Painswick: Puppy Dog pies & painted skin
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Don’t be misled by the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’ tag, says Tracy Spiers, Painswick, with its vibrant and playful heart, is anything but pompous
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, my sister and I would regularly travel to Painswick on a Thursday afternoon and find ourselves in a teashop by 4 o’clock. It was our Grampie George Ham’s official tea brewing time and we could set our watches by it. Bisley Street was a frequent haunt as was the bowling green at the back of the Falcon Inn. As a former England player, he perfected his game here. Laid down and enclosed in 1554, by the Jerningham family – the then Lords of the Manor – the bowling green was and still is the oldest in the country. The family apparently used the inn as a guest house for the manor and gave it their family crest, which is still on the present inn sign.
This delightful place – referred to as a village by many, yet officially a town as it has a charter – features fondly in the memory bank for both local and visitor and has a rich and fascinating past. Every street has a story, and every building provides a page in that story. But right from the onset, dear reader, I have to say that Painswick and its ‘Queen of the Cotswolds,’ title, which may appear at first glance to have an upper crust, affluent façade, is anything but pompous or aloof in temperament. Instead, this community has a boldness, a daring and admirable spirit and has a vibrant and playful heart.
I start this feature in Bisley Street, the oldest part of Painswick, where my history guide on this occasion is Carol Maxwell, from Painswick History Society, a delightful lady who I’d like to be in two decades time – full of energy and colourful facts. This early 14th-century street was once the main route from Gloucester to Bisley. Looking up the street, houses on the right occupy medieval burgage plots and there are two ancient studded ‘donkey doors’ still intact. “Packhorses laden with wool were brought up from the mills and would pass through these doors to the sheds at the rear,” explains Carol. “They were studded mainly to protect the wood from being worn away by the packhorses as they passed through. It was here where the wool would be cleaned and carded before going to the spinners and weavers in the poorer cottages.”
Years ago, many families would have used the old bath house at the top of Tibbiwell, which was open on Friday and Saturday evenings and the charge for a bath was 6d for an adult and 3d for children accompanied by an adult. It closed in 1975.
The building was designed by Sidney Barnsley, a member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and above the door is a beautifully carved stone inscription by fellow craftsman, sculptor Eric Gill in 1924. Painswick has other Arts and Crafts legacies, notably the Burne-Jones stained glass window inside the Congregational Church in Gloucester Street, and the Gyde Almshouses in Gloucester Road, which also has one of Barnsley’s designs.
Creativity runs through the veins of Painswick. The former gents’ loos, now known as The Loovre, have been converted into an art studio gallery by landscape artist Rupert Aker. On my history walk, I meet Kerry Jane, who has a passion for drawing in exquisite detail, in The Falcon’s Nest, a tiny studio space behind The Falcon (which incidentally was once a centre for cock-fighting and continued long after it was made illegal); and Ange Mullen-Bryan, who has been painting her striking Scandinavian landscapes in one of the art studios in The Painswick Centre for the past ten years.
The Painswick Centre, which opened 1907 was a gift to the community by Frances Sarah Williams. It’s hoped the centre will be transformed to meet the long-term needs of Painswick, including the 200 individuals who work from home, creating a self-sufficient business hub as well as an art and community hive.
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“We have been talking to all aspects of the community to find out what they would like,” says trustee Judie Hill.
“The next stage is finalising those ideas and looking at questions such as: ‘should we do it?’ and ‘can we do it?’ In a nutshell we have huge vision, huge enthusiasm, but now we need to see what is geographically possible and then put our plan together and start fundraising.”
Innovation is something Painswick excels does well. In recent years it has raised a few eyebrows with its awe-inspiring and highly innovative festival Art Couture in the churchyard and village streets. As a mad creative I joined in and made an award-winning sock dress, hat and shoes out of 138 odd socks, named Soul Survivor, and an outfit made using over a hundred empty matchboxes, and a bra made from boxing gloves, as you do. Since 2010, ACP has hosted more than 40,000 visitors and 446 artists at those stunning extravaganza festivals which included body art – whereby artists use the body as the canvas. Today, ACP is collaborating with Create Gloucestershire and partners to establish a new ‘Creative Trade Route’ which includes workshops, artist residencies, pop-up maker spaces and other events, stretching from Stroud to Gloucester. It also includes full-scale retail opportunities, bursaries and creative mentoring. This year’s competition on June 14 will take a slightly different format and will be judged in Gloucester Cathedral.
“Our shared vision is to connect more people with wearable art, offering more opportunities in design, technology, textiles and fashion. ACP is inviting entries for this year’s competition, the themes for which are biomimicry and robotics. We are expecting some amazing interpretations particularly after inspiration from some exciting talent who will be leading the workshops,” says Libby Graesser, one of the organisers and a founder member of ACP. Last summer Libby, along with Judie Hill, received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award at Buckingham Palace, on behalf of all the ACP volunteers for ‘enabling the community to create a festival to celebrate the craftsmanship of inspirational wearable art’.
Spotting painted models parade through the churchyard at St Mary’s has helped add to this village’s quirky tales. Take the yew trees, for example. There are 99 of them in this churchyard, because legend has it that the devil won’t allow the 100th to grow.
“In 2000 we tried to plant another tree and at the same time, another tree in the churchyard started to die!” recalls Carol Maxwell. Not surprisingly, they haven’t tried again. Another unusual Painswickian custom is the ‘Clypping’ ceremony in St Mary’s churchyard, held on the nearest Sunday to September 19. This year it will be September 22. It involves children encircling the church by joining hands and performing a dance similar to the Hokey Cokey. A clypping song is sung, believed to express the parishioners’ love of the church. This ancient tradition was also accompanied by ‘Puppy Dog’ pies, as local hostels were under pressure to provide meat for the crowds who turned up for the festival.
