Melksham Places of Interest
Melksham extends south from the railway and the river, alongside which are the extensive buildings of the rubber factory, towards the High Street and the Market Place.
The Market Place is the heart of the town’s shopping centre with a good mix of multiple stores and independent traders, with a pleasant modern post office, a number of cafes, several pubs whose range of real ale is first class.
The town has many places of interest. Select the links below for more information on each of the featured places.
To return to the drop down menu select the "Return to Top" link.
Away to the west of the shopping centre and in a quiet and pleasing corner of Melksham is the Parish Church, a building that can trace its history back to before the Norman priest called Rumoldus. The Norman church was rebuilt around 1300 and 150 years later was enlarged and the Lady Chapel added for the nuns of Amesbury who had a house in the town. The former central tower was pulled down and replaced by the present west tower during the rather drastic restoration in 1845 by the architect Wyatt and the chancel was restored in 1881 by G.E. Street.
Features of interest in the church (St Michael and All Angels) include the north porch (1460) with its vaulted roof and parvis (priests room) above; the Lady Chapel with its battlements and pinnacles and high above the nave, the clerestory with its range of stained glass windows. There are other fine windows through the church and above the chancel arch, a huge wall painting of the Transfiguration. The church contains several interesting memorials including a brass of 1612 to Ambrose Dauntesey; another of John Buckley who was a friend of William Penn and followed him across to Pennsylvania; and a rather sad memorial to Frederick and Augusta Goodwin and their six children who were lost with the Titanic when she sank in 1912.
Melksham has several churches, of more than passing interest including one, now the Spiritualist place of worship, that dates from 1734 when it was built as the Friends Meeting House. Baptists first met in the town in 1669, the present church in Old Broughton Road was built in 1776 and restored in 1879. In the High Street, the United Church of 1872 has an impressive frontage with giant Corinthian columns beneath a large pediment - and with Italiante decorations carved round the doors.
Situated in the Market Place, an ashlar-faced building of 1847 and one of quiet pleasing design. The building was first used as a cheese market but, with the police station next door, was bought by the then Urban District Council in 1914. It has been the home of local administration ever since.
The oldest and architecturally most rewarding buildings in Melksham are close to the parish church. The 17th century Melksham House, now surrounded by playing fields, has been much altered after a fire. On its west side is the former tithe barn which was made into a schoolroom in 1878 by G.E. Street and was used as such until 1974. On the other side of the church is Canon Square, a quiet enclave of houses and gardens including the former vicarage and one or two Georgian houses. Farther along, in Church Street, is the old Roundhouse, a building once used for drying cloth, later in the 19th century an ammunition store for the local volunteers.
Leading from the High Street to the churchyard is Place Road with, at the entrance the re-erected gate piers of the former Place House (Melksham Manor) that stood in the Market Place from about 1560 to its demolition in 1864. Lloyds Bank on the corner of Place Road, although only built in 1922 is said to be a copy of the design of Place House.
Place Road itself, is a private road and a delightful cul-de-sac, leafy from nearby trees and lined with detached and semi-detached Neo “Gothic” villas. The road still has a rare atmosphere of Victorian “gentility”.
In the Market Place is the Rachel Fowler Centre, a building in constant use for meetings and other activities and whose name is that of a local benefactress whose family once lived in a large house now used by Gompels the chemist. Miss Fowler set up several charities in the town, her great concern being the welfare of local people especially unmarried women like herself. She founded the Melksham Almshouses (then named after her) which still survive at the back of The City. She also founded the New Hall for use as a lecture and reading room.
A bridge has long been sited where the present day bridge stands. The river at this point was fordable, a wooden bridge was swept away by floods in 1804.
The present bridge with its four arches, dates from 1809 and since it was built has been widened in 1929 by the addition of one footpath width.
The Bristol Avon has a large catchment area. The river rises far away in Lechlade and running through Malmesbury, Chippenham, Lacock, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, Bath, Bristol out to the Severn Channel at Avonmouth. Because of flooding a new weir was built in 1959 and the river was diverted from its original course by the Avon factory to flow in a reasonably direct line to the new weir. Flooding in the town now rarely occurs.
From the river bridge the Bath Road, Bank Street and High Street are one continuous street leading to the Market Place, the original hub of the town centre. The above-named streets are lined with shops, banks, building societies, clubs and public houses, completing a typical central town area.
As its name implies Church Street is the street leading from the High Street to the Church of St Michael and All Angels. Shops line the street, but just before the street enters Canon Square, one or two interesting buildings can be seen. The Round house once a wool drying room built in the late 18th Century, another octagonal drying room is sited in Lowbourne and has been converted into a house. Another building of interest in Church Street is the Freemasons Hall, built in 1897 by the brethren of the Chaloner Lodge No. 2644 as a memorial of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Leaving Church Street one enters Canon Square with its modern Post Office, but otherwise the remaining buildings belong to a much older era including the Tourist Information Centre in an old grain store. The south side of the Square are sited clothiers houses dating from Melksham’s days of prosperity in the early 18th century. Opposite is Canon House, part sixteenth and part eighteenth century, now fronting a new development of houses and flats appropriately called Canon Court.
