Jane Leigh takes the town trail around this jewel of the Cotswolds
Awarm welcome awaits in Chipping Campden, where the honey-coloured buildings cast a golden glow over residents and visitors alike as they go about their daily lives.
With over 200 listed properties in the town, primarily built with the local Cotswold stone, it’s difficult to know where to start: the sheer number of ancient buildings reflects the town’s prosperous history, with medieval wool merchants lavishing their wealth on churches and almshouses as well as their own homes.
The result is a small town with much to admire, and the Town Trail (available online at www.chippingcampden.co.uk) offers a short stroll around the best features.
Pick of the bunch are:
The ‘wool church’ of St James, which includes a memorial brass to William Grevel, described as ‘the flower of the wool merchants of all England’. On his death in 1401, Grevel left 100 marks towards the rebuilding of the church.
His home, Grevel House, which dates from around 1380: visitors can only view the outside but there are some impressive gargoyles and a sundial to enjoy.
The Almshouses on Church Street, built at a cost of £1,000 in 1612. They were provided by Sir Baptist Hicks as homes for 12 pensioners (six men and six women), and are still in use today.
The Market Hall, built by Sir Baptist in 1627 to provide shelter for traders and still in use on Market Day. A marker stone nearby denotes the start (or finish) of the Cotswold Way.
The Old Silk Mill in Sheep Street, a three-storey building originally used as a silk ‘throwing’ mill, and converted in 1902 as home to the Guild of Handicraft.
And if you plan to be in the area in May next year, you might like to join in the fun at Dover’s Games, or the Cotswold Olimpicks as it’s better known. Held at Dover’s Hill, just a mile out of town, these provide a sporting spectacle with a difference, incorporating such centuries-old sports as tug of war, shinkicking, throwing the hammer, and spurning the barre!
The origins of this small market town are shrouded in the mists of time – Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age items have been found, and the area is well known for Roman roads and settlements.
Most of the local place names are of Saxon origin – including Campden, derived from ‘Campadene’ which means a valley with fields, or enclosure of cultivated land – and there are stories of the site being a meeting place for a council of Saxon kings.
The advent of the Normans brought the Domesday Book, and a reference to the Manor and Village of Campden having belonged to King Harold. A century later the land was granted to Hugh De Gondeville who is credited with creating the High Street: the town’s first charter was granted in 1186 when the ‘Chipping’ – derived from the Old English ‘ceping’ or market – was added to the name.
The Middle Ages saw the town grow in prosperity, due to the wool trade, with wool from Wales as well as the local area being brought in for grading and trading, but eventually the wool industry declined, to be replaced for a time by the silk spinning industry, with the silk mill providing employment.
The late 1800s saw hard times with agriculture in decline, but new crafts were brought in with the advent of the Guild of Handicraft, brought from London – and the Guild still provides visitors with the opportunity to see craftspeople and designers at work in the Old Silk Mill on Sheep Street.
The fact that much of the centre is a Conservation Area has helped preserve the original buildings, and contributed to a town that enjoys a welldeserved reputation as the ‘jewel of the Cotswolds’, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
An infinite variety of independent shops in Chipping Campden makes shopping a pleasure.
Nick West, chair of the Camden Business Forum, says, “Chipping Campden, considered to have the most beautiful high street in the country, can also claim to be one of the most interesting, vibrant and diverse.
“Independent jewellers, milliners, wine merchants and Robert Welch’s iconic cutlery and tableware shop and studio have been joined by Sam Wilson, the home and accessory designer, whose flagship store sits in close proximity to Fillet & Bone, a food emporium, which offers organic meats, fish, vegetables and many other types of local produce.
“Just along the road is the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers, a home and lifestyle store which runs a wide range of flower workshops throughout the year to suit the needs of every budding Constance Spry, while a few doors away is the Cherry Press studio, which creates letterpress stationery using good old-fashioned inky-fingered printing techniques.
“And from old media, to new media – Peridot Digital Computer Sales and Servicing caters for the needs of the computer savvy and not-so savvy.”
Nick also points to the multi-million pound refurbishments of the Cotswold House Hotel and the Kings Hotel, and the redevelopment of Huxley’s café and bar with outdoor terrace overlooking The Square, as evidence of a town where business is thriving.
He adds: “Like many towns, Campden struggles to provide enough parking, so the local council has
‘The town enjoys a welldeserved reputation as the ‘jewel of the Cotswolds’
proposed introducing a clever free parking scheme which divides the High Street for long- and short-term visitors. This should ensure that shoppers can park close to retail outlets, whilst those wanting to stay, shop and eat or have a drink can all be accommodated.”
Of particular note, and a highlight of the Cotswold Life visit to the town, was the warm welcome that we found everywhere, from local residents to traders. Our ‘must-visit’ recommendations include browsing The Attic in Grafton Mews, a ‘dressing-up box for the grown-up lady’; stepping back in time in the workshop of Hart Silversmiths, in the Guild of Handicraft; and enjoying a leisurely lunch at Huxleys.
But on an autumn day of glorious sunshine, the real treat was having time to amble around the centre, admire the beauty of the Cotswold stone buildings, trying to resist temptation in such a huge variety of shops, and just enjoying visiting this jewel of a town. We shall return…
The second Saturday of every month sees visitors and residents flock to the Market in Chipping Camden, with the Town Hall keeping to centuries-old tradition and providing shelter for those intent on shopping for food, crafts, gifts, clothes… and more.
Now as the festive season approaches, the town is getting set for the traditional Christmas Market on the first Saturday in December.
There’ll be the usual market stalls, all decorated for the occasion, but alongside them will be special stalls offering Christmas gift ideas, food and drink including mulled wine and mince pies, and Father Christmas arriving in a Mini decorated with ‘reindeer’ antlers.
The Square, the somewhat incongruous name for the road behind the Market Hall, running parallel to the High Street, will be taken over for the event, and festivities start at 12 noon, with shoppers being entertained by local singer Andrew James, while more music will be provided by choirs from the town’s two primary schools.
The Town Hall will offer two floors of traders while finding room to house a festive grotto where youngsters can meet Father Christmas, and 5.30pm will be lighting up time when the Rotary Club’s Tree of Light will be switched on, followed by the official illumination of Chipping Campden’s own Christmas lights.
Alyson Jessopp, one of the organisers of the Christmas Market, says, “We’re hoping it will be another successful day, especially as any money raised will benefit local charities, including the Young Carers’ Group, Campden Home Nursing, and Dovers Games.”
She adds, “And the Town Hall market will be open again on the Sunday, from 10am to 5pm, with craft stalls ready to tempt those who still have gift shopping to do.”
Chartered surveyor and estate agent Mark Annett says, “Christmas in Chipping Campden is always special with the tree, lights, Christmas Market and visitors from far and wide. The atmosphere is particularly nice, with all the traders entering into the spirit of the season.
“At Mark Annett & Company we hold our annual Christmas drinks party each year and this has become rather a feature of the fun. The community spirit is lovely and we all look forward to the occasion as winter bites.”
N‘The council has proposed a clever free parking scheme which divides the High Street for long and shortterm visitors’
ABOVE: The Market Hall with a view to the High Street beyond; Shin-kicking at the Cotswold Olimpicks
ABOVE AND RIGHT: Chipping Campden’s Christmas Market Photos by Arthur Cunynghame and Alyson Jessop