1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wiltshire
WILTSHIRE [Wilts], a south-western county of England, bounded N.W. and N. by Gloucestershire, N.E. and E. by Berkshire, S.E. by Hampshire, S.W. and S. by Dorsetshire, and W. by Somersetshire. The area is 1374.9 sq. m. A great upland covers two-thirds of the county, comprising, in the north-east, Marlborough Downs, with Savernake Forest; in the centre, the broad undulating sweep of Salisbury Plain; and in the south, the more varied hills and dales of the Nadder watershed, the vale of Chalk and Cranborne Chase. Large tracts of the Chalk are over 600 ft. above the sea, rising in many parts into steep and picturesque escarpments. Several peaks attain an altitude of 900 ft., and Inkpen Beacon, on the borders of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire, reaches 1011 ft. Scattered in thousands over the downs lie huge blocks of siliceous Tertiary grits, called sarsen stones or grey wethers, which were used by the primitive builders of Stonehenge and Avebury. The underlying Greensand is exposed in the deeper valleys of the Chalk, such as the vale of Pewsey, dividing Sahsbury Plain from Marlborough Downs, and the vale of Chalk, dividing the Nadder westward from the heights of Cranborne Chase. One of the most charming features of the county is its fertile and well-wooded valleys. Three ancient forests remain: Cranborne Chase, which extends into Dorset, was a royal deer-park as early as the reign of John, and, like Savernake Forest, contains many noble old oaks and beeches. The main part of the New Forest belongs to Hampshire; but No Man's Land and Hampworth Common, its outlying heaths and coppices, encroach upon the south-eastern corner of Wilts. Bentley Wood, 5 m. E. of Salisbury, and the Great Ridge and Grovely Woods between the Nadder and Wylye, are fine uplands parks. There is no great sheet of water, but the reservoir near Swindon, and the lakes of Longleat, Stourton and Fonthill in the south-west of Earl Stoke near Westbury, and of Bowood, Corsham and Seagry near Chippenham, deserve mention for the beauty of their scenery. The upper reaches of the Thames skirt the north-eastern border, and three other considerable rivers drain the Wiltshire Downs. The Kennet, rising west of Marlborough, winds eastward into Berkshire and meets the Thames at Reading. The Lower or Bristol Avon flows from its source among the Cotteswolds in southern Gloucestershire, past Malmesbury, Chippenham, Melksham and Bradford, where it curves north-eastward into Somerset, finally falling into the Bristol Channel. Besides many lesser tributaries it receives from the south the Frome, which forms for about 5 m. the boundary between Wilts and Somerset. The East or Christchurch Avon, which rises near Bishops Cannings in the centre of the county, flows east and south into Hampshire, and enters the sea at Christchurch. Close to Salisbury it is joined by the united streams of the Nadder and the Wylye; by the Ebble, which drains the vale of Chalk; and by the Bourne, which flows south by west from its head near Ludgershall.
Geology.—As has been said, about two-thirds of the surface of Wilts is occupied by a great Chalk upland. Cropping out from beneath the Chalk is a fringe of the Selbornian—Upper Greensand and Gault—the former is well exposed in the vale of Pewsey, west of Devizes, and along the margins of the vale of Wardour; it forms a broad, hilly tract from Mere through Stourton to Warminster. The Gault Clay runs regularly at the foot of the Upper Greensand; it is excavated in several places for brick-making. The Lower Greensand, which oversteps the underlying formations, appears from beneath the Gault at Poulshot and follows the same line of outcrop northwards; a small outlier at Seend is worked for the iron it contains. About one-third of the county lying on the north-west side of the Chalk downs, including a portion of the vale of the White Horse, is occupied by Jurassic rocks. The Upper Lias—the oldest formation in the county—forms the floor of the valley near Box; it is followed by the overlying Inferior Oolite and Fuller's Earth. Then succeeds the Great Oolite Series, which includes the famous building-stones of Bath, quarried at Winsley Down, near Bradford, and at Box, Corsham Down and other places in the neighbourhood. Above the freestones near Bradford comes the Bradford clay, with the well-known fossil Apiocrinus or pear-encrinite, followed by the Forest Marble limestones and clays. The rubbly Cornbrash crops at Westwood, Trowbridge, and Malmesbury. Further east lies the outcrop of Oxfordian strata, comprising the sandy Kellaways beds and overlying Oxford Clay, together forming a broad low-lying tract in which stand row bridge, Melksham, Chippenham and Cricklade. Rising up from the eastern margin of the Oxfordian vale is the irregular scarp formed by the Corallian oolitic limestones and marls. The iron ores of Westbury are obtained in this formation. Another clay-bottomed vale lies on the eastern side of the Corallian ground, from near Calne to Swindon, where it is exploited for bricks. It appears also between Seend, Coulston and Westbury; also between Mere and Semley. About the former place it is brought into apposition with Cretaceous rocks through the agency of an east to west fault. At Tisbury and near Potterne are small outcrops of Portlandian rocks which yield the familiar building stones of Tisbury and Chilmark. Limestones and clays of Purbeck age lie in the vale of Wardour about Teffont Evias. At Dinton in the same vale the Wealden formation just makes its appearance.
