difficult to over-estimate the importance of wool in the development of English towns. It provided the wealth which allowed many English towns and villages to exist at all

In the early days, it was simply a case of keeping some sheep, scalping them occasionally, and selling the fleeces - often abroad. But some places - like Trowbridge - began to "add value" to their produce, by spinning and weaving the wool into cloth.

The first mention we know of comes in 1306, when a Trowbridge man was hanged for stealing a length of cloth from a local mill - probably the contemporary equivalent of a bank robbery.

Throughout the following centuries, Trowbridge developed its woollen industry - first through a complex system of specialist out-workers, then by using machinery in large mills. They also developed the quality of their produce, in response to the growing competition from elsewhere in England, and abroad.

At the zenith of its prosperity in the nineteenth century, Trowbridge claimed the title "Manchester of the West".

In the twentieth century, life became tougher and tougher for all British industry - particularly the traditional ones. But Trowbridge's wool industry managed to keep going longer than most; her last mill closed in 1982.

So, because Trowbridge's wool industry survived past the cottage industry stage, there aren't as many pretty cottages here as in some neighbouring towns. There aren't even all that many mill buildings (ripe for conversion to flats & gallerias), because most of them were demolished before anyone realised what an asset they might be.

Along the way, Trowbridge picked up several other enterprises to fill the gaps left by the decline in wool. They make sausages (Bowyers) and mattresses (Airsprung) and, of course, beer (Ushers) or, beer-making equipment.

Every town in the West Country can't be a tourism honeytrap. Somebody has to do the real work - making things.

Still, Trowbridge does have a Hotel Bythesea, despite the fact that the town is a good 25 miles away from the nearest bit of briny.

But it's not as fraudulent as it sounds. The Hotel takes its name from Bythesea Road, on which it stands. The road takes its name from Henry Bythesea, who built a housing development here, at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

County TownThe Dowry Sir Isaac Pitman Pitman
© David Craig Send me a message