Britain at its best: discover why gorgeous Bradford on Avon is so much more than a miniature replica of Bath
- Kate Wickers of the Daily Mail toured Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire with a local historian
- For six centuries the city was known for its cloth industry and the large mills of the 18th century
- The Lock Up is a medieval chapel that served as an overnight cool off station for the town’s drinkers
Made of bath stone? ‘ I ask Ivor Slocombe, a local historian who gives me a tour of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire.
We look at the monumental building of what emerged as the town hall in 1854, designed by Thomas Fuller, who mixed Gothic, Tudoric and Jacobean architectural elements and crowned it with an onion dome. It is now the Roman Catholic Church of St. Thomas More.
“Not just bathroom; Bradford Stein too, ”he replies. “There were several limestone quarries nearby.”
A cup of good humor: The impressive Bridge Tea Rooms from the 16th century in Bradford on Avon
Bradford on Avon is often referred to as a “miniature bathroom,” but this is a pesky analogy to locals as the city is clearly much more than a replica of a bijoux.
For six centuries it was for its cloth industry and the great mills of the 18th We pass The Shambles – a crooked, narrow street lined with half-timbered houses – which takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word scamel, a bank used by merchants, to display products.
Nearby is the nine-arched Town Bridge, on which the Saxons drove their carts over a “wide ford” (the River Avon), from which the city takes its name.
In the middle is the Lock Up – a medieval chapel that later served as a cooling off point for the city’s drunkards and troublemakers. “We have a saying here that if you’re under the fish and over the water you’re in jail,” says Ivor, referring to the gudgeon (a freshwater fish) found on The Lock Up’s weather vane.
The width of the bridge was doubled in 1767 because people kept falling into the river. The two rib and pointed arches of the original can be seen on the east side.
When the cloth trade declined in the late 19th century, Victorian entrepreneur Stephen Moulton bought up redundant factories and began producing rubber goods.
The picture shows the Town Bridge, on which Saxons drove their carts over a “wide ford” (the River Avon), from which the city takes its name
The gardens of Moulton Hall, a grand Jacobean house dating back to 1600, are bordered by a bike path laid out by Moulton’s grandson Alex Moulton in the 1960s to test out Moulton bicycles, which are still made in the city today.
Described by English Heritage as the most impressive in Britain, the 14th century Tithe Barn was used by wealthy landowners to collect tithe (taxes) paid on cattle and produce.
It is 168 feet long and 33 feet wide with a huge wooden roof made of A-shaped trusses that support roof tiles that weigh more than 100 tons. The patterns of interlocking circles found in the brickwork near the barn’s huge wooden doors are designed to ward off witches. Beyond that, pleasure boats sweep at a leisurely pace down the Kennet and Avon Canal, part of an 87 mile long waterway that connects the River Kennet at Reading with the River Avon at Bath.
“Bradford on Avon is often referred to as a ‘miniature bathroom’, but it’s an annoying analogy to locals,” writes Kate Wickers of the Daily Mail
I crunch over the Packhorse Bridge and climb through rows of weaver huts to the pretty St. Mary Tory (as in Tor, hilly summit). From here the whole city stretches in front of you and beyond to the Marlborough Downs and Mendip Hills. Nearby is St. Mary’s Chapel, where pilgrims take a breather en route to Glastonbury.
Ask Ivor what the main attraction of Bradford on Avon is and he will take you to the Church of St. Laurence, one of the most complete Saxon buildings in existence. It has a simple beauty – tall and narrow, with slender archways.
On the riverside near Lamb Yard, once the industrial heart of the city, you’ll find the Bradford Riviera. I order a G&T at Pablo’s Bistro and watch the late afternoon sun turn the Bradford stone walls from a warm buttery yellow to gleaming gold. But only one thing, because I don’t want to end up in lock up.