There’s an American flag flying high over the Cotswolds. It flutters in the breeze at Stow-on-the-Wold, above the dark-green shop front of D’Ambrosi Fine Foods. Below it, the husband-and-wife team of Andrew and Jesse D’Ambrosi smoke local hams and salmon. Andrew was born and bred in Brooklyn. Jesse is from just outside Boston. They boast of making Reuben sandwiches “as big as Katz’s Deli,” and on Thanksgiving, they make corn bread and cauliflower doused in buffalo sauce. The shop’s shelves are lined with Cheetos, Hershey bars, Triscuits, and Jif.
At first glance, this seems exotic fare for the red-trousered, inherited-Wellies brigade in these parts, who tend to like their food like their Barbour jackets: brown, heavy, warming—and from the 1970s. Until, standing in the queue at D’Ambrosi, or the courtyards of Daylesford, or the swimming pool at Soho Farmhouse, you realize suddenly, in a shock of imported vowels—that they’re all American, too.
“I’d say a third of my clients now come from the U.S.,” says Harry Gladwin, a partner at the high-end-property service the Buying Solution, whose family has farmed land here since the 18th century.
They’ve been coming over to this area, smack bang in the center of the English countryside, in dribs and drabs since the early 2000s, attracted by the fresh air and pretty green hills—not to mention the proximity to West London. But then a cavalcade of scene-y new openings happened—each of which put city comforts and cosmopolitan glamour among the cowpats—and suddenly, it seemed to locals, you couldn’t move for well-heeled Manhattanites and Floridians cutting around the chocolate-box villages of Upper Slaughter, Great Tew (pronounced “Tchew”), or Icomb. “Yes, it’s become a very well-trodden path,” says Gladwin. “There’s a real concentration now.”
Loosely defined, the Cotswolds is a broad, scenic, leafy stretch of countryside that runs along the rolling hills of the same name and around the upper meadows of the River Thames. The area sprawls languidly across Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, with picturesque villages clad in the honeyed local stone, and ancient roads winding past light-dappled forests, antique farms, old coaching inns, historic mills, and grand Georgian rectories.
It seemed to locals you couldn’t move for well-heeled Manhattanites and Floridians cutting around the chocolate-box villages.
But the ultra-prime bit, the Sunday-supplement bit, the bit-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-the-Cotswolds bit, is more specific, more totemic, more of a modern creation—a polygon that stretches between Burford in its bottom corner up to Bourton-on-the-Water, then farther north, to Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh, before dropping back down to Chipping Norton and Great Tew, on its eastern front, and, finally, to Charlbury and Woodstock, in the south.
This is the seat of the famed Chipping Norton set of English power players who include former P.M. David Cameron, P.R. guru Matthew Freud, C.E.O. of News UK Rebekah Brooks, telecoms billionaire Charles Dunstone, property magnate Tony Gallagher, media firebrand Jeremy Clarkson, and a liberal sprinkling of Murdochs.
Of late, however, their plummy circles have been breached by Yanks of all stripes—many of whom seem better at being English than the English.
Charles Noell, the billionaire founder of JMI Equity, rides with the historic Heythrop Hunt and stepped in as an emergency sponsor of the Cheltenham Festival, the beloved horse-racing meet, during the pandemic. The California tycoon Peter Mullin is building a Norman Foster–designed car museum on the outskirts of Great Tew—until recently, better acquainted with tractors and Land Rovers than with American muscle cars.
Amanda Brooks, a former fashion director at Barneys New York, has set up the highly successful Cutter Brooks boutique in Stow-on-the-Wold, selling exquisite English country fashions curated with an exacting Manhattan eye. Daniel Szor, a former Wall Street banker, is the founder of the Cotswolds Distillery, a maker of small-batch spirits crafted from local produce and, for some time, the No. 1–ranked tourist attraction in the area on Tripadvisor.
To their swelling number we might add countless others: Brad Hooker, the American philosopher, who is highly active in the hunting scene and recently built a Georgian-adjacent mansion in the village of Evenlode; Alison Loehnis, the Manhattan-raised president of Yoox Net-a-Porter; Lily Atherton Hanbury, a creative director from New York; and Mary-Clare Winwood, the U.S.-born daughter of musician Steve Winwood. Mary-Clare lives with her husband, Ben Elliot, the Queen Consort’s nephew, in Northleach.
