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Druid's Lodge / Larkhill Military Light Railway

Just a couple of miles from Stonehenge stands this strange old water tower beside the fast A360 Devizes to Salisbury road.

Water Tower beside A360
Water Tower beside A360

It's one of those places that I've often driven past and wondered about - rather like the Spa house in Melksham (see Melkshamspa) where we now live.

Speaking with the gentleman who lives in one of the houses nearby, I learned that the water tower and the pump room that's beside it were there for the light railway that ran from here to Chilmark a few miles to the south west. He told me that there was a first world war airfield just behind the trees, and then during the second world war another airfield just across the road and up a short distance.

You can see some of my photos here - and a couple more pictures of the area just below - but I found myself doubtful about this version of the history of the area; there are a couple of references to an ammunition railway at RAF Chilmark, but that's away across the other side of the Wyle Valley, and a closure date of 1995 I have seen for that feels far too recent. Any clues, anyone? If so, please email me - graham@wellho.net

Several people HAVE emailed me, as invited - THANK YOU. The information I have gathered is reproduced below, most recent first, and with permission.

See also Ratfyn for the other end of the line!

Map locator - Druids_Lodge

- Thank you to yyyy (again) for a follow up on 21st January 2009 who writes:

Hello Graham (again)

Like, I suspect, many other people, I had always assumed that the water tower at Druids Lodge was connected with the Larkhill Military Light Railway. I have now had the chance to check on this at Salisbury reference library and I discovered that this is not the case. According to NDG James in his book ‘Gunners at Larkhill’, this water tower was built in connection with the water supply to the camp buildings and hangers at Lake Down airfield. The hangers were pretty well where the woods that surround the water tower now stand.

NDG James also states that the railway did not extend as far as the water tower. This is confirmed by a military 1:25000 scale map which shows the line terminating about 550 meters short of the tower, opposite some sort of military camp which was on the west side of the A360 road.

Why the tower still exists I have no idea. As I told you earlier, the water supply to Camp Cottages comes from a private source at Druids Lodge: Probably the estate just took it over when the airfield closed.

The route of the railway from the river Avon to the Packway is still fairly clear on the ground, with plenty of embankments etc to indicate the route. The platform at Strangeways is also is also still detectable, albeit covered in brambles. Some embankments also still exist north of the Packway, about 1000m east of the Fargo ammunition compound.

At least one engine which worked the LMLR does still exist. It is an 0-6-0 saddle tank and was built by Peckett & Sons in 1914. It is named ‘Westminster’ and is currently undergoing restoration at the Nottingham and Lamport Railway.

Regards, Xxxx Xxxxxx

- Thank you to yyyy on 9th January 2009 who writes:

Hello Graham

I have just visited your website and read with interest about the Larkhill Railway.

I was stationed at Larkhill in tha late 70s and thought I had found the old track bed of the railway. I did read on the internet that it made it's way from Amesbury over the bridge and the A303 near the NAAFI building which was there.

If you follow the A345 from Amesbury roundabout in the direction of woodhenge. about 100 - 200 (can't remember the distance it's not far from the roundabout though) yards on the left the track went behind a row of trees and makes it's way eventually to just below the Medical Centre at Larkhill, it seemed that there could have been some buildings or a platform there because at the end of the line is a large area which could have been used for off-loading etc. The track was well defined at the start but going across the open ground and nearer to the camp it's just visible, I think I remember it was on a small Embankment as well in some parts, I don't know if it's still there or has been built on, but in the 70s you could walk the track bed all the way. That's if it was the old track bed I followed!!!. At Rollestone Camp I think this was an old Royal Flying Corps airfield, have you seen the headstone at the side of the road just near Stonhenge to the RFC Pilot who crashed near there?.


- Thank you to xxxx on 28 December 2008 who writes:

I read somewhere a few years ago that the engine house@ at Druids lodge is one of the airfield buildings and was used for the maintenance of aeroplane engines.

The airfield, which was called Lake Down, opened in 1917 and closed at the end of 1919. It is well documented.

The Larkhill Military Light Railway is more difficult to trace. It opened in 1914, branching off the LSWR at Ratfyn junction just north of Amesbury, and ran via Larkhill to Druid’s Lodge. I have seen two versions of the route taken to Druid Lodge, either via Rollestone camp or via Fargo hospital and Stonehenge airfield. Fargo and Stonehenge seems more likely, because the topography would have been easier. The railway finally closed in 1929 and there are very few remaining indications of its precise route.

- Thank you to (anon) on 18 November 2007 who writes:

The railway line at Druid Lodge was the last stop on the on the Larkhill Military Light Railway. Open sometime around the First World War and closed in the 1920s, and it ran from just outside Amesbury where it joined the Amesbury-Bulford line to Larkhill them carried on west to Fargo Woods Military Hospital then south to Druids Lodge.

I found your item while trying find out more on the LMLY. As far as I can find out one of the locomotives may still remain, last known being restored. There are very few photos I have seen, there is one Druids Lodge Airfield showing the tented camp

That looks geographically more feasible than the Chilmark connection
and the lack of apparently recent remains makes me favor the 1920 rather than 1995 date too.

I was also informed [occupier - Chilmark version] that the big barn-like building was formerly used as an engine shed.

Former engine shed?
Former engine shed?

If you go down to the woods today ...
If you go down to the woods today ...

Salisbury Plain, near Druid's Lodge
Salisbury Plain, near Druid's Lodge

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