In the south-eastern corner of the county there are tracts of Tertiary Reading Beds and London Clay east of Downton and on the Clarendon Hills; these are covered by Bagshot Beds at Alderbury and Grinstead, also on Hampworth Common. Outliers of Reading Beds and London Clay occur about Great Bedwin; the sarsen stones previously referred to represent the last remnants of a mantle of Tertiary rocks which formerly covered the district. Here and there drift gravels and brick earths, besides low-level river gravels, rest upon the older rocks.
Agriculture.—Some five-sixths of the total area, a high proportion, is under cultivation, but a large amount of this is in permanent pasture. The soil, a heavy reddish loam, with a subsoil of broken stones, in the north-west, but lighter in the chalk region, is essentially that of a pastoral country, although there are wide tracts of richer land, suitable for wheat and beans. Oats, however, are the largest grain crop. There is a small acreage classified as hill pasture. The green crops consist mainly of turnips, mangolds and swedes. Baconcuring is carried on. Large numbers of sheep are bred on the downs, and dairj'-farming is practised in the north-west. There are manufactures of condensed milk. An agricultural college is established at Downton.
Manufactures.—A majority of the hands employed in factories and workshops are occupied in the locomotive works of the Great Western railway at Swindon. There are also large engineering works at Devizes. Cloth is still woven, though in greatly diminished quantities, at Trowbridge, Melksham, Chippenham and other places where water-power is available. Carpets are woven at Wilton, haircloth and coco-nut fibre at Melksham, silk at Malmesbury, Mere and Warminster. Portland and Bath stone are quarried for building purposes, while iron ore from mines near Westbury is smelted in that town.
Communications.—Three great railway lines traverse Wiltshire from E. to W., throwing out a number of branch lines to the larger towns. In the N. the Great Western main line passes through Swindon on its way from London to Bath. A second line of the same system runs also to Bath from Hungerford, by way of Devizes. South of Salisbury Plain the South-Western main line goes through Salisbury and the southern quarter of Wilts on its way into Somerset. The chief branch line is that between Salisbury and Westbury on the Great Western. The Midland & South-Western Junction railway runs north from Andover by Swindon, Cricklade and Cirencester. Swindon, Salisbury and Westbury are the three centres of railway traffic. The Avon is navigable as far as Salisbury, and goods are carried on the Thames & Severn Canal in the N.E., and on the Kennet & Avon Canal across Salisbury Plain. These waterways were formerly connected by a branch of the Berks & Wilts Canal, which runs S.W. from Berkshire, through Swindon and Melksham, but was closed in 1899.
