A History of Warminster

By Tim Lambert

Early Warminster

The remains of two Roman villas were found, near Warminster. However, the modern town dates from the Saxon era. The origin of the name Warminster is not certain but it’s probably derived from the name of the River Were and a minster (minster was the Saxon word for a monastery). St Denys Church was first built in the 11th century. St Lawrence Chapel in Warminster was built in the 13th century.

At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Warminster probably had a population of over 400. By the standards of the time, it was quite a large settlement. Warminster was given a charter by King John in 1204. In the early 13th century, Warminster was a thriving town, with important markets. By the 14th century, it probably had a population of about 1,000 making it a small but thriving town.

From the 16th century to the 19th century Warminster was known for its cloth industry and malting as well as its cornmarkets. By the late 17th century Warminster probably had a population of around 1,800. The town continued to grow rapidly during the 18th century. Meanwhile, Warminster School was founded in 1707. The Obelisk was erected in 1783.

Modern Warminster

In 1801 at the time of the first census, Warminster had a population of 4,932. By the standards of the time, it was a fair-sized town. By 1851 the population had risen to over 6,000.

Meanwhile, in the early 19th century, the old cloth trade in Warminster went into severe decline and the markets became less important. But other industries like brewing and iron founding flourished. Warminster Maltings has been operating since 1855.

In 1851 a railway from Warminster to Westbury opened. It was extended to Salisbury in 1856.

Warminster Town Hall was built in 1851. Warminster gained its first hospital in 1866 but a new hospital was built in 1929. Warminster War Memorial was built in 1921.

A volunteer fire brigade was formed in Warminster in 1886 and a fire station was built in 1906. However, the fire brigade moved to a new building in 1966.

In the late 19th century the town declined. It lost much of its trade and by 1901 the population had fallen to  5,547. The population of Warminster continued to decline until the 1930s. But the Second World War revived the town’s fortunes.

In the mid and late 20th century the presence of the British army revived the town’s fortunes. By 1961 the population of Warminster had risen to almost 10,000. Warminster Sports Centre opened in 1973.

An old inn, the Three Horseshoes was demolished in 1968 except for the facade. Three Horseshoes Shopping Walk replaced it.

In the 1970s Warminster was called ‘the UFO capital of Britain’ because so many were seen in the area.

A pub in Warminster

The Athenaeum was built in 1858. It became a cinema in 1912 and an art centre in 1969. It re-opened as the Atheneum Centre for the Community in 2000. In 2023 the population of Warminster was 17,000.

Warminster Museum