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Chippenham Town Council

History of Chippenham
Chippenham Town Council
Tourist Information Centre
Yelde Hall and Historic Council Chamber
Chippenham Chamber of Commerce & Industry
  Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre
  Chippenham Information Point
  Town & Neeld Halls Conference & Banqueting Facilities
  Shopping & Commercial Life
  Town Twinning
  Sports & Recreation
  Stanley Park Sports Ground
  Festivals & Celebrations
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Chippenham Contact Information

The Town Clerk
The Town Hall
High Street
SN15 3ER

Tel: 01249 446699
Fax: 01249 443145

Email: Chippenham Council


Brief History of Chippenham

Before the Saxons

Mother Nature was kind to the early settlers of Chippenham for she provided a raised spur of Oxford clay, surrounded on three sides by the River Avon.  This horseshoe shaped meander around the elevated clay deposits provided an attractive natural defence position for early settlers who were protected by the river.Monkton House
The continued growth in town centre developments has shown tantalising glimpses of prehistoric activity in the form of remains of cooking pits from temporary camps with numerous flint tools.  Evidence of Romano-British occupation has been observed during building work in the Museum and Heritage Centre, in gardens to the rear of the Causeway, and a small farm building, discovered during building work behind the new Magistrates’ Court.  All these finds point to farmers occupying the higher ground above the flood plain of the River Avon.

King Alfred and Chippenham

The earliest documentary evidence and archaeological finds indicate a Saxon date in the 7th Century for the first urban settlers of Chippenham.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the town as CIPPANHAMME and this could refer to CIPPA, who settled here with his kin or CHEPPEHAM meaning trading and market at the settlement.  Archaeological excavations in gardens in the Causeway and the Market Place have recently recovered handmade Saxon pottery dating from the 7th to the 9th Century, part of a Saxon clay loom weigh and a bronze writing stylus.
In 853 ETHELWITHA, the sister of King Alfred, was married in Chippenham and there are further documentary references to a hunting seat.  The Royal settlement would have had a wooden Royal Hall, Church or Chapel and a built up urban area surrounding the market plain.  In 878 the Danish army under King Guthrum occupied the town, which strongly suggests that the settlement was fortified.  The Royal settlement of Chippenham was referred to in land charters by the Wessex kings as a VILLA REGIA. There may have also been a mint with the name of CEPEN under King Ethelred II.

Domesday Survey

The Royal holding in Chippenham refers to a church in 1042, and in the Domesday tax survey of 1086 to a substantial urban centre.  There was a population of 144 males to which you must add an unknown number of females and children making a total population of about 650.  The large amount of ploughs indicates extensive areas of arable land around Chippenham that were under cultivation on the north and west sides.
During the Norman period the Crown property in Chippenham was split up into the small manors of; CHELDON, ROWDEN and LOWDEN and were acquired by the Barons and religious houses.  Ancient remains and a mound to the rear of the Heritage Centre at 10 Market Place may indicate the site of an undocumented mott and bailey castle.The Yelde Hall

Early Town Growth and Market Charter

Few records survive from Chippenham’s medieval past and as yet there has been little archaeological excavation to flesh out the town’s missing history.  The urban centre expanded into LANGSTRET from 1245, which may be the earlier name of The Causeway. Further expansion occurred into LE NEWESTRET from 1406, which is possibly New Road. 
As a parliamentary borough, Chippenham was represented from 1295.  The right to hold fairs existed from 1320. Edward II granted four fairs and two markets to the Lord of the Manor Edmund Gaselyn.  The medieval timber framed Yelde Hall is situated in the Market Place and dates from between 1446 - 1458.  In 1554 the town was granted a Charter of Incorporation from Queen Mary.  After 1570 the shambles were erected in the centre of the Market Place backing up to the Yelde Hall which became the centre for the butchery trade.
By 1604 there were 129 burgesses’ houses mainly fronted onto the High Street and Market Place with gardens at the rear.  Some of these strips are still preserved in property boundaries.
The existing woollen industry grew in the 16th Century making good use of the river for fulling mills and the island for drying the cloth on racks or tenter frames.

Plague, Civil War and Scandal

During the 17th Century the plague struck in 1611 and 1636, which, combined with a recession in the wool industry, caused hardship in the town’s population.  A further hardship to the population was a drop in corn production in the years 1622 and 1623.
 St. Andrews Church
During the Civil War, Chippenham did not play a principal role but was involved in small-scale skirmishes between 1643 and 1646.  The cloth trade suffered as a result of a Royalist proclamation, banning the export of cloth to London, which was run by the Parliamentarians and was the main centre where finished cloth was sent.
In 1747 Chippenham was at the centre of a parliamentary scandal involving bribery and corruption of the two members for Chippenham.  This led to an election petition that brought down the government led by Sir Robert Walpole.

Weaving, Canals, Cheese, and Railways

The wool trade continued to grow and prosper and in 1792 the burgesses cemented their fortunes in the industry by working closely with Sir Samuel Fludyer.  He guaranteed their supplies of wool and a market for the finished cloth.  The burgesses used their "new found" wealth to improve their houses along the High Street, Market Place and St Mary Street, using local stone and Bath stone, which led to Chippenham being called "little Bath".
Trade in the town was further advanced with the building of a canal spur off the Wilts and Berks canal in 1798.  The principal trading commodity arriving at the wharf (now the site of the bus station in Timber Street) was coal from Somerset.  Further stimulus to the town’s trade occurred with the construction of the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol, which reached the town in 1841.  Many new industries arrived in the town and created a need for The Buttercrossnew housing north of the railway line.  As the new industries of iron founding for the railways, wagon makers, brewing, farm machinery and butter churns grew the cloth industry entered it’s final decline.  Extensive housing was developed which encouraged the production of local bricks and use of the local limestone. Additional Welsh slate and Bath stone were brought in by the railways.
By the mid 19th Century agricultural products of milk, cheese and ham and then the Nestles factory utilised the railway to export its products.  The area to the north of the railway station prospered as railway engineering works, with the arrival of Rowland Brotherhood in 1842.  In 1894 Evans O’Donnell Limited took over part of his works and in 1904 they joined up with Saxby & Farmer who eventually merged, in 1920 under the name of Westinghouse Brake and Saxby Signal Company Limited.  In 1935 the name was changed to Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co Ltd, and was the main employer in Chippenham in the 20th Century.

Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this publication and the statements contained herein are believed to be correct, the publishers and promoters cannot accept responsibility for any inaccuracies. Reproduction of any part of this publication in any format, without permission, is strictly forbidden.