Calne

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Calne (/ˈkəln/) is a town in Wiltshire, southwestern England.

Calne is close to the Avebury World Heritage Site, and a gateway town to the North Wessex Downs AONB.

Calne claimed to have received a charter from Stephen and a confirmation of the same from Henry III., but no record of these is extant, and the charter actually issued to the borough by James II, in 1687 apparently never came into force. These days, Wiltshire County Council organises a market – in the Market Square – on Fridays.

The town centre is a Conservation Area.  It follows the route of the river and includes areas around the two main routes into the town centre. It includes the historic Green and the later Strand as well as the retail and commercial heart of the settlement.

The town lies on the River Marden, the Wilts & Berks Canal and the A4 road 19 miles (31 km) east of Bath, 6 miles (9.7 km) east of Chippenham and 13 miles (21 km) west of Marlborough. Wiltshire’s county town of Trowbridge is 15 miles (24 km) to the southwest, with London some 90 miles (140 km) to the east. According to the 2001 Census, Calne’s population numbered 13,606 inhabitants (15,000 est. 2009).

In AD 978 Anglo Saxon Calne was the site of a two-storey building with a hall on the first floor. It was here that St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury met the Witenagemot in order to justify his controversial Church reforms, which involved the secular priests being replaced by Benedictine monks and the influence of landowners over churches on their lands being taken away. According to legend, at one point Dunstan called upon God to support his cause, at which point the floor collapsed killing most of his opponents, whilst Dunstan and his supporters were in the part that remained standing. This was claimed as a miracle by Dunstan’s supporters.

Calne had a significant woollen broadcloth industry in the 18th century, and evidence of this can be seen on The Green, where many buildings remain, such as Georgian era clothiers’ houses and some of the 20 original cloth mills along the River Marden. St Mary’s parish church was built by the generous donations of rich clothiers and wool merchants in the 15th century.

Subsequently, Calne’s best known industry was the Harris pork processing factory that dominated the town architecturally and provided employment directly and indirectly to many of the residents until the early 1980s – at its closure in 1983 for example it employed over 2000 people out of a town population of 10,000. It is said that the pork curing industry developed because pigs reared in Ireland were landed at Bristol and then herded across England on drovers’ roads to Smithfield, London, passing through Calne. The factory started in the second half of the 18th century when brothers John and Henry Harris started businesses which merged in 1888 as C. & T. Harris & Co. The factory has now been fully demolished and its site redeveloped as shops, housing and a library. As a result of the closure, unemployment in the town increased considerably and during much of the 1980s Calne suffered many of the economic restructuring problems more usually associated with large cities.

The Porte Marsh Industrial Estate on the north side of the town now provides the bulk of the town’s internal employment. It is home to around 100 companies in predominantly light industries and information technology. The Belgian company Deceuninck has invested considerably in this area and operates two large facilities at Porte Marsh, notably a modern production and distribution centre which now dominates the industrial area. Another significant employer is the Exception Group, a large electronics company. In 2006 plans to build a sizeable cement production plant on the Porte Marsh site were vigorously opposed by local residents and planning permission was refused by the council.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Calne was considered one of the fastest-expanding towns in the South West England region, with a population projected to peak at around 16,000 by 2012. The Lansdowne Park housing development (completed in late 2008) has substantially increased the physical scale of the town, creating an entirely new northwestern suburb, including a new primary school, a medical centre and a small shopping area. This area in particular has attracted professional workers from traditionally more expensive areas such as Bath, Bristol, Marlborough and as far afield as the ‘silicon valley’ towns of central Berkshire. Lansdowne Park’s name reflects the development’s proximity to the seat of the Marquess of Lansdowne, whose family have resided at the nearby Bowood House country estate since 1784.

Aside from the final completion of Lansdowne Park, there are pockets of new housing, but on a far smaller scale. In October 2007, the go-ahead was given for the creation of a major new £1m Football Foundation outdoor facility at Beversbrook on Calne’s northern edge, which was officially opened in April 2009.

The draft South West Regional Spatial Strategy, published in 2008, recommended the building of 13,700 additional dwellings within the District of North Wiltshire during the period 2006 – 2026. Of these, some are designated for Calne. In a survey conducted for the ‘Calne Connection’ in early 2010, some 90% of respondents agreed that the town should remain as a market town rather than expand significantly beyond 20,000 inhabitants.

Calne has its own festival, the Calne Music & Arts Festival that has been running for 37 years.

Notable buildings in the town include St Mary’s Church, an array of houses on The Green and the Town Hall. Of particular note is the new Library which has won awards for its innovative design and was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 2001.

However, since the demolition of the Harris pork factory and the completion of the first phase of redevelopment/regeneration in 2001, Calne has, in general, been successfully transformed into an attractive setting compared to its run-down image of the 1980s and 1990s. A substantial amount of scaffolding materialised across Calne town centre throughout 2007-2008 with a view to the renovation of several prominent buildings.

Calne’s former railway station opened in 1863, the terminus of a branch line of the Great Western Railway from Chippenham. There was initially one intermediate stop: Stanley Bridge Halt. The opening of another quite late in the line’s history – Black Dog Halt – was not enough to slow the inevitable decline of the line. The branch closed as a result of the Beeching Axe in September 1965, having achieved the dubious distinction of making the biggest loss per mile of track of any line in the country.

