Wiltshire Tourist Guide

Chippenham - Wiltshire

Chippenham is one of the largest towns in Wiltshire, lies 13 miles or 21km east of Bath on the A4 which was the old Bath to London coaching route.

The town is a market town of 28000 population and is situated on the crossing of a loop in the River Avon. Although there are Roman remains around the area the main settlement is of Saxon origin at around 600 A.D. based on a royal estate, forest and a hunting lodge or country house. The name of the town was chronicled as Cippanhamme. This could refer to an early settler of that name and hamme a piece of low ground enclosed in a loop in the river or possibly Cheppenham the Saxon for trading and a market. The bend in the river provided greater protection to the settlement on three of its sides and was a strategic strongpoint in the Saxon defence against the Viking invasion of England.

In 853 A.D. Ethelswitha the sister of Alfred the Great married the King of Mercia., one of the tribal kingdoms of that time, and the wedding was held at the site of St. Andrew’s Church. Alfred spent much of his time at the estate where he had a hunting lodge and his daughter also married there.

King Alfred the Great was is revered as a hero of his kingdom of Wessex and England for his resistance to the Viking invasions from the north and east. These wars continued intermittently from 800 A.D. as Viking raiders from across the North Sea began to settle in England until eventually Danelaw as it became known was established over much of northeast and eastern England under the control of the Danish Viking invaders. The Vikings slowly invaded further south and west and in 878 A.D. the Vikings laid siege to and captured the town. King Alfred of Wessex escaped over the border to Somerset but later returned to inflict a momentous defeat on the Danes at the battle of Edington in 878 A.D. The Vikings retreated from the town and withdrew from Wessex altogether after making a treaty with King Alfred. This treaty between Guthrum the Viking king and Alfred introduced an agreed set of legal terms and definitions based on Danelaw that already covered much of north and eastern England.

In 1066 the Normans led by William I of Normandy conquered England. King Harold the English king of the time was drawn north to resist and finally defeat a Norwegian Viking invasion. Meanwhile with a favourable southerly wind a French invasion fleet sneaked into Southern England. By the time Harold realised what was afoot it was too late and he and his army were soundly defeated at the Battle of Hastings.

Following the Norman Conquest of England an inventory of land, people and property covering the entire country was started in 1086 known as the Domesday Book. Domesday lists the town as Cepen with a population of 600-800 people. By then much of the forest was cleared and agriculture was the main activity.

In the reign of King John the town was granted a weekly Wednesday market and an annual fair. By now the forests had shrunk and the boundary of the town was west and south of the town. Originally the town was founded on the royal manor and administered by a representative of the crown. A town charter was granted by Queen Mary in 1554 which among other things confirmed the borough status of the town and the right to appoint a Member of Parliament which it had done since 1295.

During medieval times temporary stalls of the market place were turned into permanent shops and buildings and weaving was well established with a fulling mill at Stanley on the river Marden. The market was thriving with a separate pig and cheese market. A road network linking London to Bristol ran through the town and played a major role in the successful cloth trade so much so that its upkeep was funded partly by cloth merchants from Bristol. The woollen cloth industry continued its expansion through the 16th century but the Great Plague decimated the town and this was followed by a recession in the woollen industry and a drop in corn production in the early part of the 17th century. Natural disaster was followed by the turmoil of the English Civil War of 1642 when the forces of the King and the Parliamentarians clashed in a power struggle to rule England. This also affected the market for woollen cloth and the town suffered greatly.

A spur from the Wiltshire and Berkshire canal was excavated and opened in 1798 with a wharf at the current site of the bus station. The most dramatic change was of course the arrival of Brunel’s Great Western Railway in 1841 linking London with Bristol. This led to a sharp recovery in the town’s fortunes. Considerable development and construction followed on the land to the north of the railway line together with a growth in agricultural businesses. In the middle of the 19th century the town became a major food processing centre for dairy and ham products. The railway also led to the establishment of a substantial railway engineering works and the giant Westinghouse Brake and Signals Company took over the site entirely in 1935. Although cloth and silk production continued until the 1930’s it was superseded by the newer industries that developed from the arrival of the railway.

Today it is a thriving dynamic market town which makes a good base from which to explore the Wiltshire countryside. The famous and beautiful village of Lacock and its Abbey is close by and is only 3-4 miles (6km) south of the town. There are plenty of historic towns and cities all within easy reach. The Roman city of Bath, the weaving town of Bradford on Avon, Devizes and Marlborough which both bore witness to the bloody conflicts of the English Civil War and the forging of English Democracy. Further south lies the medieval city of Salisbury with its magnificent cathedral and spire. The county of Wiltshire is an ancient landscape, steeped in ancient and modern history and littered with hill forts and ancient burial mounds. Silbury, the World Heritage sites of Avebury and Stonehenge stone circles, the spectacular White Horses carved into the landscape, Salisbury Plain itself, the Kennet and Avon Canal and one of Brunels finest achievements the Great Western Railway. Wiltshire has it all.

There are many attractions and events in and around the town itself. There is a busy street market on Friday and Saturday in the market place and a Farmer’s Market on the second Tuesday morning of each month and the Town Museum in the Market Place is well worth a visit. .

Friday 30th March - Sunday 1st April 2007 at the Olympiad
Eddie Cochran was one of the most famous rock’n’roll singers of the sixties. He was tragically killed in a car accident just outside the town on Rowde Hill where there now stands a memorial. For more than thirty years Eddie Cochran's passing was remembered by only a handful of fans, but in recent years one weekend has been given over to remembering his death and celebrating his music. The Eddie Cochran Rock'n'Roll Weekend has become a regular event in the town calendar attracting fans and acts from all over the world.
More information can be obtained by email: eddiecochranweekender@hotmail.co.uk
or call +44(0)7879 040 723
Website is www.rockabillyhall.com/rockinforeddie.html

Music in the Park – Regular band concerts with guest bands from all around the area are held in the park every Sunday throughout the months of May, June, July, August and September 2007.

The Chippenham Folk Festival has over 200 events in the town with four days of the best in folk song, music, dance and traditions in the heart of Wiltshire. This year it is to be held 25th-28th May 2007.

Whilst Wiltshire Tourist Guide endeavour to ensure event dates are correct visitors are urged to check with the event organisers prior to arranging any visit as we can not be held responsible for the accuracy of the information in this article.