1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marlborough

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MARLBOROUGH, a market town and municipal borough in the Devizes parliamentary division of Wiltshire, England, 753/4 m. W. of London, on the Great Western and the Midland and South Western Junction railways. Pop. (1901), 3887. It is an old-fashioned place on the skirts of Savernake Forest, lying in a valley of the chalk uplands known as Marlborough Downs, and traversed by the river Kennet. It consists mainly of one broad street, in which a majority of the houses are Jacobean; those on the north side, which have projecting upper storeys, forming the colonnade commended in the Diary of Samuel Pepys for 1668. St Peter’s church, a Perpendicular building, is said to have been the scene of the ordination of Cardinal Wolsey in 1498. The church of Preshute, largely rebuilt, but preserving its Norman pillars, has a curious piscina, and a black basalt font of great size dating from 1100–1150, in which according to a very old tradition King John was baptized. Other noteworthy buildings are the town-hall, 16th century grammar school and Marlborough College. This important public school was opened in 1843, originally for the sons of clergymen, by whom alone certain scholarships are tenable. The number of boys is about 600. Marlborough possesses little trade other than agricultural; but there are breweries, tanneries and roperies. The town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area, 598 acres.

The antiquity of Marlborough is shown by the Castle Mound, a British earthwork, which local legend makes the grave of Merlin; and the name of Marlborough has been regarded as a corrupt form of Merlin’s Berg or Rock.

Near the site of the modern Marlborough (Merleberge, Marleberge) was originally a Roman castrum called Cunetio, and later there was a Norman fortress in which William I. established a mint. In Domesday it was royal demesne and during the following centuries figures in numerous grants generally as the dowry of queens. The castle, built under Henry I., by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, was held for Matilda against Stephen, and became a favourite residence of Henry II., Savernake being a royal deer-park. In 1267 Henry III. held his last parliament here, at which the Statute of Marlborough was passed. The castle ceased to be an important stronghold after the Wars of the Roses, but was garrisoned for Charles I. by its owners, the Seymour family. Marlborough itself, however, is mentioned by Clarendon as “the most notoriously disaffected [town] in Wiltshire,” and was captured by the royal forces in 1642, and partly burnt. At the Restoration Charles II. was received and magnificently entertained by Lord Seymour, whose mansion forms the oldest part of Marlborough College. The town was constituted a suffragan see by Henry II. Sacheverell, the politician and divine, was born here in 1674, and educated at the grammar school. In 1653 the town was nearly destroyed by fire, and it again suffered in 1679 and 1690; after which an act was passed forbidding the use of thatch. Marlborough, from its position on the Great Bath Road, was a famous coaching centre.

The first charter was granted by John in 1204, and conferred a gild merchant, together with freedom from all pleas except pleas of the Crown and from all secular exactions by sea and land. This was confirmed by subsequent sovereigns from Henry III. to Henry VIII. Later charters were obtained from Henry IV. in 1407 and from Elizabeth in 1576. The former granted some additional exemptions whilst the latter incorporated the town under the title of mayor and burgesses of Marlborough. The corporation was finally reconstructed in 1835 under the title of a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Marlborough returned two members to parliament until 1867 when the number was reduced to one, and in 1885 the representation was merged in that of the county. A yearly fair was granted by John in 1204, for eight days from August 14, and two more by Henry III. for three days from November 11 and June 29 respectively. In 1204 John also granted a weekly market on Wednesday and Saturday. In Tudor times the corn trade prospered here.

See “Victoria County History”: Wilts; James Waglen, History of Marlboro (London, 1854).