Melksham is an excellent centre for a variety of days out – whatever your interests, being in the heart of Wiltshire. Wiltshire is widely regarded for its archaeology an ancient history, with beautiful countryside, picture postcard villages and featuring many splendid landscaped gardens, stately homes and a wealth of National Trust Properties.

Very close to Melksham are Corsham Court – residence of the Methuen family since 1747, where there is a fine collection of paintings by Old Masters. Bradford-on-Avon has a 7th Century Saxon Church and a 14th century Tithe Barn and a medieval stone , bridge complete with Chapel which was converted into a lock up in the 17th Century. At Cherill and Westbury white hourses can be seen, cut into the turf of the chalk downs. Bowood house is set in a magnificent parkland  and containing the laboratory where Dr. Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen gas. There are National Trust properties at Charfield Manor and the Courts at Holt. The National Trust Village of Lacock has a Tithe Barn, Pack Horse Bridge and a 13th Century Abby where William Fox Talbot the inventor of photography lived and worked. The Abby hosts a wealth of recitals and concerts throughout the year.

Also Close to home Castle Combe, Biddestone, Box tunnel created Isimbard Brunel, Which the sun shines through once a year on his birthday.

Melksham began life as a forest village, it does actually owe its name to the dairying which soon developed in the rich pastures of the neighborhood. Like other towns of West Wiltshire it prospered as a wool town in medieval times. The name of the town probably came from the Saxon Meoc Ham. A ham being a piece of low lying ground in the bend of a river and Meoc being the name of the owner (Michael). Or possibly Meolc (ham) meaning "milk producing" Thus becoming "a piece of land where your dairy herd would flourish"

While nearby Chippenham was an occasional country base for King Alfred, who had a hunting lodge there, Melksham was the place where he did the business, it was but a small place in the middle of Chippenham Forest. Not only a great place for hunting but also a useful hiding place from marauding Danes. Later as Melksham grew it became increasingly known as Melksham Forest.

A couple of hundred years later Harold handed over the Kingdom without so much as batting an eye to the Normans. They were an orderly folk and having gained so much new land set about compiling a great asset list, the Domesday Book. Orderly, but they couldn't spell either as here it appears as Melcham or Melchesham.

The forest must have been cleared a bit by then as there were listed several farms and mills. In a big share out of their newly gained wealth the Normans apparently gave the town (manor) and the land around it to one Aloeric, one of their own. The area remained in the hands of the new aristocracy for several hundred years and was a regular hunting place, but the forest dwindled and farming took over.

As the forest made way for pasture and the town gradually began to grow, the cloth mills took on a greater importance. The area around Canon Square was formerly cottages for the weavers the church of St Michael is to one side and Church Walk the other, leads towards the river, which powered the mills.

John Fowler was born in Melksham in 1826, the son of a Quaker merchant. He started his working life at a corn merchants, but on reaching 21 left to work at a Middlesborough engineering company. He invented a stationary steam hauled plough for land drainage and later set up his own engineering business in Leeds. He died at an early age in an accident, but the Fowler Company continued for many years and became world renowned for its steam traction engines. Rachel Fowler is better known to the locals perhaps, as she stayed in the town, lived longer and became one of its greatest patrons, founding at her own expense almshouses and a hall for a reading room and meeting place. Some authorities have this Rachel as John's sister, but if my reading is correct, she was his aunt. (Harold Fassnige - The Quakers of Melksham) The history of the Fowler family is difficult to follow as not only were they a large family but each generation seemed to have several Johns, Rachels, Roberts and Thomases!

Gradually the weaving died out. The cloth makers of Melksham found it increasingly difficult to compete with more intensively mechanised mills of the north yet were unable, or unwilling to produce cheaper quality cloth. They resorted to paying their outworkers less, which led to street fighting as the workers protested at their poverty.

As the mills fell silent agriculture and engineering grew. Along came the canal of the Wilts & Berks Co. Followed by the railway. Neither made as great an impression on the town as the motor car and the Avon Rubber Company who set up a tyre manufacturing plant. During the last war giant grain silos were built between the railway and the Holt road. The railway had private sidings serving this and engineering works. The sidings are gone and now the most prominent feature is the roundabout, testament to the rise in road transport and the decline of rail.

