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Flax in Wiltshire

flax shrunk.jpg

Flax has been cultivated in Wiltshire for 5000+ years.

This is flax at Avon Farm. Last year it was grown in the next field to the south, Avon Farm cottage appears in this and last year’s views, It has a long history around the Woodford valley.

About 3,500 years ago there was a Stone Age Festival near the Woodford Valley. Not a permanent settlement but a temporary coming together of people from far and wide. They partied, they drank, they feasted and no doubt swapped goods and livestock and flirted and speed dated. They butchered and cooked, the meat menu included domesticated and wild animals. They dug a well for water and after their rave chucked their rubbish into it. There, waterlogged and 100 feet down, some of it survived till dug up in 1962.

Wilsford Salisbury Museum 6 Feb 2022 (2).jpg
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Base of a wooden bucket with a fragment of twisted cord to its left. Other items - see museum description.

Images taken in the Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum

Wooden stave built buckets and rope lay there as one would expect in a well. Other wooden goods, mainly from alder and oak included tubs, bowls and scoops. There were butchered bones from lambs, kids, cattle, oxen, pigs and red and roe deer, plus bones of dogs and ponies and a juvenile human tooth. Pottery from cooking, turves, charcoal, dung, bits of flint and antler, wicker baskets all went in and some useful items that didn’t seem like rubbish, perhaps as thanks to the forces in the earth or water, amber and shale jewellery, pins, awls, needles. The buckets and skulls enabled the shaft to be dated to 3,100 to 3,650 years ago, but one bucket and charcoal at the bottom seemed to date it a thousand years earlier. The meat menu showed farming was going on, as did the seeds found. Three crops seeds were (emmer) wheat, (six rowed) barley and flax. The flax was Linum usitatissimum, the agricultural cultivar from Europe and not its wild precursors. (Linum giving rise to words like linen and linseed.) Fibres in cordage seemed to be more from hemp though than flax.

This was a deserted, open, featureless site. Thousands of years earlier mesolithic peoples held it in some regard planting a row of Totem poles less than a mile away, and centuries later neolithic people started building a circular monument nearby. Today the well, the deepest prehistoric man made shaft in England, is largely forgotten, and is just a dip in the ground, marked on the map as the Wilsford Shaft. The A303 runs past it. The mesolithic totem poles are marked in a car park and mistaken by some as mini roundabouts. The circular monument that came many years later and which the car park now serves, though it wasn’t really a henge and at first there weren’t any stones, is a little better known today as Stonehenge.

The causewayed enclosure at Windmill Hill near Avebury (3,800-3,300 BC) is even older than the Wilsford shaft. No flax seed was found here BUT clear impressions of it were found on the pottery.

Flax has been around in the Woodford valley and Wiltshire for a very long time.

Kerry O'Connor

October 2021

This article supplies the answer to Question No. 24 in the website's

Local History Photo Quiz.

Click here to see all the questions.

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