Malmesbury Town

by L. E. Woodman

As most of you know, Malmesbury was once a walled city, of Maildulph with two gateways, one at Holloway, and one at Westport end. Caer Bladon and Dunwallis get their name from this city, and often mentioned in history. I am trying to tell you some of the things of interest, some I can remember, some I have been told.

Malmesbury had 32 Public Houses, 3 Breweries, 1 Barm House, many are now closed. The top Brewery and the bottom one was Mr. Charles Luce of Halcombe Duck and Reed in Silver Street. The top Brewery by the cinema was mostly ginger beer and lemonade. The Malt Houses were very useful in those days. The Maltsters would dry your clothes in the Winter time. You take it to them overnight and fetch it in the morning and pay one penny. No spin driers then. Malmesbury was really very fortunate for education and had many good teachers. The Commoners could afford to pay a schoolmaster, some of the children went to John’s school, some to the Abbey Pavis, some only to school half a day and make ribbons the other half at the Silk Mill. I had the pleasure of visiting a dear Christian Lady who did this and lived to the great age of 98 years, was married and had a family of ten children.

Malmesbury was also noted for lacemaking, Women used to do quite a lot and men go around the country and sell it for them. I used to watch an old Lady often for she used to put her peel in the window to get all the light she could, and work there most of the day, she lived in Milk Street (now West Street). I knew a man who used to sell this lace. He dressed well, a grey silk top hat and morning coat. He lived in St. Mary’s Lane by himself and was called Teftum Pudding. Thinking that this was his name. I called him that, he soon told me his name was James Holloway. Many people were known by a nick name. A Mr. Wakefield who lived in the triangle was called Duckslay, why I do not know.

Many things have passed away. Three bells we shall never hear ring again. The Factory Silk Mill, St. Mary’s Westport Church and the Union bell, which I always got up in the morning when it went at quarter to seven. At 8 o’clock it went again for breakfast. 12 o’clock for dinner. 5 o’clock for tea and 7.45 p.m. suppertime. Thomas Hobbes was a distinction as a Philosopher and lived in the Horsefair. The Chapel houses by the manse are called Hobbes’ Cottages, some eight have been pulled down at the back and garages have been put in their place. His father was Vicar of Westport St. Mary’s, but his son was not a bit interested in this work.

Many children learnt to read and write at Sunday School. Miss Slater kept the Ragged School in Burnivale for many years. It took her all day to come from London to Chippenham by train then was met by the carrier to come the next ten miles. The oldest house in Malmesbury is one in Burnivale. The Silk Mill, first bell was 5 o’clock in the morning. Breakfast at 8 o’clock. Dinner at 1 o’clock, then work until six in the evening. Many men and women were employed. I remember quite a number of girls coming from Warminster to learn the winding and weaving. Many of them all lodged together in a big house in Lower High Street called Magna Murphy’s home. Most of them married Malmesbury men and settled here. Times have changed and the silk mill is closed. Some of the silk was lovely.

I wonder how many can remember a tea cannister outside a grocer’s shop in High Street. The owner was called Split Fig because he would do this to make weight. A Golden Boot over a boot shop also in High Street. I expect some of you heard of Pooles’ Myriorama. The four brothers were Malmesbury men and all lived here. Mr. George Poole, St. George’s Cottage, Park Lane. Mr. Joseph Poole, Verona. Mr. Fred Poole, Burnham House. Mr. Harry Poole, Gloucester Road until he built Bloomfield, brought many of his people here for the holiday season, they lodged next door to where we lived, and in the Summer evenings they used to train the dogs in the garden to jump and do all kinds of tricks, we used to enjoy watching them. Our other neighbour had a cat and dog and tried very hard for them to do the same.

Most of the moving pictures were painted at Verona. Not very long ago they were spoken of on the radio. Only one of this family is now living here. Everything in Malmesbury is Athelstan named, and he did well for the men and bestowed upon them the Common Kings Heath, about 6,000 acres or five hides of land, two miles from the town, near Norton. Many of these men made their living off the Allotments and Burgess Parts and were called Freemen or Yeomen. They did not like strangers coming here to live, when my Father came from Devizes, he was told he had no right to come and work at the Bacon Factory, so he thought he would just stay the week, but was persuaded to stay a month and get used to the people, and he did and stayed for good. The only way he could get here was to walk. No station, no buses and no carrier early in the morning. They did well and won many medals and a silver cup.

