Category Archives: Frome Days

Go Forth from Frome

The iconic Forth Bridge in Scotland has a very interesting connection with Frome, Somerset. It was completed in 1890 and was named as a World Heritage Site in July 2015 by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). The bridge was identified as an ‘important milestone in bridge design and construction during the period when railways came to dominate long distance land travel’.

As the world’s first steel bridge, it is still the longest multi-span cantilever bridge and the longest illuminated railway bridge in the world. According to legend a man fell into one of the caissons during the construction of this remarkable bridge.  Workers tried in vain to get the poor man out.  They eventually decided to feed him poisoned sandwiches.  He sadly died and his body remained in the caisson, where it is to this day.

Together with Sir John Fowler, the bridge was designed by Sir Benjamin Baker who was born on 31st March 1840 in Keyford, which is now part of Frome.

After attending school in Cheltenham, he went on to become an apprentice and later an associate partner in iron works companies.  He was instrumental in the construction of the Aswan Dam, the transportation of Cleopatra’s Needle from Egypt to the Embankment in London and in the development of the London underground system, especially the Metropolitan Line.

Although William Morris said that the bridge was “the supremest specimen of all ugliness”, and “a testament to robust and conservative over-engineering”, the Forth Bridge is an engineering marvel that was considered an eighth wonder of the world when constructed and is today proudly featured on the Scottish twenty pound banknote…and it all started in the market town of Frome.

31st December 1873

The Bridge Hotel, at 3 The Bridge, was originally a three-story house on the bridge over the River Frome. In 1872, the Bridge Hotel was quoted in a police report as being ‘the worst conducted house in Frome.’ It was a challenging pub to run and manage, and when Charles George Tucker and his wife took over the pub, they did all they could to clean it up. A very hard-working couple, Mr and Mrs Tucker supplemented their income with their own hearse hire company which rented out a ‘shillibeer’ – a horse-drawn hearse which had additional seats for mourners.

One of the biggest and most regular problems the Bridge Inn had, was customers who refused to leave when they had had too much to drink. There are many recorded incidents, but on New Year’s Eve in 1873, a young labourer, Samuel Dartnell got into an argument with Samuel Hinton in the pub. Dartnell stabbed Hinton six times. In a panic Dartnell went on the run and travelled along the railway line to Wiltshire and then made his way to Hampshire, where he finally handed himself in. His guilty sentence came with seven years hard labour. Thankfully Horton recovered to see many more New Years Eves.

Somerset Bandits & Outlaws

Saxon bandits and British outlaws sheltered in the dense Selwood Forest. The forest had been a barrier to settling much of Somerset, but by the mid seventh century, the Saxons, not unused to forest conditions (in German forests), moved in after a number of local battles and brought with them Christianity, and not their earlier religion of paganism.

Aldhelm, the apostle of Wessex, (who became Abbot of Malmesbury), heard of the ungodly conditions of the Selwood Forest and decided that he would ‘civilise’ and convert the people of the forest to Roman Orthodox Christianity.

It is believed that in about 690 on a journey from Sherbourne to Malmesbury, Aldhelm and his men rested on the Frome River bank. It was here, that according to his biographer, Faritius, that Aldhelm built a monastery ‘in honour of St John the Baptist on the river which is called Frome.’

The location chosen for the mission was not perfect. Further upstream, at today’s Spring Gardens, the river crossing was easier, but where Aldhelm decided to set up his monastery the river could be forded nearby (where the town bridge is today), and the spring provided a healthy water supply (which still feeds the leat on Cheap Street). The land was probably drier and easier to clear of shrubbery, and it was on high ground to provide a lookout.

The mission quickly became the heart of the community as it provided not only protection but labour and trading opportunities for the local and surrounding settlements.

The heart of Frome still lies in the ethos of community that Aldhelm established. He gave the gifts of music, song, volunteering and learning, and on the 25th May he is remembered every year when the community celebrates the Saint Day of Aldhelm, the Patron Saint and founder of Frome.

This Frome story was published in the Frome Times on 17th January 2013 –

5th December 1815

The Black Swan, which was originally called ‘The Swan’ was a busy inn on Pig Lane, as Bridge Street was called in 1815.  Constable Isaac Gregory recorded in his journal that he has had a run-in with Mrs Butcher, the wife of the landlord of ‘The Swan’.

Constable Gregory’s apprentice, Bartlett, had gone to the Swan, where he presumably over-indulged on beer. Gregory found him in the inn and reprimanded Mrs Butcher for serving him.  Mrs Butcher was a tough cookie who said she would “give any person two or three quarts of beer anytime (she) saw proper.”  Gregory was fuming and threatened her with a report to the magistrates if she insulted him again.  According to Gregory “she would not keep her saucy tongue still, although insisted upon by her husband.”

Their relationship continued to be sparky when five years later Gregory recorded that, after he had sworn in the new special constable, Mr Candy, he took him around to the public houses, and was “ill used by Mrs Butcher at the Swan.”

7th October 1850

A dinner was held at the George Hotel to celebrate the arrival of the railway.  This was the start of more dramatic industrial developments in Frome and many industries sprang up around the station which was, in those days, outside of the town centre.

When the Radstock railway branch was built, a siding was added to access the Frome market hall so that produce, such as cheese could be transported out of Frome to markets around the country.  This is how the Cheese & Grain got its name.