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Arms of Devizes
Devizes is located in Wiltshire
 Devizes shown within Wiltshire
Population 11,715 (in 2011)[1]
OS grid reference SU0061
Civil parish Devizes
Unitary authority Wiltshire
Ceremonial county Wiltshire
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Devizes
Postcode district SN10
Dialling code 01380
Police Wiltshire
Fire Wiltshire
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament Devizes
Website Devizes Town Council
Devizes official site
List of places

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Devizes /dˈvzz/ is a market town and civil parish in the heart of Wiltshire, England. The town is about 10.5 miles (16.9 km) southeast of Chippenham and 11 miles (18 km) east of the county town of Trowbridge.

Devizes serves as a centre for banks, solicitors and shops and has an open market place where a market is held once a week. It has nearly five hundred listed buildings, some notable churches, a Town Hall and a green at the heart of the town. Its development has grown around the 11th century Norman castle.[2]


Devizes Castle was built by Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury in 1080, but the town is not mentioned in the Domesday Book. Because the castle was on the boundaries of the manors of Rowde, Bishops Cannings and Potterne it became known as the castrum ad divisas ("the castle at the boundaries"), hence the name Devizes.[3] On John Speed's map of Wiltshire (1611), the town's name is recorded as The Devyses. The first castle on the site was of the motte and bailey form and was probably made of wood and earth, but this burnt down in 1113. A new castle was built in stone by Roger of Salisbury, Osmund's successor. Devizes received its first charter in 1141 permitting regular markets. The castle changed hands several times during the civil war between Stephen of Blois and Matilda in the 12th century. The castle held important prisoners, including (from 1106) Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror.[4]

The town has had churches since the early 11th century[5] and today has four Church of England parish churches. The oldest is dedicated to St John the Baptist and was founded in 1130. Pevsner describes it as the second best Norman church in Wiltshire, after Malmesbury Abbey.[6] It was the church intimately associated with the early Castle and its garrison.[7] It is now a middle-of-the-road Church of England Church with a notable interior. The three others are dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, associated in its early days with the growing town of Devizes and now in a partnership with St John's; St James, part of Bishops Cannings until the end of the 19th century and now a low church, evangelical Anglican church;[8] and St Peter's, originally a broad church for the canal side of the town but now a conservative, traditionalist, Anglo-Catholic church.[9] A Roman Catholic church dedicated to Our Lady the Immaculate Conception was built in 1865[10] and has a Church primary school associated with and adjacent to it.[11]

During the 12th and 13th centuries, the town of Devizes developed outside the castle with craftsmen and traders setting up businesses to serve the residents of the castle. The first known market in Devizes was in 1228. The original market was in the large space outside St Mary’s Church, rather than in the current Market Place, which at that time would have been within the castle’s outer bailey.[12] The chief products in the 16th and early 17th centuries were wheat, wool and yarn, with cheese, bacon and butter increasing in importance later.

The Market Cross, built in 1814 to replace an earlier cross standing a little to the south[13]

In 1643, during the English Civil War, Parliamentary forces under Sir William Waller besieged Royalist forces under Sir Ralph Hopton in Devizes. However the siege was lifted by a relief force from Oxford under Henry Wilmot, 1st Earl of Rochester and Waller's forces were almost totally destroyed at the Battle of Roundway Down. Devizes remained under Royalist control until 1645, when Oliver Cromwell attacked and forced the Royalists to surrender. The castle was destroyed in 1648 on the orders of Parliament, a process known as slighting, and today little remains of it.

From the 16th century Devizes became known for its textiles, initially white woollen broadcloth but later the manufacture of serge, drugget, felt and cassimere or Zephyr cloth. In the early 18th century Devizes held the largest corn market in the West Country of England and also traded hops, cattle, horses and various types of cloth. Before the Corn Exchange was built in 1857, the trade in wheat and barley was conducted in the open, with sacks piled around the market cross.[13] Today's cross displays the salutary tale of Ruth Pierce, accused of cheating some buyers at the market:[14] <templatestyles src="Template:Blockquote/styles.css" />

On Thursday the 25th of January 1753, Ruth Pierce of Potterne in this County, agreed with three other women to buy a sack of wheat in the market, each paying her due proportion towards the same. One of these women, in collecting the several quotas of money, discovered a deficiency, and demanded of Ruth Pierce the sum which was wanting to make good the amount. Ruth Pierce protested that she had paid her share, and said, ‘She wished she might drop down dead if she had not.’ She rashly repeated this awful wish; when to the consternation and terror of the surrounding multitude, she instantly fell down and expired, having the money concealed in her hand.[15]

