Devizes assumed importance immediately after the Norman Conquest when the invaders built defensive ‘mottes’ and ‘baileys’ throughout the country. One of these was built in Devizes in 1080 by Bishop Osmond, a nephew of William the Conqueror, who was made Bishop of Salisbury.
The origin of the name of Devizes is obscure and an early chronicler referred in a Latin text to the castle Ad Divisas (at the boundaries). It is thought the name is a corruption of this. The castle was sited at a point where boundaries of the manors
of Rowde, Cannings and Potterne converged. Known later as the Devize.
A Royal Borough Charter was first granted to Devizes in 1141, by the Empress Matilda, as a gesture of thanks to the burgesses for their help during her civil war with King Stephen. The Borough ceased in 1974, when Devizes became a town,
still retaining a Mayor and Town Crier in historic tradition.
It is worth noting the two major features which make Devizes of national, historic and architectural interest. The first of these is the retention, over 800 years, of the
original medieval street pattern which was laid down when the first castle was built, and which survives virtually intact. There are few good examples of such street patterns remaining unspoilt by more recent roadworks and buildings, but Devizes is one of them. It would be fair to claim that
within the town centre not one new street line has been devised over 8 centuries.
The second feature isthe large concentration of historic buildings, all of individual character, within a very small area. Within a quarter of a square mile there are
nearly 500 structures considered by the Department of the Environment as worthy of listing for some protection. There are few other towns or cities in this country with such a dense, but varied, architectural and historic assemblage.