After passing through Bradford on Avon a number of times, today we took a trip there to look for a tailor to repair my bike jacket as my zip has died. It was a nice ride through the farming land which surrounds Bradford on Avon. The different colours of gold and brown of fields in fallow, contrasted by greens of grazing fields like a patchwork quilt spread out before us.
Coming down the hill into the town the traffic was banked up as the road narrows to one lane as it winds between buildings from various centuries. We wandered how many people down through complained about the road through the town.
In Saxon times the town grew up around the ford, the crossing point of the Avon river. As such the town draws it’s name from the “broad” ford on the Avon river, which has been altered to Bradford on Avon.
During Norman times a stone bridge was built across the river which still stands today. The bridge has been widened in the 17th century by rebuilding the bottom side to allow for traffic but the pointed arches of the Norman bridge remain on the upper side. Midway across the bridge is a small building which once was a chapel. In the 18th century it was converted into the towns lock up. We’ve seen a few of these tiny lock ups but none on a bridge.
On the far side of the bridge we were able to find a spot at the library carpark to leave the bike whilst we took a look around. Around the bridge is some fantastic old buildings dating from the 1500’s such as Three Gables restaurant and The Bridge Tearooms. Built of black stone with higgledy piggledy roofs the two old buildings look amazing. We took a walk up and down Silver Street looking for the tailors but found, like many small towns the business was closed and moved on.
As we wandered along Silver Street admiring the old buildings we discovered little side streets leading off to hidden tearooms and shops. Bradford on Avon is a village proud of its Olympic champions and as such the stairs to the local footbridge has been renamed the Jazz Carlin steps. The footbridge crosses the river that once brought great wealth to the town.
During the 17th century the town boomed due to the wool industry with cottage weavers being replaced by industrial weaving mills along the river. At first they were water power before being replaced by steam. At one stage 30 mills were situated along the river at Bradford on Avon. In the 19th century Yorkshire became the major textile hub and mills throughout the town started closing with the last Abbey Mill, closing in 1902.
Abbey Mill became the barracks of the Royal Bicycle Corps and home of the Australian Army during WW1. At the old town hall photographs of the massed troops on bicycles riding brought Bradford on Avon are quite amazing.
Not far from Abbey Mill are two churches the Holy Trinity church and St. Laurence church.
St. Laurence Church
The St. Laurence Church is a Saxon church which is believed to have been founded by St. Aldhelm around 705. When the nearby Holy Trinity Church was built St. Laurence’s became an out building. Apparently it’s origins became lost in time as it became a house, a school and then part of a factory. Its origins were discovered by Canon William Frampton in 1856 who found its reference in the writings of William of Malmesbury.
Unlike the nearby Norman church St. Laurence’s is quite small. It has traditional small Saxon windows set high on the walls which makes the church quite dark. It’s quite a simple church with the only flair being a set of plaster angels.
The Catholic Church
The nearby Holy Trinity Church was under renovation so was closed for visits so we headed for the local Catholic Church housed in the old town hall.
The Catholic Church is dedicated to Sir Thomas More who was executed by Henry VIII for failing to recognise Henry as the Supreme head of the Anglican Church or the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The church is housed on the second floor and is quite modern.
After visiting the church we continued on our walk around town, visiting various small shops which are a bit of a feature of the town.
Another feature of Bradford on Avon is the Kennel-Bath canal which passes through town and of course the lock. It’s lovely along the canal watching the long slender canal boats slowly slipping along the waterway. On one side of the lock is a cafe and on the other a hotel with tables on the bank of the canal. It was fascinating watching people handling the canal boats. There’s a local canal boat hire near the hotel we stopped for coffee at, and watching the canal boats silently slipping past made us want to hire one and take a trip on the canal.
After a look around Bradford on Avon it was time to head to Bath for another trip on the Red Bus, the Bath City Sightseeing Bus but that’s another story.