The Village of Bourton-on-the-Water
|I’ve lived in Bourton-on-the-Water for 30 years and think it a wonderful place. It’s full of nice people living in one of the prettiest villages in England surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside. Let me tell you a little of its history.
The name Bourton comes from the Saxon word BURGH which means a fort or camp and TON which means a village or settlement. If you put the two together, you get ‘the village beside the camp’. There is evidence of far earlier settlements in this part of the Cotswolds. Stone Age and Bronze Age burial mounds are common throughout the area. On the northern edge of the village is the sight of a Stone Age encampment, which was subsequently occupied by later civilisations. Iron Age currency bars from about 300 BC were found on the sight during excavations carried out in the last century. They are now in the British Museum.
The Fosse Way, (A429) that passes on the western side of the village, was an important Roman road running from the West Country to Lincolnshire in as straight a line as the terrain would allow. For a time, this formed the border between Roman Britain to the east and Celtic Britain to the west, but Roman expansion soon made it redundant as a border. The Romans considered the crossing place on the River Windrush to be of strategic importance so they built a camp in the area that we now call Lansdowne.
The river was much wider and deeper at that time and flowed from the bridge to the south of the village across the meadows to Pockhill then along the present day Letch Lane and Clapton Row to join the present river where Birdland is sited today. In the early 17th Century it was channelled through the centre of the village in order to provide a sufficient flow of water to power three mills, one of which is now The Motor Museum. It seems that no records exist detailing the realignment of the river which in later centuries was to be such an important feature in drawing visitors, artists and photographers from all over the world.
During the civil war, which began in 1642, the area was loyal to the king. The Rector of Bourton-on-the-Water was Thomas Temple who was also chaplain to the Royal household and tutor to the Royal Princes. The Rector lived in the manor house opposite the church and Charles I paid several visits. In June 1644 the king on route to Evesham with his army stopped in the village. The king and his son, the future Charles II, stayed in the manor house and his army camped on what are now the playing fields of the Cotswold School .
The king was not to know that within two years the war would be lost after the final battle ended in the town square of Stow-on-the-Wold just four miles up the Fosse Way. At the Restoration in 1660, Charles II made Thomas Temple bishop of Bristol in recognition of the support he gave to his father.
The Parish Church of St. Lawrence was built on the site of a Roman temple. Records show that a Saxon church, probably built of wood, occupied the site in 708 AD. In 1110, a Norman stone church was built. The present building is a combination of 14th century chancel, a Georgian tower and a Victorian nave and this odd mixture of styles have resulted in a pleasant and interesting building.
The true landmarks of Bourton-on-the-Water are the five bridges that cross the River, all constructed of local stone. At the western end of the village green is Mill Bridge built in 1654 and originally called Broad or Big Bridge. Next is the footbridge in the centre of the village green called High Bridge and was built in 1756. This is followed by Paynes Bridge built in 1776. The footbridge, which stands close-by, is called New Bridge and was built in 1911 by a local benefactor, named George Frederick Moore who had been a successful tea planter. In 1953, opposite the Old New Inn, the Coronation Footbridge was built to replace an earlier wooden structure dating back to 1750.
When the railway was built to connect Cheltenham to the Midlands, a Mr.Pulham used a horse-drawn charabanc service to bring visitors from the industrial Midlands over the hills from Cheltenham to Bourton-on-the-Water. The very first tourists were on their way to see the Cotswolds. By 1881, a railway line ran from Cheltenham to Oxford via Bourton-on-the-Water and Kingham. Though the railway station closed in 1962, Pulhams coaches remain part of local life and visitors still come to see our lovely village.