A trail round Highworth
I recently paid a long-overdue return visit to Highworth (5 miles north-east of Swindon) for another caper round that lovely town. I paid a visit last summer when my friend Helen showed me around some of the high points of the place including the ice-house which was a marvel. But a year has passed since then with degree studies getting in the way. However, they are now done with, so my new non-book-filled schedule made room for a return visit. As when I went last year, the day was gorgeously warm and sunny – Oh I LOVE summertime – and, as before, my visit and our day began with coffee and a chin-wag in the delightful courtyard at the back of The Highworth Hotel, once known as the Jesmond House Hotel, an elegant Georgian town house. As it happened we ended up going back there for lunch. Their lunchtime tapas of three for a tenner is really good value and jolly tasty too!
As Highworth’s community portal will tell you: ‘Highworth is a hilltop market town in North Wiltshire, seven miles from Swindon. It has a rich heritage with continuous settlement for over 4000 years; archaeological remains dating back to the Bronze Age, and evidence of the Roman Period being discovered in the area.’ Once bigger and more significant than Swindon: ‘by the middle of the 17th century Highworth’s cattle market was the largest in Wiltshire and at the time of the first census in 1801, Highworth was the most important township in north-east Wiltshire with a population of over 2,000 – larger than either Swindon, Wootton Bassett or Cricklade.’
Highworth is indeed a lovely place, and it would be even better if one could get a mobile phone signal! Grrr! Still that wasn’t something that would have concerned John Betjeman who said of Highworth that it was: ‘extraordinary because it has more beautiful buildings than ugly ones’. And I reckon that is still true. The High Street is really very charming with the different roof-lines and chimneys and there’s lots of lovely nooks and crannies all over the place.
So the plan for the day was to loosely follow the Highworth Town Trail put together by the very active Highworth historical society on their splendid website with a downloadable PDF of the trail including a map. Now there’s no point my writing in detail here about everything that the town trail covers when it’s already been done but I did take a few photos here and there as we were gadding about so this is largely a pictorial post – though it has to be said I really am the worst photographer. David Bailey I am not. 😦 See below.
We also paid a visit to Coleshill which was a wonderful revelation. I had no idea about the guards house there and the role of the auxiliaries in the event of an invasion during WWII. In relation to this I learned a little about Mabel Stranks, Highworth postmistress and secret agent whose extraordinary wartime activities are now commemorated with a plaque above the old post office in Highworth. Swindon Web have a detailed article about her so to read all of that visit here. It is an astonishing story for sure. As they say: ‘Mrs Stranks was Highworth’s Postmistress and the dependable face of village life who sorted the stamps and telegrams for over 25 years. What no one knew, not even her close family, was that during the war years, 1941-45, this grey haired woman played a key role in a guerrilla army established by Winston Churchill and became a name on the hit-list of Hitler himself.’
It’s sometimes the little details that catch the eye isn’t it? A staircase here, a cannon-ball there, a blue-plaque somewhere else. And Highworth certainly is a treasure-trove of all such things and more and in a compact area too. Certainly Swindon could take note of a few things! There’s plenty of people and places in Swindon that deserve a commerative plaque or two. And the town trail itself is lovely stuff. Swindon, again look to your laurels. I was fascinated by the gargoyle type things overlooking the courtyard at The Highworth Hotel and the ammonite embedded into the wall of the house that once was the home of the Jurassic geologist – for some reason I couldn’t make the software load that picture, which is a pity – and many other bits and pieces besides.
And here’s a few more taken mostly in and around the church:
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