The early history of Chipping Campden is a bit of a mystery, but there are a few clues.
There is evidence from the Bronze Age that this pleasant valley was occupied from a find of an axe which is now in Cheltenham Museum. As yet no one can be sure whether the loser lived here or was just a visitor.
Another unsolved question is who placed the Kiftsgate Stone in position and why – some have suggested it is prehistoric. Later, in the Iron Age, there was a hill fort on Meon Hill near Mickleton. This was so close we can be sure that people of the British tribe the Romans called the Dobunni knew this area. Some of their coins have been found elsewhere in the Cotswolds but none here – so far.
One of the Roman army’s first acts in Britain was to build military roads across the newly conquered land. One of these was the Fosse Way, not so far away, and a road of lesser importance was Ryknield/Icknield Street (known locally as Buckle Street), which runs past Weston-sub-Edge along part of an old Campden boundary. Also the “White Way” which was known as ‘the way leading from Cirencester to Campden’ in the 12th century. After passing through Campden it descended the Cotswold escarpment and led through Mickleton and Clifford Chambers and crossed the Avon at Stratford (Finberg, H.P.R. Gloucestershire studies. Leicester, Univ Press, 1957, pp 62-63). Just as today, people lived near the roads that brought goods and supplies.
There was a villa in Ebrington and, pretty certainly, at least one Romano-British farmstead in Campden. A square crop-mark with lynchets (a bank of earth on the side of a hill formed over time by ploughing from the Old English hlinc ‘ridge’) in a field on Dover’s Hill is thought to be a Roman villa with a vineyard.
On the hills above Campden a stone coffin, found in the 1970s, has been identified as Roman and now serves as a plant pot! The numbers of Roman coins that have turned up in gardens and fields are far too many to have been scattered by some more recent numismatist and fragments of Roman pottery, broken brooches, rings and beads have been picked up at various sites locally. All of which suggests that Romano-British farmers occupied the valley.
When the Romans had left, the Angles and Saxons moved in. The incomers were a tribe known as the Hwicce, who lived in the Cotswolds area and parts of the Severn Vale, and appear to have been a sort of client kingdom to Mercia. Percy Rushen, in his History of Chipping Campden, claims that “the earliest event connected with Campden …is that of a gathering of Saxon kings and a subsequent battle near by, recorded by Pierre de Langtoft…” a chronicler and historian (died c. 1305). Langtoft wrote in Anglo-Norman verse, but a translation by Thomas Wright, published in 1866 and presumably Rushen’s source, recounts:
Ina was at that time king proclaimed of Wessex
Who has sent his letters through England
How the two Britons are already come
To recover the land from which they were exiled.
In haste come the kings and barons
They are all assembled in the Danish field
Which from that time to this is named Campden.
Below Campden, in the meadow,
The battle is fought, and vanquished the party
Of the Irish and Welsh, who came in aid
To the two Britons, who have abandoned the field
And retreat discomfited to their navy.
It’s a nice thought, but Allan Warmington researched the evidence for this battle, said to have taken place in 689, which he wrote up for an article in Notes and Queries, Spring 2002.
The Mickleton Charter
Whether any battle took place in Campden at this time or not, few Saxon artefacts have been found, but a charter of 1005 delineates the boundaries of Mickleton (‘Mycclantune’) and it seems probable that occupation was continuous in the area since Romano-British times at least.
The Mickleton Charter was a grant of lands by King Aethelred to the newly founded abbey at Eynsham, near Oxford. The landmarks described include a number of points which can be identified with reasonable certainty, which suggest that the parish boundary was close to that of the present day. The survey begins Thys sind the land gemaere to Mycclantune – and follows the landmarks clockwise for about nine miles back to its starting point. The common boundary with Campden is the sixth mark noted – of Hysemannes Thorn on Badelan Broc. The thorn tree no longer exists but Battle Brook (named after a Saxon called Badela). Andlong Broces ath tha Twicelan – continue along the brook as far as the crossroads; two tracks still meet at the brook north of Battlebridge and perhaps are the crossroads. Andlang Broces on thaet Slaed – continue along the brook to the Slade; this is the broad-bottomed valley through which the brook flows. On thaet Slaed on Campsaetena Gamaere and Westhaema – at this point the survey turns along the western boundary of Mickleton, along to where the Campden (Camp people) and Weston-sub-Edge boundaries meet. Thonne andlong Weges on Maercumbes Wylle – then continue along the way to the spring on the boundary.
Saxon place names
Christopher Whitfield noted the large number of Saxon place names in the vicinity:
Campden – from the Saxon campa-denu a valley with camps or enclosures
Berrington – the tun with the burgh or fort
Westington – the West-tun
Littleworth – Little’s worǷ or homestead (Ƿ [‘thorn’] pronounced ‘th’)
Attlepin – the pin or ridge of Aetla’s people
Catbrook – Cadda’s brook
The Hoo – the spur or ‘heugh’ of a hill
Tilbury Hollow – the hollow of Tilla’s burgh
The Bratch – newly cultivated land
Myvy – the mythe or place where the waters meet (the brook known as Catbrook and a streamlet from Broad Campden)
Battle Brook – Badelan Broc or Badel’s Brook
The coming of the Normans
There was at least a small village, about where Broad Campden is now, and by 1066 we know that the lord of the manor was no less than King Harold himself. As yet it is not known how long the manor had belonged to his family. Then the Normans conquered England and by the time of Domesday Book the new lord of the manor was Hugh d’Avranches. He was one of the richest followers of William I and most of his 200 or so manors were rented out – not Campden though. This was already becoming an important place.
Perhaps there was already a regular weekly village market when in the late twelfth century Henry II granted a market charter for a completely new town? A new road was laid out, probably along an existing footpath through a field the other side of the brook from the existing village, and burgage plots were measured out with equal frontages onto the High Street. The king himself visited and confirmed the charter. At this time most of the local people, including the incoming craftsmen, who built their shops, workshops and dwellings along the High Street, still spoke the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) tongue –so the new town was called ‘Chipping’ (or Market) Campden. Latin records from then on speak of ‘Parva (Little) Caumpedene’ when they refer to what we now know as Broad Campden.