A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 5, Bledisloe Hundred, St. Briavels Hundred, the Forest of Dean. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
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In 1086 Bledisloe hundred comprised Awre manor and its former members of Bledisloe, Etloe, and Purton (later part of Lydney parish), together with Poulton (later part of Awre parish), Nass (later part of Lydney parish), and two unidentified estates, possibly both within the later Awre parish. It totalled c. 19 hides. (fn. 1) Most of the later Lydney parish, as a manor of 12½ hides formed between 1066 and 1071 from four separate estates, was part of a separate hundred called Lydney, (fn. 2) while Alvington, with 6 hides, was then in Herefordshire as part of Bromsash hundred. (fn. 3) By 1221 Lydney and Alvington were part of Bledisloe hundred, (fn. 4) having probably been added before the mid 12th century in a reorganization that created the new St. Briavels hundred. (fn. 5) Blakeney tithing, in Awre parish, was in St. Briavels hundred until the mid 16th century, (fn. 6) but by 1608 it was regarded as part of Bledisloe hundred. (fn. 7) Etloe Duchy, a tithing of Awre that became a manor of the duchy of Lancaster in the 14th century, (fn. 8) was in the Duchy of Lancaster hundred in the 16th century and the early 17th, (fn. 9) but later it was included in Bledisloe. (fn. 10) The whole hundred was within the jurisdiction of the Forest of Dean by 1228 and probably from Henry II's reign, but by a new perambulation made in 1300 and confirmed in 1327 Lydney and Alvington parishes and Box manor, in Awre, were excluded. (fn. 11)
The hundred was sometimes known as Awre hundred in the early 13th century (fn. 12) but otherwise it was called Bledisloe to 1640 when Charles I ordered that the name be changed to Lydney hundred; (fn. 13) from that time it was sometimes called the hundred of Lydney alias Bledisloe (fn. 14) but more usually the old name alone continued in use.
Henry III gave the hundred to the younger William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, either in 1230, when he gave him Awre manor, or earlier. The king took the hundred in hand again on the earl's death in 1231 (fn. 15) but in 1233 he granted it in fee to the earl's brother and successor Richard. (fn. 16) It then descended with Awre manor until 1668, (fn. 17) and later remained part of the Lydney estate of the Winter family and their successors, the Bathursts. (fn. 18) Charles Bathurst took the name of the hundred as the title of his barony in 1918 and his viscounty in 1935. (fn. 19)
The ancient meeting place of the hundred was evidently in Bledisloe tithing in Awre, probably where the Gloucester-Chepstow road crosses a high ridge north-east of Blakeney village. (fn. 20) By 1599 the hundred court met at Lydney, (fn. 21) and in the late 17th century and in the 19th it was held at the same time and at the same venue, the Feathers inn, as the Lydney manor court. (fn. 22) Court rolls or court papers survive for 1445-6, 1562, 1588, 1595-1600, 1659-60, 1680-3, 1695-1703, 1711, 1716, and 1863-4. (fn. 23)
Llanthony priory claimed that its tenants in the manor of Alvington were exempt from suit to the hundred, and their exemption was confirmed by the lord of the hundred in 1244. (fn. 24) Alvington was not represented later in the surviving records of the court until the 1860s. The two large parishes of Awre and Lydney were represented by their various tithings, for which constables were appointed by the court and which paid common fines ranging from 1s. 8d. to 6s. (fn. 25)
In each of the years ending at Michaelmas 1317 and 1334 nine ordinary sessions of the hundred court and two leets were held, (fn. 26) and roughly the same number of sessions was held in the 1440s, when numerous pleas were heard. (fn. 27) The surviving rolls for the late 16th century and the late 17th record only the two leets, held in April and October. In 1659 and early 1660, however, there were sessions of the hundred, hearing mainly pleas of debt, once or twice a month; those sessions, which were held in the name of Sir John Winter's trustees and presided over by leading freeholders of the hundred rather than a steward, may have been only a temporary revival in the particular circumstances of the Interregnum. (fn. 28) In the late 16th century the leet enforced the assizes of bread and of ale, appointing breadweighers and aletasters. In 1588 a felon's goods were taken for the lord. (fn. 29) In 1640 Sir John Winter received from Charles I a wide range of franchises in the hundred, some of them probably then only nominal or difficult to enforce; they included goods and chattels of felons, fugitives, and outlaws, treasure trove, wreck, and the right to all royal fish. (fn. 30) From the late 16th century there was duplication of leet jurisdiction in the hundred, for a separate view was held for Awre manor, whose lords continued it after 1668, and the Lydney manor court dealt with some matters which strictly belonged to the leet of the hundred. (fn. 31)
