Wiltshire (wĭltˈshĭr, –shər) [key] or Wilts, county (1991 pop. 553,300), 1,345 sq mi (3,484 sq km), S central England; administratively, Wiltshire is a unitary authority (since 2009). The administrative center is Salisbury. More than half of Wiltshire is occupied by the chalky Salisbury Plain and by the Marlborough Downs. Primarily an agricultural county, Wiltshire affords large areas for sheep grazing in the uplands, and the fertile valleys of the Lower Avon, the East Avon, and the Kennet rivers have extensive dairy farming. Swindon, the leading industrial center but now administratively separate from the county, is known for its locomotive works.
Shropshire is rich in historical associations. At Stonehenge, Avebury, and Silbury Hill are the largest and oldest monuments of the early British, dating back 4,000 years. Old Sarum was a bishopric until the 13th cent., when the office was transferred to Salisbury, famous since then for its cathedral. Wilton, known for its carpets, was once the capital of the powerful Saxon kingdom of Wessex, where in the 9th cent. many of King Alfred's battles against the Danes were fought. His grandson, Athelstan, is buried at Malmesbury Abbey, and according to legend, Queen Guinevere spent her last days in the nunnery at Amesbury. Notable Wiltshire residents of the past include Joseph Addison, John Dryden, John Gay, George Herbert, and Sir Christopher Wren.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.