Wilton’s history dates back to the Anglo-Saxons in the 8th century AD. By the late 9th century it was the capital of Wiltunscire, a shire (or 'share') of the Kingdom of Wessex and remained the administrative centre of Wiltshire until the 11th century.
Wilton was of great importance to the church, with the founding of Wilton Abbey in AD 771.
In AD 871 Alfred the Great fought and lost an important battle there 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.
In 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Wilton Abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII and in 1541 much of the estate was granted to the Earl of Pembroke, upon which Wilton House was built.
By the 17th century, weaving had become one of the dominant trades, The carpet industry began in 1741, when two French weavers were brought in by the 9th Earl of Pembroke to teach the local people new skills. Carpet weaving prospered until 1815, when peace following the Napoleonic wars introduced European competition. 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 carpet 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.
Smallpox broke out in 1737 killing 136 people. It was said that the outbreak was due to witchcraft and four Handsel sisters were blamed for this. They were summarily murdered and buried in Grovely Wood.
Wilton once had two railway stations. The first, (later known as Wilton North) was opened by the Great Western Railway in 1856 on their line from Westbury to Salisbury. The other, (later known as Wilton South) 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 station is now at Salisbury.
In 1894 Wilton absorbed the western end of the neighbouring parish of Fugglestone St Peter, the rest going into a new parish of Bemerton.
The headquarters of Land Forces was at Wilton, taking advantage of the huge amount of military camps and the ranges of Salisbury Plain. The title of HQLF has varied several times since the 1960’s.
Home of the Earl of Pembroke in the original county town of Wiltshire.
St Mary's Church, from the south-west
Showing the mix of old, very weathered, and new stone.
Grade B Listed St Mary's was originally built in the 13th century with improvements made in the 15th century and again in the 16th century when it became the Parish Church. In 1845 it was replaced by a new church, St Mary and St Nicholas, and was allowed to fall into a ruin. In the late 1930's the remaining arches were strengthened and improvements made to the parts of the Chancel still standing.
The buildings of the Wilton carpet factory now house several retail outlets.