Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

MALMESBURY, a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Malmesbury, county of WILTS, 42 miles (N.) from Salisbury, and 94 (W.) from London, containing, exclusively of the chapelries of Corstone and Rodborne, and the tythings of Burton-Hill, Cole with West Park, and Milbourn, in that part of the parish of St. Paul which is without the precincts of the borough, 2514 inhabitants. This place is stated by Leland to have been an ancient British town, which he calls Caer Bladon; but its origin may, with more probability, be ascribed to the period of the Saxon Heptarchy. A castle, called Ingelburne, existed here before the middle of the seventh century; and about 642, Maildulph, an Irish monk, founded a hermitage, and being joined by Aidhelm, nephew of Ina, King of Wessex, they, with the assistance of Lutherius, Bishop of Winchester, erected a monastery, from the names of its founders styled Mealdelmesbyrigg, which has been gradually altered to the modern appellation of Malmesbury.

The monastery, which was one of the most considerable in Wiltshire, belonged to the Benedictines; it was splendidly endowed by several princes and noblemen: its abbot was made a mitred parliamentary baron by Edward III.; and its revenue, at the dissolution, amounted to £803. 17. 7. A part of the nave only of the conventual church remains, which has been long used as the parish church. Buildings gradually rose round the abbey, and notwithstanding the town suffered from the incursions of the Danes, who burnt it in the reign of Alfred the Great, it became a place of so much importance as to have obtained a charter from Edward the Elder, which was confirmed by his son Athelstan, who renewed it, and was a munificent benefactor both to the town and the monastery. He bestowed an extensive tract of land, called the Common of King's Heath, on the men of Malmesbury, who had assisted him in gaining a victory over the Danes. In the reign of Henry I., or Stephen, a strong castle was built here by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, who was obliged to surrender it to the king; and on the invasion of England by Prince Henry, afterwards Henry II., he laid siege to this fortress, and took it after an obstinate defence.

During the civil war in the reign of Charles I, Malmesbury was a royal garrison, and that prince lodged in the town one night, in 1643. Shortly after, the town was captured by Sir William Waller; but it was re-taken by the royalists, who did not long retain possession of it, for the parliament having recovered it, their troops were stationed here till June 1646. The town, situated on a pleasant and commanding eminence, is nearly surrounded by two streams, which unite at its southern extremity, and form the Lower Avon.

The principal street extends southward from the market-place, near which it is crossed by another street, leading to that part of the town called Westport. These streets are paved and lighted, under the authority of an act of parliament obtained in 1798, and the inhabitants are abundantly supplied with water from, wells. In the centre of the market-place is a fine octagonal. market-cross, built in the reign of Henry VII., and ornamented with flying buttresses, pinnacles, and an octangular central turret. The manufacture of woollen cloth was anciently carried on here very extensively; and, after it had entirely decayed, it was again introduced in the latter part of the last century, and now constitutes the chief employment of the lower class. Some trade is carried on in tanning and brewing, and bone-lace is made by the women and children. The market, principally for butchers' meat, is on Saturday; and large cattle markets are held on the last Tuesday in every month, except March, April, and May. Fairs for horses, cattle, and sheep, take place March 28th, April 2Sth, and June 5th.

The first charter of incorporation was granted by Charles I., but the charter now in force was obtained from William III., in 1696, under which the corporation consists of an alderman, deputy alderman, eleven capital burgesses, and twenty-four assistants, with a high steward and deputy steward. The alderman and his deputy are elected annually on Trinity Tuesday, by the capital burgesses, who are thirteen in all, from their own body. Besides these members of the corporation, there are fifty-two landholders, and an indefinite number of commoners, or free burgesses: the assistant burgesses are chosen from the landholders, and the latter from the commoners, who are the sons, or sons-in-law, of commoners.

The steward and deputy steward are elected annually by the capital burgesses. The alderman and deputy alderman, and the steward and deputy steward are justices of the peace, and the alderman is coroner and clerk of the market. The petty sessions for the hundred of Malmesbury are held here once a month; and a court of requests for the hundred is held every nine weeks, for the recovery of debts under 40s. King's Heath, or Malmesbury common, has been enclosed, pursuant to an act of parliament obtained in 1821; when, after assigning fifty acres for defraying the expense of the enclosure, and for providing for an increase in the number of free burgesses, or commoners, it was subdivided into two hundred and eighty allotments, averaging about one acre and a half each, and an allotment assigned to each commoner, to be used only for tillage, or garden ground.

