Towns & Villages of Wiltshire

Castle Combe Wiltshire
Castle Combe Wiltshire

Historical Wiltshire

TOWNS AND VILLAGES – a brief history

The village on the eastern side of the ‘long ford’ has a saxon name and is on the site of an occupied Roman settlement. Numerous prehistoric flints and tools have been found there.
Alderbury’s inn the Green Dragon, is generally agreed to be the Blue Dragon in Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens stayed there while collecting material for the book.It is the nearest village to the forest of Clarendon, located two miles downstream from Alderbury, on the same side of the river and splendidly situated on a plateau overlooking the broad valley is Trafalgar House. Built in 1814 in gratitude for Nelson`s victory and was given to his brother, the first Earl Nelson.
Amesbury is a small Wiltshire town. It lies on a meander of the River Avon, eight miles north of Salisbury, at a point where the main road from London to Exeter bridges the river. The chalk downlands of Salisbury Plain surround the town, pocked with the remains of earlier civilizations.

Until the present century Amesbury depended largely on agriculture, but now its population of some 6000 inhabitants looks mostly to the neighbouring defence establishments or to Salisbury for employment. The nucleus of the town and its medieval abbey church remain, although the ‘ great thoroughfare’ which once formed the High street has been channelled into a modern by-pass. The abbey mansion, the abbey was founded in 979, is now a nursing home, the 18th century houses of the town centre are interspersed with modern shops, and housing estates have encroached onto the common fields. Amesbury may not impress the casual visitor, or even the resident, with a sense of history in the way that Salisbury (an altogether younger place) does, but there is plenty in Amesbury’s past that deserves to be remembered.

Avebury (click here for more information)
This tiny village is the centre of a wonderful concentration of prehistoric sites, including;
Avebury complex, – Massive circular bank and ditch surrounding settings of stone circles within the village, linked by avenues of standing stones leading towards West Kennet and the Sanctuary,
West Kennet Long Barrow – A stone chambered collective tomb within massive earthern mound 330 ft long.
Silbury hill – The huge earthern mound 130 feet high covering 5.5 acres at its base.
Everyone’s idea of an English Village cluttered around a little village green with duck pond and stone cross and a splendid old barn in the background. The church has a good Norman doorway, and Sheldon manor nearby has a thirteenth century porch attached to a house of Stuart period construction.
A hill-top village above a deep combe. It is best known for its long railway tunnel, the work of Brunel, and for its extensive stone quarries.
It used to have tallow and brewing industries. A villa of the roman period, with tesselated pavement has been found here, while another was discovered at Atworth, nearby as recently as 1938.
Located on a hill on the southern side of the Braydon river and to the north of Lyneham airfield, it was an important place in medieval times. – The site of the Augustinian priory of Clack founded in 1142. Some of its ruins are still to be seen in the farmstead known as Bradenstoke Abbey, but its great barn and guest house were taken down and carted away to St Donat’s Castle in South Wales by William Randolph Hearst. The rest of the village is filled with timber framed buildings with jettied upper stories, tudor style windows and roofs of thatch.
Bradford On Avon (click here for more information)
Tucked into the western corner of Wiltshire the little town of Bradford on Avon straddles the river of the southern edge of the Cotswold Hills only 8 miles from Bath.
The ‘broad ford’ across the River Avon was replaced in medieval times by a sturdy stone bridge, complete with chapel for the use of the pilgrims. The view from the bridge encompasses the hill above the town where the old weavers’ cottages are situated, and along the river bank 19th century cloth mills, all built of local stone.
Currently the town centre is going through transition, following the demolition of the Harris Factory. A new supermarket is under construction and the intention is that the town centre will be landscaped.

Historically, Doctor Joseph Priestley discovered Oxygen while living in Calne from 1772-1779. There is a memorial to him by the Doctors pond, not far from St Mary’s Church.

Walter Goodall George (1858-1943) was born near Calne Town Hall, and held the World Record for the mile from 1886-1915. A memorial to this was unveiled by Sydney Wooderson, the next British runner to achieve the fastest time (in 1935) on the centenary in 1986.

Calne also has St Mary’s Girls Public school. A centre for teaching excellence which ranks very highly in the national schools league tables.

