Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Cotswolds - Charlbury

Charlbury in the Cotswolds landscape by Martyn Ferry Photography

Charlbury is a small town in the Evenlode valley, it looks across the valley to the fine 600 acre Cornbury Park estate almost surrounded by the great woodlands of Wychwood Forest. Evidence suggests that the town started life as a small Anglo-Saxon settlement in a clearing in Wychwood Forest. The town made prosperous during the 18th century thanks to it's glove making industry.

Looking towards Charlbury village church by Martyn Ferry Photography
A view towards St Mary's Church from the end of Church Street, rather appropriately.

There is still debate on how the town name is is properly pronounced ‘Chorlbury’ or ‘Charlbury’. It is generally agreed that the Old English word ceorl denoted a freeman or free peasant – of lowly status according to some (‘churl’), or of some substance according to others, including those who think that Ceorl may have been the proper name of a prominent person, Charles perhaps, and that burh (meaning a fortified place) was his stronghold. This in turn has spawned the notion that Charlbury has been a settlement of free men ever since, a view still proudly held by some local people.

The Bell Inn at the Cotswold town of Charlbury Martyn Ferry Photography
The Bell Inn

The Bell Inn is an ancient hostelry, whose foundations probably go back to the town's first market in 1256. The date 1700 over the entrance tells us when it was altered and repaired. First penned in the street, the livestock were later moved to the yard behind, but in 1955 by agreement with the Tayler & Fletcher Brewery, the auctioneers moved the market to Kingham.

Charlbury is known for its annual beer festival, normally second week in July, and Cornbury Park for its yearly music festival. The Cornbury Festival is one-of-a-kind: an eclectic and eccentric musical carnival - a summer festival disguised as a country fayre.

Charlbury also has its own Riverside Festival, a weekend of live music over two stages every year, and it's free to enter. Plus a yearly street fair, that dates back to 1950.

One of the other ancient inns, the Rose & Crown which hosts live music and attracts artists from North 
America, Europe and from all over the UK play.
Sheep Street in Charlbury by Martyn Ferry Photography
Looking down sheep street. Apart from the fact the roads are now paved and lined, the centre of of the 
town has changed very little since the 18th century.
Two laxy dogs on Sheep Street in the Cotswold town of Charlbury by Martyn Ferry Photography
Despite the plague of cars, it's still a rather sleepy little place most of the year.
The little Museum at Charlbury in the Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
Charlbury Museum is an independent museum, run entirely by volunteers. Its five rooms are crammed 
with exhibits revealing the history of this ancient market town.
Historic railway station at Charlbury by Martyn Ferry Photography
Charlbury Railway Station, on the Cotswold railway line which follows the Evenlode Valley.

The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway opened the station in 1853. The company employed Isambard Kingdom Brunel as its Engineer and one of his standard 'chalet-type' stations was used at Charlbury. The station, now a Grade II Listed Building, retains much of its original general appearance.

The church at the Cotswold town of Charlbury by Martyn Ferry Photography
St Mary the Virgin Church, the same name as the one at Chipping Norton.

Parts of the present church building date from the 12th century, though a Saxon church may have existed here. This is supported by a list made in about 1015 of the burial places of saints in England, which says that St. Diuma, a 7th century bishop of the Middle Angles and Mercians, 'rests in the place that is called Ceorlingburh'. 

From 1094 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, all appointments to the living of Charlbury were made by the Abbey of Eynsham. From 1296 the Abbey received the main tithes of corn and from then on, appointed Vicars received the lesser tithes of hay and offerings made by the congregation. 

Charlbury church interior by Martyn Ferry Photography
Interior of the church

The Church Council took advantage of major restoration that was needed in the early 1990s, to  modernise the interior of the church, removing the pews for one thing, to enable more flexibility for different functions.

St Mary's Church at Charlbury in the Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
The sundial, you can see on the top right of the picture, on the south wall is dated 1776.
Old lane in the town of Charlbury in the Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
One of the old lanes, looking very much as it would have around 
200 years ago.
An 18th Century frontage with a generous covering of wisteria.

Quakerism reached Charlbury in the Commonwealth that followed the English Civil War. Anne Downer, the daughter of a former Vicar of Charlbury, joined the Religious Society of Friends in London in 1654. In 1655 she became the first Quaker woman preacher, for which she was imprisoned and beaten.

Today, many of the notable houses in the town, either are or were, in Quaker hands, such was the popularity of the religion in area. There is still a Friends' Meeting House down Market Street, first built in 1681, rebuilt in 1779 and enlarged in 1987, it is an unassuming building which continues to be the focus of worship for Quaker families in the Charlbury area.

Oxford, Witney & Woodstock on an old street sign in Charlbury
An old street sign on the side of one of the buildings, pointing the way to some of Charlbury's 
larger neighbours. 

Charlbury, a rather pretty and quiet little town, that thanks, in part, to the various festivals that take place in or around it, manages to also be a rather lively place, so giving it the best of both worlds.

Next up is Kingham, Voted 'England's Favourite Village 2006 by Country Life magazine.

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

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