Wiltshire magazine finds out what gives Devizes its individual character

PUBLISHED: 14:17 22 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:25 20 February 2013



Keeping it local!<br/>Words and photos by Terry Brown

Keeping itlocal!

What gives Devizes its individual character? Terry Brown uncovers an interesting cross-section of businesses and enterprises

Wadworth Brewery was founded in 1875 and the impressive Northgate Brewery was designed and built by Henry Wadworth in 1885. It is still run as a family business, using many of the original brewing techniques and recipes.
The Brewery Centre is a free, self-guided attraction where visitors can discover the history and heritage of Wadworth Brewing and taste the beers in the bar. The Centre shop stocks a range of beers, clothing and gifts, locally sourced where possible. Guided tours of the brewery are available, for groups or individuals. Wadworth is proud of its traditions. They still make wooden beer barrels in the old way and their handsome shire horses are a familiar sight in the town, delivering excellent, prize-winning beer to local pubs.

This fascinating museum traces the history of Wiltshire, its environment and its people, over the last 6,000 years. Its large and important collection ranges from Saxon jewellery to the first telephone in Britain installed in Devizes in 1877 and contains many important and beautiful exhibits like the ancient dagger inlaid with thousands of tiny gold studs.
This museum doesnt stand still. A recent initiative is an exhibition that tells the story of how Devizes has changed over the centuries. A prehistoric Wiltshire gallery is being developed, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It also regularly organises educational events and programmes, and its archive and library are available as resources for everyone.

Opening times: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; adults 5.50, concessions 4. Sunday 12noon-4pm, when it is free for Wiltshire residents.

In 1832, five years before Queen Victoria came to the throne, Thomas White opened his ironmongery business in Devizes. The rest, as they say, is history. The business grew steadily and expanded its activities to supply the constantly changing agricultural needs and practices. Training schemes and apprenticeships were set up and the business further diversified into new areas. Today it has interests in agriculture, motor vehicles, lorry cranes, grass-care equipment, construction equipment, and security and fire systems. It operates on several sites but the head office is still in Devizes. The company is proud that, despite its size and complexity, no fewer than 76 of the workforce have been with them for more than 25 years.

A visitor to Devizes can easily miss the narrow entrance to St Johns Alley, but venture down and round the corner and youll see a splendid display of timber-framed Elizabethan or Jacobean housing with over-reaching upper floors. Here is Joan Pressleys hat shop, established in 1987, where you will find hundreds of colourful hats by leading designers, available to buy or to hire. The shop also offers a bespoke service and help with choosing the perfect hat to wear with an outfit. Hats can be retrimmed and if you own a tired or dated hat, the Hat Hospital will give it a new lease of life.

In 1559, a licence was granted to John Sawter to run The Bear Hotel in Devizes. However, it was also noted that The Bears sign was set up anew, which suggests that it existed as a hostelry long before that. In the late 18th century, the hotel was much used as a stop on the route between London and Bath, because highwaymen operated along the old route over the lonely Downs. Later it was a lodging place for the infamous Judge Jeffreys.Today it is a welcoming town-centre hotel with a strong emphasis on serving the town. A free newsletter is published every month, outlining events and activities taking place at The Bear. Everyone is welcome, whether they come for a quiet drink, a bar lunch, a dinner or for a more formal occasion.

In 1995, Fantasy Radio began broadcasting in Devizes. On 21 september 2011, after 16 years of hard work, the radio station was awarded its licence and now operates 24 hours a day. It broadcasts from its studios in the Corn Exchange, right in the heart of town, providing entertainment, information and education. The volunteer staff are proficient, responsible broadcasters who work closely with the town council, local businesses, and the Wharf Theatre, so that they fully reflect what is going on locally and provide up-to-date information. Programmes include music of all kinds, interviews with local people, and opportunities for showcasing talent in the community.

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