I mentioned they worked the common and used to come around selling their vegetables twice a week with a donkey and cart. Saturdays and Wednesdays. Measures have altered. Potatoes by half—quartern. Green peas by half—peck or one peck. Most of the commoners had their own house with plenty of bacon and ham, pictures, donkeys and cart with the stable at the back so the pony or donkey was taken through the house. The Horsefair and the Gastons was full of carts evenings and weekends. They also brewed their own beer, 60 gallons and 40 gallons for haymaking and so had a brewing house. I asked someone the other day if the brewing boiler was still there in the house where she lived, and it is. The licensing bill stopped a lot.

One morning when Horace was going up to work, a number of men were waiting for him at the Blacksmiths Shop in the Triangle. A bridge was under repair and the name was posted up on the lamp post — Turtle Bridge under repair, which they thought was quite wrong, and had made a mistake as it is always called Truckle Bridge. They knew Horace would know because his Father was overseer for St. Pauls Without. Many people called places and streets like Burnifull instead of Burnivale; Baskets Hill instead of Baskerville and Bricks Hill instead of Blicks Hill.

A Tan yard used to be in Dark Lane, and it did used to be dark, for the trees grew each side of the road and formed archways at the top. Also a Withy bed owned by Harry Poole, when Mr. King, a great friend of my Father and Mother, a Basket Maker used to buy it and cut it. He lived at Nailsworth and walked here, no other way to come, stayed the week, and walked back. He did it for a number of years, just for six weeks at the time.

Two little Miss Luce’s lived at Castle House. They kept a pony and four wheel carriage. I knew the driver and often had a ride. They had a good bible class for Women every Sunday afternoon for many years. When they passed away, many people wondered if this would be a Vicarage, but no, it enlarged the Bell Hotel. A row of houses was also pulled down to enlarge the Bell, where the grass lawn and railings are around. A Mrs. White used to keep a hat and bonnet shop was a great friend of my Husband’s Mother. She often talked about her to me. Just opposite are Elizabeth Geyers steps (known as Betty Geyers) leading to Eldridge Cottages and Primrose Bank, Burnivale. Six of these houses on Primrose Bank are pulled down like a lot more in Burnivale .

Many people in Malmesbury made their own bread growing the corn on the common then taking it to Abbey Mill, Crab Mill or Garsdon Mill, or some winnowed in a barn. The last of these Barns is in Blanchards Green off Katifer Lane. They had certain days and certain bake houses to take their bread and cakes.

I can just remember people taking their Sunday dinners to the bakehouse on their way to Church and calling for it on the way back in Old Granpa Woodman’s time. This was soon stopped when Mr. William Woodman took over.

Malmesbury was also a Market Town, a special train came in at 10 o’clock every third Wednesday in the month bringing many farmers and buyers to the Cross Hayes to see their cattle sold by auction, starting the sale about 12 o’clock and finishing about 2 o’clock, then be taken to the station and go off by the 5 o’clock train. Many people came into the Market for quite a lot of things were sold (cheaply) by what was called Cheap Jacks and quite fun to watch them sell. Also home made sweet, fruit and flowers on stands in the High Street. A bus from the Kings Arms used to meet all trains, take or bring you and your luggage for Sixpence. Another big day was the 29th September and Mare and Colt Show held in St. Aldhelm’s Meadow bringing in many people now the playing field. We also had a common lodging house kept by Mr. Fink, being a German he always put up the German Band when they came, umbrella menders, scissor grinders, barrel organs, all kinds of travellers for 4d. a night. Once when full up, a Russian with his dancing bear put up in a barn opposite to where we lived in Gloucester Road for the night, my people were very glad when morning came for him to move on. The barn was next to Mr. Hayes Paint Shop where many Malmesbury boys learnt painting and decorating. Also Mr. Walter Hayes had a Coach Building shop opposite Stainsbridge and kept on many employees. We could always tell the time of the year when the horses and grooms came for the hunting season. All stables were full up, Blacksmiths were kept very busy during the Winter months. One day we had quite an excitement for the Hunters came close. Horses at the front door in Burnham Road, hounds at the back door chasing the fox over the garden wall into Foundry Road, over the Bacon Factory field, to Park Lane, then caught at Melsome’s Farm, Tetbury Hill.

