The Roads of Malmesbury

Foss Way MapIt is known that Stone and Iron age man were active in this area for many of their implements have been found. The Thames had settlements along its banks; droving roads like the Ridgeway wound over the downland. What is not known where the trails around Malmesbury were. Malmesbury was a hill fort with a gateway on Holloway Hill so presumably a track led away from there – but to where?

The Fosse, or Foss Way, is the first road we know of locally and it still exists today. Built around 47AD soon after the Roman Conquest it runs straight between Cirencester Corinium) and Bath (Aqua Sulis). It crosses the Avon at White Walls near Easton Grey. The whole road ran from Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) and when built was the frontier with the still unconquered west of England and Wales. It probably included a defensive ditch – hence the name.

Other Roman roads are known in the area including one running just south of Malmesbury towards Swindon, which presumably linked with the tile factory in Brinkworth and the extensive pottery works at Toothill.

The recently discovered Roman “villa” on the way to Charlton has a track leading from it directly towards Malmesbury.

The Kingsway is recorded around 1100AD as part of the road to Chippenham. It may have existed earlier in Saxon times as a circular route connecting the king’s lands at Foxley, Norton, Hullavington and Corston with Malmesbury.

In the late seventeenth century one of the important roads ran between Bristol and Oxford. Malmesbury lay on that road and this explains why the town was strategically important in the Civil War. Six times the town changed hands when fortune favoured either the king or parliament.

Oxford to Bristol RouteThe road ran south of the present Bristol road through Foxley and still exists as country lanes. Quite where it ran in Malmesbury is unclear, whether north or south of the Abbey but it left to cross the Ingleburn (Tetbury Avon) on a stone bridge to the north east of the town to go through Milbourne, Garsdon and Braydon.

In the second part of the eighteenth century many of the old tracks, often quite wide to accommodate flocks of sheep and cattle were surfaced. Funds to do this were raised by turnpiking the road. Gates were erected and tolls charged. These gates often had keepers cottages attached and many examples still exist, such as the one half a mile south of town on the Chippenham road or at Charlton. The road to Cirencester via Tetbury was turnpiked in 1756. A direct road was later constructed through Hankerton and was turnpiked in 1778. The road to Swindon was turnpiked as late as 1809.

Tolls were removed in the 1870s and the roads were free to all.

In 1973 the Malmesbury bypass was built after a major campaign led by Max Woosnam and the Civic Trust.