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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The Ancient parish of Abenhall, formerly also called Abinghall, (fn. 1) which lay 16 km. west of Gloucester, was flanked on the south-west by the extraparochial Forest of Dean and included part of the market town of Mitcheldean. (fn. 2) Almost rectangular in shape, the parish covered only 770 a. (fn. 3) (311.6 ha.) and was divided from Mitcheldean parish to the north-west mostly by the old course of the Gloucester-Monmouth road, following in 1620 the bed of a stream which ran only in the winter months; (fn. 4) the road was lined in places with houses belonging to Mitcheldean town. (fn. 5) On the north-east, at Whitemoor, Abenhall was apparently bounded before the 17th century by a great ditch. (fn. 6) The parish included a small peninsula of land containing the southern part of a high tract of land called the Wilderness west of the Monmouth road and three small detached pieces to the south-east within a peninsula of the Forest reaching to Shapridge. (fn. 7)
The links between Abenhall and Mitcheldean, which at one time were both within the jurisdiction of the Forest, (fn. 8) were presumably partly tenurial in origin. (fn. 9) Abenhall, although regarded as a member of Mitcheldean in 1316 (fn. 10) and assessed for the subsidy with it in 1327, (fn. 11) formed a separate manor to which a bailiwick in the Forest was attached by 1301. (fn. 12) In the mid 14th century the parish included land described as a new assart. (fn. 13) One of the detached pieces contained part of Gunn's Mills built on the royal demesne of the Forest in the early 15th century (fn. 14) and included in Abenhall by 1620. (fn. 15) The parish boundaries with the Forest in that area were a matter of dispute in the mid 18th century. (fn. 16) The detached pieces, containing 7 a., were transferred to East Dean civil parish in 1885 and were in that part of East Dean acquired by Littledean in 1953. (fn. 17) The main part of Abenhall was united with Mitcheldean parish in 1935. (fn. 18) The following account relates to the ancient parish of Abenhall apart from the northern end, including the land at the Wilderness, the history of which, dominated by settlement and economic activity connected with Mitcheldean town, is given under Mitcheldean parish. The account also includes the part of Gunn's Mills within the Forest.
Abenhall lies on the Old Red Sandstone. The land rises from deep valleys to over 200 m. in the east, the lowest parts being at just under 100 m. in the south-east and north-east. The southern half of the parish is drained by tributaries of Westbury brook, flowing in valleys with bottoms of alluvial soil, (fn. 19) and the northern corner is crossed by the wooded valley of Longhope brook. Most of the land has long been agricultural and in the later Middle Ages there were several open fields in the parish. The greater part of the surviving woodland, estimated at 122 a. for the whole parish in 1838, was on the eastern side and included Abenhall grove, which adjoined extensive woods in Longhope and Flaxley. (fn. 20) Wilk wood, on the south side of the valley of Longhope brook, was mentioned in 1458. (fn. 21) Its ownership was divided between the manor and the Pyrke family by 1624 when Jasper Lugg, who ran a tannery in Mitcheldean, took a lease of the manor's part. (fn. 22) The Pyrke family's part, later included in its Dean Hall estate, was exploited by timber merchants from Newnham and Chaxhill in the 1860s. (fn. 23)
It has been supposed that the Littledean- Mitcheldean road running east of Gunn's Mills and northwards through Abenhall was part of a Roman road linking Lydney and the Severn crossing at Newnham with the settlement at Ariconium near Weston under Penyard (Herefs.). (fn. 24) The later importance of the road, described in 1227 as a great highway, (fn. 25) is confirmed by the levying of toll on wagons passing through Abenhall between Newnham and Hereford and elsewhere in the later 15th century (fn. 26) and by the claim of the lord of the manor, in 1642, to a customary payment from every wain or cart passing to or from Lea (Herefs., formerly Glos. and Herefs.) with wares. (fn. 27) The road originally ran past Abenhall church, east of which it was joined by a route from Shapridge. (fn. 28) The latter route, described as a horse way in 1227, (fn. 29) was evidently used as a road from Flaxley in 1675. By the early 17th century the road from Littledean took a more direct course, bypassing the church to the west, (fn. 30) and in 1988 the original course, which it joined at Folly Farm, survived north of the church only as a bridle path. In 1769 the section of the road through Abenhall was turnpiked as part of a route linking Mitcheldean with the Gloucester-Newnham road at Elton, in Westbury-on-Severn. The section of the Gloucester-Monmouth road leading up the valley of Longhope brook and turning south-westwards at Barton Corner to follow the Mitcheldean boundary was turnpiked in 1747. (fn. 31) Both turnpikes were discontinued in 1880. (fn. 32)
