Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for WILTS, or Wiltshire

WILTS, or Wiltshire an inland county, bounded, on the NW and the N, by Gloucestershire; on the E, by Berks and Hants; on the S, by Hants and Dorset; on the W, by Somerset. Its outline is irregularly oblong; and its boundary, with trivial exceptions, is all artificial. Its greatest length, from N to S, is 53 miles; its greatest breadth is 38 miles; its circuit is about 180 miles; and its area is 865,092 acres. The surface, to the N of a line not far from coincident with the course of the Great Western railway, is rich plain; and the surface to the S of that line is mainly an assemblage of bleak downs, intersected by deep valleys. Marlborough downs occupy much of the north-eastern part of the S section; Salisbury plain occupies still more of the southern part of that section; and these are separated from each other by the Vale of Pewsey. The aggregate elevation of all the S section is high; the downy heights, for the most part, rise from such lofty bases and have such softly swelling outlines as to look almost like billows of a troughy ocean; and the principal summits rise to altitudes of from 775 to 1,011 feet. The chief rivers are the Lower Avon, the East Avon, the Wiley, the Nadder, the Bourne, the Kennet, and some head-streams of the Thames. Upper oolite rocks prevail in the NW; and upper cretaceous rocks in all other quarters. Portland stone is quarried at Swindon, Tisbury, and Fonthill; Kimmeridge clay ranges from Swindon to the W of Devizes; coral rag extends from Highworth to Bromham: Oxford clay forms a level tract, with many mineral springs; Kelloways rock takes name from predominating at Kelloways near Chippenham; cornbrash is worked, in the neighbourhood of Malmsbury, for building; and forest marble is converted, in several places, into coarse tiles and flag stones.

Nearly 800,000 acres are arable land, pasture, and meadow. The soil in the NW is chiefly a calcareous reddish loam; that of the downs is chiefly a dissolved chalk; and that in the depressions or valleys among the downs, is chiefly either a flinty loam or a deep black earth. Wheat is grown on the best soils, and yields from 20 to 28 bushels per acre; barley, on the chalk, 40 bushels; turnips and potatoes, on sandy tracts; and clover, sainfoin, and rape on the downs. Dairy-cows are extensively kept in the NW, for the producing of Wiltshire cheeses: horned cattle are fattened; and calves are bred for veal. Sheep, chiefly of the Southdown breed crossed with the Leicester and Cotswold breeds, are kept on the centraland southern pastures, to the number of about 600,000, and yield about 8,650 packs of wool. Pigs, partly of an old, large, long-eared, native breed, and partly of a smaller kind crossed with the Chinese and other breeds, are reared in vast numbers, principally on the dairy farms, for conversion into Wiltshire bacon. Estates are of all sizes; arable and dairy farms also are of all sizes, from comparatively small to so much as 5,000 acres; sheep-farms range about 2,000 acres; and the latter are usually let on lease, for 7, 14, or 21 years. Broad cloths, and other kinds of woollen goods are made at Bradford, Devizes, Heytesbury, Chippenham, Westbury, Trowbridge, Melksham, and some other places; carpets, of excellent quality, at Wilton; hair-cloth, at Warminster; dowlas at Mere; fustians, at Aldbourn; silk goods, at Devizes and Salisbury; gloves, at Swindon; cutlery, at Salisbury; and Wiltshire and Kennet ales, in various places. The Thames and Severn canal, the Kennet and Avon canal, the Wilts and Berks canal, and the North Wilts canal, give extensive facilities of inland navigation to the N. The Great Western railway goes quite through the county; sends off a branch from Swindon toward Gloucester; and has ramifications in the W, both within Wilts itself and toward Somerset. Another great line of railway goes quite across the county, traversing the Vale of Pewsey, and going into junction with the Great Western branches between Melksham and Trowbridge. Two lines of railway from the E converge at Salisbury; and lines, continuous with these, diverge at Wilton toward respectively Bath and Exeter. The roads, so long ago as 1839, amounted to 591 miles of turnpikes, and 2,290 miles of other public highways.

