Wiltshire Tourist Guide

Bradford on Avon - Wiltshire

Bradford on Avon lies just within the western edge of Wiltshire about 8 miles (13km) southeast of the city of Bath in Somerset.

This small English market town of around 10,000 is set amongst beautiful countryside on the banks of the river Avon. The origin of the town’s name is a ‘broad ford’ crossing the river Avon. The earliest trace of ancient Britons in the town was over 2500 years ago with a settlement just above the area known as Tory.

This town is full of historical interest and well worth visiting. Buildings from Saxon, Roman and Norman times have survived. The river itself is a big attraction with its ancient bridge forming a focal point. This stone bridge, dating from Norman times, is history itself with a mixture of different architecture where the bridge has been repaired, renovated and restored at various times over many centuries after probably starting life as little more than a wooden footbridge.

The river area forms a focus for many activities such as the annual pancake and raft races which are always good entertainment.

There is a weekly market held in the library car park each Thursday and a small museum over the library. A Farmers Market is also held in Westbury Gardens on the third Thursday morning of each month.

The church of St Laurence is one of the few churches of Saxon origin left in England and during the 14th century Shaftesbury Abbey built the impressive and well preserved tithe barn. It is one of the finest examples in England, a huge barn constructed for storage of the ‘tithes’(taxation in the form of goods) paid by the local population to the Church.

For more than six centuries Bradford on Avon was a centre of cloth weaving. Many of the buildings on the steep hillside down to the river were formerly spinners and weavers cottages with the woollen mills lining the river bank. The town prospered through the 17th and 18th century and many fine buildings were constructed during this era by wealthy clothiers. This prosperity was enhanced by the construction of the Rennie’s Kennet and Avon Canal finally linking the Avon, Severn and Bath in the west to the Thames and Reading in the east of England in 1831. At the turn of the century the Industrial Revolution was continuing apace with the introduction of factory machinery and mass production. Political upheaval and uncertainty during this period of seismic change ultimately led to the rapid demise of the cloth industry which moved north to areas such as the West Riding of Yorkshire. Factories closed, unemployment rose and expansion of the town stopped.

In the latter half of the 19th century apart from a limited amount of stone quarrying and the declining weaving industry a new and thriving rubber industry became the dominant industry in the town but that too ultimately closed or moved away by the end of the last century. Today most of the buildings from this industrial era have become residential properties.

Despite being one of the smaller towns of West Wiltshire, it has a friendly local feel with all manner of delights and attractions for the traveller. Sample real English pubs, visit restaurants and the historic buildings of the past. Walk, hire a cycle or boat and explore Kennet Avon Canal. Close to Bath, the Spa city and within easy reach of Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circles there is so much to do and visit.

Bradford on Avon