, first to house the men building the railway and their managers, and then railway workers.
- The 11th Earl of Pembroke (also named George Herbert) acknowledged the needs of the growing community by building a village school and new Church (St. John's), dedicated in 1860, to serve their intellectual and spiritual needs, while a number of small shops grew up to meet more practical needs.
The development of the great cornfields in North America and the advent of steam ships in the late 19th century led to a major agricultural depression in England. Employment in agriculture had dipped very sharply, and many farms around the village had become small scale dairies. By 1901 (see map) the population had grown from about 200 in Herbert’s time to over 1200.
The village was absorbed into the expanding City of Salisbury in 1929 but its character was changed into that of suburb, less by this than by the many social changes of the 1960s, especially the coming of mass car ownership and the impact of television on the way people chose to spend their time. Bemerton as we know it today is effectively two largely separate distinct suburbs of Salisbury:
- Lower Bemerton, the residential area bounded by the railway yards to the east, the river Nadder on the south, Bemerton Farm to the west and Wilton Road to the north, and
- Bemerton Heath, a large and rather sprawling housing estate that lies between the Wilton and Devizes Roads, that was part of the post World War II drive to provide 'homes fit for heroes'.
George Herbert's successor, the Rector of Bemerton, has pastoral responsibility for both these suburbs.
(This page contributed by the Bemerton Local History Society)