Wilts contains 301 parishes, parts of 12 others, and 17 extra-parochial tracts; and is divided into 4 boroughs and 28 hundreds. The act of 1844, for consolidating detached parts of counties, severed from it 5,445 acres, and annexed to it 5,165 acres. The registration county excludes 95,951 acres of the electoral county; includes 7,862 acres of adjoining electoral counties; comprises altogether 778,283 acres; and is divided into 18 districts. The county towns are Salisbury and Devizes; the towns sending members to parliament are Salisbury, Devizes, Cricklade, Wilton, Chippenham, Westbury, Malmsbury, and Calne; and the other towns with each more than 2,000 inhabitants are Trowbridge, Marlborough, Bradford-on-Avon, Swindon, and Warminster. The chief seats include 19 of noblemen and 11 of baronets; and amount altogether to about 110. The county is governed by a lord lieutenant and custos, a vice-lieutenant, a high sheriff, about 55 deputy lieutenants, and about 250 magistrates; and it is in the western judicial circuit, the southwestern military district, and chiefly in the diocese of Salisbury, but partly in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol. The Lent assizes are held at Salisbury; the Summer assizes, at Devizes; and quarter sessions, at Devizes, in Jan., Salisbury, in April, Warminster, in July, and Marlborough, in Oct. The police force, in 1864, comprised 12 men in Salisbury, at an annual cost of £857, and 201 in the rest of the county, at a cost of £15,023. The crimes committed, in 1864, were 28 and 196; the persons apprehended, 28 and 176. The known depredators and suspected persons at large, 73 and 943; the houses of bad character, 16 and 44. Thirteen members are sent to parliament by the boroughs; and two each by the N and the S divisions of the county. Electors of the N div. in 1833, 3,614; in 1865, 5,146. Electors of the S div. in 1833, 2,450; in 1865, 3,343. The Poor rates of the registration county in 1863 were £142,635. Marriages in 1866, 1,656,-of which 372 were not according to the rites of the Established Church; births, 7,492,-of which 498 were illegitimate: deaths, 4,418,-of which 1,276 were at ages under 5 years, and 169 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 16,490; births, 75,041; deaths, 49,356. The places of worship within the electoral county, in 1851, were 352 of the Church of England, with 87,843 sittings; 76 of Independents, with 19,942 s.; 101 of Baptists, with 22,191 s.; 2 of Quakers, with 260 s.; 2 of Unitarians, with 300 s.; 2 of Moravians, with 480 s.; 2 of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, with 340 s.; 97 of Wesleyans, with 15,531 s.; 95 of Primitive Methodists, with 9,162 s.: 3 of Independent Methodists, with 451 s.; 1 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 160 s.; 1 of the., new Church. with 100 s.; 5 of Brethren, with 525 s.; 8 of isolated congregations, with 859 s.; 1 of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, with 160 s.; 3 of Latter Day Saints, with 390 s.; and 3 of Roman Catholics, with 790 s. The schools were 367 public day-schools, with 27,068 scholars; 507 private day-schools, with 7,776 s.; 478 Sunday schools, with 37,624 s.; and 17 evening schools for adults, with 364 s. Real property in 1815, £1,215,619; in 1843, £1,424,558; in 1860, £1,520,586,- of which £4,784 were in quarries, £5,010 in mines, £550 in iron-works, £27 in fisheries, £1,634 in canals, £29 in railways, and £3,516 in gasworks. Pop. in 1801, 183,820; in 1821, 219,574; in 1841, 256,280; in 1861, 249,311. Inhabited houses, 53,059; uninhabited, 2,347; building, 248. Pop. of the registration county in 1851, 240,936; in 1861, 236,027. Inhabited houses, 50,238; uninhabited, 2,261; building, 236.

The territory of Wilts was inhabited by the Belgæ and Attrebatii; was included by the Romans in their Britan- nia Prima; formed part of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex; was over run by the Danes in 871, 1003, 1006, and 1011; was given, at the Norman conquest, to William d'Ewe, Edward de Saresbury, Robert d'Oili, Ralph de Mortimer, Milo Crispin, and others; was the scene of sharp contests in the war between Maud and Stephen; shared considerably, but not so much as many other counties, in the civil wars of Charles I.; and participated, at Salisbury, in prominent events of the revolution of 1688.-Great ancient monuments, of the kind called Druidical, are at Stonehenge and Avebury. Cromlechs are at Bulford, Clatford, Littleton-Drew, and Monkton-Fields. Ancient British boundaries are presented in Wans-dyke and Bokerley ditch. An ancient British road is the Ridgeway. Ancient British villages are traceable on Salisbury plain. Barrows, of four kinds, stud all the chalk hills and valleys. Ancient camps, variously British, Roman, Saxon, and Danish, are in numerous places. Roman roads are the Fosse-way, Ermine-street, the Julian way, and roads from Old Sarum to Bath, Dorchester, Uphill, Winchester, and Silchester. Norman castles have left remains or mounds at Ludgershall, Wardour, Marlborough, Malmsbury, Devizes, Castlecombe, and Sherrington. Monastic remains are at Laycock, Bradenstock, Monk-Farleigh, Kingswood, Kingston-St. Michael, and Malmsbury. And ancient churches are at Salisbury, Bishops-Cannings, Great Bedwin, Anstey, Chippenham, Castlecombe, Durnford, Draycote, Tisbury, and Steeple-Ashton.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Administrative units: Wiltshire AncC
Place names: WILTS     |     WILTSHIRE     |     WILTS OR WILTSHIRE
Place: Wiltshire

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