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Wilton in 1843

Wilton is in the hundred of Branch and Dole, 3 miles west-north-west of Salisbury, and 88 from the General Post Office, London, by the South-Western Railway to Basingstoke, and thence through Andover and Salisbury. Wilton is a place of great antiquity, and its former importance is indicated by the circumstance of its having given name to the county, which is called in the Saxon Chronicle Wiltunscire. The town itself appears to have obtained its name from the river Wily (Wily-town, Wilton), near which it stands. It was the scene of one of Alfred’s earlier battles with the Danes (A.D. 871), and some have supposed it to be the Ellendune of the Saxon Chronicle and other ancient authorities, where Egbert conquered (A.D. 823) the Mercian King Beornwulf, and established the permanent supremacy of the West Saxon dynasty. Wilton was the occasional residence of the West Saxon kings ; and an abbey for nuns, which was either originally or soon became of the Benedictine order, existed here at an early period, of which Alfred and his successors Edward the Elder, Athelstan, Edmund, Edred, and Edgar, were great benefactors. Wilton was plundered and burnt by the Danish King Sweyn, in the reign of Ethelred II (A.D. 1003), but appears to have so far recovered as to be a place of importance at the time of the Conquest. It received a charter from Henry I. In the civil war of Stephen, the king was about to fortify the monastery in order to check the garrison which Maud the empress had at Old Sarum, when he was attacked and driven away by Robert, earl of Gloucester, the empress’s chief supporter. The yearly revenue of the abbey at the dissolution was £652, 11 shillings, 5 pence gross, or £601, 1 shilling, 1 pence clear. Wilton was for a time (A.D. 909-1045 or later) the seat of a bishopric formed by the dismemberment of the diocese of Sherborne, and afterwards reunited with it, just before the removal of the see to Sarum. The statistics of the borough and parish of Wilton in 1831 were as follows :-

Wilton :
Area : 1,730 acres
Houses : 383 inhabited ; 21 uninhabited ; 1 building ; TOTAL 405.
Families employed in :
Agriculture : 101
Trade : 214
Other : 120
Total Families : 435
Total persons : 1,997

The borough has been enlarged for parliamentary purposes by the addition of the parishes of Fugglestone, Stratford-under-the-Castle, Great Durnford, Woodford. South Newton, Wishford, Barford, Burcombe, Netherhampton, West Harnham, and Britford ; and parts of the parishes of Fisherton-Anger, Bishopston, Toney-Stratford, Combe-Bisset, and Humington : this enlarged borough comprehends an extensive rural district, and has a population of 8,315. The town stands on the tongue of land formed by the junction of the Nadder and the Wily, of which the former flows on the south side and the latter on the north-east side. The village of Fugglestone and the hamlets of Ditchampton and Bulbridge, in Wilton parish, are so near to the town that they may be regarded as suburbs. Wilton consists chiefly of one long street, on the road from Salisbury to Hindon and Mere. The church, formerly the abbey church, consists of the nave and western tower which are ancient, side aisles of the Elizabethan or early Stuart period, and a chancel of modern date. There are several monuments of the Herbert family. Opposite the church is ‘the county cross.’ The town-hall is an ancient plain brick building ; and there are places of worship for Independents and Methodists. Near the town is Wilton House, the seat of the earl of Pembroke, a mansion of incongruous architecture but imposing appearance, standing in a noble park and gardens. The house contains a fine collection of paintings and antiquities, and a valuable library. It is supposed to occupy the site of the ancient abbey.

Wilton was formerly famed for its carpet manufacture : this branch of industry, though declined, gave employment in the parish, in 1831, to forty men. The market is not held regularly. There are two yearly fairs ; one of them is one of the greatest sheep-fairs in England.

The living of Wilton is a rectory, united with the rectory of Bulbridge, the vicarage of Ditchampton, and the perpetual curacy of Netherhampton, of the joint clear yearly value of £450, with a glebe-house, in the rural deanery of Wilton, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Salisbury.

The parish contained, in 1833, eight day-schools of all kinds, with 112 scholars, namely, 69 boys and 43 girls ; giving only about one in eighteen of the population under daily instruction. One of the schools was an endowed school for educating, clothing, and apprenticing 20 poor boys. There were two Sunday-schools, one of them a national school, having together 256 scholars, namely, 116 boys and 140 girls; giving one in eight of the population under instruction on Sunday.