ABC of Chippenham: Foghamshire

My walk into town takes me past the quaintly named Foghamshire which always makes me smile because I feel a bit Bilbo Bagginsish whenever I see it. It's just off the High Street and apparently used to form part of the main Bristol to London road in days of old when people wished to avoid the (then) unsafe Town Bridge*. Wikipedia also says it formed part of a medieval cloth route, which together with the making of woollen cloth itself was the source of the town's riches at the time.

It's a bit hard to imagine all the hustle and bustle of those times today as it's now a relatively quiet side street, quite narrow in places with some of the quainter buildings of central Chippenham. Sadly it was even quainter still until a number of the 17th and 18th century houses were demolished last century.

I'm getting to know this street a little more after two decades of largely ignoring it. Last December I started a pilates class in the studio housed upstairs in the street's old Temperance Hall. This also ironically hosts the local amusement arcade downstairs.

The naming of Foghamshire is uncertain: 13th century maps show today's Hardenhuish Brook as 'Fokena' running along the back of the street. Old English 'facn'ea' means 'treacherous stream' which may have described the brook's habit of flooding unpredictably. In 1289, there is a reference to 'Fokena' in Chippenham, then 'Fokenstret' in 1370. In the 16th century a more familiar 'Foggamshyre' appears on the map. Another suggestion is the name is derived from Yorkshire Fog, a rough meadow grass which grew in the area and indicates poor drainage.

Today the Hardenhuish Brook which flows past my house has disappeared underground by the time it reaches the centre of Chippenham, only to reappear briefly at its confluence with the River Avon by the town weir. In breaking news it seems there's a proposal to turn the weir into a hydroelectric scheme **.

There are a couple of other F's to share with you today from the archives. Chippenham's main annual event is the Folk Festival held at the end of May and in a previous ABC Wednesday I also talked about the Food Miles at our local Farm shop.

* = My copy of the 1899 Ordanance Survey map for Chippenham (reproduction) shows there was a ford across the Hardenhuish Brook at the end of Foghamshire.

** = the BBC news clip in the link lets you have a good nose around the River Avon and the centre of town

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the sixth in my themed round of posts about Chippenham.


  1. Foghamshire. From the sound of it, I think I would feel Hobbit-ish too. :-)

  2. yes, definitely sounds like a made-up name!

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  3. I've always wondered about that name too. Intriguing!

  4. Hope mention re. aubergines and tomatoes at

    is ok.

    Let me know if not.


  5. Love all this local history stuff.
    Shortly due to post re a track which I drive rather protestingly along and how its history has made me see it in a new light!
    Best Wishes

  6. I had not heard of Foghamshire and think it may just be an secret entrance to Bilbo's Middle Earth. Knowing the history, I'm sure your stroll down the street was almost magical.

  7. Su-sieee Mac - tee hee!

    ROG - not exactly made up but a fun result ;)

    Lu - it is!

    Esther - it's fine, thank you :)

    Robert - it's a lot of fun to do as well. Will look out for your post re the track :)

    LisaF - welcome :) We actually used to play in 'hobbitshire' when I was little, at Sarehole Mill in Birmingham. One of the places which inspired Tolkein.

  8. Foghamshire - is that a new county in the making?! Hope all is well in Wiltshire, I'm down here in your neighbouring county of Hampshire, although my family are from Wiltshire, Sherston & Calne.

  9. WDP - welcome! I was down your way a few weeks ago when I passed through Winchester on my way to West Dean gardens. It's a lovely place :)


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