Sally in the Wood

on Tuesday, 18 June 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Tales

An intriguing enquiry regarding the origins of the road ‘Sally in the Wood’, which can be found just over the border in the parish of Bathford, Somerset, has led us to take a look at the origins of the name. The road forms a section of the A363 as it journeys through Home Wood towards Bathford. Explanations of the road name are many and varied, and they are also closely related to the parish of Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire.

John Chandler in his book ‘The Reflection in the Pond’ gives us three versions of the tale. The first is of a supernatural nature, and was published by Kathleen Wiltshire in 1984. It tells the story of a young couple who knocked down a girl dressed in white when she ran from trees across the road in front of their car. Another version, this time by Maggie Dobson and Simone Brightstein relate that Sally was murdered in the woods or imprisoned in nearby Brown’s Folly, or that she was an actual road accident victim. Katy Jordan in her book ‘The Haunted Landscape’ mentions that Sally in the Woods does have the reputation of being an eerie place, where ‘no birds sing’, so you never know...

A Civil War element to the origin of the name has also been suggested. It relates to a skirmish that took place before the Battle of Lansdown in July 1643 when the Roundheads were ambushed by the Royalists. ‘Waller had made a temporary bridge across the Avon below Claverton, and crossed his troops by it to the Monkton Farleigh side, where they laid an ambush for their opponents, ‘in the Woodland-wald-grownd in the foote of the hill’’. The following day a fight appears to have begun and continued up to Monkton Farleigh and over to Batheaston. The term ‘sally’ at that time had the meaning of ‘a sudden rush out from a besieged place upon the enemy’.

The third and final version that we know of relates to a Sarah Gibson, baptised at Monkton Farleigh in 1732 and who married a gamekeeper from nearby Warleigh Manor in 1762. Unfortunately, upon his death she was evicted from their cottage. Her family had moved away to Bathford and she is said to have inhabited a little hut in the nearby woods through which the turnpike was driven in 1792.

Henry Duncan Skrine of Warleigh Manor, who was a Justice of the Peace and a Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset in the 19th century, recalled his childhood memories of Sarah Gibson in which she was accounted a witch. ‘Her smoke-dried hut was like an awful cave to us children, and her thin shrill sepulchral voice still rings in my ears. At her death the carpenter who acted as sub-bailiff burned the cottage down, and declared to us children that he saw something on a broomstick go out of the chimney’! (Howells, 2010).

I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions on the matter!

As regards the origin of road names, it was very common for roads to be called after the people who lived in and around them. Sir Charles Hobhouse noted in his book ‘Monkton Farleigh’, published 1882 that ‘the majority have had their origin in the combined vanity and industry of man. Men, as David says “think that their houses shall continue forever, and call the lands after their own name”’.  There have been many occurrences where road names have derived from, for example, the person who has a shop at the end of the lane, and other such associations.

I came across another ‘Sally’ road, this time just over the border in Shaftesbury, Dorset. It was called ‘Sally King’s Lane’. I wonder what the story of this Sally is?...

Julie Davis
Local Studies Assistant

Comments (9)

  • Mrs p simpson

    Mrs p simpson

    23 September 2014 at 13:42 |
    please could you tell me where i can get a book on sally in the woods or paper work ????


  • Julie Davis

    Julie Davis

    26 September 2014 at 09:50 |
    You can get a copy of John Chandler's book 'Reflection in the Pond' and Katy Jordan's 'The Haunted Landscape' at an online site such as Amazon or the Book Depository, or through your local bookshop. We hold old Ordnance Survey maps of the area if you would like to call in to view them, and we also hold copies of the above books which you can take a look at whilst you are here too.


  • Nick Hateley

    Nick Hateley

    12 February 2017 at 13:31 |
    My daughter who was around 4yrs old at the time (she is now 14), once said whilst traveling through 'sally in the woods' (A363) "I died over there"! My wife was in the front passenger seat and asked her what she had said? To which my daughter repeated herself to our horror.
    She has never mentioned it again since and nowadays we use the road on a regular basis and also take our dog for walks in the woodlands.


