A Brief History of Bradford-on-Avon
The earliest settlement in Bradford-on Avon was over 2500 years ago when an Iron Age tribe arrived on the promontory above Tory , and Bradford on Avon has been in existence as a community more or less since then.
These people remained in their small settlement during Roman times, gradually spreading towards Bath & Monkton Farleigh. The Saxons then arrived, probably settling on the high ground of what is now St Margaret’s Hill, leaving as their main legacy the Saxon Church.
The Normans also had their turn – building the Church of Holy Trinity and the original Bradford-on Avon town bridge. The Romans too left their mark – part of a Roman road has been excavated in the grounds of the Old Ride School, and coffins, coins, and the remains of a prosperous Romano – British villa have been found on the site of the St Laurence playing fields
The Town Bridge crosses the ‘broad ford’ on the Avon which is most probably the origin of the name Bradford-on Avon . There may have been a wooden or tree bridge over the ford in Saxon times but the Normans built the first stone bridge. It was narrow and dangerous and built without parapets so that peolple kept falling into the river. The width of the bridge was doubled by the construction of another alongside it. Two ribbed and pointed arches of the original Norman construction can still be seen on the eastern side and if you look under the bridge you can clearly see the join !
On the bridge is a small building which was originally a chapel, the fish on the weather vane is a Gudgeon, an early christian symbol. However, the chapel was later used as a small prison or “Blind House” where local Bradford-on-Avon drunks and troublemakers were left overnight to cool off !
In later times, Bradford-on Avon developed as a centre for textiles, mostly wool, and the Bradford-on-Avon you see today was shaped in these times. Many of the large mill buildings along the river are former woollen mills, and most of the houses up on the hill (Tory, Middle Rank) are former spinners and weavers cottages. The wool trade died away in the area, moving North to large industrial centres Like Bradford Yorkshire which some say was named after Bradford-on-Avon ! The large mills were taken over by the new and burgeoning rubber industry, and the rubber plant was the main employer in the town for decades, manufacturing tyres and wiper blades. Sadly that industry has moved on too, and many of the mills are being converted to residences.
The area around Bradford-onAvon is riddled with mines, used for quarrrying the local stone which is similar to the yellow sandstone which shaped the city of Bath. In the sixties two of the mines in Bradford were taken over by a mushroom growing firm, the even and humid atmosphere of the old mines being perfect for such purposes. The mine at Westwood just outside the town was used for industry, including the Royal Enfield motorcycle plant. During the 2nd world war the mine was used to store part of the crown jewels which had been removed from London for safety!
Culver Close near the centre of Bradford-on-Avon was used for breeding rabbits mainly for food, and Conigre Hill was where pigeons were bred mainly also for food. The Shambles is a crooked little lane running between Silver Street & Market Street. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “scamel”, meaning a bench on which goods were laid out for sale, and is still used by shops in much the same way, fresh fruit and veg are displayed each day on wooden benches.
The St Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in the heart of Bradford-on-Avon was designed in 1854 by the architecht Thomas Fuller, who also designed the Canadian Houses of Parliament in Ottowa. Thomas Fuller adopted an eclectic approach, and incorporated French, German and Italian Gothic elements, resulting in this splendid Bath stone building with its domestic Tudor style, Jacobean gables, massive oriel window and onion dome atop an octagonal tower.
The magnificent Tithe Barn at Barton Farm was used by wealthy landowners to collect “tythes” or taxes from the people of Bradford-on-Avon. These would be paid in the form of produce and livestock. The building has been restored and has one of the largest stone roofs in Europe. Some of the scenes from the movie version of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” were shot here.