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Warminster Christ Church.jpg
Christ Church, Warminster
Grid reference: ST875455
Location: 51°12’32"N, 2°10’47"W
Population: 17,379
Post town: Warminster
Postcode: BA12
Dialling code: 01985
Local Government
Council: Wiltshire

Warminster is a town in western Wiltshire, by-passed by the A36, and near Frome and Westbury. 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.

Name of the town

The name Warminster first occurs in the early 10th century. It 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.[1][2][3] However, the only evidence for the possible existence of a Saxon monastery is in the place-name.[4] It has also been suggested that "Were" may derive from the Old English "worian" to wander.[1]

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".[4] This is no more than supposition however.

On John Speed's map of Wiltshire (1611), the town's name is recorded as Warmister.


The town was created 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. There are indications that a Middle Iron Age settlement may also have been situated just west of the town.[5]

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, and which includes an organ originally destined for the then under-construction Salisbury Cathedral.

Middle Ages

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.

Civil War

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 whose rebellion in that year gained support elsewhere in the West Country.

Warminster Bell Foundry

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.[6]

20th century

During the First World War thousands of soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada were camped in the villages around Warminster.[7]


Warminster is within the Diocese of Salisbury and is divided into three Church of England parishes.

The Minster (St Denys)

The Minster Church has been so called since the 19th century, but it was built in the 12th century. If there had been an earlier, Anglo-Saxon minster, St Denys might have replaced it. Since then the church has been modified on several occasions. It was remodelled in the 14th century and additions were made in the late 15th or early 16th century, but by 1626 the church was reported to be “mightily in decay”. As a result, extensive repairs were carried out from 1626 to 1629. From 1887 to 1889 the Minster was mostly rebuilt in the perpendicular style by Sir Arthur Blomfield. All that remains of the old church are the central tower, south wall of the chancel and the south porch. During the late 20th century, a kitchen, lavatories and a meeting room were installed in the west end.

The Chapel of St Lawrence

The Chapel of St Lawrence, or "People's Church", is located in the Market Place.

The chapel is a 'peculiar', existing outside the control of the Church of England. It was traditionally endowed by two maiden sisters named Hewett in the early 13th century. It is now an independent foundation, held in trust since 1575 by twelve feoffees who are responsible for the preservation and upkeep of the chapel on behalf of the townspeople of Warminster.

The chapel is in the Church of England parish of St Denys and, on the appointment of a new vicar, the feoffees invite that person to take services. From time to time other members of the clergy are invited to take services.

Situated in the centre of the market town of Warminster the chapel is an oasis of calm in the midst of the traffic and commerce of the town. The chapel is opened every weekday and on Saturdays and many people take the opportunity to pop in and sit quietly in contemplation. At the west end there are the boards recording the names of the feoffees since the chapel was donated to the townsfolk up to the present day.

The tower is the oldest part of the chapel, dating from the 14th century and is accessed by an anti-clockwise spiral staircase. On the way up is the clock room, which houses a wrought iron clock built by William Rudd in 1764, and paid for by public subscription. It has no face, as at that time houses were standing in front of the chapel and a face would not have been seen. Higher is the belfry, which houses the curfew bell cast by John Lott of Warminster in 1652: the bell still sounds the curfew at 8.00 pm, but no longer a rising bell at 4.00 am. From the roof a spectacular view of the town can be seen and a series of photographs, exhibited in the chapel, show this panoramic view.

The chapel acts as a focal point for many activities including the Cross raised on the front lawn at Easter and the Field of Remembrance in November.

Behind the chapel is a cottage originally used by the sexton who had to ring the rising bell and the curfew: the bell rope once led into his cottage. This cottage was renovated by the feoffees in 2007 and the letting provides the chapel with its only regular source of income.

In 2008 the Friends of the Chapel of St Lawrence (FOCSL) was established to support the work of the feoffees. The current priority for the feoffees is the preservation of the tower stonework and other items at a cost of approximately £40,000 and an appeal fund was launched in 2009 at the patronal festival.

Military presence

Warminster has strong military connections, though its name is unrelated to the soldier's craft. The name of the army camp nearby is Battlesbury Barracks and includes Harman Lines named for Victoria Cross recipient John Harman–Burma 1944. It is the home of the Land Warfare Centre — formerly the Army's School of Infantry — and abuts the Salisbury Plain Training area (SPTA), which is large enough to exercise a Battlegroup and which is dotted with Royal Artillery live-firing ranges. The Small Arms School Corps and Headquarters Infantry are also based in the town.

During a training exercise in Second World War, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie MC crashed his tank into a house.

Warminster Park

Warminster Park

The town park was created in the early 20th century and has since been a hugely popular attraction.

Local media

  • Newspapers:
    • The Warminster Journal (weekly)
    • The Wiltshire Times (weekly)
  • Radio:
    • More Radio Warminster, 107.5 MHz
    • WCR Community Radio broadcasts to the hospital in Warminster plus other homes and hospitals nearby.

Outside links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dictionary of British Placenames
  2. Institute for Name Studies
  3. Eilert Ekwall,The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Jeremiah Daniell, History of Warminster
  5. Alby's Warminster Pages Accessed January 2008, online
  6. The Warminster Bell Foundry. 1994, Ed. D. Howell and G. Head. Bedeguar Books, Warminster. ISBN 1872818080
  7. Virtual Warminster]