"MELKSHAM, a parish, post and market town, in the hundred of Melksham, county Wilts, 5 miles S.E. of Corsham, 6 N.E. of Bradford, and 28 N.W. of Salisbury. It is a station on the Wilts, Somerset, and Weymouth railway. It is situated on the river Avon, which is crossed by a bridge of four arches, and on the E. is the Wilts and Berks canal, which is in confluence with the Kennet and Avon canal, about 1½ mile S. The parish, which is of large extent, contains the tythings of Melksham Town, Shaw, Beanacre, Blackmore, Cannonhold, Seend, and Woodrow.


Melksham was formerly held by King Harold, and was a place of some importance in the reign of King John, but has since decayed. The land is chiefly-pasture and meadow, with a small proportion of arable and waste. The soil is clay, alternated with gravel. Two mineral springs, one saline, and the other chalybeate, were discovered in the last century; and in 1816 a new saline spa was obtained at a depth of 351½ feet. Subsequently a bath and pump room was erected, with a crescent and promenade, at considerable expense, with the expectation of great advantages to Melksham; but in consequence of the lack of patronage, it proved a failure.


The town, which chiefly consists of one long street, well paved and lighted with gas, contains many good houses, but of irregular formation. It is a petty sessions and polling town for North Wilts. The sessions are held by the justices of peace for Melksham division, at the townhall, on the last Tuesday in every month, and every fourth week a county court, for the recovery of small debts. The townhall and the cheese market were erected by a company in 1847, at an outlay of £3,350. They are of white freestones and improve the appearance of the town. There are an extensive corn-mill, manufactories of broad cloth, hair cloth; sacking, &c. The appropriate tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £1,278, and the vicarial for £1,214.


The living is a vicarage* with the curacies of Seend and Earl Stoke annexed, in the diocese of Sarum, value £1,216, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, is a large cruciform structure with an embattled tower crowned with pinnacles. The church has two side chapels, and tombs of the Awdreys, Seends, &c. It was thoroughly restored and enlarged in 1846, at an expense of £2,000. There is also a district church at Shaw and Whitley, the living of which is a perpetual curacy, value £100. The parochial charities produce about £28 per annum. There are National, British, and infant schools.


The Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Society of Friends, have each a place of worship. The union of Melksham comprises six parishes, and the poorhouse, a stone building, is situated at Semmington, about 2 miles distant from the town. Walter Long, Esq., M.P., is lord of the manor. Market day is Monday, for butter, &c., the first Monday in the month for cheese, and every other Monday for cattle, horses, &c. An annual cattle fair is held in the market-place on the 27th July."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]

Melksham is a market town 28 miles NW of Salisbury, 9 miles East of Bath (Somerset). Grid Ref ST903637. Postcode SN12 6ZZ. Population 5,866 in 1831, 6,739 in 1951.



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Church Records


Description & Travel

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    Poor Houses, Poor Law

    • Alan Longbottom has transcribed from the 1st Annual Report of the Local Government Board 1871-72, pages 103 to 224, detailed information regarding Reports upon the administration of Out-door Relief in 70 Unions in the South of England. Here are the details for the Melksham Union.

      Local Government Board 1st Report 1871-72

      Appendix pages 210-211

      Melksham Part 1

      I - There is no regular revision of the relief lists by the Guardians. The lists are revised every six months by the clerk and the relieving officers, and the clerk reports the state of the relief lists to the Guardians.

      II - The longest period for which relief is granted is till further orders  i.e. the relief goes on till the lists are revised by the clerk and relieving officers.

      III - Sick cases are given relief during sickness and when the medical relief ceases the general relief ceases also.

      Widows with children are given relief for periods varying from a fortnight to a month or six weeks.

      Old and Infirm cases are given relief until further orders..

      IV - The personal attendance of the applicant is required on every application, unless prevented by sickness, or some other good cause.

      V - No steps are taken with regard to the attendance at school of out-door pauper children.

      VI - Taking one case with another, between 30 and 40 are disposed of in an hour.

      VII - The Guardians personally question the applicants, and in the majority of cases their circumstances are personally known to some members of the Board.

      VIIa - The Chairman enters the relief in the Application and Report Book, and the clerk in the Relief Order Book.