The area of the ancient county is 879,943 acres, with a population in 1891 of 264,997 and in 1901 of 273,869. The area of the administrative county is 864,105 acres. The county contains 29 hundreds. The municipal boroughs are—Calne (pop. 3457), Chippenham (5074), Devizes (6532), Malmesbury (2S54), Marlborough (3887), Salisbury, a city and the county town (17,117), Swindon (45,006), Wilton (2203). The urban districts are—Bradford-on-Avon (4514), Melksham (2450), Trowbridge (11,526), Warminster (5547), Westbury (3305). Other small towns are Cricklade (1517), Downton (1786), Highworth (2047), Mere (1977), Pewsey (1722), Wootton Bassett (2258). The county is in the western circuit, and assizes are held at Salisbury and Devizes. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into 16 petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Devizes and Salisbury have separate courts of quarter sessions and commissions of the peace, and the borough of Marlborough has a separate commission of the peace. There are 335 civil parishes. Wiltshire is mainly in the diocese of Salisbury, but a considerable part is in that of Bristol, and small parts in those of Gloucester, Oxford and Winchester. It contains 322 ecclesiastical parishes or districts, wholly or in part. The county is divided into five parliamentary divisions, each returning one member—Northern or Cricklade, North-western or Chippenham, Western or West- bury, Eastern or Devizes and Southern or Wilton. It also contains the parliamentary borough of Salisbury, returning one member.
History.—The English conquest of the district now known as Wiltshire began in 552 with the victory of Cynric at Old Sarum, by which the way was opened to Salisbury Plain. Four years later, pushing his way through the vale of Pewsey, Cynric extended the limits of the West Saxon kingdom to the Marlborough Downs by a victory at Barbury Hill. At this period the district south of the Avon and the Nadder was occupied by dense woodland, the relics of which survive in Cranborne Chase, and the first wave of West Saxon colonization was chiefly confined to the valleys of the Avon and the Wylye, the little township of Wilton which arose in the latter giving the name of Wilsaetan to the new settlers. By the 9th century the district had acquired a definite administrative and territorial organization, Walstan, ealdorman of the Wilsaetan, being mentioned as early as 800 as repelling an attempted invasion of the Mercians. Moreover, “Wiltunscire” is mentioned by Asser in 878, in which year the Danes established their headquarters at Chippenham and remained there a year, plundering the surrounding country. In the time of Æthelstan mints existed at Old Sarum, Malmesbury, Wilton, Cricklade and Marlborough. Wilton and Salisbury were destroyed by the Danish invaders under Sweyn in 1003, and in 1015 the district was harried by Canute.
With the redistribution of estates after the Conquest more than two-fifths of the county fell into the hands of the church; the possessions of the crown covered one-fifth; while among the chief lay proprietors were Edward of Salisbury, William, count of Ewe, Ralph de Mortimer, Aubrey de Vere, Robert Fitzgerald, Miles Crispin, Robert d'Oily and Osbern Giffard. The first earl of Wiltshire after the Conquest was William le Scrope, who received the honour in 1397. The title subsequently passed to Sir James Butler in 1449, Sir John Strafford in 1470, Sir Thomas Boleyn in 1529, and in 1550 to the Paulett family. The Benedictine foundations at Wilton, Malmesbury and Amesbury existed before the Conquest; the Augustinian house at Bradenstoke was founded by Walter d'Evreux in 1142; that at Lacock by Ela, countess of Salisbury, in 1232; that at Longleat by Sir John Vernon before 1272. The Cluniac priory of Monkton Farleigh was founded by Humphrey de Bohun in 1125; the Cistercian house at Kingswood by William de Berkeley in 1139; and that of Stanley by the Empress Maud in 1154.
Of the forty Wiltshire hundreds mentioned in the Domesday Survey, Selkley, Ramsbury, Bradford, Melksham, Calne, Whorwellsdown, Westbury, Warminster, Heytesbury, Kinwardstone, Ambresbury, Underditch, Furstfield, Alderbury and Downton remain to the present day practically unaltered in name and extent; Thorngrave, Dunelawe and Cepeham hundreds form the modern hundred of Chippenham; Malmesbury hundred represents the Domesday hundreds of Cicemethorn and Sterchelee, which were held at farm by the abbot of Malmesbury; Highworth represents the Domesday hundreds of Crechelade, Scipe, Wurde and Staple; Kingbridge the hundreds of Chingbridge, Blachegrave and Thornhylle; Swanborough the hundreds of Rugeberge, Stodfold and Swaneberg; Branch the hundreds of Branchesberge and Dolesfeld; Cawden the hundreds of Cawdon and Cadworth. A noticeable feature in the 14th century is the aggregation of church manors into distinct hundreds, at the court of which their ecclesiastical owners required their tenants to do suit and service. Thus the bishop of Winchester had a separate hundred called Kurwel Bishop, afterwards absorbed in Downton hundred; the abbot of Damerham had that of Damerham; and the prior of St Swithin's that of Elstub, under each of which were included manors situate in different parts of the county.
