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Warminster shown within Wiltshire
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Warminster is a town in western Wiltshire, England, by-passed by the A36 (between Salisbury and Bath) and the partly concurrent A350 between Westbury and Blandford Forum. It has a population of about 19,000. 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.
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'".
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.
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 to 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.
Warminster may have some pre-Christian roots; however, the modern town was founded in Anglo-Saxon times. In the northwest of the Diocese of Salisbury, Warminster may have been a minster town in rural Wiltshire. The town is divided into three Church of England parishes, and is also served by other traditions and denominations. The three parish churches in the town are all in the episcopal area of Ramsbury, served by the Bishop of Ramsbury (Anglican).
The Parish Church of St. Denys (The Minster)
The Minster Church, so called since the 19th century, dates back to the 12th century when it was built by the Normans. If there was an earlier Anglo-Saxon minster, it may 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 worship is mainly Eucharistic and uses both traditional and modern Anglican services. The Minster was part of the 'Cley Hill' team ministry, but this was changed on 1 December 2007 when it once again became the separate Parish of Warminster St Denys. The villages that had been part of the Minster benefice became the Cley Hill Villages, which incorporates the following churches:
- Brixton Deverill: St Michael
- Kingston Deverill: St Mary
- Longbridge Deverill: St Peter & St Paul
- Corsley: St Margaret of Antioch
- Corsley: St Mary
- Chapmanslade: St Philip & St James
- Horningsham: St John the Baptist
Christ Church, Warminster, serves a parish on the southern side of Warminster. The church is evangelical in tradition, although it welcomes people of all traditions. The church was built in 1830 to serve what was then Warminster Common. The foundation stone was laid on 16 April 1830, by the Rev. William Dalby. The church was opened on 13 May 1831. During the late 1960s an attempt was made to modernise the worship in the church, and a nave altar was built. This was a very controversial move and led, eventually, to a consistory court. In 2004 Christ Church underwent a redevelopment project that removed the controversial nave altar and pews and created a modern and functional welcome/fellowship area in the lobby of the church building.
St John the Evangelist
St John's Church was built in a field called Picked Acre alongside Boreham Road. The 8 acres (32,000 m2) of land was given for a church and churchyard, together with an endowment for its upkeep by William Temple of Bishopstrow House in 1859. The church was completed in 1865.
The baptistry at the west end was designed by the architect Charles Ponting, with London glaziers James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars providing the mosaic tile decoration around 1912.
Warminster Baptist Church
The Ebenezer Baptist Chapel was built in 1811 at Meeting House Lane (the narrow street was later renamed North Row). The Rev. H.M. Gunn described the Chapel in 1853 as "a neat and simple edifice, capable of seating 400 persons". The church hall alongside the Chapel was erected in 1858. After Ebenezer Chapel it was known as North Row Baptist Church and then changed its name to Warminster Baptist Church. In 2000 an extension was erected to provide a new kitchen, toilet block and a porch joining up the church and hall. The church and hall have been completely redecorated recently in preparation for the 200th anniversary celebrations in 2010.
Foundation Christian Fellowship (FCF)
Established in 1986, FCF is a free church that provides bible-based preaching and worship. The church meets in the Grace Christian Centre, a former industrial unit on the Woodcock Trading Estate.
Warminster United Church
St George's Roman Catholic Church
St George's Roman Catholic Church is located in Boreham Road. The parish is on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain and reaches out into the Wiltshire countryside, serving the people of the town of Warminster and the many villages around; and also serves the Mass Centre of St Mary in Mere at the south part of the parish.
