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Heritage

Trowbridge past and present Trowbridge was established within an ancient landscape. A Neolithic axe head was discovered in Hilperton, and Saxon loom weights were unearthed in archaeological digs in the 1980s, revealing Trowbridge’s lengthy involvement in weaving. In 1086 it was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Strabourg, which may be a corruption of the original name meaning ‘Tree-bridge’. It seems to have been a place of significance as it was the main residence of Brictric, Wiltshire’s most important landowner. Brictric’s land was lost to Edward of Salisbury, Sheriff of Wiltshire and then passed to Humphrey de Bohun upon his marriage to Edward’s daughter Maud.

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Humphrey’s nickname was the ‘magnificent’ and he was responsible for constructing a sizeable castle in Trowbridge which resulted in the redirection of the main route to the town bridge around the castle’s front and the creation of Fore Street. Henry de Bohun (pictured right), Humphrey’s great-grandson, further expanded the town, laying out a market place and burgage plots for traders. He also obtained one of Wiltshire’s earliest market charters from
King John in 1200. He built the first St. James’ Church and developed such an attractive asset that it was claimed by King John’s half-brother, William Longspee.
The loss of Trowbridge and King John’s failure to consult his barons over taxation rises compelled Henry into becoming one of the 25 Barons who forced the King to seal the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This enabled Henry to regain the manor of Trowbridge. The town was also a caput or headquarters of a Magna Carta Baron, one of only two in the whole of the West of England.
During the medieval period, Trowbridge developed into a small trade and manufacturing town, largely focusing on woollen cloth production. In the fourteenth century its wealth led to the town becoming part of the Crown Estates.

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As the town grew, so did woollen cloth production and by Tudor times it had become prosperous and had established a reputation for fine quality cloth.
By the eighteenth century Trowbridge clothiers (the middle men who employed weavers and sought markets for their wares) began to dominate the woollen cloth trade. They generated great wealth and this was reflected in their fine homes which can still be seen in the centre of the town. Later in the eighteenth and in the early nineteenth centuries technological progress began to impact on woollen cloth manufacturing. This had an adverse effect on traditional skills. One group of specialist craftsmen known as shearmen, who hand-finished woollen cloth, were involved in the burning down of Littleton Mill in Semington. This resulted in the hanging of a 19-year-old Trowbridge man, Thomas Helliker, in 1803. He is buried in St. James’ churchyard and has since become a trade union martyr.

The picture shows a rare set of hand shears.

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Trowbridge’s embracing of technology resulted at one time in its containing 17 factories and three dye houses and in the establishment of a reputation as the ‘Manchester of the West’. It also ensured that ‘Trowbridge has been left with an almost unlimited list of sites associated with the textile trade’ (taken from a Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Wiltshire, published by Wiltshire Council).
The town’s population was bolstered by migrants from the surrounding villages drawn to readily available factory employment. The cloth factories stimulated the growth of other industries such as Ushers Brewery in 1824; Bowyers, which escalated from the curing of bacon to a major producer of meat products; Chapmans mattresses who developed as a result of using flock, a by-product from the cloth manufacturing process and who now exist as Airsprung; Hadens engineering originally began as millwrights and the manufacturers of textile machinery and steam engines, expanded as an international company making and installing heating systems. The company also branched out into the manufacture of munitions, as pictured.

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The incorporation of Trowbridge on the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway on 5th September 1848 added to its suitability as Wiltshire’s County town and greatly assisted the development of its manufacturing base.
    During the Second World War after the appalling bombing endured by factories in Southampton, Trowbridge’s engineering firms and garages stepped into the breach and played a vital role in the country’s production of the iconic Supermarine Spitfire, one of the enduring images of the Battle of Britain.
    Trowbridge continues to grow and evolve. The development of the White Horse Business Park in 1981 attracted major food manufacturers Apetito and Nutricia and a new century has brought further investment and progress in the town. A high-quality mainstream entertainment venue was created as part of the town’s Civic Centre in 2011, and in 2013 a seven-screen cinema complex and eighty-bed hotel were built. Future plans include the creation of a Cultural Quarter encompassing the town’s park, an expanded Museum and the development of an arts venue in the former Town Hall.
    Discover more of Trowbridge’s fascinating heritage in Trowbridge Museum.