Bedwin, Great (St. Mary)

BEDWIN, GREAT (St. Mary), an incorporated market-town and a parish, in the union of Hungerford, hundred of Kinwardstone, Marlborough and Ramsbury, and S. divisions of Wilts, 5½ miles (S. W. by W.) from Hungerford, 23 (N.) from Salisbury, and 70½ (W. by S.) from London; including the tythings of Crofton with Wolfhall, East and West Grafton, Martin, Wexcombe, and Wilton; and containing 2178 inhabitants. This place, supposed by Dr. Stukeley to be the Leucomagus of Ravennas, derives its name from the Saxon Beeguyn, or Bedgwyn, expressive of its situation on an eminence in a chalky soil. It was anciently a city of great extent, and the metropolis of Cissa, one of the three sons of Ælla, the Saxon chieftain, who invaded Britain in 477; and Cissa, when viceroy of Wiltshire and part of Berkshire, is said to have enlarged and strengthened Chisbury Castle, now a noble relic of Saxon earthwork, about a mile to the north-east of the town, in the parish of Little Bedwin. In 674, a battle was fought here between Wulfhere, King of Mercia, and Æscuin, a nobleman in the service of Saxburga, Queen of Wessex; in which, after a desperate struggle, the latter was victorious. The parish comprises by measurement 9353 acres of land, chiefly arable, with a good quantity of wood and some pasture and down; the soil consists principally of mellow earth, resting on chalk. The surface presents numerous softlyrounded eminences, crowned with luxuriant plantations overhanging the picturesque valleys; and to the south the hills rise higher, and stretch towards Salisbury Plain. The Kennet and Avon canal passes through the parish, and affords a medium for the conveyance of excellent coal. The market is on Tuesday; and fairs are held on April 23rd and July 26th: the markethouse is an ancient building situated in the principal street.

A portreeve, who is customarily called mayor, a bailiff, and other officers, are annually chosen at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The borough sent representatives to all the parliaments of Edward I., from the close of whose reign to the 9th of Henry V., there were frequent intermissions; but since then it constantly returned two members, until its disfranchisement by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £8. 10. 10.; net income, £212; patron and impropriator, the Marquess of Ailesbury. The church, the only remaining one of seven which are said to have anciently existed here, appears to have been erected at various times, and exhibits good specimens in all the styles of architecture, from the Norman to the later English. It is a cruciform structure, with a lofty embattled tower rising from the intersection; and contains severalancient memorials, among which are the figure of a Knight Templar, and the monument of Sir John Seymour, father of the Protector Somerset, and of Lady Jane Seymour, consort of Henry VIII., who was born at Wolf Hall, now a farmhouse, in the parish. At East Grafton is an incumbency in the gift of the Vicar. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. Half a mile to the north-east are some vestiges of a Roman building, now scarcely discoverable; and a fine tessellated pavement was preserved till within the last few years. Dr. Thomas Willis, a celebrated physician, was born here in 1621.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.