MALMESBURY, a market town and municipal borough in the Chippenham parliamentary division of Wiltshire, England, 94 m. W. of London by the Great Western railway. Pop. (1901), 5,054. It lies on a ridge surrounded on all sides except the northwest by the river Avon and a small tributary. The church of St Mary and St Aldhelm, standing high, is a majestic fragment consisting of the greater part of the nave (with aisles) of a Benedictine abbey church. The ruined skeleton of the great tower arches now terminates the building eastward. The nave is transitional Norman, with a Decorated superstructure including the clerestory. The south porch is one of the finest Norman examples extant, both the outer and the inner doorways (especially the first) exhibiting the typical ornament of the period in remarkable exuberance. With the exception of a crypt, the monastic buildings have disappeared. In the market square stands a fine market cross of the 16th century, borne upon an octagonal battlemented basement. Early English fragments of a hospital of St John of Jerusalem appear in the corporation almshouse. Malmesbury has an agricultural trade, with breweries, tanneries and manufactures of silk and pillow lace. It is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area, 178 acres.
Maildulphus, a Scottish or Irish monk, who came into England about 635, built a hermitage near the site of the modern Malmesbury (Maildulphi-urbs, Maldelmesburh, Malmesbiri) and gathered disciples round him, thus forming the nucleus of the later abbey of which Aldhelm his pupil became the first abbot. ^Ethelstan, who was buried here (though his tomb in the church only dates from the 16th century), rebuilt and endowed the monastery. Round the abbey the town of Malmesbury grew up, and by the time of the Domesday Survey it had become one of the only two Wiltshire boroughs. The first charter, said to be a forgery, purports to have been given by AEthelstan. It granted to the burgesses all privileges and free customs such as they held in the time of Edward the Elder, with many additional exemptions, in return for help rendered against the Danes. The castle built at Malmesbury during the reign of Henry I. gave a further impetus to the growth of the town during the 12th and 13th centuries. It was not incorporated, however, until 1645, when it was made a free borough under the title of " aldermen and burgesses of the borough of Malmesbury, County Wilts." By this charter it was governed until 1885. The borough returned two members to parliament from 1295 to 1832 when the number was reduced to one. Finally in 1885 its representation was merged in that of the county. A grant of a yearly fair on the 3ist of March, the feast of St Aldhelm, was obtained from William II., and another for three days from the 25th of July from John. In 1792 fairs were held on the 28th of March, the 28th of April and the 29th of June, but in 1891 they had ceased entirely. John also granted a weekly market on Thursday. In the 16th and 18th centuries it was held on Saturday, and in 1891 on the third Wednesday in each month In the middle ages Malmesbury possessed a considerable cloth manufacture, and at the Dissolution the abbey was bought by a rich clothier and fitted with looms for weaving. The trade in wool still flourished in 1751.
See Victoria County History: Wiltshire; and Registrum malmesburiense (1879-1880).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)