To the east of King's Heath are the Acres, so called from their measure, one acre belonging to each of the assistant burgesses and landholders; and near them are other lands, called Burgess Parts, varying in extent from six to fifteen acres, and belonging, one each, to the capital burgesses. The borough has sent members to parliament ever since the reign of Edward I. By an order of the House of Commons, December 13th, 1722, the right of election was determined to be in the alderman and twelve capital burgesses: the alderman is the returning officer, and the patronage of the borough belongs to Joseph Pitt, Esq., M.P., the present high steward.

The borough comprises the parishes of St. Paul, St. Mary Westport, and the Abbey district, in the archdeaconry of Wilts, and diocese of Salisbury. The living of St. Paul's is a discharged vicarage, rated in the king's books at £8. 2. 1., and in the patronage of the Crown. The church is dilapidated, but the tower, surmounted, by a lofty spire, is still standing, and contains the bells used on public festivals, &c. The nave of the conventual church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was purchased, at the dissolution of monasteries, by William Stumpe, a clothier of Malmesbury, and presented to the townspeople for a parish church, under the authority of a license from Archbishop Cranmer. This edifice is chiefly in the Norman style, and has a noble south porch, consisting of receding arches, with sculptured mouldings, and other ornaments. The western porch was of a similar character, but a small portion of it only remains. In the interior, at the east end, is a sepulchral chapel, in which is an ancient tomb with a recumbent crowned statue, ascribed to King Athelstan, who was interred near the high altar of this church.

About six years since, the whole fabric was substantially repaired and the vaulted roof and other parts of the interior restored: over the altar has been placed a painting of the Resurrection of Lazarus, presented by the Earl of Suffolk. An addition has lately been made of three hundred and forty-one sittings, three hundred of which are free, the Incorporated Society for the enlargement of churches and chapels having contributed £350 towards defraying the expense. The living of the parish of Westport is a vicarage, with which the perpetual curacy of Charlton is united, rated in the king's books at £16. 17. 8., and in the patronage of the Crown. The church is dedicated to St. Mary. At Brokenborough, in this parish, there is a chapel of ease. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Moravians, and Wesleyan Methodists.

A free school, under the patronage of the corporation, is endowed with £10 per annum, arising from lands belonging to the burgesses, and £10 per annum, the benefaction of Michael Weekes, Esq., in 1695. Another school was founded and endowed, in pursuance of a bequest from Mrs. Elizabeth Hodges, in 1725: the master has a salary of £25 per annum. The corporation have the patronage of an almshouse, endowed with £20 per annum; and Robert Jenner, in 1644, founded eight almshouses, with an endowment of £40 per annum, which has not been paid for nearly fifty years past. There was anciently a convent of the Knights Hospitallers, some small portions of the buildings belonging to which are still standing.

Among the distinguished persons connected with the monastery were St. Aldhelm, the second abbot, who died Bishop of Sherborne in 709; Ælfric, a learned abbot in the tenth century, who was made Bishop of Crediton; and William of Malmesbury, precentor to the monastery, the celebrated English historian in the reign of Stephen. Thomas Hobbes, author of the "Leviathan", and other philosophical works, was born here in 1588 and Mrs. Mary Chandler, an ingenious poetess, was also a native of this town. Malmesbury confers he titles of earl and baron on the family of Harris.

BURTON-HILL, a tything in the parish of MALMESBURY, and hundred of MALMESBURY, county of WILTS, f of a mile (S.) from Malmesbury, containing 192 inhabitants.

COLE, a tything, joint with West Park, in the parish and hundred of MALMESBURY, county of WILTS, If mile (S.S.E.) from Malmesbury, containing, with West Park, 37 inhabitants.

CORSTON, a chapelry in that part of the parish of MALMESBURY which is in the hundred of MALMESBURY, county of WILTS, 2 miles (S. by W.) from Malmesbury, containing 171 inhabitants. The chapel, dedicated to All Saints) exhibits some portions of early English architecture.

MILBOURN, a tything in the parish of MALMESBURY, and hundred of MALMESBURY, county of WILTS, 1 mile (E.N.E.) from. Malmesbury, containing 115 inhabitants.

RODBORNE, a chapelry in the parish of MALMESBURY, and hundred of MALMESBURY, county of WILTS, 3 miles (S. by E.) from Malmesbury, containing 139 inhabitants.

WEST-PARK, a tything, joint with Cole, in the parish and hundred of MALMESBURY, county of WILTS, The population is returned with Cole.

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