Pic­turesque Chip­ping Cam­p­den is never short of praise from the guide books

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

OVER the years au­thors of guide books have fallen over them­selves to heap ac­co­lades on Chip­ping Cam­p­den.

“This is with­out doubt the finest of the Cotswold wool towns”, “One of the jew­els of the Cotswolds”, or “it has the most beau­ti­ful vil­lage street left in the is­land”.

It’s true that Chip­ping Cam­p­den has a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter to neigh­bour­ing towns.

Un­usu­ally for this part of the world, it boasts thatched roofed build­ings along with those clad in the more fa­mil­iar lime­stone tiles.

But ar­rive on a blue-skied day when the sun teases a warm honey hue from the oo­lite of its el­e­gant houses and there can be no ques­tion of be­ing any­where other than the Cotswolds.

Chip­ping means mar­ket in old English and it was as a mar­ket cen­tre for the woollen in­dus­try that Chip­ping Cam­p­den rose to af­flu­ence.

Along the curv­ing High Street, mer­chants made rich off the backs of Cotswold Lion sheep built them­selves homes that were state­ments in stone of their wealth and so­cial stand­ing.

Fore­most among them was Sir Bap­tist Hicks, a prom­i­nent Lon­don mer­chant who won favour with James I by lend­ing the monarch money. In re­turn, the king granted Hicks “...our rec­tory and church at Chel­tenham, our chapel at Charl­ton Kings and our church at Cam­p­den”.

This made Hicks a pow­er­ful landowner in the area.

To pro­claim the fact, he built him­self an im­pres­sive seat named Cam­p­den House, then burnt it down dur­ing the English Civil War for fear that it might fall into Par­lia­men­tar­ian hands.

How he felt when Oliver Cromwell and com­pany did not come near Chip­ping Cam­p­den we can only imagine, espe­cially as the pile Bap­tist Hicks torched must have been great and grand to judge by the lodges and gate­way that re­main to this day.

Still, the en­thu­si­as­tic roy­al­ist stamped a last­ing mark on the town.

Among his bene­fac­tions are the Mar­ket Hall, which stands on stilts half­way along the High Street and the pic­turesque almshouses that nes­tle near the en­trance to St James’s church.

Di­rectly op­po­site the alm­houses is a cu­rios­ity in the shape of a cart dip, the 17th cen­tury equiv­a­lent of a driv­ethrough car wash.

The town has close as­so­ci­a­tion with the Arts and Crafts move­ment.

The ar­chi­tect and de­signer Charles Ash­bee es­tab­lished the Guild of Hand­i­craft in Chip­ping Cam­p­den early last cen­tury.

Ash­bee was a vi­sion­ary who be­lieved that crafts­man­ship could best flour­ish in the coun­try­side.

So he ac­quired the old silk mill in Cam­p­den and in­stalled 70 crafts­men from Lon­don to work there.

They came with their fam­i­lies to Chip­ping Cam­p­den, then a ru­ral back­wa­ter with a pop­u­la­tion of about 1,500. Not sur­pris­ingly their ar­rival made a ma­jor im­pact.

At first, lo­cals treated the in­com­ers with mis­trust, over­charged them in shops, had fights with them af­ter clos­ing time and gen­er­ally did all they could to make the East En­ders feel un­wanted.

It prob­a­bly didn’t help that the guild mem­bers were a tightly-knit com­mu­nity.

They or­gan­ised sports days for them­selves, got to­gether ev­ery Fri­day even­ing for singing ses­sions, even pub­lished a book of their own songs.

The utopian ad­ven­ture didn’t last long. By 1908, the Guild of Crafts­men had dis­banded, pri­mar­ily be­cause it was high on ide­al­ism, but low on com­mer­cial busi­ness man­age­ment skills.

Be­fore long, most of the cab­i­net mak­ers, wrought iron work­ers, white­smiths and oth­ers had moved away, but their legacy of high-qual­ity art-crafts­man­ship re­mained in the town.

To­day, the gold and sil­ver­smith Hart’s is the sole sur­viv­ing di­rect link with Ash­bee’s dream.

The work­shop is open to vis­i­tors who come to watch the de­scen­dants of Ge­orge Hart, who ar­rived with Ash­bee, about their work.

To­day the firm spe­cialises in cut­lery and condi­ments, civic sil­ver and church ac­cou­trements.

An­other lo­cal tra­di­tion that Ash­bee and his fol­low­ers helped to re­in­state was the Cotswolds Olimpicks, which take place to this day on the Fri­day and Satur­day af­ter Spring Bank Hol­i­day at nearby Dover’s Hill.

In the 1930s, the au­thor Gra­ham Greene rented a cot­tage in Chip­ping Cam­p­den named Lit­tle Or­chard and worked there on ‘Ru­mours At Night­fall’ and ‘Stam­boul Train’, both nov­els which were made into films.

The film ac­tor Sir Charles Aubrey­smith lived in the town, too.

Not only did he ap­pear in such movies as The Four Feathers, Prisoner Of Zenda and Lit­tle Lord Fauntleroy, but he also cap­tained the Eng­land cricket team on a tour of Aus­tralia.

Less suc­cess­ful per­haps was Jonathan Hulls, who lived in nearby Broad Cam­p­den.

The aptly named Hulls in­vented a steam-pow­ered ship, which he built and tested on the Avon at Eve­sham.

The ex­per­i­ment did not go well, but an­other of his in­ven­tions, the slide rule, en­joyed wide­spread pop­u­lar­ity un­til it was ousted by the pocket cal­cu­la­tor.


The Mar­ket Hall

Noel Arms

The almshouses

High Street

Chip­ping Cam­p­den in the 1950s

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