• Lose yourselfLose yourself amongst the honey-coloured streets, where something different awaits you around every corner

  • Soak upSoak up the rolling hills that stretch as far as the eye can see

  • Indulge

    IndulgeIndulge in an eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries, tea rooms and restaurants

  • Go Stow

    DiscoverDiscover a town rich in history, with countless stories to tell

Stow's history

Originally known as Stow St Edward or Edwardstow, after the town's Patron Saint Edward, Stow-on-the-Wold is an ancient Cotswold town perched around 800 feet above sea level and nestled amongst beautiful rolling hills that stretch as far as the eye can see. The highest town in the Cotswolds and situated at the convergence of several major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way, Stow is said to have originated as an Iron Age fort with its defensive position on a hill. However, there is evidence of even earlier settlements, with Stone Age and Bronze Age burial mounds common throughout the area.

The growth of Stow as an important market town

It was the town’s location at the pivotal junction of an ancient route that encouraged the abbots of Maugersbury Manor, who controlled Stow in medieval times, to grow it as a market town. In 1086 Stow was officially recognised as a town in its own right, and in 1107 Henry I granted the right to hold Stow’s first weekly market. In 1330 the regular markets were joined by an annual seven-day fair in August, chartered by Edward III. The fair soon expanded, and in 1476 Edward IV replaced it with two five-day fairs, in May and in October. All took place in the town's central square and were set up to help remedy the unpredictable nature of passing trade.

Stow quickly became an important and famous market town. Many different types of goods were traded, with wool always an important commodity. In fact, it was the development of the wool industry and the unusual high quality fleeces of locally farmed sheep that brought Stow to the height of its prosperity. The limestone soil was perfect for sheep farming and also for building the town’s houses, many of which were constructed in the 15th century.

A network of narrow alleyways leading from The Square to the town’s perimeter were built to safely herd sheep to be sold at market, and these lanes still exist today. Legend has it that over 20,000 sheep changed hands during one fair in the 19th century. Although the wool trade declined and eventually disappeared from the Cotswolds, Stow’s fairs did not. Sheep were replaced by horses, and the fairs continue to this day, albeit it on the outskirts of the town rather than in The Square.

Interestingly, the word ‘Cotswold’ is in fact two words: 'cots', meaning a sheep's shelter, and 'wold', meaning gently rolling hills.

 St Edward’s Church

Built on the site of an earlier Saxon church, St Edward’s dates primarily back to the 11th century but features later additions from the 15th century. The tower, completed in 1447, is 88 feet high and reportedly houses the loudest bells, eight in all, in Gloucestershire. The current clock was made in 1926, but a clock with chimes has existed there since 1580.

Stow has witnessed its fair share of turmoil, none more so then during the English Civil War. In March 1646 Sir Jacob Astley's Royalist army was soundly defeated, and St Edward’s became the refuge for hundreds of Royalist soldiers who were taken prisoner during the battle.

The stocks

A great photo opportunity, the stocks on the green in The Square are the latest in a long line dating back to the 15th century.

The market cross

Although restored and repaired several times, a cross has stood in The Square since the 15th century. It was erected as a symbolic reminder to the traders of medieval times to do business honestly and fairly under the sight of God. The four sides of the lantern head are dedicated to events and people of great importance to the town: the Civil War, the crucifixion, St Edward and the wool trade.

St Edward’s Hall

Built in 1878 from unclaimed deposits placed in the Town Savings Bank, St Edward's Hall is a prominent feature of The Square. As well as hosting various meetings and local events, it also houses the town’s library. The steeple was constructed to accommodate a bell used to summon the fire brigade.

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