Bradford on Avon (sometimes Bradford-on-Avon) is a town in west Wiltshire, England with a population of about 9,326. The town's canal, historic buildings, shops, pubs and restaurants make it popular with tourists.
The earliest evidence of habitation is fragments of Roman settlements above the town. In particular, archaeological digs have revealed the remains of a large Roman villa with a well-preserved mosaic on the playing fields of St Laurence School. The centre of the town grew up around the ford across the river Avon, hence the origin of the town's name ("Broad-Ford"). This was supplemented in Norman times by the stone bridge that still stands today. The Norman side is upstream, and has pointed arches; the newer side has curved arches. The Town Bridge and Chapel is a grade I listed building. It was originally a packhorse bridge, but widened in the 17th century by rebuilding the western side. On 2 July 1643 the town was the site of a skirmish in the English Civil War, between Royalists who seized control of the bridge on their way to the Battle of Lansdowne.
On the bridge stands a small building which was originally a chapel but later used as a town lockup. The weather vane on top takes the form of a gudgeon (an early Christian symbol), hence the local saying "under the fish and over the water".
Widbrook Grange is a Georgian manor house on the edge of the town. It was originally built as a model farm on Earl Manvers estate; it is now run as a hotel.
The river provided the power for the wool mills that gave the town its wealth. The town has 17th century buildings dating from the most successful period of the local textile industry. The best examples of weaver's cottages are on Newtown, Middle Rank and Tory Terraces. Daniel Defoe visited Bradford on Avon in the early 18th century and commented : "They told me at Bradford on Avon that it was no extra-ordinary thing to have clothiers in that county worth £10,000 to £40,000 per man" (equivalent to £1.3M to £5.3M in 2007 ).
With improving mechanisation in Textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution the wool weaving industry moved from cottages to purpose built woollen mills adjacent to the river Avon where they used water and steam to power the looms. Around 30 such mills were built in Bradford on Avon alone and prospered further until the English woollen industry shifted its centre of power to Yorkshire in the late 19th century. The last local mill closed in 1905. Many have since stood empty and some became derelict.
A notable feature of Bradford on Avon is the huge grade II* listed tithe barn, known as the Saxon Tithe Barn, 180 feet long and 30 feet wide, which was constructed in the 14th century and is now part of Barton Farm Country Park. The barn would have been used for collecting taxes, in the form of goods, to fund the church.
Several notable buildings in and around the town centre have been designated for renovation and redevelopment by 2012.
On 8 October 2003, Bradford on Avon was granted Fairtrade Town status.