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The town of Wotton is first mentioned in a charter from King Edmund of Wessex in 940 A.D. For centuries the town was dominated by the affairs and intruiges of the powerful Berkeley family, and in the reign of King John (brother of Richard the Lionheart, unwilling signatory of the Magna Carta, and the villain of every Robin Hood film) Wotton was sacked by John's men and burned down. The grammar school was founded in 1384 by Lady Katherine Berkeley and has been in continuous existence since then - it is now located in a modern building on the plain below the town, and the complaint that modern children don't get enough exercise does not apply to its pupils, who have a stiff climb back into Wotton each day. Important brasses (left) of Thomas IV of Berkeley and his wife Margaret, dating from Margaret's death in 1392, can be found in the church of St. Mary's.
Wotton is divided into the Old Town and the New Town. The Old Town, built in the area around the Church of St. Mary's, was the site of the original settlement, and the bulk of the New Town was built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the town was at the height of prosperity. Most of the shops in Long Street date from this period, and although some are spoiled by modern fronts at street level, the upper floors and rooftops form a marvellous jumble. Market Street is very picturesque, and on the corner of Market Street and Long Street is the 16th. century Tolsey with its turret and dragon weather vane. It was once the town lockup and Blind House, and was also used for local courts.
In Church Street are the beautiful Perry and Dawes Almshouses, funded with two separate bequests by Hugh Perry in 1634 and Thomas Dawes in 1712. The almshouses are built around a courtyard with a small chapel in the centre. Perry's daughter Mary married Henry Noel, second son of Viscount Campden (see Chipping Campden). Mary assisted in the defence of Campden House during a siege by the Parliamentary Army, melting lead for musket balls, but in the end they had to surrender and the house was largely destroyed.
Wotton was a centre for the woollen industry. The long valleys which cut into the Edge provided water and power for dozens of mills, most of which have either disappeared, fallen into ruin, or have been converted to other uses. Monk's Mill is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and it was owned by nearby Kingswood Abbey. It was a large establishment at the turn of this century, but only overgrown ruins remain today. The Hack Mill was still standing until recently, but it became so dilapidated and dangerous that it had to be demolished. An outstanding example of a mill building is the New Mill which can be seen on the road to Charfield; it is now the premises of the engineering firm Renishaws. A large number of footpaths in the Wotton area mark the routes between vanished mills, and there is nearly always something to see - the millponds, weirs, and flood channels make very attractive places to picnic.
Castle Coombe is gorgeous. Whether it is (as some have maintained) the most beautiful village in England, or whether it is somewhere in the top 10, seems hardly relevant once you have arrived. There is barely a sign of modernity to be seen. Do not go in the expectation of a Merrie Englande theme park, because the commercial life of this village is so discrete and well-hidden that it is only when you see people peering into the windows of little stone-tiled cottages that you realise that there are shops.