Wilton is a town and civil parish in Wiltshire (of which it was once the county town), England, with a rich heritage dating back to the Anglo-Saxons. Carpets have been manufactured at Wilton since the 18th century. Today it is overshadowed by its larger neighbour, Salisbury, but it still has a range of notable shops and attractions, including Wilton House.
St Mary & St Nicholas' parish church
|Population||3,579 (2011 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||Dorset and Wiltshire|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
The history of Wilton dates back to the Anglo-Saxons in the 8th century AD, and by the late 9th century it was the capital of Wiltunscire, a shire of the Kingdom of Wessex. It remained the administrative centre of Wiltshire until the 11th century. Wilton was of significant importance to the church, with the founding of Wilton Abbey in AD 771 amongst other establishments. In AD 871 Alfred the Great fought and lost an important battle here against the Danish armies, leaving him in retreat for several years.
Despite further attacks, Wilton remained a prosperous town, as recorded in the Domesday book. The building of Salisbury Cathedral nearby, however, caused Wilton's decline, as the new site of Salisbury, with a new bridge over the River Avon, provided a convenient bypass around Wilton on the trade routes.
Wilton Abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and in 1541 much of the estate was granted to Earl William Herbert of Pembroke, who began to build Wilton House.
By the 17th century, weaving had become a busy trade, and the carpet industry began in 1741 when two French weavers were brought in by Earl Henry Herbert of Pembroke to teach the local people new skills. Carpet weaving prospered until 1815, when peace following the Napoleonic Wars introduced European competition. Machinery to produce Axminster carpets was installed in 1835. The Wilton Royal Carpet Factory was founded at the turn of the century, with the help of the then Lord Pembroke, to rescue the previous carpet factory that had fallen into financial difficulty. The factory continued to operate until 1995, when it closed temporarily after a takeover. The factory re-opened, although it was unable to retain the Wilton Royal prefix.
An outbreak of smallpox in 1737 killed 132 people. Local folklore claims that the outbreak was believed to be associated with the witchcraft of the four Handsel sisters, who were summarily murdered and buried in Grovely Wood.
Wilton had two railway stations. One (later known as Wilton North) was opened by the Great Western Railway in 1856 on their line from Westbury to Salisbury, and another (later known as Wilton South) was opened by the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway in 1859 on the West of England Main Line from London to Exeter. The arrival of the railways led to increased prosperity. The stations closed in 1955 and 1966 respectively; the nearest is now at Salisbury.
The headquarters of Land Forces (and predecessors) was at Erskine Barracks, northeast of Wilton, from 1949 to 2010. After the headquarters moved to Marlborough Lines near Andover the site was sold for housing. The site of the headquarters has recently been developed into accommodation for ex-service personnel.
The boundaries of the modern civil parish originate with the Borough of Wilton defined in 1885. The parish includes the villages of Bulbridge and Ditchampton. In 1894 Wilton absorbed the western part of the neighbouring parish of Fugglestone St Peter, the rest going into a new parish of Bemerton.
The Grade I listed Church of England parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas was built as a replacement for St Mary's Church between 1841 and 1844 at the instigation of the Countess Alexina Sophia Gallot of Pembroke and her younger son, Baron Sidney Herbert of Lea, designed by the architect Thomas Henry Wyatt in the Romanesque style, with considerable Byzantine influences. For a small town, the church is enormous, representing the wealth of its benefactors.
The most notable external feature of the church is the 105 feet (32 m) campanile. Many of the materials used in the church's construction were imported from Europe, including marble columns from Italy and 12th and 13th century stained glass from France.
- "Parish population 2015". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- "Wilton". Wiltshire Community History. Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Wilton in the Domesday Book
- "About Us". Wilton Carpets Commercial. The Wilton Carpet Factory Ltd. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- "Victoria County History – Wiltshire – Vol 6 – Wilton: Modern town government and poor relief". British History Online. University of London. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- "Victoria County History – Wiltshire – Vol 6 – Fugglestone St Peter". British History Online. University of London. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- "Wilton and Lower Wylye ward 2011". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- Historic England. "Church of St Mary and St Nicholas (1365914)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
- "Church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, Wilton". Wiltshire Community History. Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Figgetty Pooden, The Dialect Verse of Edward Slow, Ed. John Chandler, Wiltshire Library & Museum Service, 1982, ISBN 0-86080-095-4.
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