Thursday, 23 February 2017

Walking through history

 One of the things I love about this corner of the Cotswolds are the many and varied walks that we continue to discover even though we have lived here for over 20 years.  Walks across hilltops with far reaching views, along deep verdant valley bottoms, down networks of quiet hidden narrow country lanes, through pretty stone villages, or as in this case wandering along a towpath running beside a canal.
We know and have walked many different stretches of this canal as it journeys from the River Severn to the River Thames, but we have never discovered this particular part of the towpath previously even though it is no more than a couple of miles from our home high in the hills.

What is now a quiet and peaceful sanctuary - a haven for wetland birds, would have been a hive of industrial activity during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This elegant original brick arched bridge was built in 1778 to carry a road over the canal to the woollen mills.
Today it is hard to imagine what a busy thoroughfare this would have been with boats and people plying up and down the water all day long mainly carrying coal

The ancient church of St Cyr's had already stood here for more than 650 years before the canal was even given consideration during the early part of the c18th.


The whole area with its hills and valleys grew very rich off the backs of sheep for centuries - known as Cotswold 'Lions' and introduced here by the Romans. Medieval weavers in c12th Flanders would sing "the best wool in Europe is English, and the best wool in England is Cotswold"
The prosperous local mill owners built themselves grand mansions, wonderful churches which are still known as 'wool churches', and endowed many fine schools in the area

 via
During the c18th these valleys were particularly famed for their scarlet red wool cloth dyed with cochineal which was used to make soldiers uniforms, but also loved by Cherokee Indians who traded furs for it. In the painting above it is just possible to make out the red wool cloth hanging over tenderhooks to dry on the hillsides
St Cyrs churchyard features several traditional style Cotswold table top tombs




500 years before the wool mills were even built, wool was one of the countries most important commodities. It paid for the great abbeys and monastic buildings and it is acknowledged that wool was responsible for half the wealth in England - wool exports paid for Richard the Lionheart's enormous ransom to the Saracens. The Lord Chancellor still sits to this day on a sack stuffed with wool in The House of Lords showing the pre-eminent position that the wool industry has played in this country's affairs. 

50 comments:

  1. That's the great thing about the UK in general is the amount of variety and history in every location. Just wondering about the difference between Cochineal and Turkey Red for dying as I don't know myself. Turkey Red was used extensively during the industrial revolution to fix long lasting bright red colours into fabric and was a technical breakthrough at that time but came from the rubia plant. It was a complicated process though. Was Cochineal earlier maybe? Only reason I know about it was finding an old factory that made it in Renton. Nice stonework photos.

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    1. I think that both cochineal and turkey red are ancient dyes - my understanding is that turkey red comes from Turkey and is as you say made from the root of the rubia plant common name madder. Traces of it were found in Tutankhamun's tomb. Cochineal comes from a female cochineal beetle that lives in cacti (prickly pears) in South America and was used by the Aztec and Incas.

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  2. That was a nice walk through the Costwolds with you. So many historic places are still kept here and not reduced to rubble in favour for new ones. A beautiful area.

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    1. I suppose that lovely bridge could easily have been destroyed to make way for a bridge that could cope with the road traffic we have today, but fortunately it has not.

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  3. What a fascinating place to go walking, with so much of interest. I think I would love to see that ancient church of St Cyr, and its beautiful table top tombs. The cherubs are so charming. Is there still a wool industry in the Cotswolds? I smiled on seeing the pretty picture with the red woollen cloth hanging in rows - by strange coincidence, I (who so rarely buy wool) today bought a length of bright red wool fabric, along with some black and some gray. Wool is hard to buy in Queensland these days, and I found it at a factory sale. I am now equipped to make some warm clothes to take to Canada next Christmas.

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    1. Dear Patricia - after many centuries, probably a 1000 years, the wool industry fell into decline following cheap imports from the far east during the mid c20th. However, there is now a revival, but on a small scale, with artisan crafts people making and weaving some lovely fabrics.
      Lovely to have chosen red fabric for your next trip to Canada at Christmas.

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  4. You've made me want to go there and look at it even though it's still winter - and it's bound to look even more beautiful in summer. Lovely post. I love to find relics of old industries.

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    1. Dear Jenny - we shall definitely return later in the season when it should be much more lush and also walk further in order to discover, hopefully, more.

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  5. I've always loved time spent the Cotswolds although I admit they've been very short visits sadly.
    I want that adorable sheep - to cuddle and run my fingers through his/her curly wool!
    The history of wool is fascinating and, along with your beautiful photos, my sunny, warm morning - going to get too hot -
    is enjoyable but means no cozy wool sweater required!

    Happy weekend - Mary x

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    1. Dear Mary - lucky you having such lovely warm weather. Soon I will be off to the sun and I am really looking forward to feeling its warmth.

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  6. Lovely evocative photos. The Cotswolds are England at its prettiest and I long to visit again. Suffolk was also big wool country in medieval times and we too have many beautiful wool churches and formerly prosperous towns and villages, some now in decline as the world has moved on. It is wilder and more open here, but has its own special beauty.

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    1. Suffolk is lovely Marianne - there are so many areas in our country that each have their own distinctiveness about them - in relation to your comment I particularly think of Lavenham as being a prime example of a beautiful wool town.

