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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Local History > Mediaeval Devizes Walk

View from St John's Church, Devizes

View from St John's Church, Devizes

Mediaeval Devizes Walk

Follow the mediaeval street pattern of Devizes from St John's Church to Market Place.

The walk follows the mediaeval street pattern of Devizes, one of the best preserved in the country.

St John's Church, Devizes

St John's Church, Devizes

Devizes Castle

It begins in the churchyard of St John's church, from where the castle is visible. The castle gave Devizes its name, its existence and its street pattern.

The first wooden motte and bailey castle was built on a spur of upper greensand with very steep sides, surrounded by two dry valleys. Built by Bishop Osmund of Salisbury, c.1080, it was burnt down in 1113 and rebuilt in stone c. 1120 on a much more magnificent scale by Osmund's successor Bishop Roger.  Bishop Roger was an important political figure in the reign of Henry I.

During the 12th century civil war, between Stephen and Matilda over the succession to the throne, Devizes castle saw much action.  It eventually passed into the hands of the Crown, becoming part of the dowry of the Queens of England and being much visited by mediaeval kings and  their consorts.

Long Street, Devizes

Long Street, Devizes

The castle was known in mediaeval Latin as 'castrum ad divisas', the castle at the boundaries, because it stood at the point where three manors met. This gave the name to the satellite town which Bishop Roger had laid out on the castle's eastern outskirts. A distinctive D-shaped street pattern developed, linking the north gate and the south gate of the whole complex. The castle was destroyed in the 17th century civil war between King and Parliament and the present castle on the same site is a late 19th century building.

St John's Church

St John's church is Norman in origin and was the garrison church for the castle. In the 15th century the nave was rebuilt and two chapels were added each side of the chancel.

Moving back eastward towards Long Street, high quality Georgian architecture can be seen, many of them among the 500 listed buildings in Devizes. These brick houses, often with Tudor or Stuart interiors, were built in the period of the town's great prosperity by professionals and wealthy traders.

Market Cross, Devizes

Market Cross, Devizes

St John's Court & Market Place

Proceeding northwards down Long Street, into St John’s Court, are the late 16th century cottages and number 4.  Number 4 is the earliest surviving house in Devizes, dating from the early 15th century, originally an open hall house.

In St John's Street, the Lamb Inn, the Town Hall (1808), Barford House and the Crown Inn each have stories of interest. The Market Place, originally part of the outer bailey of the mediaeval castle, came into use in the late middle ages. One of the largest in the west of England, it is surrounded by 18th and 19th century domestic and commercial buildings, such as The Bear Hotel, the Corn Exchange, the Market Cross and the Fountain.

New Street

Proceeding up New Street into New Park Street, is the outer arc of the town’s mediaeval street pattern. Here is one of the earliest cloth factories in the west of England, built in 1785, Brownstone House (Grade 1 listed) and St Mary's, the town's oldest church with Norman and 15th century features. The original market place was outside St Mary's.

Little Brittox, Devizes

Little Brittox, Devizes

Across the Link Road stands Great Porch House, c.1450, originally an open hall house, with interesting internal and external features.


Moving from the curved outer part of the street pattern, we proceed down the Brittox, originally a stockaded pathway connecting town and castle (from the Norman-French  bretasche). Here there are several commercial properties with interesting histories.

On into Wine Street and the 1752 Town Hall, the 1912 Boots building with its wall plaques commemorating local historical figures and the site of the old Weavers Hall.

Returning to the inner straight side of the D-shaped street pattern, the walk ends in the Market Place.

For further details about the walk, see Lorna Haycock's 'Devizes; History and Guide'.

last updated: 01/12/2008 at 14:09
created: 31/05/2006

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