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Wiltshire ( or , formerly ; also abbreviated Wilts) is a ceremonial county in the south west of Englandmarker. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorsetmarker, Somersetmarker, Hampshire, Gloucestershiremarker, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers . The ancient county town was Wiltonmarker, but since 1930 Wiltshire County Council and its successor Wiltshire Council have been based at Trowbridgemarker.

Wiltshire is characterised by its high downland and wide valleys. Salisbury Plainmarker is famous as the location of the Stonehengemarker stone circle and other ancient landmarks and as the main training area in the UK of the British Army.

The city of Salisburymarker is notable for its medieval cathedralmarker, and important country houses open to the public include Longleatmarker, near Warminstermarker, and the National Trust's Stourheadmarker, near Meremarker.


The county, in the 9th century written as Wiltunscir, later Wiltonshire, is named after the former county town of Wiltonmarker, itself named after the river Wylye, one of eight rivers which drain the county.


Wiltshire is notable for its pre-Roman archaeology. The Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age people that occupied southern Britain built settlements on the hills and downland that cover Wiltshire. Stonehengemarker and Aveburymarker are perhaps the most famous Neolithic sites in the UK.

In the 6th and 7th centuries Wiltshire was at the western edge of Saxon Britain, as Cranborne Chasemarker and the Somerset Levels prevented the advance to the west. The Battle of Bedwynmarker was fought in 675 between Escuin, a Wessexmarker nobleman who had seized the throne of Queen Saxburga, and King Wulfhere of Merciamarker. In 878 the Danes invaded the county, and, following the Norman Conquest, large areas of the country came into the possession of the crown and the church.

At the time of the Domesday Survey the industry of Wiltshire was largely agricultural; 390 mills are mentioned, and vineyards at Tollard and Lacock. In the succeeding centuries sheep-farming was vigorously pursued, and the Cistercian monasteries of Kingswood and Stanley exported wool to the Florentinemarker and Flemish markets in the 13th and 14th centuries.

In the 17th century English Civil War Wiltshire was largely Parliamentarian. The Battle of Roundway Downmarker, a decisive Royalist victory, was fought near Devizesmarker.

Around 1800 the Kennet and Avon Canalmarker was built through Wiltshire providing a route for transporting cargoes from Bristolmarker to Londonmarker until the development of the Great Western Railway.

Information on the 261 civil parishes of Wiltshire is available on the Wiltshire Community History website, run by the Libraries and Heritage services of Wiltshire County Council. This site includes maps, demographic data, historic and modern pictures and short histories.

Tale of Moonrakers

The local nickname for Wiltshire natives is moonrakers. This originated from a story of smugglers who managed to foil the local Excise men by hiding their alcohol, possibly French brandy in barrels or kegs, in a village pond. When confronted by the excise men they raked the surface in order to conceal the submerged contraband with ripples, and claimed that they were trying to rake in a large round cheese visible in the pond, really a reflection of the full moon. The officials took them for simple yokels or mad and left them alone, allowing them to continue with their illegal activities. Many villages claim the tale for their own village pond, but the story is most commonly linked The Crammer in Devizesmarker.

Geology, landscape and ecology

Wiltshire is a mostly rural landscape, two thirds of the county lying on chalk, a kind of soft, white, porous limestone that is resistant to erosion, giving it a high chalk downland landscape. This chalk is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation that underlies large areas of Southern England from the Dorset Downsmarker in the west to Dovermarker in the east. The largest area of chalk in Wiltshire is Salisbury Plainmarker, a semi-wilderness used mainly for arable agriculture and by the British Army as training ranges. The highest point of the county is the Tan HillMilk Hillmarker ridge in the Pewsey Valemarker on the northern edge of Salisbury Plainmarker, at above sea level.

The chalk runs northeast into West Berkshire in the Marlborough Downsmarker ridge, and southwest into Dorset as Cranborne Chasemarker. Cranborne Chase, which straddles the border, has, like Salisbury Plain, yielded much Stone Age and Bronze Age archaeology. The Marlborough Downs are part of the North Wessex Downs AONBmarker (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), a 1,730 km2 (668 square mile) conservation area.

In the north west of the county, on the border with Gloucestershiremarker and Bath and North East Somerset, the underlying rock is the resistant oolite limestone of the Cotswoldsmarker. Part of the Cotswolds AONB is also in Wiltshire.

Between the areas of chalk and limestone downland are clay valleys and vales. The largest of these vales is the Avon Vale. The Avon cuts diagonally through the north of the county, flowing through Bradford on Avonmarker and into Bathmarker and Bristolmarker. The Vale of Pewsey has been cut through the chalk into Greensand and Oxford Clay in the centre of the county. In the south west of the county is the Vale of Wardour. The south east of the county lies on the sandy soils of the New Forestmarker.

Chalk is a porous rock so the chalk hills have little surface water. The main settlements in the county are therefore situated at wet points. Notably, Salisbury is situated between the chalk of Salisbury Plain and marshy flood plains.


As with the rest of South West England, Wiltshire has a temperate climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of Englandmarker. The annual mean temperature is and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between . July and August are the warmest months in the region with mean daily maxima around .

The number of hours of bright sunshine is controlled by the length of day and by cloudiness. In general December is the dullest month, June the sunniest. The south-west of England has a favoured location with respect to the Azores high pressure when it extends its influence north-eastwards towards the UK, particularly in summer. Convective cloud often forms inland, especially near hills, and acts to reduce sunshine amounts. The average annual sunshine totals 1600 hours.

Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlanticmarker depressions or with convection. The Atlantic depressions are more vigorous in autumn and winter and most of the rain which falls in those seasons in the south-west is from this source. In summer, convection caused by solar surface heating sometimes forms shower clouds and a large proportion of rainfall falls from showers and thunderstorms at this time of year. Average rainfall is around . About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, with June to August having the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the South West.


This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added (GVA) of Wiltshire at current basic prices with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.
Year Regional gross value added Agriculture Industry Services
1995 4,354 217 1,393 2,743
2000 5,362 148 1,566 3,647
2003 6,463 164 1,548 4,751

The Wiltshire economy benefits from the "M4 corridormarker effect", which attracts business, and the attractiveness of its countryside, towns and villages. The northern part of the county is richer than the southern part, particularly since Swindon is home to national and international corporations such as Honda, Intelmarker, Motorola, Alcatel-Lucent, Patheon, Catalent (formerly know as Cardinal Health), Becton-Dickinson WHSmith, Early Learning Centre and Nationwide, with Dyson located in nearby Malmesburymarker. Wiltshire’s employment structure is distinctive in having a significantly higher number of people in various forms of manufacturing (especially electrical equipment and apparatus, food products, and beverages, furniture, rubber, pharmaceuticals, and plastic goods) than the national average.

In addition, there is higher than average employment in public administration and defence, due to the military establishments around the county, particularly around Amesburymarker and Corshammarker. Wiltshire is also distinctive in having a high proportion of its working age population who are economically active – (86.6% in 1999–2000), and its low unemployment rates. The Gross domestic product (GDP) level in Wiltshire did not reach the UK average in 1998, and was only marginally above the rate for South West England.


Wiltshire has twenty-nine county secondary schools, publicly funded, of which the largest is Warminster Kingdownmarker, and another thirteen independent secondaries, including Marlborough Collegemarker, St Mary's Calnemarker, and Dauntsey'smarker. The county schools are nearly all comprehensives, with the older pattern of education surviving only in Salisburymarker, which has two grammar schools (South Wilts Grammar School for Girlsmarker and Bishop Wordsworth's Schoolmarker) and three secondary moderns. All but two of the county secondary schools in the former districts of West Wiltshire and North Wiltshiremarker have Sixth forms, but only half of those in the rest of the county.

There are also two further education colleges, Wiltshire Collegemarker and Swindon Collegemarker, providing some higher education. As yet there are no universities within Wiltshire, except that the Oxford Brookes Universitymarker maintains a minor campus in Swindonmarker. Early outline plans for a projected University of Swindon or University of Wiltshire were announced by the Borough of Swindon in November 2008, but the scheme is uncommitted. Swindon is the UK's largest centre of population without its own university.


The county registered a population of 613,024 in the Census 2001. The population density is low at . In 1991 there were 230,109 dwellings in the county. In 1991 98.3% of the population was indigenous and 17.9% of the population were over 65.

Population of Wiltshire:
  • 1801: 185,107
  • 1851: 254,221
  • 1901: 271,394
  • 1951: 386,692
  • 2001: 613,024

Politics and administration

The ceremonial county of Wiltshire consists of two unitary authority areas, Wiltshire and Swindon, governed respectively by Wiltshire Council and Swindon Borough Council.

Until the 2009 structural changes to local government in England, Wiltshire (apart from Swindon) was a two-level county, divided into four local government districts, Kennetmarker, North Wiltshiremarker, Salisburymarker and West Wiltshire, which existed alongside Wiltshire County Council, covering the same area and carrying out more strategic tasks, such as education and county roads. However, on 1 April 2009 these five local authorities were merged into a single unitary authority called Wiltshire Council. With the abolition of the District of Salisbury, a new Salisbury City Council was created at the same time to carry out several city-wide functions and to hold the City's charter.

As a result of elections held in 2009, Wiltshire Council is comprised of 61 Conservatives, 24 Liberal Democrats, eight Independents, three Devizes Guardians and two Labour members. The council is led by Jane Scott (Conservative), who had previously led the former Wiltshire County Council since 2003.

At the parliamentarymarker level, rural Wiltshire is represented by four Conservative Members of Parliament, while the predominantly urban area of Swindonmarker has two Labour members. Since 1992, Devizesmarker has been represented by the front bench Conservative Michael Ancram.


The county is represented in the Football League by Swindon Town, who play at the County Ground near Swindonmarker town centre. They joined the Football League on the creation of the Third Division in 1920, and have remained in the league ever since. Their most notable achievements include winning the Football League Cup in 1969, two successive promotions in 1986 and 1987 (taking them from the Fourth Division to the Second), promotion to the Premier League as Division One playoff winners in 1993 (as inaugural members), the Division Two title in 1996, and their recent promotion to League One in 2007 after finishing third in League Two.

Swindon Robins Speedway team, who compete in the Sky Elite League, have been at their track at the Blunsdonmarker Abbey Stadium since 1949.

Principal settlements

Wiltshire has twenty-one town and one city

A list of settlements is at List of places in Wiltshire.

Places of interest

Places of interest in Wiltshire include:
Areas of countryside in Wiltshire include:



Roads running through Wiltshire include The Ridgewaymarker, an ancient route, the Roman roads Fosse Way and Ermin Way and the Thames Pathmarker, a modern long distance footpath. National Cycle Route 4 runs through the county.

Routes through Wiltshire include:




Airports in Wiltshire include Old Sarum Airfieldmarker and Redlands Airfieldmarker.

See also

References and footnotes

  1. 05-chapter-7.pdf
  2. Components may not sum to totals due to rounding
  3. includes hunting and forestry
  4. includes energy and construction
  5. includes financial intermediation services indirectly measured

External links

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