Tales of Frome

We’re going to Frome tomorrow, a Somerset town I very much like; I’ve just been reading through what I have written about it here… and then thought I would share, my Frome stories:

I

This street market was just near the River Frome, in Frome in Somerset. Now you might think the name of the river rhymed with ‘foam’, but in fact it rhymes with broom, as does the town, so it sounds like Froom. The  town must be named after the river, because Frome comes from an old British word describing a flowing river, ffraw which means a briskly moving river, a beautiful river, a fine and fair river. It rises not far away at Witham Friary which is between Frome and Bruton, and after it has passed the town it eventually joins the River Avon.
If you were talking about the River Frome, this River Frome you have to mention that it is the river which passes through the town of the same name because there are other rivers with the same name. There is one in Bristol, now mostly hidden beneath culverts and in drains, one in Dorset, one in Herefordshire and one which runs through Stroud in Gloucestershire. The fact that these five rivers with the same name are all in the south-west, suggests the people who named them were the Dubunni who lived in the area before the Romans came.

II

We visited Frome last week, managing to catch some dry weather although it wasn’t actually very sunny. many people are surprised at how hilly parts of Somerset is, and Frome is built on the edge of the Mendips so there are lots of ups and downs in the small town. I may have mentioned before that the town is named after the river and  Frome means ‘swift bright flowing water’, and like many settlements,  a town developed round the river and springs.

FROME ARTY 10.02 (3)Fresh water runs down Cheap Street

Frome is over fourteen hundred years old, and one of the earliest buildings which created the ‘modern’ settlement here was a monastery founded  St Aldhelm, was established here, probably around 675AD.
There are still many medieval aspects to the town, cobbled streets, windy alleyways, little stone cottages, stairs and passageways leading the visitor through a maze of old buildings.
Frome was a cloth town for centuries, not just sending fabric out locally, but to London and exporting to the continent. From the  early middle ages to the turn of the eighteenth century. After that it became a market town and agricultural centre, and there are still markets held here, as well as an annual festival and many other events.
if you want an interesting place to visit, go to Frome!

III

We’ve all seen ghost signs, I’m sure… those faint traces on the side of old buildings of signs and advertisements, painted onto the bricks or plaster rather than posters being stuck up or metal and wooden notices physically attached to the wall.
I came across these two in a side street in the pretty old town of Frome (pronounced Froom). The first one is for a Mr Weaver and Son’s shop selling decorating supplies, paint, distemper, wall paper, varnishes. I have no idea when the Weavers were in business and haven’t enough information to trace them… maybe if I lived in Frome and could go to the local library I would have more success!
AUGUST 18 2015 (3)

This second sign is more difficult to make out, except for the name John Halls. Like the Weavers I’ve not been able to find out any more about Mr Halls or his business.

IV

In the lovely 1940’s knitting book I came across in a charity shop, I was intrigued not just by the book but by the inscription; the lady whose book it was had written her name inside, no doubt because she was lending it to someone and wanted to make sure it was returned. These days I’d write my name, maybe just my first name, but would certainly not write as she did, ‘Mrs’.
She wrote her name, ‘Mrs P. Spearing, Frome’, the town where she lived, and further down, when she obviously actually gave the book to someone else, she wrote ‘M.A. Harte, from Mrs Spearing’… or was it M.A. Haste? There are Hursts and Hastes in Somerset! I think Mrs Spearing was Peggy, née Peggy Isolene Sargent, born in 1908. I can’t find much more about her, but I found her husband’s family, and I was interested to see how the different occupations of the young men in the family changed over the century of censuses from 1841…. although in 1841, the occupations weren’t mentioned. However in 1851 the men and boys in the house were all agricultural labourers and it’s interesting to think hundreds of miles across the country in Cambridgeshire my own family were too.
There are changes in occupation… in 1851, one man was a horseman, twenty years later he was a groom, and ten years after that he was still working with horses, but as a carter carrying coal… yes there were coal mines in Somerset. Three of his sons and a lodger were all coal miners, another son-in-law was a miner in Wales, an assistant timberman below ground. Ten years further on, the man who had spent his life working with horses was now an agricultural labourer, his sons? Two of them worked on the land with their father, another was a shepherd, one worked in a quarry and one was a soldier in the Coldstream Guards.

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