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Morris Dancers

Stow on the Wold

Deserted Cotswold Villages

Cotswold Place Names

The Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold 1646

Tracks and Roads across the Cotswolds

The Cotswold Lion

An Early Cotswold Visit

The History of Bourton-on-the-Water

Cotswold Roofs

Cotswold Dry Stone Walls

Cotswold Ridge and Furrows

The Rollright Stones

The Gypsy Horse Fair at Stow-on-the-Wold

The Cotswolds - In the Beginning

Ralph Green

Ralph Green lives in Bourton-on-the-Water and used to work for many years at the Stow-on-the-Wold Visitor Information Centre.

For more Cotswold Articles:-

The History of Stow-on-the-Wold

Visitors to Stow-on-the-Wold call in at the Tourist Information Centre for a chat, buy postcards, maps and walking books. Many visitors ask about the town and its lovely old square and want to know about its history and what helped to create such interesting architecture.

In fact, so many people asked similar questions, we decided to produce a tri-fold leaflet containing old photographs that tried to tell Stow’s story in a simple way. It was nice to be able to give something out to visitors and I am sure it was nice for them to take away a small reminder of their visit.

Stow-on-the-Wold is an ancient Cotswold Wool Town situated beside The Fosse Way, a Roman road that runs from Exeter to Lincoln in an almost straight line. It is set on a rounded hill at a height of about 800 feet above sea level. This elevated position, and the effects of the wind and rain have encouraged the creation of the enclosed town square. Keeping the winter winds out of the town centre does, to certain extent, seem to work.

Iron Age people were the first to settle on the hill but there is evidence of earlier settlements in this part of the Cotswolds. Stone Age and Bronze Age burial mounds are common throughout the area.

There is a strong tradition that in Saxon times a missionary named Edward lived as a hermit at the well on the south side of the town. This helped to establish the first name of the town as St. Edward's Stowe or Holy Place. The word 'wold' as in Cotswold means hills, so Stow-on-the-Wold simply means Holy Place on the Hill.

The houses of Stow were built with the mellow Cotswold limestone from local quarries. Some have massive internal oak beams from the days when Gloucestershire was covered in forest. Many of the houses were built in the 16th century and those built later have blended in to become part of the character of this beautiful town, a place that has evolved over some 500 years.

One of the oldest houses, the 'Crooked House' on the west side of the Square, was built about 1450. The Kings Arms is a good example of a coaching inn where the main entrance was through the arch leading to the stables. Charles I stayed here about the time of the Battle of Naseby in 1645. On Digbeth Street stands the Royalist Hotel, said to be the oldest inn in England. An inn has stood on this site since 947AD. The stocks on the green are the latest in a long line dating back to the 15th century.

The Kings Arms and Market Cross at Stow on the Wold Stow stocks
The Kings Arms and Market Cross The Stocks

In March 1646, the last important battle of the Civil War ended in the Square. The Parliamentary army under the command of Colonel Morgan overwhelmed Sir Jacob Astley's Royalist army. 1000 prisoners were held in the parish Church while the wounded were laid in Digbeth Street. It is said the street ran with blood. To remember those who fought and died at this time, a memorial stone was placed in St. Edward's churchyard in 1992.

Stow was, until recent times, supplied with water from springs below the town. For centuries, women and children had carried water with yoke and bucket from the spring on Well Lane. Water carts plied between Well Lane and the town where the water was sold to the townsfolk at the price of a farthing a bucket. Several systems had been tried to force water up the hill including windmills, horse-mills and water wheels but all had failed. In 1871, Joseph Chamberlayne-Chamberlayne, lord of the manor, donated £2000 to the town for a deep well to be bored and this was a success. Mains water was laid on in 1937. Sewage disposal used numerous cavities in the rock, known locally as swillies, as natural soakaways under and around the houses until mains drainage was installed in 1958.

Spring on Well Lane Stow-on-the-Wold
Spring on Well Lane

In 1476, Edward IV gave a charter to the town authorising two fairs, the first on the 12 May, the other on the 24 October. Over 500 years later these dates are still used to fix the two horse fairs held each year. The town's main source of wealth at that time was wool, and sheep from the surrounding hills and villages were brought to the fairs in the Square where it is said that as many as twenty thousand sheep were sold on a good day. The narrow alleyways called 'tures' leading from the Square to the perimeter of the town were constructed for the better control of animals. The Market Cross was erected as a symbolic reminder to the traders of medieval times to deal honestly and fairly. The shaft, base and steps are medieval but the gabled headstone is an addition restored by public subscription in 1995. The side panels depict the Crucifixion, Edward the Confessor, the Civil War and the Wool Trade. The gipsy horse fair is, by tradition, held on the nearest Thursday to the two Charter days.

St. Edward's Hall stands in the Square, built in 1878 from unclaimed deposits placed in the Town Saving Bank. As well as providing the town with a meeting place, it also houses the library. A figure of St. Edward stands in a niche over the main entrance. The steeple, called a bell-turret, was constructed to accommodate a bell used to summon the fire brigade.

St. Edwards Hall at Stow
St. Edward’s Hall

The Parish Church of St. Edward was built between the 11th and the 15th century. The tower was the last part of the church to be completed in 1447. It is 88' high and houses the heaviest peal of eight bells in Gloucestershire; it is also very prominent for miles around. The painting of the Crucifixion in the south aisle was painted by Gaspar de Craeyer (1582 - 1669), a contemporary of Rubens and Van Dyck. Many features of this outstanding Cotswold Church may be attributed to the town's prosperity as a centre of the Wool Trade.

St Edwards Parish Church at Stow
St Edwards Parish Church

Today Stow-on-the-Wold draws people from all over the world. It used to be that the winter months were very quiet, but during my time at the Visitor Information Centre, we noticed increasing numbers coming no matter what the season. People come just to walk about the square, the narrow lanes and the tures, to visit the many antique shops, to take afternoon tea in one of the old teashops and get a feel for the ambience of this lovely old town. Put simply, it is a nice place to visit.

For more information about visiting Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stow-on-the-Wold History

This page last modified Monday, 24-Jul-2023 11:24:18 CEST