OLD THORN-TREES (clxxxvi. 106, 129). In the parish of Berwick-St.-John, there was an old encampment with a tumulus in the centre and on this tumulus there used to be an old thorn scrag, which was cut down by the then owner and used as firewood.
Thereupon, a blight visited the whole village : no cow would have a calf, no duck nor chicken would lay an egg, and no woman would have a baby. This state of affairs continued for about three years, until a petition from the villagers was sent to the man who cut down the old scrag.
On hearing the complaint, he said, "Oh, I'll plant another thorn-tree." This he promptly did. Whereupon, every cow had a calf, ducks and chicken laid eggs and every female had a baby within six months. Wonderful—but true!
Kathleen Wiltshire's story below apparently harks back to when General Pitt Rivers excavated a round barrow here. Winkelbury was his first full season of serious, well-recorded excavations of enclosures and settlement sites, in winter 1881-2. He removed a dead yew tree, known locally as a 'scrag' from the round barrow. 'The villagers were troubled by his disturbance of the dead and removal of the ancient tree which they believed protected them from malign influences; they were only placated when another dead yew was 'planted' with all due ceremony some time later.'
From Martin Green's book 'A landscape revealed - 10,000 years on a chalkland farm' (2000).
Yews and hawthorn obviously figure prominently in people's lists of important trees. The idea of a dead tree being protective seems quite strange? but maybe it's not uncommon. It reminded me of the anecdote connected with Big Tree longbarrow in Somerset.
If you march round Winkelbury Hill seven times, cursing all the time, the devil will appear on a white horse, and grant you a wish.
Kathleen Wiltshire heard this from a Michael Wheeler, who went to school in Salisbury in the 1940s. It's printed in her 'More Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside'. I don't know if he'd tried it. Your success would be limited by how polite you are I suppose.
The Bords, in 'Secret Country', connect Winkelbury with tales of a hidden golden coffin.
Kathleen Wiltshire, in her 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside', mentions an infamous thorn bush which was - and is? - to be found on the top of Winkelbury.
"It was planted some years ago to mark the situation of an earlier thorn known as the Witches' Scrag Tree. Witches were said to have become entangled in its thorny branches as they rode low over the hill on their broomsticks. It is said that at the time of the full moon a spate of them would litter the hill with their corpses - thus preserving the village folk from their nefarious attentions."
Pitt-Rivers excavated the site in 1881/2 and deduced that the fort was developed in the early Iron Age (and added to later). The fort cuts off a promontory in true defensive style, but elsewhere on the hill there are a number of round barrows, surely of an earlier date. The NMR does not yet list any details on the site.