Settlement in Abenhall, which contained only 22 houses c. 1710 (fn. 33) and 38 houses in 1801, (fn. 34) was scattered except where it belonged to Mitcheldean town. In the centre of the parish, above the valley of Westbury brook's main tributary, was a small group of buildings including the church and the medieval manor house. In the late 19th century, when that house was demolished and a school was built, the only dwellings there were a new rectory house and Church Farm. (fn. 35) The farmhouse, south of the church, dates from a rebuilding in 1858 by the lord of the manor, Edmund Probyn, (fn. 36) and the outbuildings, apparently remodelled at the same date, incorporate earlier ranges. A cottage was built next to the school in the early 20th century. (fn. 37) North-west of the church on the Mitcheldean road a farmstead known as the Folly, which had belonged to the Bridgeman family of Prinknash, was sold to Thomas Pyrke of Littledean in 1740. At that time the farmhouse, which had fallen into decay, was used as a barn. A new farmhouse, built soon afterwards by the Pyrkes, (fn. 38) was refronted and refenestrated in the 20th century. Further south a house known as Fernyfield dates from the 1860s. (fn. 39) There were a few dwellings near the Forest boundary in the later 17th century. (fn. 40) On the western side of the parish several buildings on the east side of Jubilee Road, at Plump Hill, belonged to Abenhall in the mid 19th century. They included Green Farm, (fn. 41) a small 19th-century house. Home Farm, a brick house, was built c. 1900 on the site of a barn called Barefields in the mid 18th century. (fn. 42) Further south there was a dwelling at Ladygrove House by 1624, (fn. 43) and of three dwellings in 1840 at the Spout (later Spout Lane) (fn. 44) only one remained in 1988. At Shapridge, south-east of Abenhall, there was a small farmhouse next to the Forest boundary in the later 17th century. (fn. 45) Perhaps that known in 1715 as Old Abenhall, (fn. 46) it was rebuilt shortly before 1865, probably by Edmund Probyn. (fn. 47)
In the later Middle Ages there was a small settlement beside the Gloucester-Mitcheldean road in the valley of Longhope brook. (fn. 48) Known as Barton, presumably from a barton on the manor estate, the part of the hamlet north of the road included a mill by 1280 and a chapel by 1444. (fn. 49) By the 16th century, when the settlement contained the church house of Abenhall, one tenement had disappeared and another had fallen into ruin, (fn. 50) and by 1785 only a mill near the Longhope boundary remained. (fn. 51)
The muster roll of 1542 lists 30 names for Abenhall (fn. 52) and an estimate of 50 communicants was made for the parish in 1551. (fn. 53) There were said to be 24 households in 1563, (fn. 54) 89 communicants in 1603, (fn. 55) and 60 families in 1650. (fn. 56) Population figures for the whole parish included part of Mitcheldean town, which accounted for many of Abenhall's residents. The population, estimated c. 1710 at 88, (fn. 57) grew in the 18th century and was reckoned c. 1775 to be more than 158. (fn. 58) The increase continued in the early 19th century, the population standing at 185 in 1801 and 239 in 1841, and after a slight decline in the 1840s reached a peak of 307 in 1871; about half of the parishioners lived in the town in 1851. The population, like that of Mitcheldean, fell in the late 19th century and the early 20th, but between 1921 and the time of the union with Mitcheldean in 1935 it recovered from 189 to 230. (fn. 59)
In 1821 an innkeeper lived in Abenhall. (fn. 60) The Rising Sun, a beerhouse standing apart on the Littledean road in the south of Abenhall in 1831, (fn. 61) was burned down in 1865. (fn. 62) The houses in Jubilee Road used standpipes erected by the rural district council in 1897 in an extension of a small scheme for supplying water to Horsepool bottom in the adjoining part of the Forest. The standpipes were removed in 1925 when the scheme was superseded by the main supply. (fn. 63)
Abenhall was presumably among those lands called Dean which William son of Norman held in 1086 and which Edward the Confessor had exempted from the payment of geld in return for the guarding of the Forest. (fn. 64) In the 13th century a woodward held land and the bailiwick of Abenhall in the Forest from the Crown in fee by a cash rent. (fn. 65) The land became part of ABENHALL manor, which in 1301 was held from the Crown by the serjeanty of keeping the bailiwick and by a cash rent of 20s. paid at Newnham to the constable of St. Briavels castle. (fn. 66) The office of woodward of the bailiwick descended with the manor until the late 18th century. (fn. 67) In the late 14th century and the 15th, however, the manor was thought to be held from St. Briavels castle by knight service. (fn. 68)
