A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Leland's assertion that there were formerly twelve or more parish churches of Wilton, if accurate, must be taken to include not only the borough but also its suburbs. The disappearance or total ruin of these churches generally precludes an accurate description of their architecture and appearance. It is possible, however, to identify, although not always precisely to site, eight churches within the borough, exclusive of the abbey church of St. Edith, and four within the suburbs.
It seems likely that the church of the Holy Trinity was the church of the Guild Merchant established in the 12th century. (fn. 1) Institutions are recorded from 1305 to 1465, and the living was in the gift of the Prior of St. Denys, Southampton. (fn. 2) It was situated opposite to the Guildhall, (fn. 3) and thus stood in or near the Market Place although its exact site is not known. As the guild church, it was often used as the assembly place for the burgesses, particularly at the time of the election of the mayor. It was still in existence in the 16th century as is shown by the town ordinance of 1527 requiring the burgesses to repair to the Council House or to the church of the Trinity when summoned to assemble by the greatest bell of that church. (fn. 4) At this period, however, it may only have been used as a meeting place and not as a church, and in the course of the 16th century even the town meetings came to be held only at the Guildhall so that the former church fell into decay. The sketch of Wilton for the first Pembroke Survey (fn. 5) does not show this church, so that by c. 1568 it had probably disappeared altogether.
One of the most important of the medieval churches was St. Michael's, South Street, which existed in 1200, for in that year Henry, son of Gospatrick of Wilton, who was born at Wilton, was baptized in it. (fn. 6) The patronage originally belonged to the family of Scudamore of Upton, (fn. 7) but by 1298 had descended to the family of Bavant. (fn. 8) From that date until 1348 presentations were made by the Bavants. (fn. 9) From 1348 until 1382 they were made by the king, first for the Abbess of Wilton (1361), then for the heirs of Roger Bavant (1363), and finally for the alien priory of Wareham in Dorset (1380). (fn. 10) In 1382 presentation was made by the priory of Dartford (Kent), which had received much of the Bavant property in Wiltshire in 1362. (fn. 11) Presentations continued to be made by Dartford, except in 1464, when they were made by the Abbess of Wilton, and in 1498 when the last presentation was made by the Bishop of Salisbury by reason of a voidance. (fn. 12) In the course of the 16th century the church fell into decay and had disappeared altogether by the time of the first Pembroke Survey; in this survey it was stated that one of the burgesses of Wilton had built a barn near the former site of the church. (fn. 13) It was situated on the south side of South Street towards Bull Bridge, (fn. 14) but its total ruin has obliterated all memory or record of its actual appearance.
The list in the bishop's register of benefices in the diocese of Salisbury in 1383 mentions a church of East (now North) Street, whose rector was the Prior of St. Giles's Hospital, and who had a chaplain serving under him; (fn. 15) no record of any institutions to this church have been found and nothing further is known of it.
Of the two churches in medieval West Street one was dedicated to St. Nicholas, and the other to St. Mary. Institutions to the church of St. Nicholas were recorded up to 1393, but by 1435 the church was ruinous, and in that year was united to St. John's Priory. (fn. 16) From 1307 until 1342 the advowson was held by the Grimsteads of Bemerton; in 1347 it was held by John Turnbull, and in 1393 by Henry of Popham. (fn. 17) The church of St. Mary was in the patronage of the Abbess of Wilton, and institutions were recorded from 1345 until 1420. In 1425 the church was returned as one of those in the diocese not served on account of its ruinous condition. (fn. 18) Ten years later, in 1435, and together with the church of St. Nicholas, it was united to St. John's Priory. (fn. 19)
The church of St. Nicholas in Atrio may have been situated in the Market Place. (fn. 20) At an early date the rectory was appropriated to the abbey and devoted to the nuns' pittances. In 1291 it was valued at £2. (fn. 21) No vicarage was ordained and the Abbess of Wilton appointed the chaplains without episcopal institution. (fn. 22) In 1366 the church was in a ruinous condition, and the parishioners were temporarily placed under the care of the Rector of St. Andrew's, Ditchampton. In 1435 it was united with the church of St. Michael, Kingsbury, possibly with a view to rebuilding it. In 1445 licence to rebuild was granted by Bishop Aiscough, with an indulgence of 40 days to all who should contribute according to their means; in consequence of this the church was completely restored, and its value at the time of the Reformation was £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 23) Since it was regarded as part of the abbey property, it passed with that property at the time of the Dissolution, (fn. 24) and there is no evidence that it was used as a church after this time; the building must quickly have disappeared, for the first Pembroke Survey contains no reference to it.