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  7. Hello Rosemary, So many of your posts have that quality of human antiquity impinged upon nature. It is amazing to think that so much of an area was built up based on one commodity--wool, and that its consequences were so far reaching. In the U.S. British woolens are still considered the standard.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - there are still many areas of the country producing fine quality woollen goods - I think of Smedleys in my own home county of Derbyshire, and of course Pringle in Scotland.
      We are fortunate here in that the mills etc. did not impinge or despoil this area. In fact many of the lovely old stone mills have now been converted into interesting apartments.

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  8. Thank you for this lovely history walk. Not only most interesting but beautiful, too.

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    1. Thank you Teresa - I am so pleased that you found it interesting.

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  9. The Cotswolds grabbed a piece of my heart last summer when we visited and I hope we return there one day. We attempted a canal walk in Stroud, but the heat was just too intense and we turned back, finding our way instead to Frith Wood. Walking along the canals and reading about the history of the wool industry is something for next time.
    St. Cyr Church looks lovely beside the canal. So much history. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

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    1. There must have been a time when the church of St.Cyr was at the heart of the community now it is just a quiet little backwater. I do hope you can return one day, and next time you must let me know.

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  10. Wonderful to discover new places to walk and take photos.

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    1. Most places that I have lived I have quickly understood the geography, but here we are always discovering hidden surpries.

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  11. Dear Rosemary,

    The Cotswolds look so beautiful and enjoyed seeing your wonderful photos - loved the photo of the sweet sheep, the church and pretty pink blossom. Thanks for taking us to your lovely part of the world.
    Have a great weekend
    Hugs
    Carolyn

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    1. Hello Carolyn - that blossom is the first of the season and was a most welcome sight in what has felt like a long winter.

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  12. What a lovely walk that must have been. I envy the diversity in the landscape and the layers of human history on it. I would love to take that walk.

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    1. It is very fortunate that human history has not destroyed the landscape here but rather embellished it.

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  13. So lovely place for walking and looking all beautiful. Your photos are really nice.
    Have a nice weekend.

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    1. Thank you Orvokki - hope your weekend is good too.

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  14. Dear Rosemary, Another beautiful post. This is the first time I have seen a table top tomb. I would love to take a trip to the Cotswolds just to study these classic pieces of architecture.

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    1. Dear Gina - the table top tombs gave the stone carvers much more scope to be rather exuberant with their designs and show off their skills. Some of them are covered with cherubs, swags, different fruits and momento mori objects such as skulls.

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  15. I love finding places like that, a little gem that you've passed by on so many occasions and never given a second thought to.

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    1. We surprised ourselves that we had missed this spot, but were happy to discover it.

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  16. Surely a wonderful place to go for walks , and love how there is always something new to discover even in well known places.

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    1. We shall look forward to exploring the area more when the weather gets warmer.

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  17. A wonderful walk in the Cotswolds. On Max' first trip to the U.K. we had a holiday at what was then called Holiday Fellowship but I understand is now just HF at Bourton-on-the Water and did many interesting walks

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    1. Glad this reminded you walks you made in the Cotswolds

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  18. We had some lovely walks in the Cotswolds on our last visit. We spent a day in Burford strolling down the main street and exploring the church. There is a memorial with Native Americans carved on it, with your info about the wool trade it now makes sense.

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    1. That is interesting Susan - I shall watch out for the memorial next time I visit.

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  19. You have a beautiful place to walk. It is nature, beautiful bridge, church and other interesting things along the way. In the spring, when everything overgrown certainly will be even more beautiful. I love snowdrops. Regards.

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    1. Dear Giga - just small signs of spring, but very soon everywhere will suddenly flourish again, what a lovely thought.

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  20. All those beautiful photo's on your blog and others make me want to move to the UK. I love the fifth photo of the old church. So romantic!

    Have a good week Rosemary!

    Madelief x

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    1. Dear Madelief - hope all is well with you - I knew that little church lived somewhere hereabout, but this is the first time that I have actually discovered it.

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  21. I especially like it when you take us around Cotswolds along the different trail each time. Its history is interesting, how the place developed, and it’s almost hard to imagine the time when the canal was busy without your explanation. I enjoyed the quiet winter beauty but seen from snowdrops, pink blossoms (the sixth image) and the previous post, spring seems to be coming much earlier.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - spring feels as if it is finally around the corner, but I was surprised to see that tree filled with pink blossom so early.

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  22. What a lovely and informative post, Rosemary, I'm fascinated to learn about the exchange of goods with the Cherokee Indians.

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    1. I was surprised by that - apparently the women liked the red cloth for their wrap around skirts.

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  23. Sounds like fun to get out into nature and discover new places. I always enjoy the history of an area that you share with us.

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    1. Thanks Janey - glad that you enjoyed the history connected with this post.

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  24. We too are always finding new walks and discover many hidden treasures. There is something that always draws me to canals, we are lucky that is has been too difficult to remove them, unlike the old railway lines. Sarah x

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    1. If our canals and branch railways were still useable then may be our roads would be less congested - neglecting and closing them down, I think, was a mistake.

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