Malmesbury - A brief history.....
Malmesbury is a very special place with a history which can be traced back almost 5,000 years. Could it be Britain’s longest inhabited settlement? As a natural fortress on a hilltop with springs providing fresh water and nearly surrounded by deep river valleys, it is no surprise that around 2500 BC men built a strong defensive stone wall around it. Unfortunately they left little record of their existence so the known story starts in 642 AD.
In that year a Celtic monk named Maildulph established a hermitage on the side of the hill beneath the fortification. An early pupil of his was Aldhelm, kinsman of the King of Wessex. He was a very learned man, continuing his education in Canterbury and Rome, before becoming the first Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery here. He performed many miracles, one preventing a scandal by showing the Pope was not the father of a child through questioning the week-old baby. Following his death and burial here Malmesbury became a popular destination for pilgrims hoping to benefit from his powers. The monastery gained great wealth through being near the border between Saxon kingdoms and playing the royal houses against each other.
The monastery provided the economic foundation for the town with many hospitia or guesthouses catering for the visitors. Several monks added to the Abbey’s prestige. In the 9th Century John Scotus taught here until he met his untimely end by being stabbed with a pen. Eilmer was the first man to fly in 1010 when he glided about 200 yards from the church. A hundred years later William of Malmesbury wrote Histories of the Kings and the Churches of England.
Malmesbury had strong royal connections. Athelstan initially was the King of Mercia and after his brother died took over Wessex. Then through treaties and war became the first ruler of the whole of England. He lived close to the town so we can claim to have been the capital. When he was challenged the men of Malmesbury played a pivotal role in his victory which led to them being granted 600 acres of land still owned by the Warden and Freemen. Athelstan’s body was brought here for burial. In 1153 Henry of Anjou, fighting for his mother the Empress Matilda, laid siege to Malmesbury’s castle. King Stephen brought an army to chase the usurper away but failed to do so. As a result he lost face and shortly afterwards had to agree that Henry would succeed him to become Henry II.
King Henry VIII brought great change to the town with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Fortunately a wealthy clothier, William Stumpe, bought the Abbey precincts and as the parish Church of St. Paul’s was in a poor state of repair presented the Abbey Church to the townsfolk. At the same time the main business became the woollen trade. Unfortunately centuries of boom and bust followed as the price of wool fluctuated. As the other staple industry was agriculture which frequently followed similar trends the fortunes of the town were often at a low ebb. The resulting lack of money helped to preserve many humble cottages which have only been modernised over the last 50 years with its increased prosperity.
Much of this prosperity arose due to the development of industry in the town. First E. K. Cole Ltd. opened a factory in Cowbridge House at the beginning of the Second World War. They were an important producer of radar sets during the conflict, changing to radios and consumer goods at its end and later to telephone equipment. After several name changes Lucent Technologies closed the factory in 2002. Another wartime arrival was Linolite Ltd., originally making hose-clips for aircraft de-icing systems. Post war they reverted to their normal products, lighting equipment. Initially based in the Postern Mill they moved into a purpose built factory on Tetbury Hill in 1985 but closed in 1993. Later the same year Dyson Appliances Ltd. moved into these premises and due to their expansion constructed a new award winning building in 1999. They remain the town’s largest employer.
Persimmon Homes Wessex has been part of the Malmesbury community since 1985. During that time the company has expanded to over 100 employees, many of whom live in the local area. The Company is proud to be involved in the Malmesbury Half Marathon and to be supporting the local community in such a special, historic area.