Description of Frome and vicinity from Pigot’s Directory, 1844






FROME, or FROME SELWOOD, is a considerable market town and parliamentary borough [1], in the parish and hundred of its name - 108 miles w.s.w from London, 13 s.s.e. from Bath, and 9 s. from Bradford. Its name is derived from the river Frome, which, flowing through the lower part of the town, passes a stone bridge of five arches; its additional appellation, ‘Selwood,’ is obtained from the ancient forest of that name, the only remains of which are some woodlands, surrounding a church (said to have been erected in 1712,) about two miles from the town [2]. The forest was formerly the haunt of a lawless banditti, whose depredations were a terror to the inhabitants of the surrounding country; it also was the concealment of a gang of coiners, whose flagitious ingenuity inflicted much injury: large tracts of wood, however, having been cleared off, a number of small farms established, and the church completed, the lawless residents were speedily dispossessed and dispersed. The situation of Frome is pleasant, from the agreeable irregularity of the ground on which it is disposed. The town consists of a number of streets, the greater portion inconveniently narrow – the houses constructed of small rough stones, and roofed with stone tiles dug on the spot; but a great improvement in its appearance effected, by the formation of a handsome street, which constitutes the leading thorough fare, and likewise by the erection of a modern market-house [3]. Though a place of considerable antiquity, and in former times a royal demesne, Frome never possessed a charter of incorporation [4]. The chief municipal officer is a bailiff, who is also bailiff of the hundred; the other civil officers are constables and tything-men, appointed at the courts leet of the Marquess of Bath and the Earl of Cork and Orrery, lords of the several manors. The reform bill conferred upon Frome the privilege of returning a representative to parliament. The present member is Thomas SHEPPARD, Esq. of Hampstead heath, near London. The manufactures of this town, for which it has long been famed, are broad-cloths and kerseymeres; when these branches flourished, they have been known to afford employment to not fewer than five thousand persons, including children [5]. Wool-cards, also, have been manufactured here in large quantities; and edge-tools and agricultural implements are made in extensive iron-foundries in the neighbourhood. There are two principal inns – they are both in the Market place – the ‘Crown’ and the ‘George;’ the latter is a good posting- house, and a commercial one of high repute.


The parochial church, dedicated to Saint Peter, is a large and handsome venerable building, comprising a nave, chancel, north and south aisles, four chapels, and a vestry room: the tower is embattled, and surmounted by an octagonal spire, together one hundred and twenty feet high [6]. This fine church has been greatly beautified with a new freestone front, and from the spacious opening before it, and the large gothic arches that separate it from the road, presents a very commanding and impressive aspect. The benefice is in the presentation of the Marquess of Bath. The other churches are Christ church, on the south side of the town; and Trinity church, situated in what is denominated the ‘Woodlands,’ at the extremity of the parish [7]. There are several dissenting chapels; those for the Baptists, Independents and Methodists are large and handsome edifices; there is also a neat meeting house for the Society of Friends. The charities of this town are numerous; the benefits of education, especially to the children of the poor, are here bestowed with unsparing benevolence. Amongst the scholastic establishments is a free school, founded by Edward VI; a charity school for thirty-seven boys, who are clothed, educated and afterwards apprenticed; and a national school, built by subscriptions, which, for size and conveniences, is inferior to few in the kingdom. There is an almshouse, which affords support to some aged women, and at Keyford, at the southern extremity of the town, is an asylum, one part of which is assigned to twenty old men past labour, and the other for forty poor girls of the parish, who are clothed and maintained until fit to put out to service. The building for the purposes of this charity is a beautiful structure, and was erected by the trustees of Mr. Richard STEVENS, a native of the town, who bequeathed a very considerable sum for its support. The seats and elegant mansions in the immediate neighbourhood, and within a few miles of Frome, are numerous, and of singular beauty. A large market is held here on Wednesday s, for pigs, corn &c. and another on Saturdays, for the supply of every other article for domestic use; there is also a market for cattle and cheese on the last Wednesday monthly. An agricultural show is held annually, about a fortnight before Christmas. The fairs are February 24th and November 25th, for cattle, cheese, toys, &c. The parish of Frome Selwood contained, in 1831, 12,240 inhabitants; by the last census (1841), the number was reduced to 11,500 [8].


About two miles and a half north from Frome, in the same hundred, is BECKINGTON, a respectable village of considerable thoroughfare, situated on the road to Bath; and for the accommodation of travellers there is a comfortable commercial inn, the ‘Woolpack.’ The parish church of St. Gregory was founded by John SELWOOD, an abbot of Glastonbury: the living is a rectory in the presentation of Henry SHEPPARD, Esq., the lord of the manor; the present rector is the Rev. S. L. SAINSBURY. The population of this parish, in 1831, was 1,340, and at the late census (1841,) 1,190 [9].


Two miles and a half N.N.W. from Frome, in the hundred of Mells and Leigh, is MELLS village; and about the like distance s.w. from Frome is the village of NUNNEY. In both these places are large iron works (belonging to the Messrs. FUSSELLs’), for the manufacture of spades, and other implements used in husbandry &c. Population of Mells, 1,260; of Nunney, 1,185.


ROAD is a village and parish in the same hundred as Frome, four miles N.N.E. from that town, on the road to Bradford. The places of worship are the parish church, and Baptist and Wesleyan chapels. A fair for cattle and cheese is held here on the 19th August. Population of the parish, 858.



(1)   Frome was made a parliamentary borough after the Reform Act of 1831.

(2)   St Katherine’s, East Woodlands, was indeed built in 1712.

(3)   This refers to the cutting of Bath Street in 1808 and the improvements to access from the north across the Town Bridge. At the time of writing, the Market Place was still obstructed and divided into two sections by projecting buildings.

(4)   This was blocked by the Marquesses of Bath, since the town would have become more independent of their control.

(5)   By the time of writing the traditional heavyweight cloths manufactured by the conservative clothiers of Frome were increasingly unable to compete with products of Yorkshire manufacturers, who had also been able to impose on an immigrant workforce working conditions which had been successfully opposed by artisans in Somerset. See Cobbett’s scathing comments on Frome manufacturers in his Rural Ride of 1826.

(6)   In 1851 Vicar Bennett began his long incumbency. He rededicated the parish church to John the Baptist, its original patron, supervised the rebuilding work necessary from long neglect and brought in the High Church rituals of the contemporary Oxford Movement. See Michael McGarvie’s account of the history of St John’s, Light in Selwood.

(7)   Christ Church is in the street which has come to be named after it, but which was formerly referred to as ‘behind Town’ (and apparently still is locally!)

(8)   The figures for 1851 are, by my calculations: St Peter’s, 4,744 (including out-borough); Christ Church, 3,139 (do.); Holy Trinity, 3,403 (do.), giving a total of 11,286. However, Peter Belham in his Making of Frome says that the population varied by only a few hundred from the 1831 figure up to 1971.

(9)   The 1851 figure for Beckington is 1,173; for Mells, 1,175; Nunney, 1,114; and Road 844.