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Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 12:38 03 June 2010 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013

The King's Arms is where Charles I is said to have stayed in the town.

The King's Arms is where Charles I is said to have stayed in the town.

Nine hundred years ago, Stow-on-the-Wold was granted its right to a weekly market. <br/><br/>Words and photography by Mark Child

This year, Stow-on-the-Wold commemorates the 900th anniversary of its first Royal Charter. There is to be a celebratory Medieval Fayre in Stow Square on 18th August. It was in 1107 that Henry I granted the right of a weekly market at Stow on Thursdays to Evesham Abbey, who owned nearby Maugersbury Manor, making all market fees payable to the manor. The abbey had acquired these lands under questionable circumstances. In 978, Edward II was murdered at Corfe Castle, where he was visiting his stepmother Aelfthryn and her son Aethelred. Although their implication remained unproven, popular opinion was uncharitable. Aethelred 'the Unready' was sufficiently ill-advised to compound the conspiracy theories by giving out gifts of lands to religious houses by way of reparation. At Domesday, the settlement was called Eduuarddstou, a continuing reminder of the deed and its aftermath.



Once they had Maugersbury, the monks of Evesham set about developing a place of trade nearby. Here, the north-south Roman road nudged past, and a number of major drovers routes met; Stow was on the main cattle run between Wales and the markets of north Oxfordshire. The monks of Evesham laid out the settlement purely for its commercial value, and the size of the marketplace shows the considerable amount of trade that was carried on here, both of livestock and in the hiring of human labour. Thus, by 1107, the long-established commercial aspect of the settlement was well enough advanced for Henry I to make his market charter; nineteen years later, he decreed that the fees should be paid direct to the abbey at Evesham.



Eventually, eight old ways meandered into Stow, making it an ideal centre for trade. People who dealt in essential commodities as varied as salt and charcoal were able to come from Wales, the Midlands and the Thames Valley to sell their products here, as did the rural craftspeople of the Cotswold region. The market cross was put up to remind everyone involved in the transactions that they were expected to deal honestly and honourably. The seven-foot-high medieval shaft and square broach socket remain; but the sculpted head was the work of Medland & Son of Gloucester in 1878. Stow's commodity market carried on in what is now the town square until about 1900.



Of course, it was sheep that gave Stow its name and its fortune; and it is alleged that some twenty thousand might have changed hands there on a single day. The name of Sheep Street reminds of us the town's past, even if the church is the least characteristic of the Cotswolds' 'wool' church type. Its fame rests at another point in history. However, the sheep that came to Stow's market place were local, and were not taken far along drovers' routes. Instead, they came through a network of trackways and lanes from around the Cotswolds, to the outskirts of the town, and were then funnelled through narrow entrances into the square. The approach roads were intentionally narrow so that they might more readily be blocked, thereby helping to contain the wayward creatures. Huge quantities of livestock were herded into this exceptionally long and wide marketplace, where they were penned and sold.



In 1330, Edward III granted a seven-day fair in August; in 1476, Edward IV replaced this with two five-day fairs: one was to be held two days before the feast of St Philip and St James in May, and two days afterwards; the other was similarly arranged around the feast day of St Edward in October. The feast day of the latter, king and martyr, is fixed at October 13; that of SS Philip and James has been moved about - it began on 1 May, was moved to 11 May in the mid-20th century, and to 3 May in 1970, although it is generally taken as 1 May today. These fairs translate into the Gypsy Horse Fairs that are such a contemporary attraction for visitors to the town.



Over the years I have been writing about Stow-on-the-Wold, debate in the town about these gypsy fairs has become increasingly intense, and opposition more openly vitriolic. Traders in the town who are opposed to them will bring up the matter spontaneously, especially those in the licensed and catering trades who 'are forced to close the public bars (and thereby lose trade) because of the fear of loutish and violent behaviour, damage to property, etc'. One bar owner told me: "It's all very well for visitors to come and look at the fairs as if they are some sort of pleasant rural activity, and then go away afterwards feeling that they have somehow become more in touch with their heritage and the land. They simply don't see or understand the havoc wrought on Stow every single time, and the financial loss to our businesses."



A restaurant owner told me that everything has to be removed from the walls at the time of the gypsy fairs, or the pictures and artefacts will disappear. In addition, a Stow hotel manager, who has had nothing but bad experiences resulting from the fairs, believes that the only way forward is for the events to be self-policing, in much the same way as that which occurs at the Bulldog Bash at Stratford-upon-Avon in August. "Step out of line there," he told me "and you are quickly taken aside by a few intimidating, hairy bikers whose bad side you certainly don't want to get on, and reminded just where the line is that you are not expected to cross!"



