THE REBIRTH OF A MERCHANT’S HOUSE 


The Merchant’s House (nos. 132 and 133) is a Grade II* structure located in the centre of Marlborough’s historic High Street.  It is a part timber-framed, part brick house, now tile clad on the High Street elevation, with a lay-out preserving the linear form of the mediaeval burgage plot.  It was largely rebuilt in 1653-56 by a wealthy silk merchant, Thomas Bayly, following the catastrophic fire in 1653 that destroyed the majority of the mediaeval and tudor town, and was improved and extended until 1700.  Later it was sub-divided and sublet, with approximately two-thirds (no. 132) becoming a printer’s and stationer’s business, ultimately purchased by W H Smith in 1926.
 
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Our History

In 1991, following an initiative by the newly-formed Merchant’s House Trust, Marlborough Town Council purchased the freehold of no. 132 and leased it to the Trust at a peppercorn rent, a continuing contribution from the Town Council which is gratefully acknowledged.  Since 1991 the Trust has been actively engaged in the conservation, restoration and furnishing of this remarkable building.
 
Many original features survive.  These include a largely unaltered room system, panelling, a grand oak staircase and stone chimney-pieces.  What makes the building exceptional was the discovery in the 1990s of the polychrome wall paintings comprising fictive balustrading on the walls of the grand staircase and a richly coloured striped wall design which is thought to be unique in this country.  This is all the more remarkable in a house occupied by the “middling sort”, a social stratum with which many people can identify, and especially unusual in a high street house of a prosperous market town with the never-ending commercial pressure to be updated or even completely redeveloped because of its valuable location.  The quality of the building was recognised by its inclusion in Simon Jenkins’ England’s 1000 Best Houses (2003).
 
From the start the Trust has endeavoured to conserve and restore to the highest standards, employing specialist craftsmen trained in traditional techniques (as in the case of plastering and woodwork) and the most up-to-date methods of conservation (as in the case of the wall paintings).  At the same time it has relied heavily on a corps of volunteers to undertake a large proportion of the Trust’s activities.  This is partly to save money but also to maximise local interest and participation.
 
In 1999 the Trust purchased the freehold (then tenanted) of the remaining one-third of the original building (no. 133) and subsequently gained possession of the upper floors, part of which have been restored and incorporated into no.132, with the remainder forming a Town Museum which opened in 2018.
 
This was followed by purchase in 2002 of the freehold of the 18th century Print Works, where Marlborough’s first newspaper was produced in the 1770s, together with the remainder of the garden.  The building has been converted into two offices for the Trust together with a flat over currently leased out but which will ultimately be reconverted into a lecture room and archive space for the Trust.
 
In 2004 we were honoured with a visit by Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles (as she then was) at the celebration for the 800th anniversary of the town’s charter.
 
The Garden has been reconstructed as a garden in the 17th century style and following its opening by our patron Sir Roy Strong in 2007 was named Wiltshire Garden of the Year in 2009.
 
The considerable expense of conservation, restoration and development has been met with the assistance of substantial grants, donations from charitable, business and private donors, profits from the Trust’s gift shop and support from its Friends.  In addition appropriate furniture, pictures and artefacts, almost entirely of the 17th century, have been purchased which greatly enhance the historic atmosphere of this remarkable building.  
 
The Trust is proud of its achievement since 1991 in saving a unique and now nationally recognised building and so making a substantial contribution to Marlborough’s cultural and historical life.