      IX - About one-eighth of the total amount of relief is given in kind.

      X - The Workhouse is offered to all able-bodied cases, to persons of drunken or incorrigibly idle habits, and to those who make dishonest or suspicious statements to the Guardians or their officers.

      XI - Deserted wives are given out-relief unless collusion is suspected. The husband is prosecuted; no reward is offered for his apprehension.

      XII - Money from benefit clubs is taken into account at half its value in determining the amount of relief. Pensions rarely occur, but would be treated in the same way.

      XIII - Relief is given in aid of earnings, but not to nay who are in regular and constant employment.

      XIV - Relations, legally liable, are compelled to contribute, and legal proceedings are frequently taken for this purpose.

      XV - The Prohibitory Order has of late years been strictly observed.

      XVI - The medical officers do not attend the meetings of the Guardians unless specially requested to do so.

      XVII - The Guardians have no system of communication with persons administering charitable relief.

      Scale of Relief -

      Widows with children receive 1 shilling and a loaf per child, and if unable to work, 1 shilling and a loaf for themselves.

      Old man or woman - from 2 shillings and 6 pence to 3 shillings and 6 pence - Old couple 5 shillings.


      Part II

      1 - There are two relief districts and two relieving officers - For numbers in receipt of relief in each district see statement annexed.

      2 - There are no assistant relieving officers.

      3 - There is no pay clerk.

      4 - The relieving officers do all the visiting : they do not keep a diary.

      5 - Sick cases are visited sometimes once a week; never less than once a month.

      Widows with children are, in the Melksham district, visited twice a quarter, in the Trowbridge district they are seldom visited less than once a quarter.

      Old and Infirm cases are, in the Melksham district, visited never less than once a quarter; in the Trowbridge district never less than once in four months.

      6 - When the relieving officer gives an order for the workhouse it is generally to a single man who has no home. If the applicant has a home in the district he would visit it before giving the order, except in cases previously known to him. He reports the case to the Board at their next meeting.

      7 - When the relieving officer gives temporary provisional relief, he visits first, except in cases well known to him. And in cases in which the relief is given on the recommendation of the medical officer. Such relief is always in kind, and is reported to the Guardians at their next meeting.

      8 - The Guardians occasionally direct the relieving officer to relieve at discretion They require a report from him at each ensuing meeting.

      9 - The relieving officers visit at uncertain times and unexpectedly.

      10-11 - (Mode of Payment) At Trowbridge the relieving officer pays in a public room used for vestry meetings, for the use of which the Guardians pat £13 per annum, and at a school-room at another place. At Melksham the relieving officer pays at the Town Hall, for the use of which the Guardians pay £13 per annum, and at a vestry room at Seend, and at Leamington, either in the workhouse, or at the home of one of the paupers.

      No persons have to come more than two miles for their relief in either district. When the pauper is unable to come in person the relief is sometimes sent by a child (but as a rule this is discouraged) or by a neighbour. The relieving officer inquires from time to time whether the relief has been duly received, and would not send it by any person not previously known to him.

      The relieving officer believed there were a few cases in which the neighbour received a penny for taking it.

      Bread (not baked by the Guardians) is taken in the contractor's cart to each relief station. Weights and scales are kept at each station.

      All other relief in kind is given by tickets on tradesmen.

      17 - There is no dispensary for out-door poor in the Union.

      18 - The relieving officers are at home up to 10 a.m., and have fixed hours at the relief station.

      The relieving officer does not withhold anything recommended by the medical officer, but if he finds that the person could procure it himself he reports the case at the next meeting of the Guardians.


      Melksham Union

      Trowbridge District - Area in acres 3,423 - Population of district 11,367.

      Maximum number of cases relieved in week ended 5th February 557 cases - persons 1,084.

      Minimum number of cases relieved in week ended 4th June 522 cases - persons 922.

      James Oram - Relieving Officer


      Relief District No 2

      Area of district 12,810 acres - Population of district 5,703.

      Maximum number of cases in receipt of relief in any one week 224 - persons 395.

      Minimum number of cases in receipt of relief in any one week 190 - persons 314.

      The above return refers to persons receiving out-relief only, between the 19th November 1869 and 19th November 1870, Exclusive of vagrants.


      Singer Stokes - Relieving officer.




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