Castle Combe is the quintessential English Village. Located in Wiltshire, it’s about 5 miles NorthWest of Chippenham. “Chocolate Box” perfect is how it has been described, though Britons think it looks more like a Hollywood film set than an actual village and for good reason: it’s in a lot of films. The one that rocketed Castle Combe to fame was the 1960s production Doctor Doolittle starring Rex Harrison. Apparently, there was a fair bit of friction with local residents during the filming, up to and including sabotage. Not good.
Things have clearly settled down since then, to the point where Castle Combe has featured in so many movies that the residents eschew cables or aerials on their houses to make it easier for the producers. In 2010 it was a key location for Steven Spielberg’s production of War Horse, most recently it was the backdrop for Downton Abbey,
I chuckled to see these figures in the windows of one of the houses. A Dr Doolittle fan or just an animal lover?
Then there was this. You’ve gotta love England. The cat was just sitting quietly, no restraints, in the back of the car, patiently awaiting its owner.
On to the actual village. Castle Combe began as British hill fort and was subsequently occupied by the Romans and then the Normans. During the Middle Ages, the village served as an important centre for the wool industry. The river By Brook, located in the lower part of the village, provided water power to produce a red and white cloth known as ‘Castlecombe’.
I was fascinated to see professional photographers standing by their cameras set on tripods right in the middle of the river. They had put heavy neutral density filters on the cameras and set the shutter speed to a very slow setting. After running the resultant photo through an app, it removed all of the people! If you’ve ever wondered why all those professional shots have no folks in them, you now have your answer.
There was, of course, an actual castle back in the 12th-century but it’s long gone. The 14th-century market cross remains, however. It was built when Castle Combe was granted the privilege of holding a weekly market. Think of it as the original shopping mall. Fewer amenities, a bit draftier perhaps, but it served the same function. It’s located where the three main streets in the lower village converge. The set of small stone steps near the cross were for horse riders to mount and dismount. Very sensible.
Right next to it is one of Castle Combe’s two village pumps. Before the days of running water, the villagers would have come here to get their water. Today it’s more decorative.
The Church of St. Andrews is in the middle of the village.
The adjacent graveyard is filled with slanted and ivy-covered tombstones. It didn’t have the least bit of a creepy feeling, perhaps because it was a fairly sunny day by English standards.
Or perhaps I was influenced by these, which greeted us just inside the church. I particularly loved the hedgehogs. They reminded me of “Medium Norman”, one of our dogs’ stuffed toys, so named because he comes in several sizes, not due to an extrasensory occupation.
Things got a little more sinister a bit further inside the church, with the effigy of Walter de Dunstanville, a 13th-century crusader. According to “Find a Grave”, his hand on the drawn sword indicates death in battle and the legs crossed at the knees symbolises that he went on two crusades. (One wonders what the symbol for three crusades is). Sir Walter was the Lord of the manor, hence his prominent burial after his death in 1270
I was intrigued with the rope hanging down from the circle in the ceiling.
I believe it’s to the bells in the belfry.
The church has a simple beamed ceiling, with a lovely stained glass, rose window.
This lady really captured my heart.
Back outside, we made our way back through the graveyard towards the Manor House in the upper part of the village, now a 5-star hotel.
We passed this beautiful monument to the village’s war dead.
The 5-star Manor House Hotel is at the west end of the village.
It has 48 rooms and boasts 365 acres of gardens. During World War II, the New Zealand Forestry Officers occupied the Manor House as their headquarters.
In 1947 the owner of the Castle Combe estate sold the houses of the estate and the Manor House became a country club. That incarnation didn’t last long; within about two years the house was sold to Mrs Bobbie Allen, a reputedly very direct woman from Lancashire. (The mind boggles a bit to consider how direct she must have been to have earned a reputation among Lancastrians, not known for their reticence). In fact, in Films and British National Identity: From Dickens to Dad’s Army, the author, Jeffrey Richards notes “Whether the North was defined in terms of class or people or gender, there was something that was recognized as a Northern personality. Frank Ormerod, writing in 1915, identified its characteristics as natural independence, candour, a sense of humour and a democratic spirit. The Lancastrian was, he thought, plain-speaking, sentimental, forthright and stoical.”
My parents were both Northerners. Yes, they were very direct!
The Allens owned it for a good long time; the house has only had passed through one other set of hands before being purchased by the current owner.
Loved the winged dragon. It looks like me during our offsprings’ teenage years.
Upper Castle Combe is set on the higher ground to the east.
Here we found refreshments.
Glenn has never found a pub he doesn’t like.
We spent a happy couple of hours taking in all the sites; it truly is the loveliest village imaginable.
Castle Combe motor racing track is not far away, which fits right in with Glenn’s plans. We may return in the fall so he can take in a vintage racing event. I would be happy to spend another few hours in this prettiest of villages.
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.