Devizes

DEVIZES, a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Potterne and Cannings, Devizes and N. divisions of Wilts, 22 miles (N. W. by N.) from Salisbury, 19 (E. by S.) from Bath, and 89 (W. by S.) from London, on the road from London to Bath; containing 4631 inhabitants. Amongst the early writers this town has received the several appellations of Devisæ, Divisiæ, Devies, and Divisio, because it is said to have been divided between the King and the Bishop of Salisbury, &c. It appears to have had its origin in the erection of a spacious and strong castle in the reign of Henry I., by Roger, the celebrated and wealthy Bishop of Salisbury, who, with his two nephews, Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and Nigel, Bishop of Ely, was subsequently sentenced to imprisonment within its walls by King Stephen, on a charge of disaffection. Before the order could be executed Nigel escaped, and, having fled to this fortress, garrisoned it with troops, and prepared to defend it until the expected arrival of the Empress Matilda; but the king besieging it, and demanding an immediate surrender on the alternative of hanging the son of Bishop Roger on a gallows which had been erected in front of the castle, that prelate, to save the youth from an ignominious death, bound himself by a solemn oath to take no sustenance till the king should be put in possession. This oath, being made known to the Bishop of Ely, effected the surrender at the end of three days, and the fortress, together with the episcopal treasures, amounting to the value of 40,000 marks, fell into the hands of Stephen. Three years after this event, the castle was seized by Robert Fitz-Hubert, on pretence of holding it for Matilda; on her arrival, however, he refused to give up possession, and was in consequence treated as a rebel by both the contending parties, and eventually hanged as a traitor. In 1233, Hubert de Burgh, formerly prime minister to Henry III., was imprisoned within the castle, but on the appointment of Peter de Rupibus, his avowed enemy, to the government of it, he prevailed on two of his guards to contrive his escape, and took sanctuary behind the high altar of the parish church, whence, however, he was dragged, with the crucifix in his hand, and carried back to prison. This violation of ecclesiastical privileges produced a remonstrance to the king from several prelates, on which the prisoner was re-conveyed to the church, and the sheriff received orders to blockade it, and compel Hubert by famine to surrender himself; but notwithstanding that precaution, he once more effected his escape, and fled into Wales. About the end of the reign of Edward III., the castle was dismantled, and part of its materials were subsequently used to erect a mansion at Bromeham, about three miles distant. In the reign of Henry VIII., the town, then called by Leland The Vies (an appellation still retained by the Wiltshire peasantry), was celebrated for its market, and chiefly inhabited by clothiers.

During the civil war, a battle was fought here between the parliamentarian and the royalist forces, the latter of whom were pursued hither by Sir William Waller, on their retreat towards Oxford, after the battle of Lansdowne. The town was intrenched, and the approaches to it barricadoed, by Lord Ralph Hopton and the Earl of Marlborough; and Sir William investing it closely, constructed a battery upon a neighbouring height, fired upon the place, and made several unsuccessful attempts to penetrate into the interior: he likewise intercepted the approach of the Earl of Crawford with a supply of powder for the royalists, and, having captured the whole convoy, summoned the besieged to surrender. A treaty for capitulation was begun, but at this juncture Sir William was obliged to withdraw his troops from before the town, in order to oppose Lord Wilmot, who had been despatched by the king from Oxford, with 1500 horse and two pieces of artillery, to protect the infantry in their retreat to the main army. The parliamentarian general awaited the approach of Lord Wilmot on Roundaway Hill, where, encouraged by the small number of his antagonist's forces, he commenced the attack, which terminated in the total dispersion of his cavalry, the capture of his artillery, and the destruction of his infantry, most of whom, being attacked by the troops from Devizes, were either slain or taken prisoners. Sir William fled to Bristol, having sustained a loss of more than 2000 men, together with all his cannon, ammunition, baggage, and stores: the loss of the royalists was comparatively inconsiderable.

The town, which is nearly in the centre of the county, stands on an elevation, and consists of several streets, paved, and lighted with gas; the houses, many of which are handsome, are for the most part irregularly built: the inhabitants are supplied with water from deep wells dug in the sand-rock. The woollen manufacture, once the principal branch of business, is now extinct. The manufacture of silk has been introduced, and affords employment to upwards of 400 persons, principally children; there are three manufactories in the town, and one about half a mile distant, for silkthrowing: the weaving of crape and sarsenet is on the increase. The malting-business is carried on extensively; and a large snuff-manufactory has been established for many years. Coal and Bath stone are in abundance. The Kennet and Avon canal intersects the parish; and an act was passed in 1846 for making a branch eight and a half miles in length, to this town, of the Wilts, Somerset, and Weymouth railway. The market is on Thursday, and is the largest in the west of England for corn, of which a great quantity is pitched in the marketplace, besides what is sold by sample. There are fairs on February 14th, for horses; Holy-Thursday and April 20th, for cattle; and June 13th, July 5th, and October 2nd and 20th, for cattle, hops, cloth, &c.: those on the 20th of April and the 20th of October, are held on the green beyond the boundaries of the borough. A market-cross erected in 1815, at the expense of the late Lord Sidmouth, many years recorder, and also a representative in parliament for the town, is said to have cost nearly £2000.

