Frome, or Frome-Selwood (St. Peter)

FROME, or Frome-Selwood (St. Peter), a market-town, parish, and newly-enfranchised borough, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Frome, E. division of Somerset, 25 miles (N. E.) from Ilchester, and 105 (W. by S.) from London; containing 11,849 inhabitants. This place takes its name from the river called by the Saxons Frau, now Frome, which, passing by the town, runs into the Avon near Bradford; and its adjunct of Selwood from its situation in an ancient and extensive forest. A monastery was founded here in 705, and dedicated to St. John the Baptist, by Aldhelm, afterwards Bishop of Sherborne: it was plundered in the Danish wars, and the monks were dispersed, but the church continued till the middle of the 12th century; and the remains, with those of a chapel belonging to a small nunnery dedicated to St. Catherine, have been converted into tenements for the poor. The town is pleasantly situated on the north-east declivity of a hill, and consists of a great number of streets, for the most part irregularly built, and some of them inconveniently narrow, but tolerably clean. A new opening through the town was made a few years since, forming a very handsome street, with good houses on each side. The buildings in general are constructed of small rough stone, and roofed with stone dug in the neighbourhood; the inhabitants are well supplied with water, and the town has a commodious market-house. Over the Frome, which abounds with excellent trout and eels, is a neat stone bridge of five arches. The environs are pleasant, and contain the handsome seats of Longleat, Orchardleigh, Berkley, Mells Park, Babington, Ammerdown, Standerwick, and Marston.

Frome has long been celebrated for its woollen manufacture, of which the principal articles are broadcloths and kerseymeres, of very superior quality; the manufacture of wool-cards is also carried on to a large extent, and formerly they were supplied from this place to almost every town in England. The beer brewed here is in high repute, and is usually kept to a great age. An act was passed in 1845 for a railway from near Chippenham, by Frome, to Weymouth. The principal market is on Wednesday; there is a smaller one on Saturday, and fairs are held on February 24th and November 25th, for cattle and cheese. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the town was constituted a borough, with power to return a member to parliament; the right of election is vested in the £10 householders, and the returning officer is annually appointed by the sheriff: the limits of the borough comprise 800 acres. The county magistrates hold petty-sessions for the division here; and constables and tythingmen are chosen annually at the court leet of the Marquess of Bath. The powers of the county debt-court of Frome, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Frome, and five adjacent parishes.

The parish comprises by estimation 7092½ acres, of which 1497a. 3r. 34p. are arable, 5058a. 1r. 19p. pasture, and 536a. 29p. woodland. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £22; patron and impropriator, the Marquess of Bath: the great tithes have been commuted for £538. 13. 6., and the vicarial for £600. 15.; the glebe comprises 87½ acres, with a house. The parochial church is a spacious structure, consisting of a nave, north and south aisles, chancel, and four sepulchral chapels, with a tower surmounted by a spire, and a north and south porch; a new western front and other embellishments were added about 30 years ago, from a design by the late Sir Jeffrey Wyatville. The interior contains many interesting monuments; and in the churchyard is the grave of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who died in 1711, at Longleat House, and was buried here. In the Woodlands, three miles south of the town, a handsome church with a tower surmounted by an octagonal spire was erected in 1712, by Thomas, Viscount Weymouth, who made the living a perpetual curacy by endowing it with £60 a year; it is further endowed with £30 per annum, and with some land. The woodlands that surround it are the only parts of the ancient Forest of Selwood which exhibit any traces of their former character. Christ-church, erected in 1818 by subscription, is a commodious edifice in the later English style, with a square embattled tower: the living is a district perpetual curacy; net income, £150. A district church dedicated to the Holy Trinity was lately built by subscription, Her Majesty's Commissioners and certain religious societies making grants in aid of the design. The Vicar presents to each of these three churches. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, and Presbyterians. A free school was founded in the reign of Edward VI.; there is a school in union with the National Society, and a charity school is supported from land. Adjoining the last school are almshouses for 31 aged women, maintained by the same means. In that part of the town called Keyford, is an asylum, founded in 1790 by Robert Stevens, Esq., who endowed it with £12,000 in the funds, for the maintenance and education of 40 girls; and with £7000, for the maintenance of 20 aged men, natives of the parish: the annual income is about £650; the premises form a handsome quadrangular range of building. The poor law union of Frome comprises 29 parishes or places, and contains 25,644 inhabitants. John Foster, author of the Essays, resided for some time here.

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