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The History Of The Cotswolds


Neolithic Age

Nympsfield Long Barrow The first Neolithic visitors came to the Cotswolds in about 3500BC. There are great monuments to the way of life over the area and these consist mainly of the many long barrows, the burial tombs of which there is evidence of about seventy in Gloucestershire. Many of these great mausoleums have been destroyed but several of the sites are still visible and worth visiting.

The site of Belas Knap, can be found in a wooded area above Winchcombe, just off the B4632 and Hetty Peglers Tump can be approached from the B4066 at nearby Uley and the Notgrove Long Barrow is close to the A436 at Cold Aston. Other Neolithic sites have been discovered at Hazleton and Withington and archeological discoveries include small houses and flint tools.

The Bronze Age

The Rollright Stones The Bronze Age introduced much grander monuments, notably large stone circles and though two of the most famous and important are found outside of the area, the Cotswolds is blessed with the famous site of the Rollright Stones. It is said that visitors can never count the same number of stones twice. The King Stone, like the Hele Stone at Stonehenge points towards the rising sun. Close to the stone circle lies the Five Whispering Knights. The site is off the A3400 near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

Other standing stones can be found on Minchinhampton Common and there are the Three Shire Stones at Marshfield. A Long Barrow can be found at Nymphsfield in Gloucestershire close to Hetty Peglers Tump. When this tomb was excavated fifteen skeletons were found inside the chambers. Other sites of interest can be seen at Nan Tow's Tump, beside the A46 at Oldbury on the Hill and Beech Pike Barrow at Colesbourne, near Cirencester.

The Iron Age

Minchinhampton Bulwarks, the remains of the Iron Age hill fort With the arrival of the Iron Age the monuments left behind can be seen from afar. The Iron Age people were the engineers of the impressive hill forts or camps such as those at Little Sodbury, situated close to the  A46, Uleybury on the B4066 and at Crickley Hill, near the junction of the A417 and A436 at Birdlip.

A short time before AD1 an invasion of the Belgic People swept through the area and the conquerors set up their capital at Bagendon in the Churn valley. The Dobunni tribe stayed in the area awaiting the arrival of the Roman Legions in AD43. The Bagendon site is reached from the A435 from Cirencester and several sections of the impressive ramparts remain to the north of the village. Other Belgic earthworks are seen on the Commons of Minchinhampton and Rodborough. Brackenbury Ditches near North Nibley, Old Sodbury and Salmonsbury Fort near Bourton-on-the-Water are just some of the hill forts that can be visited.

Roman Cotswolds

North Leigh Roman Villa, Witney, Oxfordshire. The Roman Legions arrived in AD43 under the command of Aulus Plautious and the army remained for several centuries leaving the Cotswolds rich in architectural remains. Major communication links were established with Corinium, now modern day Cirencester, with the construction of Ermin Way to Silchester, the frontier road of the Fosse Way passing through the area from Lincoln to Axminster and Akeman Street to St.Albans. In the north of the Cotswolds the Ryknild Street joins the Fosse Way at Bourton 0n the Water.

On arriving at Cirencester the Legions established their camp at Chesterton on the outskirts of the town. There are excellent remains at Cirencester including a section of the town wall and a large amphitheatre close to the hospital. The Corinium Museum is the home to some of the fine mosaics found in Cirencester including a replica of the pavement from the villa discovered at Woodchester. Substantial villa remains can be seen at Chedworth, just off the Fosse Way at Yanworth and other remains can be seen at Witcombe, near Birdlip and North Leigh, near Witney. Other sites worth visiting are at Gloucester, the Roman "Glevum" and the replica Woodchester mosaic can be seen at Prinknash Abbey.

There is of course the must see "Aquae Sulis", the fine city of Bath, with it's Roman Baths and Pump Rooms.

The Saxons

Odda's Chapel, Deershurst, near Tewkesbury. The Saxons arrived from Germany in the fifth century, and during this period of unrest little is recorded and what is known is somewhat clouded in myth. After the death of the legendary King Arthur a battle took place at Dyrham in Gloucestershire and from here the cities of Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester were captured and Britain began to take the shape it is today.

The name given to the Cotswolds is said to be of Saxon origins. A hill farmer with the name "Cod" was reputed to be the source of the Cotswold name, and wold being the high land on which he farmed, hence Cod's Wold. There have been many archeological discoveries throughout the area and some of the most important finds can be seen at Corinium Museum in Cirencester and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. St Mary, Deershurst, near Tewkesbury.There are several churches in the Cotswolds that stem from Saxon buildings but two pure Saxon chapels, St Laurence at Bradford on Avon and Odda's Chapel at Deerhurst can be visited. The village of Deerhurst is unusual in that there are two Saxons churches. The parish church of St Mary is also Saxon and the Deerhurst Angel, a Saxon sculpture must be seen.

In AD787 a monastery was founded by Offa, King of Mercia and the town of Winchcombe grew around it, eventually becoming the capital town of Mercia. The town of Malmesbury is reputed to be the oldest borough in England and received its charter in AD880 from King Alfred the Great, although there is earlier recorded evidence noted by the Venerable Bede when the town was called Maeldulphi Urbs. The hilltop town is dominated by the remains of the great 7th century Benedictine Monastery- the jewel in the crown- built by Aldhelm a nephew of King Ina of Wessex.

Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire. Cricklade is a small town, lying just outside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the only Wiltshire town situated on the banks of the River Thames. Just to the east of the town is Ermin Way, near to the busy A419. The road built by the Romans from Silchester to Gloucester and form the causeway across the flood plain. The centre of the town lies within the former walls of the Saxon stronghold built by Alfred the Great to help defend the Kingdom of Wessex from the invading Danes. The ramparts are laid out in a rectangle and the natural creation of the flood plain between the River Thames and the Churn along with minor streams gave the Danes a formidable target to overcome. Although none of the Saxon fortifications can be seen remains can be traced, particularly from the North Wall.

Oxford or Ohsnafordia, as it was known in Saxon times, began to take on a much more important role within Britain, when during the late Saxon period the town was on the main trading route between the two powerful kingdoms of Mercia and King Alfred's Wessex.