Lechlade is a quiet town, situated on the Upper Thames. Its chief industry is agriculture, but during the past few years gravel has been dug in large quantities, and many local farming lands are no longer grazing pastures for sheep and cattle. It is said to be some of the best gravel in the Thames valley.

For the leisure hours of those who enjoy water sports, motor boating, hydroplane racing, water skiing and yachting surround us, in fact we are now known as the "Broads of the Cotswolds."

Lechlade, where the salt way ends, is also where four counties meet. Gloucestershire is joined by Oxfordshire on the East, and across the river to the south is Berkshire and Wiltshire.

Two small rivers join the Thames at Lechlade, the Coln and the Leach. The Old Canal, once a busy waterway to the town, no longer exists.

Lechlade is only 74 miles from London, Faringdon 6 miles, and the busy railway town of Swindon 11 miles, and the old Roman town of Cirencester (or Corinium) 13 miles away.

The town’s population at the 1961 census was 1,134. Plenty of buses link the town with Cirencester, Fairford, Swindon and Oxford, but the railway was closed down in 1963. Early closing day is Thursday.


The Town

The privilege of holding a market was conferred upon Lechlade in 1260 and was well known for the sale of cheese, which was produced in great quantities along the rich Thames meadows. There is no regular market held today. The wool trade also flourished here, the Black Death causing such a labour shortage that the land was used for the production of sheep.

The people of nearby Southrop and Eastleach and adjacent villages sent their wool to the weekly market in the mediaeval times.

The town, situated on the Thames, where it is joined by the Leach, from which it takes its name, is built mainly of local stone and contains many Georgian residences, Period houses and attractive cottages.

An 18th century gazebo may be seen along the main road to Fairford, and good examples of these rather unusual features for a small country town may also be found in Sherbourne Street, Church House, and Butler’s Court Farm. These gazebos were used in the days of the stage coach as waiting rooms for "my lady" and her friends.

The Town formerly had a market cross, but this was pulled down in 1770 by Sir Thomas Wheate, it is said that he used the stones in a house he was building, the stocks also disappeared. A building of interest is the Swan Inn which was originally built about 1520 by Sir Edward Tame and many houses in the High Street date from Charles II. As early as 1698 a regular stage coach ran from Lechlade to London.

A number of picturesque dove cotes may also be found around the town.



Although a Church existed here in 1255[i], as is evident from a Charter of Henry III to the Priory, and was one of the few endowed with the privilege of Sanctuary, the present St. Lawrence’s Church dates entirely from about 1470, and is a good example of the Perpendicular architecture, and consists of a nave with aisles, chancel, chapels, and an embattled western tower rises to a height of 140 feet. A peal of six bells can be heard from this tower on Sundays calling people to worship. The bell ringers are one of the youngest teams in the country, being mainly composed of teenagers.

The oldest bell in the tower is dated 1593, with others dated 1626, 1635, 1743, 1802 and 1911. A little bell the ‘Ting- Tang’ is still in the steeple, above the other bells, rang a nightly curfew until 1850.

The porch. with its panelled roof, is said to contain some of the masonry from the former Priory.

The interior of the church is lofty and spacious, and has a beautiful east window of five lights, a brass to John Townsend, wool merchant, and his wife, dated 1458, and another to John Twinhoe (1510) who founded the chantry of St. Blaise. Both memorials are in good state of preservation. The Chancel has a fine oak panelled roof and is enclosed by oak screens on three sides.

The upper portion of the font is ancient and beautifully worked in stone, and the stone pulpit has a modern upper portion but the base was found some years ago, in the Vicarage garden.

About 1510 a fire destroyed part of the interior and the roofs, and it is evident that soon after alterations were made to the building, the tower was strengthened and

topped by the present elegant spire and a west window and doorway were rebuilt.

It was on a beautiful evening in August, 1815, that Shelley, one of our greatest poets, visited Lechlade Churchyard, which inspired him to write this famous



‘The wind has swept from the wide atmosphere Each vapour that obscured the sunset’s ray,

And pallid evening twines its beaming hair In duskier braids around the languid eyes of day

Silence and twilight, unbeloved of men, Creep hand in hand from yon obscurest glen.

They breathe their spells towards the departing day, Encompassing the earth, air, stars, and sea;

Light, sound, and motion over the potent sway, Responding to the charm with its own mystery

The winds are still, or the dry Church Tower grass Knows not their gentle motions as they pass.

Thou too, aerial pile! whose pinnacles Point from one shrine like pinnacles of fire

Obeys’t in silence their sweet solemn spells, Clothing in hues of heaven thy dim and distant spire,

A round whose lessening and invisible height Gather among the stars the clouds of night.

The dead are sleeping in their sepulchres; and, mouldering as they sleep, a thrilling sound,

Half sense, half thought, among the darkness stirs, Breathed from their wormy beds all living things [i]around:


And mingling with the still night and mute sky, Its awful hush is felt inaudibly.

