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Marlborough High Street North End.jpg
Location: 51°25’0"N, 1°43’0"W
Population: 8,009  (2001)
Post town: Marlborough
Postcode: SN8
Dialling code: 01672
Local Government
Council: Wiltshire Council

Marlborough is a market town in 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 was rebuilt after the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653, which destroyed almost the entire town, and in the rebuilding the High Street became what is claimed to be the widest in England after Stockton's. This allows ample space for a local market which is held twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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 Charter.

High Street, Marlborough

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. Of great interest are the wall paintings recently uncovered, and which are undergoing careful conservation. One room painted in a striped pattern, copying silk hangings, is perhaps unique in Great Britain.

The town's name is from Old English: Mærlebeorg ("Mærle Hill", presumably referring to the pre-historic mound found in the grounds of Marlborough College).


Marlborough on a Wednesday Market morning

The earliest remaining sign of habitation at Marlborough is the pre-historic mound in the grounds of Marlborough College. It is possibly of similar age to the larger Silbury Hill five miles to the west. Local legend has it that the Mound is the burial site of Merlin the wizard of Arthurian tales,[1] and that the name of the town, Marlborough comes from Merlin's Barrow. The town's motto is Ubi nunc sapientis ossa Merlini - Where now are the bones of wise Merlin.[2]

From a later age is the Marlborough Bucket an Iron Age burial bucket unearthed in the town, with decorations of human heads and animals on sheet bronze. Roman remains and coins have been found two miles to the East of Marlborough, at Mildenhall (Cunetio).

An Anglo-Saxon village grew up around The Green and two early river crossings were made at Isbury Lane and Stonebridge Lane. The first written record of Marlborough though is in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Merleberge. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 1110 King Henry I held his court at Marlborough (æt Mærlebeorge) at Easter.[3]

In 1067 after the Battle of Hastings, William the Bastard assumed control of the Marlborough area and set about building a wooden motte and bailey castle, sited on the pre-historic mound. This was completed in around 1100 and stone was used to strengthen the castle, in around 1175. 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. King William I established the neighbouring Savernake Forest as a favourite Royal hunting ground.[4]

Marlborough Castle became a Royal residence. Henry I observed Easter here, in 1110. Richard I gave the castle to his brother John in 1186. King John was married here and spent time in Marlborough, establishing a treasury. Later, Henry III was also married in Marlborough.[5]

In 1204, King John gave the town a borough charter permitting it to hold a market.[6] It also granted an annual eight-day fair, beginning on 14 August, the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption, in which "all might enjoy the liberties and quittances customary in the fair at Winchester". The weekly markets were to be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and these continue to this day.[7]

In 1267, Henry III held Parliament at Marlborough, on which occasion the Statute of Marlborough was passed which forbids subinfeudation of land and limited the right of the King to take possession of land; a statute still in force.

By the end of the 14th century the castle had fallen into disrepair but remained Crown property until King Edward VI 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 rapidly under Henry VIII to become a cardinal and Lord Chancellor and fell even more rapidly.

Under Edward VI, the Castle passed to the Seymour family. In 1642, the English Civil War broke out. The Seymour family held the Castle for the King but the Town was for Parliament, and the town was uncomfortably close to the King's capital, Oxford:

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 Marlborough. He left Oxford at the head of four hundred horses on the 24 November but instead of striking at once, he chose to parley first, giving the inhabitants a chance to prepare defences and to recruit troops, which amounted to about seven hundred poorly-armed men. The Town issued a reply to Digby. "The King's Majesty" he declared, "providing he were attended in Royal and not in warlike 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. 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".[8]

In 1689, William III created Sir John Churchill, the distinguished Army general, Earl of Marlborough. In 1702, William's successor, Queen Anne created Churchill as Duke of Marlborough.

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.

Marlborough College

Marlborough College

Marlborough College is a famous public school. It is located on the west side of the town.


St Peter's Church

The town is at the heart of the Marlborough Deanery in the Diocese of Salisbury, which covers 16 parishes grouped as Marlborough, Ridgeway, Upper Kennet and Whitton. Of the town's two Church of England Churches, St Peter's is no longer used and has become an Arts Centre and only St Mary's Church remains in use for worship.

Interesting nearby places


Outside links