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Devizes, Wiltshire

Historical Description

Devizes, a town, a municipal borough, and two parishes in Wilts. The town stands on an eminence amid the central downs of the county, with elevation of about 500 feet above sea-level, at the entrance of the Vale of Pewsey, on the Kennet and Avon Canal, and on the G.W.R., 87 miles from London, and 11½ ENE of Trowbridge. It was called by early writers De Vies or Divisio, is now popularly called the Vies, and is said to have got its name from having been divided between Henry I. and Bishop Roger of Salisbury. It has been assigned variously a British, a Roman, and a Saxon origin, and it has yielded some Roman coins and penates, but is not mentioned in Domesday Book, and must therefore have been then either very obscure or not in existence. A strong castle was built at it on a site now behind the Bear Hotel by Bishop Roger; taken in 1139 by Stephen; seized in 1141 by Robert Fitz-Hubert; dismantled in the time of Henry VII; restored sufficiently to sustain a siege by Cromwell, but now represented only by a ditch, a lofty mound, and the walls of one of the dungeons. The Parliamentarians, under Sir William Waller, besieged the place in 1643, and sustained a signal defeat by the Royalists, under Lord Wilmot, on the neighbouring height of Roundaway Hill. That height commands an extensive and most interesting view, and is near the Roman camp of Oliver's Castle, on the north-west of it, and 2¼ miles from the remarkable ancient Wans Dyke on the north. The town comprises a spacious main street, a large triangular market-place, several singularly aligned diverging streets, and a curious almost-semicircular back street. The market cross was erected in 1814 by Viscount Sidmouth, after designs by Wyatt, and is a structure of Batli stone with plain square base, pinnacled corner buttresses, and an ornate octangular spire. There is a fountain erected in memory of Southern Estcourt, the founder of the Wilts Friendly Society. The town-hall was designed by Baldwin, is a large oblong edifice with semicircular rear, and has a rustic base and four Ionic columns. The council-house was built in 1835, consists of centre and wings, and has a tetra-style Ionic portico resting on an elevated base. The corn exchange was built in 1857, is 46 feet wide and 142 feet long, and presents a facade ornamented with carving and a statue. The house of correction is modern and substantial, and has capacity for 185 male and 32 female prisoners. The Wilts County Asylum, on a fine spot in the vicinity of the town, was built in 1851, and is a structure of Bath stone in the Italian style. The Devizes Cottage Hospital was established in 1876. The town is well drained, and both the gas and water works belong to the corporation. The latter were completed in 1879 at a cost of nearly £12,000. The Oddfellows have a large meeting-house. There are several good schools, a literary society, school of art, museum, Conservative Club, working men's club, and savings bank. Two newspapers are published. St John's Church is Norman and cruciform, has a central tower 73 feet high, and contains monuments of the Heathcotes and the Suttons. St Mary's Church is variously Norman, Early English, and Later English, and has a western pinnacled tower 91 feet high. St Peter's Church was built in 1867; serves for a chapelry constituted in that year; stands in Bath Road; is in the Early English style; and consists of nave, apsidal chancel, and north porch. There are Baptist, Congregational, Wesleyan, and Roman Catholic chapels, a free school, almshouses, and other large charities. There were anciently two hospitals, one of them for lepers. The town has a head post office, three banks, and three chief inns, is the headquarters of the Wiltshire militia, and the seat of January quarter sessions and summer assizes. Markets are held on Thursdays, and fairs on 14 Feb., 20 and 21 April, and 20 and 21 Oct. Woollen manufactures were once extensive, but have disappeared; snuff-making, malting, and brewing are now carried on, and a great corn trade exists. The own sent two members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. till 1867, when it only sent one, and under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, its representation was merged in that of the county. It is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. The borough boundaries comprise the entire parishes of St John and St Mary, part of the parish of Eowde, and part of the chapelry of Southbroom, and include a space about 2 miles long and 1 broad. The area is 917 acres; population, 6426. Richard of Devizes the historian, Joseph Allein the eminent Nonconformist minister, and Stephens the physician and author, were natives, and Sir Thomas Lawrence the artist, was the son of the landlord of the Bear Hotel. The living of St John is a rectory, annexed to that of St Mary; joint value, £395. Patron, the Lord Chancellor. St Peter's is a vicarage; value, £300, in the gift of the Bishop of Salisbury. Southbroom is situated to the east of the town, and is a separate ecclesiastical parish. Population, 2950. The church of St James is in the 15th century style. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Salisbury; value,£300.

Devizes Parliamentary Division of Eastern Wiltshire was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 48,297. The division includes the following:-Devizes- Allcannings, Allington, Alton Barnes, Beechingstokc, Bishops Cannings, Bromham, Chapelry of St James (part of), Charlton, Chirton, Chittoe, Cheverell (Magna), Cheverell (Parva), Earlstoke, Easterton, Etchilhampton, Fullaway, Marden, Market Lavington, Marston, Patney, Potterne, Poulshot, Rowde (part of), Stanton (St Bernard), Stert, Tilshead, Urchfont, West Lavington, Wilsford, Worton; Everley and Pewsey (except the parishes of Milston and Figheldean) - Alton Priors, Buttermere, Chute, Chute Forest, Collingbournc Ducis, Collingbourne Kingston, Compton Tithing, Easton, Enford, Everley, Fittletone Hippenscombe, Huish, Ludgershall, Manningford Abbots, Manningford Bruce, Mauningford Bohun, Milston, Milton, Netheravon, North Newnton, North Tidworth, Pewsey, Rushall, Tidcomb, Uphaven, Wilcot, Woodborough, Woot-ton Rivers; Marlborough and Ramsbury-Aldbourn, Ave-bury, Baydon, Bedwin, (Great), Bedwin (Little), Berwick Bassett, Broad Hinton (part of), Burbage, Chilton Foliatt (part of), East Kennet, Froxfield, Fyfield, Ham, Hungerford (part-Chamham Street), Marlborough (St Mary), Marl-borough (St Peter and St Paul), Mildenhall, North Saver-nake, Ogboume (St Andrew), Ogbourne (St George), Preshute, Ramsbury, Shalbourne, South Savernake (with Brimslade and Cadley), West Overton, Winterbourne Bassett, Winterbourne Monkton; Devizes, municipal borough; Marlborough, municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyWiltshire 
HundredPotterne and Cannings 
Poor Law unionDevizes 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.