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[clarification needed] who are responsible for the preservation and upkeep of the chapel on behalf of the townspeople of Warminster who actually 'own' it. Saint Lawrence was martyred by the Romans, being roasted to death on a gridiron. His festival is on 10 August and the patronal festival is held each year on the closest Sunday to this date. 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. A service of Holy Communion is held each Wednesday at 10.00am with evensong held on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 3.30pm during the winter months and 6.00pm during the summer. 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. The feoffees maintain a security rota and there is CCTV coverage. Inside the chapel there is a Scudamore organ, built in 1860 by Nelson Hall, an organ maker of the town, to a design by the vicar of Upton Scudamore the Rev. John Baron. 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. Stained glass windows date from 1855 and are of no particular importance. The one to the north celebrates Easter, the plain one to the south was probably decorative but suffered from bomb damage in the Second World War. The unusual chair to the north is modern, made by Matthew Burt of Sherrington. A visitors' book is always open. 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. His foundry was in the Common Close. This bell still sounds the curfew at 8.00p.m., but no longer sounds a rising bell at 4.00 a.m. 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. Outside, gargoyles look down, intended to frighten away devils.
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. At the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, people came to lay flowers in the garden and, more recently, a Liverpool scarf was laid by someone to commemorate the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
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.
The Garrison Church of St Giles
The Garrison Church of St Giles is at Imber Road and serves the town's military community. The foundation stone, taken from the tower of St Giles Church at the deserted village of Imber on nearby Salisbury Plain, was dedicated in 1968.
Sport and leisure
Warminster has a Non-League football club Warminster Town F.C., which plays at Weymouth Street. The town also has an active FA-chartered youth football club in the form of Warminster Highbury Youth F.C.
Warminster has strong military connections. The name of the camp 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 World War II, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie MC crashed his tank into a house.
Warminster has five main suburban areas, namely Sambourne, Woodcock, Bugley, Boreham and Warminster Common
Lake Pleasure Grounds (The Town Park)
The town is covered by local radio station The Breeze on 107.5 MHz, which was previously known as More Radio, Totalstar, and before that 3TR FM. WCR Community Radio (based next to the Civic Centre) broadcasts on 105.5 MHz to the town and surrounding areas. It is also available to listen to on the internet. The town's newspaper, the Warminster Journal, is published every week. The weekly Wiltshire Times has the town in its coverage area.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Warminster became the centre of a UFO flap that, at the time, was unprecedented in the UK.
The Warminster phenomenon began not with unidentified objects but with unidentified sounds; which is, perhaps, why the phenomenon came to be labelled the 'Thing'.
The genesis of the Warminster UFO phenomenon is described in Arthur Shuttlewood's The Warminster Mystery. Shuttlewood was a journalist with the Warminster Journal, the local newspaper. It was through this position that Shuttlewood first came into contact with the phenomenon.
The date on which the Warminster phenomenon started is a moot point. Flying Saucer Review reported that, in November 1961, four witnesses near Warminster witnessed a UFO leaving a trail of sparks. Two of the events reported by Shuttlewood in The Warminster Mystery as occurring in 1965 are also reported by Shuttlewood, in the Warminster Journal in December 1965, as having occurred in 1963 and 1964.
The history of the Warminster phenomenon as recounted by Shuttlewood, however, began early on Christmas morning, 1964. A number of witnesses were awoken by strange sounds, variously described as like twigs or leaves being drawn across a roof, or a chimney crashing to the ground, or roof tiles being forcefully rattled around. The sounds were witnessed in one case by as many as thirty individuals. Perhaps the strangest was that witnessed at 6.12am that morning by Mrs Marjorie Bye, who was walking to the Holy Communion service at Christ Church in Warminster. As she approached the church the air about her filled with strange sounds that she found disturbing, and made her feel weak and unable to move. These unidentified noises continued on an ad-hoc basis until at least June 1966. Roughly nine cases are described in The Warminster Mystery in which the only unusual phenomena are noises. Over the course of time this "noise" phenomenon receded and the visual phenomenon took its place to become the most important element of the Warminster phenomenon; the Warminster Thing became a UFO.
Through the early months of 1965, no UFOs were seen. The first UFO sighting recorded in The Warminster Mystery was around 19 May 1965, when three times during that week one witness saw unusual objects in the sky. The UFOs were silent, stationary and cigar-shaped, covered in winking bright lights, and gradually faded as the witness watched. On 3 June 1965, a brightly glowing, cigar-shaped object was witnessed by a family in Heytesbury, a village near Warminster. The UFO remained motionless over the south of Warminster for almost half an hour. The UFO was also observed by two Warminster residents, who described the UFO as 'twin red-hot pokers', and by seventeen people swimming or fishing at Shearwater, a lake near Warminster.
