Royal Wootton Bassett

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Royal Wootton Bassett
Wootton Bassett, High Street and town hall - - 527640.jpg
Royal Wootton Bassett
Grid reference: SU0682
Location: 51°31’59"N, 1°54’-0"W
Population: 11,043  (2001)
Post town: Swindon
Postcode: SN4
Dialling code: 01793
Local Government
Council: Wiltshire
North Wiltshire

Royal Wootton Bassett, formerly and informally known as Wootton Bassett, is a small market town in Wiltshire, with a population of 11,043 in 2001. It lies six miles to the south-west of the major town of north Wiltshire, Swindon.

The town of Wootton Bassett received the tile "Royal" in October 2011 by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of the way in which the townsfolk spontaneously joined together to honour the fallen soldiers whose bodies passed through the town, brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq by way of nearby RAF Lyneham. Wootton Bassett became only the third town ever so honoured and the first since 1909.[1]

Names of the town

The earliest recorded name of the town is Wodetun, meaning "wood town". The addition "Bassett" recalls the ownership of the manor by the Bassett family.

The title "Royal" was granted to the town by letters patent from The Queen in October 2011 and conferred in a ceremony on 16 October 2011 attended by the Princess Royal.


Suburbs of Wootton Bassett include Coped Hall, Noremarsh, Woodshaw and Vastern (a small hamlet to the south). The Wootton Bassett Mud Spring is a two-acre geological Site of Special Scientific Interest, which was notified in 1997.


St Bartholomew and All Saints church

The parish church is St Bartholomew and All Saints, an essentially 15th century church, but much remodelled by the Victorian restorationists. One window remains from an earlier church built in the 13th Century by Fulk Bassett. The 15th century tower was demolished in the restoration; within it were marks of an earlier and lower tower. Changes have come and gone over the centuries but the result today is a fine parish church.


Anglo-Saxon period

The year 681 is usually taken as the starting point for recorded history of Wootton Bassett, in which year the estate was granted to the Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey. The charter names the village as Wodeton.

Archaeological discoveries in the area tend to confirm the tradition that the original Wodeton was near the present Dunnington Road. The land was granted in AD 681 to Malmesbury Abbey. Further grants of land nearby appear in the records from time to time, but of Wodeton itself we hear no more until it was sacked by the marauding Danes in 1015, whereupon the survivors decided to move uphill to the site of the present High Street.

Domesday Book

Wootton Bassett is mentioned in the Domesday Book[2] where it was noted that Miles Crispin held the rights and these included "land for 12 ploughs...a mill...and 24 acres of meadow...33 acres of pasture and woodland which is two leagues by a league". It was said to be worth nine pounds.


Though Royal Wootton Bassett today has no railway station, it was served by three stations in the past. The first station to serve the town was Wootton Bassett Road, opened by the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1840 some distance from the town (sometimes referred to as Hay Lane), when the Great Western Main Line from London Paddington reached the town. After just a year, with the completion of the Box Tunnel allowing the line to reach Bristol Temple Meads, a this was replaced by the closer Wootton Bassett railway station.

In 1903, after the new South Wales branch opened, the station was demolished and rebuilt as Wootton Bassett Junction at the junction of the two lines. British Railways closed that station in 1965. There have been on-going attempts to re-open a station in the early 21st century.

The town is still a major junction on the rail network, where the Great Western Main Line splits into two branches.

Tributes at military repatriations

RAF Lyneham is four miles to the south of Royal Wootton Bassett, a base first established with a hard runway in May 1940. Having always operated long range transport flights from its long runways, from 1971 the base became the Royal Air Force's principal tactical transport hub, with the introduction of the C-130 Hercules transport plane. The base was slated for closure in 2012 with the retirement of the final C130K Hercules, with all other planes and operations then being transferred to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

In the early 21st century, the bodies of dead servicemen of the British Armed Forces fighting in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan and other places, having been repatriated to RAF Lyneham, usually passed through the town as part of a funeral cortège, on their way to John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, in readiness for the coroner.

Relatives/friends not attending the RAF Lyneham ceremony often chose to pay their first respects at Wootton Bassett. This soon led to other people assembling as mourners along the route, initially from the local area. Gradually, the processions begun to be attended by people from far and wide with large gatherings, which were mostly well received, although some labelled it a form of 'grief tourism'.[3][4] When RAF Lyneham closed in September 2011, the repatriations moved to RAF Brize Norton.[5]

The public shows of support during the repatriations led to several tributes to the town and its mourners.

On 12 October 2008, an Armed Forces parade was held in the town.[6] On Friday 29 January 2010 the town was visited by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, to lay a wreath at the War Memorial and meet local people.[7] On 21 December 2009, Prince William presented the town with one of The Sun's "Millie" awards for Support To The Armed Forces, stating "One of the most remarkable things is that the people are so modest, they refuse to accept any praise".[8]

A repatriation on 28 June 2009

In May 2009, The Royal British Legion honoured Wootton Bassett with a special award in recognition of Legion members, many of whom are ex-servicemen and women, who attend the repatriations.[9] Motorcyclists from The Royal British Legion Riders Branch attended repatriations held in the town.[10][11][12]

Other tributes have included a public mass charity motorcycle parade through the town in March 2010, which also raised £100,000 for the charity Afghan Heroes.[13]

