A Brief History of Stow on the Wold
The early history of Stow is recorded in the ground. Stone age men lived on the drier uplands and followed in each other's footsteps before diverging in search of game. These tracks followed the high ground wherever possible and covered long distances. Stow grew up at the crossing of the ancient Jurassic Way and the Saltway which climbed to the Cotswolds before fanning out east and south, one branch going through Stow. Later the Roman Fosseway (itself based on an earlier route), crossed the others at the same point. Along these routes would have been carried the flint which was needed for arrowheads and axes from as far as Wiltshire or East Anglia as barter or gifts, and Stow gradually became a convenient trading centre.
There is evidence of a Bronze Age settlement found during an excavation of Camp Gardens, and later during the Iron Age c. 700 BC a fort was built on the same site of which traces remain to this day. The anonymous Iron Age men were to become the Ancient Britons or Celts. It was not an isolated community, and the people of the area became united in the tribe of the Dobunni who offered no resistance to the coming of the Romans. The Romans built the military highway of the Fosseway and made their settlements at Bourton and Dorn where water was readily available. The only Roman buildings near here were a farm in the grounds of Abbotswood, which has now been covered. The new road, crossing the two older ones, formed a triangular area where travellers and traders could meet and laid the foundations of the later market town
When the Anglo Saxons overran England the land was divided into manors and the local one was Maethelgeris Byrig after the old pre-Celtic fort, and the boundary with Broadwell manor is still the Parish Boundary. Maugersbury, as it became known, was granted in 708 AD to the Abbey of Evesham, which exercised the Lordship for over 700 years. A small Saxon Church was built here in 986 AD and succeeded by the present St Edward's Church in 1107 AD. In the Domesday Book this part of the manor near the Church is referred to as Edwardsstow, Stow being the Saxon name for holy place, but the manor as a whole continued to be known by the old Celtic name.
In the same year, 1107, Henry I granted to the Abbey the right to hold a weekly market on Thursdays - it was held in the area between the three roads which has now become Stow Square. In 1126 Henry I decreed that the market dues be paid direct to the Abbey, rather than to the Manor, which was the beginning of the differentiation between the commercial centre of Stow and the more agricultural Maugersbury. In 1330 Edward III granted a seven day fair in August, which was superseded in 1476 by two five day fairs. It was during the centuries of the Plantagenet Kings that the wool trade became so important to the country and at these fairs large numbers of sheep were sold as well as goods by British and foreign merchants. the bargains being agreed at the market cross. Thus the town continued to prosper even after the dissolution of the monasteries
In the early days all the dwellings were made of wood, with wattle and daub. As time went on there was a shortage of wood for building and stone began to be used instead, often extracted from the ground under where the house was to stand. This left useful cellars, many of which were probably used as kitchens with flues to chimneys above, and were certainly used from time to time as dwelling places. There are traces of 15th C houses at the top of Digbeth street, and about this time the southern end of the Square was developed with burgage* plots going back to Sheep Street, which was known as New Road in 1457. With the early Tudors we have the Kings Arms Inn and the house adjoining, another house behind St Edwards Hall in the same style, and Tudor House in Sheep Street. The architecture became known as the Cotswold Vernacular, with walls of coursed rubble, the exception being Cheltenham House built about 1660 of dressed stone. Fashions changed after the Restoration and gradually many of the buildings were refaced. The 19th C brought social changes; the Poor Law acts of the 1830's produced the Union workhouse in Union Street and the Victorian Gothic Police Station. St Edward's Hall was built in the centre in 1878, partly funded by unclaimed money following the closure of Stow Provident Bank and the stocks were removed to their present position. The railway circled the hill to the south west and a gas works at the bottom of Park Street provided light and some heating. The water supply, for many years provided from the Wells or by horse and cart from Lower Swell, improved, but it was not until the 1930ss that the Town was connected to the mains supply.
Much has changed in Stow over the years, but despite the influx of the motor car replacing the sheep, a visitor from 500 years ago would still recognise many of the features in the Town today.
With acknowledgements to Glimpses of the Past published by Stow and District Civic Society.
*burgage plot - a narrow strip of land at right angles to the street, used in mediaeval times generally with a dwelling at the street end and land for keeping animals and growing crops behind.