This year, between the horse fairs, Stow will be mounting its own neo-historic spectacle. The town, which has a resident population of around 2,300, gets upwards of 150,000 visitors each year. Organisers of the 2007 Medieval Fayre are hoping that the event will bring in at least 5,000 visitors on the day, and a number of businesses have been happy to put their hands in their corporate pockets to help make it a success. That said, this being Stow-on-the-Wold, there are those who take a jaundiced view. "Why on earth," asked one hotelier, "was this organised for August when the hotels are nearly full anyway, and which is almost always the most profitable mid-year month for most retailers in the town? It would have been much more helpful to everyone if it had been arranged for one of the traditionally slack months, when traders would really have welcomed a boost." One sympathises with this view, but unfortunately, the charter was not granted on a date that anticipated peaks and troughs in 21st-century business.



On the anniversary day, there is to be an early morning re-enactment of the presenting of the 1107 charter, involving Henry Elwes, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucester, and we are thereafter promised 'knights fighting on foot on Stocks Green, a mounted knight parading around, medieval tents, period craft stalls and demonstrations, and opportunities to join in'. The Town Council is hoping that residents will get into the spirit of the event by joining the local school, teashop staff, and hotel staff in hiring medieval-style costumes and appearing dressed in them on the day. To make this easy for everyone, a costume company will be hiring their medieval-style clothes from the British Legion hall on the Sunday before Fayre day, and it may still be possible to hire appropriate costumes on the day of the festivities.



Rob Butler, whose company, Historical Promotions of Okehampton, is a national organiser of historical fairs, medieval pageants, living history days and the like, has put the whole event together on behalf of the Stow-on-the-Wold Town Council. According to Rob, his company excels at 'hands-on' entertainment, and at demonstrations that really bring history to life, and this approach is ideal for children at various Key Stages of history within the national curriculum. The demonstrations taking place at Stow have been especially selected to represent occupations that would have been carried out in the town during the medieval period. The people involved are all experts in their crafts, and come from places all over the country.



Throughout the day, Andy Spatcher, the mounted knight in full medieval livery, will be parading around the streets and encouraging visitors towards the square, where the main demonstrations will be taking place. He will have a particular interest in attracting visitors to the medieval foot tournaments, which will show how knights behaved in those far-off days; how they were dressed and armed; who attended them; and what their specific skills were.



Demonstrations are expected to include candlemakers Margaret and Roy Figgis, showing their techniques with tallow. Fletcher and arrow maker Mike Manns will be displaying a variety of types of medieval arrows and arrowheads, showing how they were made, and talking about medieval warfare. A replica medieval forge, operated by Jack Greene, will be making commonly produced metal items, including ironwork, and the arrowheads needed by the fletcher. Period moneyer, Russell Scott, will be producing replica medieval coins using traditional skills and methods of working. Under supervision, children will be able to try their hands at striking their own coins. Dyer Debbie Crum will be preparing colours, and dyeing cloth, using the various plant dyes and minerals that were available during the period.



There will be a medieval-style apothecary on hand in the form of master herbalist John Stoker who, with his medieval midwife and wise woman, will be showing the herbs that were used in medieval medicine, their preparation and applications. You will also be able to discover about health and the prevalent diseases of the time; learn how wounds and diseases were treated using traditional methods and practices; and encounter the long-practised art of blood letting. Tony Bryant, falconer, will be talking about one of the medieval period's most popular pastimes, and enabling visitors to handle his birds under supervision. Other attractions are expected to include a demonstration of spinning and weaving, another on finger braiding, and the work of the cordwainer. You can watch as the latter works in leather, making items - such as belts, pouches and tankards - that were required during the medieval period.



Music plays a considerable part in the 900th anniversary celebrations. Tony Westran, who makes period musical instruments using tools, materials and methods of working that were available during the medieval period, will be demonstrating his art. Throughout the day, medieval music will be made on ancient-style instruments by strolling players, and medieval dancers will perform to tunes of the period. Another entertainer, the rat-catcher magician Jonathan de Hadleigh, will be performing his act at various intervals, and Thor Ewing will be delighting children with medieval tales and stories from the past.



On the evening of the Medieval Fayre, the band Copyrite will perform an open-air concert of pop and rock covers from a stage in the market square. These talented musicians are all A-level music students from The Cotswold School at Bourton-on-the-Water, and they have been playing variously in public for about two years. The band, which formed some six months ago, comprises Mike Brown, guitar; Chris Bygrave, keyboards; Will Thomas, base guitar; and Callum Peaston, drums. Their vocalist is eighteen-year-old Dee Kennedy who is a well-regarded singer in the area.



