Our journey from Winchombe to Farmcote, across to Stanway, Stanton, Buckland and Broadway
Continuing our journey around the western escarpment of the Cotswolds, in this episode of Hidden Gems we visit many more beautiful villages.
When we first came here we were following in the footsteps of Herbert Evans, our trusted 19th century friend and guide and I for one found myself rather falling for this beautiful ancient town. He led us to approach it uphill from the north and we only managed to get as far as the pub!! There may be a lesson there about our priorities. However, it meant we never got to the church of St Peter, that stands proudly on the hill opposite Sudeley Castle.
Topped by its enormous gilded wooden cockerel, brought, in 1874, all the way from St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, St Peters is not a hugely elaborate church but a dignified building in the perpendicular style, its remodelling dating from around 1460-70.
When you enter the building the first thing that hits you is the busy atmosphere. There is almost always a volunteer on duty to show you round the treasures to be found in the church and to give you a run down on its history. There are so many churches in the area that have a feeling of desolation about them, despite their beauty, that it’s refreshing to meet such enthusiasm.
They will show you the ancient alter cloth, made up of priest’s copes from around 1380 reassembled as an alter cloth in the early 16th century, which shows the pomegranate badge of Catherine of Aragon, the pretty wine-glass shaped pulpit of around 1895, and the chandelier, donated in 1753 and made locally. The stained glass is impressive with some 15th century fragments, a terrific east window from 1885 by Hardman, and two early 19th century figures in the north clerestory brought from Sudeley Castle in 1878.
Around a thousand years ago this little community was given what was described as a chapel of Ease. Built probably by the early Normans, possible even by the late Saxons, this little building allowed the residents of this hamlet to attend church without having to make the arduous and possibly dangerous journey to their local parish church in Guiting Power, 4 or 5 miles away.
The church is full of treasures. The communion rail is 17th century and almost certainly came from Winchcombe church, the wonderful medieval roof of ancient oak beams, the charming bellcote, once a double peal but now just a single bell, touchingly poised inside the nave to summon the village to church; the alter stone, a 13th century mensa, is an extremely rare survivor of the Reformation. It must have been removed, hidden and replaced once sanity was restored. There is even a lovely, canopied tomb featuring the effigies of Henry and Mary Stratford, dressed in full Elizabethan garb and probably dating from around 1590. They show signs of having been cut down to size suggesting that they were made somewhere else by someone you couldn’t believe the tiny space into which they were to be squeezed.
Stanway is truly an extraordinary village. It’s been in the hands of only two families since the 16th century. Therin of course lies its secret. No-one has been able to develop the village into something for which it wasn’t designed.
The Tracy family owned a lease on the estate since the dissolution of the monasteries, before which it was part of the Tewksbury Abbey estate. The Tracy family built this wonderful Jacobean mansion over generations. In 1620 Richard Tracy built the gatehouse outside which Ross and I found ourselves, frankly transfixed.
In 1817 the house passed through the Charteris female line into the possession of the Wemyss family and in 1859/60 they carried out several improvements and additions.
The Wemyss family still own this extraordinary place. They are a noble Scottish family and own several other great houses in Britain but it is enormously to their credit that they have kept this exceptional place pretty much as it was since the start. Just the church, the huge and beautiful Jacobean house with its superb gatehouse, a few cottages and barns all faced in a wonderful golden ashlar stone, and a recently restored working water mill, is pretty much all the village consists of.
This little village of Stanton is just three and a half miles southwest of Broadway. It sits on the very edge of the western escarpment of the Cotswolds and, like its neighbour Stanway, epitomises the unchanged beauty of this extraordinary region.
Those of us who mind a great deal about the conservation of the Cotswolds talk a lot about the way in which the tin-eared developers and their ilk are slowly destroying the ancient beauty of this extraordinary place, but once in the while we come across somewhere that shows just how it’s still possible to hold back the tide of brutal, ugly modernity, and we celebrate.
The irony is that Herbert Evans, whose guide, written in 1905, many of you will know we have been following for some years and with whom I find myself developing an ever-increasing empathy, was talking exactly the same language 120 years ago. And yet some of these places remain pretty much unchanged. Perhaps we are a little too pessimistic, even underestimating the sensibilities of the local authorities and rampaging property developers.
Stanton Church, dedicated to St Micheal and originally built by the monks of Winchcombe in the 12th century, retains its Norman arcade on the north side of the nave but the rest is of a later date. The fine embattled western tower with its pretty recessed ribbed spire and the porch, with an old statue recess in the wall containing a modern image of St Michael and an upper chamber above the door, give this church the impression of splendour and style. But perhaps its most interesting features lie in its furnishings, many of which are early 20th century.
The name Buckland is a common one around here, and it simply means Book Land, or land held by charter or book, in this case as I have mentioned, by the abbey of Gloucester.
The little settlement snuggles in the folds of the hills with all the drowsiness you could hope for from a remote country village. The hills rise up from the small group of houses, giving them a green backdrop with a fringe of trees on the top. These slopes play with your sense of perspective and give the little place a gentle kind of enveloped feeling.
There are three important buildings in the village, the first of which, the old rectory, is now a private house. It was probably built by William Grafton who was rector here from 1466 to 1510. The church sits on the top of a small hillock in the centre of the village and is full of interesting things.
Smaller than many of the other famous Cotswold towns, Broadway is on the northern tip of the region, actually just in the county of Worcestershire, but it’s surrounded on three sides by the rather more familiar Cotswold county of Gloucestershire.
It’s named after its extraordinarily beautiful wide high street, lined with chestnut trees, golden medieval stone buildings, and a plethora of shops, cafes, hotels and pubs which lead you down to the village green at the bottom. Broadway is well worth a visit for this street alone.