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Trowbridge in 1843

Trowbridge is in the hundred of Melksham, 120 miles from the General Post-Office, London, by the Great Western Railway to Bath, and from thence by Bradford. Trowbridge had a castle or some fortification in the reign of Stephen, which was garrisoned by the supporters of the Empress Maud, and taken by the king’s forces. John of Gaunt either repaired this castle or built a new one ; but it was in ruins in Leland’s time : he tells us that of seven great towers there was only a part of two. The castle stood on the south side of the town, near the river Were. There are no remains now, and its site is built over.

The parish has an area of 1,960 acres, and contained, in 1831, 2,289 houses, namely, 2,105 inhabited, 181 uninhabited, and 3 building ; with a population of 2,175 families, or 10,863 persons, a very small part agricultural. The town is on a rocky hill on the north-east bank of the Were, a tributary of the Avon : it was, and probably is still, the largest town in the county, with the exception of Salisbury. It consists of several streets, irregularly laid out, paved, and lighted with gas. The houses are chiefly of stone ; and generally old and of mean appearance. The parish church is in the centre of the town, and is dedicated to St. James : it is a spacious edifice, with a nave, chancel, two aisles with chapels attached to their eastern extremities, a north and a south porch, and a large western tower and spire. The ceiling of the nave is flat, and is ornamented with rich carving, and some of the windows have fragments of stained glass. The font, which is octagonal, is also richly carved. There are two district churches or chapels-of-ease in the parish, namely, Trinity church or chapel in the town, and Staverton chapel, in the hamlet of Staverton, about two miles north of the town. There are several places of worship for General and Particular Baptists, Methodists, and Independents. The principal branch of industry at Trowbridge is the manufacture of broad-cloth and kerseymere, especially the latter : the two branches in 1831 gave employment to 1,094 men, besides women and children. Trowbridge is the largest clothing town in the county and one of the largest in the west of England. The clothing trade is of considerable antiquity here. Leland says of Trowbridge, ‘the towee standeth on a rocky hill ; and is very welle buildid of stone, and florisheth by drapery.’ He mentions some of the great clothiers of the place, and records their benefactions to the town.

The market is on Saturday ; some of our authorities give the place three markets weekly, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday ; there is a yearly fair. Petty sessions are held monthly, and there is a court of requests for the recovery of small debts, which holds its sittings every three weeks. The living is a rectory united with the chapelries of Trinity and Staverton chapels, of the joint clear yearly value of £600, with a glebe-house, in the rural deanery of Pottern, in the archdeaconry of Wiltshire, in the diocese of Salisbury. It was held for several years by the poet Crabbe, who was much respected in the town by persons of all denominations, and whose decease was the occasion of very general regret.

There were in the parish in 1833, fourteen day-schools of all kinds, with 978 scholars namely, 449 boys, 315 girls, and 214 children of sex not stated in the return ; and ten Sunday-schools, with 2,144 scholars, namely, 1,060 boys and 1,084 girls ; giving one in eleven of the population under daily instruction, and one in five under instruction on Sundays. Of the day-schools, one, with 198 children, was an infant-school, partly supported by subscription ; another, with 90 boys, was a national school partly supported by endowment ; two others, with 280 boys and 187 girls, were Lancasterian schools, partly supported by subscription. George Keate, a poet and miscellaneous writer of the last century, best known by his account of the Pelew Islands, was a native of Trowbridge.