Malmesbury is a historic walled hilltop town in Wiltshire, overlooking the River Avon. Fragments of the old town wall remain.
Its charter is the earliest of any English town, having been granted by Alfred the Great in 880.
Malmesbury Abbey was founded by the Benedictines in the 7th century, and grew to prominence under St. Aldhelm, who died in 709, after which many pilgrims visited his shrine. The Abbey was rebuilt in the 13th century.
The impressive remains of the Abbey, with very impressive Norman architecture including a superb porch, are now used as the parish church. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it had been bought by a local businessman for use as a weaving factory, and thus saved for posterity.
There was originally a spire, as tall as the world famous one at Salisbury, but this collapsed about 1500, and a tower also fell down.
The great King Athelstan was buried in the Abbey, and one of its famous early residents was the monk Elmer, who in 1110 made himself wings in a bid to fly from the Abbey tower, but plummeted to Earth and luckily only broke his legs. The Abbey librarian in the 12th century was William of Malmesbury, who compiled a history known as “The Deeds of the English Kings”.
In the churchyard is the gravestone of Hannah Twynnoy, who, while walking through Malmesbury one day and minding her own business, was eaten by a tiger.
Outside the Abbey Gateway is a fine Market Cross, similar to the better known ones at Chichester and Salisbury, dating from around 1500. There are some delightful cottages and handsome Georgian cottages, and an 18th century silk mill by the river.
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes was born at Malmesbury, and John Aubrey was educated in the town, while for several years Joseph Addison was its Member of Parliament.
Dyson vacuum cleaners were originally manufactured at Malmesbury, but production was moved to Malaysia in 2002. It was from an abbatoir at Malmesbury that the Tamworth Two (a pair of Tamworth pigs) escaped, becoming national celebrities.