Friday, 26 July 2013

Cotswold Villages

Today we drove to Burford the southern gateway to the Cotswolds. A beautiful old Cotswold town, its High Street sloping from the high Wolds, where you have beautiful views over the open countryside, down to the willow fringed River Windrush in the pretty Windrush valley. A fine three arched medieval bridge crosses the river at the foot of the hill. The site of a fortified ford in Anglo-Saxon times. The town grew to be an important crossroads and very wealthy wool town. The broad main street is lined with dignified old houses and ancient cottages and many shops all of which appear little changed since Tudor times as witnessed by the precarious angles the buildings have come to rest at. The 15th century parish church of St. John Baptist is magnificent and is another sign of bygone riches based on wool.

St John the Baptist Church

Almeshouses 1457 and rebuilt in 1828

Inside St John's this stone carving is high up on the wall thought to be Goddess Epona (Divine Horse) with two attendants from 1st Century AD

Turret Clock 1685 made by Hercules Hastings for £10

Northleach may be one of the smaller Cotswold towns, but it has much to offer. Considered a Cotswold secret an area of outstanding natural beauty. The streets in and around the ancient market place are rich in architectural interest ranging from half-timbered Tudor houses and merchants' stores to the great House of Correction, (formerly 'The Cotswold Heritage Centre'), built in the 18th Century. Boasting the finest example of the Cotswold perpendicular style in the impressive Church of St Peter and Paul. Part of the church dates back to at least the 12th century, built on top of an earlier building; but it was the wealth of the local wool merchants in the 15th century that transformed it into the architectural gem that it is now. The chancel was built in the 1300's, followed by the nave, aisles and sacristy in the 1400's. The overall style of the present church is known as the Late Medieval "Glass Cage" type in which the structure of the church is of less importance than the large, traceried stained-glass windows. Although wool is no longer the main business of the town, the marketplace is busy with trade and the local hostelries provide a lively service to both visitors and locals. The town centre is compact and completely unspoilt, having changed little since 1500. Here you walk through the small alleys leading off the marketplace and discover houses, whose upper levels of timber framing overhang great stone built walls and wide oak doors. It is said that beneath the houses and streets of Northleach runs a maze of stone vaulted tunnels. 

St Peter & St Paul's Church

The next village on our drive was Bourton-on-the-water a village famous for it's miniature village and perfumery. An absolutely charming village with a lovely stream running through the town with little concrete bridges to cross it very 100 meters or so.

The Model Village is a one-ninth scale replica of the heart of the beautiful Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water, containing all the buildings from the Old Water Mill (now the Car Museum) down to the Old New Inn and the ford. The village was created by a previous landlord of the Old New Inn, taking local craftsmen five years to build, and it was officially opened on the Coronation Day of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) in 1937.

We drove to Batsford Arboretum to have a walk through the forest. Conservation at Batsford falls broadly into two categories; botanical conservation of exotic plant varieties and conservation of native flora and fauna. The former is the main priority but with such a varied habitat there is plenty of scope to develop the latter as well. Batsford is home to one of the country’s largest private tree collections providing year round colour. We wandered through 56 acres of wild gardens, paths and streams, enjoyed breathtaking views across the Evenlode Valley and discovered the oriental inspired statues. Batsford is a world of trees and so much more.

Batsford House

St Mary's Batsford

A thatched cottage in the gardens

We then drove to Chipping Norton a much larger town  in the Cotswolds. The highest town in Oxfordshire, situated on the western slopes of a hillside that was once the site of a Norman castle. 'Chipping' is derived from ceapen, an old English word meaning market. Alternatively the meaning comes from the medieval word Chepynge meaning long Market Square as will also be found at Chipping Campden and Chipping Sodbury. There has been a market here since the 13th century and was a major wool-trading town in the 15th century. The Almshouses in Church Road, Henry Cornish, who died in 1650, was the founder of the almshouses. Named in Chipping Norton's Royal Charter of 1606 as one of the first members of the new Corporation which was to govern the town, he was clearly a man of property and considerable social standing in the community. In spite of this wealth his private life had many sadnesses. In about 1600 he married Sarah Browne, daughter of Thomas Browne who built Fletchers House in Woodstock (the present county museum), but although they had twelve children no fewer than ten died in childhood, and the remaining two only lived into their thirties. The lack of surviving children was one reason why he left such generous bequests to the town. The other was his strongly held puritan belief in charity to the poor. The almshouses were provided at his own expense for eight aged widows who had to be of honest and godly life and conversation. In addition, he left money to provide coats and gowns for two poor men and two poor women, and fourpence each to 40 other widows. He bequeathed 12 other cottages around the town to be let to honest people who could afford to rent them, but stipulated that the rents should never be increased. At the other end of the social scale he also gave his fellow members of the corporation, the 'Bailiffs and Burgesses of Chipping Norton; money for an annual dinner at the White Hart (then the leading inn in the town) which became known as The Bailiffs Feast, and was held for nearly two hundred years after his death.

The Almeshouses in Church Street

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