Moreton-in-Marsh

a delightful Cotswold market town

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The first evidence of human settlement at what we know as Moreton-in-Marsh dates to the Bronze Age. In 1952 a bronze spearhead of about 750 BC was found in a field between Moreton and Batsford and in 2003 evidence of a Bronze Age farmstead of the 2nd millennium BC was discovered on ground at Blenheim Farm.

Bisected by the Batsford Road, ancient earthworks close to the Cricket Lodge are the remains of an Iron Age defended settlement, built between about 800 BC and the Roman Invasion of 43 AD. Finds of Roman pottery and coins at the site suggest a prolonged period of occupation.

Following their invasion, the Roman armies began building the Fosse Way - a major road that runs from Exeter to Lincoln. It had been created by the 1st century AD and passes through Moreton-in-Marsh, the original Roman road lying a few feet below the present surface of the High Street.

The earliest form of Moreton as we see it today was created by the Saxons around 577 AD. It cannot be certain how its name came about, but most likely meaning 'farmstead on moorland or marshy ground' - the 'in-marsh' suffix being a corruption of 'hen-marsh'. By the 11th century the town was the property of Westminster Abbey and from 1222 to 1226 the Abbott began developing Moreton as a market town, creating the wide High Street for this purpose. In the late 1220s building of the town began on common land bordering the Fosse Way, to the north-west of the original Saxon settlement, still known as 'Old Town'.

The town in this period was mainly agricultural, sheep being the most important source of income. The town avoided any direct involvement in the Civil War, although King Charles I stayed a night at The White Hart Inn in 1644, and Oliver Cromwell stayed in Moreton in 1651 to take Communion with the Baptists.

Two interesting features of the 16th and 17th centuries can still be seen: Curfew Tower, at the junction of High Street and Oxford Street, was probably built in the 16th century and has a curfew bell in its galed turret, with a small room at its base that was once used as a lock-up; Campion House (formerly University Farm), in the High Street and opposite the Manor House Hotel, has an interesting doorway dated 1678, with a frieze and cornice.

By the 17th century the town's population was around 500, the establishment of a linen-weaving factory in 1742 encouraging further growth. Moreton's inns offered shelter for the many weary travellers passing through - at one point in the 1820s some 70 coaches were rattling through the town each week. The opening of a horse drawn tramway to Straford-upon-Avon in 1826 - followed by the main line from Worcester to Oxford in 1853 - created an increase in population.

The First and Second World Wars affected Moreton significantly, with the loss of many young local men, commemorated on the town's High Street war memorial. RAF Moreton-in-Marsh - the inspiration for the 'Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh' radio comedy show that ran from 1944-54 - was constructed to the east of the town in 1939 for the training of Wellington bomber crews.

The town continued to modernise and develop following the Second World War and has for some time been one of the principal growth areas of the North Cotswolds. The 21st century has seen considerable housing development in and around Moreton, with the railway and two trunk roads busier than ever before. It remains to be seen how much more expansion the town's existing infrastructure can cope with.

History - Mark Turner, Photographs - Steve Farnsworth