New Wiltshire book raises funds for Wiltshire Community Foundation

A NEW book that shines a light on some of Wiltshire’s little-known stories, culture and traditions is giving back to the county.

Deepest Wiltshire, which is packed with interviews, stories and stunning pictures, is  raising money for the Wiltshire Community Foundation, SSAFA Wiltshire and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

The hardback book, now available to buy, has been written by journalists Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie-Weir after almost eight months of travelling hundreds of miles around the county. It was launched at a glittering party held at Devizes Town Hall.

The book has been underwritten by Lord Rothermere’s Rothermere Foundation and follows a similar volume about Dorset two years ago.

The hardback book is part almanack, travel guide, recipe book and history tome with some social, artistic and cultural reference as well.

The book’s seven chapters look at how industry, the military, art, farming and technological development have shaped the county through stories of interesting personalities as well as historic events, quirky tales and fascinating facts.

Craftsmen and women, food producers, including cheesemaker Ceri Cryer of Brinkworth, historians and artists all feature.

Then there is a section devoted to Darkest Wiltshire – a collection of stories that reflect on some of the less savoury incidents including murder, highway robbery and brutal punishment.

The authors, who live on the Somerset/Wiltshire border, spent hours researching the county.

Said Ms Charles: “We both knew Salisbury well and Devizes from childhood visits, but Swindon was not somewhere we knew anything about. I knew Malmesbury well, but Gay had never been there, and we have both completely fallen in love with it.

“We have really enjoyed discovering the rest of the county.”

They set out each day with a location in mind but often veered off course, attracted by a landmark or interesting building that prompted further investigation and often led to a story.

One such detour led to a fascinating discovery near Corsham. Said Ms Charles: “We spotted an unusual building by the side of the road and stopped to investigate. It turned out it is called Monks Chapel and it is the oldest surviving, continuously used, Five Mile Chapel in the country.”

Five Mile Chapels were introduced during Charles II’s reign in 1662 when anyone preaching anything other than approved Anglican doctrine were banned from doing so within five miles of a market town, in this case Chippenham.

“We always knew where we were going and who our principal interviewee of the day would be, but we found other wonderful stories along the way,” said Ms Charles.

There are several personal pieces written by personalities, about what the county means to them. There is one by actor Nigel Havers, whose inclusion only came about by accident.

Ms Pirrie-Weir said: “We were in The Bell in Ramsbury when our dog Pippin broke free from his lead and jumped up at a man. It was only when I went to get him back that I realised it was Nigel Havers. Until then I didn’t know he lived in Wiltshire.”

The announcement of Honda’s closure in Swindon in 2021 caused a hasty rewrite from the other side of the world of one section about industry in Swindon.

“I was away in Sacramento and saw the news about Honda but the book was already at the printers,” said Ms Pirrie-Weir.

“It meant having to rewrite it hastily, but we couldn’t let the book go as it was.”

All through the book are similar human stories that bring Swindon and Wiltshire’s history vividly to life.

Ms Pirrie-Weir  said: “In a way the book has turned into a sort of a love letter to Wiltshire, because we have been amazed at the stories we found and fascinated by them.”

Deepest Wiltshire is published by Deepest Books, priced £25, on March 28 and is available at bookshops, farms shops, galleries and many other places. For details of where to find the book click here.