This small Georgian town stands at the centre of the Vale of Berkeley, a 15 mile stretch of flat land on the east bank of the Severn. It is dominated by its 12th-century castle, set in Elizabethan terraced gardens and deer park, the home of the Berkeley family for 800 years. Here the barons gathered before they set out to witness the signing of Magna Carta in 1215, and here Edward II was murdered in 1327. The castle has been the home of the Berkeleys since 1153. There is an Elizabethan garden and an ancient bowling green in the grounds. The parish church has a line rose window and its east window is dedicated to Edward Jenner, pioneer in the field of smallpox vaccination; there is also a Jenner Museum in the town, housed in his original home.
Surrounded by superb countryside, Chedworth is a village of stone houses set in the hills to the west of the Fosse Way. The church is a mixture of Norman and Perpendicular. North of the village is a Roman villa sited in 6 acres of woodland. Discovered in 1864, it probably conveys the best impression, anywhere in Britain, of life as it was lived in Romano-British times. The mosaic pavements and the bathhouse have been excellently preserved.
Three hundred years ago, Cheltenham was just an ordinary Cotswold village. In 1715, however, somebody diascovered a mineral spring, from having noticed (they say) the drinking habits of an unusually healthy flock of pigeons. The story may be apocryphal: nevertheless, Cheltenham has seen fit to include a pigeon on its crest. By the end of 1783, a retired privateer named Captain Henry Skillicorne had set up the first pump room, and 50 years later the town was established as a fasionable spa. George III, who had a great liking for these watering places, was a frequent visitor. When the Duke of Wellington came here for the cure in 1816, the spa’s popularity increased dramatically, and the town was virtually rebuilt in a most pleasing blend of Regency and classical styles. It soon became clear that the waters of Cheltenham were particularly salubrious for military officers and colonial administrators, whose livers had been ruined by excessively long service in the tropics and thus the town became a byword for its conservative attitudes. Nowadays, you can take the waters at the Town Hall as well as the Pump Room. Their beneficial effects are believed to be due to the presence of magnesium and sodium sulphates and sodium bicarbonate. The Pittville Pump Room (named after Sir Joseph Pitt, MP) was inspired by the colonnade of a temple in Athens and is a masterpiece of the Greek Revival style. The Promenade, Lansdown Place and Montpellier Parade are among the most impressive Regency achievements, and Montpellier Walk, ornamented with caryatids, is a most elegant shopping precinct. Gustav Holst, the composer, was born here, and the Holst Museum contains memorabilia. The Art Gallery and Museum has collections of ceramics, furniture and paintings.
Cheltenham College for Boys, on the Bath road, was built between 1841 and 1843 as a public school for the sons of Indian Army Officers. The even more famous Cheltenham Ladies’ College was founded by Miss Beale, a forceful Victorian champion of education for girls. The Festival of Music is held in July and the Festival of Literature in October.
The word ‘chipping’ is Old English for ‘market’ or ‘trading centre’. Chipping Camden’s speciality in the 15th and 16th centuries was wool. The fleece was brought to the 14th-century Woolstapler’s Hall, which is now a museum. Many prosperous-looking stone houses have survived to lend character to this attractive old market town, and the Market Hall is a fine Jacobean building. Near Chipping Campden is the house Burnt Norton which gives title and inspiration to the first of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets.
In Roman times Cirencester was the second most important city in Britain, after London, and the many relics of its Romano-British heritage are displayed in the Corinium Museum – Corinium Dobunnomm was the town’s Roman name. There is also an amphitheatre just outside the town. Cirencester’s fortunes declined in the Anglo Saxon period, but in the Middle Ages it became wealthy again when the wooll trade came to the Cotswolds, and as one of England’s largest wool markets, justified its claim to be the ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’. Its magnificent parish church, much enlarged in the 15th and 16th centuries, is nearly as big as a cathedral. From the market place, the three-storey porch, with its superb fan-vaulting, and the soaring tower, are a beautiful sight. Inside are many monuments and brasses to the wool merchants. The peal of 12 bells is the oldest in the country, there is a valuable collection of silver, and beautiful stained glass in the east and west windows. Cirencester House is not open, but the park, with its avenue of chestnut trees, is.
