Between Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs, where three boundaries met, is the town of Devizes ('ad divisas', Latin for 'at the boundaries' is where its name originates.)
There is little doubt that a settlement existed to the east of the town in Roman times, and after, with the coming of the Saxons Wiltshire became part of Wessex . Then came the Normans, which put Devizes on firmer historical ground.
The first castle at Devizes was built in 1080 by Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, on the boundary between the manors of Bishops Canning and Potterne. This castle burnt down and was rebuilt in stone by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury in 1120 who occupied it under Henry I and later Stephen. Roger of Caen also enlarged Salisbury Cathedral and was responsible for the building of castles at Malmesbury, Sherbourne and Old Sarum.
Matilda, the daughter of Henry I gave Devizes its first royal charter, conferring Borough status which remained for 833 years, when in 1974 local government was reorganised.
Stephen, who was the grandson of William the Conquerer and brought up by Henry, swore to accept Matilda as queen, but when Henry died he seized the crown. Devizes become the centre of the civil war that followed. Roger took the side of Stephen and the castle was taken and retaken. For months, Matilda held Stephen prisoner.
Two councils were held in the town and a charter granted in 1141 was an expression of gratitude to the burgesses for their loyalty and confirmed by her son Henry II. Stephen in the meantime came to terms with Henry and the castle remained the property of the Crown until the 17th century brought the next upheaval.
Ruth Pierce Monument Devizes
In 1643, for a short period of the Civil War Devizes was the centre of events, being occupied by Royalist troops and on July 10th was besieged by Parliamentarian troops under Sir William Waller. At the battle of Roundway Down three days later, Waller's army was routed by Royalist troops under the Marquis of Hertford. The site of the battle, on top of Roundway Hill gives marvellous views and visitors should take a look at St. James' Church on their way back to the town to see the scars of the bombardment, still evident today.
Under Sir Charles Lloyd, the town and castle remained in Royalist hands, which defended the town against repeated attacks from the Parliamentarians. On September 23, 1645, Lt General Cromwell invaded the town with a large force and heavy artillery. Then laid siege to the castle. After heavy bombardment from the Market Place, the castle capitulated. The towns Troop of Royal Horse had escorted Prince Charles from Oxford to Bristol and on return found themselves surrounded by the superior forces of Cromwell and Waller. Nearly all were captured.
The castle, following a Parliamentary order being passed in the Commons in 1648, was demolished. By 1658, dignitaries of the town were sending dutiful congratulations to Cromwell on his succession as Protector.
Wadworth's Brewery. Don't visit Wiltshire without trying their beers.
Nothing remains of the castle today other than the original mound, the outline of the moat and some foundations of the great hall. The present 'castle', built by the Leach family in the mid-eighteenth century is said to have incorporated the foundations of one of the towers. The building is now divided into flats that are in private ownership, so is not open to the public.
The first Mayor of Devizes, in 1302, was John Cray. Previous to that, Constables of the Castle represented the Crown.
Edward I sent his Easters in the town and in 1280 John de Havering had a fishpond dug for him. 1535 saw a visit by Henry VIII and his Queen, Anne Boleyn. James I visited in 1613, 1618 and 1623. King Charles I granted a charter to the town in 1625 allowing Devizes to have its first Recorder. Charles II, in 1685, the year of the Monmouth Rebellion, granted another charter. This was not delivered however, until after his death and James II had come to the throne.
A hideous penalty for having beliefs contrary to the Church was to be burnt at the stake. William Prior of Devizes met this fate at Salisbury for professing Loddery, a sect that attacked the Church for its worldliness and corruption. John Brent, a tailor in Urchfont was burnt to death in Devizes Market Place in 1523 for denying transubstantiation. Religious controversy has persisted in the history of Devizes since earliest times. John Moundrell of Rowde was burnt at Salisbury of being a Protestant in 1557, the same year that saw the last Catholic incumbent to Devizes.
During the civil war in the 17th century, the Reverend John Shepherd, a Presbyterian minister, was dragged from the pulpit of St John's Church by Captain Pretty and 'divers soldiers armed in a most irreverent manner' to the 'abominable disturbance of the whole congregation'.
Great morality from the plague was recorded in 1607 and in 1661, many people were committed to prison for attending Quakers' meetings. When John Wesley visited the town in 1747, Mr Innes, the local curate tried to stir up the people to mob him, but failed. A year later when Charles Wesley visited, the mob was more demonstrative. Innes and his mob used a water pump on the meeting. Violence followed and a Wesleyan was maimed. Wesley escaped along the Bath road, two dogs were set upon him and he was 'torn badly'. Later Charles Wesley wrote, 'such fierceness and diabolical malice I have not seen in human faces'. Even in 1889, the Salvation Army was prosecuted for obstructing Hare and Hound Street, but this case was dismissed.
There was a popular corn market in the Market Place, where an inscription on the cross of 1814 tells the tale of Ruth Pierce of Potterne. She agreed to buy her share of wheat, but withheld her money claiming that she had paid and to drop down dead if she had not. On repeating the oath, she did just that with the money still in her hand.
The best looking buildings are now 18th century, though some like the Bear Hotel are earlier. Here lodged the infamous Judge Jefferies, and the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence was the son of a former innkeeper. 18th century buildings include Northgate House, the Queen Head, the Elm Tree hotel, the Black Swan Hotel, New Hall, Brownstone House and Greystone House.
19th century buildings reflect Devizes role in commerce and administration. These are the Town Hall, Assize Court, Market House and brewery, with fine architecture including the warehouses by the Kennet and Avon Canal. The history of the area can be viewed at the museum in Long Street.