The coroner, John Clare, recorded that she had been "struck down dead by the vengeance of God."[16]

Devizes has a record of early dissenting preachers and churches.[5] One church, St. Mary's Chapel or the Congregational Church, was founded on Northgate Street in 1776.[17] It had two early charismatic preachers: the Reverend Robert Sloper and then the Reverend Richard Elliot, the anti-slavery campaigner. They regularly had congregations of over 500 in the early 19th century.[18] This church has now been converted into one house and six apartments, and the congregation has united with the Methodist church to form St Andrew's United Church, on Long Street. There are two Baptist churches in the town, a Friends meeting house, and an Assemblies of God church.

Wool merchants were able to build prosperous town houses in St. John's and Long Street and around the market place. From the end of the 18th century the manufacture of textiles declined, but other trades in the town included clock-making, a bell foundry, booksellers, milliners, grocers and silversmiths. In the 18th century brewing, curing of tobacco and snuff-making were established in the town. Brewing still survives in the Wadworth Brewery, but the tobacco and snuff trades have now died out.

In 1794 it was decided in the Bear Hotel to raise a body of ten independent troops of yeomanry in the county of Wiltshire. These would later be brought together to form the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, the senior yeomanry regiment. In 1810 the county Militia, quartered at Devizes, mutinied and the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry were called out to quell the disturbances. The mutiny came to a head when the two forces faced off against each other with loaded firearms in the Market Square, at which point the Militia ringleaders surrendered.[19] The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry went on to serve at home and abroad, including in the Boer War, World War I and World War II, and live on as B (RWY) Squadron and Y (RWY) Squadron of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, based in Old Sarum and Swindon respectively.[20]

A new Devizes Prison, or "County House of Corrections", was opened in 1817. This replaced the Old Bridewell[21] that had been built in Bridewell Street in 1579. The new prison was built of brick and stone, it was designed by Richard Ingleman as a two-storey polygon surrounding a central governor's house and reflected the panopticon principle. It had an operational life of more than ninety years and was closed in 1922. It stood on the north side of the Castle's Old Park, across the Kennet and Avon canal by way of a bridge still called Prison Bridge. The House of Corrections was demolished by 1928.[22]

Devizes has more than 500 listed buildings – a large number for such a small town. The Trust for Devizes has a Town Map which provides a guide to many of them.[23] Brownston House is a grade I listed building on New Park Street. It has been home to four MPs, two Army Generals from 1700, and a young ladies' boarding school from 1859 to 1901. It was conserved in 1976 by Wiltshire Council and is now a business head office.[24] Heathcote House on the Green in Devizes is a grade II* listed building; its history is associated with the church and education.[25] No 8 Long Street was the house of the clothier Samuel Powell, as well as Admiral Joseph Needham Tayler, one of the inspirations for C.S. Forester's fictional hero Horatio Hornblower.[26] Southbroom House,[27] close to the Green, was built in 1501, then burnt down and was rebuilt by the Eyles family in 1772; it is now at the heart of Devizes School.

The town was a coaching stop for Mail coaches and stagecoaches on the road from London to Bristol, as evidenced by the number of coaching inns in the town.

A series of approximately 20 black lock gates with white ends to the paddle arms and wooden railings, each slightly higher than the one below. On the right is a path and on both sides grass and vegetation.
A flight of 16 locks climbs Caen Hill in Devizes, on the Kennet and Avon Canal

The Kennet and Avon Canal was built under the direction of John Rennie between 1794 and 1810 to link Devizes with Bristol and London.[28] Near Devizes the canal rises 237 feet (72 m) by means of 29 locks, 16 of them in a straight line at Caen Hill. In the early days the canal was lit by gas lights at night, enabling boats to negotiate the locks at any time of day. The canal fell into disuse after the coming of the railways in the 1840s, but has been restored for leisure uses. There is a canal museum at Devizes Wharf.

In 1853 the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society was founded in the town, and later opened a museum in Long Street. Now called the Wiltshire Museum,[29] its collections are designated as being of national significance. The museum has extensive Bronze Age collections and includes finds from the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, including West Kennet Long Barrow, Marden Henge and Bush Barrow.