Calne is one of the very few towns where you can stand in the centre, look up and see hills around you, towards the White Horse.

Castle Combe (click here for more information)
One of England’s most beautiful villages in the wooded Cotswold valley of ‘By Brook’. Streets lined with mellowed limestone cottages, meet at the village market centre. Other features include a triple arched bridge, church with 15th century tower, the Dower House and the White Hart Inn.
The origins of Castle Combe lie with Castle Hill where there was a Roman Fort, later after the Danes and the Norman conquest little remains. The lovely cottages and local history combine to make Castle Combe a photographer’s paradise.
Alfred the Great is said to have bequeathed Chippenham to his daughter Elfrida and it is mentioned in the Doomsday book as one of the manors held by St. Edward.
Granted its charter in 1554 Chippenham used to be home to a saxon market place between the forests, Chippenham, Melksham and Braden and was the favourite hunting grounds of the Wessex Kings.
It has a mix of historic housing including timber-framed houses of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as Georgian stately homes. The town was the stop off point for coaches travelling from London to Bath.
The ancient forest of Clarendon which once stretched to the eastern outskirts of Salisbury.
The infant city of Salisbury owed much of its prosperity to the Palace of Clarendon, a favourite retreat of the Kings of England from the time of William the Conqueror to the War of the Roses.
The palace occupied a hill-top site on the eastern scarp of that hidden valley and commanded a distant view of the cathedral.
It probably began its career as a hunting lodge in saxon times, and later as a country home for the Plantagenets.
An archaeological trench during excavations of 1930 revealed traces of a building with a different alignment below the Norman walls. Other finds included the kiln used for making tiles, among which were some depicting Richard the Lionheart on horseback fighting Saladin. Other tiles are of dragons, griffins, ramparts and all show the fleur-de-lys.
Successive monarchs after William I added to and improved it until in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was one of the largest and most magnificent residential buildings in England, second only to the great palace of Westminster. The Palace passed into obscurity after Henry the Eighth
It was here that some of the earliest laws relating to the church and state were drawn up. Henry the Second and Archbishop Becket met here and agreed on sixteen points regulating the conduct of clergy.
Clearbury Camp
A conspicuous hill (altitude 468 feet) due south of Salisbury crowned by a towering clump of beeches and encircled by a formidable earth rampart.
It was generally used as a barometer, if it was shrouded in mists then rain was imminent.
Close to the Gloustershire border, and the Fosse Way. A Roman villa once stood here, and now the village has a superb church tower crowning a largely twelfth century building. In present times most of the parish has been taken over by a R.A.F. station.
Corsham has been home to several armed forces, especially during the second world war. Prior to that it was a typical West Wiltshire weaving town, tastefully built of Bath stone. Of which several quarries were worked in the parish from early times.
In 1801 it was the eighth most popular town in the county jealously preserving a number of ancient rights, which included the right to hold a court leet and have its own coroner. The parishioners were exempt from jury service and the vicar was empowered to hold his own consistory court.
In and around Corsham is a group of several distinguished country mansions. Hartham Park, Monks Park, Puckeredge House, seventeenth-centucentuaryry Pickwick Manor, Jaggards and Easton Manor House (Circa 15th century).
The finest and most imposing of those in the district is Corsham court
Cricklade (click here for more information)
Cricklade is midway between Cirencester and Swindon, just off the A419 and is the northernmost town in Wiltshire. The site was occupied by the Romans who diverted Ermin Street along a causeway to cross the floodplain of the upper river Thames.
Dauntsey – West Lavington
Dauntsey named after Alderman William Dauntsey. The village is made up of several earlier settlements, Swallet Gate, Sodom, Smithcot, and Idover Desmesne. Present buildings are Victorian but Henry Danvers (first Earl of Danby) established them initially, his tomb dominates the family chapel in St James’ Church, (adjacent to Dauntsey House)
The interior of the church is a museum of the families that owned Dauntsey estate. Dauntseys, Stradling, Danvers, Mordaunt, Miles and finally Meux.
The present Dauntsey’s School is to the North of the old estate and its buildings date from 1895.
Though it almost lies in the centre of Wiltshire, Devizes did not come into existance until after the Norman Conquest, making it rather unique among the other Wiltshire market towns.
Also evident in Devizes was the Castle originally constructed in 1080 by Bishop Osmund. Rebuilt in stone in 1120 (after a fire) by Bishop Roger. The castle changed hands twice during the civil war but originally Empress Matilda (daughter of Henry I ) held the castle until her death in 1167 where it passed to her son Henry II. The castle was later dismantled after the battle of Roundway Down. The present castle was built in the 19th century as a private residence and is not open to the public.
Devizes is home to over 500 listed buildings.In 1810 the Kennet and Avon opened, with its 29 locks that raise the water 230 feet (70 metres) and trade increased with the transport of tobacco and Bath stone.
Kington St Michael
Kington St Michael is situated approximately 3 miles north of Chippenham. In the thirteenth century church is a fine heraldic tombstone in memory of Isaac Lyte, a schoolmaster for 48 years. He was famed for leaving the fine almesbury houses in the main street to the old folk of his birthplace.John Aubrey was Isaac Lyte’s grandson and was born at a house called Easton Pierce in 1626. Aubrey became Wiltshire’s first great naturalist and antiquarian He was the first to investigate Avebury. Even though Aubrey didn’t gain fame at the time his manuscripts were later published by John Britton (a local scholar born 150 years after Aubrey) and both Aubrey and Britton are commemorated by a stained glass window in the church.
Lacock (click here for more information)
Lacock abbey was founded by Lady Ela the Countess of Salisbury in the reign of King Henry III. Her husband was William Longespee, an illegitimate son of King Henry II and was one of the Barons who led the revolt against King John. His participation in the revolt explains how Lacock came to possess one of the three original copies of the Magna Carta.
Another famous resident of Lacock was William Fox Talbot in 1835. He was one of the pioneers of photography, and discovered how to make prints from negatives.
Visitors to Lacock are shown the Oriel window from which he took his first successful photograph.
The Village has many architectural designs from the early timber framework to the georgian pediment. The tithe barn, 14th century doorways and several old weavers cottages make it a delight to explore.
Lacock was given to the National Trust in 1944 by Matilda Talbot.
Longford (Castle)
It is not a village but a great estate and the home of the Earls of Radnor, its nucleus is a splendid mansion which looks like a castle. Longford castle stands on the site of a medieval manor-house acquired by a country gentleman, Sir Thomas Gorges, in the time of Elizabeth I. It stands by one of the loveliest reaches of tranquil river, its eastern walls washed by the water, and long lawns and formal gardens forming an impressive vista along the bank.In 1584 Sir Thomas married Helena widow of the marquis of Northampton and a lady in waiting to the Queen. Prompted by her he set about updating the manor house the plan is unusual, with that of a triangular base and a tower at each corner. However in the middle of the work the money ran out.