The meeting-place of Swanborough hundred was at Swanborough Tump, a hillock in the parish of Manningford Abbots identified as the moot-place mentioned in the will of King Alfred; that of Malmesbury was at Colepark; that of Bradford at Bradford Leigh; that of Warminster at Iley Oak, about 2 m. south of Warminster, near Southleigh Wood. The shire court for Wiltshire was held at Wilton, and until 1446 the shrievalty was enjoyed ex officio by the castellans of Old Sarum. Edward of Salisbury was sheriff at the time of the Domesday Survey, and the office remained hereditary in his family, descending to William Longespee by his marriage with Ela, great-granddaughter of Edward. In the 13th century the assizes were held at Wilton, Malmesbury and New Sarum.
On the division of the West Saxon see in 703 Wiltshire was included in the diocese of Sherborne, but in 905 a separate diocese of Wilton was founded, the see being fixed alternately at Ramsbury, Wilton and Sunning in Berkshire. Shortly before the Conquest Wilton was reunited to the Sherborne diocese, and by the synod of 1075—1076 the see was transferred to Salisbury. The archdeaconries of Wiltshire and Salisbury are mentioned in 1180; in 1291 the former included the deaneries of Avebury, Malmesbury, Marlborough and Cricklade within this county, and the latter the deaneries of Amesbury, Potterne, Wilton, Chalke and Wylye. In 1535 the archdeaconry of Salisbury included the additional deanery of Salisbury, while Potterne deanery had been transferred to the archdeaconry of Wiltshire. The deaneries of the archdeaconry of Salisbury have remained unaltered; Wiltshire archdeaconry now includes the deaneries of Avebury, Marlborough and Potterne; and the deaneries of Chippenham, Cricklade and Malmesbury form part of the archdeaconry and diocese of Bristol.
The inhabitants of Wiltshire have always been addicted to industrial rather than warlike pursuits, and the political history of the county is not remarkable. In 1086, after the completion of the Domesday Survey, Salisbury was the scene of a great council, in which all the landholders took oaths of allegiance to the king, and a council for the same purpose assembled at Salisbury in 1116. At Clarendon in 1166 was drawn up the assize which remodelled the provincial administration of justice. Parliaments were held at Marlborough in 1267 and at Salisbury in 1328 and 1384. During the wars of Stephen's reign Salisbury, Devizes and Malmesbury were garrisoned by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, for the empress, but in 1138 Stephen seized the bishop and captured Devizes Castle. In 1216 Marlborough Castle was surrendered to Louis by Hugh de Neville. Hubert de Burgh escaped in 1233 from Devizes Castle, where he had been imprisoned in the previous year. In the Civil War of the 17th century Wiltshire actively supported the parliamentary cause, displaying a spirit of violent anti-Catholicism, and the efforts of the marquess of Hertford and of Lord Seymour to raise a party for the king met with vigorous resistance from the inhabitants. The Royalists, however, made some progress in the early stage of the struggle, Marlborough being captured for the king in 1642, while in 1643 the forces of the earl of Essex were routed by Charles I. and Prince Rupert at Aldbourne, and in the same year Waller, after failing to capture Devizes, was defeated in a skirmish at Roundway Down. The year 1645 saw the rise of the “Clubmen” of Dorset and Wiltshire, whose sole object was peace; they systematically punished any member of either party discovered in acts of plunder. Devizes, the last stronghold of the Royalists, was captured by Cromwell in 1645. In 1655 a rising organized on behalf of the king at Salisbury was dispersed in the same year.