In 1857 the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway opened Devizes railway station and the branch line from Holt Junction, on its line between Chippenham and Weymouth. In 1862 the Great Western Railway extended its Reading to Hungerford line to meet this line, providing a direct line between Paddington and the West Country through Devizes.[30] However the building of a by-pass line through Westbury removed most traffic from the Devizes line and British Rail closed it in 1966. Today the nearest railway stations are at Chippenham and Pewsey.

There was a military presence in the town at Le Marchant Barracks, from 1878 until the 1980s.[31]

In 1999, a hill figure of a white horse was cut onto a hill close to Roundway Hill. Known as the Devizes White Horse, it replaced an earlier one which was cut in 1845.

In 2014, the town celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Market Cross, marked by Viscount Sidmouth and his cousin, Lord Lieutenant Peter Addington.[32]

Notable people


Devizes is a civil parish with an elected town council, 10 members of which are Devizes Guardians, 6 Conservatives and 1 Independent. The parish includes the small settlement of Dunkirk, on the northeastern slopes of the hill, which was transferred from Rowde parish in 1835.[33] Much of the built-up area of the town, to the north, east, and south, is within the neighbouring civil parish of Roundway, while a smaller part is in Bishops Cannings parish, and each of those has its own parish council.

The whole town is within the area of the Wiltshire Council unitary authority, on which the four elected members for Devizes are Conservatives.[34] Most significant local government services are the responsibility of Wiltshire Council, while the town and parish councils have a more consultative role. Before the Local Government Act took effect in 1974, Devizes was a municipal borough. It then became the administrative centre for the much larger District of Kennet, until that was abolished as part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England.

The town has three electoral wards. The North and East wards follow the boundaries of the civil parish, while Devizes and Roundway South ward extends southward to include part of Roundway parish. The total population of these wards at the 2011 census was 12,491.[35]

Devizes is part of the Devizes constituency, represented in the House of Commons by one Member of Parliament elected by the first past the post system. The current Member is Claire Perry of the Conservatives. Devizes is also part of the South West England constituency of the European Parliament which elects six Members of the European Parliament using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.


These Shire horses are giving the public a ride in Devizes but normally deliver Wadworth beer to pubs in the area

Devizes has a small and steady economy mainly made up of manufacturing, retail, services and a small amount of tourism. Devizes has always traditionally been a market town and the market square exists today; markets are held every Thursday. The town attracts some tourism due to its proximity to Avebury, Stonehenge and Salisbury. Local attractions include Wiltshire Museum, Caen Hill Locks, Kennet and Avon Canal, local crop circles, Devizes White Horse, andWadworth Brewery with its shire horses. Wadworth has opened a popular Visitor Centre, with regular tours of the Brewery.



Devizes railway station was opened in 1857 and initially served as a main stop on the line that was named after the town: the Devizes Branch Line. In 1862 the line was extended to create a direct link from London to the West Country. The improvement saw increased traffic for Devizes until 1900 when a faster line through Westbury was built, and the Devizes line was returned to local branch line status. The station and line remained open until 1966 when it was closed as part of the Beeching Axe. The station was destroyed in 1970.[36] Pans Lane Halt railway station in the south east of Devizes, in the suburb of Wick, opened in 1929. It suffered the same fate as Devizes station, and was closed in 1964 and destroyed in 1970.[37]

The nearest currently-open railway station from Devizes is at Melksham.


Devizes has many connections to surrounding towns including Swindon via Avebury, Salisbury, Bath and Chippenham, each of which have rail services. Devizes also has a daily National Express coach service to and from London Victoria, via Heathrow Airport. There is a regular bus service A360 to and from Stonehenge. Devizes also has local buses provided by Bodmans Coaches that provide smaller buses to all parts of Devizes.


Devizes is approximately 15 miles (24 km) from the M4. Several main roads pass through the town, including the A360, A361 and A342.


The Kennet and Avon Canal, restored between 1970 and 2003, runs through the town and the Caen Hill Locks are located in Devizes. The Kennet and Avon Trust run a museum at The Wharf in Devizes. Devizes is the starting point to the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon.


Devizes School, a secondary school with a sixth form, takes pupils from the town and surrounding area. It is situated in the grounds of the Southbroom House estate and the Grade 2 listed house forms its administrative core.

Downland School is a Community Special School for boys aged 11-16.[38]

Devizes has four primary schools: St Joseph's Catholic Primary School, Southbroom St James Academy, Southbroom Infants' School and Wansdyke Community School. Close by are Nursteed Community Primary School and The Trinity CofE (VA) Primary School in Roundway parish, and Rowde CofE Primary Academy in Rowde.