Fortunately one of Sir Thomas’s posts was that of governor of Hurst Castle on the Hampshire coast and during the Spanish armada one of the Spanish ships was driven aground there.
Lady Gorges asked the Queen if she could have the wreck, and the request was granted, What the Queen did not know was that the ship was one of the Spanish treasure ships laden with silver.
There was a monastery established here in 640. Today the abbey dominates the town. The early settlement was on a hill, more of an island really, formed by the Bristol Avon and one of its tributaries.
Note the late fifteenth century market cross at the end of the High Street, it stands 40 feet (12 metres) high and comprises of a lantern with figures and arches supporting under a tre-foil headed canopy.
One of the coach stops between the old London to Bath route, Marlborough has had a varied history since its Roman occupation. There was a mint there during Norman times and the Kings hunted in the Savernake forest nearby.
Marlborough was devastated by fire in 1653, 1679, and 1690. After these fires thatched roofs were banned in the town by an act of parliament.
Marlborough College (founded 1843) stands on the site of the old castle. `Maerl’s Barrow’ is in the grounds and is the legendary burial place of Merlin.
Melksham began life as a forest village, it does actually owe its name to the dairying which soon developed in the rich pastures of the neighbourhood. Like other towns of West Wiltshire it prospered as a wool town in medieval times. Melksham at one time aspired to a spa. Two promising mineral springs were discovered here in 1816, and all the necessary amenities, including a pump room, hot and cold baths, a handsome promenade and even crescents like Bath were quickly provided, but unfortunately the idea never caught on.
North Bradley
The charming village of North Bradley looks across the fields towards the Westbury downs and theWhite Horse.
It has a 14th and 15th century church in which is the tomb of Lady Emma Stafford. Mother of an Archbishop of Canterbury, her tomb, complete with 72 oak panels and carved moulded beams for a roof, is set in a panelled and recessed window with her portrait cut into the stone above.
In the verdant Vale of Pewsey between Salisbury plain and Marlborough downs. A white horse cut into the chalk of Pewsey hill overlooks the town. The small town grew up around an island settlement, once encircled by the river and its name is derived form Pevisigge, ‘little island’. Standing at the junction of the three main streets is the statue of King Alfred who has resided there since 1913. Placed there to commemorate the coronation of George V in 1911.
Wilton Windmill, the last complete working windmill in Wiltshire is found just 7 miles to the east.
Salisbury (click here for more information)
The only City in Wiltshire, it is in fact smaller than the industrial town of Swindon. The present City was founded due to several contributing factors, namely bad weather, a shortage of water and disputes with the military Authorities. This forced the old site of Old Sarum to be abandoned and a new cathedral established in the city.
There are many old buildings in the city and one must take time to get to see them all.
Swindon the largest town in the county. However until the 1840’s it was just a hilltop community which ran a market for cattle, sheep and horses. Its prosperity grew when the railway works came to the plains below in 1842. The two distinctive sections of Swindon joined together in 1900.
Current Swindon features many distinctive murals and sculpture which may be seen on several art trails.
This is a small town with full of interesting old stone buildings and a few exceptional ones. Of those there are the seventeenth century almshouses known as Vicar’s cottages with an upper storey of red brick added in 1887, also in Tisbury is the largest medieval tithe barn in England.
Trowbridge began life as a settlement on a ridge of stoney subsoil by the little river Biss. Its growth to urban status started with the building of a castle by the ‘De Bohuns’ early in the twelfth century. The town was well developed when the wool trade took off, and shared in the general wealth associated with weaving mills. when the wool trade died out industry was replaced by a factory making steam engines, some breweries and a bed making factory. Trowbridge’s chief distinction is that it houses Wiltshire’s county offices. For all practical purposes it is the county town and has been so since 1893. To visitors this may seem a little strange what with Salisbury being the Cathedral town, Swindon being the largest, and Devizes being the more central.
The reason for this is due to communications, throughout the county communicating was always a problem because of the Salisbury plain, all the main railway lines ran east to west in the south of the county hence Trowbridge was the more accessible from places as it could be reached by rail.