The railway had already killed off the canal, but its route can still be traced through parts of the town. The most obvious point being the remains of a humped bridge in Spa Road. Speaking of which . . . . Melksham once had pretensions of being a Spa town. Further on out of town is the Spa itself, now no more that a group of over large houses, built to accommodate visitors that never materialised. Apparently the Melksham waters were even more foul tasting than most, but that did not prevent a local pharmacist from bottling it and selling it as a cure-all for several years. In Spa Road are several fine houses built at the same time and for the same reasons. They are somewhat smaller but have the merit of being rather more elegant in design. Several continue in use as Hotels and Guest Houses.

The town has continued to grow, and during the last sixty years or so has diversified greatly in the types of businesses. It was at one time described as being only second to Swindon in its industry, before the coming of the Great Western Railway, Melksham was some five times the size of the little village of Swindon! Much of the building that took place in the middle 1900's was pretty dire. Several fine buildings in Church Street were pulled down. Though in fairness, they were probably near to falling down and the restoration/conservation movement, listing of buildings and grants for repair had hardly begun. The Christie Miller Sports Complex must rank as the ugliest leisure centre in the county, but it was also one of the first. If it is judged on the facilities it provides rather than its architecture then Melksham can be justly proud of its achievement.



Wiltshire has played a significant role in the history of this region. Wilton, near Salisbury, was once the "heade town of Wessex and Wileshire" and it is said that the county originally grew out of Wilton. The nearby village of Old Sarum has also played a significant role in the county's history, being popular with both the Saxons and the Normans. It was also the site of the original Cathedral in the southern part of Wiltshire, preceding Salisbury Cathedral.

The county has been host to a number of notable battles, including Alfred`s defeat of the Danes at Ethandune where despite tremendous odds and a seemingly impregnable hill-fort, he used all his guile and cunning to win a famous victory. The civil war battle of Roundway Hill near Devizes also figures prominently in our 'warrior' history.

In more recent times, the county, especially Trowbridge in the west, was renowned the world over for its quality woolen products. Alas, all mills are now confined to memory and text, although Trowbridge now hosts a museum where details of this aspect of the county's past can be explored.

Swindon, which means 'pig hill' to the north, was once the centre of Brunel's Great Western Railway and until quite modern times produced trains and rolling stock for British Railways. Sadly, this trade has also been lost but Swindon now boasts a number of hi-tech industries and the GWR name lives on, albeit in the form of an extremely popular commercial radio station.




Lacock abbey was founded by Lady Ela the Countess of Salisbury in the reign of King Henry III. Her husband was William Longespee, an illegitimate son of King Henry II and was one of the Barons who led the revolt against King John. His participation in the revolt explains how Lacock came to possess one of the three original copies of the Magna Carta.

Another famous resident of Lacock was William Fox Talbot in 1835. He was one of the pioneers of photography, and discovered how to make prints from negatives.

Visitors to Lacock are shown the Oriel window from which he took his first successful photograph.

The Village has many architectural designs from the early timber framework to the Georgian pediment. The tithe barn, 14th century doorways and several old weavers’ cottages make it a delight to explore.

Lacock was given to the National Trust in 1944 by Matilda Talbot.

more info: http://www.yourguide.org.uk/lacock/index.html



The Wiltshire Mecca of Picturesque Villages

Originally home to a Roman Villa and then a castle as well. Castle Combe is the Wiltshire Mecca of picturesque villages. There are many wonderful buildings including the Dower House and the White Hart as well as the lovely church.

The church was extensively restored in the 19th century but mostly remains the old work. Round the top of the tower run 76 arches high and low. The parapet is carved with nearly fifty stone heads. Looking down on the roof is a carving of a shuttle and scissors the mark of the cloth industry put there by the merchants who built the tower. Walter De Dunstaville (1270) whose family owned the Castle after the Norman conquest has his tomb in the church with effigy showing him in full chain armour with angels at his head and a dog at his feet, and six small figures in the panels of the tomb.