Coincidentally, St Edward's parish church, behind the market square, is this year celebrating the 900th anniversary of the town's first stone-built church. Legend suggests that its Anglo-Saxon predecessor was constructed during the reign of Aethelred by the nobleman Aethelmar; since much of the area at the time was woodland, it was likely to have been a timber building. The earliest work that survives is of the 12th century, but there is very little of it. At just eighty-eight feet, St Edward's has a comparatively modest tower, completed in 1447, with a final decorative flourish in its crenellation and pinnacles. It contains eight bells that comprise the heaviest ring in the county. The church was built on a cruciform plan between the 11th and 15th centuries, and much of the spacious interior is Early English.



Amongst its treasures is a large painting of The Crucifixion, fixed to the south wall. It was painted in 1610 by the artist Gaspard de Craeyer (1582-1669) of Antwerp, and presented to the church in 1838 by a member of the Chamberlayne family, whose memorials are all about the place. In the churchyard lie a succession of the wool merchants who financed the building of the town in fine Cotswold stone from the local quarries; their occupations and their resting places marked by a number of bale tombs. Artists are often to be found at work here.



The church was involved in the events of March 1646 when the Parliamentarian army under Colonel Sir Thomas Morgan pushed Sir Jacob Astley and his Royalist forces off their intended course - which was to meet up with King Charles at his base in Oxford - and into the streets of Stow. The English Civil War had been something of a farce for the residents of Stow, in which its several entrances and exits acted like doors leading on and off the stage of history.



Royalist troops were in the town in 1641, just before things had come to breaking point between king and parliament, and, in 1643, there were two skirmishes here. Notably, Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers were chased about the place by a force of Roundheads. In 1644, Charles and his men raced through on their way to Evesham, hotly pursued by Sir William Waller and his Parliamentarians. A few days later, the king and his company were back, and had hardly decamped when Waller et al turned up, still snapping at the Royalists' heels.



In 1645, Charles put up in Stow en route to the battle of Naseby, domiciling his army in a field just down the road. Afterwards, the Parliamentarian Lord Fairfax and his men were in the town on their way to Lechlade. However, it was the 1646 bloodbath of Stow that is said to have resulted in about 1,500 Royalist prisoners being contained in the church.



It also left what is now Digbeth Street running with the blood of the laid out dead, and effectively knocked the first civil war on its head. Captain Hasting Keyte, killed in the fight, was buried in the chancel of St Edward's, and given a decorative floor slab. There is a memorial stone to the battle in the churchyard, erected in 1992.



During the evening of 18 August, a concert of medieval music will be held at St Edward's in conjunction with the Medieval Fayre. The performance by Diabolus in Musica will include songs and melodies 'for Merrie England' played on authentic instruments by musicians in period clothing. The organisers say that it will include 'authentic period singalongs, anecdotes and much jollity'.



This response is the usual accompaniment to their programme 'Merry Maids, Lusty Lads and Cheerful Cuckolds', although the occasion at St Edward's is likely to be from their 'A Cheste of Fyne Jewells' programme - a range of good melodies and songs from the period: tunes like Will Kempe's Jig. They also perform a sequence under the title of 'The Stake, the Rack and the Gibbet' which seems not to be out of keeping with the history of Stow.



Diabolus in Musica is a renaissance group from the West Midlands, formed twenty-five years ago but nonetheless musically embedded in the period 1550-1650. It may be stretching the medieval concept a bit, but that really does not matter one jot. For the Stow concert, they have searched their archives and come up with some very early music which can be played on the gittern - an instrument like a small lute.



Led by Paul Baker, who will also be participating as a wandering minstrel at the Fayre during the day, Diabolus in Musica features music, instruments, costume, and ways around the language of the Elizabethans that has all been accurately researched, and is finely observed. The group plays a number of recorders; hurdy-gurdy; lute and gittern; cittern; English bagpipes; curtal; crumhorn; and renaissance guitars. Most of the replica historic instruments they play have been made by Paul from original plans, or from measurements taken of the appropriate instruments in museums' collections. This is fascinating stuff; and, if they remember to bring copies, they do have a CD that you can buy.



A flower festival will also be taking place in St Edward's throughout the weekend of the Medieval Fayre, and there will be a special service beginning at 3.00pm on the Sunday afternoon in celebration of the supposed anniversary of the first stone church. Civic and business representatives are expected to join the congregation, and the choir will sing a special anthem.



Stow's retailers are hoping to do good business during the Fayre day, and the town's historic hotels are also gearing up to provide food and drink to passing trade, and bed and board for those who want to make a weekend of it. Some say their staff are going to dress up, or dress down as the case may be, for the occasion; and I am sure others who may be ambivalent now will enter into the spirit of the thing if the weather is good and the anticipated crowds appear. Will we see menu boards at Stow offering the likes of 'a pottage of chyken and erbes', 'roste mutton faire minced and boyled' and 'stekys wyth fines sawces'?



