Chitterne Brook is a winterbourne, a stream that only flows in winter. It rises near Imber, meanders along a valley known as the Bourne until it meets the Tilshead road at Padham's Pool, where it divides and flows both sides of that road, merging to one stream again at the start of Chitterne village, Townsend. For a short distance it disappears from view behind the cottages lining the left side of the road and reappears only to pass under the road again. Now on the right side of the road, it follows the course of the road faithfully through the village, indeed it most probably was the road, or the thoroughfare used by the inhabitants here in ancient times, during the summer months. In the winter they would have used the two flanking paths on the banks of the stream, one of which is now the road, or, in times of flood, two paths on higher ground. These can be clearly seen on 19th century maps of the village, and still partially exist in Back Lane.
|At the junction with the road to Codford the brook passes under the road
again and until recently followed the course of that road, toward an area of
old water meadows. Nowadays it has been diverted across the middle of the
former tithing field, opposite the King's Head pub.
Photo left: The old tithing field flooded in 1910
|At times of heavy rain and flood, water from both sides of the road to
Warminster and one side of the road to Shrewton flowed into the brook too.
Then, dwellings alongside these roads were often approached over small
hump-backed bridges or covered gullies that allowed the storm water
unhindered progress toward the brook.
Photo right: Bidden Lane (Shrewton Road) in 1916 showing the covered gullies
From Codford the Chitterne Brook eventually joins the River Wylye and the Salisbury Avon.
The volume of water varies considerably from year to year. Anything from flood in winter to dry wells in summer is possible, and the wells still around in the village are usually 50 or 60 feet deep (15 or 18m), but the deepest well at Flint House is over 140 feet (42m). At the beginning of the 20th century, in a year of drought, the villagers relied on cartloads of water sent from Codford every day.
One thing that rarely varies is the quality of the water. Water that has been filtered through chalk is noted for its purity. At Chitterne, water thus filtered then collects in a huge underground lake, held by a layer of impervious rock deep beneath the village. Come the winter rains, as the water table rises, so this water rises to the surface once more, bubbling and gurgling up as springs in gardens, through cracks in paving and concrete and even inside houses if they happen to be in the way. Filling the wells, the brook, the drains and the meadows with some of the purest water available naturally anywhere.
|Views of the 1925 flood in Chitterne.|
Although this natural phenomenon was a gift to the early settlers, by the 20th century something needed to be done to contain the abundance of water at times of flood. So, in 1943, concientious objectors were put to work on the brook. The bed and banks of the stream were excavated to hold a greater volume of water and the bank nearest the roadside was lined with bags of concrete mix designed to set in situ. Most years this remedy works, just occasionally nature has her way and the "cut", as the brook became known locally, overflows again.
Photo right: The cut in 1916 before excavation and lining
In the 1980s, when more water was needed in growth areas of West Wiltshire, Wessex Water tapped into the Chitterne supply and piped water to the Trowbridge area. (See Pumping Station on list)
There are three road bridges over the brook, none of them as obvious to the traveller as they would have been years ago when they were small and humped. The first encountered, on a journey to the village from Warminster, is just past the King's Head pub. The second is in Townsend near the Abdon Close turning, it used to be known as the "arch" and the third is farther along that same road, near the last house.