We also had many shoemenders, one man I knew as Mr. Tenpence lived in Bristol Street, another, Rattleboots, lived on Primrose Bank. Mr. Riddick employed many shoe hands at Abbey Row, now Mr. King’s shop. A big work shop was at the back of this house, many of these trades have gone.

Malmesbury people used to catch their water from the different running streams. You used to see a row of buckets by the stream opposite the Plough Inn until the Waterworks came, was built here by Mr. Randell. One blessing, we still have plenty of good water. A cup was kept some years ago for people to drink of the spring at Daniels Well. Some parts of Malmesbury still have the old drainage called drock drain which does enable rats to come up.

There are many ways to get to the Common like Rudges Lane, Middleditch, Archers Lane, or at Foxley Road end. Up Pennyacre Lane, over Ally Slopers to Thornhill and Hundred Hill to Shed Hill or over Nott Hill where the only pound is now standing where they used to put stray cattle in then pay a toll to get them out. This leads you to Archers Farm and Lane. Malmesbury had many Tailor’s shops. Mr. Whittin, Mr. Bartlett who kept on many women, and men. Mr. Whiting had a West End shop in London and all the clothes made here. Some of the men were called Leather Hands because of the hunting outfit. They were always busy in those days and girls were employed to take up their tea. A Weigh Bridge was at the Triangle kept by Mr. Harry Clarke until he moved to Abbey Mill then Mr. Sealy took over until the War Memorial was placed there.

When Dr. Jennings passed away and Abbey House sold, the Old Drill Hall for the volunteers was pulled down, which would have made a good hall for boy scouts or girl guides, or any other club, and no steps, and I think 200 couples could dance there. Many Concerts were also given there. The field in the Dovey Yard we used to play in, is now a Kitchen Garden. Four houses were pulled down and the Cinema built. The pictures first started in a caravan in Mr. Elford’s yard off Town Hill.

The White Lion is mentioned in Malmesbury history, and a very interesting epitaph in the Abbey Church Yard of Hannah Twynnoy. Age 33. 1703.

In the bloom of life‘
‘She was snatched from hence
She had not room to make defence.
For tiger fierce took life away
And here she lies in a bed of clay,
Until the Resurrection Day.

Legend says she teased the tiger. They used to travel with a Menagerie and put in the White Lion Yard. The Three Cups Inn had a club and held a big day on Whit Monday, going to St. Mary’s Church Westport in the morning. Stands were erected in the Triangle and all kinds of home made sweet biscuits and ginger snaps. Plenty of flags flying if fine, Malmesbury band would play in the evening for Street dancing. Malmesbury had a good town band and was engaged to play at most of the flower shows around the district. I have not mentioned the Abbey much as I expect you have read the history. One part in three is only standing as Oliver Cromwell knocked it about in the Commonwealth time. It has always been known that many Kings and great scholars belonged to the Abbey.

King Henry sold it to Mr. Stumpe who did a lot for the Abbey, and we are all very proud of Malmesbury Abbey and many of you know Oliver, or Elmer, the first flyer went off the Abbey. Oliver’s Lane is named after him.

