Before we get back into exploring The Cotswolds, I figured I’d better tell you a little more about Tetbury – our base for a week over Christmas. I’ve already told you about the royal connection and the Christmas windows and where we stayed (you’ll find that post here), but we haven’t yet explored the town…
Built near an ancient hill fort probably sometime in the 600s, Tetbury became an important market town during the middle ages because of Cotswold wool. A highlight of the town calendar is the annual Tetbury Woolsack Races where competitors carry a 27kg sack of wool up and down a steep hill (Gumstool Hill).
The first written record referring to Tetbury was in AD681 when 15 acres of land near “Tette’s monastery” to the abbey of Malmesbury. Who Tette was, is a tad unclear, but there you go.
The growth of the town came down to one man – Sir William de Braose, lord of the manor at Tetbury in 1200. A man ahead of his time, he relinquished many of his feudal rights and in exchange for a yearly rent, granted the merchants in Tetbury the right to pretty much govern themselves – and, therefore, an incentive to grow and flourish.
While it was a great step forward for Tetbury, it wasn’t such a happy ending for Sir William who fell out with King John, was imprisoned at Corfe Castle, and starved to death.
Four hundred years later another lord of the manor, George, Lord Berkeley, pretty much sold his manorial rights to the town – the lordship of the manor and the borough were offered to the people of Tetbury. Plus, tenants were offered to buy the houses they’d leased. As a money-making enterprise, it was a successful one.
The people of Tetbury established a system where the government of the town was carried on by a group of seven Feoffees, influential members of the town, assisted by a consultative body. They were (and still are) known respectively as The Seven and The Thirteen.
Since the reformations of local government in the 20th century, they’re no longer responsible for government, but they are responsible for maintenance of the Market Hall, Chipping Steps, several areas of local parkland and trusteeship of local charities.
Next to the Market Hall, the most photographed part of Tetbury is the Chipping Steps. “Chipping” means market and it’s where “mop fairs” were held – where farm hands and domestic staff offered themselves for employment.
The houses beside the steep steps are mostly weaver’s cottages dating back to the 1600s. My pic of the steps isn’t great, so I “borrowed a couple from Instagram (below).
What’s with the dolphins?
Aside from having more antique shops per head of population than anywhere else I can think of, and Charlie and Camillla living just down the road at Highgrove, Tetbury has a rather unusual animal on its crest – a pair of dolphins. You see them on the market hall, the church gates and splashed elsewhere around town. Some of the town’s sporting teams are known as the Tetbury Dolphins. Yet the town is miles away from the sea, so why dolphins? (Not that I think they look much like dolphins, but that’s just my opinion.)
There are a number of theories about this:
1.The one about the dolphins who plugged a hole in a sinking ship in the Irish Sea. This one tells of the heroics of two dolphins who used their snouts to plug a hole in a ship (owned by a member of a prominent local family) that was sinking fast in the Irish Sea.
2. The one about the dolphins who plugged a hole in a sinking ship – with their snouts – off the coast of North America. In this version, the ship was carrying all the wealth of Tetbury – Tetbury was a very rich town – so the dolphins saved the future of the town. (This one is my personal favourite.)
3. The one about how the dolphins were inspired by the emblem of a prominent family who owned most of the town. (This one is my least favourite.) The problem with this theory is that it’s murky as to which wealthy family gets the credit.
4. There’s a town in Slovakia that also uses dolphins in its crest but as a symbol of trade. Given that Tetbury was the third most important market town in Gloucestershire at the time, perhaps the reason for dolphins in Tetbury’s crest really is boring and it’s simply an emblem representing trade.
5. Finally, there’s the fact that the Romans liked to use dolphins as decorative art – and there have been plenty of pieces dug up in this area. Yep, boring again.
The Snooty Fox
We had Christmas lunch here at The Snooty Fox. In the end there were eight of us – which was absolutely perfect. We’d wanted a vibe that was fun and casual with great food and that’s what we got. There were even dogs sitting at the next table – I love that about English pubs.
So much food – I couldn’t get through it and my dessert ended up going up the other end of the table.
Next time, back to the travel journal and off to some more Cotswold Villages…