"WILTON, a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough in the hundred of Branch and Dole, county Wilts, 3 miles N.W. of Salisbury, and 85 from London. It has stations on the London and South-Western and Salisbury branch of the Great Western railways. This place is supposed by Baxter to have been the Caer Guile of the Britons, but was changed to Wilton by the Saxons from the river Willey, or Will, on which it is situated at its confluence with the Nadder. Under the West Saxons it became a place of such note as to give name to the shire, and early in the 10th century was chosen as the seat of the diocese of Wells, and so continued during the lives of 11 bishops, till 1050.
It was the scene of the defeat of the Mercian by Egbert in 823, and of the Danes by Alfred in 871; but was burnt by Sweyn the Dane in 1003, and again by the army of the Empress Matilda in 1143, who took it from Stephen. It was afterwards rebuilt, and in the 23rd of Edward I. was summoned as a borough to return two members to parliament. Queen Elizabeth visited it in 1579, and Prince Henry in 1603, when for a short space it became the residence of the court. With the rise of New Sarum, or Salisbury, it began gradually to decline, notwithstanding the introduction of the manufacture of carpets by Duffosy, a Frenchman, who first brought over into England this branch of industry, under the Herberts, in the reign of Elizabeth. By the Reform Act of 1832 the bounds of the borough were greatly extended, and the number of members reduced to one instead of two, as from the reign of Edward I.
The chief influence is with the Earl of Pembroke, of Wilton Castle - rebuilt by Wyatt, and altered from designs of Holbein and Inigo Jones by Sir W. Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, on the site of the ancient abbey, originally founded by Wulstan, Earl of Wiltshire, in 773. In this mansion is a collection of paintings and old marble sculpture; also the library where Sir Philip Sidney is said to have written the "Arcadia". Wilton is a borough by prescription, having been first chartered by Henry I., and is now governed by a corporation consisting of a high steward, mayor, who is also returning officer, recorder, five aldermen, and a number of burgesses, of whom the mayor and recorder are magistrates.
The town hall is the principal public edifice in the town, which consists of one long street. The population of the parish in 1861 was 1,930, and of the borough 8,657, inhabiting 1,814 houses. It has long been celebrated for the manufacture of carpets, but the only factory at present in operation is that of Messrs. Blackmore and Lapworth, which employs about 500 hands, and made the Axminster carpet exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, from Gruner's designs. Wilton gives name to a deanery in the archdeaconry and diocese of Sarum. The living is a rectory,* value with Bulbridge, Ditchampton, and Netherhampton annexed, £400, besides 22 acres, 2 roods, 29 poles of glebe.
The church of SS. Mary and Nicholas, recently erected in lieu of the old one by Wyatt and Brandon, at the cost of £25,000, defrayed by the late Right Hon. Sir Sidney Herbert, is 156 feet in length, with a campanile tower 120 feet high, connected with the body of the structure by a corridor. It is in the Lombard style of architecture, with a western doorway, stained windows, stone pulpit supported by 16 black marble pillars, carved stone screen, chancel paved with Italian agates and marble, and inlaid mosaic work brought from the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The charities produce about £350 per annum, including the bequests of R. Sumption, Esq., whose will hangs up in the townhall. The Dissenters have chapels, and there are a free school, Sunday-school, and St. John's Hospital - the last founded in 1190, by Archbishop Hubert, for a prior or clergyman, and five aged persons. It is the head of a Poor-law Union of 22 parishes, the workhouse for which is situated in the parish of Newton, and of a superintendent registry, but belongs to the Salisbury New County Court district. Market days, now nearly obsolete, are Wednesday and Saturday, but the sheep fairs, held on the 4th May and 12th September, are some of the largest in England."
"BULBRIDGE, a tything in the parish of Wilton, hundred of Cawden, in the county of Wilts, not far from Wilton. The living is a rectory united with that of Wilton, in the diocese of Salisbury. There is no church."
"DITCHAMPTON, a hamlet in the parishes of Burcombe and Wilton, in the county of Wilts, near Wilton. It is situated on the river Wiley. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Salisbury. The church, which was dedicated to St. Andrew, has been pulled down."
[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]