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Forest Lane, Pewsham


We were invited to Chippenham in July 2020 by Peter Williams, an energetic amateur tree-planter and canal enthusiast who lives in Pewsham on the southern outskirts. 

 

Peter wanted us to see Forest Lane which strikes southwards from Pewsham at ST 929719.  It is remarkably wide (#1), but where on earth is it heading?  We dismissed Lackham House as a destination because the appetites there would have had to be gargantuan to justify a lane of such width.  Calne & London were in the wrong direction, but what about Portsmouth via Salisbury Plain, to feed the navy?  Whatever the truth, the residents of Pewsham are firmly convinced that F.L. has droving connections. (#2)

 

A few days later we walked down the even wider Prater’s Lane outside Melksham, starting at ST 927646.  It is magnificent, Wiltshire’s version of The Mall but over twice as long (#3,4).  We were told brusquely by a farmer that it was an old sheep drove – but nothing rang true: drovers’ roads are unassuming roads that almost plead guilty to trespass; they are not self-advertising and official-looking highways.  And they don’t come to a sudden halt without any continuation-line further on.

 

Next step was the Swindon and Wiltshire Hist. Soc., who kindly sent us an extract from the Victorian County History of Wiltshire.  The relevant section reads:

Three unmetalled tracks in the area between the Calne & Devizes roads [from Melksham] known as Brown’s Lane, Prater’s Lane & Broad Lane are said to owe their origin to the circumventions of traders who wished to avoid the tolls….however, their considerable width (in some places more than 100ft) suggests that they were greenways made during the inclosure of the [Melksham] forest with the purpose of leaving the inclosed fields accessible.

 

Ahah!  Could the clue be in the word ‘forest’?  If Pewsham & Melsham Forests had both been enclosed – necessary to protect new saplings from wild deer and domestic cattle in an age when the Royal Navy entirely depended on supplies of oak – these lanes would have provided the farmer with access to pasture without his having to circumvent the vast acreage of forest.  They would also act as linear meadows for his beasts.

 

Just an idea.

Forest Lane, Pewsham image 3
Prater's Lane #1
Forest Lane, Pewsham image 4
Prater's #2