Our explorations around Wiltshire took us toward the west of the county today as we travelled to the historic towns of Bradford On Avon and Warminster.
The easiest roads on which to drive around here are the ‘A” class roads. They are broad highways with lane makings and a good way to get between places quickly. However, they are mostly lined with tall hedges that cut out most of the view across the landscape. Whenever, I see a view worthy of a photograph, there is never anywhere to stop. There are no roadside shoulders on which to pull over. Clearly, these roads were built before cameras. The more narrow ‘B’ class roads are a bit more comfortable for pottering around but you have to drive at the very left in order to make room for oncoming traffic. Whenever I drive a little slowly (i.e. just on the speed limit) so that I can see what is around me, I soon end up with a procession of cars behind me and some angry drivers.
It was on a combination of these roads that we drive to Bradford on Avon. It is a beautiful town with old stone buildings and an historic road bridge across the Avon River. The history of the town can be traced back to Roman origins. It has several buildings dating from the 17th century, when the town grew due to the thriving English woollen textile industry. In the industrial revolution, large factories were established and these took over the work that was previously a cottage industry. The location on the river was ideal as they needed water and steam to operate. About thirty of these textile mills were built in Bradford on Avon, and they prospered until the English woollen industry shifted its centre of power to Yorkshire in the late 19th century. The last local mill closed in 1905. Some stand empty and others are being converted into apartments and shopping facilities.
Sitting in there Avon Valley, the town is close to the Cotswold Hills. I wasn’t surprised to see some of the stone buildings for which the Cotswolds are famous. This building that is used as a restaurant is a prime example.
Running parallel to the railway through the town is the Kennet and Avon Canal and Bradford Lock. In the Industrial Revolution, this and other English canals provided routes for the transport of coal and the products of the factories across the country. The use of this canal declined as the railways grew but it was restored to full working order during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It took sixteen years to construct total 87 miles of the canal and 36 years to renovate it back into working order. The canal provides a link through to the Avon at Bath in the west, and the Thames at Reading in the east and is now used almost exclusively for pleasure activities.
A little further away is the village of Warminster. The history of this town canoe traced back to the Anglo-Saxon period, although there is evidence of pre-historic settlements at in the Warminster area. Two Roman Villas have been discovered in the area, as have caches of Roman coins.
Its prosperity came from its position as a market town with significant wool, clothing and malting trades established by the 16th century This continued to be the economic backbone of the town until the 19th century. The market also included a significant corn trade and was regarded as the second largest corn market in the west of England in 1830. Apparently, a typical market would require farmers to provide a sample of their crop in order for buyers to assess its quality. Instead, Warminster’s corn market required a sack from each load of corn to be available to customers and each purchase had to be agreed between 11am and 1pm and paid for by the end of the day.
The town has some grand old buildings in the main street – the grandest of which appear to be pubs. Perhaps growing and selling corn was thirsty work.
I read that many Australians and New Zealanders were camped / billeted here, and in surrounding villages, during WW1. There is a nearby army base near the town. Wiltshire seems to have a multitude of military establishments around here.