Marlborough, Wiltshire

Marlborough, Wiltshire

Coordinates: 51°25′01″N 1°43′01″W / 51.417°N 1.717°W / 51.417; -1.717

High Street, Marlborough from St Peter's church roof - - 460662.jpg
High Street
Marlborough is located in Wiltshire

 Marlborough shown within Wiltshire
Population 8,009 (2001 census)[1]
OS grid reference SU1869
Parish Marlborough
Unitary authority Wiltshire
Ceremonial county Wiltshire
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Marlborough
Postcode district SN8
Dialling code 01672
Police Wiltshire
Fire Wiltshire
Ambulance Great Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament Devizes
Website Marlborough Town Council
List of places: UK • England • Wiltshire

Marlborough (English pronunciation: /ˈmɔːlbrə/ ( listen) mawl-brə[2]) is a market town and civil parish in the English county of Wiltshire on the Old Bath Road, the old main road from London to Bath. It is reputed to have one of the widest high streets in Britain, second only to Stockton-on-Tees. The town is on the river Kennet.



The earliest sign of human habitation is a 62 feet (19 m) high prehistoric tumulus in the grounds of Marlborough College. Recent radiocarbon dating has found it to date from about 2400 BC.[3] It is of similar age to the larger Silbury Hill about 5 miles (8.0 km) west of the town. Legend has it that the Mound is the burial site of Merlin[4] and that the name of the town, Marlborough comes from Merlin's Barrow. On John Speed's map of Wiltshire (1611), the town's name is recorded as Marlinges boroe. The town's motto is Ubi nunc sapientis ossa Merlini - Where now are the bones of wise Merlin.[5]

Further evidence of human occupation comes from the discovery of the Marlborough Bucket an Iron Age burial bucket, with decorations of human heads and animals on sheet bronze, on display at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.

Roman remains and coins have been found two miles to the east of Marlborough, at Mildenhall (Cunetio). A later Saxon settlement grew up around The Green and two early river crossings were made at Isbury Lane and Stonebridge Lane.

In 1067 William the Conqueror assumed control of the Marlborough area and set about building a wooden motte and bailey castle, sited on the prehistoric mound. This was completed in around 1100. Stone was used to strengthen the castle in around 1175. The first written record of Marlborough dates from the Domesday Book in 1087. William also established a mint in Marlborough, which coined the William I and the early William II silver pennies. The coins display the name of the town as Maerlebi or Maerleber.

He also established the neighbouring Savernake Forest as a favourite Royal hunting ground[6] and Marlborough Castle became a Royal residence. Henry I observed Easter here in 1110. Henry II stayed at Marlborough Castle in talks with the King of Scotland. His son, Richard I (Coeur de Lion) gave the castle to his brother John, in 1186. King John was married here and spent time in Marlborough. He even established a Treasury.

Marlborough Market

In 1204 King John granted Charter to the Borough which permitted an annual eight-day fair, commencing on 14 August, the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (15 August), in which "all might enjoy the liberties and quittances customary in the fair at Winchester". He also established that weekly markets may be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These continue to this day.[7]

Later Henry III was also married here.[8] Henry III held Parliament here, in 1267, when the Statute of Marlborough was passed (this gave rights and privileges to small land owners and limited the right of the King to take possession of land). This seven-hundred-year-old law states that no-one shall seize his neighbour's goods for alleged wrong without permission of the Court. Apart from Charters, it is the oldest statute in English law which has not yet been repealed.

St Mary's parish church

The castle fell into disrepair by the end of the 14th century but remained Crown property. Edward VI then passed it to the Seymour family, his mother's relatives. In 1498 Thomas Wolsey was ordained priest in (the now redundant) St Peter's church. He later rose to become a cardinal and Lord Chancellor.

In 1642 Marlborough's peace was shattered by the English Civil War. The Seymours held the Castle for the King but the Town was for Parliament. With his headquarters in nearby Oxford, King Charles had to deal with Marlborough. "A Town the most notoriously disaffected of all that Country, otherwise, saving the obstinacy and malice of the inhabitants, in the situation of it very unfit for a garrison... this place the King saw would prove quickly an ill neighbour to him, not only as it was in the heart of a rich County, and so would straighten him, and even infest his quarters."

The King sent Lord Digby to take the town who left Oxford, the head of four hundred horses, 24 November 1642. When he arrived, he chose to parley first, thus giving the inhabitants a chance to prepare defences and to recruit troops. They mustered about seven hundred poorly-armed men. At this point, the town issued a reply to Digby: "The King's Majesty, providing he were attended in Royal and not in war like wise, should be as welcome to that town as ever was Prince to People; but as to delivering up the good Town of Marlborough to such a traitor as Lord Digby ... they would sooner die". After some early skirmishes, Royalist troops infiltrated the town down its small alleyways. The town was captured and looted and many buildings were set ablaze. One hundred and twenty prisoners were marched in chains to Oxford. The town was later abandoned by the King and took no further part in the war.

