About Devizes


Devizes Market Place

Introduction to Devizes

Devizes Town from the airWelcome to Devizes!
Welcome to a flourishing, bustling market town set in the beautiful Wiltshire downs, an ancient town of great character and tradition.

Busy shopping streets in summer are ablaze with the colour of award winning floral displays, created with great pride by traders, local organisations and the Town Council.

The flowers, free on-street parking, ample car parks at moderate charges, and courtesy in shops, are there to say welcome to our visitors.

The GinnelLinger awhile and allow time to seek out the quaint courts and alleys of craft and specialist shops. The Ginnel and Wharfside are prime examples.

It will take but a few moments for the eye of the visitor to be delighted by the wealth of interesting buildings, of which 500 are listed.

Blue Plaque

Look out for the bright blue plaques on those of outstanding interest.


The Market Place is the largest in the West of England. A mixture of buildings of many periods surrounds it; nearly all listed as of architectural or historic interest.

Ruth Pierce Monument - Market Cross

The Market Cross is famous the world over for the legend it bears of Ruth Pierce, the market woman who asked God to strike her dead if she lied about a corn deal. She was struck down immediately with proof of the lie clutched in her hand.

Lord Sidmouth MP, gave the Market Cross in 1814 for the town, Recorder, Home Secretary and briefly Prime Minister in 1801.




 Parnella House


Almost opposite is Parnella House, built in 1740, and once the home of a surgeon named Clare. Hence the statue of Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine, with serpent and scroll.




Black Swan


Further along, the Black Swan, built in 1737 is another famous coaching inn.





The Shambles The Shambles interior

The Shambles, built 1835, was the original butter and poultry market house; and is still a popular covered market today, open Tuesdays (for antiques and bric-a-brac) and a wide range of traditional market goods on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Sandcliff House



Along Northgate Street is Sandcliffe House, early 18th century, where the novelist, George Eliot, once stayed.



Northgate House

Northgate House, a coaching inn in 1771, was later the Judge's Lodgings for the Assize Courts opposite. In modern times it has been council offices and is now the offices of a legal practice.

The courts, designed by T H Wyatt, were built in 1835 in Grecian style for the Wiltshire Assizes. Famous judges of the High Court presided over criminal and civil cases here until 1974 when the judicial system changed. Borough and county quarter sessions and petty sessions were also held there before the change.



Cheese Market - Old Town HallLeaving from the other end of the Market Place, to the left is the former Cheese Market, built in 1752. The ground floor was originally open. The building, known locally as the Old Town Hall, has had many uses. When used by a wine merchant it housed the first commercially used telephone in Britain. It has also been used as a laundry. It is now occupied by a building society.





Town Hall

Ahead through St John's Street is the Town Hall. Designed by Thomas Baldwin of Bath it was built in 1806 using parts of an earlier 17th century building that included a lock-up. Its fine assembly room with Adam-like plaster was recently restored to its original Georgian appearance, and is well worth seeing.





St John's Alley


Tucked away nearby is St John's Alley, an outstanding example of timber framing with an oversailing upper floor, believed to be Elizabethan or Jacobean. It contains an original house door.

Wiltshire Friendly Society




At the junction of High Street and St John's Street, are the former Wiltshire Friendly Society offices, an impressive Victorian building and from 1987 to 2006 the county headquarters for the Order of St John and St John Ambulance.



 The Elm Tree

Close by, the Elm Tree, 16th century with oversailing,


Greystone House




and Greystone House, 1731, with fine interior, open the way to Long Street with its picturesque sequence of Georgian houses.


Lansdowne House



Lansdowne House is late Georgian.





Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes The Rectory

The Devizes Museum and the Rectory, a fine Georgian house, are among some of the outstanding buildings standing in Long Street.

Another building worth seeing is Hillworth House, 1832, in a beautiful garden setting facing Hillworth Park, which is open to the public. The Park has ornamental flower gardens and provides recreational facilities for children and adults. Here, too, can be found the Quaker burial ground and the Queen Anne summer house, which was once used as a Meeting House by the Quakers.

The Grange, formerly the BridewellThe remains of the old Bridewell (now called the Grange) are in Bridewell Street. The Bridewell (a prison or house of correction) dates from 1579, was refronted in 1771, altered in 1784 and closed in 1836. Bridewell Square was probably the old exercise yard.




Heathcote House

Other buildings of note include Heathcote House; Southbroom House, 1773, (now part of Devizes School);





Handel House Albion Place

Handel House, early 19th century, now a bookshop and gallery; Albion Place;


Three Crowns



The Three Crowns, Maryport Street, 17th century;




The Castle Hotel

and another coaching inn, the Georgian Castle Hotel, in New Park Street, fronting St Mary's Church.




Brownstone House


Brownston House, claimed to be the best house in Devizes, is early 18th century (c.1700), listed Grade I and was rescued by Kennet District Council after falling into disrepair.




Great Porch House at 6-8, Monday Market Street, is believed to be mid 15th century, and the town's oldest property. The late Cyril Fox lovingly restored it after the 1939-45 war.

As you can see, Devizes' historic buildings have much to offer the visitor to the town.

History of Devizes

The origins of Devizes are lost in time. It is traditionally believed to have been founded by Dunwallo, a pre-Roman British king.

It would be surprising, in view of its commanding position on a hill and surrounding prehistoric sites, if it was not the site of fortified earthworks in prehistoric British times.

Excavations for Pans lane railway cutting in 1861 revealed plenty of Roman and Romano-British brica-brac. Roman finds have been recorded in the Southbroom area since 1699. Twenty bronze statuettes and Roman coins were found on the Green in 1714 and when Southbroom Junior School was built in 1960 a Romano-British cemetery was found with burials in lead and stone coffins.