Where the Post Office is now. several houses have been pulled down, and the walk was in the middle. Now we will picture in our minds that King Athelstan often attended the Abbey and walked down the High Street, along King’s Walk, to his Castle, where he lived, along Dual Court to Parliament Row, back to St. John’s Street by the Almshouses, St. John’s Hospital and Goosebridge, up Back Hill to Culver House standing on the old Town Wall overlooking St. John’s Street and one of the oldest houses in Malmesbury, and was the residence of the Military Governor in Malmesbury in the days of the Commonwealth, and the Office of the High Steward, Mr. Wilkins, who gave Athelstan Feast on Trinity Tuesday to the Aldermen and Burgesses. At this Feast, they used to vote who should be High Steward. An old Burgess once said when asked who he should vote for, ‘What is good for Squire Wilkins, is good enough for we’. ‘One gentlemen is as good as another’. Mrs. Dewell his housekeeper used to prepare the Banquet in good old English style. Roast Beef and Pork, Boiled Mutton, Plum Pudding, Mince Pies with plenty of good strong Ale, followed by dessert. This was held in the large dining hall (this was a big house now divided into several houses).

There was an underground walk up to the Abbey. In the churchyard was another good epitaph:

In memory of Edmund Wilkins, Esquire, who was for the
space of nearly 40 years, Receiver General, an active
Magistrate for the County of Wilts, and High Steward of
the Borough of Malmesbury. He fulfilled these stations
with Honour, Fidelity and Humanity. Zealous and Punctual
in his services to the interests of the Borough.
Impartial and benevolent in Justice.
He died April 27th. 1804, aged 77 years.

He had a statue of St. Aldhelm in his garden. It is said one of the Burgesses enjoyed his dinner very much, and had too much of the strong ale or home-brewed beer, and wandered off the path to the statue of St. Aldhelm and they both fell over and he went to sleep. When Isaac Cook, the groom, coming into the garden next morning thought he heard someone snoring, took his lantern to see who it was, ‘James, you drunken slipot, get up and make yourself scarce before the Squire gets about or you will be dismissed’ and gave him some kicks to wake him. Isaac went on his way exclaiming ‘My blessed’. ‘What a rucket and freegarier all them just have had last night’. Hardly any of the Burgesses knew how to get home after the banquet and was not seen for several days after.

The word Culver is an old English word for pigeon and may have taken this name through being perched above the surrounding houses, so that it looks like a pigeon house, in the distance from Burton Hill. Besides the entrance from Ingram Street was through gate between 72 and 74 High Street on the brow of the Town Hill.

Coming back to the Almshouses, there is a Gothic Archway which was the main entrance. Within the Arch is now a tablet bearing the following inscription. It is very faint to read now, but I am very interested in it:-

Memerand that whereas King Althelstan
Did give unto the Free School within this Borough
of Malmesbury £10 Pounds.
£10 Pounds to the poor people my Almshouses
of St. John’s
£10 Pounds to be paid yearly by the Aldermen and
Burgesses of the same borough for ever,
That now Michael Weeks Esquire, late of this
Borough, and Citizen of London hath augmented and
added to the aforesaid Gift. Viz., to the Free
School £10 Pounds
£10 Pounds to the Almshouse and £10 Pounds to be
Paid yearly by the trustees to the Minister of
This Town to preach a sermon yearly between
March 25th and July 22nd.

The next Steward to Mr. Wilkins built Ingleburn. He was called Gentleman Hill. This again makes you wonder why it does not still belong to the Common like Burton Hill, Whiteheath, Burnheath and Maidford. All at some time have been sold away. The Commoners hold their Court Meetings in St. John’s School. The Burgesses sit high up with the 4 and 20 underneath. The land owners and Commoners in the centre.

To be a Commoner, you have to be son or daughter of a Commoner, a householder and married. You take up your right in the month of June. The High Steward gets you to put some money in a hole and gives you 3 stripes across the back with a stick and say.

‘Turf and twig I give to thee
The same as King Athelstan gave to me.
And I hope a loving brother thou will be’.

then go into the Slappy or the Royal Oak is the right name, to celebrate. This Public House is now closed, so what takes place now, I do not know. When the common was in full swing of men working there, they had their meals there. Woodman is a very old name of Malmesbury, and often mentioned in history as being grocers and carries for 300 to 400 hundred years without a break.

‘Let us just remember:-

‘Swindon was a fuzzydown
When Malmesbury was a Borough Town’

so I am proud to be a Malmesburian and that I married a Malmesbury man and he was a commoner in his own right.

L E Woodman – March 1964