Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Cotswolds - Woodstock

Woodstock Oxfordshire town hall on a sunny day

Next in our very occasional series on places to see in the the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, we visit the picturesque market town of Woodstock. The name Woodstock is Old English in origin, meaning a "clearing in the woods". The Domesday Book of 1086 describes Woodstock as a royal forest. Ethelred the Unready, king of England, is said to have held an assembly at Woodstock at which he issued a legal code now known as IX Ethelred.

Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, built a royal lodge in Woodstock and this was enlarged to create a grand manor house by his successor Henry II. The Black Prince was born here in 1330, and It is this area that became the Blenheim estate.

Henry II often stayed at Woodstock with his mistress 'The Fair Rosamund' and during his time spent here granted parcels of land to build hostelries for the use of his men. A weekly market, on Tuesdays was also established when he gave Woodstock a Royal charter in 1179. 

Quiet Woodstock road in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
The small road at the back of the town that leads to the entrance to Blenheim Palace.

Near the village was Woodstock Palace, a residence that was popular with several English kings throughout the medieval period. The building was destroyed in the English Civil War, and when Thomas Wyatt led an uprising in 1554 to depose Queen Mary I and put Princess Elizabeth on the throne in her place, Elizabeth was imprisoned in a lodge in Woodstock as a precaution. The lodge was used because the now lost Woodstock Palace or manor house was too dilapidated to house her.

The old palace remains were cleared for the building of Blenheim Palace In the 16th century, the 1st Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill) was given it in honour for his victories over the French and the Bavarians at Blenheim in 1704. 

The Palace that stands today was built in 1715 by the architect John Vanbrugh and the park was landscaped by Capability Brown. With the building of the new palace came much new building in Woodstock itself, and many of the old timber-framed buildings were given new fronts of coursed stone and reroofed using slate from nearby Stonesfield.

Blenheim Palace entrance in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
The main pedestrian entrance to the palace in Woodstock.

From the 16th century the town prospered by making gloves. Today it is largely dependent on tourists, most of whom visit Blenheim.

Probably the town’s most famous historical connection is to Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace, spent much of his boyhood there, and today, lies at rest in Woodstock’s neighbouring village, Bladon, in a modest, family plot situated in St. Martin’s churchyard. In July 1895 Winston Churchill wrote to his mother: 'I went this morning to Bladon to look at Papa's grave . . . . I was so struck by the sense of quietness and peace, as well as by the old-world air of the place that my sadness was not unmixed with solace.' He often visited his parents' graves when he stayed at Blenheim Palace, and expressed the wish to be buried there himself.

He died on 24th January 1965, exactly seventy years to the day after his father, with the funeral service taking place at St Paul's Cathedral. It was marked with all the pomp & ceremony of Church and State, and was attended by the Queen, together with rulers from all over the world, and shared by the whole nation. In contrast, the burial at Bladon was private, as his wife, Lady Churchill wished, with only close friends and family being present.

Shops in the historic town of Woodstock in Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
Woodstock is unsurprisingly home to several antique shops.
Hampers cafe and deli in historic Woodstock
There are several places to eat in the town.
The Kings Arms in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
And to get a drink.
Historic Bear Hotel in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
One of the most historic businesses in town today, the Bear Hotel, was providing refuge to travelers as far
back as the 13th century when it was built as a coaching inn. 

The River Glyme, in a steep valley, divides the town into New and Old Woodstock. The town has two main suburbs: Hensington to the south and east of the town centre, and Old Woodstock to the north. The Grade II listed town hall (image at top of page) was built by the famous architect Sir William Chambers, who also designed Somerset House in London, The Pagoda in Kew Gardens and parts of Blenheim Palace. Chaucer's House was once home to the Chancellor of England, Thomas Chaucer, thought to be the son of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

Historic buildings along Woodstock High Street by Martyn Ferry Photography
Historic buildings along the High Street.
Italian restaurant in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
Brothertons Italian Brasserie 
The Feathers Hotel in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
The historic Feathers Hotel, located in a 17th century town house.
Sunny courtyard outside a restaurant in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
A sunny courtyard outside La Galleria restaurant.
High Street in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
A view down the main road that runs through the town.

St Mary Magdalene Church was built in the reign of Henry I for the convenience of the court during visits to the royal hunting lodge of Woodstock Manor - the main parish church was (and remained for centuries) at St Martin's Church in Bladon, for which St Mary Magdalene was a chapel at ease. 

The chancel was built in the 14th century but the church has been significantly rebuilt and altered over the centuries, the church did not escape Victorian 'improvements' being largely reconstructed in 1878. The oldest parts of the church can be seen from the churchyard: the fine Norman doorway in the south side of the building with its chevron (zigzag) pattern, and to the right, two 13th century windows.

St Mary Magdalene church in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Norman doorway and windows can be seen from here.
Woodstock church interior by Martyn Ferry Photography
The interior of St Mary Magdalene church.

The church clock is no ordinary clock but a musical clock or carillon: four times a day it plays a tune – a different tune for each day of the week.

The Oxfordshire Museum, the county museum of Oxfordshire, occupies Fletcher's House, a large historic house in the centre of Woodstock. The museum has a garden containing works of art and a Dinosaur Garden with a full-size replica of a Megalosaurus.

The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock by Martyn Ferry Photography
Entrance to the Oxfordshire Museum.
5 hole stocks in Woodstock Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
The stocks, located outside the museum, are unusual in that they are the 5 hole variety, meaning the unlucky
miscreant would have their legs, arms and head locked in place. At least the roof protected them from
the rain!

And that just about wraps up this interesting little town, well worth a visit, especially if combined with a stroll around Blenheim Park.

You can see more images from the beautiful Cotswolds countryside on my website. 

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