Staff at The Old Stocks Hotel beside Stocks Green are likely to be in the thick of the revelry, and will be suitably garbed for the occasion. The Old Stocks is one of the town's prettiest hostelries, knitted together from a medley of low, ancient cottages and old business premises, and it has fine townscape views across The Square. On Fayre day, there is expected to be a pig roast just feet from its front door.



At the Royalist Hotel in Digbeth Street, they can claim to pre-date the object of any commemorations; it was allegedly already a hostelry for more than a century and a half when the first market charter was signed, and was supposed to have been established as a hospice by the very same Aethelmar who built the first church in Stow. It has been apocryphally dated to 947, making it officially the oldest business premises of its kind in the country: and certainly, a pre-Conquest date has been suggested by Anglo-Saxon finds on the premises, and by ancient historical sources.



The place has an intriguing history. Here, on the site of an Anglo-Saxon settlement, we have a pre-Conquest hospice for travellers that developed into a porch house which dates from the 15th century, with further alterations carried out in 1615. The ancient fabric, fittings and features; the uses to which it has been put over the centuries; its associations with medieval sports and with witchcraft; and, of course, its ghosts, all meld into a fascinating landscape of history.



It is owned by Mark and Janine Vance who, at the time of writing, are keeping their powder dry as regards any involvement in the 900th anniversary celebrations at The Royalist, as well as at the Grapevine across the road - which they also own. The 17th-century Grapevine is a very attractive run of historic buildings in Sheep Street. It is famous for its pleasant Georgian rooms and the century-old black Hamburg grape vine that travels across the ceiling of the conservatory dining room.



By the mid-1600s, the King's Arms, on the Square, was a hostelry; this was where Charles I allegedly stayed on his way to Naseby; and it became one of the town's main coaching inns. It has just been acquired by Peter and Joanna Creek and Sam O'Kane, who have considerable experience in the catering industry and had been looking for this type of property for some time. Prior to taking over in March, they had been running a private members club in Surrey. They have already refurbished all of the public rooms and the restaurant, and are working their way through the bedrooms. On the night of the Medieval Fayre, staff will be wearing medieval-style clothes, the restaurant is to be appropriately decorated, and the hotel will be putting on a public 'medieval buffet banquet'.



At Stow Lodge Hotel, set back from the market square amidst beautiful gardens, the staff will also be entering into the spirit of the Anniversary celebrations by dressing in medieval costume. Chris Hartley is the third generation of the same family that has owned the place for half a century, and his mother Val looks after the garden. The building originated in the 17th century, but most of the discernible work is of the 18th; it has a secret room, a hidden staircase, a priest's hole, blocked-up underground tunnels, family coats of arms, and the ghost of a grey lady. There are ghosts in several of Stow's ancient buildings; I imagine they will be quite bemused when medieval England returns to the town's streets in August.



Burgeoning retail



Stow has a very comprehensive collection of independent retailers: the town is awash with antique shops, gift shops, galleries, and specialists in furnishings and craft-based commodities. It has all of the provisions shops that many other places have lost, and here they are of good quality, having visitors and a wide catchment area to sustain them. Some have international reputations, and send their products all over the world. It is a joy to shop in Stow, in a town that continues to attract new retail businesses.



Emily Rose, the little 'nostalgic confectionery and gifts' shop with a fifty-flavours line in own-brand speciality fudges, relocated from Moreton-in-Marsh to larger premises in Fountain Court, beside Digbeth Street, at Stow. The shop was opened in 2006 by ten children named Emily Rose, and Ray and Susan Dodd - its Victorian-costumed proprietors - continue to carry numerous lines of sweet types of yesteryear, Belgian chocolates and nostalgic gifts.



Their main competitor in Stow, also a newcomer, is Darren Guy, the proprietor of the Cotswold Sweet Company at Crossway House in The Square. His 'old-fashioned sweet shop' has been well received by residents and visitors, and he specialises in chocolates and chocolate bars that are handmade in England; personalised jars of sweets; hampers; and a range of sugar-free boiled, jelly and liquorice sweets. The shop represents a complete change of direction for Darren who, until fairly recently, worked in the Midlands' car industry.



And there's a new one for the ladies - although Michelle Fackett's 'Little Black Dress' in Sheep Street has what she calls 'a black sofa for the gentlemen'. Michelle is a Mancunian who first set out her store of new and nearly-new designer clothes and accessories at Stow in May 2007. Upstairs, she has evening wear, party wear and the shoes and accessories to go with them; downstairs she has day wear, jewellery and handbags; and the whole place has the feel of a designer boutique rather than a dress shop. This is another one that has swiftly found favour with the resident local populations; Michelle is consequently hunting out women who have nearly-new designer label clothing that they want to sell.



