Chipping Sodbury’s History


The main constituents of the parish of Sodbury are made up of Old Sodbury and Chipping Sodbury with a total population of 5,000.

Chipping Sodbury High Street is thought to be the widest street in England. This is partly because of the substantial markets held in the Town from the Middle Ages, and partly because at one stage several buildings occupied the middle of Broad Street towards the lower end of the main thoroughfare.

The town is frequently described as being on the edge of the Cotswolds. In reality only the east side of the parish, including Old Sodbury is strictly in the hills.

Archaeological evidence places human activity in the Sodbury Parish centuries before the Norman Conquest. In 1086, at the time of the Domesday Book, there existed two estates, or manors, known as Sodbury. One centred on Little Sodbury and the other on Old Sodbury.

By the 12 th Century Old Sodbury was in the hands of the Crassus family. William Crassus was granted the right to hold a market on his land. Markets were one of the chief means of the distribution of goods and brought buyers and sellers together in medieval society, they were jealously guarded.

Chipping Sodbury came in to being when Crassus decided to hold the markets away from his manor house in Old Sodbury. The site for the markets to the western end of his lands became the Town we enjoy today. The Town continues to host a twice-monthly farmers market.

Crassus built his town on raised ground, close to the River Frome, and at an important crossing on the Bristol to Cirencester Road. This was also along the ancient salt route from Droitwich and the Pilgrims Way.

It is thought that Rounceval Street was named after the Town of Roncevalles in Northern Spain. Roncevalles was a key stopover for Pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostella and the tomb of St.James.

Crassus also obtained the right to hold an annual fair on the name day of St John the Baptist, the dedication of the parish church, June 24 th. The Town was also granted the right to hold ‘mop’ fairs for recruitment of agricultural labourers. Both fairs continue to this day.

St John the Baptist Church was built in 1284 on a small sight close to the river. As congregations swelled over the centuries it became a substantial church. The architect of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, GE Street extensively restored the church during the Victorian period.

As a market town Chipping Sodbury soon became known as a borough. Effectively it was its own manor surrounded by the greater manor of Old Sodbury. It enjoyed a degree of self-governance under the direction of a bailiff and a team of the town’s burgesses. The Burgesses lived chiefly in houses fronting the main street that had long, narrow plots stretching behind them. These plots have changed very little over the centuries and are largely laid out today in the same way as they were originally.

From the outset, Chipping Sodbury was dominated by agricultural produce. By the 13 th and 14 th Centuries wool from the Cotswolds was being traded and there is evidence that weaving also became an important industry in the town and that the tanning of leather was also being carried out.

In the 15 th Century, the early travel writer Leland described the town as “a pretty little market town”. In the early 15 th Century William Defoe commented on Chipping Sodbury as having one of the largest cheese markets in England.

When the coaching era began in the Elizabethan period the town benefited greatly. The rise of the merchant class and a requirement for travel boosted trade and there is to this day much evidence of the many inns that sprang up as a result. Some of these continue to trade as public houses.

The facades of many of the buildings in the Town date from the 18 th and 19 th Centuries. Many of these often hide far older structures.

The predominantly rural character of Chipping Sodbury means that it is still the centre for hunting. It lies within the territory of the Badminton based Beaufort Hunt.

Today, the town is still a popular destination for shoppers and visitors. It retains the feel of a village and many local families have remained here for hundreds of years. The numerous fairs and festivals as well as the diverse range of societies and groups all play a part in making the town a successful and vibrant community.