Stow-on-the-Wold is a village alongside the Fosse Way Roman Road (A429) in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England. The village is renowned for its historic Market Square, and, with its many other attractions, it is a popular tourist destination.
The market towns of Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water lie to the north and south of the village respectively, with Chipping Norton to the east, and the Regency spa town of Cheltenham to the west.
Stow-on-the-Wold sits on a hill at a height of about 800' above sea level, and this elevated position has encouraged the creation of the enclosed town square. The buildings are clad in the characteristic yellow limestone of the Cotswolds, with embellishments that make Cotswold architecture so picturesque: projecting gables, string-courses, stone mullions and hood moulds over the windows and doors.
Stow is an excellent shopping centre and there are a number of tea-rooms, gift shops, antique shops, book shops, art galleries, pubs and restaurants.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
The Cotswold Hills are a popular walking destination and the countryside around Stow-on-the-Wold is no exception with several major trails - the Gloucestershire Way, Macmillan Way, Monarch's Way, and the Heart of England Way all converging on the small town of Stow. Those feeling less energetic can always take the shorter circular loop walks to St Edward's Well and the villages of Upper and Lower Swell, Maugesbury and Broadwell.
There is evidence of early settlements in this part of the Cotswolds, and Stone Age and Bronze Age burial mounds are common throughout the area. Remains of an Iron Age fort (c.700 BC), where the ancient Cotswold Ridgeway and the Salt Way met, are to be found close to the centre of the village.
The Fosse Way, a remarkable Roman road that linked Exeter in the southwest of England to Lincoln in the northeast, runs along the west edge of Stow-on-the-Wold in the guise of the A429, and there is evidence of Roman occupation in the vicinity of Stow.
The Saxons established a Christian church in Stow and the present church of St Edwards was founded in the 11th Century, with additions to the structure throughout the centuries in many styles including Norman, Early English, Perpendicular, and later the Victorians.
In 1107 the right to hold a weekly market on Thursdays in Stow was granted by King Henry I to Evesham Abbey, owners of nearby Maugersbury Manor, and in the following centuries, the right to hold fairs was established and traders could set up stalls in the space that is now the Market Square. These fairs grew in importance and became so widely-known that traders came from abroad as well distant parts of Britain to sell their wares, which now included luxury goods as well the necessities of life, and in return to buy the high-quality wool from the local flocks.
It is said that in the 17th Century 20,000 sheep were sold during a single day, and indeed the narrow roads leading from the market square were intentionally built narrow and winding as a way to control and count the sheep.
The Market Cross was erected as a symbolic reminder to the traders of medieval times to deal honestly and fairly and still stands proudly in the centre of the square. Today it is a resting place and meeting point for locals and visitors alike and although restored and repaired several times a cross has stood here since the 15th century.
The four sides of the present cross-head represent "The Crucifixion", "St Edward", "The Wool Trade", and "The Civil War", all features of great importance to the townsfolk of Stow-on-the-Wold.
In the 17th Century Stow played an important part in the history of Great Britain when, following the battle of Stow-on-the-Wold in 1646, the commander of the Royalist army, Sir Jacob Astley, made a fighting retreat into the streets of Stow, and, sitting on the base of the Market Cross, he surrendered his army to the Parliamentarians, thus effectively ending the First Civil War.
Over 1000 royalist prisoners were imprisoned within the Parish Church of St Edward, and the dead were laid in Digbeth Street. Legend has it that the blood of the dead was so deep that ducks were able to bathe in pools of blood - which is why 'Duck's Bath' is said to be the origin of 'Digbeth Street'.
Where the dead are buried largely remains a mystery but a memorial stone to Captain Hastings Keyt, a royalist killed in the battle, can be found within St Edward's churchyard.
Stow-on-the-Wold Horse Fair :
In 1107 the right to hold a weekly market on Thursdays in Stow was granted by King Henry I to Evesham Abbey, owners of nearby Maugersbury Manor.
In the following centuries, the right to hold fairs was established and traders could set up stalls in the space that is now the Market Square. These fairs grew in importance and became so widely-known that traders came from abroad as well distant parts of Britain to sell their wares.
The ancient fairs continue to this day, although the nature of trade has changed considerably. With the decline in the wool trade, trade in horses grew to take its place. However, the itinerant nature of trading has carried on with the Romanies coming in increasing numbers. For them, the two dates remain as the most important social events of the year as well as a time and place to buy and sell.
Many of the locals have however become disillusioned with the horse fairs and the fairs have been moved to fields on the outskirts of Stow, with many pubs closing for the duration.
The Horse Fairs take place on the nearest Thursdays to 12th May and 24th October.
Stow-on-the-Wold Farmers Market:
Stow-on-the-Wold Farmers market is a bustling place every second Thursday of each month. The Farmer's Market is held at the edge of Stocks Green, ( both charity stalls and Morris Dancers use Stocks Green on many weekends from spring to autumn).
The Farmers Market boasts a fine range of produce from the local area, including farmhouse cheeses, trout from nearby lakes, freshly harvested vegetables , wines, apple juices and ciders, free range eggs, bread and pastries, and a range of locally reared meats. There are usually around 15 to 20 stalls at this popular monthly market.
The Royalist Inn is a Grade II listed building and is certified as the Oldest Inn in England, dating from 947 AD and authenticated in the Guinness Book of Records.
The Kings Arms:
The 500-year-old building is a good example of a coaching inn where the main entrance was through the arch leading to the stables. The hotel once provided lodgings for King Charles I prior to the Battle of Naseby in the Civil War. The Restaurant retains original oak flooring and medieval windows. The Kings Arms is situated on the edge of Stow-on-the-Wold's historic market square, which dates back to 1107.
St Edward's Parish Church:
The Church of St Edward, Stow on the Wold, was built between the 11th and the 15th Centuries - with further additions and renovations in Victorian times - on the site of an earlier Saxon church. The present church houses traces of Norman stonework, 13th Century Early English columns and arches, and a south tower and nave clerestory of Perpendicular style.
The 88ft high 4-stage tower, completed in 1447, is a conspicuous landmark with an embattled parapet with pinnacles and a string course with gargoyles. The interior has a number of fine stained glass windows, and the churchyard has some typical Cotswold 'bale tombs', carved to resemble bales of wool.
Externally I found the most striking aspect of St Edward's is the pair of ancient yew trees flanking the North Porch.
Accommodation and Services
There is a wide selection of accommodation in Stow-on-the-Wold, from small bed and breakfasts to fine hotels such as the afore-mentioned Royalist Inn and the Kings Arms. Holiday cottages with self catering facilities are also available in Stow-on-the-Wold.