On a recent weekend excursion to the Cotswolds I took the opportunity to visit one of the more interesting and attractive towns in Wiltshire. First attracted to it by the interesting figures that once called it home, you quickly are taken with the winding streets of stone houses, interesting shops and beautiful abbey. It is of particular interest to any student of British medieval history, both for its Anglo-Saxon associations and that it was home to one of the great medieval chroniclers, William of Malmesbury.
The town of Malmesbury, which is sited on an early Iron Age hill fort, grew up around a 7th century Benedictine monastic community. It was brought under the control of the Anglo-Saxons as they expanded their kingdoms, and was made a Burgh by King Alfred the Great. Alfred’s grandson, King Athelstan (925-940) is buried within the abbey,
which remains a focal point for the community. The monastic community continued to thrive under the Anglo-Saxons, and by the 11th century it is reputed to have had the 2nd largest library in all of Europe. The church which to this day dominates the town, was constructed in the 12th century. It boasts impressive
stonework throughout, and there are a number of beautiful illuminated manuscripts on display that speak of the past glory of its monastic library. Sadly, the church that remains today is just a small part of what once stood as a storm sometime around 1500 brought down the 431 foot steeple, destroying much of the church.
If planning a visit, it is recommended that you park in the public parking to the north of the abbey. From there it is a short walk over the River Avon and up the hill to the abbey and the centre of town. From there you can visit the abbey church, Abbey House Gardens, and the Athelstan Museum. Whether you are interested in the towns associations with King Athelstan, William of Malmesbury, Thomas Hobbes (Philosopher who wrote Leviathan in 1651) or simply for a relaxing outing with a bit of history, Malmesbury is well worth a visit.