TOWARDS TWILIGHT

The County Town

did not impress me when I first visted, around 1990. My impressions are given, in the box at the bottom of this page. But, upon revisiting in 2021, I find I like the place a great deal more.

Yes, its local government footprint is still quite large, and the River Biss is still underwhelming - but the town that I dismissed as a decaying, shabby place, I now find it much more interesting, with lots of post-industrial architecture, already beginning its gentrification.

Look at the photos for a few of the quirky buildings.

There is the Blind House, squatting beside the Town Bridge, over the (underwhelming) River Biss. It turns out this was a sort of short-term prison, where unruly drunks could cool off over night. In earlier times, there were stocks & pillory alongside.

There's the Handle House - its walls half brick/half air. It was built this way to allow airflow, the better to dry woven cloth. This was needed to raise the 'teasels' (those fluffy bits) of newly-woven cloth, so they chould be sheared off, finishing the bolts.

In the medieval period, Trowbridge was one of many Mendip towns that thrived on weaving cloth. However, unlike many of its neighbours, Trowbridge didn't have much water power (underwhelming Biss). The coming of steam power brought great changes to the town's fabric industry - changes that weren't always welcome. Trowbridge saw Luddit riots (against the loss of employment from mechanisation), in 1785, 1792, and several times between 1810 and 1813. Such was the fear that these were harbingers of revolutionary fervour imported from France (they weren't), that a military barracks was established in the town.

Pumpkin's Tower (see photos) is another worthy building - a medieval-style round tower, emerging from the tiled roof of a building erected in 2000 AD. Think of it like a middle finger, raised to the local Planning Department, who foiled several wacky plans by one Thomas Rothschild, a local businessman. The tower is named after Mr. Rothschild's daughter.
For more on Thomas Rothschild, see These Islands

The shopping centres are still soul-less and interchangeable with their like, in town after town.

c.1990

Trowbridge is the County town of Wiltshire. Quite why this is so, I'm not sure. It's only a few miles inside the border with Somerset - a long way from being central to the county it serves. The official explanation is that Trowbridge had good railway connections with Swindon, Devizes and Salisbury, and was therefore regarded as the natural site. I have my doubts; I think the other towns simply took pity on Trowbridge.

This is not a jewel of a town.

Surrounded as it is by paragons of West Country picturesqueness like Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon (only about five miles away), Trowbridge has little to recommend the sentimental tourist. There are some substantial, well-appointed mansions on the Hilperton Road (on the way into town from Devizes), but the town centre (if you can find it) has none of the charm of other towns. You do get a tasty whiff of improving hops from the Usher's brewery, but the product would probably be best sampled in some quaint inn in the neighbouring countryside.

Sadly, Ushers has been closed, after some boardroom shenanigans. (April 2000)
The entire brewing equipment was lifted out of Trowbridge and whisked off to North Korea, where it now operates as the Taedonggang brewery, located just outside Pyongyang.

Even the day-to-day shopping streets seem abandoned and decaying, as the Trowbridge shopping experience has withdrawn indoors. In the Shires Shopping Centre and Castle Place, you could just as easily be in Peterborough or Kettering, with the same old stores appearing in their same old livery.

Castle Place does have a Market Hall, in which the traditional knick-knacks and bits and bobs of an open market can be bought - but it's not the same.

To be fair, the Shires does contain Trowbridge Museum - a nice little local establishment, with plenty of good, visual representations of the woollen trade.

But, thanks to its role as a bastion of local democracy, it has a wide range of municipal offices - mostly grouped in an untidy clump on the South side of town.

This concentration of administrative industry (not just the County Council, but West Wiltshire District Council, the town council and several other authorities as well) owes nothing to any long history of civic management; Trowbridge didn't have any kind of local government until 1799. It didn't have parliamentary representation until the nineteenth century (even the Great Reform Act of 1832 didn't grant it an MP).

The oldest part of the County Hall complex was completed in 1940 (and spent most of World War II camouflaged under green netting).

Andy Milroy leaps to defend Trowbridge. He points to a Wiltshire Times page, which finds more to admire about the town. Also, there's the Heart of Wessex railway page, which has more to say.
My impressions aren't the final word on the subject.
Alfred the GreatAlfred the Great The Dowry The Dowry
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