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Avonside House

Avonside House from FOSL Newsletter no_edited.jpg

The house which stands beside the Avon at the end of Mill Lane was built between 1790 and 1832, although it is believed that there was probably an earlier cottage on the site of the present kitchen. A disused earlier flint well was found in the scullery floor just outside the original house rear door.  A later well was dug and the original hand pump stands beside the north wall of the house. Avonside still obtains its water from the Victorian well with a more modern pumping system. *

The house was owned before 1895 by the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral and was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners when Church of England funding was reformed. It was leased by various tenants in the 19C including the Old Sarum MP James Alexander, and sub-let to a number of millers and their families who ran Stratford Mill next door. The remains of grain sacks have been found, dating from Georgian times, lining partitions in the house. They were marked with the names of millers at Stratford, Boscombe, and Fisherton Mills. Above the old water pump can still be seen the pulley bar used to lift sacks onto the carters’ horse drawn vehicles.

In the 1880s and early 1890s, the Dower family lived in the house with their two servants. Mrs Dower was a member of the Stratford sub Castle Sergeant family who are commemorated by a marble plaque on the south wall of St Lawrence Church, to the right of the south entrance.

In 1893 Mr Arthur Bruce Russell Davies was the tenant. He was a bachelor who lost a significant part of his income from investments made in Germany before the outbreak of war in 1914. He purchased the freehold of Avonside in 1920 when the Parsonage Farm estate was sold by the Church Commissioners. It cost him £710 and was purchased with a £400 mortgage from the Bank of England. There was a covenant on occupiers of Avonside to pay £50 per annum to the Dean “for keeping the chancel at St Lawrence church in repair”. This covenant was withdrawn in the 1920 sale, if it had remained in place at today’s * prices the annual contribution would be just under £1500.

Mr Russell Davies was a churchwarden at St Lawrence for 42 years. This service is commemorated in the church by a brass plaque on the west wall beneath the organ. Apparently he walked into Salisbury every day across the water meadow, and on the way picked wild flowers to display in the church. Mr Russell Davies’ links with the house are still present being marked by a gravestone discovered in the garden for his dog ‘Chum’ who apparently died in 1912 aged 16.

On his death in 1949, the house was bought at auction by Tom and Nella Waite, from whom David and Christine Mills bought the house in 1993. Tom Waite was a history teacher at Bishop Wordsworth School in the 1950s and 60s, and one of his teaching contemporaries was a English teacher named William Golding. According to Nella Waite, Golding came to tea at Avonside on most Sundays in summer and during this period he developed some of the ideas for his first novel ‘Lord of the Flies’ (published in 1954), possibly from seeing boys playing in the Avon and swinging on trees at the end of the garden. The success and acclaim of this, and later novels was recognised when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983.

The house is Grade 2 Listed and the layout of the interior has remained significantly unchanged for the last 200 years. The Mills have added the ‘barn’ (in the original vegetable garden) and garden room (in place of the pig-sty) and made the house habitable. The roof was originally slated, and the south wall had a tiled front facing the garden, which is why brickwork now appears uneven, as it was never built to be seen.

The framework of the garden seen today, with the box hedge path leading from the house to the river, the long border, the fountain bed close to the house, and the several rambling roses has not changed very much since early last century. The garden has been ‘opened up’ by reducing the height of some trees, felling those that were damaged or diseased, and clearing of the yews (from the days as a Church house), but a number of specimen trees remain.

David and Christine have tried to recreate the view of the garden from the nearby bridge over the Avon as it was in the early years of the last century (as seen on the 1920 particulars), with a boarded bank and lawn, running right down to the river. One of the benefits of living at Avonside is its position on the River Avon, although with the hight risk of flooding in the garden every winter, it does provide an interesting challenge to choosing plants that are flood tolerant, and trying to maintain any semblance of well-tended lawn, which is also enjoyed by moles and rabbits!

The Article above was first published in The Friends of St Lawrence Newsletter no. 11 , Spring 2009, and appears here with the kind permission of the Trustees.

* Readers should be aware that any references to 'today' or similar, were accurate at the time of the original publication date.

The Friends of St Lawrence is a Registered Charity no. 1063271 which was set up to involve the community in fundraising to assist with the maintenance costs for the Grade 1 Listed St Lawrence Church.


The article above mentions rabbits and moles in the Avonside garden.


In January 2023, David Mills took several photographs of otters in his garden.  View more here.

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