A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT OUR HISTORY
Westwood's recorded history begins in the decade of the 980s, when King Ethelred's charters granted various pieces of land there to his servant, Aelfnoth, in 983 A.D., and again four years later to his huntsman, Leofwine. Evidence of earlier inhabitants is sparse: a few artefacts of the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods have been unearthed in the north-west corner of the parish; and pieces of pottery and wall plaster show that the parish was settled in Roman times.
At the time of Domesday Book, it is unlikely that there was a church in Westwood. The earliest part of the present church of St Mary dates from the 1200s, or possibly 1100s, but it was in the late 1400s that its most handsome features - the nave, chapel and tower - were added. Westwood is one of a group of splendid Wiltshire and Somerset church towers built, probably by the same group of masons, in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and financed by the increasing profits derived from the wool trade. Westwood's west tower is distinctive because of the wonderful gargoyles in the form of grotesque animals, below the parapets, and the octagonal spiral staircase on the south-eastern corner, leading to the belfry. This staircase, crowned with a cupola or dome, gives Westwood tower its distinctive appearance, making it a striking local landmark.
As with other local parishes, agriculture was the mainstay of Westwood's economy until the last century, but the parish also had significant industries, resulting from its geology and physical geography. The ample water power provided by the Frome and Avon rivers, and the deposits of fuller's earth which underlie the limestone strata near Avoncliff and Iford, were the foundations on which the cloth industry of the area flourished from the Middle Ages. Also, the lower ragstone deposits which occur at Upper Westwood have been exploited for many centuries by quarrying the limestone blocks.
The last seventy years have brought unprecedented change to Westwood. What was a small farming parish has become a residential community which has more than doubled its population, from 468 in 1921 to 915 in 1951, and 1,120 by 2001. Much housing development has taken place, and a 'Middle Westwood' has emerged in the new estates built between Upper and Lower Westwood, forming the new centre of the parish. The 2001 census listed 510 dwellings in the parish. Most residents now find their work away from the village - in Bradford, Trowbridge, Bath and Bristol - making Westwood a dormitory or commuter village. The catalyst which accelerated these changes was the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
The Luftwaffe raids of 1941 led the government to search for safer places in which to manufacture guns and munitions. Westwood was chosen as one such location, and the Ministry of Supply invited the Royal Enfield Motor Cycle Company of Redditch, in the Midlands, to operate a proposed underground factory at Westwood for the Directorate of Instrument Production. The underground quarry workings were cleared to make factory accommodation, and about six hundred workers, mostly drafted into the area, (as well as many local women and girls), manufactured gun-control equipment. The ('temporary') 'Red Bungalows', 94 of them, were built north of the lane to Iford for the Enfield workforce by the War Department, and Queen Mary saw the residents on a morale-boosting visit in 1943. (Inside the Quarry Image courtesy of Noel Jenkins (http://www.geograph.org.uk/))
What amounted to a small village of temporary dwellings and ancillary buildings was erected for the Enfield workers, on an area now occupied by Bobbin Lane and the Council estate, between Upper and Lower Westwood, and known by locals as 'the site'. The fields between Upper and Lower Westwood were filled and effectively there was now a single community. The Enfield workers were not the only strangers in Westwood; at various times during the War years, the parish was home to Polish refugees, London evacuee children and Italian prisoners-of-war. (Royal Enfield Hostel Image Courtesy of Bradford-on-Avon Museum http://www.bradfordonavonmuseum.co.uk)
The air raids showed the pressing need to find safe, secure and secret storage for the contents of the national museums and art galleries. Once again the Westwood tunnels had a part to play. It was agreed that the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum would jointly take over 20,000 square feet of the quarry tunnels. Air conditioning plant was installed to control the humidity underground, and "by the end of 1942 Westwood probably housed the greatest and most valuable collection of cultural and artistic artefacts assembled in one location anywhere in the world". These included pictures from the National Portrait Gallery, tapestries from the V.& A., the Elgin Marbles, and the Wright Brothers' aeroplane, 'Kitty Hawk', the latter dismantled in packing cases. Staff also migrated from London to look after their treasures, and during the later War years all of the British Museum's business was conducted from the Old Court Hotel at Avoncliff. (“Veronese shed” in the Westwood lime quarry Image Courtesy of ICCROM)
The War ended in 1945, and all of the artefacts stored underground at Westwood had returned to their old homes by 1950. The Enfield factory continued until 1970, switching production to motorcycles and motorcycle parts. The first Council houses were built in the 1950s at Farleigh View and Hebden Road. The 'Red Bungalows' were acquired by the Council in 1960, and when they were demolished later in that decade they were replaced by a new council estate centred on Boswell Road, Tynings Way and Hebden Road. Several private estates soon flanked the Council development, beginning with Linden Crescent, a small estate designed to attract people in a higher income bracket. Similar estates followed, including The Pastures, which was much larger. (Textile storage facility in the Westwood lime quarry Image Courtesy of ICCROM)
Quarrying was resumed in the late 1980s, by the Bath and Portland Stone Company, producing the huge honey-coloured limestone blocks which are widely used for building and restoration work. The tunnels found yet another use in 1985, when Wansdyke Security Limited took possession of the old British Museum storage area, to use as high security underground storage for commercial documents and company records. The War and post-war period have "changed the small rural village of Westwood into a collection of large modern estates with parts of old Westwood dotted in between".
With thanks to: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.
Inside the Quarry.
Royal Enfield Hostel