The small and secluded Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden, once the church’s vegetable patch, is a botanist’s delight today. It’s filled with well-labeled plants that the Victorian botanist Ernest Wilson brought back to England from his extensive travels in Asia. There’s a complete history of the garden on the board to the left of the entry (free, open daily until dusk).
• Backtrack to Church Street. Turn left, walk past the Eight Bells Inn, and head across the street.
Sprawling adjacent to the town church, the area known as Baptist Hicks Land holds Hicks’ huge estate and manor house. This influential Lord of the Manor was from “a family of substance,” who were merchants of silk and fine clothing as well as moneylenders. Beyond the ornate gate, only a few outbuildings and the charred corner of his mansion survive. The mansion was burned by Royalists in 1645 during the Civil War—notice how Cotswold stone turns red when burned. Hicks housed the poor, making a show of his generosity, adding a long row of almshouses (with his family coat of arms) for neighbors to see as they walked to church. These almshouses (lining Church Street on the left) house pensioners today, as they have since the 17th century.
• Walk along the wall that lines the Hicks estate to the church, where a scenic, tree-lined lane leads to the front door. On the way, notice the 12 lime trees, one for each of the apostles, that were planted in about 1760 (sorry, no limes).
One of the finest churches in the Cotswolds, St. James Church graces one of its leading towns. Both the town and the church were built by wool wealth. The church is Perpendicular Gothic, with lots of light and strong verticality. Before you leave, notice the fine vestments and altar hangings behind protective blue curtains (near the back of the church). Tombstones pave the floor—memorializing great wool merchants through the ages.
At the altar is a brass relief of William Grevel, the first owner of the Grevel House (see above), and his wife. But it is Sir Baptist Hicks who dominates the church. His huge, canopied tomb is the ornate final resting place for Hicks and his wife, Elizabeth. Study their faces, framed by fancy lace ruffs (trendy in the 1620s). Adjacent—as if in a closet—is a statue of their daughter, Lady Juliana, and her husband, Lutheran Yokels. Juliana commissioned the statue in 1642, when her husband died, but had it closed until she died in 1680. Then, the doors were opened, revealing these two people living happily ever after—at least in marble. The hinges were likely used only once.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at email@example.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.
© 2010 Rick Steves