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One thousand years ago Trowbridge was little more than a row of
dwellings close to where an ancient ridgeway track crossed the River
Biss at a convenient ford. The earliest known written record of
the town can be found in the Domesday Book, (compiled in 1086, www.domesdaybook.co.uk).
Trowbridge’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words treow-brycg
meaning tree and bridge.
The town’s castle was first mentioned in 1139 when it was
besieged so it may well have been built as a reaction to the civil
war which was raging between King Stephen and the Empress Maud.
It was almost certainly of a motte-and-bailey type, this meant that
the main body of the castle was on a raised mound and was enclosed
by protective ditches and raised banks. The castle construction
would have been of wood and earth. The town’s museum has a
conjectural three dimensional model of the castle and a full-sized
reconstruction to enable children to walk the ramparts!
Although the castle has long gone its legacy remains within the
shape of the town, the curving line of Fore Street from the Town
Hall to the Town Bridge follows the course of the castle ditch,
and its name has been passed on to Castle Street and Castle Place
shopping centre. The name Wicker Hill, at the lowest part of Fore
Street, comes from the name of the material used to reinforce the
sides of the moat or ditch, which was wickerwork or hurdles. The
centre of what was the castle stands where Trowbridge Museum is
Excavations that were carried out on the site where the Shires shopping
centre was built suggested that there was an important Saxon dwelling
before the castle. Foundations of a very early church (dating from
around 850) surrounded by a graveyard were also revealed. Ornate
gravestones from the site can be seen in St James’s Church
and Trowbridge Museum.
In about 1200, the lord of the manor of Trowbridge laid out
a borough on the site just outside the castle which included a market
place and a new church. A charter to sanction the holding of a market
on Tuesdays and an annual fair for the vigil/ feast of St James
to be held on the 24th to the 26th July was one of the earliest
ever to be recorded.
From the fourteenth century Trowbridge’s main industry was
the production of cloth. There is a reference relating to this from
1306, when a Trowbridge man was hanged for stealing a length of
cloth from a local mill! By the end of the fourteenth century Trowbridge
was the most important centre of cloth production in West Wiltshire.
The town’s importance is reflected in the fine timber-framed
buildings that were built at the time. Examples of these can be
seen at 2-3 and 55 and 57 Fore Street.
By the mid-seventeenth century, the town had developed an excellent
reputation for the production of medley, a light cloth made of mainly
Spanish wool, which was dyed before
carding and spinning. The technique meant that a wide range of shades
of colours could be created.
The end of the 18th century marked the transition from the production
of cloth within weavers’ cottages to factories which initially
used water and then progressed to steam. These improved methods
of production led to greater prosperity and resulted in Trowbridge’s
expansion. Number 64 Fore Street (now a bank) was built for a wealthy
clothier, Thomas Cooper and number 68 Fore Street and the stunning
eighteenth century buildings that form the Parade were built for
the Houltons, a clothing family.
By the early nineteenth century the cloth trade began to fluctuate.
However, by 1875 West Country cloth production was experiencing
a decline as there was far greater competition from both mills in
Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders. Trowbridge’s last working
mill, Home Mills ceased trading in 1982. However, in July 1990 its
second floor took on a new lease of life as Trowbridge Museum.
Although Trowbridge’s mills were no more other industries
moved into the town including Chapmans bed and mattress makers,
now Airsprung or existing industries expanded. Twenty first century
industries that are now firmly rooted in the town include Virgin
Mobile and the award winning Apetito.
Discover more about Trowbridge’s fascinating past and visit
the town’s museum in the Shires Shopping Centre, www.trowbridgemuseum.co.uk.
Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this publication and the
statements contained herein are believed to be correct, the publishers
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