The Cotswold hills extend from near Bath in Avon across to north Oxfordshire and part of Northamptonshire. At first, their wooded slopes descend steeply to the Severn Vale. Later, however, they seem to shake off the trees as they roll towards the Midland plain. Near Cheltenham Spa, and, again, on the high ground above Broadway, they reach heights of over 1000ft. Drystone walls, towns and villages built exclusively either from silver-grey or yellowish limestone (all of it quarried locally), characterise the Cotswolds. Although the wool industry has gone into a decline sheep continue to roam the hills, and the manufacture of cloth has survived in the area around Stroud.
Fairford is one of the most attractive and least spoiled of the Cotswold towns. Lying on the gentle River Coln, its chief glory is its late 15th-century church built, unusually for England, to one uniform design by John Tame, a wealthy cloth merchant. The Christian faith from Creation to the Last Judgement is depicted in 28 very fine stained glass windows, which date from the 15th and 16th centuries. John Keble, poet and cleric, author of the classic work The Christian Year, was born here in 1792. Keble College, Oxford was founded in his memory.
Forest of Dean
These 27,000 acres of largely wild woodland, lying between the Severn and the Wye, are a reminder of the days when England was largely afforested. Since Roman times, the area has housed a wide variety of rural industries and many survive today iron-making, charcoal-burning, stonequarrying, and coal-mining. Traces of the Roman occupation of the area abound; there are temple ruins at Camp Hill and remains of paved Roman roads at Blakeney and Little Dean. Ancient rights peculiar to the area still remain, bearing testimony to its independent nature. They range from the Foresters’ right to graze sheep, to ‘pannage’ the right for pigs to forage for acorns from the many mature oaks which, With birch, beech and holly (some holly trees in Speech House Wood are over 300 years old), form the backbone of the forest.
County capital and an important inland port on the River Severn, Gloucester is linked by a canal, completed in 1827, to docks at Sharpness on the Bristol Channel 16 miles away. The canal can accommodate ships of nearly 1000 tons, making the city a commercial centre with a port that handles the output of local engineering industries. A fortified harbour existed here as long ago as Roman times. Built for the “invasion of Wales during the lst century AD, the fort of Glevum guarded the lowest Severn crossing and the legions routes into Wales. The city’s main thoroughfares, Northgate, Southgate, Westgate and Eastgate, still follow the pattern of the original Roman roads.
Gloucester is known for the Three Choirs music festival which takes placc every 3rd year: in the two intervening years it is held in turn in Hereford and Worcester. Gloucester’s main attraction is the beautiful cathedral containing the tomb of Edward II.
A splendid example of Norman architecture, the main part of the cathedral, built between 1089 and 1260 contains a massive 174ft long nave lined with piers, and a Norman crypt. The building was partly transformed by Edward III, and the transepts and choir, remodelled in the mid 14th century, mark the birth of the Perpendicular style in England. These were redesigned to hold the splendid tomb of Edward II, murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327. The apse was replaced by Britain’s second largest stained glass Window, measuring 72ft by 38ft. Made in about 1350, it is a glorious memorial to those who died at the Battle of Crécy in 1346’ anddepicts the coronation of the Virgin. There is a memorial to Edward Jenner, who discoveredsmallpox vaccine.
Originally an abbey, the building did not become a cathedral until the reign of Henry VIII. The lovely 14th century cloisters, enclosing a delightfu monastic garden with a well, have exquisite fan vaulting, the earliest in an English cathedral. The fine, 225ft pinnacled central tower contains a three ton medieval bell, Great Peter.
In the close, entered by two old gateways, is a cross to the memory of Bishop Hooper, a protestant who was martyred in 1555 during the reign of Mary I In one of the alleys leading ‘ into the close 18 the quaint old shop immortalised by Beatrix Potter in The Tailor of Gloucester, it is a bookshop and contains a small museum to this everpopular children’s writer.
