Weird and wonderful. Ten fun facts about Malmesbury
Updated 1:06pm Thursday 30th January 2014 in News
DUBBED “Queen of Hilltop Towns” Malmesbury is a pretty little chocolate box town.
Around 6,000 people live there, high tech firm Dyson has also made Malmesbury its home.
Blessed with ancient buildings and beautiful scenery, it is popular with tourists. But there is much more to the town than meets the eye.
1) Killed by a tiger The first person to be killed by a tiger in the UK was a Malmesbury woman called Hannah Twynnoy. The inn servant had been teasing the animal, which was part of a travelling wild beast show, when it escaped from its cage on October 23, 1703 and mauled her to death. Her grave is in the churchyard at Malmesbury Abbey.
2) Born in Malmesbury The Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard was known for many years as the Hedger and Ditcher and was born in Malmesbury on January 28, 1837. Although it moved to Cirencester by 1840, it is still known in the town as the Malmesbury Standard.
3) Philosophical roots
Founding father of British political philosophy Thomas Hobbes, whose most famous work Leviathan is still required reading for students was born in 1588 in Malmesbury.
4) High flying monk One of the first recorded human flights was made by Eilmer the Monk. One day, sometime between 995 and 1010AD he launched himself from the roof of the old Malmesbury Abbey with a pair of wings strapped to his arms and feet. He landed about 200 metres away breaking both his legs but surviving.
5) Jackdaws Malmesbury natives are known as Jackdaws. The name is believed to come from the Jackdaws who have made their home at the abbey.
6) First king Athelstan the first King of England in 925, liked Malmesbury so much he is believed to have had one of his palaces close by at Brokenborough and a villa at nearby Norton. He set up an organisation for masons that may have started Freemasonry in the country.
7) Twigged The Old Corporation, also known as the Warden and Freemen, controlled Malmesbury for hundreds of years until the Great Reform Act in 1832 swept away rotten boroughs. Membership is restricted to those who can prove they are descendants of the original commoners and live within the boundaries. Their initiation involves putting a silver coin in shallow hole and being struck three times by a twig.
8) Fall of the abbey Malmesbury Abbey, built around 1180, was much larger than it is now. It was partially ruined when a tower and spire collapsed in a storm sometime around 1500. The collapse of a second tower 50 years later meant that less than half the original building was left standing. And although it contains the tomb of King Athelstan, the tomb is empty.
9) Civil War scars Malmesbury is said to have changed hands up to seven times during the English Civil War. Scars of the battles can be seen on the walls of the abbey.
10) Oldest borough?
Malmesbury claims to be the oldest borough in England with a charter being given by Alfred the Great in 880. But there is little documentary evidence of any charter and suggestions of later forgery. Historians believe the legend can be traced back to a book written in 1951. But the claim to be the oldest continually inhabited town could be true. It started life around 800BC as an Iron Age Fort.
And one for luck! Malmesbury played vital part in one of the most important developments of the Second World War – radar. Ekco set up a secret factory at Cowbridge House where even the workers had no idea what they were making. Sir Bernard Lovell was one of the pioneers.