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Wool made the Cotswolds. For centuries it was what people wore, and if you have an opportunity to wear period woollen clothing on a winter's evening you will understand why. It is a natural product, and when people spend their lives working with a natural product, with all its variability, it becomes arcane. Wool is as arcane as coffee beans, as arcane as vintage wines, as arcane as Cuban cigars. In the Middle Ages, the Cotswolds were the Microsoft of Europe, and William Grevel of Chipping Campden must have been Bill Gates. Wool financed the manors, and the abbeys, and the huge Perpendicular wool churches.
The Arts and Crafts movement was British in origin and went on to have an international influence. It began with a feeling of revulsion against the ornate, mass-produced goods of the mid-Victorian era, and emphasised craftsmanship and quality of materials, producing goods which were simple and subtle by comparison, and usually superbly executed. Although very different in style, it can be regarded as a precursor to the later Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.
The movement had its centre in the influential designer William Morris who formed William Morris & Co in 1861 with the goal of re-vitalising the arts through craftsmanship. In this he was joined by several other designers such as the architect Philip Webb, the cabinet maker Ernest Gimson, and the designer C.R. Ashbee. The movement also overlapped with the influential (and now very famous) Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and many of the designs by Morris & Co were executed by the likes of Burne-Jones - examples of his stained glass can be seen in the Cotswold area.
Work on the castle was begun 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars. Lord Somers commissioned Sir Robert Smirke, R.A., architect of Covent Garden and the British Museum, to build something of a similarly theatrical design. Stones for the replica medieval castle were brought by mule from the Forest of Dean. An artificial lake was dug and the foundations of Eastnor laid in front.
Wood was in short supply because it was needed for the war effort so Smirke successfully used cast-iron stanchions for the roof trusses.
The Great Hall was designed by George Gilbert Scott. Today this enormous room is lined with suits of armour and other military items. The Gothic drawing room was among the last works of Augustus Pugin.
The completed work was amazingly ornate and more like a cathedral than a drawing room.
In just over three decades, the Severn Valley Railway has graduated from relative obscurity to great prominence in British railway preservation. Nowadays, the initials SVR are not solely part of the specialist jargon of keen railway enthusiasts - although the line is still happily invaded during the popular Enthusiast Weekends. Increasingly, the general public has visited the line, thanks partly to extensive TV coverage which has ensured that very few weeks pass without Severn Valley steam trains appearing on TV screens across the nation. Services run every weekend of the year and daily at peak times (see the timetable for details). Santa special trains run on weekends in December with a daily service operating from Boxing Day through to the New Year.
The Severn Valley Railway is a full-size standard-gauge line running regular passenger trains for the benefit of tourists and enthusiasts alike between Kidderminster in Worcestershire and Bridgnorth in Shropshire, a distance of 16 miles. The journey is full of interest, for the route follows closely the meandering course of the River Severn for most of the way; one highlight of the trip is the crossing of the river by means of the Victoria Bridge - a massive 200-foot single span, high above the water.