Through the far-sighted action of a local landowner, the rural character of this Village of Cotswold stone buildings clustered round a triangular green should be preserved. Rare breeds of farm animals can be seen at the Cotswold Farm Park, 1and a half miles northeast of the village.
Today only pleasure craft cluster round Lechlade’s old wharves, but in the 17th century they were used by barges carrying stone for the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Halfpenny Bridge spans the Thames here, its name a reminder of the toll once payable. St John’s Bridge stands half mile to the east, where the Leach meets the Thames and the borders of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire come together. Outside the town the Thames, flowing through a pleasant park, is referred to locally as the Isis, just as at Oxford. The poet Shelley stayed at a local inn and was inspired by the serenity of the riverside scene to write Stanzas in a Summer Evening Churchyard.
Hidcote Manor Gardens,which are laid out as an American Garden, lie just outside the attractive village and adjoining them is Kiftsgate Court Garden, famous for its. display of old-fashioned roses, among them the R Filipes Kiftsgate, heralded as the largest rose in England.
Minchinhampton, crowning a high ridge of the Cotswolds, has ancient links with Normandy: William I’s wife, Matilda, persuaded the king to give the Manor of Hampton to the Abbaye-aux Dames at Caen. The restored cruciform church, with its curious tower, is interesting, as is the 17th-century market hall, raised on a forest of pillars. Anyone concerned with a child’s health may care to consult the perforated Long Stone. It displays a legendary (though, perhaps, not infallible) cure for infantile rickets. For golfers, the Minchinhampton, course is famous.
Moreton in the Marsh
The main street of this attractive village on the edge of the Cotswolds was part of the Roman highway known as the Fosse Way. Overlooking it, the Curfew Tower includes a lockup in its amenities. Two miles to the north west of Moreton-in-Marsh is the extensive Batsford Arboretum and three miles to the south west is Sezincote, an interesting house, said to have been the inspiration for Brighton Pavilion, with an attractlve water garden.
Nailsworth is an ancient wool town. In the steep narrow streets are several good examples of Georgian architecture. The former cloth mills are fascinating to anyone remotely interested in industrial archaeology, and the 1680 Friends Meeting House deserves to be seen. The ‘Supertramp’ poet, W H Davies, Who wrote ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’, died here in 1940. Nailsworth Ladder, a hill .with a 1:3 gradient, is used for car-testing.
Northleach used to be one of the most prosperous Cotswold wool towns: and this wealth is reflected in its attractive old buildings. The great 15th-century church, with its clerestory, its vaulted roof, its brasses remembering bygone / woolstaplers, and the humour in its carvings is a near perfect example of a wool church. The Cotswold Countryside Collection, a fascinating series of exhibits, is housed in the former House of Correction. Just north east of the town is the village of Farmington, where the pump house on the green was restored by Americans from Farmington, Connecticut.
Painswick’s lovely old streets slope down a high Cotswold hillside. Although nowadays a quiet place, it was once a wool town of considerable importance, as the many handsomely decorated table tombs in the churchyard Show. 99 yew trees stand sentinel around the churchyard, and by tradition the hundredth would never grow. A ‘clipping’ ceremony takes place here on Painswick Feast Sunday around 19 September when the church is encircled by a ring of children. Afterwards Painswickians eat ‘puppy-dog pie’. What the origins of this delicacy may have been can only be imagined: nowadays it is a cake containing a china dog. Painswick House has splendid 18th century reception rooms.
Slimbridge, four miles east of Sharpness, is the home of the Severn Wildfowl Trust founded by Sir Peter Scort in 1946. It contains the largest and most comprehensive collection of wildfowl in the world: some resident, and some arriving and departing according to ‘ the seasons. Well sited observation towers are available to the public, with whom the Trust is justly very popular.
