Some years ago I recall reading of a plague stone, described as being at the entrance to Salisbury and South Wilts Golf Club on the Netherhampton road. I think this could have been in a book describing local walks, but I have been unable to recall the source. From time to time I have tried to find this plague stone, but with no success, this including asking people whom I thought were likely to know.
I was reminded of this more recently when, in helping my son to tidy the loft of a house he’d just moved into, I came across a book, ‘Motor Trips At A Glance in England, Wales,Scotland, Ireland and France’ (1911). This has a chapter entitled ‘Illustrations of Roadside Curiosities’ in which there were photographs of the plague stones at Bury St Edmunds and Penrith (Figures 1 and 2).
Plague stones were often placed at or near to parish boundaries in order for victims of disease, not necessarily plague, to leave disinfected coins in payment for food left for them by townsfolk. Plague stones often had a shallow depression on top to contain vinegar which acted as the sterilising agent.
I was further reminded of the Netherhampton plague stone having recently been lent a book, ‘My Lord Pembroke’s Manor of Netherhampton’ by Henry Shute (1986). Here, Shute quotes one Miss Mould who made the Netherhampton contributions to a little book called ‘Moonrakings’1, published by the Women’s Institute. Miss Mould claimed that the stone on the main road to Harnham, at the foot of the old road to the Race Plain, is a memorial of a skirmish led by Walter in the Civil War. Shute writes that Miss Mould’s memory was faulty and her statements,at times, ambiguous, and that her ‘battle stone’ “would appear to be the plague stone at the crossing of the West Harnham and old Roman roads. Elsewhere in ‘My Lord Pembroke’s Manor of Netherhampton’ Shute writes that traders between the towns of Salisbury and Wilton, when afflicted by plague, exchanged goods by depositing them at the Netherhampton-Harnham boundary, in a bowl of vinegar (presumably Shute means that the coins are deposited in a bowl of vinegar!)
Shute very helpfully included a sketch map of Netherhampton in his book (Fig. 3) from which I discerned I’d been searching on the wrong side of the road for the plague stone. This prompted me to have another search,which again was unsuccessful – not surprising as closer inspection of the map revealed that it actually says ‘Site of plague stone’!
Shute wrote that the plague stone ‘disappeared’ in 1986 when the Parish Council had resolved to identify it with a commemorative plaque.
Alison Kidd’s book, ‘Down Your Way’ (Vol. 1) (1989) gives an alternative explanation of its fate, stating that “A kerb-crawling gardener stole Netherhampton’s plague stone for a rockery…”!
If anyone has any further information or illustrations of this plague stone I would be most interested to receive it.
1. Moonrakings: Wiltshire Stories arr. by Edith Olivier and Margaret S. Edwards. Pub. Coates and Parker Ltd. Warminster. Reprinted 1979 (to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Wiltshire Federation of Women’s Institutes).
Thank you Alan for another fascinating piece of local history.