Although UFO sightings had now commenced, the strange sounds still continued to be heard, and on 10 August 1965 a connection between UFOs and the strange sounds appeared to be confirmed. At 3.45 am, a local woman was woken by a terrible droning sound. When she looked out of her bedroom window she saw a bright object like a massive star. It remained visible for some 25 minutes, then the humming began to attenuate, and the UFO began to flicker; the noise finally stopped, and the object vanished from sight. As with the reports from earlier in the year, it was the noise that most disturbed the witness.
As the reports of strange sounds and unidentified lights in the sky began to flood in to Arthur Shuttlewood and the local papers, ufological groups and personalities became involved. Shuttlewood managed to place stories in the national papers. A public meeting was held in the town in August 1965 at which the topic of UFOs was discussed. The meeting was televised and reported in local and national papers. The media coverage led to an invasion of the curious over the bank holiday weekend. Public interest in the Warminster phenomenon was further piqued by the publication, in the Daily Mirror, of a photograph of a UFO, taken in daylight over the town by Gordon Faulkner at the end of August. Interest in the Warminster Thing had become national, and was later to become international. Ufologists and skywatchers flocked to Warminster.
UFOs continued to be seen throughout the decade subsequent to 1965. The hey-day of the mass skywatch was in the mid-1960s, but continued through to the mid-1970s. Cradle Hill became the centre of skywatching activities, but Starr (Middle) Hill and Cley Hill were also popular with skywatchers. Warminster's reputation as a UFO hotspot diminished towards the end of the 1970s, although UFOs do continue to be reported in the area. In the 1980s the growth of the crop circle phenomena in Wiltshire rekindled interest in Warminster's UFO connection.
Because of its notoriety, Warminster was subject to much experimental and playful hoaxing. It has also been suggested that the iconic image of the Warminster UFO, Faulkner's photo of 1965, was a hoax, although Faulkner maintains that the photograph is genuine.
The proximity of Warminster to Salisbury Plain and its military presence could explain some of the UFO sightings, as weapons testing and live firing is carried out on the Plain.
Every year since August 2007, veterans of Warminster's skywatches, joined by interested newcomers, have visited Cradle Hill to relive and retell some of their memories of the phenomenon. In 2009 and 2010, Paranormal/UFO-themed two-day conferences (called Weird 09 and Weird 10) were held in Warminster. The conferences included presentations by experts in their fields, such as Paul Devereux [Earthlights, Ley Lines], Nick Pope [Ex British MOD civil servant responsible for collating UFO sightings in the UK], Nick Redfern [UFO/Cryptozoology investigator and author], Malcolm Robinson [Paranormal/UFO investigator] and Dr. David Clarke [author of a number of books on UFOs and related subjects].
- Warminster Online, Accessed July 2007, online
- Alby's Warminster Pages Accessed January 2008, online
- Dictionary of British Placenames
- Institute for Name Studies
- Eilert Ekwall,The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names
- John Jeremiah Daniell, History of Warminster
- Virtual Warminster, Accessed July 2007, online
- The Warminster Bell Foundry. 1994, Ed. D. Howell and G. Head. Bedeguar Books, Warminster. ISBN 1-872818-08-0
- Historical Sketch of Warminster, 1878 - Warminster Wylye Valley And District Recorder No.12, 2007, Ed. Danny Howell
- Danny Howell, Warminster Official Guide 2010/2011
- Rev. Henry Mayo Gunn, History Of Nonconformity In Warminster, 1853
- Warminster United Church http://www.unitedchurchwarminster.org.uk/ online
- Wiltshire Magazine, Oct/Nov 2011, pages 44-45
- Danny Howell, Warminster And District Archive No.4, May 1990
- Arthur Shuttlewood, The Warminster Mystery
- Flying Saucer Review, 1961
- Steve Dewey and John Ries, In Alien Heat
- David Simpson, Conclusions From Controlled UFO Hoaxes
- UFO Warminster, Accessed August 2008
- listing of bus services from Warminster