Lechlade

To say that the charming little town of Lechlade is an inspiration, is not an idle boast. For among its wide streets and busy Market Place, the Romantic poet Shelley found his muse. As he wandered by the side of the rivers, and leisured in the lovely gardens of Church House, he began to form his tribute to the town - Stanzas in Lechlade Churchyard.

In fact, so history has it, he actually penned his verses in Church House's 18th Century pavilion, classical in its design. It is one of many such gazebos which once graced every house in the town with half an eye to fashion, and many still remain.

It's a town that deserves its pretty gardens, for it stands at a particularly auspicious point: the place where the Rivers Leach (hence Lechlade's name) and Coln join the River Thames.

Once its wharfs were alive with working barges, taking stone to Oxford and London, among other places. St John's Bridge, which records show was repaired in the 14th Century, fairly bustled with activity. Nowadays you can enjoy the rivers from a pleasure craft, watched over by Old Father Thames - a stone sculpture, that is. He rests below St John's Bridge, sculpted by Rafaelle Monti.

He was commissioned by the Merchants of London for the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. Until the 1970s, he guarded the head of the Thames, in a field outside Cirencester.

At the highest navigable point of the river stands Halfpenny Bridge - the toll you once had to pay, collected at its little square tollhouse until the late 1880s.

Some of the loveliest buildings in Lechlade are Georgian, many designed by a local architect named Pace. The town has a lot to thank him for, as he was well skilled in his profession.

Lechlade is a place to savour, with its sense of timelessness combined with a modern-day sense of purpose. It's a pleasure to wander its streets, perhaps the most interesting of which is Burford Street. Some of the buildings here, including the old Swan Hotel, date back to Tudor times.

The church has a long history. It can trace its roots back to a hospital of St John the Baptist, founded around 1246, near St John's Bridge. According to David Verey's excellently learned tome about Gloucestershire, in The Buildings of England series, it was suppressed in 1473.

In a neat transfer, Cecily, Duchess of York, got permission to use its reWhat's Ons to found three chantries in the parish church, which was being rebuilt at the time. The church had been dedicated to St Lawrence as early as 1305. One interesting feature is a carving of two wrestlers, in a roof boss above the nave.

With its tall spire, the church stands out for miles over the low-lying countryside. Its beckoning air once simply called worshippers to its portals. Now it has extended its embrace to include all who visit this fascinating little town with its unique and picturesque meeting of waters.

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