Known for the rolling agricultural fields of Salisbury Plain, the landlocked county of Wiltshire is also home to the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site. Containing perhaps the finest assortment of prehistoric monuments in England, Wiltshire appears to have been a hub of major ceremonial activity in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages. In the Iron Age, the people of the area erected a range of hill forts at prominent points in the landscape, while in the middle ages the county bore witness to the construction of Salisbury Cathedral, one of the grandest medieval buildings in all of Europe. A range of country houses followed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and today Wiltshire boasts a rich heritage stretching from the Stone Age right through to the Second World War.
When we think of D-Day, we all have mental images of troops landing on the beaches of Normandy. What about where they left from? D-Day was months in planning and preparation, all of which took place in the United Kingdom including sites in Wiltshire. The grand Palladian Wilton House is where Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery met frequently, and where much of the operation was planned. The village of Imber was evacuated and used by the military training for D-Day.
Visit D-Day Related Sites in Wiltshire.
Avebury is the largest known stone circle in the world. But it is just one funerary feature in a larger complex collections of sites. The first sites on this landscape, built by the first farmers into Britain at around 4000 BC, are represented on the Avebury landscape by West Kennet Long Barrow and Windmill hill. These were constructed and used during the Early Neolithic. New kinds of monuments were then constructed in the Late Neolithic, the sacred landscape at Avebury being one of these. Other sites here include Silbury Hill, West Kennet Avenue and the Sanctuary. More about the Monuments in the Avebury Landscape.
Stonehenge is one of the most well known prehistoric sites in Britain. Besides the stone circle there are a number of other features that were constructed before and after Stonehenge itself. The earliest features, typical of first farmers into Britain at around 4000 BC, are the Stonehenge Cursus and the Lessor Cursus. Durrington Walls and the Stonehenge circle itself with the Avenue were built in the Late Neolithic. This landscape certainly retained its significance into the Bronze Age given the many round barrows of that period there are. You will not miss these on the landscape. More about the Monuments in the Stonehenge Landscape.
Along with Stonehenge, the 13th century cathedral is the most popular attraction in Salisbury. The spire is 123 metres high (or 40 ft), making this the tallest church spire in Britain. A Guided Tour of the Tower enables visitors to stare up into the spire from the base of the spire in the cathedral’s roof space. Both the cathedral cloister and the Cathedral Close are the largest in Britain. The church’s turret clock that was installed in 1386, and is still in good working order, is the oldest mechanical clock in the world. And the Chapter House houses the finest of the four original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts.
St Thomas’s church is home to the best preserved and largest Doom Painting in the United Kingdom. Painted by an unknown artists towards the end of the 15th century, it depicts the Last Judgement. It was covered over at the Reformation, but discovered again in the early 19th century. It has recently been restored, and is one of our must-see attractions in Salisbury. Read More About he History of Salisbury’s Doom Painting.
Named after the famous marmalade magnate who used his wealth to secure many prehistoric sites from destruction through development, the Alexander Keiller Museum is in Avebury, the village that spans part of the eponymous henge and stone circle. Divided among two sites, the Barn Gallery is run by the National Trust, while the other half is in the older Stables. The museum opened in 1938 and focuses primarily on the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age history of Avebury and its surrounding area although also showcases artefacts from later periods too. [Website]
Based in Devizes, the Kennet and Avon Canal Museum devotes itself to the history of the eponymous canal, constructed over the course of 87 miles during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although the canal fell into disuse after the opening of the Great Western Railway, it underwent restoration in the late 20th century. With a range of artefacts helping to teach visitors all about life in and around the canal – including models of the boats that sailed on it – the museum is open on selected days throughout the year. [Website]
Founded in 1833, the Great Western Railway soon revolutionised travel from London into the south-west, Midlands, and Wales, putting the earlier canal system out of business. Taking over the collection of an older museum established in 1962, the Museum of the Great Western Railway opened in 2000 and occupies a Grade II listed railway building in Swindon. Various trains appear alongside other displays, including life-size dioramas depicting scenes that would once have been common along the railways. The museum also holds an archive useful for researchers. [Website]
Located in Lyneham, Wiltshire, the REME Museum is devoted to the story of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). The REME is the corps of the British Army which maintains military equipment, and was founded in 1942 in the midst of the Second World War. Formed in 1958, the museum now has over 100,000 items in its collection, the majority dating from World War II, and includes weaponry, vehicles, uniforms, medals, and works of art. The museum also houses an archive which can be consulted by appointment. [Website]
Based in a Grade II* listed 15th century building in Salisbury, the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum first opened its doors in 1982. Housing collections associated with both the Wiltshire Regiment and the Royal Berkshire Regiment, the museum has around 36,000 items in its collection, of which 2000 are on display. These stretch from the 18th century, when the British Army engaged in various wars against France, through the First and Second World Wars. A pleasant garden surrounds the museum, which houses an archive containing material of interest to researchers. [Website]
The market town of Swindon, which is the largest settlement in Wiltshire, is home to one of the county’s most important museums. Its archaeology collection consists of items from the local area stretching from the Old Stone Age through to the 17th century. It also includes an assortment of ancient Egyptian material, including mummified remains. Further artefacts from Swindon itself can be found in the museum’s social history collection. The art gallery contains a significant array of 20th century art, including works by L. S. Lowry, Henry Moore, and Lucian Freud. [Website]
The third largest settlement in Wiltshire, Trowbridge is known for its key role in the English wool industry. This story is told at Trowbridge Museum, which first opened in 1990. The museum occupies a floor of Salters Mill, Trowbridge’s last working woollen mill and now part of a local shopping centre. On display are many of the machines that were once part of this important industry, including a Spinning Jenny, as well as a reconstruction of a weaver’s cottage. The museum is closed for renovation until 2020. [Website]
The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society run Wiltshire Museum, located in Devizes, a quaint town in the heart of the county. Showcasing the heritage of this part of England, the museum boasts perhaps the richest collection of Bronze Age artefacts in Europe. Many of the items come from the Stonehenge and Avebury UNESCO World Heritage Site, including finds from the famous Bush Barrow burial. As well as its archaeology collection, Wiltshire Museum also has a range of natural history displays, including a fossilised plesiosaur, and various rare artworks. [Website]