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Bradford on Avon in 1836

GREAT BRADFORD, a parish and market town, in the hundred of Bradford, Wiltshire, 93 miles W. from London, and 28 miles N.W. from Salisbury. The name of Bradford is a contraction of the Saxon name Bradanford, or the broad ford over the Avon, which divides the town into two parts, called the Old Town and the New Town. Most of the buildings are arranged in three streets, rising one above another, on the brow and slope of a hill which rises abruptly on the N. side of the river : the situation is altogether very pleasing, as the banks of the river below the town abound in beautiful and picturesque scenes ; and the well-wooded hills rise in some places boldly from the margin of the river. There are several fine old mansion-houses in the neighbourhood.

The town seems to have been a place of some consequence in the time of the Saxons. It was then the site of a monastic institution founded by St. Adhelm, who was himself the abbot, until appointed Bishop of Worcester in 705. It was given to the great nunnery at Shaftesbury in 1001, by King Ethelred, in atonement for the murder of his half-brother by Queen Elfrida. After this we hear nothing of a religious society at Bradford. Bishop Gibson says the monastery was destroyed by the Danes. In 954 the celebrated St. Dunstan was elected Bishop of Worcester, at a synod held at Bradford. It is only by its connection with such circumstances as these that the importance of a town in these early times can be estimated, or even its existence discovered. Bradford seems to have retained its former degree of relative importance after the Conquest ; for we find it mentioned among the towns which were privileged by Edward I to send members to parliament. It does not appear however that this right was exercised more than once. It is unknown whether it was ever a chartered borough with separate jurisdiction ; but if so, this distinction, like the other, must soon have been lost. It is still however the chief town of the hundred to which it gives name. Monday is the market day ; and there is a fair on Trinity Monday. Two justices of the peace administer the local government. The parish of Bradford, which is very extensive, contained 2,294 houses in 1831, when the population amounted to 10,102 persons, of whom 5,248 were females. The population of the town is about one-third the whole.

The town has for many centuries been noted for its fine broad-cloths, which have at all times formed its principal manufacture. ‘The toune of Bradford stondith by clooth making,’ Leland said three centuries ago : and this is still true. The prosperity of the place is now also much promoted by the Kennet and Avon canal, which passes by Bradford, and opens a communication by water with the cities of Bath, Bristol, and London, and with the towns of Trowbridge, Devizes, Hungerford, Reading, &c. This important canal, in its way towards Bathford, follows the course of the Avon, which it crosses at different parts on viaducts, one of which is situated in the neighbourhood of Bradford. The river at Bradford is crossed by two bridges. One of these is of great but uncertain age : it was the sole bridge in Leland’s time, and is noticed by him as having ‘nine fair arches of stone.’ Over one of the piers there is a small square building with a pyramidical roof, which may perhaps have been originally designed as a chapel, where contributions were levied for the support of the hospital, which stood at one end of the bridge. There is now another bridge of four arches over the same stream.

The houses in Bradford are built with stone ; but the streets are mostly very narrow. The town has however undergone much improvement of late years, and the streets have in several instances been widened. There is no public building of any note except the church, which stands at the foot of the hill. The living is a vicarage, in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Bristol, and is valued in the recent returns at £596 per annum. All the principal denominations of Dissenters have chapels at Bradford.

There is a charity school at Bradford for the education of sixty boys, which was opened in 1712, and the income of which amounts to £43, 8 shillings, 4 pence ; there is also a payment from a separate source to the minister for teaching poor children to read. There are two sets of almshouses, one for men, and the other for women, besides sundry small benefactions for the relief of the poor.