Turn north east out of Canon Square and Church Walk is the most picturesque street in the town. It leads down to the Bath Road, but as you leave Canon Square, the oldest houses are the first you pass, dating from the early sixteenth century to nineteenth century.
Turn south west out of Canon Square and the path leads to the Church, but turn right and follow the road past the Church and Churchyard, to the tithe barn. After its use as a tithe barn itwas used as a National School. Recently the school has moved and both school and tithe barn have been converted to housing units.
A large area which used to house a town pump and lock-up. The Market Place is the centre from which roads radiate to Devizes, Trowbridge, Warminster and Chippenham. Sited in a prominent position is the Town Hall, built in 1847 as a cheese market on the ground floor with a meeting room above. The Town Council own the building and use the Council Chamber for their meetings and the ground floor has been converted into offices.
Opposite is the New Hall erected by Rachel Fowler, a local Philanthropist in 1877.
The Kings Arms, an old coaching inn, built in two periods, early and late eighteenth century.
On the south side of Spa Road is a terrace of houses which were built as hotels, presently The Regency Hotel built for the people using the Spa waters a mile further up the road. The houses were built in 1816 and after the closure of the Spa some twenty-thirty years later the hotels were bought by local business men for their use as houses. The Spa Lodging houses on the north side and Pumphouse exist to this day and all have been converted to modern day living, but the exteriors have been preserved. The period for the Spa was very short and the close proximity of Bath did not help its cause.
Melksham has its own Nature Reserve “Conigre Mead”. It is a 3 acre site next to the River Avon and can be reached in 3-4 minutes walk from the Church Street car park, signed Riverside Walk. The walk takes you past St Michael’s Church and through a lych gate into the old burial ground, part of which is managed as a wildlife conservation area.
The nature reserve has two ponds, areas planted with wild flowers, trees, shrubs, paths and seats. In the summer wildflowers are in bloom, dragon flies, butterflies, fish and frogs can be seen. Birds which visit the reserve regularly are moorhens, mallards, mute swans, greenfinches, goldfinches, kingfishers and kestrels.
This path runs from Western Way to Scotland Road/Murray Walk. On 20th April 2000 the Princess Royal, Princess Anne opened the Millennium Riverside Walk. This was the culmination of years of planning by the project group. For many years, access to the river had been blocked by industry, on the closure of the Ark Saw Mills, the Town Council made a proviso that any planning permission must include public access. Negotiations took place with Cooper Avon Tyres who owned another riverside field, bridges were built and a path completed. The project group are now planning on extending this walk to Lacock and expect a speedy conclusion.
Visitors to Bowerhill on the outskirts of Melksham will sense echoes from the past reflected in road names like Hurricane, Lancaster, Wellington and Halifax which conjure images of a time when gallant deeds were performed in the skies by brave young men. But this is not mere coincidence, because Bowerhill was the site of a major RAF Station which at its zenith accommodated over ten thousand personnel. The official title of the station was No.12 School of Technical Training and, although many local people remember seeing aircraft on display at the annual open days, it was never an operational flying base because it had no runway. The aircraft were used for training purposes for groundcrew and technicians and were transported to and from the base in dismantled form.
The station opened in July 1940, and the first unit to arrive were the School of Instrument Training from Cranwell. They were joined shortly afterwards by a branch of the RAF Armament School and by the end of 1940 the station was “passing-out” over 200 tradesmen each week. In 1942, the Armament School was moved away from Melksham and supplanted by the RAF Electrical School from Hereford, a move which was further enhanced by the arrival of another Electrical School from Henlow in 1944. Although other courses, covering engine trades, motor transport and basic training for both male and female recruits, were covered for shorter periods over the years, the two main trade schools, Instrument and Electrical formed the main purpose of the station for the rest of its operational life until its eventual closure in 1965.
After closure, the site was acquired by the old Bradford and Melksham Rural District Council. This included the married-quarters at Berryfields which were refurbished and let as local authority housing. Some of the larger permanent buildings on the western side were utilised by local businesses such as the Avon Rubber Company and the council began to develop the area around these into a trading estate. The old gymnasium was converted into the Christie-Miller Sports Centre which was opened to the public in 1970. In 1970-71, development of the private housing estate began on the eastern side on land adjacent to the original officer’s quarters near the main gate entrance in Wellington Square.
Today, Bowerhill is a thriving community containing over 1,000 houses together with shops, a public house, primary school, sports centre plus a trading estate containing more than 100 companies large and small. The Melksham Without Parish Council has formed a committee and erected a permanent memorial to the RAF Station.
Paul Lewis, a local special constable, has assembled a collection of memories of RAF Melksham into a website and has kindly donated it to us. Click on the badge of above to visit the site. Can You Help? It would appear that photographs of RAF Melksham are very hard to find. Do you have any? would you be prepared to let us copy them for inclusion on this site? If so, or if you have memories of RAF Melksham please contact us.