The Scrope family moved in as Lords of the manor in the reign of Richard II and stayed for nearly 500 years. The manor house along with later additions became a hotel. Castle Combe did develop as a weaving town along with the rest of Wiltshire in the fifteenth century. It manufactured a red and white cloth known as 'Castle combe'. Weaving was carried out in the 50 or so weaving cottages.

Castle Combe is most famous for being portrayed as a fishing-port in the filming of Dr Doolittle staring Rex Harrison and Anthony Newley. The television aerials were removed and a little jetty was built on the banks of By Brook, to make the town into a seaport. Local inhabitants became 'extras' at 50s. per day, with meals, alcohol, and clothes all thrown in.

One local who was in the film used to sit by the market cross and recant the stories of the filming.

"Tell 'ee wot, zome o' them vilm volk, they be all right"


more info: http://www.castle-combe.com/



As from the Dorset shore I travell'd home,
I saw the charger of the Wiltshire wold;
A far-seen figure, stately to behold,
Whose groom the shepherd is, the hoe his comb.


Wiltshire is without doubt the county of counties when it comes to white horses, with no less than nine laying within its boundaries, although only seven of these are now visible. The vast expanse of chalk downs, with their smooth, steep sides provide a number of ideal sites to exercise the art of turf cutting.
Five of the horses lay close to one another within a five mile radius of Avebury which lies in the very centre of the Wiltshire Downs; three further horses lie a short distance further away. All may be visited by road or via track-ways, the old lines of communication in this area.

Westbury White Horse - The history of the white horses is an issue of some debate, in particular with regard to Westbury which is the oldest of Wiltshire's horses. The site is known to have been restored in 1778 but the date of the original work remains largely a matter of conjecture. Many believe the initial carving was made to commemorate Alfred's victory over the Danes at the battle of Ethandune in 878. However, historians can not even agree whether this battle took place in the immediate vicinity; although some associate Ethandune with the nearby village of Edington.

The white horses to be found in Wiltshire are:
Westbury - 1778
Oldbury or Cherhill - 1780
Pewsey - 1785
Marlbourough or Preshute - 1804 (renovated 1873)
Alton Barnes - 1812
Broad Hinton or Hackpen - 1838
Devizes - 1845
Broad Town - 1863
Ham Hill or Inkpen - 1860s
Pewsey - 1937

more info: http://wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk/westbury.html


Corsham has been home to several armed forces, especially during the second world war. Prior to that it was a typical West Wiltshire weaving town, tastefully built of Bath stone. Of which several quarries were worked in the parish from early times.

In 1801 it was the eighth most popular town in the county jealously preserving a number of ancient rights, which included the right to hold a court leet and have its own coroner. The parishioners were exempt from jury service and the vicar was empowered to hold his own consistory court.

In and around Corsham is a group of several distinguished country mansions. Hartham Park, Monks Park, Puckeredge House, seventeenth- century Pickwick Manor, Jaggards and Easton Manor House (Circa 15th century).

The finest and most imposing of those in the district is Corsham court


A Royal Manor to the Saxon Kings

Corsham Court was a Royal Manor in the days of the Saxon Kings and currently is the home to Lord Methuen, The home is based on an Elizabethan house dating from 1582. It was bought by Paul Methuen in the mid-18th century to house a collection of 16th and 17th century Italian and Flemish Master paintings and statuary. During the middle of the 19th century the house was altered to receive a second collection of fashionable Italian Masters and rare Italian Primitives and stone inlaid furniture.

Inside Corsham Court are several lovely rooms, in these is a collection of over 140 paintings, statuary, bronzes and furniture. The collection includes works by such names as Adams, Chippendale, Caraaggio, Lippi, Rubens and Van Dyck.
The picture gallery is designed as a triple cupe, 72ft in length. The intricate plasterwork of the ceiling is mirrored in the pattern of the carpet specially commissioned by the 4th Lord Methuen and made in 1959 by the Royal Tapestry and Carpet factory in Madrid.
The grounds to Corsham Court were planned by "Capability" Brown and were later finished by John Nash and Thomas Bellam


more info: http://www.corsham-court.co.uk/



A hill-top village above a deep combe. It is best known for its long railway tunnel, the work of Brunel, and for its extensive stone quarries.