The first charter of Incorporation was granted by the Empress Matilda, and confirmed by John and Henry III.; Edward III. placed the burgesses on an equality with those of Marlborough, and Richard II. bestowed on the borough the privilege of having their own coroner. These liberties were ratified by subsequent sovereigns; and the governing charters, previously to the passing of the Municipal act in 1835, were those granted by James I. and Charles I., under which the corporation consisted of a mayor, recorder, and 36 capital burgesses, forming the commoncouncil, and an indefinite number of free burgesses. The government is now vested in a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors; the borough is divided into two wards, its municipal and parliamentary boundaries being co-extensive; and the number of magistrates is 10. The town returned members to all the parliaments of Edward I., and to those of the 1st, 8th, and 19th of Edward II., and 4th of Edward III., since which its returns have been constant. The right of election was formerly in the corporation, including a few honorary members; but by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the non-resident electors, except within seven miles, were disfranchised, and the privilege extended to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, comprising 883 acres, and now forming the borough, which previously contained only 631 acres: the mayor is returning officer. The corporation have power to hold a court of record, for the recovery of sums not exceeding £40, every Friday. The summer assizes for Wiltshire are held here in new courts built by subscription, and since presented by the subscribers to the county; the edifice cost upwards of £7000. The petty-sessions for the Devizes division of the hundred of Potterne and Cannings are held in the town; as are also the quartersessions for the county, in rotation with Salisbury, Warminster, and Marlborough. Meetings for the nomination of coroners are always holden at Devizes; and it is the principal place of election for the northern division of the county. The powers of the county debt-court of Devizes, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district, or poor law union. The town-hall is a handsome modern edifice, having a semicircular front supported by Ionic columns on a rustic basement. A new and extensive gaol, upon the radiating principle, was erected in the year 1810, about a mile north-westward from the town.

Devizes comprises the parishes of St. John and St. Mary the Virgin, the former including 1973, and the latter 2658 inhabitants, and the two together containing 610 acres, of which 85 are arable, 481 pasture, and 19 woodland. The livings form a united rectory, not in charge, in the patronage of the Crown, with a net income of £518: the tithes for the parish of St. John have been commuted for £213, and the glebe contains ¾ of an acre, with a glebe-house. St. John's church is a spacious structure, partly in the Norman and partly in the later English style, with a square embattled tower, and consists of a nave and two aisles, a transept, chancel, and two chantry chapels; the oldest portion, which comprises the chancel, transept, and tower, is supposed to have been built by Bishop Roger, about the same period as the castle. The chancel is arched with bold ribs springing from clustered capitals, and the tower is supported by two circular and two pointed arches, enriched with foliage and zig-zag mouldings; there are several marble monuments of the families of Heathcote and Sutton. St. Mary's, in the north-eastern part of the town, has evidently been erected at different periods. The chancel is the oldest portion, being in the early Norman style, and built probably soon after the Conquest; the south porch, a pointed arch, with zig-zag mouldings, is a fine specimen of the style prevailing in the reigns of Henry II. and Richard I. The rest of the edifice was rebuilt by William Smyth, who died in 1436. The tower and body of the church are embattled, and crowned with pinnacles; the nave and aisles are spacious and lofty, and the arches which separate them spring from octagonal columns. At the eastern extremity of the town, and beyond the limits of the borough, is St. James' chapel, belonging to the vicarage of Bishops'Cannings. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Presbyterians, and Wesleyans. The poor law union of Devizes comprises 28 parishes or places, and contains a population of 22,130. The site of the ancient castle, of which there are no vestiges, has been converted into pleasuregrounds. Richard of Devizes, a Benedictine monk of the twelfth century, who wrote a Chronicle of English History, was a native of the place. Joseph Allein, a nonconformist divine, and a polemical writer of some celebrity, was born here in 1633; and Sir Thomas Lawrence, president of the Royal Academy, passed much of the earlier part of his life in the town.

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

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