Frome (pronounced Froom), gets its name from the meandering river on which it sits – the River Frome – and it get its name from the evolution of the Welsh word, ffraw which meant fair or brisk. But the River Frome has only had a brisk flow during heavy rain, so ffraw probably just referred to running water.
Pedestrianised Cheap Street is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval shopping streets. As with Cheap Street in all market towns in England, its name comes from the word ceap, which meant “to sell”. The word evolved and “ceap” became markets which were places for “good ceap” and eventually the word became to be used as we do today for ‘inexpensive’.
The layout of the street is still based on a medieval street plan and is evidenced in land plots dating back to about 1500. Beautifully flagstoned, Cheap Street is surrounded by buildings almost unchanged from the 16th and 17th centuries.
We are also reminded of the medieval water system by the leet or runnel that still runs down the centre of Cheap Street, rising from the spring at St John’s Church…this makes Frome history almost tangible.
The street was also famously used as a television set by the BBC in the 1970s for episode six of the first series of the comedy “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin”.
Walking down Cheap Street, you can almost feel the centuries of history, the thousands who passed through the town from its first settlement as a mission station in about 685 to the modern, arty and yet untouched town centre Frome has today.
This Frome story was published in the Frome Times – www.frometimes.co.uk
Frome has always benefitted from its geographical location – steep hills around its river, and a place where many trade routes converged. It was thus a market town before the Norman invasion of 1066 when ‘sales’ were done primarily by exchange.
By the mid eleventh century the population of Frome may have been almost 600 (the average town at that time probably had a population of between 100 and 150), which made it a busy and important centre. The Domesday Survey of 1086 recorded Frome as having three mills (for grinding grain) and a weekly market worth £2 6s 8d. Although the function of the town changed through the ages (a wool centre, a railway junction, a milk collecting centre), the market remained an important feature.
Frome market stalls were always piled high with products manufactured in the town as well as countryside products. But a big draw to the market was the wandering pedlars who were selling trinkets from distant and exotic places.
In the early 1700s, the population of Frome was almost 10,000, which was four times the population of nearby Bath. It became a valuable employer for the surrounding towns and villages in all areas including the market.
Market Place was for centuries owned by the King as lord of the manor. Later the manor was granted to a succession of families and market rights went with it. But each transfer of ownership had to be authorised by the king and a Royal Charter had to be obtained to hold the market from 1239 when Henry III granted William Braunche rights to hold a market in Frome every Saturday. By 1494 the market day had changed to Wednesdays.
Today, the markets still draw people from all over Somerset to spend their money in the market town of Frome.
This Frome story was published in the Frome Times on 11th October 2012 – www.frometimes.co.uk
The town of Frome was originally located on the edge of a large wood, which was known as ‘coit mawr’, or ‘the great wood’. The area was characterised by swamps and littered with willows. Through the English and Saxon languages, the name evolved into ‘Seal wuda’ and eventually into ‘Selwood’ and became home to a collection of tribes.
The Selwood ridge not only separates Somerset from Wiltshire, it also provides a home for the seeping stream, which we today call the River Frome, which to the ancient people was sacred. It is believed that the Welsh adjective of ‘ffraw’, meaning ‘fair, fine or brisk’ gave us the first name for the river – the word coming from the language branch called Brythonic, specifically Briton and not Gaelic or Anglo-Saxon. Thus the town name of Frome was first recorded in 701 as ‘From’.