A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 10, Westbury and Whitstone Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.
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WHEATENHURST OR WHITMINSTER
THE PARISH OF Whitminster, formerly called Wheatenhurst, lies 7 miles south-west of Gloucester. It includes in its south-east end a section of the main Gloucester-Bristol road, which has markedly influenced its development, and stretches long and narrow to within a few yards of the Severn in the north-west. The name of the parish has been misused and needs explanation: Wheatenhurst is a reasonable rendering of the early forms of the name, in which the first element is either the personal name Hwita or the word meaning 'white' and the second element indicates a wooded hillock, but the corrupted form Whitnester or Whitmister was altered by popular etymology in the 16th or 17th century to Whitminster. (fn. 1) Either name or both names were used of the parish up to the mid 20th century, but in 1945 Whitminster was adopted as the official name. (fn. 2) Meanwhile the settlement on the main road had come to be known usually as Whitminster and the name Wheatenhurst was applied, apparently in the belief that it was a separate name that must belong somewhere, to the smaller group of houses at the centre of the parish, though that group included Whitminster House; the usage of maps and road-signs has corroborated the distinct application of the names Wheatenhurst and Whitminster.
The area of the parish is 1,267 a. By the Divided Parishes Act, 1882, a small detached part of the parish was transferred to Frampton on Severn and a similar detached part of Moreton Valence was transferred to Wheatenhurst, the acreage remaining the same. (fn. 3) The boundaries of the parish are the same as those of the manor defined in 1591: (fn. 4) the southeast boundary follows a brook, the north-east is marked partly by a brook and the largely disused Moreton Lane, the south-west follows roughly the River Frome and, below the river's division, the eastern arm known as Baldwin's brook, and the short north-west boundary runs along the road beside the Severn. (fn. 5) The soil of the parish is the clay of the Lower Lias, and it is drained by the watercourses already mentioned. The River Frome's course was altered to provide for Wheatenhurst and Fromebridge mills, both mentioned in 1086, (fn. 6) and the division of the Frome below Wheatenhurst Mill may have been altered if not made to provide for the needs of Framilode Mills, which gave cause for disputes. (fn. 7) In the 1740s part of the Frome was straightened and fitted with works to enable pleasureboats from Whitminster House to reach the Severn, (fn. 8) an improvement rendered otiose by the building alongside the Frome of the Stroudwater Canal, opened in 1779 and closed in 1954. (fn. 9) In 1833 the use of water from the Frome to fill the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal, opened in 1827 and cutting across the parish, led to a violent dispute. (fn. 10)
The land is fairly flat and, lying mostly below the 50-ft. contour, is liable in parts to winter flooding. In the south-east, however, a gentle hill rises to a little over 100 ft. and was presumably the wooded hillock alluded to in the name Wheatenhurst. The southern slope of the hill, where parkland called the Grove was largely cleared of trees in the late 19th century, (fn. 11) was covered c. 1270 with a wood called Thiefsgrove. (fn. 12) Thiefsgrove is likely to have included the 30 a. of demesne woodland recorded in 1336, (fn. 13) for in the mid 16th century it was c. 30 a. of ash, hazel, and thorn belonging to the lord of the manor. (fn. 14) By 1591 it was a wood of young oaks, (fn. 15) and in 1812 it was 37 a. of former coppice planted with young oaks. (fn. 16) On the north side of the hill there was apparently some woodland up to the 19th century, for 140 trees on Jackson's farm were felled c. 1803, and the growing timber was worth £60 in 1806. (fn. 17) Most of the land, however, has been agricultural or pastoral throughout the recorded history of the parish; the open fields, perhaps always less extensive than the permanent grass-land, were inclosed piecemeal over a long period. (fn. 18)
The location of the primary settlement of Wheatenhurst is uncertain. The small settlement near the centre of the parish, being central and including the parish church, the manor-house, and the mills, (fn. 19) has characteristics to suggest that it preceded the settlement in the south-east by the main road, to which a secondary role seems to have been attributed by the use of the name Upper Whitminster in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 20) If, however, the name Wheatenhurst alluded to the hill in the south-east the original settlement is likely to have been on or immediately under the hill. The name Upper Whitminster may have contrasted the houses near the top of the hill with those lower down to the north. Oldbury, a fieldname applied to the north-west slope of the hill, (fn. 21) suggests an ancient settlement. The location of the village c. 1270 was on the main road and perhaps north of the top of the hill, for an open field, of which the name survives in Big Redding and Long Redding on the north-east side of the hill, was described as between the village of Wheatenhurst and Thiefsgrove. (fn. 22) At the top of the hill the main road forms a crossroads with a lane from Eastington and School Lane, perhaps the Clay Lane of 1663, (fn. 23) which leads to the settlement by the church and to Saul and Frampton, crossing the Frome by a bridge apparently on the site of Loken Bridge named in 1441. (fn. 24) There is no evidence that there were ever many houses near the church, though in 1717 there were perhaps ten compared with the six therein 1968. (fn. 25)
The crossroads on the main road was presumably the cross of Wheatenhurst mentioned in 1248; (fn. 26) most of the 15 cottages recorded in 1486 (fn. 27) and many of the 18 messuages, 7 tenements, and 5 cottages in 1591 (fn. 28) are likely to have been in its vicinity. The main road north-east of the crossroads and the first 400 yds. of School Lane were evidently the main streets of the village. Hyde Lane, forming an angle to make a square with School Lane and the main road, had fewer houses, though it seems once to have had more houses than it did in 1968 and the small group of houses on the lane from the northern angle of Hyde Lane was perhaps not always so isolated. (fn. 29) It includes Jackson's Farm, a timber-framed rectangular house of two stories and attics, which has a reset stone dated 1575 and has been much rebuilt, and King's Orchard, a timber-framed house of the late 17th century, which in 1838 belonged to Joshua King and was occupied as two cottages. (fn. 30)
In 1675 Whitminster was described as a small village of good accommodation for travellers on the main road. (fn. 31) The road was a turnpike from 1726 to 1877, (fn. 32) but its course through Wheatenhurst was singled out as infamous in the later 18th century, the excessive depth of mud being attributed to the scarcity of stone, the remissness of the commissioners, and the total ignorance of the surveyor. (fn. 33) Gilden Bridge, carrying the road across the brook at the north-east boundary, was recorded in 1591. (fn. 34) There was an innkeeper in the parish in 1608, (fn. 35) and in 1694 there were inns called the 'Swan' (fn. 36) and the 'Red Talbot'. (fn. 37) The 'Swan' was recorded up to 1779, (fn. 38) but was later occupied by a blacksmith whose business had by 1939 become a motor garage; (fn. 39) the house is a timber-framed building of the 17th century with a representation of two swans carved on the framing of the porch, and has two stone chimneys and a sundial dated 1604. The 'Red Talbot' was later called the 'George' (fn. 40) and, by 1792, the Whitminster Inn. (fn. 41) It was apparently the only inn in 1838, when there were also two beershops, (fn. 42) and it survived, rebuilt in the later 19th century, as the Whitminster Hotel in 1968.
