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Wiltshire Community History

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Calne

This page is one of 261 pages covering every community in Wiltshire, and is provided by Wiltshire Council Libraries and Heritage. A project to provide a fuller picture of each community is in progress, working on the larger communities first. When these 261, which are modern civil parishes, are completed we will begin work on a further 180 villages and hamlets to provide comprehensive coverage of Wiltshire communities large and small.

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773:

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773


Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham



From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1810:

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1810


Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham


This is a corrected and updated edition of the 1773 map that includes the recently built canals.


Map of the Civil Parish of Calne:

Map of the Civil Parish of Calne

1890s
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern civil parish boundary has been superimposed.


Thumbnail History:


The town of Calne lies mainly on a band of Coral Rag that runs from north-east to south-west, to the west of the chalk downs. This is a coral and oolitic limestone and the oolitic Calne Freestone has been quarried for building stone locally. The small River Marden runs from east to west and is joined in the town by the Abberd Brook.

It is believed that the name Calne is taken from a river name but the authorities are uncertain as to whether this is an early name of the Abberd Brook or the River Marden. If the place-name Calstone has the same first element it would have been the Marden, as Calstone is also on that river.

There is not a great deal of evidence of prehistoric settlement in Calne, mainly a Bronze Age burial to the north-west of the parish church. There is a little more on the surrounding downs but it is not until the Roman period that there are substantial signs of occupation in the area. There was a Roman settlement (Verlucio) at Sandy Lane and three Roman villas have been found between there and Calne, including one near Bowood and one near Studley Bridge.

In Saxon times Calne belonged to the King and there was a villa regia (King's or royal house) and church here. The first documentary evidence comes from 955 when, by his will, King Eadred gave the town of Calne to the old Minster at Winchester. The estate was soon in royal hands again and remained so during the Saxon period. A settlement grew around the villa regia and became the urban part of the estate while many other people lived on farms and in small groups of dwellings among the farmlands.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 shows that the manor of Calne was divided between the King and the church of Calne and this division influenced Calne for many centuries. There was a substantial population, possibly around 1,000 on the whole estate and in the urban area there were 45 burgesses on the King's land and 25 on that belonging to the church. With non-burgesses also living in the town there was probably an urban population of between 500 and 600. There was a total of seven mills on the estate.

On either bank of the River Marden are elevated sites. The one on the left bank is occupied by the church while it is believed that on the right bank was the site of the Saxon King's house. It was here that the witan met in 978 in a rare 2 storey building, when the upper floor collapsed killing some of the gathering. Both the King's manor and that of the church had the right to hold a market and fair and this resulted in two triangular market places. That of the church, to the south-east, is the area now known as The Green, while to the north-west was that of the King in what is now the area of The Strand, the High Street and Market Hill. The church market was granted for the Sabbath and the three day fair, held on the Green, was on the eve, feast and morrow of St. Mary Magdalene. The town fair, granted in 1273, was for St. Mark's Day, which was on April 25th although later changed to May 6th. Both fairs were abolished in 1877.

Calne stands on the important London to Bristol road and there was probably a bridge here in medieval times, although it is not mentioned until the 16th century. A ford is mentioned in 1491. The medieval town consisted of houses around the sides of the triangles and in streets leading off from the corners of the triangles - such as Church Street, Castle Street and Wood Street. There would also have been buildings on the main road, now Curzon Street and London Road. This area of occupation was little changed until the mid 18th century, although a serious fire in 1340 destroyed many of the earlier timber framed houses. Later houses were built of local limestone rubble but with interior timber framed walls. The north-west triangle or market place probably remained open until the late 17th century but by 1728 much of it had been built over. There was some encroachment upon The Green but this has remained a largely open area.

From, or before, the 16th century Calne was a cloth-making centre, originally producing undyed broadcloth. It was the chief industry during the 17th century, with the Chivers family of Quemerford being the most important clothiers, when serge was made, while in the 18th century drugget, serge and worsteds were produced. From the mid 18th century the leading family in this industry were the Bailys. At the end of the 18th century there were 14 clothiers and 2 woolstaplers in the town but by 1822 there were only 3 clothiers and 2 woolstaplers.

There were many watermill sites and at least 2 full-scale factories at Horsebrook and Quemerford. There are excellent pre-factory workshops on the eastern side of The Green, 'Weaver's House” and Numbers 8 and 9. Only Quemerford Mill seems to have had a steam engine and the clothiers of Calne do not seem to have become factory owners as happened in other Wiltshire towns. The industry was said to be in a bad way in 1806 and further declined from the mid 1820s. In 1835 there were only 2 small and one large factory, the latter employing over 100 people, and by 1848 it was said that cloth-making had ceased.

The town expanded in the later part of the 18th century although there was a fair amount of rebuilding, such as the Catherine Wheel Inn, and some new buildings, such as a market house, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Later building extended to the urban area on roads leading out of the town. There are good 18th century houses in Patford Street, North Street and Castle Street.

