Blockley Parish lies on upland farm and woodland between approximately 250 ft (78m) and 920 ft (280m) above sea level, close to the northern extremity of Cotswold District. It forms part of the boundary between the headwaters of the Rivers Thames and Severn. Significant clay deposits lie between the attractive limestone hills; springs form the main source of the several steeply-falling streams which flow through Blockley, Aston Magna and Draycott villages. By contrast, Paxford village, also within the Parish, lies on more open, level ground drained by the Knee Brook, a tributary of the River Stour.
The human and visual characteristics of Blockley Parish are strongly influenced both by its relatively isolated location in the rural North Cotswolds and by the industrial history of Blockley village, its main centre of population. With a population of about 2000 (in the 2001 census) it is one of the largest parishes in England in terms of area, at about 12 sq miles (30 sq km). The entire Parish lies within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Blockley village developed as a mill town during the 9th Century, using the reliable, spring-fed streams to power the 12 water mills later recorded in the Domesday Book. The mills have variously been used for grain, timber, cider, flax, wool and silk over the years and were in their hey-day during the first half of the 19th Century, after which they went into relatively rapid decline with the collapse of the local silk trade. Although most of the mill buildings remain, none of them retains any working machinery and all-but-one have been converted into domestic premises. Mill workers’ houses remain one of the main features of Blockley village, being small and densely packed in the narrow, steeply-sided valley through which the main stream and the High Street pass. Most of the village centre is within a Conservation Area.
The commercial importance of the Blockley mills is evidenced by the fact that the village had over 60 shops, seven inns and four banks at its hey-day, as well as two piano factories and the Vulcan iron foundry and works. The village now has just one, community-owned, shop and café with a part-time Post Office service, a hotel, a pub and several small business units. Over the latter half of the 20th Century, many houses were bought as second homes: currently about 15% of properties remain either in this category, are vacant or are used as holiday lets. The village is highly active to all age groups. It supports a full primary school, a thriving nursery, bowling club, sports club and grounds, a Parish Church, three village halls and many social, cultural and recreational clubs and societies, including an amateur dramatic society and several choirs. It is a popular tourist destination, primarily for walkers, as the narrow roads and limited parking make it impractical for coach-based tourism.
The other, smaller villages within the Parish, Paxford, Aston Magna and Draycott, are located within areas of farmland and generally do not share the same mill history as Blockley. However, Paxford is close to the active Northcot brickworks, which still produces high quality bricks from a local clay deposit and Aston Magna retains some of its former timber activities.
Three light industrial/ commercial parks are also located within the Parish, on which some 70-80 active business ventures are based. The business parks are at Draycott, Northcot and Northwick Park, the latter being adjacent to the attractive Northwick Park Mansion and grounds, which has been converted into apartments, together with a high quality housing development.
The recent advent of broadband has enabled more people to work from home and this, combined with reasonable train access to Oxford and London from Moreton-in-Marsh station three miles away, has encouraged more families and young professionals to settle in the Parish. Open market house prices are relatively high, but a wide range of social housing has been developed in the past to enable the Parish to offer accommodation to most who need it.
In summary, the Parish can be described as rural in nature (mostly farming but with some areas of woodland), with a long and influential industrial history and significant on-going, local commercial activity. It is located in a beautiful part of the North Cotswolds, retains a strong sense of community and, despite its business and social activity, remains relatively tranquil and unspoilt.