Cotswold Town: Burford
- Credit: Archant
You may not be in a position to own one of Burford’s beautiful properties, but absolutely anyone is welcome to the Oxfordshire town for a touch of shopping, lunching, and drinking in the history
Well, you know how I keep on about the beauty of Cotswold stone; I just adore its golden glow, its smooth elevations and elegance. Burford - ‘Burh’ meaning fortified hill town - a popular destination of Saxon origin, with the river Windrush running through it, has more than its fair share of the stuff.
Just two miles over the Gloucestershire border into west Oxfordshire, the main trek of the town is set on a hill reminiscent of a Cotswolds version of the Hovis ad, only wider and packed full of shops, hotels and beautiful properties of historic interest and a tale its walls could tell; if only. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, too. It’s a bit of a puff to the top, but you are rewarded with a gorgeous view once there from the High Wolds through the collection of builds into the open countryside from where the limestone began. The distinctive stone, admired from far and wide, brings buyers from all over, hoping to bag themselves a honey-coloured home.
Prices of these golden abodes vary, but a guideline – at the time of writing - is that you could purchase a Grade II listed Cotswold stone cottage with two bedrooms and a courtyard garden in the town for £440,000.
If you need a tad more space, say nine acres or so of it, with additional accommodation for your beloved equine family and some hills of your very own, along with six bedrooms and four bathrooms, then you could find your honey home for approaching £3m.
Striking somewhere in the middle, however, a townhouse, albeit sans hills to call your own, but with five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a private, walled garden nonetheless, will set you back just a little (‘little’ being relatively speaking, of course) more than £1m.
Similarly high-end properties available for rent rather than to purchase are likely to drain you of close to £11,000 pcm. For this you are likely to enjoy the by-now standard three bathrooms, five bedrooms and most probably a tennis court or two thrown in, and a swimming pool with views.
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Well, enough of property dreaming (my one particular weakness) for the moment, let’s take a look at some other fab buildings in the town. Burford Priory, for example, has a long history of note. Built on a 13th-century hospital site and in private ownership now since 2008, it has previously been owned by Speaker of the House William Lenthall in 1637; philanthropist Emslie John Horniman, MP; and in 1912 by architect Walter Godfrey. In 1949 it lent itself as a nunnery and thence to Benedictine monks.
Right in the centre is the Methodist Church, in Baroque style and dating from the 15th century. A little further out, Burford School, highly respected and well known, has been going for almost 450 years. It was founded in 1571 by a group of local merchants and enjoys 36 acres of grounds. In 2012 it became an academy.
Halfway down the hill, Witney Street is most interesting. Here you see many cottages which must have belonged to workers in times past. Along with inviting signs such as ‘DON’T EVEN THINK OF PARKING HERE’, you will observe house names such as The Builder’s Cottage, The Fuller’s Cottage, The Cobbler’s House, The Tanner’s Yard (where The Burford Laundry is), Mallams Auction office and also The Great House. The last stands out in this little street as being rather imposing and in 1690 was reputedly the largest residence in the town and owned by a John Castle, a wealthy physician.
Whilst gawping in Witney Street, you can pop into the Royal Oak gastro pub, Grade II listed (of course) to appreciate its original flagstone floors.
Back in the High Street, there are numerous other eateries from which to choose including The Lamb Inn, The Cotswold Arms, The Highway Inn, The Bull and many others. Indeed any visitor is spoilt for choice.
At the Tolsey Museum, housed in the Tudor Market building, you can find out all about Burford’s social and working culture. The town has a long history of industry including quarrying, bell-founding, rope-making, brewing, farming, leatherworking and clarinet-making. Inside, there is also a delightful dolls’ house, furnished in Georgian design.
The Church of St John the Baptist dates from 12th century and, if I’m not mistaken, was painted by Lowry no less. It boasts some excellent examples of Kempe stained glass. Just checking names carved into the stone as you walk around, there are numerous buildings to look up and explore their history, such as Warwick House (Grade II once more, with a Cotswold stone roof and some original timber on a rear 16th-century staircase apparently) and Richard’s House.
At Burford House, architecture buffs would be delighted by, at the very least, exposed beams and leaded windows dating from 17th century. Even the Library is surely the oldest in the county, if not the country
Burford is of course blessed with, in addition to this property fest, intriguing shops and should be on your list of retail visits. It is in the High Street that I meet the most amusing trio of ladies out for the day: Joy, Mandy and Mireille (who is originally from France). They were smarting a little bit from being told they could not enter a shop with their dogs Benji and Nell. It not being a food shop, they felt it was most unjust.
“My darling dogs!” Mireille tells me in the most charming of French accents, “They come everywhere with me! Oh well, I was going to spend £300 in there, but, well, not now!”
With that exception, they had had a marvellous time in Burford, and Mireille is full of fun and jokes.
“I came to England to marry my English husband. He has now died, but I am out spending some of his money! We like to go out for the day and Burford has been very pleasant today. It’s such a pretty town! We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the garden centre and have been shopping. We will come again, but like to go to different towns each time.”
We have quite the giggle and they invite me to go with them next time and who would not like to be in the company of these amusing, charming ladies? Of course! I need to get some Christmas shopping done; let’s meet for tea. Cotswold stone properties to drool over, shopping to be done, girls’ day out; what’s not to like? Let me know when and where, Mireille – I’ll be there.
Did you know... We featured The Hill in Burford as one of the prettiest streets in the UK? You can read more here.