Visit Trowbridge Museum Home Page

Warminster is located 400 feet (120 metres) above sea level. It’s local surroundings are well known for several alleged sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects especially Cley hill to the west. Warminster used to be a great corn market in the days before motor vehicles. The carters usually ended up bringing back coal which was brought to Warminster from Radstock. Sadly Warminster is no longer considered a market town but it serves as a shopping centre for the surrounding villages and military establishments, as well as people stuck on the A36.
The name Warminster remains a mystery. It should mean ‘The minister or monastery church by the river Ware or Were’ but there is no trace of a church and residents even argue about there being a river of that name.
Close to the Somerset border, on the western edge of Salisbury Plain. Westbury currently famed for the closeby White Horse. It is also home to several other features. It has a number of georgian buildings and an unusual faceless clock that was built by a local blacksmith in 1604.
Whaddon founded by Saxons emerging from Alderbury when the saxons were extending their territory around theClarendon forest.
The inn at Whaddon the Three Crowns is said to owe its name to the fact that King Edward III hunting in the forest with the Kings of France and Scotland, had lunch there.
Whitsbury whose old Romano-British name was Hall Cynvelly, is a place of ancient origins. It had a Roman villa and in the sixth century and a bard by the name of Taliesin was said to have lived in a cell nearby.
This historic town was once the capital of Saxon Wessex. Today it is famous for the manufacture of carpets, which dates back to the 17th century. Wilton Royal Carpets can be toured by visitors. Wilton house, home of the Earl of Pembroke, is one of England’s great stately homes, containing paintings by Rembrant and Van Dyck.
The church at Wilton was built in 1844 to a Italian Romanesque style.

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