This year, Stow-on-the-Wold commemorates the 900th anniversary of its first Royal Charter. There is to be a celebratory Medieval Fayre in Stow Square on 18th August. It was in 1107 that Henry I granted the right of a weekly market at Stow on Thursdays to Evesham Abbey, who owned nearby Maugersbury Manor, making all market fees payable to the manor. The abbey had acquired these lands under questionable circumstances.



In 1978, Edward II was murdered at Corfe Castle, where he was visiting his stepmother Aelfthryn and her son Aethelred. Although their implication remained unproven, popular opinion was uncharitable. Aethelred 'the Unready' was sufficiently ill-advised to compound the conspiracy theories by giving out gifts of lands to religious houses by way of reparation. At Domesday, the settlement was called Eduuarddstou, a continuing reminder of the deed and its aftermath.



Once they had Maugersbury, the monks of Evesham set about developing a place of trade nearby. Here, the north-south Roman road nudged past, and a number of major drovers routes met; Stow was on the main cattle run between Wales and the markets of north Oxfordshire.



The monks of Evesham laid out the settlement purely for its commercial value, and the size of the marketplace shows the considerable amount of trade that was carried on here, both of livestock and in the hiring of human labour. Thus, by 1107, the long-established commercial aspect of the settlement was well enough advanced for Henry I to make his market charter; nineteen years later, he decreed that the fees should be paid direct to the abbey at Evesham.



Eventually, eight old ways meandered into Stow, making it an ideal centre for trade. People who dealt in essential commodities as varied as salt and charcoal were able to come from Wales, the Midlands and the Thames Valley to sell their products here, as did the rural craftspeople of the Cotswold region.



The market cross was put up to remind everyone involved in the transactions that they were expected to deal honestly and honourably. The seven-foot-high medieval shaft and square broach socket remain; but the sculpted head was the work of Medland & Son of Gloucester in 1878. Stow's commodity market carried on in what is now the town square until about 1900.



Of course, it was sheep that gave Stow its name and its fortune; and it is alleged that some twenty thousand might have changed hands there on a single day. The name of Sheep Street reminds of us the town's past, even if the church is the least characteristic of the Cotswolds' 'wool' church type. Its fame rests at another point in history. However, the sheep that came to Stow's market place were local, and were not taken far along drovers' routes.



Instead, they came through a network of trackways and lanes from around the Cotswolds, to the outskirts of the town, and were then funnelled through narrow entrances into the square. The approach roads were intentionally narrow so that they might more readily be blocked, thereby helping to contain the wayward creatures. Huge quantities of livestock were herded into this exceptionally long and wide marketplace, where they were penned and sold.In 1330, Edward III granted a seven-day fair in August; in 1476, Edward IV replaced this with two five-day fairs: one was to be held two days before the feast of St Philip and St James in May, and two days afterwards; the other was similarly arranged around the feast day of St Edward in October.



The feast day of the latter, king and martyr, is fixed at October 13; that of SS Philip and James has been moved about - it began on 1 May, was moved to 11 May in the mid-20th century, and to 3 May in 1970, although it is generally taken as 1 May today. These fairs translate into the Gypsy Horse Fairs that are such a contemporary attraction for visitors to the town.



Over the years I have been writing about Stow-on-the-Wold, debate in the town about these gypsy fairs has become increasingly intense, and opposition more openly vitriolic. Traders in the town who are opposed to them will bring up the matter spontaneously, especially those in the licensed and catering trades who 'are forced to close the public bars (and thereby lose trade) because of the fear of loutish and violent behaviour, damage to property, etc'.



One bar owner told me: "It's all very well for visitors to come and look at the fairs as if they are some sort of pleasant rural activity, and then go away afterwards feeling that they have somehow become more in touch with their heritage and the land. They simply don't see or understand the havoc wrought on Stow every single time, and the financial loss to our businesses."



A restaurant owner told me that everything has to be removed from the walls at the time of the gypsy fairs, or the pictures and artefacts will disappear. In addition, a Stow hotel manager, who has had nothing but bad experiences resulting from the fairs, believes that the only way forward is for the events to be self-policing, in much the same way as that which occurs at the Bulldog Bash at Stratford-upon-Avon in August. "Step out of line there," he told me "and you are quickly taken aside by a few intimidating, hairy bikers whose bad side you certainly don't want to get on, and reminded just where the line is that you are not expected to cross!"



This year, between the horse fairs, Stow will be mounting its own neo-historic spectacle. The town, which has a resident population of around 2,300, gets upwards of 150,000 visitors each year. Organisers of the 2007 Medieval Fayre are hoping that the event will bring in at least 5,000 visitors on the day, and a number of businesses have been happy to put their hands in their corporate pockets to help make it a success.



