Picturesque Chipping Campden is never short of praise from the guide books
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
Chipping Campden in the 1950s