Heritage > Counties > England
A mainly agricultural county in the South of England, Wiltshire covers an area of 1,343 square miles and has a population of 555,000.
It has it's administrative headquarters at Trowbridge with the cathedral city of Salisbury, and the towns of Swindon and Wilton, famous for it's carpets, being other major centres.
Wiltshire has, in Stonehenge, probably the most famous prehistoric site in Britain. Said by many to have originally been built for long forgotten mystical ceremonies Stonehenge graces the Salisbury Plain. The Plain itself has been a training ground for the British Army since the Napoleonic Wars.
Along with this scenically beautiful area Wiltshire also offers Marlborough Downs, Savernake Forest and the rivers Kennet and the Salisbury and Bristol Avons as other physically attractive locations.
The county lists as it's main products, wheat, cattle, carpets, rubber and engineering.
Facts on the region
Origin of name: Anglo-Saxon, derived from West Saxon settlers known as the Wilsaetan who lived along the Wylye valley; Saetan means settlers. Their main village, Wilton, "farmstead on the banks of the Wylye", became the first centre of Wiltshire.
Name first recorded: 878 as Wiltunschir.
County Town: AMESBURY Ancient town that predates its Roman links by over 1000 years. Legend has it that Queen Guinevere came here when she had been unfaithful with Sir Lancelot.
County Rivers: Avon, Wylye, Kennet, Nadder, Bourne
Highest point: Milk Hill, near Alton Barnes, at 9648 feet.
Wiltshire's local government: A two-tier structure, apart from Thamesdown, a unitary council opting out of Wiltshire County Council control. The two-tier structure is Wiltshire County Council along with four district councils: Kennet, North Wiltshire, Salisbury and West Wiltshire. Wiltshire detached in Berkshire at Wokingham, Twyford and Swallowfield is administered by Wokingham Unitary Council. Parts of Wiltshire which protrude into Hampshire are governed by that county's council and Test Valley or New Forest District Councils.
The local landscape
Wiltshire is a land-locked county in central southern England, influenced by both Somerset to the west and Dorset to the south.
At its heart is Salisbury Plain, the vast expanse of chalk uplands, stretching roughly 20 miles from east to west and 12 miles from north to south. Modern farming has reclaimed much of the historic plain huge fields of corn reaching unbroken to the horizon. The plain is fringed by attractive river valleys, such as those of the Avon, the Bourne and the Wylye.
In the west the countryside has a rustic feel to it - low-lying agricultural land watered by the Lower Avon - while in the north it reverts back to quiet water meadows fed by streams leading into the Thames.
Local Towns and Villages
BRADFORD-ON-AVON: Exceptionally pretty stone-built town across the Avon with an ancient bridge preserving a rare chapel converted into a small lock-up. With its twisting narrow streets and air of wealthy cloth-making, this is a place to linger.
CHIPPENHAM Before the war Wiltshire bacon was known and prized the whole country over, with Chippenham being a great bacon-curing centre.
DEVIZES Gracious old town where flax-growing and linen-spinning still continue. Ornamental Market Cross and Georgian Bear Hotel of particular note.
LACOCK Has a fascinating museum dedicated to William Henry Fox Talbot, the founding father of photography. A picturesque village, swarming with visitors in the summer.
MALMESBURY Highly attractive hilltop town which grew up around the remains of a 7th-century Benedictine abbey; many of its streets are lined with 17th-century golden Cotswold stone houses.
MARLBOROUGH The Polly Tearooms are wonderfully English, with scones and jam...and cream!
SALISBURY Perhaps the most painted spire in the country, but why not see it for yourself in all its Gothic splendour. It is said the steeple was set on fire by lightning the day after it was consecrated (not long after the Norman Conquest in 1066).
SWINDON Biggest town in the county and with much modern development. The old GWR train workshops may be gone but there is a fascinating rail museum; after trains, Swindon is football mad with an ambitious club for its fans to follow.
WILTON Once a county town itself, and a bishopric and a royal residence. Wiltshire itself is derived from Wilton-shire and Alfred founded an abbey here in 871. You might now the name better if you link it to carpets - perhaps the first place in Britain to manufacture them. The Royal Wilton Factory can be visited.
Places to Visit
Bowood House, Calne
Corsham Court, Corsham
Longleat House, Warminster
Sheldon Manor, Chippenham
Wilton House, Nr. Salisbury
March - June: Salisbury Arts Festival of music, comedy, literature and visual arts.
July: Bradford-on-Avon regatta.
Many events at Lord Bath's Longleat throughout the year.
Famous names from the region
Pop star Peter Gabriel's recording studio is at Box, and Sting has a home in West Wiltshire.
Some scenes from Pride and Prejudice were filmed in the county at Luckington and Lacock.
Former prime minister Edward Heath has a house in Cathedral Close, Salisbury.
Some scenes from the Oscar-winning film Sense and Sensibility took place at Mompesson House in Salisbury.
Sir John Betjeman went to school at Marlborough College and despised it!