Thus solemnized and softened, death is mild A mid terrorless as this serenest night,

Here could 1 hope, like some enquiring child Sporting on graves, that death did hide from human [i]sight


Sweet secrets, or beside its breathless sleep That loveliest dreams perpetual watch did keep."



This unusually shaped hump ‘bridge took the place of a ferry and ford, and was built in the year 1792, primarily for the Thames and Severn Canal traffic. It takes its name from the halfpenny toll levied until 1839. The toll house is still to be seen on the East side.

The nearby docks and free wharf were constructed for the considerable barge traffic, and towards the end of the 18th century, coal was being carried in large tonnage from the Forest of Dean along the Severn Canal, connecting with the Thames at the Round House, Lechlade, and with it bringing much prosperity to the town until the advent of the railways, which provided alternative transport, and the river traffic dwindled until the canal finally closed down and become derelict in 1901.

The river is now the playground of boatmen and fishermen. The latter may be seen sitting along the Donkey path which was the towpath in the days of the barges. Visitors may hire punts by the hour, day or week, and the excursions up or down the river are delightful.




The river has been spanned by a stone bridge at this point for hundreds of years. London Bridge was first built in stone in 1209, and St. John’s Bridge followed, the foundation stones were laid in 1229.

The original bridge was of timber and was washed away by a severe flood, a stone bridge taking its place in the 13th century. The bridge takes its name from a nunnery founded by Isabella de Ferras and dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and endowed with land near the river. Soon afterwards, Peter Fitzgerald, second husband of Isabella, founded a hospital nearby, and the Prior and monks undertook the care of the bridge and causeways leading to it.

Unfortunately this work was not carried out and the bridge fell into disrepair. in 1338 St. John’s Bridge became so broken down and dangerous to people passing over it, that in 1342 Edward lii made a special grant towards the cost of repairs and a further grant was made by Richard II in 1388. Trouble over the bridge’s upkeep did not end here, for, years later in 1626, after a law suit, the county appears to have employed a builder to repair and renovate it.

Nearby is St. John’s Lock, the highest lock on the Thames. It is not the oldest, and the earliest mention of the lock and weir is in 1789. The first lockhouse was put up in 1830, and prior to this it is thought that the lockkeepers lived at the nearby Trout Inn. The present lockkeeper, Mr. L. David, won the "Best Kept Lock" Award in 1963.

In March, 1966, the lock was drained when a new set of lock gates were fitted. This operation has not been carried out since the last set of lock gates were fitted in 1922




About one mile up river from the Halfpenny Bridge is the picturesque old Round House, situated at a point where the old canal joins the Thames.

Until a few months ago a wooden bridge, or "donkey" walk, spanned the river, leading to the canal path alongside the Round House.

Unfortunately over the years the bridge became in a bad state of repair and funds for its renewal could not be found, so that both residents and visitors are now deprived of this ancient right of way.

The Round House is one of 30 built for the lockkeepers who worked on the Thames and Severn Canal. Only two or three are now in a good state of repair and being used as dwelling houses.



The earliest notice of Lechlade is at the time of Edward the Confessor. Certain Danes in the King’s favour were granted immense tracts of land. One such favourite was named Siward, who was awarded the Manor of Lechlade and the lands around it.

Later the Manor passed into the hands of the de Ferras, a powerful Norman family, and remained in their possession for many years.

Catherine of Aragon received the Manor of Lechlade, with its entitlement of the fair and market tolls, as part of her dowry when she married Henry VIII. The Parish Church was dedicated to St. Lawrence at her request at this time.

The old Manor House was demolished in the 1870’s and a new manor built, which was acquired by the congregation of St. Clotilde, and is now a convent school.



The Priory was founded in the 13th century. The greatest benefactor of land and gifts was Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who, with his wife, came into possession of the Manor in 1252. The Priory was soon in financial trouble however, and the buildings quickly disappeared; some of the stone was probably used for alterations to the Parish Church, where work was in progress.

A record of the Priory exists and date from 1240, and from it are taken some interesting points as to how the monks lived . . . The prior, brethren, lay brethren and lay sisters, were not to interfere with the running of the Parish Church, but the local vicar was to celebrate one service annually in their chapel. The inmates of the Priory, on receiving the habit, must nevermore return to the world. All were to dress, drink and eat in common, sleep in their shirts and breeches.

The Priory income arose from various sources such as dovecotes, meadowland, rent of mills, fisheries, tolls and tithes from the church, also labour and tenants etc.

By 1300, however, reports showed that the Priory was being run in an unsatisfactory manner, and little was being done to put things right. The bridge of St. John the Baptist had become in a poor state of repair, enquiries showed that the brethren had gone around the countryside saying masses for the souls, for which payment was sought. it was about this time that the Priory ceased to exist.

A curious piece of sculpture built into the south aisle wall of Inglesham Church (which is situated in a charming and unusual farmyard setting about one mile from Lechlade), representing Christ and the Virgin Mary, was brought from the Priory of St. John when it was destroyed and is apparently the work of the 11th century.

