Cotswolds historic museums and houses

When you travel to the Cotswolds you can leave your online pokies behind and explore the region’s unique history and heritage via museums and historic houses. At these sites you’ll be able to learn about the Cotswold story and its inhabitants, from ancient times to the modern era.

History of the Cotswolds

Most linguists agreed that the name “Cotswolds” derives from “Cots” which refers to sheep enclosures.  “Cotswolds” seems to indicate an area of gentle hills where sheep graze.

Cotswold hills feature dry stone walls where ancient farmers tilled their lands. Throughout the Cotswolds there are villages and market towns with houses, shops and other buildings made of the famous Cotswold Stone. The villages have names that indicate their individuality — The Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wold, The Oddingtons, Guiting Power  and Ampney Crucis.

The Cotswolds was once a wealthy area. Wool trade dominated the region and visitors can still see evidence of the wealth in the opulent churches and gracious manor houses that still stand – many of which are still in use.  You can still see the Cotswold-Severn barrows that date back to the Neolithic period. Iron Age hill forts dot the landscape around Gloucestershire. There’s a nice accessible example of this at Leckhampton Hill.

The Romans encamped in the Cotswolds and there are remains of the Roman period throughout the area. Two main Roman roads, the Fosse Way and Ermin Street, are still in use today. Cirencester and Gloucester were served as Roman administrative centres and the towns’ street plans still reflect the Roman influence.  There were Roman settlements at Dorn, Dymock and Bourton-on-the-Water.  A luxurious Roman villa has been excavated in Chedworth.

You can find out more about the area when you visit museums and historic houses that are located throughout the Cotswold region.

The Corinium Museum

The Corinium Museum

The Corinium Museum at Cirencester is located in the heart of Cirencester — also known as the ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’. Visitors are taken on a timeline journey through the history of Cirencester and the surrounding area. The museum’s principal collection focuses on finds from the Roman town of Corinium. As you walk through the museum you’ll understand the development of the Cotswolds region. There are thousands of objects on display from Prehistoric tools to relics of the Roman era. A highlight of the museum is a visit to the upper floor from where visitors can view the magnificent Orpheus mosaic – a Roman-era mosaic .

The museum is much more than a place to look at exhibitions. There’s an interactive education center with events and activities. Lots of hands-on exhibits and a 1-hour workshop in which kids are invited to draw museum objects on a bag, make medieval tiles or design a mosaic using foam shapes. Then, the work is shared in an online gallery to bring history down to a personal level.

Fashion Museum Bath

The Fashion Museum Bath invites visitors in to view their collection of contemporary and historic dress.  Visitors can learn about the history of the area through the dress that people wore in years gone by.

The museum was created from historian Doris Langley Moore’s private collection of fashionable dress which she gave to the City of Bath in 1963. Over the years, new items were added. Today, the collection includes more than 100,000 items that span the last 500 years and chronicle the story of fashionable dress.

The museum is housed in the Assembly Rooms, a magnificent Georgian building where guests once gathered to dance, play cards, drink tea, and listen to music.

Inside the museum there’s a dressing-up room where visitors of any age can try on dresses, hats, coats, corsets and bonnets. Most visitors like to have their photo taken against a backdrop that shows Bath’s Royal Crescent. Additional interactive fashion-themed events include talks, tours and a crafts workshop.

Wooten-under-Edge Heritage Center

The Wotton-under-Edge Historical Society Museum & Heritage Centre provides visitors with an introduction to the wool industry of the Cotswolds region as well as to various historic events of the region. Displays cover topics as disparate as the region’s wool industry throughout the years, the Home Front in WW2, forestry, brewing and more. There are three to four different exhibitions each year which highlight local and national history Visitors will have a chance to see exhibits of these themes. The historical society also maintains an archive with photographs and genealogical research material.

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace
credit: Wikimedia Commons

Blenheim Palace is a great place to explore the splendors of Baroque architecture and see the owner’s collections of art, antiques and tapestries. The palace, which was built in the early 18th century, is a World Heritage Site and is still the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal, non-episcopal palace in England.

The palace, gardens and park are open to the public The palace is linked to the gardens by a miniature railway. The public have free access to about five miles of the Great Park area of the grounds, which are accessible from Oxfordshire Way and from Old Woodstock.

The history of Blenheim palace brings visitors deep into British history as it takes the visitor through eras of civil wars, palace intrigues, the relationship of the monarchs to their wealthy supporters and more.

Roman Baths

Roman Baths

The City of Bath is named after the steaming Great Baths. According to legend, the first baths were built by the British King Bladud in 836 BCE. Archaeologists say that the baths included a Celtic Temple with springs dedicated to the goddess Sulis. When the Romans arrived in the area they identified Sulis as their goddess Mirvana.

Roman rulers and common people used the baths during the Roman era. Today, they are located below the modern street level. Upon descending, you can see the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House, the Sacred Spring, and a museum which displays archaeological finds from the site.

You can tour the baths and museum but cannot enter the water. The water that flows into the Baths comes from the nearby Mendio Hills which percolates down the hill through limestone aquifers. There, geothermal energy raises the water temperature, creating the steaming baths where the water is approximately 46 °C.


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