    • Naomi Sackett

      Naomi Sackett

      13 February 2017 at 09:13 |
      How unsettling! I wonder if anyone else has experienced similar moments?


  • Terence payne

    Terence payne

    13 January 2018 at 15:10 |
    Where was Sally Gibson buried when she died ?


  • Greg Miller

    Greg Miller

    25 February 2018 at 06:58 |
    My friend and I went wild camping in the browns folly woodland,right by the tower maybe four or five times every time we experienced strange,supernatural things which I still cannot explain and send shudders down my spine thinking back about then. Each time the paranormal activity would seem to increase until the last time left us so shook up we have not been back at night. Some of the strangest experiences of my life..
    A few ghostly experiences and now I think back I have never heard a bird sing there!
    we once seen a group of four or five children appear from the woods above us,walking in a single file line dressed in old,maybe Victorian peasant,rag type clothes,they were chanting or more like howling strange things we could not understand,they all seemed to look white all over and disappeared into the wood again. All that night we got the feeling of being watched from the same area of wood behind us. We had strange dark figures walk past us when we were stood by our fire. When I said hello to them they said nothing back and we had a uncomfortable feeling of dread that made my spine chill. Later on I entered the wood alone to fine wood for the fire when I returned the same two dark,shadow figures were stood a few meters behind my friend as if watching him we were scarred to look back at them and when we did there was nothing there...
    Apart from all this the most common paranormal thing we experienced there was strange lights in the sky over bath. Every time at sunset or just after it starts. They would appear over bath usually, sometimes from the distant horizon above it sometimes from the city itself. They would be various colours,thou usually white or Orange, once a deep ruby red colour, as bright as the sun but we could look at them. They would intensify and seem to get closer then suddenly disappear into thin air,just seem to fade away really quickly then would sometimes 're- appear on the other side of the horrizon. Maybe 5- 10 miles away in a couple of seconds and would repeat the same thing. I can not explain them,they could not have been helicopters there was no sound,there was no stars out at the time,just nothing could explain them. We had also had strange triangular crafts hover very close over us on a few occasions, these looked almost cloaked,you could just make out the outline,these made a mild humming sound and when directly above us had a strange array of lights all underneath almost as if we were looking through into the craft. Was very very strange and I got a bad feeling about them and we swiftly left that time after this gone on for a couple of hours. We had also been chased out of a field by the strange lights when camping in fields in the valleys at Marshfield, which followed us and later hoveredover my friends house twice when we happened to look up which was so weird . Since then we had to stop the wild camping around that area as it was getting too strange and scarry. As we do not understand what we may have been messing with we have decided not to entice what ever it is out there any more but if anyone else has had similar experiences out by browns folly/Sally in the woods/Marshfield then I would be interested to hear.. That area is the most paranormal, strange place I have been in my life and I have seen a few ghosts in my childhood but nothing like the volume of paranormal activity happening in that area near bath...
    I would not recommend anyone entering the browns folly woodland at night on there own,even with a friend it was too much for me and still to this day I can not explain what is going on there. In the woods and in the sky's.



    • John Phillips

      John Phillips

      27 September 2019 at 11:06 |
      Hi Greg, I'm doing some research on the area and would like to know more about what happened to you and your friend. Something in your story seems a little out of place or doesn't make sense. You said you went to collect wood and when you got back you could see figures standing (I presume in front of you) but behind your friend, you said you were scared to look back but when you did there was nothing there, just wondering how you looked back and saw nothing if the figures were in front of you


  • J M Karlsson

    J M Karlsson

    04 August 2019 at 10:26 |
    The area is called Sulis Wood (sulis meaning cave) and can be found on many old maps. However, people have a tendency to mishear and believe in superstitious tales...


    • DBiddle


      09 September 2019 at 12:24 |
      Or possibly the goddess Sulis who is also remembered in the Roman name to Bath, Aqua Sulis?

      I've not come across sulis as a synonym for cave.


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