The first men known to have held the manor were surnamed of Abenhall. (fn. 69) William, a woodward in 1216 and 1237, (fn. 70) was presumably the lord of Abenhall, and his son Ralph (fl. 1255) (fn. 71) had evidently acquired a moiety of Mitcheldean manor by the 1240s, when he was paying 30s. rent to the Crown. (fn. 72) The same or another Ralph, keeper of the bailiwick in the 1260s, (fn. 73) was succeeded in Abenhall manor at his death c. 1301 by his son John. (fn. 74) In 1317 John's brother and heir Ralph granted the manor, described as a messuage and two ploughlands, to another brother Reynold. (fn. 75) Reynold (d. c. 1341) was succeeded by his son Ralph, (fn. 76) and Ralph died c. 1347 leaving an infant daughter Margaret as his heir. (fn. 77) Margaret and her husband Lawrence Greyndour obtained seisin of Ralph's lands in 1358 (fn. 78) and her second husband Robert of Huntley retained them after her death in 1357. Her son and heir John Greyndour (fn. 79) later held Abenhall manor and part of Mitcheldean manor and at his death in 1415 or 1416 was succeeded by his son Robert. (fn. 80) At Robert's death in 1443 a third of Abenhall manor passed in dower to his wife Joan, who later married John Barre, and two thirds to his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Reynold West, Lord La Warre. After Elizabeth's death in 1452 her second husband John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, (fn. 81) retained her part until his death in 1470 when it reverted to her heir William Walwyn. From William (d. 1471) it passed to his daughter Alice, wife of Thomas Baynham, (fn. 82) to whom the rest of the manor reverted at Joan Barre's death in 1484. (fn. 83) Thomas died in 1500 (fn. 84) and from Alice the manor, together with part of Mitcheldean, descended until 1696 usually with an estate in Ruardean. (fn. 85) In 1527 Sir Christopher Baynham settled Abenhall manor on the marriage of his son George and Cecily Gage, (fn. 86) and in 1565 their son Richard (d. 1580) held the woodwardship of Abenhall. (fn. 87) In 1611 the estates passed to the Vaughans, a leading Roman Catholic family, from whom they were confiscated several times. (fn. 88) In 1696 Abenhall manor was sold, to pay the debts of John Vaughan (d. 1694) and his dead brother Thomas, to Richard Vaughan of Courtfield in Welsh Bicknor (Mon., later Herefs.). Richard (d. 1697) left the manor to John Vaughan, the son of his second marriage, who sold it in 1724 to Stephen Cooke of Leigh. (fn. 89) Stephen settled the manor on his son Thomas, who sold it in 1740 to John Howell. (fn. 90) From John (d. 1778) it passed to his grandson Edmund Probyn of Newland. (fn. 91) By 1799 Edmund had given the manor to his son John, rector of Abenhall and archdeacon of Llandaff (Glam.), (fn. 92) who was succeeded at his death in 1843 by his son John. (fn. 93) By the mid 1850s John had settled 403 a. in Abenhall on his son Edmund and in 1872 Edmund sold that land to Henrietta Davies and Charles Barton, (fn. 94) the latter of whom had acquired Folly farm (90 a.) from Duncombe Pyrke in 1870. (fn. 95) Henrietta, one of the owners of the nearby Wilderness estate, (fn. 96) died in 1877 leaving Charles, her niece's husband, the land she had purchased. (fn. 97) Charles's estate had passed to his daughter Katherine Barton by 1906 and was broken up after her death in 1912, (fn. 98) when it covered 530 a. Church and Folly farms were purchased by their tenants, c. 175 a. by Frederick Hart, and c. 125 a. by the Gloucestershire county council's smallholdings committee. (fn. 99)
The manor house was recorded from 1301 (fn. 100) and the site may have included the hall mentioned in 1444 and 1471. (fn. 101) In 1481 Thomas and Alice Baynham were licensed to have an oratory in the house. (fn. 102) The manor house was occupied by a tenant by 1625, (fn. 103) and Thomas Dowle, a later farmer of the demesne, was assessed on two hearths in 1672. (fn. 104) The house stood east of the church (fn. 105) and was demolished with its outbuildings in the mid 19th century. (fn. 106)
