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Guide to Highworth
POET laureate John Betjeman described Highworth as “extraordinary because it has more beautiful buildings than ugly ones”.
He also wrote: “I have never seen Highworth given due praise in guidebooks for what it is, one of the most charming and unassuming country towns in the west of England.”
The picturesque town lies six miles north of Swindon and was once the most important town in north Wiltshire.
It dates back to medieval times, and, by the 18th century, it had a thriving cattle industry. At this time it had a population of 2,000 people and was much bigger than neighbouring Swindon.
The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72) described Highworth as a small town which “consists chiefly of stonebuilt houses; is a seat of petty sessions; and has a post office under Swindon, a banking office, two good inns, a church, three dissenting chapels, national and British schools, a scientific institute, a subscription library, and charities £277”.
Today, it is a thriving town with a strong sense of community. A Conservation Area covers part of the town centre to protect its architectural heritage.
As well as being a centre for community activities, Highworth Recreation Centre offers sports facilities and meeting rooms.
St Michael and All Angels’ Church, which dates back to the 13th century, has a rich history and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It boasts a Civil War cannonball inside and also contains a memorial to Lieutenant Warneford, who was awarded the VC for destroying the first enemy Zeppelin in 1915.
Continuing the war heroes theme, a plaque was erected outside the former Post Office in tribute to Mabel Stranks, a former post mistress who was involved in checking British secret agents’ papers during the Second World War and getting them to their training base. She was on the Germans’ list of people to be killed if they invaded Britain.
On Good Friday this year, thousands of people gathered in the Market Square for the Highworth Passion, a dramatisation of the Easter story, which was 18 months in the planning.
Another popular event in the town is the annual Highworth Five-Mile race, which celebrated its 22nd year in 2008 and is the largest event of its kind in Wiltshire.
Highworth also has an active twinning committee, which formed in 1990 to foster links with Pontorson in Normandy.
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