Campden's History

The meaning of the name

Campden's early name was Camp-denu, from Saxon Old English  meaning field or enclosure (camp) in the valley (denu). It appears in the early records under various spellings and names –  Campadene, Campedene, Caumpedene, Caumpden, Campdene, Camdin, Cambdin and Cambden.

(Campedene 1086 (db), Bradecampedene 1224, Chepyng Campedene 1287. ‘Valley with enclosures’. OE camp + denu. ...(Oxford Dictionary of Place Names))

There were three areas of early settlement - Berrington, Westington and Broad Campden. At the time of the Domesday Book the manor was held by the Earl of Chester having been the property of King Harold before 1066. King Henry II gave Campden a Town Charter in about 1175, permitting a weekly market and annual fairs. It is from that time that the name was changed to Chipping Campden, from an old English word 'ceping', meaning ‘market’and the High Street, with its market square and burgage plots, was developed.

The "Cotswold Lions"

Wool was the source of the growing mediæval prosperity of the town and the sheep, known as ‘Cotswold Lions,’ with their thick fleeces with a long "staple", brought wealth to the merchants of the area. William Grevel, ‘the Flower of all the Merchants of England,’ built a house in the High Street in the fourteenth century. His fine brass and those of other wool merchants may be seen in the parish Church. The Church of St James, though of earlier foundation (at least early thirteenth century), was substantially rebuilt and improved at the expense of the wool merchants and is now one of the finest of the Cotswold Wool Churches.

A rich benefactor

In the days of King James I, a rich and well-connected London merchant, Sir Baptist Hicks, bought the manor (about 1608) and built a fine manor house for himself, almshouses for the poor and a Market Hall for the High Street.   He became the first Viscount Campden and died in 1629. His monument and those of some others of his family and descendants are in the Gainsborough chapel within the Church.

Campden's "Olympick" Games

The Cotswold Olympicks – otherwise known as Robert Dover’s Games – are held on Dover’s Hill every year.   Originally, it is said, the Games were started by Robert Dover, a local lawyer, and Endymion Porter of Mickleton who was a friend of, and art-collector for, King James I. In the beginning the sports included shin-kicking, back-swords, hare-coursing and similar country pastimes. The games were closed down in the mid-nineteenth century as being too rowdy – but were restarted in the twentieth century and take place on the Friday evening before Scuttlebrook Wake.

The Campden Wonder

Three hundred and fifty years ago Campden was horrified when a well-known local man did not come home one evening and his bloodstained neck cloth was found next morning near Ebrington. No body could be found and then his servant confessed that he and his mother and brother had committed murder. The story was convincing but two years later, after the three had been hung, there was proof that the alleged murder had never happened – the return of William Harrison rocked London as well as Campden. New information and theories have been incorporated into a retelling of this story – but what really happened? Is it still a mystery?

The Guild of Handicraft

In 1902 C.R.Ashbee brought his Guild of Handicraft to Campden from London's East End. Ashbee was a follower of William Morris and had started the Guild in 1888 but believing that country living was better for handicrafts, he and 150 people with workshops and equipment moved to Campden.

The Guild was dissolved in 1910 but many of the descendants of the Guildsmen still live in the town.  The Silk Mill in Sheep Street, where Ashbee set up the Guild, still houses craftsmen, including the Robert Welch Design Studios and Hart’s workshop which carries on the family silversmithing business started by George Hart.