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Westbury is a town and civil parish in the west of the English county of Wiltshire, most famous for the Westbury White Horse, which is part of the Bratton Camp EH site.
The most likely origin of the West- in Westbury is simply that the town is near the western edge of the county of Wiltshire, the bounds of which have been much the same since the Anglo-Saxon period. In Wiltshire, -bury often indicates an Iron Age or Bronze Age fortified hill fort, and such a site is to be found immediately above the Westbury White Horse.
Westbury is located 18 miles (29 km) south east of the city of Bath and about 5 miles (7.5 km) south of Trowbridge. Other nearby towns and cities include Bristol, Frome, Salisbury, Swindon and Warminster. Nearby villages include Bratton, Chapmanslade, Dilton Marsh, Edington, North Bradley, Rudge, Standerwick, Semington, West Ashton and Upton Scudamore.
In the past, Westbury was sometimes known as Westbury-under-the-Plain to distinguish it from other towns of the same name. Westbury is nestled under the north-western bluffs of Salisbury Plain, and it is there that the town’s most famous feature can be seen: the Westbury White Horse. It is sometimes claimed locally that the White Horse was first cut into the chalk face as long ago as the year 878, to commemorate the victory of King Alfred the Great over the Danes in the Battle of Eðandun (probably, but not certainly, at the nearby village of Edington). However, scholars believe this to be an invention of the late 18th century, and no evidence has yet been found for the existence of the Westbury White Horse before the 1720s. The form of the current White Horse dates from 1778, when it was restored. In the 1950s it was decided that the horse would be more easily maintained if it were set in concrete and painted white. In recent years, there has been a multitude of calls to clean or paint the “old grey mare” and such a renovation began in May 2006.
The horse’s original form may have been quite different from the horse seen today. One 18th century engraving shows the horse facing to the right, but in its current form it faces to the left.
Westbury centres on its historic marketplace, with the churchyard of All Saints’ Church (14th century) behind it. All Saints’ boasts the third heaviest ring of bells in the world, an Erasmus Bible and a 16th century clock with no face constructed by a local blacksmith.
Until the 1940s, the Westbury Sheep Fair was an important annual event.
The town has been home to the Army Officer Selection Board, located at Leighton House, since 1949.
In the early part of September 1877 there was found on Bremeridge Farm, in the parish of Dilton Marsh, Wilts, belonging to Charles Paul Phipps, esq. of Chalcot House, a hoard of 32 gold coins. They were found during repairs and improvements of the homestead, about a foot and a half below the surface, in the courtyard, piled, one above another, without any appearance of a purse or box.
The most significant local government functions (including schools, roads, social services, waste disposal and emergency planning, housing and leisure services, development control, refuse collection and street cleaning) are carried out by Wiltshire Council. Together with the neighbouring village of Dilton Marsh, Westbury is divided into three council divisions, each electing one member.
Westbury is a civil parish with an elected town council of sixteen members. This has an almost wholly consultative and ceremonial role, and the chairman of the town council has the title of Mayor of Westbury.
The parliamentary constituency of Westbury dates back several centuries, but was abolished in 2010, the town now being part of the constituency of South West Wiltshire.
At one stage it was recognised as a rotten borough, at one point having an electorate as low as twenty four people, which led to gifts from the owners of the parliamentary borough, including the magnificent town hall in Market Place donated by Sir Manasseh Massey Lopes.
The A350 road passes through the town and a controversial Westbury Bypass was once proposed which would have reduced traffic in parts of the town but would have had a negative effect on the landscape on the east of the town. The eastern bypass scheme was eventually rejected after an Independent Planning Inquiry recommended against it in 2009.
The town is an important junction point on the railway network, as it lies at the point where the main line railway from London to the Exeter and the West Country intersects the cross country line from South Wales, Bristol, Bath and Chippenham to Salisbury, Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton. Westbury (Wilts) railway station is on the west on the town.