Town Hall and Cheese Market - Melksham
Student volunteer Anna takes a look at Melksham's Cheese Market...
Built in 1847, the Melksham Town Hall has been the municipal building in the Market Place, initially acting as the cheese market and now home to Melksham Town Council. It was built in the Italiante style, similar to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, when the height of architectural styles were European and Gothic.
There were previous remains of a manor house established by Henry Brouncker in the mid-1500s, where the Market Place developed. His son became an MP for Westbury in 1572, Devizes between 1584 and 1589 and Dorchester in 1601. However, the house itself was demolished in 1864 after the Market Place continued to expand.
The Melksham Market Company proposed a new location, the orchard of the old manor house, for the cheese market in 1846, employing D. Jones, from Bradford-on-Avon, as the architect. Costing £3,350 (estimated at £369,790.83 today), the Town Hall was built of ashlar stone, designed in a symmetrical front to allow for a grand entrance. Critics argued that the windows on the first floor, being rounded at the top, gave way for too much light entering the building. However, in 1898 the Melksham Market Company was liquidated, resulting in both the cheese market and cheese store to be acquired by Charles Awdry. In spite of criticism of the architecture, many people, particularly farmers, were in favour of the cheese market - an account from the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette on 24 December 1846 says, ‘A numerous and highly influential meeting of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Melksham, was held at the King’s Arms Inn, on Monday last, for the purpose of considering the propriety of establishing a pitched market for cheese in connection with the present cattle market in that town’. The cattle market of Melksham was in decline after the expansion of the market in Chippenham, so farmers saw an advantage of selling cheese and the cattle themselves.
The new Market Hall opened on 7 September 1847, with 150 tonnes of cheese being stored and sold, with a rota continuing on the first Tuesday of every month, and the selling of cattle moved from the first Monday to Tuesday, in order to merge with the cheese market. This market continued until 1860, when the Melksham Volunteer Rifle Corps enlisted 40 members, quickly increasing to 60, and therefore needed a Drill Hall. The market was halted for several years, with attempts to revive it failing after local farms sold cattle and cheese privately.
In 1911 several suffragettes, including Annie Kenney and Mildred Mansel, gave a speech in support for the movement there. The year of the outbreak of the First World War, the building became government ownership, providing offices for the Melksham Urban District Council, resulting in the market being lost. It was clear after the Second World War that major renovations were needed to the Assembly Hall, after it had been used for concerts, shows, and a Youth centre. They began in August 1954, where the Wiltshire Times makes clear the new room, ‘A fine job has been made of the new flooring in the Assembly Hall, which has now re-opened. The old concrete surround to the dance floor has been replaced with a completely new floor of beechwood blocks. It is interesting to hear that the area of the surround is greater than that of the original floor of oak blocks in the centre of the hall…Appreciative comments have been made about the new amplification system for music, and the new catering arrangements by a Trowbridge firm’. These renovations continued to be held after Gaiger in 1978 recommended that they were needed, at a cost of £169,876.81. However, unlike previously, they only lasted two years, with a Grand Ball on 25 January 1980 opening the new hall.
Melksham Town Hall continues to be used today by the Melksham Council as offices and their conference centre, but the Cheese Market has been long lost to history.
Article by student volunteer Anna Hallett.