The site of St. Michael's, Kingsbury, united in 1435 with the church of St. Nicholas in Atrio, cannot be exactly defined, nor is anything known about its appearance. The patronage belonged to the Crown and was held of the king by the Prior of St. John's Hospital. The church was in existence certainly by 1226, (fn. 25) and was recorded in the episcopal register of 1383. But no reference to it occurs after the time of its union with St. Nicholas in Atrio. (fn. 26)
Even more obscure is the church of St. Edward; this church was mentioned amongst the churches of Wilton in 1383. (fn. 27) Apart from this nothing is known of its earlier or later history, and its site cannot be identified.
While so many of the parish churches were falling into ruin, or being united with others, the church of St. Mary in Brede Street and Corn Street, facing the Market Place, maintained its importance, and by the end of the 16th century the churches which remained had all been united with St. Mary's. St. Mary's thus became the parish church of Wilton, and remained so until in 1844, at the instigation and expense of Lord Herbert of Lea and his mother, the Countess of Pembroke, the church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, West Street, was built (see below). Until the Dissolution St. Mary's was in the patronage of the Abbess of Wilton, but the rectory was not appropriated to the abbey, and the benefice has remained a rectory. After 1539 the advowson passed into royal patronage, and was granted with the borough of Wilton to Sir William Herbert, and has since remained with the earls of Pembroke. The chapel of St. Katharine, at Netherhampton, (fn. 28) and the church of St. Andrew, Ditchampton (see below), had been united to it by 1564, and the vicarage of Bulbridge (see below) had also been united to it by 1593. (fn. 29) In 1649–50 the Rector of St. Mary's preached twice every Sunday at Wilton, and once a month at Netherhampton, where he employed a curate for £10 a year to serve the church. At this date it was recommended that the inhabitants of Netherhampton should be united to the church of Wilton 'to be all of that congregation'. (fn. 30) The church at Netherhampton was not, however, closed as a result of this recommendation, and has continued to be served by the Rector of Wilton, who in 1959 held services there every Sunday. (fn. 31)
In 1291 St. Mary's was valued at £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 32) In 1535 the net value was £12 16s. 1½d. (fn. 33) In 1649–50 with the church of Netherhampton, the tithes of South Burcombe, Bulbridge and Ditchampton, and including the glebe, the estimated value of St. Mary's was £110. (fn. 34) In 1831 the average gross and net incomes were £450. (fn. 35) In 1957–8 the net value of the benefice was £731. (fn. 36)
In the 13th century St. Mary's church owned a messuage in Wilton, which had at some time been occupied by an anchorite. (fn. 37) All land without exception in the borough rendered tithes to the Rector of Wilton once St. Mary's had become the parish church of the borough. During the reign of Charles II, in the course of a dispute over the payment of tithes, it was asserted that tithes had always been paid on Friars' Mead, and that 12s. a year was the rate of commutation for the small tithes on each yardland in Netherhampton. (fn. 38) In the demesne land of Washern and South Ugford, which had passed from the abbey to the Earl of Pembroke, the Rector of St. Mary's had pasture rights for four cows in Washern Marsh, tithes in Broadmead, Pikedmead, Dewes Mead, Culverhey, and Tennepence Mead, the twentieth poke in Huntham and East Netheways, the crop of one acre, but no tithes, in Wodmyllmead, tithes in the pasture of Greenhay, East and West Rollington, and in the east part of the arable East field of Washern ('les linches'). (fn. 39) In 1844 all tithes were commuted for £362. (fn. 40)
By the inclosure award of 1860 (fn. 41) an allotment was made to the Rector of Wilton in lieu of his glebe land and rights of common, which lay in the inclosed Deer Park and the common fields of Bulbridge. By this the rector exchanged with Lord Pembroke 14 acres in Bulbridge, Parsonage Mead, an inclosed meadow of about 20 acres, 3 acres in Burden's Ball Mead, 2 acres of meadow in Dog Kennel Close, and another Parsonage Mead of some 2 acres, for meadows, orchard land, and gardens close to the rectory and churchyard of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in West Street. The rector also exchanged with the Prior of St. John's Hospital land in Wilton including the old rectory house and garden, for two meadows adjoining the rectory and churchyard in West Street. In 1887 the rector had 10 acres of glebe lying in Wilton, Bulbridge, and Netherhampton. The gross estimated rental of this was £29 17s. 6d. (fn. 42)
