The History of Semley

The most informative account of Semley’s history can be seen on Jan Oliver’s website.

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Semley Plague Stone

Semley Plague Stone is situated opposite a property called Caleston, formerly Calais Cottage, on the road south from the church towards Gutch Common and Shaftesbury as it starts to ascend at the edge of the common.

The stone actually formed the base of a medieval cross, probably of the 13th century, that lost its vertical column centuries ago. Apparently the stone then acted as a marker for local farmers. Livestock would be driven from Hatts Farm, Westwood Farm and other farmsteads to the west in an easterly direction along the valley and then released at the stone to graze on the common.

According to archive records Donhead St Mary residents were struck down with plague and pestilence in 1664 and such was the severity of this disaster that on January 9th 1665 an order by the justices was made to local Hundreds for relief aid. Inhabitants of the Chalke Hundred, that included Semley, were expected to support the parish officers in providing this help. The stone, it would appear, was used as a location for exporting aid by the good citizens of Semley to their less fortunate neighbours in Donhead St Mary.

Eyam in Derbyshire suffered a similar plague in 1665 and there is a report of a “Cool Stone” with a receptacle filled with vinegar that had coins immersed in it for payment of provisions. This early method of infection control has also been associated with the Semley stone though it doesn’t seem to feature in early local reports.

The 17th century was a turbulent time nationwide and in Semley church records seem to be missing from1638-1669 plus the rectors Matthew Toogood and Robert Haysome switched in and out of office between 1646 and 1670s. I have to thank Steven Hobbs of the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and David Mclean of Donhead for the information supplied to enable me to write this short article.

David Lacey