Scratch the surface of Gloucestershire and you will find Rome, it is said. The Fosse Way still brings the invading hordes into modern Moreton, reports Marsya Lennox.


Seventeenth century writer, Celia Fiennes thought "Morton Hindmost" a "little neate stone built towne with good innes for the traveller".

In compiling her copious travel notes as she toured the country, she had obviously misheard "Moreton Henmarsh", long established now as Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire.

Moreton was, coincidentally and indeed, lagging behind more prominent Cotswold towns as the century turned. By the late 1700s, the Universal British Directory's entry described a "poor, inconsiderable town, coaches and waggons passed through, along the Fosse Way, from Bristol to Worcester. A market on Tuesdays, granted by charter, had long been discontinued".

But Moreton was poised for better things. The coming of the railway in 1826, albeit initially horse-drawn, signalled new determination to profit and the lord of the manor, Lord Redesdale, refounded the market tradition.

Check out a modern website to be told that Morton buzzes on a Tuesday.

"If your idea of an ideal Cotswold experience is to slowly wander round quiet Cotswold streets, you had better avoid Moreton on market day," one is warned.

A Cotswold parson, the Rev F.E. Witts, whose diary of the early 19th century was first published in 1978, was a witness to this important turning point for Moreton.

On the day the railway opened "a vast concourse of persons assembled", he recalled.

"The market of this town, disused for a very long period, has on this occasion been revived with great spirit and will....".

By evening, a good time had been had: "all the provisions of the town were exhausted, the roasted ox demolished and neither bread nor beer to be had for love or money."

The town's proprietors had reason to fret over "scant hopes even of distant remuneration" - but the band had played - and all had been "joyous".

Moreton was back on the map - now foremost for its revived market tradition and subsequent growth. By 1939 it was regarded as the most flourishing of the Cotswold towns, despite impressive growth by Broadway and Bourton-on-the-Water.

As a roadside town, the place could never have sunk without trace. Just three feet below the surface of the High Street, one will find the Fosse Way.

It was the perfect place to build the "new town" of the 13th century, purpose-designed with the wide main street and narrow burgage plots running behind.

The older settlement around the church kept its reputation as the "Old Town", tiny in comparison.

Expansion was inevitable, particularly as 20th century commuters spotted the rare advantage of such good rail links from such a lovely part of the world, historically just a  bit too far from the major centres to suit city workers.

Trains to London Paddington take just 90 minutes from the town's main line station, a major contributor to the community health of the town.

Chris Rowntree of the local Hayman-Joyce agency reports that second home buyers are not a major force in the local marketplace.

Typical house-hunters here are more likely to be the well-heeled downsizers from in and around the area, also the young professionals who exploit the good communica-tions to suit their own flexible working week.

"They might travel to the city some days but work only part time in the office, based at home for the rest of the time - or travelling over-seas," he said.

In the recent, most buoyant years for the housing market, new development has done well in Moreton, notably the largest scheme to date, Blenheim Park, launched in recent years by Crest Nicholson.

Also highly popular has been CALA's Coachmans Court, new apartments in a fitting, traditional style, heavily targeted by retired types who want new homes close to all the community comforts.

There is general praise for the sensitivity shown in recent years by developers lucky enough to move into and close to town. Hats are also off to the Cotswold district planners helping to keep up the standards.

Simon Merton of Strutt & Parker said: "There's been some good planning in Moreton in recent years, new homes built sympathetically."

Architectural historian and critic, Nikolaus Pevsner would have been pleased. Though he had an eye for modern quality, the Cotswolds made him strangely nostalgic, convincing him that change, here, might be rightly resisted.

In his 1970 Gloucestershire edition of The Buildings of England, he said: " can be assumed that the district is quite out of step with the 'spirit of the times', the Zeitgeist; it is hoped that this will remain so."

Pevsner praised the local planning authorities and their efforts to see that both local authority housing of old and new developments were in keeping with the traditional architecture.

Even where costs meant the use of reconstituted stone, in "neo-Cots-wold" style, this was seen as preferable to the alternative - the faceless, brick barracks of housing estates that scar most of Britain with not one thought for the vernacular.

It is, of course, the Cotswold architecture and history of the town that draw both the visitors and the settlers. The latter seem happy to pay more for the prime period examples dotted around the town.

And rather like house-hunters in Henley-in-Arden, notable for its constant through traffic, they are happy to live with the hum and the town centre buzz that come with the other good things.

Those good things include the proper local shopping, from super-markets to specialist deli. There are restaurants, pubs and hotels based on the old roadside "innes" that have served travellers for centuries.

There is a dentist and a doctor's surgery, even a cottage hospital as well as local schooling and a pretty good choice of independents too, within easy daily distance.

It may seem a long time since decline affected Moreton's fortunes, its marketplace quiet and the big money drawn to the larger urban centres.

But new hardship threatened, just last year with the unprecedented floods that affected so much of Worcestershire and the north Cotswolds.

Many town centre businesses were dampened as a combination of record rainfall, failed pumps and blocked drains brought a torrent of water.

The local primary school was affected, as well as the local surgery and the well known Manor House Hotel.

The school and the hotel have just re-opened for business this month, nearly a year after the flooding, regarded by townsfolk as a once in a lifetime event.

As Moreton-in-Marsh finally gets back on its feet, locals are breathing a sigh of relief. The hotel re-opening is seen as a major boost to the wider fortunes of the town.

Moreton Business Association chairman, Steve Farnsworth said this month that the town was "rejoicing".

"It's a very good sign for More-ton's regeneration." The town had missed the knock-on effect of the quality business usually drawn by the landmark hotel, now with a new brasserie and function area plus refurbished swimming pool.

Life is nearly back to normal in what remains essentially a "real" town, for all its upmarket Cotswold connections and special attributes.

As an estate agent who knows the area, Chris Rowntree says Moreton benefits from being "down to earth", unlike some of its more "exclusive", Cotswold neighbours.

"It is a working town. And if you walk into the pub here, you will still see the farmhand rubbing shoulders with the city stockbroker."



Moreton-in-Marsh was founded on the Roman Fosse Way, later the traditional London to Worcester coaching route.

Two miles away in the hamlet of Dorn, many Roman remains have been found.

It was transferred to the ownership of Westminster Abbey just before the conquest, the estate sold only in 1856 after a thousand years of church ownership.

Close to the town is the Four Shires Stone marking the historic meeting point of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.

Moreton was granted its market charter in 1227.

Many of the old buildings along the High Street date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

King Charles l is said to have stayed at The White Hart Hotel in 1644.

The Curfew Tower at the junction of High Street and Oxford Street dates from the 17th century, in daily use until 1860. It is said that it once guided home a Sir Robert Fry, lost in the fog, who gave money for its maintenance, in gratitude.

The market hall is named after the Redesdale family of Batsford House.

The Batsford Arboretum was planted by Lord Redesdale, one of the largest private collection of rare trees in England. * Celia Fiennes writing around 1696 was known for her erratic as well as archaic spellings of placenames.

Moreton's original and definitive name has caused long, historic debate for the "in marsh" suffix, variously, through the ages: Henmersche, Hennemers, Henmerse, en le Merche etc.

The "marsh" bit may actually have meant moor, say some. A 19th century historian, E. Belcher said he had "referred to a perfect library of books on the subject" but could not find two people who reached the same conclusion.