The original church of ST. MARY, Brede Street, consisted of a small west tower, with a nave and chancel, each with side aisles. It was partly rebuilt in the 13th century, but in its present form it is a survival of rebuilding which took place in the 15th century. Four pointed arches divided the main body of the church from each aisle; there was no clerestory; the windows, except for one of three lights at the eastern end of the south aisle, were square headed. The first Pembroke Survey included a sketch of St. Mary's as it then appeared. The steward's accounts of 1441–2 record payments to a man of New Salisbury for the great bell of the church. (fn. 43) About 1628 a carved pulpit (now at Wylye) was installed. (fn. 44) The church was restored in the 18th century, and in 1810 a parish rate was levied for its restoration. Three years later the churchwardens called a meeting of inhabitants to consider ways of lighting the church so that an evening sermen could be preached. A chandelier and pulpit sconces were then bought. (fn. 45) The church remained badly in need of repair, and throughout the first quarter of the 19th century caused the vestry much concern, so that after the new church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas was completed in 1845, the old parish church was partly demolished. (fn. 46) The eastern-most bay of the nave and the chancel were, however, kept in use, and the chancel was converted into a small chapel where, for some years, services were held. Between 1933 and 1937 the restoration of the old church was undertaken by Robert Bingham, Ambassador of the United States to the Court of St. James. Bingham claimed to be a descendant of Robert Bingham, who was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury in the church at Wilton in 1229 during the building of the new cathedral at Salisbury. After the death of the ambassador the work was completed by members of his family. One of the Dorset Binghams presented a statue representing Bishop Bingham, which was placed above the door. One of the remaining tablets in the chancel was put up in memory of Thomas Mill, Mayor of Wilton (d. 1625), while amongst the table tombs in the churchyard is that of Robert Sumption, a weaver, and father of the great benefactor of the town in the 18th century. (fn. 47)
The new church of ST. MARY AND ST. NICHOLAS, West Street, was built in 1844 on the site of the earlier church of St. Nicholas; the architects were T. H. Wyatt and D. Brandon. It is faced with stone ashlar and is designed in the Romanesque style in faithful imitation of a Lombardic basilica. The orientation of the church is on a north-south axis, allegedly at the wish of the Dowager Countess of Pembroke, according to the custom in her native Russia. The building consists of an aisled and clerestoried nave, and an aisled chancel, the sanctuary being approached by nine steps and terminating in an apse. At the north, or entrance, end is a porch flanked by vestibules and surmounted by a gallery; to the east stands a campanile 105 ft. high connected to the church by a short cloister. Much material of early workmanship was brought from abroad and incorporated into the interior of the church; the marble columns which support the arches at the south end of the side aisles are from the 2nd-century-B.C. Temple of Venus at Porto Venere, on the Gulf of Spezia; the north porch contains a small Italian mosaic square; the pulpit is decorated with twisted columns studded with mosaic from the shrine of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome which had formerly been in Horace Walpole's garden chapel at Strawberry Hill. The stained glass in the central apse is French work of the late 12th and early 13th centuries; the vestry windows contain roundels of 16th-century Flemish or German painted glass. The windows of the nave contain part of a series of windows painted in 1525 by Arnold of Nimeguen for a convent in Malines. There is also some glass from the old chapel in Wilton House commemorating the marriage of Mary Tudor with Philip II of Spain in the presence of the first Earl of Pembroke; the wheel window above the gallery contains early-, middle- and late-16th-century glass, which originally had been looted by the army of Napoleon.
Many tablets and memorials were brought from the old parish church: those of the Herbert family include one to Henry, Earl of Pembroke (d. 1749) with a portrait bust by Roubiliac, and one to the 11th earl (d. 1827) by Westmacott. There is also a monument of 1626 to William Sharp and his family. Flanking the chancel are recumbent alabaster effigies of Lord Herbert of Lea (d. 1861) and of his mother Countess of Pembroke (d. 1856), both by J. B. Philip. The six bells of the old church were recast for the new church, which was consecrated on 9 October 1845.