Two ploughteams were recorded at Abenhall in 1220 (fn. 107) and two ploughlands in 1317. (fn. 108) The manor included 60 a. of arable in 1301 and 140 a. of arable in demesne and 6 a. of wood in 1317. (fn. 109) In 1341 it included 80 a. of arable in open fields and 4 a. of coppice woodland but no meadow land or pasture in severalty and in 1347 it had, in addition to 60 a. of arable, 60 a. of new assarts, 2 a. of meadow, and 4 a. of wood. (fn. 110) In 1444 the manor had 100 a. of arable, 4 a. of meadow, and 20 a. of woodland. (fn. 111) In the later 15th century the demesne was possibly held in hand by Thomas Baynham, who by 1464 farmed that part, but not the woodland, belonging to Joan Barre in dower. (fn. 112) In 1620 two tenants held moieties of the demesne (fn. 113) and in 1685 most of the demesne was farmed by Thomas Dowle. (fn. 114)
The freeholders recorded on the manor numbered 35 in 1301, 10 in 1317, and 24 in 1341 and 1347. The customary tenants were described in 1301 as 24 cottars owing autumn bedrips, perhaps commuted. In 1317, however, there were 6 cottars holding a yardland between them and performing labour services in August and September, and in 1347 eight tenants worked for two days in the harvest. (fn. 115) Tenure by lease was recorded from 1562, (fn. 116) and in 1620 on Joan Vaughan's estate in Abenhall and Mitcheldean, where some tenants had accumulated holdings, there were 18 leaseholders, mostly with tenures for 3 lives or 80 or 99 years with heriots and additional rents of hens or capons payable. Five of the holdings were on lease for 21 years. While the largest holdings were presumably the moieties of the demesne, most were probably less than 15 a. and several were c. 2 a. Many of the tenants lived in Mitcheldean town as did most of the c. 28 freeholders, who owed cash rents to the estate. (fn. 117) Rentals of the Vaughan family's estate in 1634 and 1685 both listed a total of c. 29 tenants. (fn. 118)
In the mid 14th century the open arable in Abenhall lay in more than one field, including that known in 1327 as Old Abenhall field. (fn. 119) At least one open field remained in the early 15th century, when a grant of two dole lands in it was made, (fn. 120) but most, if not all, farmland had been inclosed by the mid 16th century, when arable land in the northern part of the parish included pieces known as pit furlong and pit dole. (fn. 121) The parish contained several sheepcots in the 17th century. (fn. 122) Meadow land was confined mostly to the valley of Longhope brook, where Long meadow (12 a.) lay athwart the stream and partly in Mitcheldean. (fn. 123) Although Abenhall was said in the later 18th century to include a considerable area of common land overgrown with ferns and bushes, (fn. 124) no commonable land was identified in the parish in 1838. (fn. 125) In the late 13th century Ralph of Abenhall claimed common rights for himself and his men throughout the Forest of Dean (fn. 126) and in the 1740s John Howell asserted similar rights for the manor of Abenhall within the bailiwick of Abenhall. (fn. 127) In 1762 the parish paid 3s. 4d. herbage money for common rights in the extraparochial land of the Forest, (fn. 128) and five landholders exercised those rights in 1860. (fn. 129)
A rental of 1780 listed eight tenants on Abenhall manor, (fn. 130) which in 1799 included farms of 85 a., 80 a., 54 a., and 26 a. The largest, held by the Scudamore family (fn. 131) for most of the 18th and 19th centuries, was Church farm. (fn. 132) Folly farm on the Pyrke family's estate comprised 83 a. in 1773. (fn. 133) Of eight farmers living in the parish in 1831 five employed labour, the number of resident farmhands being 25. (fn. 134) In 1840 the principal holdings were Church farm with 156 a., Shapridge farm with 105 a., Folly farm with 87 a., and 91 a. farmed from Gunn's Mills. On the west side of the parish were several smaller holdings, including those centred on Green Farm (30 a.) and Barefields (12 a.). (fn. 135) The pattern of landholding remained much the same in the early 20th century (fn. 136) and the west side of the parish, where Katherine Barton created two new tenancies c. 1911, (fn. 137) was confirmed as an area of smallholdings in 1913, when most of the land there was acquired by the county council's smallholdings committee. At that time 13 people had holdings of 18 a. or less (fn. 138) and Church, Shapridge, and Folly farms, all with over 100 a., were the largest farms in the parish. (fn. 139) The number of recorded agricultural occupiers, most of them tenant farmers, rose from 12 in 1896 to 22 in 1926, when 7 had under 50 a., another 4 under 20 a., and another 9 under 5 a. (fn. 140)
