Melksham (St. Michael)

MELKSHAM (St. Michael), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Melksham, Melksham and N. divisions of Wilts, 28 miles (N. W.) from Salisbury, and 95 (W. by S.) from London; containing, with the chapelries of Earl-Stoke and Seend, and the tythings of Beanacre, Blackmore, Cannonhold, and Woodrow, 6236 inhabitants, of whom 535 are in the town of Melksham. The name is supposed to be derived from Milch, or Melch, milk, and Ham, a dwelling; the adjacent land being chiefly occupied as dairy-farms. During the Saxon era this was a place of some importance, and at the period of the Norman survey, and for several subsequent reigns, it was held in royal demesne, and gave name to an extensive forest: in the reign of Henry VIII. it had fallen into decay, but during the last century experienced a revival from its cloth manufacture. The town is situated on the road from London, through Devizes, to Bath, and on the banks of the Avon: it consists principally of one street, nearly a mile in length, which is paved, and lighted with gas; the houses are in general good, and built of freestone, and the inhabitants are well supplied with water. Two mineral springs, one saline and the other chalybeate, were discovered in the vicinity some years since; and in 1816, a new saline spa was formed, to which a pump-room and hot and cold baths, with every requisite accommodation, have been added. The surrounding country abounds with diversified and pleasing prospects. There is a convenient reading-room, also a circulating library. The trade of the town formerly consisted in the manufacture of broad-cloth and kerseymere, of which it was once the chief seat, but this is now on the decline; some business is done in malt, and in leather. The Wilts and Berks canal passes on the east, and about a mile and a half southward joins the Kennet and Avon canal. The river Avon is crossed by a handsome stone bridge of four arches, with light and elegant balustrades: adjoining it is one of the largest corn-mills in the county, and contiguous are an extensive factory and dye-houses. The market is held every alternate Monday, for cattle, sheep, pigs, &c.; and there is a cattle-fair on July 27th. The powers of the county debt-court of Melksham, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-districts of Melksham and Bradford. The county magistrates hold a pettysession here for the division, on the last Wednesday in every month; and a court leet takes place half-yearly, under the joint lords of the manor.

The parish comprises, exclusively of waste, 7920 acres, of which about 400 are arable, 150 woodland, and the remainder pasture and meadow; the soil is clay, alternated with gravel, and the prevailing timber is elm. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £38. 9. 4½.; patrons and appropriators, the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury: the great tithes have been commuted for £1278, and the vicarial for £1214. The church is a spacious cruciform edifice of freestone, in the Norman style, with later additions, and has a handsome tower rising from the intersection; part of the building is of the period of the twelfth century, and in the interior, on the south side, are two chantry chapels. A district church was consecrated at Shaw Whitley in 1837, a neat structure in the early English style, containing 480 sittings, of which 320 are free; the living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Vicar, with a net income of £100. There are chapels of ease at Earl-Stoke and Seend; also places of worship in the parish for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyans. The union of Melksham comprises six parishes or places, with a population of 18,879.

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