Downton, Wiltshire History

Publication: A Topographical Dictionary of England
Pages: 84-88
Author: Samuel Lewis (editor)
Year published: 1848

DOWNTON (St. Lawrence), a parish, and formerly a borough, in the union of Alderbury, hundred of Downton, Salisbury and Amesbury, and S. divisions of Wilts, 6 miles (S. S. E.) from Salisbury, and 88 (S. W.) from London; comprising the tythings of Charlton, Church, Downton, East Downton, Hamptworth, Wick with Walton, and Witherington; and containing 3648 inhabitants, of whom 743 are in Downton, and 1785 in East Downton. It appears to have been anciently of importance, and gave name to the hundred.

Here was a castle, whose entrenchments may still, be traced at the south-east extremity of the town; and in the centre of them is a large conical mount, upon which the keep is supposed to have stood. King John is said to have had a palace at this place; and in taking down part of an old building called the Court House, or King John's Stable, were found two wooden busts, probably of that monarch and his consort.

The town consists principally of one long irregular street, extending from east to west, and having three bridges over the Upper Avon, which is here divided into three channels. On the river are some paper and grist mills; there is also a large tan-yard; malting is carried on, and several persons are engaged in a branch of the silk manufacture, and in making straw-plat.

A market was held on Friday, which has been discontinued; there is a fair on April 23rd, for cattle, and another on October 2nd, for sheep and horses.

Downton was a borough by prescription: it first sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I., and continued to exercise that privilege down to the 38th of Edward III., after which there was only one return (in the 1st of Henry V.) till the 20th of Henry VI., from which period it continued regularly to send representatives until its disfranchisement in the 2nd of William IV. The right of election was vested in persons having a freehold interest in burgage tenements, holden by a certain rent, fealty and suit of court to the Bishop of Winchester, who is lord of the borough, and paying reliefs on descent and fines on alienation.

The parish comprises by admeasurement 12,023 acres, of which 3230 are common or waste land. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at 20; patrons and impropriators, the Warden and Fellows of Winchester College. The great tithes have been commuted for 1612, and the vicarial for 929. 5.; there are 126 acres of glebe belonging to the impropriators, and 5 to the vicar. The church is a spacious edifice, consisting of a nave, aisle, transept, and chancel, with a central tower, which in 1791 was raised 30 feet higher, at the expense of the Earl of Radnor, who also largely contributed to the cost of some subsequent repairs in the body of the church; more recently, a neat organ and gallery have been erected by subscription. At Nunton is a chapel of ease; and a district church has been erected at Redlynch, by subscription, aided by a grant of 275 from the Incorporated Society; it is a neat edifice, containing 400 sittings, of which 350 are free, and was consecrated on July 24th, 1837. The living is in the gift of the Vicar. There are places of worship for General and Particular Baptists, and Wesleyans.

A free school was founded in 1679, by Sir Joseph Ashe, Bart., and endowed with rents, &c., producing 40 per annum. In 1784, Mrs. Emma Noyes left by will 200, to be placed in the funds, and the interest applied in teaching children. In 1627, William Stockman gave Chadwell farm, in Whiteparish, now producing between 40 and 50 per annum, for the benefit of poor persons of Downton "surcharged with children."

Here is an ancient cross, called the borough cross, on account of its having been the place for elections, except when a poll was demanded: in 1797, it was repaired at the expense of the burgesses.

About two miles from Downton is Standlynch or Trafalgar House, bestowed by the nation, as a token of gratitude for distinguished services, on Admiral Lord Nelson.

Acknowledgement: British History On-Line