National Gazetteer (1868) - Amesbury

"AMESBURY, (or Ambresbury), a parish in the hundred of Amesbury, in the county of Wilts, 7 miles to the N. of Salisbury, and 78 miles from London, or 104 miles by the South Western railway. The town is situated in a valley, on the river Avon, and includes the hamlet of West or Little Amesbury. It was formerly a market town, but the market has been discontinued. It is a place of considerable antiquity. Its name is derived, according to some authorities, from Ambrosius, a Roman and a descendant of Constantine, who became the sovereign of Britain; but according to others, from Ambrius, or Ambrosius, a British monk, the founder of a large monastery, which was destroyed by the Saxons; but both derivations are purely conjectural.

During the reign of Edgar, a synod met at Amesbury for the arrangement of disputes between the monks and the clergy. Towards the close of the 10th century, a mitred Benedictine nunnery was founded here, by Elfrida, the widow of Edgar, who hoped, perhaps, thereby to expiate the assassination of her son, at Corfe Castle. The nunnery was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Melorius, a saint of Cornwall. Henry II. expelled the inmates, in 1177, for incontinence, and in the same year placed in it a prioress and nuns from the abbey of Fontevrault, to which it was made a cell. Eleanor, Queen of Henry III., was afterwards abbess in this convent, and died here, in 1291. The establishment continued till the Dissolution, when its revenue amounted to £496. In 1540 it was conferred, with the manor of Amesbury, on Edward, Earl of Hertford. A mansion was erected on its site, by Inigo Jones, for the Duke of Queensberry. This mansion was occupied for some years by a company of nuns from Louvaine, refugees in this country, after the French revolution, in 1789. It is now called Amesbury House, and is the seat of Sir E. Antrobus, Bart.

The living is a perpetual curacy* in the diocese of Salisbury, value £141, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Windsor. The church is very old, and is dedicated to the Virgin and St. Melorius. It is of stone and flint, and has been so much altered at various times, that it is hardly possible to distinguish its original style and features. The windows are foliated, and it contains a monumental brass of the year 1470. There is a chapel belonging to the Wesleyan Methodists. The grammar school, established in 1677, and endowed by John Rose, for the instruction of twenty boys, has a revenue of £80. A free school, for fifty children, has an income of £50, from an endowment by Mr. Spratt. There are also a national school and a charity school, supported by voluntary contributions.

The parochial charities amount altogether to £157. Within this parish, and not more than 2 miles from the town, stands that sublime and mysterious monument of the past, Stonehenge. Vespasian's Camp is an ancient entrenchment of considerable extent, on the west side of the town. It covers a apace of 40 acres, and is defended by a rampart and ditch. Although named after the Roman emperor, it is believed to be a British work. Several tumuli exist in the neighbourhood. The poet Gay resided some time with the Duke of Queensberry, and wrote some of his best poems in Amesbury House. Fairs are held on the 17th May, the 22nd June, the 6th October, and the 18th December, for the sale of horses and cattle. Amesbury is the seat of a Poor-law Union."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]