It used to have tallow and brewing industries. A villa of the roman period, with tessellated pavement has been found here, while another was discovered at Atworth, nearby as recently as 1938.


Tucked into the western corner of Wiltshire the little town of Bradford on Avon straddles the river of the southern edge of the Cotswold Hills only 8 miles from Bath.

The 'broad ford' across the River Avon was replaced in medieval times by a sturdy stone bridge, complete with chapel for the use of the pilgrims. The view from the bridge encompasses the hill above the town where the old weavers' cottages are situated, and along the river bank 19th century cloth mills, all built of local stone.


Currently the town centre is going through transition, following the demolition of the Harris Factory. A new supermarket is under construction and the intention is that the town centre will be landscaped.

Historically, Doctor Joseph Priestley discovered Oxygen while living in Calne from 1772-1779. There is a memorial to him by the Doctors pond, not far from St Mary's Church.

Walter Goodall George (1858-1943) was born near Calne Town Hall, and held the World Record for the mile from 1886-1915. A memorial to this was unveiled by Sydney Wooderson, the next British runner to achieve the fastest time (in 1935) on the centenary in 1986.

Calne also has St Mary's Girls Public school. A centre for teaching excellence which ranks very highly in the national schools league tables.

Calne is one of the very few towns where you can stand in the centre, look up and see hills around you, towards the White Horse.



Alfred the Great is said to have bequeathed Chippenham to his daughter Elfrida and it is mentioned in the Doomsday book as one of the manors held by St. Edward.

Granted its charter in 1554 Chippenham used to be home to a saxon market place between the forests, Chippenham, Melksham and Braden and was the favorite hunting grounds of the Wessex Kings.

It has a mix of historic housing including timber-framed houses of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as Georgian stately homes. The town was the stop off point for coaches traveling from London to Bath.


Trowbridge began life as a settlement on a ridge of stoney subsoil by the little river Biss. Its growth to urban status started with the building of a castle by the 'De Bohuns' early in the twelfth century. The town was well developed when the wool trade took off, and shared in the general wealth associated with weaving mills. When the wool trade died out industry was replaced by a factory making steam engines, some breweries and a bed making factory. Trowbridge's chief distinction is that it houses Wiltshire's county offices. For all practical purposes it is the county town and has been so since 1893. To visitors this may seem a little strange what with Salisbury being the Cathedral town, Swindon being the largest, and Devizes being the more central.

The reason for this is due to communications, throughout the county communicating was always a problem because of the Salisbury plain, all the main railway lines ran east to west in the south of the county hence Trowbridge was the more accessible from places as it could be reached by rail.


Warminster is located 400 feet (120 meters) above sea level. It's local surroundings are well known for several alleged sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects especially Clay hill to the west. Warminster used to be a great corn market in the days before motor vehicles. The carters usually ended up bringing back coal which was brought to Warminster from Radstock. Sadly Warminster is no longer considered a market town but it serves as a shopping centre for the surrounding villages and military establishments, as well as people stuck on the A36.

The name Warminster remains a mystery. It should mean 'The minister or monastery church by the river Ware or Were' but there is no trace of a church and residents even argue about there being a river of that name.


Britain’s friendliest stately home. Substantially completed by 1580 and now home to the 7th Marquess of Bath, Longleat House is widely regarded as one of the best examples of high Elizabethan architecture in Britain and one of the most beautiful stately homes open to the public.

Set in more than 900 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland with a further 8,000 acres of woodlands, lakes and farmland, Longleat combines the magic of the old with the marvels of the new.

As well as being the first stately home to open its doors to the public, Longleat was also the first place, outside Africa, to open a Safari Park. And, after more than 36 years, Longleat is still one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions.

From Safari Park to Stately Home, Mazes to Murals and Simulator Rides to Safari Boats there’s always something new to discover round every corner.




Photographs by kind permission from Longleat Estate www.longleat.co.uk







Copyright Moorlands 2007