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Photo by: Charles D P Miller
‘Stow on the Wold, where the wind blows cold’, goes the old rhyme describing this beautiful and historic Cotswold town, which stands some 800 feet above sea level and accounts for old saying.
Stow has a varied and ancient history, which dates right back to the Stone Age. There is also evidence of a Bronze Age settlement recorded at Stow, and later during the Iron Age, around the 7th century, a fort was built, but this did not withstand the arrival of the Romans, who crossed the town whilst they were constructing the highway of Fosseway.
This new road formed a triangular area where two older roads crossed, and created a new place where travellers and traders could stop, barter goods and rest. This laid the foundations for the market town that Stow would later become. When the Romans left, the Saxons returned and built a small Saxon Church in 986 AD, with later additions in the 15th century and is now known as the present-day St Edward's Church. The church played a central role within the Battle of Stow on the Wold during the final conflict of the English Civil War. When a Royalist army was confronted by the Parliamentarians in 1646 at Stow, they were defeated and over 1000 of them were held captive in the church. It is said that the slaughter was so great that the ducks were able to bathe in the blood pooling in the streets leading away from the Market Square, which led to the origin of the streets name – ‘Digbeth’ or ‘Duck’s Bath’.
Nowadays, the main attractions of the church include the impressive tower, which rises to 88 feet, and it also boasts the heaviest peel of bells in all of Gloucestershire. The church is also home to the painting of the Crucifixion by Gaspar de Craeyer (1582-1669), which is housed in the southern aisle.
It is thought that Stow (originally called Edwardstow) was officially founded in the 11th century, and established at the natural junction where the six main roads meet in the middle of the town. This made the town an important meeting place for tradesmen who were travelling along the infamous Roman road – Fosse Way, which is still visible as parts of our modern roads today, notably the A5 and A46.
One of Stow’s main features is the market square, which was the centre of the Cotswold’s sheep market. Even today the market square remains a huge feature of the town, with much of Stows historic architecture owing its place to these old sheep markets; for example, the cramped alleys leading off the market square were built intentionally to funnel the sheep as a way of counting and controlling them. Markets have taken place in Stow since 1107 when the town was granted a charter by King Henry II.
Stow is still renowned for its farmers markets and fairs, which have been a feature of the town since the 1330’s, when the right to hold an annual fair was granted. 1476 saw two annual fairs taking place in May and October, with typical trading goods including horses and sheep.
Stow has retained many old historic building and features; in fact, it boasts the oldest inn in England, the Royalist Hotel, with a history dating back to 987AD. In the Royalist Hotel there stands a medieval fireplace that shows off several ‘witch's marks’ which are supposed to ward off evil spells. Also still in the square are the ancient penal stocks, used to publicly humiliate criminals.
There are some fine examples of Tudor architecture in Stow, particularly in the forms of the many inns and dining establishments in the town. After the 1600’s however, styles changed and this saw a gradual refacing of buildings within the town.
St Edwards Hall, which houses the public library and exhibitions and is located in the market square, was added to Stow in 1878, with the funding for the building coming from the unclaimed monies left from the town’s Savings Bank.
Stow suffered from the general economic depression during the 19th century, and social changes in the town saw the building of the Union workhouse in Union Street and the Victorian Gothic Police Station in 1878. A new gas works at the bottom of Park Street provided some heating and street lighting, whilst the water supply was improved, and in the 1930s it was finally connected to the mains supply.
Today, cars have replaced sheep and horses, and antique and gift shops have taken over from trading wool and cattle, but there are many features that remain unchanged in this historic town. The market square is a testament to the importance that traders meant to this Cotswolds town, and you can still see the old town houses dotted along the High Street. The inns and restaurants are a reminder of the historic architecture of the town, whilst the church remains a solemn witness to lives lost.
We have a number of beautiful self-catering holiday cottages in and around Stow on the Wold; the perfect base from which to explore the pubs, restaurants, and beautiful scenery. If you'd like to stay in an idyllic country cottage during your next getaway, please get in touch today: 01993 824 252
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