Home   |   About Us   |   History of Melksham   |   Slide Shows   |   Past Events   |   Contact Us
Programme 2019
Click here for details

Thu 21st November 2019
AGM & Social Evening

 
Recent Events

Thu 17th October 2019
Ken Merrett Memorial Evening
“A history of Avoncliff” Presented by Nick MCamley
more details...

Thu 19th September 2019
Illustrated Extracts
from the late Peter Brown’s Memories plus "Melksham’s Market Place 1219 – 2019”. Two presentations by the committee
more details...

Thu 18th July 2019
Outing to Gloucester
Further details to be announced. (Coach to leave King St Car Park at 9 15am)
more details...

View All Recent Events

The History of Melksham 
 
The civil parish of Melksham is fairly small, but the old manor of Melksham included the area of Melksham Without. This takes in Shaw, Whitley, Beanacre, Forest, Berryfield and Bowerhill. There was a settlement around the Church in Saxon times and the name is believed to come from the old English meoloc meaning milk. As the name implies, the area has long been associated with pasture and dairy farming. Saint Michael and All Angels Church has been on its site since early times, and when the Domesday Book was compiled the priest was listed as Romoldus, with the manor held by the Crown. Reasons for settlement would include a fording point of the river, fertile land and elevation above the river flood level. Bridges across the River Avon and Clackers Brook were in place by the early 15th Century. 

In 1219 a weekly market and Michaelmas Fair was granted to the town. Medieval settlement was probably concentrated in the Church Street, Church Walk, High Street and Market Place area. In the mid 16th Century a manor house, later known as Place House, was built between the Market Place and the Church. The cloth industry was active by this time but not on the scale of Bradford and Trowbridge. Fulling Mills were in operation probably taking advantage of the riverside for power and water. By the next Century the area to the north of the river known as The City was occupied and expanding. Despite occasional short revivals, the cloth trade slowly declined and the inevitable riots broke out. In one instance The Bear Inn was attacked, causing the dragoons being sent to the town to restore order. The cloth industry finally came to an end when the last mill closed in 1871 

The Old Bath Road passed to the north-east of the town, but after the turn-piking of the Melksham roads the route moved south to avoid steep hills. The Kings Arms was the principal Coaching Inn for Melksham with ten coaches staging there a day. Services to Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Reading called at Melksham as routes expanded. The town had always had a strong Quaker and Non-Conformist tradition, and when the Education system came into being it was unusual in being an Anglican and Non-Conformist co-operative venture, and was built at Lowbourne. Later St Michael’s School opened too. 

In 1847 a private company built the Market Hall [now the Town Hall] where the sale of the local farm produce was traded with a Police Station alongside. Later, in 1864 Place House, was demolished to make way for a small development of houses. 

The town continued to expand and other industries moved into the town. Among other items the production of Double Gloucester cheese became important. The Wilts & Berks Canal was opened by 1810, & Maggs’ rope works was established alongside. In 1848 the Wilts, Somerset & Weymouth Railway came to the town, taking away much of the business from the canal but improving communications further. An engineering works was started in Bank Street by C J Spencer; this moved to Beanacre Road in 1903. 1889 saw the Avon India Rubber Company move from Limpley Stoke producing rubber goods and later tyres, a business which continues to this day. Charles Maggs, grandson of the ropeworks founder, started a milk depot and butter factory which grew into the Wilts United Dairy Company, later to become part of Unigate. The Post Office Telegraph Service was introduced in 1870 followed by the National Telephone Company in 1898, and Trowbridge Water Company provided a public water supply at this time. Electricity came to the town in 1924, eventually becoming Wessex Electricity by Nationalisation of the industry. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century dairy farming continued to be a major industry and businesses were expanding. The population continued to expand as a result, leading to many housing developments. The Wiltshire Agricultural Co-operative Society started up and became Wiltshire Farmers in 1942. 1920 saw C.W.S. establish a large creamery near the railway station. The onset of World War 2 gave rise to the establishment in 1940 of the R.A.F. No12 school of Technical Training at Bowerhill. This facility was used until the abolition of conscription in the early 1960’s and gave many thousands of personnel an acquaintance with the town. 

Many of the industries of the early part of the century have now disappeared, but they have been replaced by many newer and smaller enterprises. Expansion has continued apace and shows no sign of slowing.