CHAPTER IX. SALISBURY AND THE RIVERS
Continuing towards Salisbury, the first village passed through is Dinton, the birthplace of Clarendon, historian of the Civil War. Then comes Baverstock, with a restored Decorated church, and lastly, before reaching Wilton, Barford St. Martin. Here is an Early English cruciform church with one or two interesting features, including an ancient effigy near the altar, in what appears to be a winding sheet. The road through these villages, or rather tapping them - the first two are slightly off the main route to the left - keeps to the north side of the Nadder valley, at first under the wooded escarpment of the Middle Hills where are the prehistoric remains of Hanging Langford Camp, Churchend Ring and Bilbury Ring: and then under the great expanse of Grovely Wood, which clothes the lonely hills dividing the valleys of Wylye and Nadder, covered with evidences of an age so far away that the Roman road from Old Sarum, traversing the summit of the hills, is a work of yesterday by comparison.
Wilton is an exceedingly interesting place if one considers its history. It took its name from the Wylye and gave it to the shire. It was the ancient capital of the Wilsaetas and antedated Old Sarum as the seat of their bishop. It only just missed being the first town of the county when Bishop Poore preferred an entirely fresh site for his new Cathedral after shaking the tainted dust of Old Sarum from off his feet.
The position of the town, on the tongue of land between the two rivers just above their meeting place, is ideal as a stronghold and an imposing position in other ways, but the Wilton of to-day is small and rather mean in its streets and houses and without any important remains of its ancient past. Its history begins with the battle of Ellandune between Mercia and Wessex, in which the victor - Egbert of the West Saxon line - made good his claim to be overlord of England. It was here that the greater West Saxon, Alfred, defeated the Danish invaders, and here again Sweyn turned the tables and burnt and slew in true pirate fashion. A house of Benedictine nuns was founded in Wilton at an early date and was enlarged and re-endowed by Alfred. St. Edyth, one of the nuns, was a daughter of King Eadgar and Wulftrude, who had been a nun herself. When the Queen died Wulftrude refused to become the King's consort, and eventually became Abbess of Wilton. The site of the Abbey is now occupied by Wilton House.
According to Leland "the chaunging of this (Icknield) way was the total course of the ruine of Old Sarisbyri and Wiltoun, for afore Wiltoun had twelve paroche churches or more, and was the hedde town of Wilshire." This refers to the new bridge built at Harnham to divert the route to the south-west through the new city. Still, the collapse was not utter and the position of the town was enough to save it from total ruin. Cloth making and the wool trade generally persisted for many years, and the making of carpets ("Wilton Pile") has persisted to the present day, despite competition and some anxious years for the manufacturers.
Of the few unimportant relics of the past may be mentioned the old Town Cross that stands against the churchyard wall, and the chapel of St. John in Ditchampton, part of a hospital founded in 1189 by Bishop Hurbert of Sarum. St. Giles' Hospital, originally for lepers, was founded by Adeliza, consort of Henry I, and rebuilt in 1624. Wilton church is as unusual as it is imposing. It was built by Lord Herbert of Lea while still the Hon. Sidney Herbert. Though the style seems out of keeping with an ordinary English countryside there is something about the high banks of foliage surrounding the town that gives the Italian campanile an almost natural air. The church is in the Lombardic style and the grand flight of steps, the triple porches and beautiful cloisters connecting the tower with the main building, are exceedingly fine. No less imposing is the ornate and costly interior. In its wealth of marbles and mosaics it is almost without parallel in England. The two handsome tombs of alabaster in the chancel are those of Lord Herbert of Lea and his mother. Not the least interesting feature of this unique church is the fine stained glass in the windows of the apse, dating from the thirteenth century.