Downton, Wiltshire History

There is a possibility that this may have been a defended site or a meeting place in Saxon times, but there does not seem to be any definite evidence for this. It was probably the earthworks for a Norman motte and bailey castle that Bishop Blois was said to have built in 1138. No Norman masonry has been found on this site and it is believed that the Bishop of Winchester rebuilt and fortified the bishop's palace here instead.

The site was landscaped as part of the gardens of Moot House in the mid or late 18th century and the mound was much altered in the creation of an amphitheatre. Between 1898 and 1908 a national company put on Shakespearean plays here and in 1908 a young Sybil Thornedike appeared in The Comedy of Errors.

In 1972 the ownership of the gardens became separated from that of the house and the former fell into decay. The gardens were rescued by the Downton Moot Preservation Trust after the land had been compulsorily acquired by Salisbury District Council and sold to the Trust. The Trust is restoring the site, including the pond, as a long term project as funds become available for specific work. Much work has now been carried out and the gardens are open to the public.

Acknowledgement: Wiltshire County Council