The three parishes of Bledisloe hundred were bordered on the north-west by the Crown's demesne land of the Forest and on the south-east by the river Severn and gained land from both over the centuries, taking assarts from the royal demesne and reclaiming land from the river. The main ancient route through the hundred, the road between Gloucester and Chepstow, made a rough boundary between the hillsides below the Forest and an area of more gently rolling land and riverside levels. The hillsides, which are formed mainly of the Old Red Sandstone, are broken by a series of narrow, deep valleys by which the Soudley, Blackpool, Newerne, and Cone brooks and a number of other streams drain the central plateau of the Forest, reaching the Severn at muddy inlets, known locally as pills. The slopes were thickly wooded in the Middle Ages and large parts of Lydney remained so later, but in other places the woods gave way to large commons. The lower land was mostly in closes from antiquity but there were some open fields and common meadows on the levels and on the land immediately above them. In Awre only the land around its old village required an Act of parliament to inclose it in 1796, but Alvington's inclosure in 1814 was, for a parish of the Forest area, an unusually major reorganization. Lydney's large commons were inclosed late, in 1864.
Except for Awre village, set in a wide loop of the Severn, the principal settlements, Blakeney, Newerne, Lydney, Aylburton, and Alvington, were based on the main Gloucester-Chepstow road. There were a number of other hamlets but some, such as Box and Nass, were later reduced to one or two farmsteads as holdings were amalgamated. Great medieval magnates, including the Berkeleys, held manors in Awre and Lydney, and Llanthony priory acquired Alvington and Aylburton. There were also many substantial ancient freeholds. In the late 16th century much land was absorbed into an estate built up by the Winters of Lydney, and the Lydney estate remained a substantial one in 1994, its owners, the Bathursts, being survivors of the gentry families who had dominated the Forest area in the 18th and 19th centuries. A smaller estate at Hagloe, in Awre, survived in the ownership of the Crown, but the Clanna estate, formed in the 19th century and based in Alvington, had been dispersed.
The small customary tenancies on the manors gave way in the early modern period to a pattern of medium-sized farms. Cattle were raised on the rich pastures at the riverside, and there were numerous orchards, mainly of the local stire cider apple. From the mid 19th century milk production, aided by railway links, was the principal farming enterprise. Salmon fisheries, worked with putcher weirs, stopping boats, and lave nets, provided an additional source of income for the riverside farmers.
The river Severn, the extensive woodland, and streams for powering mills and forges all contributed to the strong trading and industrial element in the local economy. Iron was worked in movable, bloomery forges in the Middle Ages, and Lydney and Alvington were centres of the iron industry in the era of charcoal blast furnaces and water-powered forges in the 17th and 18th centuries. Blakeney was a centre for cornmilling and for tanning, the tanners using oak bark from the Forest. The pills on the river, notably Gatcombe, traded in the products of the Forest area, including timber, iron, coal, cider, and bark. Purton, which was at one of the principal Severn ferries, and Gatcombe were the main outlets for oak timber for naval shipbuilding during the Napoleonic Wars.
Lydney, for many centuries only a minor market town, grew rapidly in significance during the 19th century. After 1812, when a tramroad was built down to a new harbour there, it was one of the main outlets for Forest coal and stone, and its ironworks, adapted to tinplating, became a major employer. Lydney's position was bolstered later by railways, both the main South Wales line, built along the riverside and opened in 1851, and a line linking the Forest to the other side of the Severn by a great bridge at Purton, completed in 1879. Blakeney remained a smaller industrial centre, but the railway built through it to a projected harbour was not a success. Alvington retained some modest industrial activity in the form of paper mills which replaced two of its forges. In the 20th century Lydney town continued to grow: new factories were established there to help offset the decline of industry in the adjoining Forest and housing estates were laid out. In other parts of the hundred agriculture remained a strong element, though subject to the nationwide changes of the late 20th century, including the reduction in the number of farms through amalgamation, the ploughing of old pasture and meadow, and the loss of most of the orchards.