Great Bedwyn

"GREAT BEDWYN, (or Bedwin, Great), a parish, market town, and borough, in the hundred of Kinwardstone, in the county of Wilts, 5 miles to the S.W. of Hungerford, and 66 miles from London. It is a station on the recently constructed Berks and Hants Extension railway, being a continuation of the Hungerford branch of the Great Western railway to Devizes, and is about 2 miles S. of the great Bath road. It is situated in a fertile and beautiful country near the border of Berkshire, on the Kennet and Avon canal, and contains the tythings of Crofton with Wolf hall, East and West Grafton, Martin, Wexcombe with Wilton, and several hamlets. It is a very ancient town, and was a place of importance in the Saxon period, being the seat of Cissa, viceroy of Berkshire and Wiltshire under one of the kings of Wessex. Its Saxon name was Bedgwyn, or Bedewind, and in the Saxon chronicle it is called Bedan-heafod. The neighbourhood was the scene of a battle between Wulfhere, king of Mercia, and Escuin, governor of Wessex, in the year 674.

From the reign of Edward I., Bedwyn, with occasional intermissions, returned two members to parliament, until the passing of the Reform Act, when the borough was disfranchised. The town has one principal street, crossed by another at right angles. In the former is the market-house, an ancient building. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Salisbury, of the value of £212, in the patronage of the Marquis of Ailesbury.

The church is an ancient structure of flint and freestone, in the form of a cross, with a lofty central tower, and exhibits various styles of architecture, from Norman, that of the nave, to the perpendicular in the aisles and clerestory. It is dedicated to St. Mary, and was thoroughly restored in 1854. It contains several ancient and interesting monuments. The earliest is the effigy of a knight who died in 1312. There is in the chancel a fine altar-tomb with an effigy of Sir John Seymour, father of Jane Seymour, queen of Henry VIII., and of the Protector, the first Duke of Somerset, both of whom were born at Wolfhall, in this parish. There are several other monuments to the Seymours, many of whom are interred here.

Besides the district church of St. Nicholas, at East Grafton, built in 1844, the living of which is a perpetual curacy, value £115, in the patronage of the vicar, there has been recently built a very beautiful church near the House, at Tottenham, by the Marchioness of Ailesbury, to the memory of her mother, the Countess of Pembroke. It was consecrated in September, 1861, and is dedicated to St. Katherine. It is to have a separate district assigned to it under an incumbent appointed by Lord Ailesbury.

There are excellent National schools at Great Bedwyn and East Grafton, and at Tottenham, affording accommodation for more than 400 children, under certificated masters, principally supported by the Marquis of Ailesbury. At Wilton is a chapel belonging to the Wesleyans. The charitable endowments of the parish, including a small free school, and a bequest for apprenticing poor boys, amount to £23, with a church fabric fund of £18 per annum. Chisbury Camp, a great British earthwork, inclosing an area of 15 acres, and attributed to Cissa, is about a mile to the north of the town. Many Roman remains, including a tesselated pavement, a leaden cistern, bricks, &c., have been found at Castle Copse, south-west of the town. It was probably the site of a villa.

Tottenham Park is the seat of the Marquis of Ailesbury. Bedwyn was the birthplace (1621) of Dr. Thomas Willis, an eminent physician, and one of the first fellows of the Royal Society. Tuesday is the market day. Fairs are held on the 23rd April and the 26th July, the latter being only for pedlery and fancy articles. The parish comprises an area of about 10,020 acres, belonging, with the exception of about 2,000 acres, to the Marquis of Ailesbury, whose plantations extend for many miles, abounding with deer and game."

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

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