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Program 116
Melksham
Melksham, Wiltshire, EnglandHighlightsLocation

Located in the wide and beautiful valley of the Wiltshire Avon to the west of the county, Melksham began as a hamlet in the clearing of a large forest. A favorite hunting ground of the Tudor kings, Melksham Forest originally covered over 8,400 acres. The forest has dwindled over the past 500 years, but the town of Melksham grew steadily into a bustling market and business center.

Melksham has been home to an impressive range of industries over the centuries. By the mid-14th century, Melksham's was a weaving center whose chief product was white broadcloth. The original round houses used for drying the wool are still evident. But by the mid-1800s, weaving had all but died out as the cloth makers of Melksham found it increasingly difficult to compete with the more mechanized mills of England's north.

But fortunately, the decline of local cloth-making coincided with the rise of other industries. In 1812, excavation began on the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal, which ran through the center of Melksham, bringing with it an infusion of trade. And by the first decade of the 20th century, the railway had in turn rendered the canal obsolete. But in the end, neither the canal nor the railway made as great an impression as the automobile and the Avon Rubber Company, which set up a nearby tire manufacturing plant and became a significant local employer.

Melksham was also the home of Charles Maggs, who arrived in 1803 and established a rope business that continued for six generations. As the attraction of steel cables began to diminish the demand for rope, however, Maggs diversified into matting constructed of coir fiber, which is produced from coconut shells. Today, people all over the world wipe their feet on Maggs' coconut mats. The same enterprising family was also instrumental in creating the great Wiltshire dairy trade, turning surplus milk into butter and cream for sale in London and other major towns. It was a bright idea that caught on, and led eventually to the formation of United Dairies.

Melksham has had its noble failures too. The fine Regency houses scattered throughout the town are a poignant reminder of Melksham's ambition to become a spa to rival Chippenham and Bath. Springs rich in iron and saline were discovered and an attempt was made in 1815 to develop the town as a spa. As a result the Melksham Spa Company was formed by local landowners looking for a promising investment. There was no shortage of testimonials demonstrating the benefits of the healing properties of the waters, but in spite of all this, Melksham's time as a fashionable spa was brief, suffering a steep decline as visiting the seaside gained in popularity.

Melksham has continued to grow during the last 60 years and in an unusual turn of events last spring, a local businessman and entrepreneur, William Spiers, purchased the title to the town.

To learn more about Melksham and Wiltshire, visit:
www.melkshamtown.co.uk
www.yourguide.org.uk/melksham/history.html
www.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/wiltshire/melksham/info

Sources: melkshamtown.co.uk, yourguide.org.uk



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