AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE, a small town in the Wilton parliamentary division of Wiltshire, England, 8 m. N. of Salisbury, on the London & South- Western railway. Pop. (1901) 1143. It stands on a wooded upland, amid the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain. The church of St Mary is cruciform, with a low square tower, and is largely Early English, with some richly decorated windows in the chancel. A curious two-storeyed building which adjoins the north transept consists of a chapel with a piscina below and a priest's chamber above. Amesbury Abbey, a beautiful house built by Inigo Jones for the dukes of Queensberry, stands close to the village, in a park watered by the river Avon, here famous for its trout. Stonehenge (q.v.), the greatest surviving megalithic work in the British Isles, is a mile and a half distant; and on a hill near the village is Vespasian's Camp or the Ramparts, a large earthwork, which is undoubtedly of British, not Roman, origin.
At Amesbury (Ambresberia, Aumbresbery) a witenagemot was held in 932, while about 980 AElfthryth (Ethelfrida), queen-dowager of Edgar, erected here a nunnery in expiation of the murder of her stepson. The house afterwards acquired such ill repute that in 1177 the nuns were dispersed and the house was attached to the abbey of Fontevrault, by whom it was re-established. From this date, by a succession of royal charters and private gifts, the nunnery amassed vast wealth and privileges, and became a fashionable retreat for ladies of high rank, among whose number were Eleanor, widow of Henry III., and Mary, daughter of Edward I. After the dissolution in 1540 the site was granted to Edward, earl of Hertford, afterwards duke of Somerset and protector of the kingdom. It subsequently passed to the duke of Queensberry. According to the Domesday, Amesbury was a royal manor and did not pay geld, but was under the obligation of providing one night's entertainment for the king. In 1317 the prioress obtained a Saturday market and a three days' fair at the feast of St Melor (Meliorus). The market was subsequently changed to Friday, and three additional fairs were granted. Pipeclay abounds in the neighbourhood, and in the 17th century Amesbury was famous for the best pipes in England, many of which are preserved in Salisbury museum.
See Victoria County History-Wiltshire; Sir Richard
Colt Hoare, History of Modern Wiltshire (1822-1844).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)