A MEMORIAL plaque to honour Melksham benefactor, Rachel Fowler, has been erected in the Friends Garden, behind the former Spiritualist Church, in King Street.
Pat Aves, from the Melksham Almshouses Charities said, “Rachel Fowler was a wealthy unmarried lady born in 1833, and lived to be 66-years-old. She had a nephew, Sir Robert Fowler, who was twice the Lord Mayor of London, and her brother invented the famous Fowler Steam Plough. Her home was No. 1 Bank Street; now Gompels.”
In 1864 she had five houses built, which became the almshouses, to provide homes for widows and spinsters. The homes continue to the run today by the Melksham Almshouses Public and Eleemosynary Charities. Pat explained, “There are five almshouses with gardens, and during her life, she maintained the right to choose the occupants, who were widows and spinsters aged 50 years old and of ‘good moral character’ and ‘not in receipt of parochial relief’. They were supported by the profits from an invested fund. This fund is still in existence and its profits today are used to maintain the building and support, with gifts to charitable groups who operate within and for the people of Melksham.”
She also built The New Hall in the Market Place, which opened in 1877 and which Rachel Fowler gifted to the town. She wanted the hall to be used as a place for lectures, reading rooms, and religious and philanthropic meetings for the general benefit of the townspeople of Melksham. To honour her legacy, the former congregational church, which is off the Market Place, is named the Rachel Fowler Centre. The building was acquired by a group of residents in 1979 who formed the Melksham and District Arts Association, and has been in continual use ever since.
Pat continued, “Being a Quaker, Rachel is buried in the Friends Garden. When she died, such was the respect in which she was held, that the funeral cortege reached into Bank Street. You can visit the garden, now in the ownership of the town council, and which has been lovingly restored by the Melksham Bloomers. It is open every day and is well worth a visit, to admire, or to spend a while in quiet contemplation.
“In her day Rachel was known as a philanthropist; today she would be an enterprising single lady, making waves in the field of social welfare, and along with the fund, her gifts to the town are all as relevant and needed today as they ever were.
“The Melksham Almshouse Charities would like to thank Nick Johnson of Young Johnson Monumental Masons of Westbury for the creation of this beautiful memorial plaque to Rachel Fowler.”