Today the “wool churches” of the Cotswolds are among the most beautiful, intricate and architecturally attractive in the entire country, due to donations from wealthy merchants and farmers who benefitted from the medieval wool trade. Here we take a look at the most beautiful and inspiring churches dotted around The Cotswolds.
1. St Barnabas Church, Snowshill
St. Barnabas Church in Snowshill is the work of an unknown architect. Built in 1864 for £1,700, the building’s original plans allegedly called for a spire, but funds ran short, and the tower was instead capped with a pointed roof. This roof was then removed in 1958 in the interests of safety. Almost all the interior is Victorian, but the church also contains a bell cast around 1350-1380 in Bristol. There is also an intricate 17th-century pulpit on display.
2. St John the Baptist’s Church, Cirencester
Cirencester lies on the River Churn, and is the largest town in the Cotswolds. So it’s no surprise that the town is home to another glorious church. In fact St John the Baptist’s church is actually one of the largest parish churches in England. Its impressive Perpendicular Gothic tower with flying buttresses (c 1400), gives the church more of a feeling of a Cathedral. As does its beautiful three-storey south porch, built in the late 15th century but subsequently used a town hall. If you like uncover historical treasures, have a look at the church’s wall safe, which houses the Boleyn Cup, made for Anne Boleyn in 1535.
3. St. James’ Church, Chipping Campden
Like St John the Baptist, St James’ Church in Chipping Campden is celebrated as one of the finest ‘wool’ churches in England, a testament to the wealth of local wool merchants during the country’s late medieval period. This church was constructed in Perpendicular Gothic style in the late 15th century using wool-trade profits. The earliest church on this site was erected in the Norman period, some time in the 12th century. But the remarkable row of almshouses along Church Street, just nearby, were constructed in 1612.
4. St Mary’s Church, Chipping Norton
Chipping Norton is the highest town in Oxfordshire, and its church does not disappoint. St Mary’s was constructed in 1448, but two arches in the chancel date back to around 1200. The church boasts a magnificent Perpendicular nave and clerestory, several alabaster tombs, and fluted, diamond-shaped pillars. Interestingly, when the new English Prayer Book was first introduced under Edward VI, there was widespread unrest in Oxfordshire. And one of the leaders of the resistance was the vicar of Chipping Norton, Henry Joyce, who was hung in the church’s tower for his dissent!
5. Church of St Peter & St Paul, Northleach
The delightful Cotswold town of Northleach is a true Cotswold gem. And the grandeur and architectural complexity of its church brings in 20,000 visitors from all over the world each year. The church has been called “The Cathedral of the Cotswolds”, and you can see why. The origins of the building date back to the 12th century, but much of what we can see today dates from the 15th century when the building was extensively reworked during the important wool boom.