Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

FAIRFORD, a market-town and parish in the hundred of BRIGHTWELLS-BARROW, county of GLOUCESTER, 24 miles (S.E. by E.) from Gloucester, and 80 (W. by N.) from London, containing 1547 inhabitants. The name of this place is of uncertain etymology, being derived either from the Saxon word faran, to pass, or the words fair and ford, in allusion to the convenience it possesses for crossing the river Colne, on which it is situated, near the confluence of that river with the Thames. About the middle of the ninth century, the manor of Fairford belonged to the kings of Merciaj and at the period of the Norman survey, to Maud, the consort of William I.; and after various changes, it came into the possession of Henry VII., who sold it to John Tame, a merchant.

The town is situated at the foot of the Cotswold hills, and consists principally of one long street, irregularly formed, and neither lighted nor paved; there are several good detached houses, hut the buildings in general are mean: the inhabitants are supplied with water from wells and springs as well as from the Colne, across which are two neat bridges. A market is held on Thursday, by charter obtained about 1668; and there are fairs on May 14th and Nov. 12th. The parish is divided into three tythings, viz., the borough, which is governed by its own constable, East End, and Mill-town End, each of which has a tything-man.

The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Gloucester, rated in the king's books at £13. 11. 5., and in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester. The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, presents a fine specimen of the style of English architecture which prevailed about the end of the fifteenth century, and is also an object of considerable interest for its curious windows of painted glass; it consists of a nave, aisles, and chancel, with a central tower, and is ornamented with buttresses, battlements, pinnacles, and canopied niches, formerly filled with statues; the aisles are separated from the nave and chancel by light clustered pillars, sustaining six pointed arches on each side: an elegantly carved oak screen separates the chancel from the nave and aisles; the former contains some stalls and tabernacle-work: there is also a very fine oak ceiling, and the pavement of the church is chequered with blue and white stone.

The erection of this beautiful edifice is attributed to John Tame, Esq., a rich London merchant, who, in trading to Italy about 1492, captured a Flemish vessel bound for Rome, on board of which was a quantity of stained glass; having purchased the manor of Fairford, he commenced building the church in 1493, but his death taking place in 1500, it was finished by his son, Sir Edmund Tame, Knt. The stained glass was found sufficient to fill twenty-eight windows, with four or more compartments in each, some of the figures, however, have been displaced, and others mutilated, owing to the glass having been removed in the reign of Charles I., to preserve it from being destroyed, by the puritans.

The paintings are exceedingly well executed, but by an unknown artist, and consist of representations of events in Scripture history, of figures of the Fathers of the Christian church and of some of the Roman emperors. Of these windows twenty-five only remain;. the best is the third in the north aisle, which represents the Salutation of the Virgin, with a fine perspective of the interior of the temple; the great east and west windows retain their original perfection; the subject of the former is Christ's entry into Jerusalem, remarkable for the splendour of its colours; that of the latter is the last Judgment, exhibiting a grotesque and fearful assemblage of imagery: they are protected by a lattice of wire, constructed in 1725. In the north aisle is an altar-tomb, with brasses, exhibiting effigies of the founder and his wife, with escutcheons and commemorative inscriptions; there are also monuments to the memory of Sir Edward Tame and other persons of distinction. There are places of worship for Baptists and Independents.

A bequest of £1000 was made, in 1704, by the Hon. Elizabeth Farmer, daughter of Lord Lempster, to be expended in land, for the maintenance of an. afternoon lecture every Sunday in the church, and for the foundation and support of a free school, which is also endowed with a subsequent bequest of £500 by her cousin, Mrs. Mary Barker, besides other benefactions. The schoolroom was erected in 1738.: the total annual income is £136. 19.; the disbursements are, £60 to the master, £25 to the mistress, and £5 for books; sixty boys and sixty girls are instructed on the National plan, the schools being now connected with the central establishment. The nomination of the lecturer, schoolmaster, and scholars, was vested in Samuel Barker, Esq., and his heirs. Lady Mico, sister to Elizabeth, wife of Andrew Barker, Esq., gave £400, to apprentice four boys annually, which was vested in the purchase of lands in Lechlade, and yields an income of £68. 10.; and she likewise left a weekly gift of bread to the poor, who enjoy the benefit of several, other benefactions. This town gives the title of viscount to the Earl of Hillsborough.

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