Monday 17 November 1986

George Street In Warminster


Danny Howell, in the latest issue of the Wylye Valley Life magazine (Saturday 15th November 1986), has penned the following article on George Street, Warminster, as part of an advertising feature:

George Street is named after George Wansey, a clothier who once lived at Byne House in nearby Church Street. He died on 19th March 1807 and in his will he left £1,000 for town improvements on condition a similar sum could be raised from other sources for the same purpose. (He also left another £1,000 sum in his will to make annual charity payments of £1 each to aged widows). Following the formation of a committee, all the houses on the south side of what is now George Street were bought and demolished, making the road wider. Land on the north side which had been gardens was let and a row of three-storey houses was built about 1825. The street which was formerly known as Chain Street was then re-named George Street.

The former name of Chain Street originated from the fact that both ends of this piece of road were closed off with chains, making it accessible to foot passengers only. Horsedrawn traffic passed behind the houses on the south side of the street along a way known as Shallow Water, so named because it was often flooded in winter-time.

An open stream once ran across the road (between what is now Butcher’s Yard and the Golden Kitchen take-away) and was crossed by a footbridge known as Almshouse Bridge. The almshouses which gave the bridge its name once stood near the lower end of the High Street. They were first occupied in 1561 but had fallen into a state of decay by the middle of the 18th century. They were demolished about 1750.

When Chain Street was widened as part of the Wansey improvements, the stream was covered over and the footbridge disappeared from the scene prior to 1832. The stream, which rises near Cley Hill, where it is joined by another stream called the Rocky Daddy, winds its way via Churchfields and passes virtually unnoticed under the road at the same spot today. Known locally as the Swan River, the stream continues underground, under the Western Car Park to greet the light of day once more before passing under Weymouth Street, emerging once again in the Lake Pleasure Grounds. From there it flows to Calveswater where it joins the River Wylye.

When excavations were made in 1904 concerning gas mains, several large pieces of wood were found at regular intervals between George Street and High Street. These were believed to be the last surviving remnants of a fence which once stood at the side of the pedestrian walkway. The fence, no doubt, prevented those on foot from falling into the Chain Street stream. The depth of these discoveries seemed to indicate that the road must once have been deep with ruts, so much so that walkers could probably have stepped off the footpath directly on to the tops of any loaded wagons that were passing by.

Further excavations in 1949 revealed more of these posts and their accompanying chains beneath the middle of George Street, immediately opposite Butcher’s Yard.

The three-storey block of houses on the north side of George Street, which were constructed with some of the money left by George Wansey, have since been converted on their ground floor levels, and also some of their first floors, to commercial use.

George Street today is the home of about thirty businesses, including shops, restaurants and offices, but this commercial aspect is not a new one. In 1860 a printer called Yockney was based here and so too was a timber merchant called Mr. Biass who died in 1842. Number 2 George Street was once the premises of a chemist called Henry Siminson. In 1877 he advertised for sale circular spring trusses at 2 shillings and 6 pence, and a more exclusive model of the same device made by Salmon and Ody for two shillings more. He also offered a ‘teeth carefully extracted’ service. Unfortunately for the victims of toothache who went to him, his carefulness did not include the use of an anaesthetic, only a tap on the head with a wooden mallet!

By 1879 there were several traders at George Street. They included James Phillips (tailor), John Henry Neat (painter), Thomas Maidment (currier), Thomas Cornish (grocer), John Festing Goodman (solicitor), John Atkin (auctioneer and valuer), George Streadman (hairdresser), Richard Sly (grocer), William Scammell (builder), Charles Young (bootmaker), and George White (mealman). George White’s shop was at Number 7 George Street, premises currently occupied by the Baby Shop. Mr. White stocked his shop with sacks of open corn and animal feeds, much to the delight of children who used to look through the window to see the mice running over the top of the sacks!

Among the other tradespeople at George Street in the 19th Century were the Provis family, who the local historian W. Middlebrook tells us have a connection with the novelist Charles Dickens. In ‘The Changing Face of Warminster’ (1971) Mr. Middlebrook noted: "The Provis family were trades people too and they provide an interesting link with Charles Dickens. In ‘The Times’ of September 17th 1853, the famous novelist found a report on the trial at Gloucester Assizes of Tom Provis of Warminster, on a charge of attempting to prove that he was Sir Richard Smythe of Ashton Court. Inspector Field, who often accompanied Dickens when visiting the haunts of the underworld in London, had the job of tracking down imposter Provis, and at Warminster he found an old woman who was related to Provis and took lodgings with her. Dickens contemplated writing a ‘life of Inspector Field’ and drew him as Inspector Bucket in ‘Bleak House’. Later, when he wrote ‘Great Expectations’ Dickens used the name Provis for the old convict, one of the principal characters in the story."

Ebenezer Place is a name no longer found in the current Warminster street directory. It was once a group of three terraced-cottages tucked away behind the south side of George Street.

Another yard at George Street, on the north side, was that of the Castle Inn, which has long since disappeared. An old malthouse in the yard, named appropriately the Castle Malthouse, was taken over in 1902 for use by a steam laundry.

The Castle Steam Laundry, as it was called, served both Warminster and the Wylye Valley, with a collection and delivery service the same week. Other offices covered the Westbury, Trowbridge, Bradford on Avon and Frome areas. The Warminster receiving office of the laundry, based in the last house at the western end of the three-storey terrace, advertised in the 1920s with slogans such as "It saves your linen to have it washed in soft water. Town waters are usually hard. Warminster water is Abnormally Soft. Go to a laundry that uses soft water," and "In all England you cannot get a collar better finished or starched than at the Castle Steam Laundry."

The proprietor of the Laundry during the 1920s was Captain Geoffrey Wilmot Morrice who lived at Tullos on the Boreham Road. He was a leading member of the Warminster Operatic Society during the 1920s and 1930s and also produced many of their successful productions. The Laundry eventually moved from George Street to new premises built in 1948 behind the Regal Cinema car park in Weymouth Street. Here it traded as the Warminster Laundry until its closure in 1969.

Other previous businesses at George Street have included Foreman & Worthington’s (house furnishings); Miss Alice Francis (cobbler’s shop); Walter Dodge (boots and shoes); Miss Lily Dodge (confectionery); John Arthur Gingell (grocer); John Everett (grocer); Miss Matilda White (fancy goods); Payne & Son’s (bakers, grocers and pork butchers); Maurice Cruse (motor dealer and charabanc proprietor); Bowden and Spender (fishmongers); Eastmans Ltd. (butchers); and Robert Bass (grocer). A speciality at Robert Bass’s shop was packs of broken biscuits he used to sell at cheap prices, a popular buy with many of Warminster’s residents.

A stroll along George Street today reveals a continuation of the commercial scene. Among the present businesses are: The Baby Shop; Tony’s Carpets; Roy’s, gents hairdressers; Lee’s Takeaway; David Wiltshire Photography; Sew ‘n’ Sew, fabrics; J. & J. Linens and Lingerie; Edward Moore, solicitor; Peter Gough, menswear; Warminster Automobiles; and the Wylye Valley Life, local community magazine.