Three charities were established for the maintenance of the church. (fn. 48) Catherine, Dowager Countess of Pembroke and Montgomery, by her will dated 1856, left £1,000 in trust to be invested for the maintenance of the painted glass, mosaic and other ornamental work. In 1931 the income from this fund was £46. Lord Herbert of Lea, by his will dated 1858, bequeathed £1,000 for the maintenance of the chancel. This yielded £106 in 1931. By his will dated 1888 William Robson bequeathed £100 for the maintenance of the churchyard, and the surplus in any given year was to be given to the organist and choir. The churchyard was closed for burials in 1889, and the site of the present cemetery on the Shaftesbury road was purchased that year. (fn. 49)
The church of St. Peter, Bulbridge, lay in the suburbs beyond the Bulbridge Gate. The rectory was appropriated to the abbey but the bishop had the advowson. Institutions to the vicarage were recorded from 1381 until 1593, when St. Peter's was united to the church of St. Mary (see above), of which the Earl of Pembroke had the advowson. In 1567 the vicar apparently had a house situated between Greenhay meadow and the River Nadder, then inclosed within Wilton Park; (fn. 50) the vicar had tithes in the manor of Washern. (fn. 51) In 1291 the rectory of Bulbridge was valued at £5, but the vicarage was of insufficient value to be assessed for taxation. (fn. 52) In 1535 the net value of the rectory was £11 2s. (fn. 53) At the Dissolution the rectory passed to the Crown as part of the possessions of the abbey.
In 1236 Thomas Tut, with the assent of the Bishop of Salisbury, conveyed to the vicar of St. Peter's ½ hide of land in Washern. (fn. 54) In 1323 the vicar secured licence to alienate in mortmain to the Prior of St. John's Hospital, four messuages lying in South Street and West Street. (fn. 55) This was to endow a chaplain from the hospital to pray daily in the chantry founded in the church by the same vicar. (fn. 56) This chantry was confiscated at the Reformation, when its value was £11 10s. 4d. (fn. 57)
The church of St. Andrew, Ditchampton, was known also as St. Andrew's rectory, Wilton, and seems to have been in Wilton itself, within the angle of the junction of West and South Street. (fn. 58) If this is so, the church is visible in the sketch of Wilton made for the first Pembroke Survey, where it is shown with a square tower. The advowson belonged to the lords of the manor of Ditchampton. First in the hands of the family of Camville, lords of Ditchampton, (fn. 59) the patronage had descended by 1341 to the Burdets, (fn. 60) and at the beginning of the 15th century to the Staffords. (fn. 61) For a short time, between 1526 and 1531, the advowson was in the hands of Queen Katharine. (fn. 62) With the sale of the manor to Sir William Herbert by Humphrey Stafford in 1547, (fn. 63) the advowson passed to the earls of Pembroke. In 1564 the church was united to St. Mary's, Wilton. (fn. 64)
In 1291 the benefice was of insufficient value to be assessed for taxation; (fn. 65) in 1535 the rectory was valued at £10. (fn. 66) In 1300 the rector of St. Andrew's was one of the burgage holders of Wilton rendering landgable, (fn. 67) and the rectors continued to hold burgage tenements rendering them liable to serve as portreeve for the borough. (fn. 68) The rent from a shop owned by the Guild Merchant in West Street was appropriated to the rector for the upkeep of a belltower in 'Cranwellane'. (fn. 69) The church itself presumable disappeared shortly after its union with St. Mary's.
In the eyre of 1281 mention was made of the church of St. John, Ugford. (fn. 70) but this is probably an error, and no later references to this have come to light. South Ugford lay in the manor of Washern, and frequent references were made to the old chapel of St. James there. Opposite to this chapel stood a cross, but both cross and chapel had apparently disappeared by the time of the survey of the manor of Washern, made in 1567. (fn. 71) It is possible that this cross was 'le Stonnene Crouch' mentioned in a deed of 1287 relating to land in Washern. (fn. 72) In 1281 reference was made to the church of All Saints in the suburbs of Wilton; (fn. 73) this presumably referred to the church of South Newton, showing that at that time South Newton was regarded as a suburb of Wilton.
