Chipping Campden Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 16:31 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:37 20 February 2013

Chipping Campden

Chipping Campden

Writer Tracy spiers and photographer Mark Child take in Chipping Campden

It's hard to believe the charming unspoilt Cotswold town of Chipping Campden has a 400-year history of wrestling, sword-play, sack-jumping and shin-kicking. But this eccentric annual sporting festival undoubtedly played a significant role in the shaping of Britain's Olympics.

It's why the official London 2012 Flag is currently in the town's possession after being handed to Mayor Chris Jones during the nationwide Beijing-London handover celebrations.

English captain, Robert Dover founded the "Cotswold Olimpicks," on Dover's Hill in 1612 to revitalize social life in protest against the growing Puritanism of the day. He mirrored the ancient games of Greece with cudgel playing, running at a tilting post, casting the bar and hammer, horse-racing, hand-ball and gymnastics. Today competitors still participate in rural sports, tug-of-war, wrestling and band displays. A 21st century "Robert Dover," suitably attired on horseback opens the event which concludes with a torchlight procession to the town square, where community singing, pageantry and dancing continue until the small hours.

As Britain hosts the 2012 Olympic Games, Chipping Campden celebrates the 400th anniversary of Dover's Olimpicks, a coincidence picked up by the world's press and British Olympic Association.

"This was the pre-dawn of the Olympic Movement, and the Cotswold Games began the historical thread in Britain that was ultimately to lead to the creation of the modern Olympics," the association declared in its successful bid for the London games.

The words echo those found in Annalia Dubrensia, a collection of poems, published in 1636, praising Dover's achievements.

"Coteswold is now th'epitome of mirth.

And joy, presaged erst, is come to birth

Olympus's mount that e'en to this day fills

The world with fame, shall to thy Coteswold Hills

Give place and honour. Hercules was first

Who those brave games begun; thou, better nunst,

Dost in our anniverse most nobly Strive

To do in one year what he did in five."

Another Chipping Campden tradition, "Scuttlebrook Wake", is held the day after the games, on the Saturday after Spring Bank Holiday. The Scuttlebrook Queen is crowned, accompanied by her four attendants and page boy, and pulled along on a cart to the town square by Morris Men. The Wake includes a fancy dress parade and maypole and country dancing performed by pupils from St Catherine's and St James & Ebrington Schools and traditional dances by the Morris Men.

The name Campden or Camperdene is thought to be Saxon meaning "valley with fields." "Chipping" means market and by the early 13th century, the market area was called "Cepynge Caumpedene" or Market Campden. Wool from Cotswold Sheep, known as the Golden Fleece became a major export. One of the richest and most important wool merchants, William Grevel, was credited with much of the rebuilding of St James' Church, an early perpendicular wool church. Grevel's House, the town's oldest house is a fine example of 14th century architecture.

Next to the church are the lodges and gateway to the early17th century Campden House, built by Sir Baptist Hicks, first Viscount Campden. The house burnt down during the Civil War. But East Banqueting House and West Banqueting House and Almonry remain. Renovated by the Landmark Trust, they're available as holiday lets. Hicks built both the National Trust-owned Market Hall to shelter market traders, and The Almshouses in 1612 as homes for 12 pensioners.

In the High Street, the house now called The Woolstaplers Hall, was built by wool merchant Robert Calf in 1340. It became home to Arts and Crafts Movement leader, C R Ashbee. Founder of the Guild of Handicrafts in London's East End, specialising in fine metalwork, carving, furniture and jewellery, Ashbee led an exodus of 150 craft workers to Chipping Campden in 1902. His workshop in the Old Silk Mill in Sheep Street is now a small museum. The same street proves his traditions are still alive. In The Guild of Workshops, a plethora of craftsmen and women show unique jewellery, pottery and stoneware.

Set in stunning countryside, the town marks the start of the Cotswold Way, 102 miles of quintessentially English countryside. Described as "the most beautiful village street in England," its attractive long, broad and curved terraced High Street, lined with gorgeous honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings, features a diverse, rich collection of shops including antique, antiquarian bookshops, individual gift boutiques, artisan food stores, restaurants, hotels and pubs.

Today the town's a honeypot for tourists and currently looks extra magical with its festive Christmas lights. Its unique Sundial Trail encourages younger visitors and local children to appreciate their surroundings and marks the fact Chipping Campden has more sundials in its High Street than any other town in the country. To coincide with the launch of Campden-born historian and school teacher Paul Hughes' book "Campden 1914-18," there's also a Town Trail, featuring World War I landmarks.

As Town Mayor Chris Jones concludes, Chipping Campden is more than a taste of "Olde England."

"Although the architectural and historical legacy is important, Chipping Campden remains very much a living, working market town, with a tremendous community spirit," he boasts.

"We're looking forward to participating in the Cultural Olympiad in 2012 and hope to be able to organise a programme of events that will be unique to Chipping Campden."

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