The Historical Landmarks of Winchcombe
Today Winchcombe is a quaint Cotswold town, but its history is very different. The site was first settled when Cenwulf, King of Mercia (Mercia was a kingdom of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy) founded an abbey there in the 8th century. The site then went on to become the capital of Mercia, and a place of great historical significance across the centuries. Here we outline the fascinating sites of historical interest you can explore in Winchcombe today.
Perhaps the most important of Winchcombe’s historical sites is the Neolithic long barrow at Belas Knap. Essentially a chambered tomb, it is around 55 metres long and is of great archaeological significance. Recent radiocarbon dating of bones and skulls uncovered from the Belas Knap excavations prove that the burial monument was in use from around 3,800 BC. According to Cheltenham Museum, “Shortly after 4,000BC, fundamental changes in lifestyle came about. People’s dependence on gathering and hunting gave way to the cultivation of arable crops and to the rearing of domestic animals. Settlements became more permanent and the population expanded. Society became more complex with a range of massive stone-built monuments and enclosures providing the focus for ritual and settlement”. The Belas Knap excavations occurred from 1863-1865, and then once more between 1928-1930. After this time the site was restored to what we see today. The tomb stands just below the crest of Humblebee How (a prominent hill), with fabulous views across the valley below, towards Winchcombe and Sudeley Castle.
Not far from Belas Knap, you’ll find another Winchcombe historical gem: the ruins of Hailes Abbey. The Earl of Cornwall originally founded this abbey in the mid-13th century. It belonged to the Cistercian order, which favoured a simple and disciplined style of worship. But the Abbey was famously disestablished as part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. Near to the ruins of the Abbey you can find Hailes Church, a medieval structure, which still stands today.
Sudeley Castle is another of Winchcombe’s great historical landmarks. Many historians believe that there has been a castle on the site since the reign of King Stephen in the 12th century. But it is best known as the final resting place of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Queen Catherine Parr. Today Sudeley is home to Lord and Lady Ashcombe, Henry and Mollie Dent Brocklehurst and their families. The castle is open to members of the public to explore, and its gardens are of particular historical significance. The Queens’ Garden is aptly named after the four English queens – Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey, and Elizabeth I – who all admired its magnificent roses.
Spoonley Roman Villa
Today two kilometres from Winchcombe you can still visit the remains of a Roman villa discovered and excavated in 1882. Important Roman mosaics recovered from the villa were removed and taken to be displayed in Sudeley Castle. Other important finds from the villa’s excavations include a silver-plated bowl, coins, and a marble statue of Bacchus. Although much of the remains are overgrown today, it’s still well worth a visit.