Frome Museum is housed in an unusual wedge shaped building (like the Flatiron in New York). It has an extensive collection of local artefacts and displays on local industry. Cloth making was an important local industry. Frome with its river and close proximity to the sheep areas of the Mendips, Cotswolds and Salisbury Plain, developed in Mediaeval times as an important centre for the making of cloth. By the 15th and to early 19th centuries this made the town very prosperous, and it was this prosperity which is now reflected in the many buildings surviving from that time. The Fussell businesses were in the main concerned with the production of agricultural edge tools – scythes, sickles, billhooks and the like – although output was by no means confined to these items. The ‘Fussell Country’ story starts with the establishment of their first ironworks at Mells in 1744. In 1791 Collinson says of Mells, ‘It is worthy of remark that in this sequestered vale there are two iron forges which at this period are carrying on a trade, little inferior, in point of extension, to those in the northern part of this Kingdom. All the Western counties are supplied at these manufactories with every iron implement of husbandry, and their connexions extend to the European and American continents’.
Lewis Cockey came to Frome about 1685 from Warminster where the family had long been established as clockmakers. He began casting church bells and lived at 45 Milk Street, known then as ‘The Bell House’, probably using the space at the side, now its garage, for his bell casting. A foundry was soon established in the appropriately named Bell Lane opposite, since demolished. At least 23 towers in Somerset and over 40 in Wiltshire and Dorset have Cockey inscriptions on their bells. After 1752 it seems the bells were cast elsewhere, placing the orders and collecting the accounts being undertaken in Frome. For nearly 100 years from 1848, when John Webb Singer cast his first brass altar candlesticks, to 1946, when they were taken over, Singers was one of Frome’s most important employers, known internationally. Their castings and statuary still exists across England and they made a massive contribution to the war efforts in WW1 and WW2 when they were an import munitions supplier.
William Langford, a chemist situated in Bath Street, established a small printing business in 1845. An outbuilding in Mansford’s Yard (next to the Wheat Sheaves public house) previously used as stables, housed the press. Initially set up for his own printing needs, such as for medicine labels and advertising leaflets for the latest pharmaceutical preparations; the press’s output was soon expanded. He had been joined in business a year earlier by his friend, William Butler and the firm named Langford and Butler. It was this enterprise that became the forerunner of the Butler and Tanner partnership. It was on their presses that the first Frome Almanack was produced at the end of 1846. Just two years later Langford had retired from the printing side of the business and Butler was running it alone. In 1853, William Butler moved the printing press to a new stone building at the end of his garden at Castle House, where he continued to develop the printing business. He called the enterprise, the Selwood Printing Office.
There is much else besides the above, reflecting the diversity of Frome and including items from Bussman Cooper (later Beswicks), the Marston House Fire Engine, local blacksmithying, a Chemist Shop from Bath Street, a rare Iron Age Quern stone used by people at Tedbury Camp, near Mells, to grind their corn for flour and a collection of Victorian and later costumes. Volunteers can give guided tours. There is wheelchair access to the majority of the museum. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : 1 North Parade, Frome, Somerset BA11 1AT
Transport: Frome (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 30, 51, 58, 67, 162, 267, X34, X58, X67 and X96 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Tuesday to Saturday + Market Days 10:00 - 14:00
Tickets : Free
Tel: 01373 454611