On 28 April 1653 the Great Fire of Marlborough burnt two hundred and fifty houses to the ground.[9] Fire swept through the Town again in 1679 and again in 1690. This time, an Act of Parliament was passed "to prohibit the covering of houses and other buildings with thatch in the Town of Marlborough".[10] During the rebuilding of the town after the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653 which destroyed almost the entire town, the high street became what is often claimed to be the widest in England though the actual widest is in Stockton-on-Tees. This wide street allows ample space for the local market.

In 1804 the Marlborough White Horse was cut by boys from Mr Greasley's Academy in the High Street.

In 2004 Marlborough celebrated 800 years of its Town Charter, among the celebrations was a street play by the Marlborough Players entitled "Wheels of Time" and a visit from HRH Prince Charles.

Town events

Every summer the town holds a jazz festival with local pubs, clubs, hotels and various other venues playing host to live jazz music over the course of a weekend. Every October the high street is closed for the two Saturdays either side of 11 October for the Marlborough Mop Fair. This was originally a hiring fair for agricultural workers seeking employment but now has become a funfair. The right of the town to close the road to hold the fair is set down in the 1204 Charter.

Notable buildings

High Street

On the north side of the high street is the Merchant's House, which is currently under restoration but part of which is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays in summer. The house was built following the Great Fire of 1653. It was the property of a silk merchant and, rarely for a house of this type in a town centre, still retains its original room pattern. Notable are the wall paintings recently uncovered, which are undergoing conservation. One room painted in a striped pattern, copying silk hangings, is perhaps unique in Great Britain.


The local authority is Wiltshire Council, which, after the 2009 local elections, is Conservative controlled. Marlborough lies within the Devizes constituency.


Marlborough College boarding school is on the west side of the town.

The town's local authority secondary school, St John's School and Community College, holds specialist Technology College and Language College status. It is considered an above average school and sixth form college by OFSTED. It was formed when the former Marlborough Grammar School and Secondary modern school were amalgamated.


Marlborough is home to Marlborough Rugby Club, who completed their most successful season in recent history in the 2009/10 South West Division Dorset & Wilts 1 North League. Marlborough won 22 games from 22 to secure promotion to the Southern Counties South league in the 2010-11 season. The Club also has a 2nd XV senior team who are also pushing for promotion as well as over 220 juniors from U6 to U15. Marlborough Town F.C. play their home games at Elcot Lane, to the east of the town, and are current members of the Wiltshire League.


Church of England

St Peter's former parish church

The town is at the heart of the Church of England Marlborough Deanery in the Diocese of Salisbury in the Province of Canterbury. The Rural Dean, has responsibility for the Benefices of Marlborough, Ridgeway, Upper Kennet and Whitton which in total comprise 16 parishes. Of the town's two Church of England parish churches, St Peter's has been made redundant and converted into an Arts Centre. St Mary's remains in use for worship.

The late renowned jockey Sir Gordon Richards is buried in the new cemetery on Marlborough Common,the second of two such cemeteries to be opened after the two churchyards stopped being used for burials.


Although once served by two railway lines (the Great Western Railway and the Midland and South Western Junction Railway) the town no longer has any direct rail access. However, the nearest railheads, by connecting bus are Bedwyn railway station, Pewsey railway station and Swindon railway station. There are plans to reintroduce a railway connection to the main line at Savernake, but these plans face serious opposition locally.

Notable people

  • Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save The Children Fund, taught at St. Peter's Junior School which was then located at the western end of the High Street (now the location of the Town Library). It is said that Jebb was inspired to action by the rural poverty she saw amongst her pupils.
  • Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, grew up in the town. Golding lived on a house in the Green and was educated at the former Marlborough Grammar School, where his father was a science master.

Twin towns

Marlborough is twinned with:


Further reading

  • Aston, Michael; Bond, James (1976). The Landscape of Towns. Archaeology in the Field Series. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. p. 60. ISBN 0 460 04194 0. 
  • Crowley, D.A. (ed.); Baggs, A.P.; Freeman, Jane; Stevenson, Janet H. (1983). A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 12: Ramsbury and Selkey hundreds; the Borough of Marlborough. Victoria County History. pp. 199–229. 
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget (revision) (1975) [1963]. Wiltshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 333–341. ISBN 0 14 0710.26 4. 

External links

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