As we walk amidst the trees, Carol points out the unusual Egyptian pyramid-shaped tomb – the gravestone of Painswick’s most renowned stonemason, John Bryan, who wanted the most elaborate tombstone in the churchyard. The gravedigger’s hut is now the village’s Tourist Information Centre, run entirely by volunteers, and a winner of the most innovative use of a building award.
St Mary’s Church dates from the 14th century though there is mention of a church in the Domesday Book. In 1883 a lightning strike brought down about a third of the spire just minutes before the bellringers were due to arrive for the evening service.
Inside the church the words of an imprisoned Puritan soldier are etched into one of the pillars: “be bold, be bold, but not too bold.” During the Civil War Royalist army soldiers were staying in the Court House before the Siege of Gloucester and at the same time Roundhead soldiers were locked in the church. On several occasions the Royalists tried to set fire to the church with hand grenades, evidence of which can still be seen. There are several areas of reddened stone and look closely one can see significant dents of cannon balls – particularly above and below the newly restored church clock. Not far from the church, the village stocks, made of iron are known as spectacle stocks and very rare.
Painswick is often referred to as the Queen of the Cotswolds because of its fine buildings of pale grey limestone. It reflects the village’s former prosperity in the days when the Stroud district was a thriving centre for wool and superfine broadcloth. Many of the Tudor buildings in New Street were given a fresh façade in the Georgian era which reflected the wealth of the clothiers. Other examples of this time are reflected in clothiers’ houses such as Court House built in 1600, the beautiful wool drying tower in Kemps Lane, tiny wool workers’ cottages in Vicarage Street, the mills themselves such as Painswick and King’s Mill. Later on with the demise of the wool industry, the pin industry provided much needed work for local people.
Today Painswick retains the beauty and character of its past. Whilst it is not a shopping centre, there are some treasures to discover and delightful countryside to explore. Painswick Beacon is part of the 102-mile Cotswold Way and has stunning views across Gloucestershire. But within the streets of Painswick are a few surprises. Packed with delightful and lovely items both contemporary and vintage, Kate Rich’s tiny shop at the top of Tibbiwell, opened by her mum Letty Gunton in 1980, is a gem. It’s here where my parents bought me a decoupage clock for my 21st birthday, which still presides over my dining table. The Painswick in Kemps Lane, a former vicarage, is now an award-winning restaurant, serving the very best of consummate cooking; with 16 bedrooms and also has treatment rooms. It was voted one of the best places to visit in The Sunday Times in 2017. Other buildings of note include Beacon House, a Grade 1 Palladian town house with nationally important Rococo plasterwork inside, and the beautiful and unchanged Friends’ Meeting House in Vicarage Street, dating back to 1706, which has some 18th-century gravestones in the garden. Another building of interest is the Catholic Church in Friday Street, which was a former abattoir before it got bombed in 1941.
“The sheep used to be brought up from the valley bottom and led by a ram, who was called Judas,” says Carol. “There used to be a tea room adjacent and the customers must have been horrified seeing all these sheep pass by them to be slaughtered.”
Today the church is a place of simple tranquillity. I ask Carol what it is about the village that she loves.
“It’s beautiful, interesting, overflowing with history and historic significance, lively, inspiring, vibrant and caters for every possible interest. It is full of dignity and is definitely one of the most caring and supportive communities I have known. It is a joy to live here,” she tells me.
I am conscious as the hours tick by that it is close to cup-of-tea time which means I have to visit a café before I go home. So, in honour of my late grandfather, I visit The Painswick Pooch in New Street, but instead of his favourite afternoon tipple, I opt for mine, a cappuccino – something this café does to perfection. It provides coffee and cake for humans and hounds and is in fact named after the owners’ own pooch, Poppy, the miniature schnauzer.
As I sip my cappuccino, I ponder on Painswick’s past and am grateful that my own personal family history is interwoven. And, if the walls of Painswick’s buildings could speak, they would indeed tell many more stories and secrets that I have yet to discover.
At Painswick Rococo Garden...
The well-known Rococo Gardens of Painswick can be found in a hidden six-acre valley. The last sole survivor from the brief early 18th century period of English Rococo Garden design, it combines formality with informality in a flamboyant style and is just charming. As well as being a haven of peace, it has many quirky features to enjoy and is a great place for children to use their imagination.
One event not to be missed is Art Unbound, which takes place in this magical garden from May 26 until September 8. Taking inspiration from the playful intentions of the garden’s designers back in the 1740s, Art Unbound is an ambitious exhibition of contemporary outdoor sculpture, which promises to intrigue, entice and delight.
Curator Anna Greenacre will be working with 18 selected sculptors, namely Peter Beard, David Begbie, Aly Brown, Mike Chaikin, Alison Crowther, Sophie Dickens, Luke Dickinson, Kim Francis, Alex Jones, Tony Lattimer, Sophie Marsham, Rebecca Newnham, Yorgos Papadopoulos, Joe Smith, Guy Stevens, Anthony Turner, Clare Trenchard and Dominic Welch. This is an exciting group of contemporary sculptors whose work is wonderfully diverse. The scale and medium of the work will vary, with playful and evocative pieces that will appeal to the imagination of all ages.
Alongside the exhibition will be a programme of talks, workshops and other events.