That said, this being Stow-on-the-Wold, there are those who take a jaundiced view. "Why on earth," asked one hotelier, "was this organised for August when the hotels are nearly full anyway, and which is almost always the most profitable mid-year month for most retailers in the town? It would have been much more helpful to everyone if it had been arranged for one of the traditionally slack months, when traders would really have welcomed a boost." One sympathises with this view, but unfortunately, the charter was not granted on a date that anticipated peaks and troughs in 21st-century business.



On the anniversary day, there is to be an early morning re-enactment of the presenting of the 1107 charter, involving Henry Elwes, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucester, and we are thereafter promised 'knights fighting on foot on Stocks Green, a mounted knight parading around, medieval tents, period craft stalls and demonstrations, and opportunities to join in'.



The Town Council is hoping that residents will get into the spirit of the event by joining the local school, teashop staff, and hotel staff in hiring medieval-style costumes and appearing dressed in them on the day. To make this easy for everyone, a costume company will be hiring their medieval-style clothes from the British Legion hall on the Sunday before Fayre day, and it may still be possible to hire appropriate costumes on the day of the festivities.



Rob Butler, whose company, Historical Promotions of Okehampton, is a national organiser of historical fairs, medieval pageants, living history days and the like, has put the whole event together on behalf of the Stow-on-the-Wold Town Council.



According to Rob, his company excels at 'hands-on' entertainment, and at demonstrations that really bring history to life, and this approach is ideal for children at various Key Stages of history within the national curriculum. The demonstrations taking place at Stow have been especially selected to represent occupations that would have been carried out in the town during the medieval period. The people involved are all experts in their crafts, and come from places all over the country.



Throughout the day, Andy Spatcher, the mounted knight in full medieval livery, will be parading around the streets and encouraging visitors towards the square, where the main demonstrations will be taking place. He will have a particular interest in attracting visitors to the medieval foot tournaments, which will show how knights behaved in those far-off days; how they were dressed and armed; who attended them; and what their specific skills were.



Demonstrations are expected to include candlemakers Margaret and Roy Figgis, showing their techniques with tallow. Fletcher and arrow maker Mike Manns will be displaying a variety of types of medieval arrows and arrowheads, showing how they were made, and talking about medieval warfare.



A replica medieval forge, operated by Jack Greene, will be making commonly produced metal items, including ironwork, and the arrowheads needed by the fletcher. Period moneyer, Russell Scott, will be producing replica medieval coins using traditional skills and methods of working. Under supervision, children will be able to try their hands at striking their own coins. Dyer Debbie Crum will be preparing colours, and dyeing cloth, using the various plant dyes and minerals that were available during the period.



There will be a medieval-style apothecary on hand in the form of master herbalist John Stoker who, with his medieval midwife and wise woman, will be showing the herbs that were used in medieval medicine, their preparation and applications. You will also be able to discover about health and the prevalent diseases of the time; learn how wounds and diseases were treated using traditional methods and practices; and encounter the long-practised art of blood letting.



Tony Bryant, falconer, will be talking about one of the medieval period's most popular pastimes, and enabling visitors to handle his birds under supervision. Other attractions are expected to include a demonstration of spinning and weaving, another on finger braiding, and the work of the cordwainer. You can watch as the latter works in leather, making items - such as belts, pouches and tankards - that were required during the medieval period.



Music plays a considerable part in the 900th anniversary celebrations. Tony Westran, who makes period musical instruments using tools, materials and methods of working that were available during the medieval period, will be demonstrating his art.



Throughout the day, medieval music will be made on ancient-style instruments by strolling players, and medieval dancers will perform to tunes of the period. Another entertainer, the rat-catcher magician Jonathan de Hadleigh, will be performing his act at various intervals, and Thor Ewing will be delighting children with medieval tales and stories from the past.



On the evening of the Medieval Fayre, the band Copyrite will perform an open-air concert of pop and rock covers from a stage in the market square. These talented musicians are all A-level music students from The Cotswold School at Bourton-on-the-Water, and they have been playing variously in public for about two years. The band, which formed some six months ago, comprises Mike Brown, guitar; Chris Bygrave, keyboards; Will Thomas, base guitar; and Callum Peaston, drums. Their vocalist is eighteen-year-old Dee Kennedy who is a well-regarded singer in the area.



Coincidentally, St Edward's parish church, behind the market square, is this year celebrating the 900th anniversary of the town's first stone-built church. Legend suggests that its Anglo-Saxon predecessor was constructed during the reign of Aethelred by the nobleman Aethelmar; since much of the area at the time was woodland, it was likely to have been a timber building.



