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Ancient and historic Stow on-the Wold is the highest town in the Cotswolds standing 800 feet above sea level.
Early Stow on the Wold
Stow has attracted people settling in the Cotswolds since the Iron Age. Early Cotswold settlers were drawn initially to the adjoining village of Maugersbury, but overtime the commercial success of Stow has seen the town establish itself as the pre-eminent town in the Cotswolds.
Stow is located at the junction of six roads making it an important and natural meeting place of the Cotswolds. One of the renowned Cotswold routes meeting in Stow is the famous Roman road – The Fosse Way.
Medieval Stow on the Wold
The centre of Stow has a remarkably large and impressive market square. Markets have regularly taken place in Stow since 1107 when King Henry II granted a charter. Originally known as Edwardstow, the town was probably founded in the 11th century.
The Square is a reminder of Stow on the Wold’s heritage as the Cotswold’s major sheep market. In one of his Cotswold travels writer Daniel Defoe once recorded that 20,000 sheep were sold during a single day. Another reminder of Stow’s past is the little alleys leading from the market square. These were intentionally built narrow and winding as a way to control and count sheep. Also in the square are the old penal stocks now a famous Cotswold landmark.
History and hospitality is never far away in Stow. Stow is the location of the oldest inn in England with a history reaching as far back as 987AD. The Royalist Hotel dining lounge still has a medieval fireplace showing "witch's marks" which were meant to ward off spells. There is also a resident ghost or two, and rumours of a secret tunnel from the cellars, leading under the street.
Stow has always catered for visitors and travellers. At one time it was said that just about every building on the square was either an Inn or sold refreshment. The tradition continues today with some of the best Cotswold Hotels, Inns and restaurants.
Stow on the Wold in the English Civil War
The Royalist is not the only inn in Stow with historic connections. The Kings Arms on the market square hosted King Charles I before the Battle of Naseby in 1645.Another historic Cotswold building is the church of St Edward.The church is primarily a product of the 11th century with later additions in the 15th century. Quite apart from the lovely architecture, the church has a significant historical connection with the Battle of Stow on the Wold. The battle was the final conflict of the English Civil War.
In 1646 a Royalist army marched through the Cotswolds in a desperate attempt to join up with King Charles at Oxford. They were finally confronted at Stow on the Wold by a Parliamentary force. The fighting was fierce and deadly. The Royalists were defeated and over 1000 imprisoned within the church.
So great was the slaughter that it was said that ducks were able to bathe in the pools of blood that formed on the street leading away from the market square. This is said to be the origin of the street's name; "Digbeth", for "Duck's Bath".
A much later addition to Stow is St Edwards Hall in the market square. This was built in 1878. Money for the building came from funds left unclaimed in the town Savings Bank. The Hall houses the public library and exhibitions of Civil War artifacts.
Fairs and Markets in Stow on the Wold
Fairs and meetings have been a feature of Stow since 1330 when the right to hold an annual fair was granted. By 1476 there were two annual fairs taking place during May and October. This tradition remains to today although the sheep sales have been replaced by horse and all types of other goods being traded. Throughout the rest of the year visitors are drawn to Stow’s unique Cotswold shopping facilities.