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July, 2019

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We visited the historic market town of Faringdon while staying a night in nearby Sudbury House Hotel.

Faringdon, which means ‘fen-covered hill’ is most probably best known for its Folly Tower, built in 1935 by Lord Berners, owner of Faringdon House at the time. At 100 ft, the high tower is the last major Folly to be built in England. It sits within a 4 acre circular woodland, with quirky sculptures and when it is open you can climb to the top for breathtaking views.

The market place in Faringdon has a striking 17th town hall and is surrounded by Georgian fronted, independent shops and inns. A charter was granted for a weekly market in 1218, and these continue to be held on Tuesdays.

Popular for it’s ales and good food, this place became a renowned staging post in bygone days. With the threat of highwaymen and ‘bone-shaking’ roads, people were able to rest and have a safe nights sleep. Even today, you can find the same hospitality when you visit the restaurants, pubs and coffee shops.

Passing a good, local butchers, from which we later purchased a few items, we popped into the tourist office inquiring if access to the nearby church was possible? We were given a very large key for the door. However, we had no need of it as exterior work was going on when we arrived and a caretaker was already present.

All Saints’ Church, built in the 12th century is just off the marketplace and worth a visit. It’s interior is rich with monuments that reveal the intriguing history of Faringdon. A turbulent history has robbed it of many usual features which include the spire.

12th century wrought iron work can be found on the South door as you enter. The North door is even older and is of Norman work. An old, disused door on the south side of the Chancel is where the priest would have entered in medieval times.

The Font is very old and now set on a Victorian base. It has perpendicular period carving and each of the 8 faces has a different design. The Nave is mostly Norman, with round-headed clerestory windows and round arches. The pillars’ capitals are decorated with with carved leaves and there is a tortoise at the base of one of the pillars.
Two, perpendicular windows in the North aisle are beautifully proportioned as is the West one behind the organ. The organ is a modern concert instrument with 1390 pipes which were installed in 1969.
The Unton chapel has the kneeling figure of Lady Dorothy Unton and the Pye chapel has several memorials to members of the Pye family.
The 13th century supporting pillars are massive with finely carved capitals. Outside, the squat tower is minus it’s spire destroyed during the Civil War by Cromwell’s battery (cannon ball in a case on East wall of South transept.
The clock and carillon chimes were fitted in 1926. Interesting brasses are mounted on the north wall of the Sanctuary.

The churchyard is said to have a ghost – that of the headless son of Sir Robert Pye, Officer Hampden Pye of the Royal Navy. In the 17th century he was tragically decapitated by a canon ball in the heat of sea battle and his death was rumored to have been murder at the hands of his wicked step-mother. She was thought to have bribed the ship’s Captain, into causing the death. Pye is buried in the churchyard and his ghost walks among the stones.

In 2004, Faringdon became the first town in the South East of England to achieve Fairtrade Town status. Here, you will find an ‘England of old’ quite different from other towns in our modern age.

Caroline Hutchings

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