Growth of the wool trade
In Europe the best wool is English, in England the best wool is Cotswold. The golden age of the Cotswolds came with the growth of the wool trade in medieval times. Wool from the long thick fleece of the native Cotswold breed of sheep – the “Cotswold Lion” – provided more than half of England’s cloth production and was also exported directly to the continent. This trading, processing and weaving brought great wealth to the Cotswolds, particularly to the wool merchants who handled much of the business.
Investment was made in fine houses and in the endowment of the “wool churches” which we still see, use and enjoy all over the area. Most of the major towns have a wool church, in which the brasses of benefactors are displayed. Northleach, Chipping Campden, Fairford and Cirencester are among the best known, but virtually every village will show some of the wool trade wealth trickling down to the benefit of its local church during the 13th-15th centuries. The quality of the local stone allowed for a great deal of intricate details to be included in church architecture.
Many churches are of course much older than medieval, and there is a rich tradition of Saxon and especially Norman architecture to be seen.
18th century church interiors offer a feeling of quiet simplicity. Many have not survived intact but look at Didmarton, and enjoy the simplicity of remote churches off the beaten track in places such as Little Rollright, Widford and Oddington.
Victorian church restoration did much damage but also produced some interesting new work. As with all buildings, there is change as well as renewal. From the 8th century to the present day, the churches of the Cotswolds are some of the best in the country. They are a rich treasure, and well worth exploring.