Calne (St. Mary)

CALNE (St. Mary), a borough, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Calne, Chippenham and Calne, and N. divisions of Wilts, 30 miles (N. N. W.) from Salisbury, and 87 (W. by S.) from London, on the road to Bath and Bristol; comprising the tythings of Blackland, Calstone, Eastmead-Street, Quemerford, Stock, Stockley, Studley, Whetham, and Whitley; and containing 5128 inhabitants, of whom 2483 are in the borough. This place is of very remote origin, and is supposed to have risen from the ruins of a Roman station on the opposite side of the river, near Studley, where numerous Roman antiquities have been discovered. It is said by tradition to have been the residence of the West Saxon monarchs; but no vestiges exist of their palace or castle, the remembrance of which is preserved only in the name of a field thought to have been its site, and of a street which probably led to it. A synod was assembled here in 977, for adjusting the differences then prevailing between the monks and the secular clergy, at which Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, presided. During the controversy the floor of the chamber gave way, and several of the secular priests were killed; but Dunstan, and the monks whose cause he advocated, escaped unhurt; their preservation was regarded as a miraculous interposition of Heaven, and they were allowed to take immediate possession of the religious houses throughout the kingdom, to the exclusion of the secular clergy.

The town consists principally of one long street, lighted with gas; the houses are in general well built of stone, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water from springs, and from the river Marden, which, after passing through the town, falls into the Avon. It has been much improved under the auspices of the Marquess of Lansdowne, whose extensive and stately mansion is in the adjoining liberty of Bowood; and the environs abound with pleasing scenery. The woollen-manufacture, formerly carried on to a great extent, is now conducted on a very limited scale; the articles are principally broad-cloth, kerseymere, and serge. A branch of the Wilts and Berks canal comes up to the town, and, uniting with the Kennet and Avon canal, and with the Thames at Abingdon, affords a facility of communication with London, Bristol, and the intermediate places. The market is on Wednesday; and fairs are held on May 6th and September 29th, for cattle and sheep. The corporation formerly consisted of two guild stewards, and an indefinite number of free burgesses, who annually appointed two constables; but the government is now vested in a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, under the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76. The borough first sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I.; from that time it made irregular returns until the reign of Richard II., after which it uninterruptedly returned two members; but, by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the number was reduced to one. The right of election, formerly in the members of the corporation, was, by the above act, extended to the £10 householders of the borough, the limits of which were increased from 800 to 8080 acres: the mayor is returning officer. The powers of the county debt-court of Calne, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Calne. The town-hall is a neat and commodious building, erected by the lord of the manor, and has been repaired, and an upper story added, by the Marquess of Lansdowne; the lower part is used as a market-place.

The living is a vicarage, with the living of Berwick-Basset annexed, valued in the king's books at £8. 5.; net income, £769; patron, the Bishop of Salisbury. A portion of the vicarial tithes was commuted for land in 1813. The church is a venerable structure in the early English style, with a square embattled tower. A district church, of which the first stone was laid in 1839, by the Marquess of Lansdowne, attended by a large concourse of the nobility and gentry, was completed at Derry Hill in 1840; it is an elegant edifice in the later English style, with a spire, and contains 500 sittings, of which 400 are free, for the benefit of the inhabitants of Derry Hill, Studley, and Pewsham, many of whom are four miles distant from the mother church. The living was augmented in 1842 to £120 per annum, by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; patron, the Vicar. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Methodists, and Unitarians. A free school was founded in 1660, by John Bentley, who endowed it with property, afterwards sold, and the produce vested in the purchase of annuities amounting to £50. Sir Francis Bridgman, Knt., in 1730 founded six scholarships, of the value of £50 per annum each, in Queen's College, Oxford; two of which are for natives of this town. The poor law union of Calne comprises 11 parishes or places, and contains a population of 9324. An hospital dedicated to St. John existed here in the reign of Henry III., the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £2. 2. 8. At the distance of three miles to the east of the town is the figure of a horse, cut in the chalk hill, 157 feet long.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.