A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.
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A priest was recorded at Woodchester in 896 (fn. 1) and architectural evidence shows that there was a church there in the 12th century. (fn. 2) The living was a rectory in 1320 (fn. 3) and has remained one. The advowson descended with the manor until the 19th century (fn. 4) although presentations were made by Edmund Bereford in 1352 and by William Zouche in 1395 and 1396. (fn. 5) The advowson, separated from the manor in 1846 when the latter was purchased by a Catholic, (fn. 6) was bought by Charles Hooper of Eastington (d. 1869), (fn. 7) who gave it to Simeon's trustees, (fn. 8) the patrons in 1972. (fn. 9)
The living was worth £6 13s. 4d. yearly in 1291 (fn. 10) and £9 9s. in 1535. (fn. 11) In 1650 the annual value of the living, which included 25 a. of glebe, was £54 (fn. 12) and it had increased to £80 by 1750. (fn. 13) It was valued at £180 yearly in 1815. (fn. 14) The tithes were commuted for a corn-rent of £277 in 1838, (fn. 15) and the value of the living was £310 in 1856. (fn. 16) The rectory house was said to be in decay in 1548. (fn. 17) It stood on the east side of Church Lane (fn. 18) and was demolished, with the tithe-barn, in 1915 when a new rectory was built on the site with materials from the old building. (fn. 19)
The rectors of Woodchester in the early 14th century included John of Dudbridge, a local man who resigned the living in 1320, (fn. 20) and David of Lacock and Nicholas of Marlborough who were both granted leave of absence from the parish for study. (fn. 21) In 1498 the parish was served by a chaplain in addition to the rector. (fn. 22) Simon Seward, rector from 1521 until at least 1552, (fn. 23) was non-resident during the later years of his incumbency (fn. 24) and the parish was served by curates. (fn. 25) Thomas Freeman, who was appointed to the living in 1560, (fn. 26) held it in plurality with Boxwell in 1572 and was holding Woodchester and Minchinhampton in 1576. (fn. 27) In 1587 John Tully, a non-graduate, was presented. (fn. 28) At Tully's death in 1610 Thomas Fereby was presented, and in 1624 was succeeded by his son John. (fn. 29) John was ejected during the Civil War (fn. 30) when Woodchester was served by a succession of ministers, among them Helpe Foxe, a signatory of the Gloucestershire Ministers' Testimony. (fn. 31) James Stanfield, rector from 1670 until 1722, was also lecturer of Rodborough and an ardent supporter of the revolution of 1688. (fn. 32) Thomas Dibble, rector 1723-56, held Woodchester in plurality with Upper Swell from 1727. The living was held by Peter Hawker from 1756 until 1809 when he was succeeded by his son, also Peter, who was rector until 1833, although from 1819 the parish was served by curates at a yearly stipend of £60. From 1833 until 1858 the rector was John Williams, D.D., (fn. 33) formerly assistant curate at Stroud. (fn. 34)
The ancient parish church of ST. MARY (fn. 35) stood at the northern extremity of the parish and comprised chancel, nave with south aisle and porch, and west tower. On the north side of the church was a raised, covered passage from the church to the edge of the churchyard for occupants of the Priory. The survival of a 12th-century doorway and chancel arch suggests a rebuilding at that date, although most of the external features of the nave and chancel appear to have been late medieval and the tower was probably built in the 15th century. (fn. 36) The church contained a monument with effigies to Sir George Huntley and his wife and some wall monuments by Franklin of Stroud and John Ricketts the elder of Gloucester. (fn. 37) In 1851 the church was said to have been much modernized, probably in 1815, and 'encumbered with the most hideous pews and galleries'. (fn. 38)
In 1861 it was decided to replace the church and graveyard, which contained a number of carved stone tomb-chests and headstones and remained in use for some further years, with a new building on a site further south. (fn. 39) The land was donated by Mrs. Edward Wise (fn. 40) and stone from the old church was used in the new building, which comprised chancel, nave with north aisle, south tower with broach spire, and south porch. The church, designed by S. S. Fenton (fn. 41) in 14th-century style, was consecrated in 1863 (fn. 42) and contains the monuments removed from the old church. The plate includes some 17th-century pieces given by Lord Ducie in 1816 and an 18th-century flagon. (fn. 43) There are six bells, which formerly used to ring a muffled peal on Holy Innocents Day: (fn. 44) (i) 1761 by the Rudhall foundry; (ii) 1622; (iii) 1635; (iv) 1793 by John Rudhall; (v) a 15th-century bell; (vi) 1738 by Abel Rudhall. (fn. 45) The registers begin in 1563 but are missing a volume for 1624-1669. (fn. 46)