In 1801-2 the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal was extended by 200 metres, to the Town Mill at the eastern end of Cox's Hill, by canalising the River Marden. A wharf and warehouse was built and a new road created on the eastern bank linking Patford Lane to the Port Bridge over the Marden and given the name New Road. The town flourished in the 19th century and many new buildings were erected although the area covered increased but little. More nonconformist chapels, a free church and six schools were built. A new Town Hall was erected on the site of the Town Mill in 1886, a workhouse c.1847 and a hospital in 1888. Commercial buildings including shops and public houses were rebuilt while a new bank was put up in the 1870s. Most domestic buildings in the town consisted of the rebuilding or refronting of existing housing. New buildings were erected in and around New Road. Cottages and small houses were built at the edges of the town, mainly in terraces, such as those at Lansdowne Row, London Road, Curzon Street and North Street. Some detached and semi-detached houses were also built, such as those in Shelburne Road.

There seems to have been little expansion between 1900 and 1920 but then in the next 50 years Calne Borough Council built around 1,700 houses. Private houses were built in Bryans Close Road in the 1930s and many other small developments followed these. Two industrial estates, at Porte Marsh Road and Station Road, were created between 1960 and 1980. A sports centre was built in 1976. After the closure of Harris's factory, which employed over 2,000 people, in 1983 a charitable organisation called the Calne Project was set up to regenerate the town. The factory site in the town centre had been cleared and much new housing has now been built, plus a new shopping development and much landscaping and other work has been carried out.

Harris's factory was the culmination of the bacon-curing industry that had been the chief source of employment from the latter part of the 19th century. Beginning in the second half of the 18th century the Harris brothers, John and Henry, each developed their own businesses, which amalgamated in 1888 as C. & T. Harris & Co. Production at that time was mainly bacon, sausages and lard but in the 20th century this was extended to pies, cooked meats and tinned meats. Most other industries were small ones, typical of small market towns but there was one substantial iron foundry and engineering works that became Maundrell Ltd. From 1888 they made a range of items, including pumps, lorry parts and railings and manufactured much equipment for Harris's. The foundry closed in 1957 but engineering continued on the site until the late 1990s.

The town possessed fire engines in 1748 when its members of parliament had given it two. There was only one in 1822. A new motorised one was bought in 1933 and in 1966 a fire station was built in Station Road. In 1863 a single-line broad-gauge railway line was opened between Chippenham and Calne, with a station on the south-western edge of the town. In 1873 a private line was built to Bowood House. The line to Calne was closed to freight in 1963 and to passengers in 1965; the station was demolished a little after this date. The Wilts and Berks Canal served the town from 1802 to 1906.

The Calne Gas and Coke Company was formed in 1835 with a gasworks in Horsebrook, and provided town lighting from 1838. The gasworks were closed in 1939 and gas provided by the Bath Gas Company, later the South Western Gas Board from 1949. Harris's generated their own electricity and from 1926 the Borough Council used this supply for the town. This continued until 1948 when the Southern Electricity Board took over. Calne Waterworks was formed in 1881 and supplied water to the town until 1947 when it was bought by the Borough Council. From 1962 the North Wiltshire Water Board took over the service. There was a post office in Calne from the early 19th century and the first telephone exchange was built in 1942.

Quemerford was almost certainly a part of the King's estate that was granted to other people from the late 12th century. It was a largely agricultural area with no early nucleated settlement. There was a fulling mill here, on the River Marden, by 1550 and there were tw by 1646 when the Chivers family were prominent here. Later a third mill was built. Around 1800 Lower Mill was rebuilt as a water powered cloth factory and a steam engine was added in 1815. By 1841 it had been converted to a grist mill when the cloth industry failed here. It continued producing animal foodstuffs, though not by water power until about 1980. Between the 1850s and 1870s paper was made at Quemerford. Quemerford House was rebuilt in the late 18th or early 19th century. A church, as a chapel of ease to St. Mary's was built here in 1852-3 and in the 20th century urban development has joined Quemerford to the town of Calne.

An influence on Calne, certainly from the 1760s, has been the Bowood estate and successive Marquesses of Lansdowne. Bowood itself was never part of Calne but was a Liberty of Chippenham Forest, which from 1890 has formed part of the parish of Calne Without. The Lansdownes have long welcomed philosophers, writers and scientists to their home. In the 18th century the chemist Joseph Priestley was librarian at Bowood and discovered oxygen there. His family lived in a house on The Green in Calne for seven years. Other visitors included Benjamin Franklin, Jeremy Bentham and Dr. Samuel Johnson. At various times in the late 18th and early 19th centuries Calne itself provided accommodation for Charles Lamb, Lord Macaulay and, between 1814 and 1815, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilCalne Town Council
Parish Web Sitehttp://www.calne.gov.uk/
Parish Emailcalne@calne.gov.uk
 

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Calne

Folk Biographies from Calne

Folk Plays from Calne

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Listed Buildings: The number of buildings, or groups of buildings, listed, as being of architectural or historical importance, is 172. There is one Grade I listing, the Church of St. Mary, and 14 Grade II* listings.

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