By 1824 some small houses had been built scattered along the main road, (fn. 43) and they survived particularly on the south-east side of Whitminster Pitch, by which the road runs down to the Bristol Road Bridge over the Stroudwater Canal. There was formerly a wharf there for landing coal. (fn. 44) Some cottages were pulled down to provide access to the house called Parklands, built c. 1823, (fn. 45) and others may have made way for Whitminster Lodge, built rather later on the east side of the main road. In the 1960s the widening of the road where it passes through Whitminster required the demolition of a number of houses, which were replaced by a group of eight pairs of council houses, faced in stone, tile, and timber, north-west of the main road. At the same time, several houses in School Lane were replaced. North-west of the village, opposite the school, a group of 12 brick council houses had been built c. 1950. (fn. 46)
The result of the new building was that by 1968 there were few ancient houses in the village. In addition to those already mentioned, there are the following timber-framed houses: a pair of cottages in School Lane which appears to have been a rectangular farm-house with a central stone chimney and has vestiges of a cruck truss at each gable-end; the back part of Kidnam's Farm which is a rectangular building with a central chimney apparently between a former doorway and a former staircase; and a pair of cottages which with three later brick cottages formed Martin's Row, derelict in 1968, in Hyde Lane. Parklands Farm, rebuilt in brick in the earlier 18th century, and Manor Farm, rebuilt in brick after 1812 (fn. 47) and remodelled in the mid 20th century, (fn. 48) each retained something of the plan and fabric of houses of the 17th century or earlier.
Apart from the settlement near the church and the scattered houses along the main road, the outlying houses are Lea Court Farm (fn. 49) in the extreme north-west of the parish where there were three cottages in the 15th century, (fn. 50) Whitminster Court (fn. 51) in the extreme south-east, Packthorne Farm, a brick house L-shaped on plan of the earlier 18th century, and a loose group of houses midway between the church and the village, including Highfield House (fn. 52) and some 20th-century houses by a sharp bend in the road; in the earlier 19th century the houses in that part of the parish were grouped along the lane leading from the bend down to the water-meadows, (fn. 53) but in 1968 only one of the cottages on the lane remained.
In 1542 Whitminster had 41 names, fewer than most of its neighbours, on the muster-roll. (fn. 54) There were c. 100 communicants in 1551, (fn. 55) 24 households in 1563, (fn. 56) 85 communicants in 1603, (fn. 57) and 49 liable males in 1608. (fn. 58) That the next 100 years saw little change in population is attested by the figures of c. 50 families in 1650, (fn. 59) 33 houses, including those discharged from hearth tax, in 1672, (fn. 60) 95 communicants in 1676, (fn. 61) and 200 inhabitants in 46 houses c. 1710. (fn. 62) Numbers grew in the late 18th century, from 231 c. 1775, (fn. 63) to 339 in 1811 and 423 in 1831. The population then fluctuated, reaching 428 in 1861 and as little as 308 in 1901; in 1961 it was 392. (fn. 64)
The village had a friendly society in 1836. (fn. 65) A village hall built apparently c. 1885 on the main road opposite Whitminster Lodge stood in ruins in 1968, having been replaced in 1938 with one in School Lane near the main road. (fn. 66) A police station with a petty sessions court was built at the junction of the main road and School Lane in 1867; (fn. 67) a new court 100 yds. north with a police station adjoining it was opened in 1967, (fn. 68) and the old one stood empty in 1968. Richard Owen Cambridge (1717- 1802), minor poet and essayist, owned Whitminster House, and it was there that he lived from 1740 to 1750, wrote his most considerable poem, the 'Scribleriad', and carried out certain mechanical ideas including the construction of a double-hulled boat. It was he who straightened the Frome for the tained the Prince and Princess of Wales in boats on the Frome and the Severn, a venture the success of which was partly responsible for his quitting Whitminster House for Twickenham. (fn. 69)