Wilton had a Presbyterian rector during part of the Interregnum called Richard Chandler (d. 1657). (fn. 74) Separatists, however, are not recorded in the parish until 1676, when they numbered seven. (fn. 75) A regular Presbyterian meeting was established by the 1720's, for Matthew Toogood was said to be the minister there in 1715. (fn. 76) In the following year he moved to Shepton Mallet (Som.) and was replaced by Samuel Fancourt, who stayed for five years and then moved to Salisbury. The congregation was not a wealthy one, but it apparently continued its independent existence. The house of Mary Brown was licensed for worship some time in the earlier 18th century, (fn. 77) and it was to the Presbyterian meeting that 'Mrs. Hall's son from Oxford' preached in c. 1735. (fn. 78) This was presumably the Westley Hall who was a follower and relation by marriage of John Wesley, and who became curate at Fisherton Anger in 1736. (fn. 79)
Hall's visit was the beginning of a period of evangelism which for a time, at Wilton as elsewhere, overrode sectarian differences. The leading figure at Wilton was John Furz, a native of the borough born in 1717. His diary records that while he was a young man he went to the Presbyterian meeting, which then had a congregation of about ten, and felt the mission to preach. He had a great success: the congregation rose to 100 and a separate house was licensed. (fn. 80) In fact, the preaching of Furz caused such excitement that it alarmed the rector, who called on the mayor to suppress his meetings. The following Sunday both the mayor and the Earl of Pembroke went to hear him, but instead of ordering Furz to close the meeting in the interests of keeping the peace, the mayor read the Riot Act to the rabble who were trying to break it up. (fn. 81) The exact date of this incident is not clear: a petition dated 1745 for a licence to use a house for worship bears Furz's name, (fn. 82) but his activities in Wilton almost certainly began several years before this. He became a disciple of John Wesley and he left Wilton in order to help in the work of re-organizing the Salisbury congregation of Methodists after the defection of Westley Hall in 1746. (fn. 83)
The chief evidence for religious activity in the borough during the later 18th century, the returns of houses licensed for worship, (fn. 84) shows that Quaker, Methodist and Independent congregations were meeting, but there is no evidence for Baptist meetings there at any time. In 1761 two houses were licensed for use by the Quakers; the only earlier evidence for Quakers is the licensing of a house in 1704, (fn. 85) but neither then nor in 1761 were the meetings established for long enough to be organized as members of a regular monthly meeting. Over a century later, however, in 1883, a Quaker meeting was opened in Russel Street and attached to the Poole and Southampton monthly meeting. The congregation moved to South Street later in the century, but in 1911 the meeting was abandoned. (fn. 86)
It is often difficult to determine the relations of the groups who appear at various times as Presbyterian, Independent or Congregational. It is claimed that in Wilton the Presbyterian congregation of the earlier 18th century had a continuous life during which it became first Independent and later Congregational without any definite breaks. In 1751 the chapel in Crow Lane was called Independent (fn. 87) and in the mid-19th century it was still called Independent or Congregational. (fn. 88) It had been built on the site of the old Presbyterian meeting house either at the end of the 18th or early in the 19th century. (fn. 89) When within the 18th century the Presbyterian meeting house was built is not known, nor is anything known about the two houses licensed by Independents in 1797 and 1798. (fn. 90)
In the 19th century the Crow Lane Congregational Church was by far the largest of the nonconformist churches. There were said to be 400 members in 1829, (fn. 91) and in 1851 the average congregations were 200 in the morning, 100 in the afternoon and 250 in the evening. (fn. 92) The church had 100 free sittings and 400 others. The Sunday School was attended by 110, 80 and 60 children respectively in the morning, afternoon and evening, and a day school was also run by the church (fn. 93). In 1863 a manse was bought in Kingsbury Square. (fn. 94) The chapel continued to thrive during the 19th century although attendances declined in the 20th century: in 1959 there were 33 members and the chapel shared a minister with the congregations of Broad Chalke and Ebbesborne Wake. (fn. 95) The chapel in Crow Lane is a plain red-brick building of late 18th- or early 19th-century date.
Houses registered for meetings in 1778, 1780 and 1794 (fn. 96) reflect the growing strength of Wesleyan Methodism towards the end of the 18th century. By 1829 there were 150 members of the Wesleyan congregation, (fn. 97) and a chapel was built in North Street one or two years later. (fn. 98) It had 24 free and 80 other sittings. The average congregations in 1851 were 60 in the morning and afternoon and 100 in the evening. (fn. 99) This chapel, however, was closed in or before 1936. (fn. 100)
The Primitive Methodist congregation established in the third decade of the 19th century has continued to meet until the present day (1960). Its first appearance was in 1821 when a house was licensed by William Sanger, who was connected with the 'Tent Methodists' then preaching in Salisbury. (fn. 101) A regular Primitive Methodist congregation was established by 1829 with 40 members. (fn. 102) A chapel in West Street with 113 free and 50 other sittings was opened in 1837. (fn. 103) On 30 March 1851 the congregations at the three services were 32, 48 and 69 respectively, and 16 children attended Sunday school that day. (fn. 104) A new chapel built of red brick was opened in Kingsbury Square in c. 1880 and the old one closed. (fn. 105) The third Methodist congregation established in Wilton was short lived. A Methodist Reform Church opened a chapel in Kingsbury Square in 1872 but it was closed by 1896. (fn. 106)