the beautiful cotswolds of england -- 5/12/20

Today's selection -- from The Cotswolds by Josceline Finberg. The Cotswolds region of England is one of the most beautiful and charming in the world, with villages and towns much as they were centuries ago:

"The Cotswold style, as it has come to be called, is a variation of the building fashions of the late sixteenth century, identified by prominent gables, low roofs with dormers, casement windows with stone mullions and transoms, and moulded dripstones and doorcases. In the Cotswolds, gables are numerous; on all the more important houses, and often on cottages, dormers in the roof take the form of small flat gables, and the flat gable is a regular feature.

"The chief glory of Cotswold building, however, is the stone-tiled roof, steeply pitched and slightly concave, swept without flashing or gutter round the angles of gables and wings, finished with beautifully dressed ridges and carved finials, and crowned by simple chimney stacks of smooth ashlar. This is not an arbitrary convention: the porous quality of oolite demands a steep pitch to allow the water to run off quickly; the concave slope helps to prevent the tiles from shifting. Exceptionally heavy timbers are needed to carry the great weight of a stone roof, and the high price of long members in a country early denuded of woodland probably encouraged the use of a flat gable as a means of reducing the number of full-length timbers required.

Row houses of Cotswold stone

"The fame of Cotswold freestone meant that ornamental detail was usually carved by masons trained in quarries able to produce work of the highest quality, for dispatch to churches and public build­ings all over the south of England. Greater height and symmetry in the design of elevations were in due course introduced to comply with current fashion, and windows were modified and improved, but for over two hundred years the Tudor forms, so well suited to the material, remained standard in the Cotswolds for all building below the rank of mansion, and survive in profusion in town and village, farmstead and barn. It is a style well adapted to modern living, and was successfully revived in the early years of the present century.

"Although there are many slopes too steep for cultivation, it is easy to see that these favoured uplands are being prosperously farmed. There is nothing new in this. Already four thousand years ago Neolithic culture flourished on the shallow, but well-drained and relatively fertile soils. In Roman Britain this district, though it was at the very edge of the well-populated and thoroughly colonized southern province, was one of the most favoured. Large-scale sheep-rearing in the Old English period is suggested by the numerous Shiptons ( = sheep farm) and kindred names. In the middle ages Cotswold was a name well-known far beyond the national frontiers; it appears in the fifteenth-century records of Italian merchants as Chiondisgualdo, and Burford, Northleach and Cirencester were given equally outlandish transliterations. The Cotswold sheep brought the towns and villages wealth which founded the local building style, and developed the local character. This is not a landscape for romantics who think that people are pollution; it is a land of old settlement, gentle with long civilization, with an unsurpassed tradition of continuity and excellence.

"The landscape offers two principal types of scenery. From the Iron Age fort on the Edge above Old Sodbury, north-eastward to the Cherwell and south-east to Malmesbury and Burford, the wall-chequered wolds curve and sweep in bare graceful lines, with rare plantations of beech and conifer, with isolated farmsteads and separate farm-buildings sparsely sprinkled over them. The network of roads is somewhat sparse too, but even lanes have a generous width, often with wide grassy verges on which bloom limestone-loving flowers in great profusion -- until the County Council arrives with its pot of poison.

Rolling hills and farm fields that typify the Cotswolds landscape

"Traveller's joy, the wild clematis, ramps over the wayside walls and self-sown saplings. Steep turf slopes are decked with white thorn and elder. Most of the villages lie hidden from the main roads in the valleys which intersect the plateau. The Churn, the Coln, the Leech, the Windrush, the Evenlode and their feeders have each a string of stone-built, stone-tiled villages shaded by groups of fine beech and chestnut trees, along the course of their limpid, flower-strewn waters. The Coln is notable for trout, and formerly local people used to hunt all the Cotswold streams at night for crayfish. In the Oxfordshire Cotswolds the bare sweep of the wolds is fragmented by much deeper valleys, though the streams are insignificant; drystone walls, where they exist, are buried in vegetation; the villages perch high on the valley sides, and thatch rivals stone slate as a roofing material.

"This is a sparsely populated land where agriculture is still the dominant indus­try, and towns are all very small with most of their traditional building as yet unspoilt. Only Cirencester has a population over 10,000."



Josceline Finberg


The Cotswolds


Eyre Methuen


Copyright 1977 Josceline Finberg


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