History of Tidworth

On passing through Tidworth, situated on the A338 close to the Hampshire/Wiltshire border, a visitor would see a few clues to its long and interesting history. The Iron Age earthworks on Sidbury Hill, the Norman church of Holy Trinity, the thatched cottages, ‘Station Road’, St Mary’s Church and Tedworth House cover the centuries of this village’s existence.

Judging by the number of artefacts found in the area it could be claimed that Tidworth is one of the oldest villages in Britain. Evidence from Neolithic and Bronze Ages show agricultural activities existed here over the last three millennia. Until Victorian times there were three areas of settlement, the two villages of North and South Tidworth with between them the few cottages of Hampshire Cross, which is indicated on the maps as a separate entity. Until recently North Tidworth was in Wiltshire with the other two in Hampshire, now they all come under the jurisdiction of the Wiltshire County Council.

The village became important in the time of the Normans when King Harold became the first recorded Lord of the Manor in south Tidworth but records show that Edward the Confessor held North Tidworth prior to this time. Holy Trinity Church has stood on this site since about 1250, though probably on the site of a previous church. It is a most interesting building with its many memorials giving an insight to the generations, including a young Vaughan Williams, who worshipped there. Even after the seven centuries it is still a well-loved church with a small but enthusiastic community. It is in the area around the church either at Zouch manor or in one of the thatched cottages, which were to the west of the church, where Trinity House now stands, that the ghostly happenings of ‘The Tidworth Drummer’ occurred in the 1660’s.

By the time of the Doomsday Book there were three manors in each village. The thatched cottages, many now demolished, were the homes of the servants of the manors and later of the Tedworth Estate.

During the ensuing centuries the manors were purchased or inherited by more and more important families until the 17th century Tidworth had association with the Royal Court, Parliament and the City of London. In 1650 Thomas Smith a person of power in the Cuty and in Politics bought the Tedworth Estate.

This estate consisted of many acres of land with Tedworth House as its principal residence. The House has had many changes before it appears as it is today but basically has remained on the same site. At the height of its history there was a hugh conservatory where, when the weather was inclement the ladies could exercise or when the owner became too old to ride out with the hounds he could be led around on his horse.

It was his grandson, John who was to become the first Speaker of the British House of Commons and one could imagine, as a person in this position who loved entertaining, as to how many of the nobility or royalty of the time may have visited the House.

The next family owning the estate, the Assheton-Smith being appear to have shown more interest in the welfare of the villagers, Mrs Assheton-Smith being responsible for the building of the school, which stood at the bottom of Station Road, and for caring for the Almshouses in North Tidworth, which had been built in 1674. There are villagers who can still remember visiting relatives and friends in these houses.

The last family to occupy Tedworth House were the Kelks-Sir John and his wife Rebecca. A great engineer, associate with the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Albert Memorial, which stands in Hyde Park, London and many other important buildings, he took interest in developing the Tedworth estate His memorial in Tidworth being the Church of St Mary the Virgin on the Shipton Road.

There had been a medieval church on the estate, which had been left to deteriorate therefore in 1784 it was removed and completely reconstructed at the top of the present Church Lane. When Sir John Kelk, a renowned building engineer bough the estate one of his first projects was the building of St Mary the Virgin Chancel. This was retained as a Mortuary Chapel and contains many of the memorials from pervious building. The new Church is an ornate building with many interesting features.

Much of the history of South Tidworth was based on the events and families living in Tedworth House. All of the villagers worked at the House or on the Land and had their cottages scattered across the estate, mainly dependent upon their occupation. Some Gate Lodges, the Stable Block, Gardener and Gamekeeper’s house the thatched cottages at Hampshire Cross still remain.

North Tidworth was the village, which provided the needs of the community. For it is here we find together with the Norman church and its Rectory, the village stores, the Post Office, the public house, the blacksmith’s, grocers, carters and many other traders in various forms over the years. There does not appear to have been any trading in S. Tidworth until the ‘Tin Market’ and Station Road in the early 1900’s.

Then in 1897 the estate was sold to the war Department. This was the main reason for the mainline railway being extended from Ludgershall to its site at the top of Station Road where a supermarket stands at present. This at the height of the war was the busiest station on the Midland and South western Junction Railway network. Not only did it have the mainline rail but there was also a branch line, which connected all the barracks from Alliwal to Mooltan to the station.

This marked a period of great expansion for the area. From the ealt1900’s the barracks, the married quarters and other necessary amenities, i.e. churches, St Andrew’s and St Mark’s being the first, followed by ‘St Michael and All Angels’ and ‘St Patrick and St Georges’ both being completed in 1912; cinemas, ‘The Electric Cinema’ and the ‘Hippodrome’; schools, The Tidworth army School sited near the Garrison Theatre; shops, the ‘Tin Market and Station Road’; were constructed. This being the time of great interest in the Indian sub-continent all of the barracks and the roads within the area were given Indian names i.e. Lucknow Barracks and Grand truck Road. The dates of construction can still be found on many of these building. The majority of the building was ended about 1912 just prior to the First World War.

This then brought Tidworth back onto the international scene with British regiments being sent all over the world and also many overseas regiments, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American and in later years the Ghurkhas being stationed here. A visit to the memorials at the Military Cemetery, the three local cemeteries, or either of the two Garrison churches will give an indication of the part Tidworth played at that time. There are still villagers who can tell of the activity in the area and the sudden disappearance of all the equipment and personnel at the time of the D-Day landing. All of the wars and conflicts since that time have had, and still have, an effect upon the village.

An event which many people link with Tidworth was the Tattoo, an annual event with audience of 150,000 held on the Tattoo Ground near Tedworth House. This appears to have been a magnificent tournament, which involved many soldiers from home and overseas in various displays from the cavalry in the early days to the helicopter displays of modern time.

In recent decades Tidworth has changed in many ways, the ‘North and South’ have disappeared and is Tidworth Wiltshire. It covers a much larger area; there are more houses, more schools and many different amenities. The barracks are being modernised to accommodate the requirements of the modern soldier and there are plans to raise the quality of life in general/ at present Tidworth, on the threshold of becoming a town is looking forward but in all of this it must not forget its past. Now we look forward, as we begin the 21st Century as a united community, to a future as colourful and interesting as our past has proven to be.