Stow in the Wold
Situated 800ft above sea-level, Stowon-the-Wold is the highest town in the Cotswolds. Since it stands at the junction of eight roads, it is not surprising to learn that it was once the most prosperous wool town in England. During the 18th century, in one year alone, no fewer than 20,000 sheep were sold at Stow Fair. The market place has a fine cross and some scarcely less fine gabled houses grouped around it. Within the church – begun in Norman times and developed spasmodically over the next few centuries – Cromwell imprisoned 1000 Royalist captives during the Civil War. The Town Hall contains a collection of paintings depicting the Civil War and a statue of that saintly monarch, King Edward the Confessor.
Cloth is the chief business of Stroud and especially for covering billiard tables. There is also an old-established dyeing industry, and more recently the town has turned to the manufacture of pianos. Stroud stands on the River Frome and the Stroudwater canal, closed in 1954, is now being restored. Some of the 18th-century woollen mills have survived, and there are some good examples of typical Cotswold cottages. The Stroud District Museum has an interesting emphasis on local crafts.
A hilltop town lying near the Wiltshire border, it has a pillared Elizabethan market hall and quietly dignified grey, stone-built houses, many of 18th century origin. The aisled parish Church, with its 19th-century tower and spire, has very fine box pews. Three miles south west is Westonbirt, a 19th century Italianate house set in a beautiful park. The Arboretum (open daily), one of the finest in the world, was started in 1829 and is now managed by the Forestry Commission. Chavenage, 2 miles north west, is an Elizabethan house containing furniture and tapestries.
The fine abbey church of St Mary in this attractive town on the River Avon owes its survival to the public spiritedness of the Tewkesbury towns people. To avoid its probable destruction in the Dissolution of the Monasteries they somehow found the money to buy it from Henry VIII and so it remains intact today. Its massive Norman tower dominates both town and the surrounding countryside and is the largest surviving one of its type in Britain, as is the six-fold Norman arch in the west front. From the top of the tower are views of the Malvern Hills and the Welsh Mountains. Inside the abbey is more Norman work and a particularly handsome vaulted ceiling in Decorated style. The chantry chapel was endowed by the Beauchamps family of Warwick the Kingmaker. Also in the abbey are many impressive tombs and monuments, including one to Mrs Woodhull Martin (1838-1927), the only woman candidate to run for the American Presidency. Later she devoted her life to the promotion of Anglo-American friendship.
The buildings in the town itself do not fail by comparison with the abbey. There is a wealth of timberwork here, much of it medieval. Many of the attractive houses bear unusual names ‘The House of the Nodding Gables’, ‘The House of the Golden Key’ and ‘The Ancient Grudge’. The Black Bear claims to date from 1308 and the Royal Hop Pole is yet another hostelry to feature in the works of Dickens – in The Pickwick Papers.
Westbury upon Severn
Westbury Court Garden is the earliest surviving example of a Dutchstyle water garden, most having been destroyed by the craze for landscaping in the 18th century. This one was derelict for years, its canals silted and its vegetation wild, but meticulous restoration has brought it back to its original appearance the colonnaded pavilion rebuilt, the flowers and shrubs mentioned in the records replanted.
Westonbirt Arboretum was founded in 1829 by a local squire, Robert Stainer Holford, and is now part of a 600-acre Forestry Commission development; the Arboretum itself covers 117 acres and extends into Wiltshire. This collection of trees is one of the finest in the country and is particularly beautiful in autumn, though the large banks of rhododendrons also provide a mass of colour in the late spring.
This small Cotswold town is rich in interesting buildings – notably the George Inn, with its gallery, and the strangely named Corner Cupboard. The church is adorned with curious gargoyles and contains an embroidered altar cloth on which much of the work was done by Katherine of Aragon. Sudeley Castle stands to the south east, rebuilt in the 15th century and restored in the 19th. It houses fine pictures and furniture alongside collections of toys and Victoriana; Catherine Parr, who married the owner of the castle when Henry VIII died, is buried in the chapel. The grounds contain an extensive waterfowl collection. 2 miles north east is Hailes Abbey Museum, the remains of a 13th-century Cistercian abbey. The museum contains relics found on the site.