The earliest work that survives is of the 12th century, but there is very little of it. At just eighty-eight feet, St Edward's has a comparatively modest tower, completed in 1447, with a final decorative flourish in its crenellation and pinnacles. It contains eight bells that comprise the heaviest ring in the county. The church was built on a cruciform plan between the 11th and 15th centuries, and much of the spacious interior is Early English.



Amongst its treasures is a large painting of The Crucifixion, fixed to the south wall. It was painted in 1610 by the artist Gaspard de Craeyer (1582-1669) of Antwerp, and presented to the church in 1838 by a member of the Chamberlayne family, whose memorials are all about the place. In the churchyard lie a succession of the wool merchants who financed the building of the town in fine Cotswold stone from the local quarries; their occupations and their resting places marked by a number of bale tombs. Artists are often to be found at work here.



The church was involved in the events of March 1646 when the Parliamentarian army under Colonel Sir Thomas Morgan pushed Sir Jacob Astley and his Royalist forces off their intended course - which was to meet up with King Charles at his base in Oxford - and into the streets of Stow. The English Civil War had been something of a farce for the residents of Stow, in which its several entrances and exits acted like doors leading on and off the stage of history.



Royalist troops were in the town in 1641, just before things had come to breaking point between king and parliament, and, in 1643, there were two skirmishes here. Notably, Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers were chased about the place by a force of Roundheads. In 1644, Charles and his men raced through on their way to Evesham, hotly pursued by Sir William Waller and his Parliamentarians. A few days later, the king and his company were back, and had hardly decamped when Waller et al turned up, still snapping at the Royalists' heels.



In 1645, Charles put up in Stow en route to the battle of Naseby, domiciling his army in a field just down the road. Afterwards, the Parliamentarian Lord Fairfax and his men were in the town on their way to Lechlade. However, it was the 1646 bloodbath of Stow that is said to have resulted in about 1,500 Royalist prisoners being contained in the church. It also left what is now Digbeth Street running with the blood of the laid out dead, and effectively knocked the first civil war on its head. Captain Hasting Keyte, killed in the fight, was buried in the chancel of St Edward's, and given a decorative floor slab. There is a memorial stone to the battle in the churchyard, erected in 1992.



During the evening of 18 August, a concert of medieval music will be held at St Edward's in conjunction with the Medieval Fayre. The performance by Diabolus in Musica will include songs and melodies 'for Merrie England' played on authentic instruments by musicians in period clothing. The organisers say that it will include 'authentic period singalongs, anecdotes and much jollity'.



This response is the usual accompaniment to their programme 'Merry Maids, Lusty Lads and Cheerful Cuckolds', although the occasion at St Edward's is likely to be from their 'A Cheste of Fyne Jewells' programme - a range of good melodies and songs from the period: tunes like Will Kempe's Jig. They also perform a sequence under the title of 'The Stake, the Rack and the Gibbet' which seems not to be out of keeping with the history of Stow.



Diabolus in Musica is a renaissance group from the West Midlands, formed twenty-five years ago but nonetheless musically embedded in the period 1550-1650. It may be stretching the medieval concept a bit, but that really does not matter one jot. For the Stow concert, they have searched their archives and come up with some very early music which can be played on the gittern - an instrument like a small lute.



Led by Paul Baker, who will also be participating as a wandering minstrel at the Fayre during the day, Diabolus in Musica features music, instruments, costume, and ways around the language of the Elizabethans that has all been accurately researched, and is finely observed. The group plays a number of recorders; hurdy-gurdy; lute and gittern; cittern; English bagpipes; curtal; crumhorn; and renaissance guitars. Most of the replica historic instruments they play have been made by Paul from original plans, or from measurements taken of the appropriate instruments in museums' collections. This is fascinating stuff; and, if they remember to bring copies, they do have a CD that you can buy.



A flower festival will also be taking place in St Edward's throughout the weekend of the Medieval Fayre, and there will be a special service beginning at 3.00pm on the Sunday afternoon in celebration of the supposed anniversary of the first stone church. Civic and business representatives are expected to join the congregation, and the choir will sing a special anthem.



Stow's retailers are hoping to do good business during the Fayre day, and the town's historic hotels are also gearing up to provide food and drink to passing trade, and bed and board for those who want to make a weekend of it. Some say their staff are going to dress up, or dress down as the case may be, for the occasion; and I am sure others who may be ambivalent now will enter into the spirit of the thing if the weather is good and the anticipated crowds appear. Will we see menu boards at Stow offering the likes of 'a pottage of chyken and erbes', 'roste mutton faire minced and boyled' and 'stekys wyth fines sawces'?



