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Church of St Mary, Wilton

Description: Church of St Mary

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 4 August 1951
English Heritage Building ID: 319242

OS Grid Reference: SU0970631239
OS Grid Coordinates: 409706, 131239
Latitude/Longitude: 51.0804, -1.8628

Location: Russell Street, Wilton, Wiltshire SP2 0HT

Locality: Wilton
County: Wiltshire
Country: England
Postcode: SP2 0HT

Incorrect location/postcode? Submit a correction!

There is also a scheduled monument, Ruined church of SS Mary and Nicholas, at the same location as this building or very close to it. This may be related in some way or possibly a different name for the same structure.

Listing Text



Part-surviving Medieval chancel and nave arcade, much rebuilt as a small chapel c1845 when the rest of the church was reduced to ruins. Restored 1938-9.

Materials: Local ashlar limestone, mixed with some rubble. Clay tiled roof.

Plan: Rectangular two-bay chapel (with attached ruins of medieval nave arcades and west wall).

Exterior: The west wall is all of c1845, with a simple Gothic arched entrance, without mouldings, flanked by a tall two-light Perp style window on each side. These have square heads and hood moulds. The stonework of the door and windows was probably salvaged from the demolished parts of the building. Over the west door is a statue of Robert Bingham, who was consecrated here as Bishop in 1229 and who founded the new city of Salisbury. The statue was erected at the restoration of 1938-9, which was paid for by the U.S. Ambassador Robert Bingham who claimed descent from Bishop Bingham. The north and south walls contain at their west ends two blocked Perp arches (the eastern bays of the 15th century nave arcades). To their east are the stubs of the east walls of the aisles, transformed to deep buttresses c1845. The chancel east wall has a triple lancet, the centre light higher. It has minimal mouldings, and no hoodmould etc. This window was renewed in 1751, and the present fabric appears consistent with that date. For the nave ruins, see Subsidiary Features.

Interior: The interior is plastered and painted. There are no windows in the north and south walls. An 18th century moulded arch divides the space at the chancel step. The chancel has a plaster star-groined vault, almost certainly of 1751. It is without ribs, but the lines of the groins have decorative mouldings in the form of husk chains, with a little Rococo rose at the centre. Stone flagged floors including some ledger slabs, and black and white chequered marble around the altar.

Principal Fixtures: The fine oak communion table has six turned baluster legs. The altar rails also have 18th century style turned balusters, and are possibly from the restoration of 1939; the original altar rails were removed to Wylye church in 1845. The seating is small 19th or early 20th century school-style chairs. The north-west window has stained glass by Harry Stammers, 1952. In the east window are two badges and a small Crucifixion, reset and of unknown date. The font came here in 1980 from the redundant church of Farrington, Dorset. It is probably Norman, a crudely cut cylindrical shape slightly tapered inwards at the bottom. There is a thick roll-moulding at the base of the bowl, above which the bowl has rough vertical fluting all round. The chancel has a very good collection of tablets retained from the old church, many of them late 18th century Neoclassical or early 19th century Grecian. Of the latter the best is to the Hetley family, 1829, signed by the predominant local maker, Osmond of Salisbury, as are many others here. Exceptions follow. Thomas Mell d. 1625, mayor of Wilton, servant of the Earl of Pembroke and later of King James I and Charles I; a small plain tablet with gabled top containing a skull. Edmund Philips d. 1677, "sweeper of Burbidg and farer [farrier] to the Earl of Penbruck" [Pembroke]; a small but very decorative tablet with fancy swan-neck pediment, leafy console brackets, and a blank cartouche. Unreadable, c1690; big tablet with bolection frame, steep broken pediment, skull and crossbones at the base. On the nave walls are three painted benefaction boards, gilt on black, probably all c1840, referring to much earlier bequests.

Subsidiary Features: The large grassed churchyard has some good 18th century chest tombs and low stone kerbs towards North Street and the Market Place. To the south and east are higher boundary walls to a side street and to adjacent properties, of stone and 18th century brickwork.

The ruined nave to the west of the chapel is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (monument number WI329). The ruined nave consists of the south arcade, in three broad moulded arches with moulded capitals, probably 15th century. The north arcade is extant only as far as short stubs of the piers and the east and west responds. Some good carved capitals, possibly 15th century, have been reset on the piers. The west wall has a large tower arch opening, with an ogee stoup in the south jamb. There is some Perp tracery in the head of the western arch, which is clearly ex situ. This arch could not have been a window pre-1845, since the tower was to its west. The presence of one nave arcade, the resetting of the capitals and of this arch are evidence that the ruined nave was deliberately embellished c1845 to create a Picturesque ruin.

History: St Mary is almost certainly the Saxon parish church of Wilton, sited next to the market cross (of which the base still exists) next to the crossroads at the centre of the town. By the 9th century it had attached to it one of the most important nunneries in Southern England, the later Medieval fabric of which became at the Reformation the core of Wilton House. St Mary was rebuilt in the 13th century, by which time Wilton had developed into a major centre with probably eight or nine churches (although Leland reports twelve or more). From the 13th century Wilton was eclipsed by the growth of Salisbury c. 3 miles east, and the number of churches reduced over the following centuries. St Mary was much rebuilt again in the 15th century, perhaps as a result of the merging of churches; by the 16th century all the other churches had disappeared. Despite some alterations (e.g. the chancel) in 1751, the fabric was in considerable disrepair by the early 19th century, and in 1841-5 it was superseded by the sumptuous Italianate church of St Mary and St Nicholas (Wyatt & Brandon) nearby. Whether Wyatt & Brandon were responsible for the subsequent demolition and partial reconstruction of St Mary is not known, though it must be possible. The architect of the 1938-9 restoration is not recorded. St Mary was made redundant in 1972, and transferred to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust in 1977.

Victoria County Histories, A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6 (1962), pp. 28-33.
Tim Tatton-Brown, St Mary┬┐s Old Church, Wilton (Churches Conservation Trust), 2005.

Reasons for Designation: The church of St Mary, Wilton, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* A simple chapel created c1845 partly of medieval fabric, to form a consciously Picturesque ensemble with the ruined nave to its west.

* A continuous history of worship on this site since probably the 9th century or earlier, as the mother church of Wilton.

* It forms an important visual focus at the heart of Wilton, next to the market place and central crossroads.

* The chancel has simple but elegant decorative work of 1751, evidence which elsewhere was frequently lost in 19th century restorations.

* A very good collection of monuments, including some of the 17th century with connections to the Earls of Pembroke.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.