This leaves little doubt that a settlement existed to the east of the town in Roman times. After the Romans came the Saxons and Wiltshire became part of Wessex. Then came the Normans and firmer historic ground.

Devizes Castle from the airThe first Devizes castle, built in 1080 by Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, is said to have been on the boundary line between the ancient manors of Bishops Cannings and Potterne.

The Latin for 'on the boundaries', 'Ad Divisas', is claimed to be the origin of the name, Devizes.


The original castle burnt down and was rebuilt in stone by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, by 1120. He occupied it under Henry I and later Stephen. Roger of Caen also enlarged Salisbury Cathedral and built castles at Malmesbury, Sherborne and Old Sarum.

Henry I, third son of William the Conqueror, had a daughter, Matilda, who gave Devizes its first royal charter. The borough status thus conferred was to remain for 833 years until local government was reorganised in 1974.

Stephen, grandson of the Conqueror, brought up by Henry, swore to accept Matilda as Queen, but on Henry's death seized the crown. Devizes was at the centre of the civil war that followed.

Roger sided with Stephen and the castle was taken and retaken. For some months Stephen was Matilda's prisoner. She held two councils in the town and the charter granted in 1141 was an expression of her appreciation to the burgesses for their loyalty. It was confirmed by her son, Henry II. Stephen, meanwhile, came to terms with Henry, and the castle remained the property of the Crown until the next major upheaval in the 17th century.

For a brief period of the Civil War, in 1643, it was the centre of historic events. It was occupied by Royalist troops and on July 10 was besieged by Parliamentary forces under Sir William Waller.

Three days later in the Battle of Roundway Down Waller's army was routed by Royalist forces under the Marquis of Hertford. The site of the old battleground on top of Roundway Hill provides breathtaking views and visitors should stop off at St James' Church on their way back to town to see the scars of the bombardment which are evident to this day.

The castle and town remained in Royalist hands under the military governorship of Sir Charles Lloyd who defended the town against repeated attacks and bombardments by the Parliamentarians.

On September 23, 1645, Lt General Cromwell with large forces and heavy artillery invaded the town, and laid siege to the castle, which capitulated after a bombardment from the Market Place.

The town Troop of Royal Horse, having escorted Prince Charles from Oxford to Bristol, returned to Devizes to find themselves surrounded by superior forces under Cromwell and Waller, and nearly all were captured.

In May, 1648 the castle was dismantled following a Parliamentary Order having been passed by the Commons. By 1658 the mayor and magistrates were sending dutiful addresses of congratulation to Richard Cromwell on his succession as Protector.

All that remains of the castle today is the original mound, the outline of the moat and traces of the foundations of the great hall. A reference in 1723 mentions two windmills there for grinding rape seed, and later one of them being used for grinding snuff, the first reference to what was to become a substantial industry in the town, continuing to modern times.

The present 'castle' was built by the Leach family in the middle of the 19th century. The foundation of one of the towers is said to have been incorporated by Mr R V Leach.

The building is now divided into flats in private ownership and is not open to the public.

Roger's original castle decided the layout of the town, the Brittox, now a shopping precinct, preserving the memory of what is believed to have been the main approach to it - the Bretesque, the wooden stockade that flanked the way.

Only the street pattern remains to tell of the wider castle defences, the outer and inner town ditches. For those who would delve deeper, Devizes Museum and Library would make an admirable starting point.

The first Mayor of Devizes, in 1302, was John Cray. Before that Constables of the Castle represented the Sovereign. One, John de Havering, in 1280, made a fish pond for Edward I who spent his Easters in the town.

Other royal highlights included a visit in 1535 by Henry VIII and his Queen, Anne Boleyn.

James I visited Devizes in 1613, 1618 and 1623. King Charles I granted a charter in 1625 that allowed Devizes to have its first Recorder.

Another charter was granted by Charles II in 1685, the year of the Monmouth Rebellion. This charter was not, however, delivered until after his death and James II had succeeded to the throne.

Burning at the stake was the dire penalty for holding beliefs contrary to the Church establishment. William Prior of Devizes was burnt in Salisbury for professing Lollardy, a sect that attacked the Church for its worldliness and corruption.

John Bent, a tailor, of Erchfont, was burnt to death in Devizes Market Place in 1523 for denying transubstantiation.

In 1607 great mortality from the plague was recorded. It was also the year that Sir Thomas Estcourt of this town was knighted.

Religious controversy dogged Devizes history from earliest times. John Maundrell of Rowde was burnt at Salisbury for Protestantism in 1557, the year that also saw the last Catholic incumbent in the Devizes living.

During the seventeenth century civil war, the Rev John Shepherd, a Presbyterian minister to the rectorship, was dragged from the pulpit of St John's Church by one, Captain Pretty, aided by 'divers soldiers armed in a most irreverent manner' to 'the abominable disturbance of the whole congregation'.

In 1661 many townspeople were committed to prison for attending Quakers' meetings.

When John Wesley visited the town in 1747, the local curate, Mr Innes, stirred up the people to mob him, but failed. The mob was even more demonstrative a year later when Charles Wesley paid a visit. Innes and his mob played a water pump on the meeting. Violence followed in which a Wesleyan was maimed. Although Wesley escaped along the Bath road, two dogs were set upon him and he was 'torn badly'. Afterwards Charles wrote: 'such fierceness and diabolical malice I have not seen in human faces'. Even in 1881 Salvation Army meetings were being interrupted by boys. The Salvation Army was prosecuted in 1889 for obstructing Hare and Hounds Street, but the case was dismissed.