Upper Slaughter was one of my favorite villages in the Cotswolds. Even smaller than its tiny neighbor, Lower Slaughter, Upper Slaughter is a delight to any visitor. Despite its minuscule size, the village has plenty to offer visitors who love quaint villages and places steeped in history. This guide provides a history of Upper Slaughter as well as all the places of interest in the village.
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Why is it called Upper Slaughter?
First off, why does a village in England have such a sinister-sounding name? Upper Slaughter is named not named after anything ominous; it actually derives from the Old English word “slough” meaning “wet land” or “muddy place. The “upper” bit was added to differentiate the village from its nearby neighbor, Lower Slaughter.
History of Upper Slaughter
Archaeologists have discovered Roman burials on Copse Hill in Upper Slaughter, suggesting a Roman presence at the site of the modern village. No presence of a subsequent settlement is recorded until the Domesday Book of 1086.
Besides dating back to the Roman times, the village also took part in important historical events, particularly surrounding the two world wars.
Between January and May 1944, the German Luftwaffe carried out a strategic bombing campaign across southern England called Operation Steinbock. It was nicknamed the ‘Baby Blitz’ as this campaign was much smaller than the Blitz, which occurred in 1940-1941. In February, German bombers strayed from their London targets and Upper Slaughter received 2,000 incendiary hits. While some property was damaged, no lives were lost.
Upper Slaughter is one of 14 villages in England and Wales that is considered Doubly Thankful – meaning that it lost no servicemen during World War I and World War II. Given there are tens of thousands of villages in England and Wales, it shows just how devastating the loss of life was in both wars.
Things to do in Upper Slaughter
Upper Slaughter offers many attractions for its small size. Most everything can be seen on a stroll around the village and with this guide to Upper Slaughter, you’ll know more about the fascinating histories behind important parts of the village.
Church of St. Peter
The Church of St. Peter dates to the 12th century and much of the building dates to that period. Fortunately, during extensive restoration in 1877, restorers used most of the medieval stonework. If it is open to visitors (it wasn’t when we visited), be sure to look out for the Tudor brass memorials to the Slaughter family, the 12th-century carvings on the tower, and the 17th-century memorials. Even if you don’t enter the church, be sure to approach it through the churchyard – you’ll feel as if you’re entering a different world.
Edwin Lutyens Almshouses
Famed architect Edwin Lutyens redesigned the cottages in the main square of Upper Slaughter in 1906. The village has not seen any new construction since that year.
Notably, Lutyens designed and built much of New Delhi, India, as well as several World War I memorials, and Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in England (1911-1930).
Located next to the River Eye, Upper Slaughter Castle remains shrouded in mystery. Known as Castle Mound today, no one is exactly sure why this castle originated. One theory is that it was built by Roger de Lacy when he owned Upper Slaughter Manor. The likelier theory is that it was built for use as a local defense by supporters of Empress Matilda during the Anarchy, the period of civil war between King Stephen and Matilda that occurred between 1139-1153. No one knows when it was destroyed, but pottery findings date to the 12th and 13th centuries at the latest.
The castle is on private property today, but you can see it from the road. The ruins are of the Norman motte and bailey. For those who aren’t versed in castle vocabulary, a motte was an artificial mound on which castle buildings were built. A bailey was a fortified enclosure around the motte.
Upper Slaughter Manor
Like many historic sites in the area, Upper Slaughter Manor dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086. Roger de Lacy, a powerful Norman nobleman owned it at that time. By 1282, the Slaughter family came into possession of the house, though it seems that they took their surname from the name of the manor and not the other way around.
The house today dates back to the Tudor period, but the crypt was built in the 14th century, when the estate may have been a monastery. The house and property saw periods of decay from the 18th-19th centuries until it became a family home once more in the 20th century. Today, the home is open a few weeks each year for tours of the home and gardens. The Historic Homes website has opening information for Upper Slaughter Manor.
The Old Schoolhouse
Today just a normal house, the old schoolhouse dates to 1848. Located adjacent to the church. It still has the original school bell. This pdf from when the home was last for sale has pictures of the beautiful interior if you’re curious about what the inside of a Cotswold home looks like.
Being American, I was surprised to learn about fords on my trip to the Cotswolds. Essentially, they are roads that run through shallow streams. Pedestrians cross using the historic footbridge adjacent to the ford and cars can drive through the stream of the River Eye.
There is an alternative route through Upper Slaughter that does not involve crossing the ford. If you are driving, you might want to avoid the ford as cars can get stuck going across. To avoid any potential towing fees, as well as disruption to the peaceful village, consider taking the alternative route. We avoided all fords on our trip through the Cotswolds as our car was very low to the ground and heavy rains had caused flooding and additional water in the fords and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck.
Located about 2 miles from the center of Upper Slaughter, Eyford house is best known for hosting John Milton and possibly inspiring him to write Paradise Lost. Country Life Magazine also named it England’s favorite house in 2011.
The house was designed by architect Guy Dawber in the late 17th century. It is a private residence but sometimes opens for a few weeks every year for visitors to experience the beautiful home and gardens.
Walk to Lower Slaughter
You can’t visit Upper Slaughter without also visiting Lower Slaughter. Whether you choose to walk on the side of the road (as we had to do because of the several-inches-thick-mud on trails) or walk on the trail between the villages, the walk is easy and relatively quick. If you’re arriving at the Slaughters from Bourton-on-the-Water or Stow-on-the-Wold, it’s easier to park in Lower Slaughter and walk from there.
Where to stay in Upper Slaughter
Lords of the Manor: While some sources I referred to listed Upper Slaughter Manor and Lords of the Manor as one and the same, this is in fact false. Lords of the Manor and Upper Slaughter Manor did form part of the same estate until 1852. Today, Upper Slaughter Manor remains a private home, while Lords of the Manor has been converted to a luxury hotel.
Lords of the Manor was also owned by the Slaughter family who began construction on it in 1649. It passed down family lines throughout the centuries, eventually landing in the Witts family, who saw it through the two World Wars. During World War II, the Army occupied the property. Lords of the Manor was converted into a hotel in 1972. Today, guests have access to beautiful gardens, luxurious rooms, and two restaurants. View availability and prices >
Jasmine Cottage: Jasmine Cottage is a mid-19th century 3-bedroom self-catered home located in the heart of the village. View availability and prices >
No. 8 The Square: This 3-bedroom self-catered home is another perfect choice for a stay in Upper Slaughter. The cottage is one of the homes that Edwin Lutyens remodeled in 1906. View availability and prices >
Getting to Upper Slaughter – What’s nearby
If you’re visiting Upper Slaughter alongside Lower Slaughter, the easiest way to reach the former is to park in Lower Slaughter and walk. The village is also a short drive from Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Moreton-in-Marsh.