Northleach - Travel Guide
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Dating back to the 8th century, when this town was first built on land owned by the Abbey of Gloucester. It was named Northleach because it was built north of the 'leece', a Saxon word for stream
During the middle ages, Northleach was considered one of the most important trading areas in the Cotswolds, after Cirencester & Chipping Campden. To the east of the Church is the towns small square, a focal point for the modest high street, with its selection of houses & pleasant independent shops. In the centre of the town you will see the 'Almshouses' built solely for women, by a local gentleman Thomas Dutton in 1616. However without a doubt the building of note in the town is the local 'Wool' Church, which was rebuilt entirely during the 15th century. Take a moment to wander inside this magnificent building, the interior is well proportioned & beautifully lit by its clerestory windows (windows above eye level). The local Cotswolds craftsmanship is easy to spot, the famous furniture designer Gordon Russell's (of Broadway) made the new seating which was designed by Sir Basil Spence, the well-known Scottish architect, most notably associated with Coventry Cathedral.
Located just outside the town is what is now called the 'Old Prison'. Designed & built by Sir George Onesiphorus Paul, part of the Huguenot Clothier family of Woodchester. Sir George was a philanthropist & prison reformer, linked to three other similar prisons. The overcrowding in city prisons lead to the introduction of smaller local prisons throughout the English countryside. Very few have survived but despite Sir Georges zeal for reform, 'hard labour' was still popular in 1792 & a treadmill was built for inmates. The treadmill provided a punishing form of exercise. The inmates are long gone, but the prison is well worth a visit with its wonderful café & rural life museum.
One of Northleach's key features is its properties, the mix of medieval cottages & half timber Tudor buildings make this town an interesting one to explore. Like many in the area, the town itself is said to have numerous secret tunnels & passages running beneath it. Some credibility was given to the claim back in 1937, outside a small cottage ' Guggle Cottage' at the West end of the town, a woman was pushing a small child in a pram, when the ground beneath them gave way. Her boyfriend was luckily on hand and he caught her as she began to fall. The hole, revealed a 40ft deep crater, investigation was made & it was believed that the tunnel dated back to the 14th century, many further tunnels where said to radiate from the one discovered. Due to 'tooling' marks, it is probable that Northleach was built on top of a stone quarry, which would explain the presence of the tunnels. Local legend states that during the time of the English Civil War, treasures from the church were hidden within the tunnel system to avoid them being confiscated.
Whilst exploring in the town, do visit the local Church of St Peter & St Paul, as you enter the porch look for the 'green man'. This church is one of the most impressive 'Wool Churches', hence its endearment of ' The Cathedral of the Cotswolds' owing to the wealth of the wool industry & Northleach residents during the 15th century. These tradesman's generosity funded the redevelopment of addition of aisles and chapels, the nave and the building of the porch. The oldest surviving part of the church is the Chancel, followed by the Tower which stands 100 feet high. The tower houses eight bells, which chime every 15 minutes, if you are visiting the town every 3 hours you will hear the bells play out three verses of “O Worship the King. Based on Psalm 104, the melody is named “Hanover” and is composed by William Croft (1678-1727). At 9am, midday, 3pm, 6pm 9pm, midnight, 3am, 6am! Yes that's right, if you are staying in the town overnight, you will be awoken every three hours by the church bells ringing out this wonderful tune! Don't say we didn't warn you.
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