Frolicking in Frome

Category: News 22nd November 2023

One of the main stops on the Superfast 3 Service from London to the west country is the market town of Frome. Located just 13 miles from the city of Bath, it is an attractive town with lots going on. Our drop off point is by the retail park just outside the centre which is around 30 minutes’ walk or a short taxi ride into the town.

Frome began as a small village and derived its name from the Celtic meaning fair or brisk and refers to the river running through the town. A monastery was built here in the 7th century and over the years a small settlement developed. By the time of the Domesday Book the village had become a town with a population of over 500 with at least four water mills.  

Its fame grew and by the 14th century it was well established as a wool town. In the late 17th century, it was famous for the manufacture of bells. The wool trade then started to flourish during the 17 and 18th century and it became one of the largest towns in Somerset with a population of in excess of 8000 (more at that time than Bath!)  

Railway links were made in the 1850s which again opened up the town to the rest of country. Today it is once again thriving and is considered one of the up-and-coming places in the country to settle. Many new designers and creative entrepreneurs have arrived in the area and set up businesses. Soho House has one of its properties nearby which has also added to the recent popularity.

A number of films and TV series have been set in Frome including the second series of Poldark which was partly filmed in Gentle Street.

A good starting point for a visit is the local museum which can be found in the centre in the old Frome Library, a listed building. There is a public car park nearby and the building is on the corner of North Parade and Bridge Street, with access is via the door in North Parade. It is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 am until 2pm.

Over the past few years, a large number of independent shops have opened up which has brought in the crowds.

One of the highlights of a visit to Frome is Gentle Street. A very narrow and ancient street dating back to the 7th century it has many examples of houses from the 16th, 17th and 18th century. Paved with cobbles it is said that it was visited by St Aldhelm Abbot of Malmsbury Abbey, at one time Bishop of Sherborne. In medieval times it was known as Hunger Lane because it was so steep. You will see a number of references to St Aldhelm in the town.

It was then renamed after the Gentle family. The stagecoach of London left from the nearby Waggon and Horses Yard. One of the many routes into the town it is well worth exploring,

Another impressive thoroughfare which also has medieval connections is Cheap Street with its pretty shops and leat running down the centre. (A leat is an artificial water trench usually leading to or from a mill). A feature of this unusual part of the town this is supplied with water from a stream under St Johns Church. Many of the buildings have overhanging upper parts dating back a long way and currently support a selection of shops and cafes selling locally produced bread, clothing and books. A great place to stop for refreshments is a popular ‘watering hole’ for both the locals and ‘out of towners.

If you are looking for unusual shops then you should make for St Catherines Hill where you will find a selection of very unusual retail outlets including a very special vintage clothes outlet, cafes and a shop selling Scandinavian wares.

Known locally as the Artisan Quarter of Frome this area includes Palmer Street and Stony Street. It has always been known for commerce since medieval times and used to be part of the main road into the town. The main street is named after a local shrine to St Catherine. The area fell into decline at the end of the twentieth century but in recent years has become one of ‘the places’ in Frome.      

One of the most interesting shops in this area has to be Deadly is the Female. Starting in 2008 they specialize in Hollywood clothes from the 40’s and 50’s. Many of their creations adorn the windows, and a visit here is a must for any visitor to the town.

The hill leads down into the town and eventually to the Market Square and Cheese and Grain. 

This impressive building is used for concerts and community events. Built in 1874 initially as a market, it was then used as a community hall. During the 2nd World War, it was turned into a munitions factory and afterwards became a large tyre depot. Eventually it was purchased by former Mendip District Council.  

Used by the Frome Amateur Operatic Society up until the 1920s, it is now a major hub in the town.   

The hall has space for 500 seats and 800 standing and over the years has hosted some impressive acts including Pete Docherty and more recently a surprise concert by Paul McCartney in June 2022, used as a warmup for his Glastonbury Festival appearance. This afternoon event was a sellout. To see more on this, you  go to YouTube and search Paul McCartney Cheese and Grain.  

Frome Market operates every week on a Wednesday and Saturday from 9am to 3pm and the town hosts a famous annual cheese show which draws in entries from all over the world. With over 350 stands it is held at the agricultural showground just outside the town.

Further information on where to stay and what to do can be found on the excellent Discover Frome website. With a superb link via London Superfast, it is well worth considering a short break combined with a chance to visit Bath. The station is a fifteen-minute walk from the town centre and a trip to Bath by train is around 35 minutes and an hour by bus.