At the time of the Domesday Survey the industrial pursuits of Wiltshire were almost exclusively agricultural; 390 mills are mentioned, and vineyards at Tollard and Lacock. In the succeeding centuries sheep-farming was vigorously pursued, and the Cistercian monasteries of Kingswood and Stanlegh exported wool to the Florentine and Flemish markets in the 13th and 14th centuries. Wiltshire at this time was already reckoned among the chief of the clothing counties, the principal centres of the industry being Bradford, Malmesbury, Trowbridge, Devizes and Chippenham. In the 16th century Devizes was noted for its blankets, Warminster had a famous corn-market, and cheese was extensively made in north Wiltshire. Amesbury was famous for its tobacco pipes in the 16th century. The clothing trade went through a period of great depression in the 17th century, partly owing to the constant outbreaks of plague. Linen, cotton, gloves and cutlery were also manufactured in the county, silk at Malmesbury and carpets at Wilton.
In 1295 Wiltshire was represented by no less than twenty-eight members in parliament, the shire returning two knights, and the boroughs of Bedwin, Bradford, Calne, Chippenham, Cricklade, Devizes, Downton, Ludgershall, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Old Sarum, Salisbury and Wilton, two burgesses each, but the boroughs for the most part made very irregular returns. Hindon, Heytesbury and Wootton Bassett were enfranchised in the 15th century, and at the time of the Reform Act of 1832 the county with sixteen boroughs returned a total of thirty-four members. Under the latter act Great Bedwin, Downton, Heytesbury, Hindon, Ludgershall, Old Sarum and Wootton Bassett were disfranchised, and Calne, Malmesbury, Westbury and Wilton lost one member each. Under the act of 1868 the county returned two members in two divisions, and Chippenham, Devizes and Marlborough lost one member each. Under the act of 1885 the county returned five members in five divisions; Cricklade, Calne, Chippenham, Devizes, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Westbury and Wilton were disfranchised, and Salisbury lost one member.
Antiquities.—Wiltshire is extraordinarily rich in prehistoric antiquities. The stone age is represented by a number of flint and stone implements, preserved in the unsurpassed collection at Salisbury Museum. Stonehenge, with its circles of giant stones, and Avebury, with its avenues of monoliths leading to what was once a stone circle, surrounded by an earthwork, and enclosing two lesser circles, are the largest and most famous megalithic works in England. A valley near Avebury is filled with immense sarsen blocks, resembling a river of stone, and perhaps laid there by prehistoric architects. There are also menhirs, dolmens and cromlechs. Surrounded as they were by forests and marshy hollows, it is clear that the downs were densely peopled at a very early period. Circles, formed by a ditch within a bank, are common, as are grave-mounds or barrows. These have been classified according to their shape as bell-barrows, bowl-barrows and long barrows. Bones, ashes, tools, weapons and ornaments have been dug up from such mounds, many of which contain kistvaens or chambers of stone. The “lynchets” or terraces which score some of the hillsides are said to be the work of primitive agriculturists. Ancient strongholds are scattered over the county. Among the most remarkable are Vespasian's Camp, near Amesbury; Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe, near Avebury; the mounds of Marlborough and Old Sarum; the camps of Battlesbury and Scratchbury, near Warminster; Yarnbury, to the N. of Wylye, in very perfect preservation; Casterley, on a ridgeway about 7 m. E.S.E. of Devizes; Whitesheet and Winkelbury, overlooking the vale of Chalk; Chisbury, near Savernake; Sidbury, near Ludgershall; and Figbury Ring, 3 m. N.E. of Salisbury. Ogbury, 6 m. N. of Salisbury, is an undoubted British enclosure. Durrington Walls, N. of Amesbury are probably the remains of a British village, and there are vestiges of others on Salisbury Plain and Marlborough Downs.
There are many signs of the Roman rule. Wans Dyke or Woden's Dyke, one of the largest extant entrenchments, runs west for about 60 m. from a point east of Savernake, nearly as far as the Bristol Channel, and is almost unaltered for several miles along the Marlborough Downs. Its date is uncertain; but the work has been proved, wherever excavated, to be Roman or Romano-British. It consists of a bank, with a trench on the north side, and was clearly meant for defence, not as a boundary. Forts strengthened it at intervals. Bokerly Dyke, which forms a part of the boundary between Wilts and Dorset, is the largest among several similar entrenchments, and has also a ditch north of the rampart.