The town centre suffers from heavy traffic congestion with large queues stretching along Wood Street, Curzon Street, Oxford Road and The Pippin most of the day. This is caused by North Wiltshire Council’s decision to allow only single-file traffic between Curzon Street and Wood Street, with traffic heading towards Wood Street having priority. The A4 through the town is usually close to gridlock during rush hours because of this.

A northern bypass road (part of the A3102 road) was completed in 2001.

Calne is equidistant (12 miles/19 km) from the M4 motorway at Junction 16 (Wootton Bassett/Swindon West) to the north east of Calne, and the westbound M4 junction 17 just north of Chippenham to the northwest. The closest main passenger airport is Bristol Airport, 38 miles (61 km) to the south west. Calne is also one the largest UK towns not served by a rail station, nor does it have a bus station, though in March 2007 it was designated as a National Express stop on route 403 from Bath to London via Heathrow Airport once a day.

Calne hosts Sainsbury’s, Co-operative and Iceland supermarkets. The town has witnessed a number of transient enterprises in recent years and several units on the dated Phelps Parade remain empty. However, an expansion of the Somerfield (Now Co-operative) store in the town centre was completed in September 2007 and a Tesco Express store opened in the Lansdowne Park district in December that year, replacing the former One Stop outlet.

As part of the ‘New Heart of Calne’ initiative, a section of the outdated Phelps Parade was redeveloped in 2009 and new mixed-use building constructed in its place, part Cotswold stone and part red brick. This was originally intended as a Woolworths outlet but during Summer 2011 became home to fashion retailer M&Co. Domino Pizza has purchased a unit within the newly developed ‘New Heart of Calne’ which opened in mid December 2011. A new glass roof section and roof lining was installed at Phelps Parade in 2009 to improve its appearance, and although a future large-scale redevelopment/replacement is anticipated (which may include the complete removal of the existing buildings), no firm plans have been confirmed.

Tesco is also looking to develop a site just off the bypass to build a supermarket equivalent in size to Morrisons in Chippenham. This would provide around 150 more jobs to the local community should they get planning permission.

As a result of boundary changes, Calne has become part of the North Wiltshire constituency. It is the constituency’s largest town and lies at its southern edge. The town was previously in the Devizes constituency. Civic and local governance is through Calne Town Council  and Wiltshire Council  (formerly Wiltshire County Council until April 2009).

The country estate of Bowood House lies near Calne. It was here that Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen in 1774; there is a plaque in the town centre commemorating this. Jan Ingenhousz repeated Joseph Priestley’s experiments and found it was sunlight which acted upon the plants to create oxygen. There is a pavement display outside the Millennium library in Calne in his honour.

There is also a plaque on the wall of the house where Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed from 1814 to 1816 as part of the Morgan household whilst writing his Biographia Literaria.

The singer-songwriter-author Julian Cope resided in a small village 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) east of Calne, towards Avebury, until 2006, and lived in Calne itself for some years before he moved with his family to the village.

The actor David Hemmings lived in the Old Mill in Calne for many years up until his death in December 2003. His funeral was held at St. Mary’s Church.

Isaac Nichols, a transported convict who became the first postmaster of Sydney, New South Wales was born here in 1770.

Clive Farahar, the books and manuscripts expert on the BBCs Antiques Roadshow lives in the town and has a business here.

In 2008 the singer-songwriter Robbie Williams purchased a £7 million property in the nearby Parish of Compton Bassett. Compton Basset House came complete with gamekeeper lodgings, tennis court, helipad and extensive grounds. The property is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) to the east of central Calne. Compton Basset House was also previously owned by the famous architect Sir Norman Foster (now Baron Foster of Thames Bank) of “Gherkin” fame, but was sold by him in 1992.

The family seat of the 9th Marquess of Lansdowne, Bowood House is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) southwest of the town.

  • Cherhill White Horse – 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) east of central Calne, carved into the south face of Cherhill Down in 1780, situated south of Cherhill village and clearly visible from the A4 Calne – Marlborough road. Cherhill Down rises to 262 metres (860 ft).
  • Lansdowne Monument – situated close to the summit of Cherhill Down, the 38 m high (125 ft) stone needle provides views of Calne and the surrounding landscape. The mountains of South Wales and Cleeve Hill in the western Cotswolds can be seen on exceptionally clear days.
  • Bowood House (including the 1 km long Bowood Lake) – an English Heritage site, is 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) to the west of Calne, accessible via the village of Derry Hill.
  • Avebury stone circle & Avenue (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – Europe’s largest neolithic stone circle site is 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) east of Calne on the A4361 route towards Wroughton.
  • Silbury Hill, the largest neolithic structure in Europe, is situated 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) east of the town on the A4 route near Beckhampton.
  • North Wessex Downs AONB – the range’s highest summit is the Tan Hill-Milk Hill ridge near Allington, at 295 m (968 ft) above sea level, 14.5 kilometres (9.0 mi) southeast of Calne. This area is popular with hill walkers, and several hills over 250 m (820 ft) high are situated adjacent to Calne.
  • Salisbury Plain – the northernmost point of the plain is 19 kilometres (12 mi) to the southeast of Calne, slightly to the southeast of Devizes.
  • A little further afield, Stonehenge is located 39 kilometres (24 mi) south of the town.

Blackland Lakes is a large camping site on the southern edge of Calne which is popular with anglers and tourists alike. The ‘lakes’ themselves are in fact large angling pools.

Calne is twinned with the towns of : Charlieu in France; and Eningen in Germany.

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