The History of Burford
Burford is a small but charming town that nestles in the popular Cotswold hills. It is located by a ford across the River Windrush. The name Burford is thought to be derived from the Saxon words for a fortified settlement by a ford. While there is evidence of settlement in the area in both Roman and Saxon times, the earliest written record of it comes in the Domesday Book of 1086. In 1090, during the reign of King Rufus , Burford was granted it a charter by Robert Fitzhamon. The charter and those that followed were wide ranging, not only granting rights for a weekly market but also freeing the community from feudal ties and allowing them many commercial freedoms. The town was given the right to appoint a merchant guild headed up by an Alderman. These positions have since given way to a mayor and a town council. The Tolsey Museum in High Street, Burford keeps the town’s historic charters and records and Burford itself has always retained its status as a town despite being a relatively small one.
The church of St John the Baptist was built in the 12th century, it was completed before the reign of Henry VIII . The ancient church is very grand for a town of such relatively modest size and reflects the historic commercial success of Burford, once the fourth wealthiest town in England. St John’s contains interesting monuments dedicated to local personalities, including to Christopher Kempster who made his fortune selling local Cotswold stone for rebuilding work after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The church was scene of trouble during the Civil War . After King Charles I had been beheaded in 1649, two dissident divisions of the Parliamentary army mutineered. Protesting because their pay was in arrears they marched north from Salisbury en route to Banbury . They paused in and around Burford on a Sunday evening in May but Cromwell arrived around midnight and took them all by surprise. The Church was the only building locally that was big enough to hold the prisoners, so 340 of them were locked inside. Cromwell gave them all a talking to and then had the three he regarded as ringleaders shot in full view of their men in the Churchyard.
During the reign of Elizabeth I , the tiny town flourished mainly on the revenues from Cotswolds wool. In the eighteenth century it continued to thrive as a commercial centre even though it relied far less by then on wool. The market itself ceased during the Agricultural depression of 1870. Before this time Burford had become an important coaching centre and at its peak over 40 coaches stopped daily, usually
calling at one of Burford’s many inns . These busy times at the inns prompted a brewing industry to develop at Burford to help satiate the travellers’ thirst. When coach travel gave way to the mighty railways, Burford lost out by not being chosen as a stop on any line. This meant it got left way behind many greater towns in the Industrial Revolution but it also served to preserve the charm of this small market town. This very charm now helps Burford to attract visitors, generally by motor car, for pleasure trips to the picturesque Cotswolds . The town still retains a great deal of its historic fabric, with many ancient buildings made from the famous local Cotswold stone that was once a source of so much of its wealth. Chain stores and shopping malls have largely passed Burford by, leaving it to prosper as a charming Cotswold town of significant character and charm. The town still boasts a large number of hotels, pubs and restaurants - themselves a testament to the small town’s continuing popularity and affluence.
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