Painswick is an exceptionally attractive town full of little streets and charming shops. St Mary's Church dates from the late fourteenth century and is famous for the ninety nine yew trees that dominate the churchyard. The yew trees were planted in 1792 and legend has it that a hundredth can never grow because the devil will always pull it out. The spire was added in 1632 and then destroyed by a bolt of lightening in 1883. The lightening also harmed some of the older parts of the church and what you see today is the result of a painstaking rebuilding that took more than six months. The church had already suffered severe damage at the hands of the Royalists who camped at Painswick before and after the 1643 Siege of Gloucester. Painswick was an important parliamentary stronghold and skirmishes took place leaving pock marks from Cannons that can still be spotted on the church's exterior walls.
The remains of an Iron Age hill fort on top of the nearby Painswick Beacon provides evidence that Painswick has an ancient history, although the earliest recorded Lord of the Manor was Ernisi in 1050. At the time of Ernisi and his successor, Roger de Laci, the village was called simply 'Wycke', but the arrival of Lord Pain Fitzjohn in 1127 gave the town its name of 'Pain's Wycke', later to become 'Painswick.'
In 1253 the town was given a charter to hold a weekly market and, like many Cotswold towns, it went on to enjoy great prosperity from the wool trade, which reached its peak in the second half of the eighteenth century. Thirty mills provided power for many fine houses and farms in and around the town, many of which were built from the locally quarried pale grey limestone taken from the nearby Painswick Hill.
Painswick House, on the northern edge of town, was built in the mid 1730s by Charles Hyett, who suffered from asthma. The illness forced him to turn his back on the smog of Gloucester and he called his newly-built house 'Buenos Ayres' in the hope that it would restore him to good health. It didn't and he died soon after it was completed. Today the house is famous for the work of Charles' son, Benjamin Hyett, who created what is now the last sole survivor of a brief and fascinating period of English garden design known as the Rococo period. This movement, which represented a sea-change at the time, turned gardens into something frivolous, a place for Georgian people to let loose and have fun. Opinions were divided and a magazine article from 1753 described Benjamin's project in less than flattering terms. 'You are taken to a pompous and gilded building, consecrated to Venus for no other reason than that the squire riots here in vulgar love with a couple of wenches from the local playhouse.'
The garden was so neglected as to be almost lost when Lord Dickinson, a descendant of Charles Hyett, decided to launch an ambitious restoration programme. Little of the garden remained and Lord Dickinson relied heavily on a painting of the garden by local artist Thomas Robins, commissioned by Benjamin in 1748. In 1988 Lord Dickinson handed control of the garden, which is set in a beautiful, hidden six acre valley, to the Painswick Rococo Garden Trust. It is now open to the public and contains plants from around the world, a kitchen garden, a specialist nursery, a children's nature trail, a gift shop, a restaurant and a maze, planted in 1999 to celebrate the garden's 250th birthday.
The local monastery, a little further north at Prinknash Abbey, was founded in the eleventh century. It was made over to the monks of Caldey Island in 1928 by the 20th Earl of Rothe in accordance with the wishes of his grandfather. Although the monks have now moved into an impressive new monastery the abbey chapel is open daily for prayers and solitude and the monks have established a working pottery and a Bird and Deer Park, where visitors can feed and stroke fallow deer and see waterfowl, peacocks and African pygmy goats.