In 2009, controversial plans for a demonstration in the town by the Mohammedan extremist group Islam4UK, led by Anjem Choudary, came under widespread condemnation.[14] The group eventually called off the plan, claiming that the publicity generated had "successfully highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan" and so "no more could be achieved even if a procession were to take place".[15]

Royal patronage

On 16 March 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron announced, at the start of Prime Minister's Questions, that while "from September, military repatriations will no longer pass through the town of Wootton Bassett", "Her Majesty has agreed to confer the title 'Royal' upon the town, as an enduring symbol of the nation's admiration and gratitude".[5][16]

The addition to the town's name was enacted through Letters Patent and became effective on 16 October 2011, when the Princess Royal visited the town to present formally the Letters Patent to the town council.[1] Wootton Bassett has become the third Royal town in the country, the others being Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells, and the first to receive the status in over 100 years.[16]

Arms of Royal Wootton Bassett

A new grant of arms to Wootton Bassett Town Council was made by Letters Patent of Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy and Ulster Kings of Arms, dated 30 August 2011, the day before the date of the Queen's Patent granting the designation "Royal" to the town. The town has long used unofficial Arms consisting of a chevron between three lozenges: the granted design adapts this to reflect the Royal favour accorded in recognition of Wootton Bassett's role in recent repatriations of fallen servicemen and women.

The shield of Royal Wootton Basset is: Gules a Chevron Argent between in chief two Lozenges and in base a Lion passant guardant Or.[17] The lion passent is the mark of the royal favour and it is a visible heraldic sign of that favour.


The 2001 census recorded the town's population as 11,043, indicating that the town had trebled in population total during the previous 50 years. Since the opening of the M4 motorway, the town has become attractive to commuters, many travelling to the towns and cities of Swindon, Chippenham, Bath and Bristol. The town also has a significant population of Air Force servicemen and families and others dependent on RAF Lyneham.


The former Wilts & Berks Canal

The route of the Wilts & Berks Canal passes through Wootton Bassett parish south of the town. The canal reached Wootton Bassett parish from Semington in 1801 and was completed when it reached Abingdon in Berkshire in 1810. The last narrowboat traffic to Wootton Bassett was in 1906 and the canal was abandoned by Act of Parliament in 1914. The canal is now being restored by the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.

Museums and memorials

The former Town Hall

The Wootton Bassett Museum is the former Wootton Bassett Town Hall, which is an upper storey supported on 15 pillars, was built at the end of the 17th century, a gift from the Hyde family, Earls of Clarendon.[18]

The town previously had war memorials in the form of a memorial garden in the cemetery and the memorial hall on Tinker's Field. In October 2004 a new memorial was unveiled in the town, a simple pedestal topped by a bronze of hands holding up a globe. The opening was the culmination of a five-year publicity and fund raising campaign, initiated by local girl, Jay Cunningham, who felt that the garden and hall were not prominent enough.[19] The design of the memorial was by Lance Corporal Alan Wilson of the Wootton Bassett army cadets, chosen by public vote, and then sculpted by local artist Vivian ap Rhys Price.[20]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "16th October 2011". Wootton Bassett Town Council. Retrieved 1 October 2011. 
  2. Domesday Book: A Complete Transliteration. London: Penguin Books. 2003. p. 183. ISBN 0-14-143994-7. 
  3. Pavia, Will (2009-07-29). "Wootton Bassett fears being in front line of grief tourism". The Times (London). 
  4. Schott, Ben (2009-07-30). "Grief Tourism". The New York Times. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Wootton Bassett to get 'Royal' title in war dead honour". BBC News. 16 March 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  6. Adams, Paul (2008-10-12). "Town swells with patriotism and pride". BBC. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  7. "Royal respects at Wootton Bassett". BBC News. 2010-01-29. 
  8. "Honour for people in town of grief". The Sun. 16 December 2009. 
  9. Legion award to Wootton Bassett, British Legion website
  10. "British Legion Riders Bike into Bassett". Wootton Bassett Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  11. Gillan, Audrey (25 February 2010). "How Wootton Bassett became the town that cried". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  12. Deal, Paul (10 November 2009). "Wootton Bassett sheds tears for soldiers". BBC News. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  13. "Bikers ride in Wootton Bassett tribute". BBC News. 2010-03-14. Retrieved 2011-01-04. 
  14. "Islam4UK makes its demands". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2010-01-05. 
  15. Arnold, Adam (11 January 2010). "Muslim Group Cancels Wootton Bassett March". Sky News Online. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Prime Minister announces 'Royal' Wootton Bassett". Cabinet Office. 16 March 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  17. The College of Arms Newsletter September 2011
  18. "Historic Wootton Bassett pics". Wiltshire: Local History. BBC Online. January 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  19. "Help us with war memorial money". Swindon Advertiser. 20 May 2002. 
  20. "Vivien ap Rhys Price". Calne Artists. Retrieved 2011-01-04. 


  • Crittall, Elizabeth (ed.); Dunning, R.W.; Rogers, K.H.; Spalding, P.A.; Shrimpton, Colin; Stevenson, Janet H.; Tomlinson, Margaret (1970). Victoria County History: A History of the County of Wiltshire, Volume 9. pp. 186 205. 
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget (revision) (1975) [1963]. The Buildings of England: Wiltshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 596 599. ISBN 0 14 0710.26 4. 
  • Pugh, R.B.; Crittall, Elizabeth (eds.) (1956). Victoria County History: A History of the County of Wiltshire, Volume 3. pp. 368 369. 

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