Devizes Castle: From Medieval Fortress to Luxury Living
Devizes Castle features on the town’s crest and looms large in this market town’s history, but you would be forgiven if you walked past without noticing it! From the end of Castle Road, just off St John’s Street, you can see the imposing gatehouse complete with crenelated towers and forbidding gate. The castle and grounds are now in private ownership and views are limited. What you see today is a nineteenth century confection built by local draper Valentine Leach to replace the medieval castle ruins. The only part of the medieval castle he kept was the northern most windmill tower. When Leach died in 1842, parts of the castle estate were sold off and for a time it was opened as a pleasure gardens. In 1860, Leach’s son Robert enlarged the castle and excavated some of the original medieval foundations and walls.
Devizes’ first castle was built in about 1080 by Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, and its location in fact gave its name to the town that grew up around it. An early chronicler referred to the town as ‘Ad Divisas’, which translates to ‘at the boundaries’, as the castle was built on the boundary lines between the manors of Rowde, Bishops Cannings and Potterne. The wooden structure burnt down but was rebuilt in stone in 1113 by Bishop Roger of Salisbury and was declared to be the most splendid in Europe. It was fought over in the 12th century when Henry I’s daughter Empress Matilda and his nephew Stephen of Blois battled for the English crown. It played a central role in the English Civil Wars, as it was the base for the royalist forces during the Battle of Roundway Down and was later captured by Oliver Cromwell.
This article was prepared for the Explore Wiltshire Heritage App for mobile phones by the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Find out downloading the App at https://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/exploring-devizes/
The 3D virtual reconstruction was commissioned by Kennet District Council for the Devizes Tourist Information Centre.