A History of Trowbridge

By Tim Lambert

Early Trowbridge

At the time of the Domesday Book (1086), Trowbridge was a typical settlement with a population of about 120. However, during the 12th century, Trowbridge became a focal point for the surrounding villages. In 1200 the Lord of the Manor was granted the right to hold markets in Trowbridge and it grew into a small town.

As well as weekly markets Trowbridge had an annual fair. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year. A Trowbridge fair attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area.

By the early 12th century a castle was erected at Trowbridge. It was first recorded in 1139 when it was besieged during a civil war.

At first, Trowbridge was a farming settlement but by the 14th century, it was a centre of the wool industry. In 1540 a man named Leland said that Trowbridge ‘flourished by drapery.’

There was also a leather tanning industry in Trowbridge. To us, Trowbridge would seem tiny. In 1500 it probably had a population of no more than 1,000. However, settlements were very small in those days.

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, Trowbridge grew much larger. By the mid-18th century, Trowbridge probably had a population of about 3,000. It was a prosperous town due to the wool industry. Meanwhile, in 1700 an Act of Parliament set up a body of men called Commissioners with powers to pave, clean, and light the streets of Trowbridge.

Blind House was built in 1757 to hold prisoners. Polebarn House was built in 1789. Rodney House followed in 1790.

Modern Trowbridge

At the time of the first census in 1801, Trowbridge had a population of 5,799. By the standards of the time, it was a fair-sized town. By 1831 the population had grown to almost 11,000. However, the population then stagnated for a hundred years. In 1951 the population of Trowbridge was still less than 14,000.

During the 19th century, the wool industry continued to dominate Trowbridge. (Although machinery was now powered by steam engines rather than being worked by hand). However, the cloth industry began to decline at the end of the century. There was also a brewing industry in Trowbridge during the 19th century.

Abraham Bowyer opened a butcher’s shop in Trowbridge in 1805. Later the town became known for manufacturing sausages and pork pies.

Sir Isaac Pitman, who invented Pitman shorthand was born in Nash Yard in Trowbridge in 1813.

George Crabbe, the poet, was a rector of Trowbridge from 1814 to 1832.

In the 19th century amenities in Trowbridge improved. The railway reached Trowbridge in 1848 and Market House was built in 1861. The first hospital in Trowbridge opened in 1870.

Trowbridge gained a gas supply (for lighting) in 1824. From 1874 Trowbridge had a piped water supply. The People’s Park opened in 1884.

In the 20th century, the old wool industry in Trowbridge declined. It ended altogether in 1982. In the early 20th century industries in Trowbridge included a call centre, bedding, and light engineering.

County Hall was built in 1940.

In the late 20th century Trowbridge grew rapidly. By 1981 its population reached 23,000.

Castle Place shopping centre was built in 1974. Trowbridge Museum opened in 1990. The Shires shopping centre also opened in 1990. But brewing ended in Trowbridge in 2000. Making sausages in Trowbridge ended in 2007.

In 2009 Trowbridge was twinned with the city of Oujda in Morocco. In 2011 a new civic centre opened in Trowbridge.

In 2023 the population of Trowbridge was 37,000.