In the late 18th century more land in the parish was devoted to arable than to pasture. (fn. 141) In 1801 the main crops were wheat and barley (fn. 142) and in 1838 the parish was reckoned to contain 306 a. of arable and 239 a. of meadow and pasture. (fn. 143) In 1866, although c. 65 a. in the southern part of Abenhall grove had been cleared for arable, (fn. 144) the proportions of arable and grassland were much the same, with wheat, turnips, and grass leys being the main crops in the rotation and 162 a. being permanent grassland. (fn. 145) Sheep farming was of importance, 711 sheep being recorded that year, and only a few cattle and pigs were then kept. (fn. 146) In the later 19th century and the early 20th much land under the plough was turned permanently to grass and in 1926, when permanent grassland covered some 424 a., the amount of cereals and root crops grown was minimal. The flocks and beef herds were enlarged in the early 20th century, 1,330 sheep and 146 cattle, including dairy cows, being returned in 1926 compared with 549 and 87 respectively in 1896. (fn. 147) Orchards, recorded in Abenhall from the early 15th century, (fn. 148) were scattered throughout most parts of the parish in 1840 (fn. 149) and covered over 32 a. in 1926. (fn. 150)
Abenhall manor had a water mill in the early 14th century. (fn. 151) Two dilapidated water mills recorded there in the 1340s (fn. 152) were presumably on Longhope brook, where two mills later stood. Barton mill, recorded in 1280, (fn. 153) was a corn mill in the 17th century. (fn. 154) It was sold to Nathaniel Pyrke in 1693 (fn. 155) and, after several more changes of ownership, to Maynard Colchester in 1747. (fn. 156) He closed it soon afterwards. (fn. 157) The other mill, perhaps that which the lady of the manor had in hand in the early 16th century, (fn. 158) stood downstream at the boundary with Longhope. (fn. 159) It belonged to William Bridgeman (d. 1581), whose son Thomas (fn. 160) sold it, then a grist mill called Wyatt's Mill, in 1597 to John Ayleway. (fn. 161) The site passed with Ayleway's estate, which became part of the Colchester family's possessions in 1641, (fn. 162) and the mill had disappeared by 1623. (fn. 163) A corn mill built in its place by Robert Kirke, a Mitcheldean mercer, in the early 1630s (fn. 164) was worked until the mid 18th century with Barton mill. (fn. 165) Known later as Abenhall mill, it operated until the late 19th century. (fn. 166) Some 19th-century buildings survived in 1988.
Gunn's Mills, on a short tributary of Westbury brook, stood west of the Littledean-Mitcheldean road below Shapridge. At its greatest extent, in the mid 19th century, it formed a complex of buildings and ponds spread over four adjacent sites. (fn. 167) The principal buildings and the earliest ranges were at the lowest site, (fn. 168) which was that part of the Crown demesne on which John Cone of Mitcheldean built a water mill in or shortly before 1435. (fn. 169) In 1540 John Counteys and his wife Margaret, the daughter and heiress of another John Cone, quitclaimed a corn mill there to Richard Brayne. (fn. 170) The clothier William Gunn, the Braynes' tenant by 1596, (fn. 171) was operating two fulling mills there in 1601 (fn. 172) and enlarged the mill pond in 1610. A furnace for casting iron was built there after 1625 and was owned by Sir John Winter in 1634. (fn. 173) John Brayne seized it in 1644 (fn. 174) and Winter had regained possession by 1653. (fn. 175) The furnace was apparently not in use in 1680 (fn. 176) and was rebuilt in 1682 and 1683, (fn. 177) perhaps by Messrs. Hall and Scudamore who were later said to be partners in a new forge at Gunn's Mills. (fn. 178) The site, which after the Restoration was apparently held for a time by the constable of St. Briavels castle on behalf of the Crown, passed to William Brayne (d. 1693), who left it to his daughters Margaret Maddox, later wife of Joseph Halsey, and Rebecca. (fn. 179) They sold Gunn's Mills in 1702 to the ironmaster Thomas Foley of Stoke Edith (Herefs.) (fn. 180) and the Foleys produced iron there intermittently until at least 1736. (fn. 181) By 1741 the ironworks had been converted as a paper mill, worked by Joseph Lloyd (fn. 182) (d. 1761). (fn. 183) His business, including a corn mill a short distance upstream, (fn. 184) was continued by his wife Hannah and his son Joseph. (fn. 185) The latter, who purchased Gunn's Mills in 1780, (fn. 186) increased paper production by converting the corn mill as part of the paper manufactory and by erecting new buildings on a third site, further upstream within the Forest. Although his son Joseph took over the business in 1805 (fn. 187) he retained an interest in it until 1816. (fn. 188) After the younger Joseph's death in 1842 Gunn's Mills was occupied by tenants under the Lloyd family. (fn. 189) It was idle between 1848 and 1851 when paper making was resumed by John Birt. He provided several new buildings and installed new machinery, including steam engines, and, having bankrupted himself, (fn. 190) was succeeded as lessee in 1855 by Aaron Goold. At Goold's death in 1862 his three sons took over the business, which ceased in 1879 following the diversion of water from the stream to the new Cinderford waterworks. (fn. 191) The machinery had been removed by 1890 when a farmer bought Gunn's Mills. (fn. 192)
