Warminster is a town in western Wiltshire, England, by-passed by the A36, and near Frome and Westbury. It has a population of about 17,000. The River Were runs through the town and can be seen running through the middle of the town park. The Minster Church of St Denys sits on the River Were. The name Warminster first occurs in the early 10th century.
The town was first settled in the Anglo-Saxon period, though there are the remains of numerous earlier settlements nearby, including the Iron Age hill forts of Battlesbury Camp, Scratchbury Camp and Cley Hill, the latter a site operated by the National Trust. Warminster is a gateway town to the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB. Wiltshire County Council organises a market in the central car park on Fridays.
There are indications that a Middle Iron Age settlement may also have been situated just west of the town.
The town’s prosperity following the growth of the wool trade in the Late Middle Ages caused the erection of many magnificent structures, including the Minster Church of Saint Denys, in a yew grove sacred from pre-Christian times, and including an organ originally destined for the then under-construction Salisbury Cathedral.
The town’s name is thought to derive from the name of the River Were, which runs through the town, and from an Anglo-Saxon minster or monastery, which may have existed at, or close to, the present site of St Denys’s Church. However, the only evidence for the possible existence of a Saxon monastery is in the place-name. It has also been suggested that “Were” may derive from the Old English “worian” to wander.
An alternative derivation of the town’s name was made, in the late 1800s, by the historian John Jeremiah Daniell, who proposed “…the conjecture is admissible that WORGEMYN or GUERMIN is the name of an ancient Wiltshire chief, and that as Biscop-tre (Bishopstrow) means “the place of the bishop”, so Warminster means “the head-quarters of Worgemyn, or Guermin”.
On John Speed’s map of Wiltshire (1611), the town’s name is recorded as Warmister.
During the Middle Ages the town became famous not only for its wool and cloth trade but also for its great prosperity as a corn market (it was second only to Bristol in the West of England). Many of the buildings which survive in Market Place owe their origin to the great corn market days when they were used as stores and warehouses, or as inns and hostelries for the buyers and sellers who came from many miles around.
During the English Civil War (1642–1645) the town is thought to have changed hands at least four times between the Royalist and Parliamentary supporters. When James II came to the throne in 1685 the local gentry and the Wiltshire Militia supported him against the Duke of Monmouth who was defeated.
From around 1610-1710 there was a bell foundry operating in Warminster. It was in then Common Close, now called simply The Close. From 1620-1686 the proprietor was John Lott. This name may refer to one man working for 66 years or may be a father and son. In 1707 a Richard Lott recast the tenor bell in Warminster Church for £46.00, however in 1737 a new tenor bell was required which was supplied by a Gloucester bellcaster. John Lott was responsible for the casting of bells for Warminster tower in the 17c. and also at Chippenham, Frome and other churches in Wiltshire and neighbouring counties. The book of Churchwarden Payments from Frome church noted in 1621, 1633 and 1662 payments in relation to bells made in Warminster. In 1682 John Lott attested the good condition of a bell in Frome tower, as noted in the Frome churchwarden’s accounts.
During the First World War thousands of soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada were camped in the villages around Warminster.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Cradle Hill became famous as the centre of alarm surrounding UFOs and crop circles with at least one author claiming that as many as 5,000 UFOs had been witnessed in the area.