The Cemetery of four acres, at Belvidere, was formed in 1878 at a cost of £3,000 and has two mortuary chapels: a part is reserved for Catholic burials.

Church Records

The register of St. John the Baptist dates from the year 1559.

The register of St. Mary dates from the year 1669.

The register of St. Peter's dates from the year 1866.


Church of England

St. John the Baptist (parish church)

The church of St. John the Baptist, near the castle, was probably built by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, in the early part of the 12th century, and is an edifice of stone, originally cruciform, and consisting of chancel, nave of six bays, aisles, transepts with eastern chapels, north and south porches and an embattled central tower, 71 feet high, containing 8 bells, dating from 1610 to 1747, but since rehung, and a clock with Westminster chimes, placed in 1901 as a memorial to Her late Majesty Queen Victoria: the chancel, restored in 1844, is Norman and has an intersecting arcade running round the interior: the aisles are Perpendicular; the chantry chapel, now used as a vestry, has in the hollow moulding of the east window the inscription:"Orate' p. bono statu Ricardi Lamb". The Beauchamp chapel, a very fine example of Late Perpendicular, was restored in 1902, and has an embattled parapet, ornamented with Tudor flowers, and square panels enclosing quatrefoils, and in the centre of the east wall, above the roof, is a canopied niche: the transepts retain the outline of the original Norman windows, now blocked up, and the north transept shows traces of the doorway formerly leading to the rood loft: the east wall of each transept is pierced by a hagioscope: the tower is oblong in plan; of the four arches supporting it, two are semi-circular, and those on the north and south pointed: the upper stage is relieved externally by an arcade of sixteen semi-circular arches, six of which are pierced for lights: all the windows in the church, except those in the chancel, are Perpendicular insertions: the east and west windows and three others are stained, and there are many brasses, mural monuments and tablets, including several to the Heathcote and Sutton families: there are 900 sittings.

St. Mary

The church of St. Mary the Virgin is a building of stone 132 feet long by 65 wide, and consists of chancel, clerestoried nave of five bays, aisles, south porch and an embattled western tower 91 feet in height, with pinnacles, and containing 6 bells, four of which were cast in 1663, and one in 1696: the chancel, the most ancient portion, is Norman, and was originally lined within by an intersecting arcade, much of which on the north and south sides has been cut away to admit of the insertion of four Perpendicular windows: the east end of the chancel was restored in 1852: the roof is vaulted and groined in stone: the chancel arch, cut through the original Norman wall, is late Perpendicular: on either side of its western face is a canopied niche, with a hagioscope beneath: the nave, aisles and tower were rebuilt by William Smyth, who died 1 June, 1436, and is commemorated by a Latin inscription on the nave roof: outside, in the centre of the east wall of the nave above the ridge of the chancel roof is a canopied niche, with a statue of the Virgin and Child: at the north-east angle of the nave is a stair turret, with both upper and lower doorways: the tower, 14 feet square within, opens to the nave by an arch 40 feet in height and 10 feet wide, and the lower stage has stone groining: on either side of the west window, on the outside, is a canopied niche: the embattled porch has an outer doorway of Transition Norman date, and a turret stair to an upper chamber: the porch was repaired and the upper part was probably rebuilt in 1612: the east and west windows are stained and there is a memorial window in the chancel, erected in 1906 to Mr. and Mrs. Watson, of Leamington: in the chancel is a brass to Anne Badger, ob. 1871: there are also mural monuments to John Garth, M.P. for Devizes 1739-64; Major-Gen. William Hull C.B. ob. 1840; Abel Filkes, ob. 1815; Rebecca Garth, ob. 1785, and others, besides many floor stones of the 17th and 18th centuries: a new lectern was presented in 1904 by the Misses Milman: there are 799 sittings.

St. Peter

The church of St. Peter, on the Bath road, is a building of stone, erected in 1866, consisting of chancel, nave, south aisle and vestry: the south aisle was added in 1884: in 1902 a memorial screen was erected: there are two stained windows to members of the Dowding family: there are 460 sittings.


Congregational Chapel, Northgate Street

The Congregational chapel, Northgate street, founded in 1772, has 600 sittings.


Wesleyan Chapel, Long Street

The Wesleyan chapel, Long street, was built in 1898, at a cost of over £3,000.

Roman Catholic

Immaculate Conception

The Catholic Church, erected in 1865, and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is a small building in the Gothic style, consisting of nave only: it was restored in 1887 at a cost of £70, and in 1909 a new chancel was built and a sacristy added: there are 300 sittings.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Devizes from the following:


Online maps of Devizes are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Wiltshire papers online:

RegionSouth West
Postal districtSN10
Post TownDevizes