In the 20th century many of the buildings were demolished or fell into ruin and the ponds were drained or filled in. At the lowest site the surviving ruins in 1988 included the furnace, rebuilt in 1682 and 1683 apparently to an earlier plan with a square hearth, and, on top of it, a rubble and timber-framed building provided for the paper mill in the mid 18th century. (fn. 193) On the west of the site the former mill house incorporates a brick range of the early 19th century (fn. 194) from which the third storey was removed in 1921, when it was a farmhouse. (fn. 195) By the late 1980s, when a building contractor operated from the site, lawns covered the area, formerly a pool, south of the house. At the next two sites upstream, the higher of which contained the corn mill operating in the mid 18th century (fn. 196) and washing mills in the mid 19th, (fn. 197) the buildings had disappeared. Those remaining at the highest site, within the Forest, were among those built by Joseph Lloyd in the late 18th century or early 19th and included a former paper mill and a range converted as a dwelling in the 1970s. (fn. 198)
The urban growth at the Mitcheldean end of Abenhall and the proximity of the Forest of Dean led to a diversification of employment in the parish, evident in 1608 when 48 men, including apprentices, followed a variety of trades compared with 13 engaged in agriculture. (fn. 199) In 1831 there were 28 families in the parish supported by agriculture and 17 by trade. (fn. 200) The trade and industry located at the northern end of the parish, including quarrying, were integral to the town's economy and are treated in Mitcheldean's history. (fn. 201) Among the inhabitants of the rural part of Abenhall in 1851 were a shoemaker, a sawyer, a shopkeeper, a miner, and an engine driver. (fn. 202)
By the mid 1460s a court usually met twice a year in Abenhall to combine view of frankpledge and a court baron for Abenhall manor and part of Mitcheldean manor. It dealt with cases of assault, bloodshed, and illicit gaming and enforced the assize of ale (fn. 203) and in 1482 it heard pleas of debt and trespass. (fn. 204) A court book survives for 1620-1, a court roll for 1642, and records of presentments and other court papers for 1581-1607, 1622-40, 1653, 1687, and 1691. In those years the court, sometimes sitting as a court of survey, also dealt with tenurial and other estate matters, including management of woodland, and with affrays, the assize of bread, and the maintenance of highways and watercourses. In 1603 it ordered the repair of the Abenhall parish stocks. Much of its business related to Mitcheldean town and it appointed two clerks for the town's market as well as two constables, two aletasters, and two bread weighers. The last two offices had been combined by 1620 and their holders later acted also as fish and flesh tasters. By 1624 a leather sealer was also appointed. The offices of clerks of the market had evidently lapsed by the late 1620s. (fn. 205)
Two churchwardens were recorded in Abenhall from the mid 16th century. (fn. 206) In 1825 the vestry ordered them to replace the parish stocks, which were near the churchyard. The money needed for church maintenance was allotted out of the poor rate in 1824, (fn. 207) but a separate church rate was levied after the reform of the poor law in 1834. In the mid 19th century there was only one churchwarden, usually the head of the Scudamore family of Church farm who also served as surveyor of the highways. (fn. 208) Poor relief was administered in the late 18th century and the early 19th by one overseer, although in the 1820s two overseers were appointed. The usual forms of relief were applied and c. 5 people received regular payments in the early 1760s and c. 10 in the mid 1790s; (fn. 209) 19 people were given regular help in 1803. (fn. 210) From 1786 the parish subscribed to the Gloucester infirmary (fn. 211) and for two years from 1825 the vestry retained a surgeon. From 1823 the poor were farmed by the governor of the Littledean workhouse, to which most of them were admitted. (fn. 212) The annual cost of relief, having risen from £65 in 1776 to £140 in 1803 and £278 in 1815, (fn. 213) had fallen by 1825 to £166; and it remained at that level, apart from 1832 and 1833 (fn. 214) when the parish helped a woman and her children to emigrate to America and apprenticed a boy to a Mitcheldean nailer. (fn. 215) Abenhall was included in Westbury-on-Severn poor-law union in 1835, (fn. 216) in East Dean and United Parishes rural district in 1895, (fn. 217) and, as part of Mitcheldean civil parish, in the Forest of Dean district in 1974.