In Icomb, a highly desirable little village near Stow-on-the-Wold, “absolutely everyone is American,” says Giles Coren, The Times’s restaurant critic, who lives near Naunton. “Stow is just like New York now,” says Andrew D’Ambrosi. “Same amount of coffee shops, at least.”
Not all of these newcomers are permanent, primary residents. A great many are described by the local chinless wonders as TWATs—those who spend Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in London before taking their long weekends in the country. Others see a Cotswolds home as the latest addition to the modern 1-percenter portfolio—a green and pleasant accompaniment to the Tuscan farmhouse, the St. Tropez villa, the Verbier chalet, and the East Hampton beach house.
A few, more controversially, are known to use their houses for just a few days a season, leaving them unaccompanied for the vast majority of the year—a bête noire among locals, who accuse such dilettantes of pricing them out of the market and leaving historic homes shuttered and soul-less. Coren recalls his gardener boasting that his main job was looking after two gargantuan mansions near the Fosse Way, where the owners, “both Yanks,” came to stay only for Christmas. The staff lived there the rest of the year, patiently waiting.
The local chinless wonders describe them as TWATs—those who spend Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in London.
Some arrivistes, on the other hand, are slightly too present. The actor Sir Patrick Stewart has been an outspoken critic of the influx for sometime—railing publicly in 2018 against Peter Mullin’s proposed $67 million car museum, with its accompanying holiday-lodge complex and “corporate hospitality building,” which was to take over an old airfield near Stewart’s home in Little Tew.
Writing to the council about the “disruption” the development would cause, Stewart lamented that there was “too much of a commercial and elitist aspect to all this: fabulously expensive historic cars, Bentley cars showroom and houses costing five or six million pounds,” he wrote, and that the influx of outsiders would ruin the “notable beauty [and] tranquillity” of the area. Despite his objections, the project was given the green light in 2019.
Most weekends, however, pass without rancor. When they do come, the Yanks-on-the-Wold tend to congregate around the same hot spots as their oofy English counterparts. The flashiest of these, perhaps, is Soho Farmhouse, the popular mud-and-Botox outpost of Soho House, where city types can take selfies with the pigs.
More stately is Daylesford Organic, a mammoth, queue-round-the-block purveyor of artisanal bread, sumptuous food hampers, and grass-pasture-beef broth. It’s owned by Lady Bamford—of the JCB construction-equipment dynasty—who in many ways is the spiritual godmother of this new, idealized Cotswold life. Later this year she’ll open the Club by Bamford, a holistic, “360-degree” wellness retreat with memberships starting at $4,200 a year.
Then there’s the about-to-be-opened outpost of the Mayfair private members’ club Maison Estelle, which has just taken over the palatial, Grade II–listed Eynsham Hall, near Woodstock. Just round the corner, RH, formerly Restoration Hardware, the high-end American furniture store, has bought Aynhoe Park, a 73-acre ancient family estate that they will soon turn into an “RH England” flagship shop, meaning that incoming Americans can now furnish their new homes in familiar style.
It wasn’t always this way. “When I first went there, in 1997, there wasn’t a single gastro pub,” says Amanda Brooks. Around 2012, she decided to take a year’s sabbatical in an old cottage on her husband’s family farm. “We just had this little niggling thought that maybe it’s time to have a better quality of life. And I wanted to not be a lifelong New Yorker.” They said they’d stay for a year. “Now it’s been 10 years and we haven’t left!”
Laura Stoloff, a stylist and consultant from New York, is also sold on the place: “I love pub culture, and there’s such tradition in England that we don’t have in America,” she declares. The Cotswolds have even influenced her personal style: “I only wear Margaret Howell, and Crockett & Jones boots.” She never thought she’d end up in the Cotswolds, she says, “but I feel very welcome here.”
In property terms, incoming Americans tend to prefer a combination of the traditional and the modern, says Harry Gladwin. Many buyers are moving away from Georgian-style houses into newer-build mansions that allow open-plan living and high-tech devices, he says—but ones that make the most of the beautiful local stone and are mindful of their historic surroundings. This, one feels, is actually a rather neat metaphor for any successful Yank-on-the-Wold.
There are always grumbles, however. NIMBYism is rife among England’s chattering classes, and the Cotswolds lot—often rich and bored—can be particularly snooty about newcomers. But Giles Coren offers some welcome perspective: “The point about the Cotswolds is that nobody who’s living here now was here in 1970, apart from the Bamfords—and even then, I’m not certain. The thing to remember is that we’re all ruining it, darling.”
Joseph Bullmore is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the editor of Gentleman’s Journal in London