The Trout Inn, situated near the Priory was formerly called St. John the Baptist’s Head and stands near the bridge of St. John, was probably once a guest house for the Priory, and is now a well preserved old inn, and the landlord possesses the ancient fishing rights which are on both sides of the river. These rights were granted by Loyal Charter to the early brethren.

About fifty years ago, excavations on the Priory site resulted in the finding of the skeletons of forty monks, some coins, tiles and worked stones.

The Priory is now a modern and well known Caravan Park, for both the holidaymaker and resident.


St. John's Bridge, the second stone bridge over the Thames, was built in 1229 by Peter Fitzherbert the second husband of Isobel de Mortimer. The nunnery she founded in 1200 became a hospital for the care of the workers and later for the poor, elderly and sick. In 1245 Isobel granted to the hospital the bridge itself, some adjacent land, a chape and the mill. The King's brother Richard Duke of Cornwall became Lord of the Manor in 1252 and rebuilt and enlarged the hospital into a Priory of the Order of St. Augustine. He also founded the great abbey and Shrine of Hailes (near Winchcombe) to which his son Edmund granted the Manor of Lechlade and the advowson (patronage) of the Vicarage and hospital.

The Priory seems to have consisted of seven priests including a Prior, lay brothers and sisters who looked after the sick and poor. They wore russet habits and in a record of 1240 rules were laid down concerning the services to be held and the way of life to be observed. The monks were told to be chaste and sober, to eat moderately and to obey the discipline humbly and obediently. The Prior received a Royal Grant to take tolls for the repair of the bridge but several complaints were made of its neglect.

The subsequent records show us that the monks often failed to live up to the high ideals of the Priory's foundation. In 1291 a report to the Bishop of Worcester under whose spiritual authority the Priory came showed that the services were being neglected and the discipline not observed. A mandate was sent out for the reform of the hospital which stated that the services were to be held at the proper times, uniformity of dress was to be observed, food was only to be taken at regular times and places, hospitality was to be dispensed charitably and cheerfully and regular accounts were to be kept. In 1300, an inquisition was held by the Bishop of Worcester when it was said that the Prior had expelled a number of lay brothers and sisters. In 1351 a Commissioner was sent by the Bishop to punish certain brothers for laying violent hands on other brethren. The following year it was said that the monks had laid aside their habits and were celebrating Mass for payment. At this time after the Black Death however, there were economic difficulties and disorder in the countryside and it may be that the amount of land and dues supporting the Priory were insufficient for its proper maintenance.

In 1375 Prior Stephen of Lechlade was excommunicated because he had diminished the services, wasted and defiled the goods of the Priory and led a dissolute life. We have a description of the ceremony when the Dean of Fayreford with all the rectors, vicars and parish priests of Fayreford Deanery, having put on their albs (white tunics) and rung the bells, then extinguished their candles and threw them to the ground with other requisite solemnities to denounce Stephen as excommunicate. By 1454 there were not enough brethren to elect a Prior and one was appointed by the Bishop on the recommendation of the patron Richard Duke of York. In 1462 the hospital was so impoverished that it was exempted from the payment of the tenth.

The end of the Priory came in 1472 when it was in a ruinous condition and Cecily Duchess of York, then the Lady of the Manor, obtained a licence from Edward IV to transfer all its possessions to the maintenance of a Chantry of three priests founded in

the Chapel of the Virgin in Lechlade Church. Three years later this was put into effect by the Bishop of Worcester and it was stipulated that the Chaplains should repair the Chapel and Hospital and hold services on the Vigil and Feast of St. John the Baptist.

Our last view of the Priory is that of the traveller Leland who, writing in 1543, described the ruins of the Chapel and Priory. As a sad postscript we have a picture of the workhouse in 1770 built on the same site to which the overseers of Lechlade paid £20 a year. It was divided into stalls in which the wretched pauper women sat spinning. In 1794 the Pest House was built to the north of the town and the workhouse disappeared.



Lechlade stands on a very favourable broad gravel bed which is said to be one of the best in the country. Huge quantities of gravel have been dug over a wide surrounding area during the past few years, and even entire farms have been sold for their rich gravel deposits. Where sheep and cattle used to graze, huge stretches of water are now becoming the happy leisure grounds for water sports, fishing and wild life preserves.

The gravel bed was once formed by the water of an ancient river in prehistoric times, and is composed of white lime stones and flint to the North East and is red with no flint beyond the Market Place. When the bottom of the gravel has been reached there is a bed of laminated clay. During recent excavations river silt has been found. An excavation of between 12 to 20 feet deep anywhere in the gravel bed will give a plentiful supply of water. There are many man-made lakes in the district ~particular1y in the Lechlade and Fairford area, which are well stocked with brown and rainbow trout and coarse fish which delight the keen angler.


These sites cover the ox18 area of Oxfordshire England, including  the following villages, OX18, Alvescot, Bampton, Black Bourton, Burford, Broadwell, Carterton, Clanfield, Kelmscott, Kencot, Langford, Lechlade, RAF Broadwell, Shilton, Parish Pump, Oxfordshire Events,


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