Tracy Spiers sends us a postcard
Interesting start to the day. Car won’t start. Flat battery as I accidentally left light on all night. Leave husband, who is about to fly off to Norway, to sort out car while I drive off in his vehicle following Sat Nav instructions. It wants to take me to Salcombe. Husband has programmed in Malborough by mistake. Come across a cow on Minchinhampon Common. He won’t move, remains in middle of road and refuses to budge. We eventually arrive in Marlborough an hour later than anticipated.
We start our postcard in Mustard Seed, a quaint little café and book shop on edge of the River Kennet where I chat to Alison André and deputy manager Mike Eaton. It is an oasis of peace and allows locals and visitors time for quiet reflection, to read, relax and enjoy a moment of tranquillity.
Venture on to Marlborough’s impressive high street. It’s fresh in Emily’s mind. “We walked through here feeling tired, with sore backs and had to walk past all the coffee shops and great clothes shops without having the chance to stop and look around one of them!” This time she can enjoy her high street favourites and I treat her to the iced drink she longed for with rucksack on back. Incidentally there are over 200 shops in Marlborough, most of them based on the High Street or just off it. Big chains like Joules, Seasalt, Jigsaw, Monsoon neighbour are a shopper’s dream, but I also enjoy the small independents and exploring alleys and courtyards off the High Street. By doing so discover Marlborough Confectioners and I give into a teenager’s plea for American Jolly Ranchers. Also note art and antique presence in Marlborough – great for creatives like me.
I pop inside the Merchant’s House, which at 350 years old is the jewel of the town’s High Street. The House of Thomas Bayly, Silk Merchant, was built following the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653. It’s a brilliant place to visit for anyone interested in fine old buildings and craftsmanship – there’s certainly plenty of inspiration here. The Merchant’s House Trust set up in 1991 to restore and refurbish this historic house. It now has over 400 friends, almost 100 volunteers and eight part-time staff. The Merchant’s House Shop sells a wide range of quality gifts – china, pottery, glass, silver, toiletries, toys and stationery.
Walk into St Peter’s Church which, although historic on the outside, fully embraces the 21st century inside with a terrific community feel. St Peter’s Coffee Shop serves a full English breakfast, hearty lunch menu and afternoon teas; whilst Brambles & Bows Craft Shop is a feast for the eye in terms of crafts, jams and chocolates - all set behind a fantastic stained-glass window backdrop. Take note of the tower tours which are on Saturdays and Bank Holidays in the summer. Will return to Marlborough to climb the 137 steps on another occasion.
Instead march up Hyde Lane to see if I can get a glimpse of Marlborough College. Emily refuses to retrace her D of E expedition steps and waits for me to return. I do manage to get a glimpse of tennis players in action as well as a very relaxed cricket match. Back in the 11th century, the royal castle of Marlborough, locally known and recorded in historical documents as The Mount used to be here. Today it is a tree-covered mound at the college’s centre. In 1843, a group of Church of England clergymen, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, wanted to set up a boarding school for educating sons of clergy. They took lease of the empty Castle Inn at Marlborough and started the college in August 1843 with their first admission of 199 boys. The first major independent school to go co-ed, starting with its 1968 sixth form, the college has famous pupils including the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron.
Back on flat land, I walk down Silverless Street, past the Old Bakery to Golding House near The Green. Here we find another blue plaque, this time paying tribute to English novelist, playwright, and poet who won a Nobel Prize in Literature, Sir William
‘It was in 1204 that the town was granted a Royal Charter by King John to enable Marlborough to achieve market town status’
Gerald Golding (1911 – 1993). He of course is best known for his novel Lord of the Flies, which GCSE English Literature students, including Emily, are currently studying.
Must mention Marlborough Blue Plaque Trail, a gentle circular 2.5km walk starting at the Town Hall which unveils the town’s history through nine Blue Plaques displayed. This can be downloaded via the main Marlborough website. It celebrates important events and people such as Thomas Wolsey, later to become Cardinal Wolsey, who in 1498, Thomas Wolsey was ordained in St Peter’s. On the library wall, a blue plaque pays tribute to Eglantyne Mary Jebb (1876-1928) founder of Save The Children Fund who taught here when it was St Peter’s School.
Talking of town hall, we stop to admire this impressive building. Work began during Queen Victoria’s reign and it was completed in 1902 after Edward VII came to the throne. Built in the Dutch style popular with Edwardians, it is now Grade II listed and contains a court room – where prisoners were once held in the basement cells - council chamber and an assembly room. Today conferences, weddings, film shows, plays and official civic events take place in this building. On the matter of history, Marlborough was recorded in the Domesday Book as “Merleberge” – which refers to the marl or chalk hills in the area. In Norman times it was a place where coins were minted, Tudor kings hunted for deer and where coaches stopped to feed and water their horses. Today, those coaching inns are still a significant part of the High Street landscape and add character and charm as well as much sought after places to dine and drink. These include The Lamb Inn, originally a coaching inn dating back to 1672 and The Bear at Marlborough dating back to the 15th century.
We visit on a Tuesday so miss the busy Saturday and Wednesday market, hosted in the High Street. During the summer months, continental markets also take place here. It was in 1204 that the town was granted a Royal Charter by King John to enable Marlborough to achieve market town status.
We end our visit at St Mary’s Church, which together with St. Peter’s, act as book ends to Marlborough’s wide High Street and perhaps a sanctuary to the hustle and bustle that goes on in between. In April 1653, the Great Fire of Marlborough burned the Guildhall, St Mary’s Church and the town’s armoury. Further fires in 1679 and 1690 caused an Act of Parliament to stop houses or other buildings being covered with thatch.
It’s a great town to visit for shopping, dining and for walking. I didn’t dare ask Emily to join me on a hike on this occasion, but it is worth visiting the Vale of Pewsey, just 20 minutes away, or the Forestry Commission logo Walk through the old Forest of Savernake. Marlborough is also a popular place for golfers and on our way home, I visit Marlborough Golf Course, established in 1888 to catch a golfer in action.
We return to Stroud to find the car battery is charged, no cows are being stubborn and any expedition niggles Emily may associate with Marlborough are now replaced with good memories. Marlborough, it took a while to get to you, but we are glad we came.
Marlborough Town Hall Blue plaque dedicated to Eglantyne Mary Jebb
Emily outside William Golding’s house
St Mary’s Church, Marlborough
St Peter’s Church, Marlborough
Alison André and Mike Eaton of The Mustard Seed
in 1888 A golfer at Marlborough Golf Club, established
The bustling town of Marlborough