Wednesday, April 26th 2017
The village of Moreton-in-Marsh (often mis-called Moreton-in-the-Marsh) lies in the county of Gloucestershire, the nearest large towns being Cheltenham and Gloucester, as shown on the map below.
The quaintness of the name and the picturesqueness of the town itself have long attracted the notice of tourists and sightseers. Its fame has spread as far as Japan from which country it receives many visitors, so much so that it has been thought a good idea to make the notices in the railway station bilingual in English and Japanese.
The railway station in Moreton-in-Marsh dates from the arrival of the railway in 1853 and is apparently familiar to many Japanese tourists and, from today, to us, because it was the railway that brought us to this Cotswolds town.
The derivation of the name ‘Moreton-in-Marsh’ is subject to some uncertainty. The first part, Moreton, seems clear enough, deriving from Anglo-Saxon words meaning ‘moor’ and ‘farm’ (tun), hence ‘Moor Farm’. It is the last part that remains under discussion. There are indeed marshy areas in the surrounding countryside and the idea that the name indicates a settlement in marshland, seems reasonable. Others, though, suggest that ‘Marsh’ was originally ‘March’, where the word march signifies a boundary. This is plausible, given that in times past, the boundaries of the counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire met to the east of the town. Yet another theory claims that ‘in-Marsh’ is a corruption of an earlier Henmarsh, a name derived from the local marshy areas and one of their principal inhabitants, the moorhen. As is often the case with ancient names, we cannot now be sure which of these, if any, is the correct derivation.
The Cotswolds are known for their deposits of limestone which is suitable for building. Many, perhaps most, of the buildings in Moreton-in-Marsh are made with what is commonly called Cotswold Stone. I have not identified all the buildings I photographed or determined their purpose. I will annotate those that I do known something about.
Moreton-in-Marsh was once a very important market town. It consists mainly of a very broad main street with a few side streets. The High Street consists of two carriageways separated by a central reservation which is in some places planted with grass and trees and in other places provides parking for vehicles and a site for the war memorial.
In fact, this is the Batsford and Moreton-in-Marsh War Memorial, shared with the neighbouring village of Batsford. It was erected in 1921 (designed by Sir Edward Guy Dawber) in memory of the fallen of the First World War and, sadly, had to be modified to take account of the Second World War.
The other buildings in the High Street are the usual mixture of residential and commercial premises, including banks, shops – such as the toy shop above – and, of course, pubs!
The Bell Inn goes back at least to the 18th century though parts of the building are older still. The 18th century was perhaps Moreton’s boom era when the wool trade was flourishing and most of the buildings date from then. We had lunch at the Bell before continuing.
There are quite a few pubs in and around Moreton-in-Marsh partly because the town is sited at a confluence of roads and would once have been busy with travellers.
Today, a weekday, the town was quiet with very few people about though some of these were obviously visitors like ourselves. We did not see any Japanese, however. Perhaps it’s not their season for holidays abroad.
Every self-respecting olde Englisshe town or village has to have ancient furniture, preferably military or to do with the harsh justice of bygone times. In line with this requirement, Moreton-in-Marsh has ye olde stocks. I’m pretty sure these are not ancient but are modern mock-ups but I suppose they add a touch of character to the place.
This large building on a corner is called the Old Bank but whose bank it was and how old the building is, I have no idea. It’s no longer a bank and is advertised for sale. What will occupy it next: Tesco? Starbuck’s? Luxury flats?
The Redesdale Hall is probably the most prominent building in Morton-in-Marsh. It was designed by Mr, later Sir, Ernest George and bears a plaque reading as follows:
THE REDESDALE HALL WAS ERECTED IN 1887 BY
SIR ALGERNON BERTRAM FREEMAN MITFORD,
GCVO, KCB, 1ST BARON REDESDALE,
LORD-OF-THE-MANOR OF MORETON-IN-MARSH
IN PIOUS MEMORY OF HIS KINSMAN, EARL OF REDESDALE, 1805-1886.
SUBSEQUENTLY, BY PURCHASE,
IT PASSED INTO THE POSSESSION OF
SIR GILBERT ALAN HAMILTON WILL, BART, OBE, TD,
FIRST BARON DULVERTON,
WHO PRESENTED IT IN THE YEAR 1951 TO
THE NORTH COTSWOLD RURAL DISTRICT COUNCIL.
It now belongs to the Town Council and is run by a charitable trust. It is available for hire. (More details here.)
This building is not in the High Street but a short distance from it along Oxford Street. It caught our attention with the slender tower upon the roof. This dates from the 16th century and is called the Curfew Tower. It’s possibly the town’s oldest building.
In Old Market Way we found a group of shops. I hesitate to call this a ‘shopping centre’ though I suppose that that is what it is. Emblazoned across the top of the arch in very large letters is the phrase ACCESS TO HIGH STREET as though the managers fear that people will become confused and unable to find their way out. Hardly likely.
If you walk north along the High Street, it becomes the Fosse Way. Or perhaps we should say that the Fosse Way is rebadged ‘High Street’ where it passes through the town. As you reach the Budgens store, the Fosse Way briefly becomes Roman Road. Why this is so, I cannot say. Perhaps it is one of those mysteries best left unsolved. Having reached this point, we decided there was no point in continuing and turned back.
Moreton-in-Marsh is a handsome Cotswold Market Town and well worth visiting, not least because of its picturesque name. To be honest, though, there is not a lot there apart from some intriguing bits of architecture and a morning or afternoon will suffice to see it all. We will remember it fondly but I doubt we shall return.