Chief among the few monastic buildings of which any vestiges remain are the ruined abbeys of Malmesbury and of Lacock near Melksham. There are some traces of the hospital for leprous women afterwards converted into an Austin priory at Maiden Bradley. Monkton Farleigh, farther north along the Somerset border, had its Cluniac priory, founded as a cell of Lewes in the 13th century, and represented by some outbuildings of the manor-house. A college for a dean and 12 prebendaries, afterwards a monastery of Bonhommes, was founded in 1347 at Edington. The church, Decorated and Perpendicular, resembles a cathedral in size and stately beauty. The 14th century buildings of Bradenstoke Priory or Cleck Abbey, founded near Chippenham for Austin canons, are incorporated in a farmhouse. The finest churches of Wiltshire, generally Perpendicular, were built in the districts where good stone could be obtained, while the architecture is more simple in the Chalk region, where flint was used perforce. Small wooden steeples and pyramidal bell-turrets are not uncommon; and the churches of Purton, 31 m. N.W. of Swindon, and Wanborough, 3 m. S.E., have each two steeples, one in the centre, one at the west end. St Lawrence's church at Bradford-on-Avon is one of the most perfect Saxon ecclesiastical buildings in England; and elsewhere there are fragments of Saxon work imbedded in later masonry. Such are three arches in the nave of Britford church, within a mile of Salisbury; the east end of the chancel at Burcombe, near Wilton; and parts of the churches at Bremhill, and at Manningford Bruce or Braose in the vale of Pewsey. St John's at Devizes retains its original Norman tower and has Norman masonry in its chancel; while the chancel of St Mary's, in the same town, is also Norman, and the porch has characteristic Norman mouldings. The churches of Preshute near Marlborough, Ditteridge or Ditcheridge, near Box, and Nether Avon, near Amesbury, preserve sundry Norman features. Early English is illustrated by Salisbury Cathedral, its purest and most beautiful example; and, on a smaller scale, at Amesbury, Bishops Cannings, Boyton in the vale of the Wylye, Collingbourne Kingston, east of Salisbury Plain, Downton and Potterne, near Devizes. Bishopstone, in the vale of Chalk, has the finest Decorated church in the county, with a curious external cloister, and unique south chancel doorway, recessed beneath a stone canopy. Mere, close to the borders of Dorset and Somerset, is interesting not only for its Perpendicular church, but for a medieval chantry, used as a schoolhouse by Barnes, the Dorsetshire poet, and for its 14th century dwelling-houses.
The castles of Wiltshire have been almost entirely swept away. At Old Sarum, Marlborough and Devizes only a few vestiges are left in walls and vaults. Castle Combe and Trowbridge castle have long been demolished, and of Ludgershall castle only a small fragment survives. The ruins of Wardour castle, standing in a richly wooded park near Tisbury, date from the 14th century, and consist of a hexagonal outer wall of great height, enclosing an open court. Two towers overlook the entrance. The 18th-century castle, one mile distant, across the park, is noteworthy for its collection of paintings, and, among other curiosities, for the “Glastonbury Cup,“ said to be fashioned out of a branch of the celebrated thorn tree at Glastonbury. The number of old country houses is a marked feature in Wilts. Few parishes, especially in the N.W., are without their old manor-house, usually converted into a farm, but preserving its flagged roof, stone-mullioned windows, gabled front, two-storeyed porch and oak-panelled interior. Place House, in Tisbury, and Barton Farm, at Bradford, date from the 14th century. Fifteenth-century work is best exemplified in the manor-houses of Norrington, in the vale of Chalk; Teffont Evias, in the vale, of Nadder; Potterne; and Great Chaldfield. near Monkton Farleigh. At South Wraxall the hall of a very beautiful house of the same period is celebrated in local tradition as the spot where tobacco was first smoked in England by Sir Walter Raleigh and his host, Sir Walter Long. Later styles are represented by Longford Castle, near Salisbury, where the picture galleries are of great interest; by Heytesbury Park; by Wilton House at Wilton, Kingston House at Bradford, Bowood near Calne, Longleat near Warminster, Corsham Court, Littlecote near Ramsbury, Charlton House near Malmesbury, Compton Chamberlayne in the Nadder valley, Grittleton House and the modern Castle Combe, both near Chippenham and Stourhead, on the borders of Dorset and Somerset. Each of these is noteworthy for its architecture, its art treasures or the beauty of its surroundings.