Semington a small Wiltshire village
with some fabulous old buildings and history
Semington is a small village close to Trowbridge, and with the expansion of Trowbridge, always getting a little closer to it. The village is now bypassed and so is relatively free of traffic, unlike the days when I travelled through to school at Trowbridge from my home in Melksham just to the north.
I started my walk and exploration of the older parts of Semington on the south side. The first thing to take a look at is found along St George’s Road is the former workhouse. It is now mainly residential homes with one commercial part, The Independent Living Centre. In 2002/03, redevelopment for housing took place. The workhouse was built in 1836-38 and known as the Melksham Union and later renamed in 1898 as the Trowbridge and Melksham Union. In 1930 it became the Trowbridge Public Institution. Between 1948-1988 it became St George’s Hospital to care for the elderly infirm and those with mental handicaps.
Although established with noble intentions, the workhouses were vile places for those poor persons who had to enter. Workhouses were abolished in 1930, although, as in the case of this one at Semington continued as Public Institutions, becoming the responsibility of local councils. Thankfully these places, if still standing, are used for better purposes.
High Street, Semington
Upon returning to the High Street that runs the length of the village, essentially down its spine, I spot something interesting across the road. During World War ll, Semington was on the GHQ line. This line was designated across the south of England as a centre of resistance. Making use of the Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Avon just to the north, a defensive line was completed in case German forces crossed the English Channel. A Pill Box (fortification) is barely visible as you enter the village from Trowbridge, behind a hedge on your right. It was overgrown and difficult to photograph from the footpath.
Leaving this wartime relic, I reach the T-junction of Church Lane. This lane contains some of the oldest buildings in Semington and, as the name indicates, leads to St George’s Church. In total, there are 33 listed buildings in Semington; thankfully, it’s good that so many old buildings have survived the ravages of time and development over the years. St. Georges Church is one of those and is Grade 1 listed1.
The church dates from the 15th century and was largely rebuilt in 1860, as many churches were by the Victorians. Next door to the church is the original school, now a private home. At the end of the lane, there is an old farm.
Returning to the High Street, I pass several exquisite old houses, including the old Manor House, a fine seventeenth-century home, as seen in the photograph below.
Passing the old petrol station, now a used-car dealer, I pass opposite the old coaching inn, The Somerset Arms, named after the Duke of Somerset. Records suggest that an inn has been on this site since the sixteenth century; however, this building is newer, eighteenth-century, which is still old by my reckoning.
Famous People from Semington
Before we arrive at the Kennet and Avon Canal, we cross Semington Brook. Further upstream, we would have, in 1802, arrived at the burned-out ruins of Littleton Mill. Burned down in protest over the mechanisation of the woollen mills, a young man from this village, Thomas Helliker, was hanged in 1803 for the crime. Many believe him to be innocent, and you can read more in my post, The Execution of an Innocent Man.
Another famous person born in Semington is a gentleman called Isaac Gulliver2. He was born in 1745 and died in 1822. Isaac became very wealthy and earned the title King of the Dorset Smugglers. He eventually gave up being a smuggler when in 1782, he took advantage of a free pardon where any smuggler could either join the Navy or provide two substitutes. The rate for substitutes was up to fifteen guineas each, which Gulliver would have easily afforded.
I now reach the humpback bridge, spanning the Kennet and Avon Canal. The railway would have crossed a little further along the road, but that was closed in the Beeching cuts in 1966. When I was younger, I remember the old bridge abutment remaining, but it has since been demolished. The line went to Devizes, which opened in 1857 and Semington was given a halt in 1906 until the closure of the line.
There are some features on the Kennet and Avon Canal that are worth looking at here in Semington. Heading towards Devizes as we join the canal next to the road bridge is the former entrance to the Wilts and Berks Canal that once led to Melksham, then Chippenham, a spur to Calne and on to Abingdon, where it met the River Thames. It was closed in 1914, and like most canals, due to a lack of use but hastened due to the collapse of the aqueduct at Stanley in 1901.
Kennet and Avon Canal, Semington
The Kennet and Avon Canal was built between 1794 and 1810. Various sections opened during this time. There are two locks at Semington; the first I come to is number 15, known as Buckley’s and the other number 16, which is called Barrett’s. The two locks have a combined rise and fall of 4.9 metres. (16ft 1in). Walking a little further eastwards towards Devizes, I soon reach the modern aqueduct that takes the canal across the busy A350 Semington bypass. It was opened in 2004.
Going back to the road bridge, I go under it and head west a few yards and find a sign informing visitors that this is the planned connection for rebuilding and restoring the Wilts and Berks Canal. A new route has to be used as much of the old canal has been filled in and built upon. It will take a lot of time and money to complete, but some sections are underway further north on the route.
Walking a few hundred yards further west, I now arrive at another aqueduct that crosses Semington Brook. This one is old and was completed by the year 1807 by canal engineers James Mcllquham and James Porteus. It has been Grade ll listed since 1988, although before being granted listed status, some repair work using blue engineering brick has taken place.
My journey around Semington now ends. I have found it an interesting one and hope you have too. You can watch my walk on YouTube. If you have a comment, please add it to this post below. Thank you for reading, and if you’re not a subscriber, please become one. You will never be spammed. It only requires your preferred email address. You can also read my articles on the Substack app, which is a great way to do so. It works on both IOS and Android.
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Buildings and structures in the UK can be listed to protect them from being demolished or altered in a way that would ruin their historical value.