Less than 2 miles from the busy A419 road between Swindon and Cirencester, on the border between Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, the tranquil Cotswold village of Down Ampney offers a retreat from the hectic bustle of nearby towns. The village can trace its history back to the Middle Ages, but provides a range of modern leisure facilities for residents and visitors, run (like the shop) by volunteers from the local community.
Visitors are drawn to Down Ampney for three main reasons:
- Birthplace of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The famous composer was born in the old vicarage, son of Revd. Arthur Vaughan Williams. Ralph lived in the village for just three years until his father died in 1875 and the family then relocated near Dorking, Surrey. The old vicarage is now a private house, but there is a small exhibit celebrating the composer’s life in All Saints Church.
- The Airfield (now closed). The airfield on the outskirts of the village played a significant role in the closing stages of World War II. About 2,500 people were stationed at Down Ampney when the airfield was completed in 1944, providing support for D-Day, the Arnhem landings in 1944 and the Rhine crossing in 1945. Dakotas flew out of the airfield, sometimes with gliders in tow, and the airfield was also a casualty evacuation centre with (on one notable day) over 800 casualties passing through. The R.A.F. Down Ampney Association meets annually in the village to remember those who were based here and give thanks for the successful Arnhem airlift. Several veterans have chosen the churchyard for their final resting place, and there is an R.A.F. stained glass window in the church featuring a Dakota as well as a memorial near the former airfield. A personal recollection of flights from Down Ampney is recorded in "My Time with 271 Squadron Chapter 3".
- All Saints Church. The church building is a Grade I listed building, originally built by the Knights Templars and consecrated in 1265, now with later additions. At the time of the Black Death the village surrounded the church, but survivors settled away from the immediate area, accounting for its slight remoteness from today's main village. Feautures of the church include some splendid stained glass, a small exhibition area of the life of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Arnhem Memorial Window, wooden carving and the recent, locally designed, altar frontal depicting past and present elements of the village.
- Walks. For the benefit of villagers and visitors, the Parish Council and the Co-operative Group Ltd. (the local land owners) have agreed a series of local walks comprising public rights of way, footpaths and bridleways and permissive paths. A number of signs around the village identify the routes. The village also features in the "The Cotswolds" edition of the AA series of "50 Walks" books.