Staff at The Old Stocks Hotel beside Stocks Green are likely to be in the thick of the revelry, and will be suitably garbed for the occasion. The Old Stocks is one of the town's prettiest hostelries, knitted together from a medley of low, ancient cottages and old business premises, and it has fine townscape views across The Square. On Fayre day, there is expected to be a pig roast just feet from its front door.



At the Royalist Hotel in Digbeth Street, they can claim to pre-date the object of any commemorations; it was allegedly already a hostelry for more than a century and a half when the first market charter was signed, and was supposed to have been established as a hospice by the very same Aethelmar who built the first church in Stow. It has been apocryphally dated to 947, making it officially the oldest business premises of its kind in the country: and certainly, a pre-Conquest date has been suggested by Anglo-Saxon finds on the premises, and by ancient historical sources.



The place has an intriguing history. Here, on the site of an Anglo-Saxon settlement, we have a pre-Conquest hospice for travellers that developed into a porch house which dates from the 15th century, with further alterations carried out in 1615. The ancient fabric, fittings and features; the uses to which it has been put over the centuries; its associations with medieval sports and with witchcraft; and, of course, its ghosts, all meld into a fascinating landscape of history.



It is owned by Mark and Janine Vance who, at the time of writing, are keeping their powder dry as regards any involvement in the 900th anniversary celebrations at The Royalist, as well as at the Grapevine across the road - which they also own. The 17th-century Grapevine is a very attractive run of historic buildings in Sheep Street. It is famous for its pleasant Georgian rooms and the century-old black Hamburg grape vine that travels across the ceiling of the conservatory dining room.



By the mid-1600s, the King's Arms, on the Square, was a hostelry; this was where Charles I allegedly stayed on his way to Naseby; and it became one of the town's main coaching inns. It has just been acquired by Peter and Joanna Creek and Sam O'Kane, who have considerable experience in the catering industry and had been looking for this type of property for some time. Prior to taking over in March, they had been running a private members club in Surrey. They have already refurbished all of the public rooms and the restaurant, and are working their way through the bedrooms. On the night of the Medieval Fayre, staff will be wearing medieval-style clothes, the restaurant is to be appropriately decorated, and the hotel will be putting on a public 'medieval buffet banquet'.



At Stow Lodge Hotel, set back from the market square amidst beautiful gardens, the staff will also be entering into the spirit of the Anniversary celebrations by dressing in medieval costume. Chris Hartley is the third generation of the same family that has owned the place for half a century, and his mother Val looks after the garden. The building originated in the 17th century, but most of the discernible work is of the 18th; it has a secret room, a hidden staircase, a priest's hole, blocked-up underground tunnels, family coats of arms, and the ghost of a grey lady. There are ghosts in several of Stow's ancient buildings; I imagine they will be quite bemused when medieval England returns to the town's streets in August.


Burgeoning retail


Stow has a very comprehensive collection of independent retailers: the town is awash with antique shops, gift shops, galleries, and specialists in furnishings and craft-based commodities. It has all of the provisions shops that many other places have lost, and here they are of good quality, having visitors and a wide catchment area to sustain them. Some have international reputations, and send their products all over the world. It is a joy to shop in Stow, in a town that continues to attract new retail businesses.


Emily Rose, the little 'nostalgic confectionery and gifts' shop with a fifty-flavours line in own-brand speciality fudges, relocated from Moreton-in-Marsh to larger premises in Fountain Court, beside Digbeth Street, at Stow. The shop was opened in 2006 by ten children named Emily Rose, and Ray and Susan Dodd - its Victorian-costumed proprietors - continue to carry numerous lines of sweet types of yesteryear, Belgian chocolates and nostalgic gifts.


Their main competitor in Stow, also a newcomer, is Darren Guy, the proprietor of the Cotswold Sweet Company at Crossway House in The Square. His 'old-fashioned sweet shop' has been well received by residents and visitors, and he specialises in chocolates and chocolate bars that are handmade in England; personalised jars of sweets; hampers; and a range of sugar-free boiled, jelly and liquorice sweets. The shop represents a complete change of direction for Darren who, until fairly recently, worked in the Midlands' car industry.


And there's a new one for the ladies - although Michelle Fackett's 'Little Black Dress' in Sheep Street has what she calls 'a black sofa for the gentlemen'. Michelle is a Mancunian who first set out her store of new and nearly-new designer clothes and accessories at Stow in May 2007. Upstairs, she has evening wear, party wear and the shoes and accessories to go with them; downstairs she has day wear, jewellery and handbags; and the whole place has the feel of a designer boutique rather than a dress shop. This is another one that has swiftly found favour with the resident local populations; Michelle is consequently hunting out women who have nearly-new designer label clothing that they want to sell.



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