This 500-yard walk through “Campden” (as locals call their town) takes you from the tourist information office (TI) to the church in about 30 minutes.
If it’s open, begin at the Magistrate’s Court (can be closed for meetings, events, and even weddings). This meeting room is in the old police station, located above the TI (free, same hours as TI, ask at TI to go up). Under the open-beamed courtroom, you’ll find a humble little exhibit on the town’s history.
Campden’s most famous monument, the Market Hall, stands in front of the TI, marking the town center. It was built in 1627 by the 17th-century Lord of the Manor, Sir Baptist Hicks. (Look for the Hicks family coat of arms in the building’s facade.) Back then, it was an elegant—even over-the-top—shopping hall for the townsfolk who’d come here to buy their produce. In the 1940s, it was almost sold to an American, but the townspeople heroically raised money to buy it first, then gave it to the National Trust for its preservation.
The timbers inside are true to the original. Study the classic Cotswold stone roof, still held together with wooden pegs nailed in from underneath. (Tiles were cut and sold with peg holes, and stacked like waterproof scales.) Buildings all over the region still use these stone shingles. Today, the hall hosts local fairs.
Chipping Campden’s High Street has changed little architecturally since 1840. (The town’s street plan survives from the 12th century.) Notice the harmony of the long rows of buildings. While the street comprises different styles through the centuries, everything you see was made of the same Cotswold stone—the only stone allowed today.
To be level, High Street arcs with the contour of the hillside. Because it’s so wide, you know this was a market town. In past centuries, livestock and packhorses laden with piles of freshly shorn fleece would fill the streets. Campden was a sales and distribution center for the wool industry, and merchants from as far as Italy would come here for the prized raw wool.
High Street has no house numbers—people know the houses by their names. In the distance, you can see the town church (where this walk ends).
• Hike up High Street to just before the first intersection.
In 1367, William Grevel built what’s considered Campden’s first stone house: Grevel House (on the left). Sheep tycoons had big homes. Imagine back then, when this fine building was surrounded by humble wattle-and-daub huts. It had newfangled chimneys, rather than a crude hole in the roof. (No more rain inside!) Originally a “hall house” with just one big, tall room, it got its upper floor in the 16th century. The finely carved central bay window is a good early example of the Perpendicular Gothic style. The gargoyles scared away bad spirits—and served as rain spouts. The boot scrapers outside each door were fixtures in that muddy age—especially in market towns, where the streets were filled with animal dung.
• Continue up High Street for about 100 yards. Go past Church Street (which we’ll walk up later). Across the street, you’ll find a small Gothic arch leading into a garden.
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 protected], or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.
© 2010 Rick Steves