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June 2016

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Marlborough's historical treasure

Sam Bertram

17 June 2016

We visited The Merchant’s House, Marlborough to find out a bit more the house and how it all started. So why should people visit The Merchant’s House, Marlborough? ‘It is a fabulous example of how a rich merchant might have lived in the 17th Century and is incredibly unique - there are no roped off areas and you can look at and touch everything. You can even get into the bed if you so wish! It’s also a work in progress so someone might be doing restorative work on the furniture or walls as you walk around. Feedback from the tours is always extremely positive. They are very personalised and interactive – if you’re interested in needlework you can ask more about Mr and Mrs Bayly’s costumes, and conversely if art is your subject then you can ask about that too. What people don’t realise is you learn more than just the history of the house.  You get to understand all about the history behind the Marlborough area and its role in the civil war too.’ Tell us a bit about the merchant who lived in the house ‘Thomas Bayly described himself as a silk merchant which suggests his customers were from the upper echelons of society. As well as serving the local gentry Thomas also benefitted from Marlborough’s strategic position, serving passing trade between London and Bristol. There’s no doubt that Thomas was a prominent character in the town, he served as Mayor twice. He was also living in the house when the fire of 1653 burned down most of the High Street.  Marlborough were supporters of Cromwell so following the fire Cromwell rewarded their loyalty with a national collection to help re-build Marlborough. The Merchant’s House was given the second largest amount and, after it was re-built, Thomas lived there with his wife Katherine and their nine children until his death in 1670.’ When did the house come into trust? We’ve just celebrated 25 years of the trust and when you come on a tour you’ll learn all about it. It was started in 1991 when the tenants, WHSmith, were moving on.  A group of locals went to the town council to ask for support in turning it into an attraction for Marlborough. Many thought it would be a five or six year project but the house is still being restored and visitors are still coming and many of the original group are still involved as trustees today.  When the Trust first started restoring and uncovering the wall paintings and panels they found it was a far greater treasure than they originally thought. There are now over 100 volunteers working weekly as well as some part time staff. This year we’re doing some restorative work on some wall paintings in the top bedroom. The space above Clarks has also become available so we are discussing restoring that and establishing a Marlborough museum. You’ve got lots of events coming up in the summer – tell us more We’ve got lots in store for the summer with a talk by historian Michael Gray on 17th and 18th Century Oak furniture on 28th June.  Our annual lunch at Marlborough College during Summer School promises lots of family fun with the history of Punch & Judy followed by a show. We have a harp recital in August and an evening with Mr and Mrs Bayly in September. How do you generate fund for the trust? The Trust receives some rental income to help with the costs of running the charity. All profits from events and the shop go towards restoration.  So when you shop with The Merchant’s House you know your money is going towards restoring and keeping this national treasure. In the shop we have some great brands and try and stock local products when we can. There are some Marlborough branded gifts and we’ve got lots of appealing gifts for dads for father’s day so pop in. http://www.themerchantshouse.co.uk/

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