Timeline of key events in Frome since 685
The earliest specific date for Frome is 685 when Abbot Aldhelm (canonised after his death as Saint Aldhelm) was sent from Malmesbury to found a church at Frome. Before that, there was likely to have been a Preaching Cross with itinerant teachers. In 701 Aldhelm established a monastery at Frome. The likely site was where St. John’s Church is now, away from the occasional flooding of the river and where there is a spring.
Before that, evidence is sparse, but there are signs of human occupation of the area during the Bronze Age obtained from earthworks at Fromefield and Oldford, the Iron Age with hill forts in the area and a quern found at Tedbury Camp near Great Elm, and by the Romans as shown by a number of Roman sites found in the surrounding area.
The first subsequent records are from 934 – a Witenagemot meeting in Frome, and 955 – the death of King Eadred in Frome. Frome is mentioned in the Domesday Survey with a population of about 600, as were 12 surrounding villages (Beckington, Berkley, Corsley, Great Elm, Marston Bigot, Mells, Nunney, Norton St Philip, Orchardleigh, Rode, Whatley, Witham Friary).
During the centuries that followed, Frome became established as a regional market town with an economy based on wool. A market and fair was granted in 1270. By the 14th and 15th century Frome was a major exporter of wool accounting for a significant percentage of England’s wool exports. The industry had a good number of mills powered by the river, supported by a huge number of home workshops specialising in the various aspects of wool production.
Home workshops gradually gave rise to a spirit of independence that lasts to this day, with non-conformist churches being established in the 18th century and now a Parish Council currently consisting only of the Independents for Frome bloc. This spirit of dissidence was sometimes expressed loudly with, for example, Lady Jane Grey being proclaimed as Queen in Frome in 1553 and the Duke of Monmouth King in 1685.
A reliable and stable economy continued until the 18th century when the industry came under severe competition from the vast, industrial, cloth-making factories of the Midlands. Frome’s market gradually crumbled and it entered some decades of deprivation. But bit by bit new industries such as metal-working, printing and manufacturing were established and Frome re-found its place.
A further period of security continued until the last decades of the 20th century when again the then relatively old-fashioned production techniques were threatened and eventually swamped by the impact of globalisation. Frome again entered a period of stagnation. But then a second renaissance. In the 1990s and early years of the 21st century, the culture of determination and independence exerted itself once more. Small craft industries began to appear, creating a demand for support businesses and the town began to develop a lively arts culture with a large number of committed community groups. This has attracted regional and eventually national attention, an influx of big-conurbation escapees which has again given us this thriving, progressive town.