Long Street has had a number of private schools,[39] beginning in the 18th century and proliferating in the 19th. Brownston House, a Grade I listed building, was the home of Miss Bidwell's Ladies Boarding School from 1859 to 1901.[40] A private Devizes Grammar School was established in Heathcote House in 1874 by the Reverend S.S. Pugh and carried on until 1919 by his twin sons.[41]

Emergency services

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Wiltshire Police HQ on London Road, Devizes

Devizes is policed by Wiltshire Police, who also hold their headquarters in Devizes. Policing of Devizes was the responsibility of the City of Salisbury Police until Wiltshire Constabulary was founded in 1839 under the County Police Act 1839, it was the first county police force founded in the country, hence its motto 'Primus et Optimus'- The First and The Best. Due to the location of their headquarters and a station in Devizes, Wiltshire Police is one of the largest employers in the town. It employs people for the Wiltshire Police Helicopter/Ambulance, police training grounds, Wiltshire Emergency Services building, all the administrative roles for headquarters and officers for the station.


Healthcare and Ambulance response services in Devizes are provided by NHS Wiltshire, part of NHS South West and Great Western Ambulance Service respectively. They have an ambulance station in Devizes, and their emergency communications centre is based in the Wiltshire Emergency Services building.

Fire and rescue

Fire and rescue services in Devizes are provided Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, who have a fire station with a retained staff. They also have the counties training centre on the Hopton Estate and their emergency communications centre is based in the Wiltshire Emergency Services building.


Position: grid reference SU005615.

Devizes lies almost 2° west of the Greenwich Meridian, with the two-degree line running through the western edge of the town, just a few hundred yards west of the castle. As this is the centre of the east-west extent of the Ordnance Survey mapping grid, True North and Grid north align exactly in Devizes.


Hartmoor, Jump Farm, Nursteed, Roundway, Southbroom, Wick.


Each year at Easter the 125 miles (201 km) Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon is held on a course between Devizes and Westminster in London. First contested in 1948, the event was one of the first to be included on the international race calendar when marathon canoeing gained worldwide popularity in the 1960s.

The local association football (soccer) team is Devizes Town F.C. who play in the Western Football League.

The local rugby union team is Devizes R.F.C.[42] founded in 1876, known as the 'Saddlebacks' (after the Wessex Saddleback) who play in the Southern Counties (South) League.

Devizes Cricket Club was founded in 1850.

Devizes Hockey Club plays in the Premier 1 Hockey League.[43] Under the chairmanship of Toby Gilliat Brown – grandson of Sidney Gilliat – the club has played its way up the hockey league winning successive promotions over nine seasons.

Devizes Netball Club was founded in 1979. It has six teams in the Moonraker Netball Leagues. The A Team was champion of the Premier Division in 2007–08, 2008–9 and again in 2009–10.

Moonrakers Athletics Club is based at Devizes School. It provides coaching in throws, sprints, long distance and jumps.

Twin towns

Devizes is twinned with:

See also


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  2. Devizes Heritage: The Green and Crammer
  3. Devizes Heritage: Castle
  4. Charles Wendell David, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (1920)
  5. 5.0 5.1 'The borough of Devizes: Religious and cultural history', in A History of the County of Wiltshire Volume 10 (1975), pp. 285–314 online
  6. N. Pesvner, The buildings of England – Wiltshire, Yale University Press, 2002 edition
  7. St John the Baptist, Devizes
  8. Devizes Heritage: St James's Church
  9. St Peter's Church at
  10. Devizes Heritage: St Joseph's Church
  11. Devizes Heritage: St Joseph's Roman Catholic School
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  16. Haycock (2000: 48)
  17. Devizes Heritage: Congregational Church
  18. Devizes Heritage: Robert Sloper
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  21. Devizes Heritage: The Old Bridewell
  22. Devizes Heritage: Devizes Prison the County House of Corrections
  23. Trust for Devizes
  24. Devizes Heritage: Brownston House
  25. Devizes Heritage: Heathcote House
  26. Trust for Devizes newsletter
  27. Devizes Heritage: Southbroom House
  28. Devizes Heritage: Kennet and Avon Canal
  29. Museum website
  30. Railway at
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  39. Devizes Heritage: Private Schools at 41 Long Street Devizes – now the home of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum.
  40. Devizes Heritage: Bidwell Ladies School
  41. Devizes Heritage: Devizes Grammar school
  42. Devizes R.F.C.
  43. Premier 1 Hockey League

External links