DEVIZES, a market town and municipal borough in the Devizes parliamentary division of Wiltshire, England, 86 m. W. by S. of London by the Great Western railway. Pop. (1901) 6532. Its castle was built on a tongue of land flanked by two deep ravines, and behind this the town grew up in a semicircle on a stretch of bare and exposed tableland. Its main streets, in which a few ancient timbered houses are left, radiate from the market place, where stands a Gothic cross, the gift of Lord Sidmouth in 1814. The Kennet and Avon Canal skirts the town on the N., passing over the high ground through a chain of thirty-nine locks. St John’s church, one of the most interesting in Wiltshire, is cruciform, with a massive central tower, based upon two round and two pointed arches. It was originally Norman of the 12th century, and the chancel arch and low vaulted chancel, in this style, are very fine. In the interior several ancient monuments of the Suttons and Heathcotes are preserved, besides some beautiful carved stone work, and two rich ceilings of oak over the chapels. St Mary’s, a smaller church, is partly Norman, but was rebuilt in the 15th and again in the 19th century. Its lofty clerestoried nave has an elaborately carved timber roof, and the south porch, though repaired in 1612, preserves its Norman mouldings. The woollen industries of Devizes have lost their prosperity; but there is a large grain trade, with engineering works, breweries, and manufactures of silk, snuff, tobacco and agricultural implements. The town is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen councillors. Area, 906 acres.
Devizes (Divisis, la Devise, De Vies) does not appear in any historical document prior to the reign of Henry I., when the construction of a castle of exceptional magnificence by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, at once constituted the town an important political centre, and led to its speedy development. After the disgrace of Roger in 1139 the castle was seized by the Crown; in the 14th century it formed part of the dowry of the queens of England, and figured prominently in history until its capture and demolition by Cromwell in the Civil War of the 17th century. Devizes became a borough by prescription, and the first charter from Matilda, confirmed by successive later sovereigns, merely grants exemption from certain tolls and the enjoyment of undisturbed peace. Edward III. added a clause conferring on the town the liberties of Marlborough, and Richard II. instituted a coroner. A gild merchant was granted by Edward I., Edward II. and Edward III., and in 1614 was divided into the three companies of drapers, mercers and leathersellers. The present governing charters were issued by James I. and Charles I., the latter being little more than a confirmation of the former, which instituted a common council consisting of a mayor, a town clerk and thirty-six capital burgesses. These charters were surrendered to Charles II., and a new one was conferred by James II., but abandoned three years later in favour of the original grant. Devizes returned two members to parliament from 1295, until deprived of one member by the Representation of the People Act of 1867, and of the other by the Redistribution Act of 1885. The woollen manufacture was the staple industry of the town from the reign of Edward III. until the middle of the 18th century, when complaints as to the decay of trade began to be prevalent. In the reign of Elizabeth the market was held on Monday, and there were two annual fairs at the feasts of the Purification of the Virgin and the Decollation of John the Baptist. The market was transferred to Thursday in the next reign, and the fairs in the 18th century had become seven in number.
See Victoria County History, Wiltshire; History of Devizes (Devizes, 1859).