The church at Abenhall was recorded from 1291. At that time the rector of Westbury-on-Severn had a portion of 2s. in it, (fn. 218) indicating that it probably originated as a chapel of Westbury church; the portion was still paid in 1535. (fn. 219) The benefice was a rectory, the first known incumbent being instituted in 1318, (fn. 220) and it was united with Mitcheldean rectory in 1946. (fn. 221) In 1912 the adjoining part of the Forest, namely Shapridge and parts of the Edge Hills area and Plump Hill, had been transferred from Holy Trinity parish to Abenhall for ecclesiastical purposes. (fn. 222)
The advowson belonged to the lord of the manor in 1317 (fn. 223) and descended with the manor until the mid 19th century. (fn. 224) The Crown filled vacancies in 1349 and 1351 when it had custody of the manor, (fn. 225) and in 1472 John Barre, whose wife was entitled to every third turn by reason of dower, made a presentation. (fn. 226) The Crown was said to be patron in 1563. (fn. 227) In 1623, at the first vacancy under the Roman Catholic Vaughan family, a presentation by Joan Vaughan's trustees was quashed and a nominee of Oxford University was instituted. (fn. 228) Later vacancies under the Vaughans were each filled by a patron for the turn. (fn. 229) After 1846, when John Probyn (d. 1863) settled the advowson, subject to his life interest, in trust for sale, the patronage changed hands several times. (fn. 230) The bishop of Worcester acquired it by an exchange in 1893 and it passed to the Lord Chancellor, acting for the Crown, as part of an exchange in 1908. (fn. 231) The Lord Chancellor, who after the union of benefices was entitled to exercise the patronage alternately with the Diocesan Board of Patronage, relinquished his right to the board c. 1970. (fn. 232)
The rector owned all the tithes of the parish. By the late 1670s moduses had long been accepted for milch cows, calves, and garden produce; workhouses and oxen were exempted from payments by parishioners for the grazing of livestock. (fn. 233) The tithes were commuted from 1839 for a corn rent charge of £140. (fn. 234) In the early 16th century the rector rented a house and land from the lady of the manor for 2s. 3d.; (fn. 235) the house, on a close given for a chantry in the church, was rebuilt by the rector after 1529 and was sold in 1549. (fn. 236) In the later 16th century the glebe comprised c. 17 a. and a cottage, and in the late 1670s it contained c. 31 a. and no buildings. (fn. 237) It covered c. 27 a. in 1840 (fn. 238) and was sold c. 1919. (fn. 239) James Davies, rector from 1837, built a large rectory house, for the completion of which Queen Anne's Bounty granted £200 in 1846. (fn. 240) The house, standing west of the church on land formerly part of the manor, (fn. 241) was sold c. 1949. (fn. 242) The rectory was valued at £4 in 1291, (fn. 243) £4 5s. 5d. clear in 1535, (fn. 244) £50 in 1750, (fn. 245) and £142 in 1856. (fn. 246)
Because of the living's poverty many of Abenhall's rectors, as in 1291, were pluralists. (fn. 247) In 1334 the rector, John Honsom, was imprisoned at St. Briavels for poaching in the Forest of Dean. (fn. 248) William Budge, rector from 1529, was said in 1548 to have been non-resident for three years. He was deprived in 1554 for being married (fn. 249) but served the parish again in 1563 when the rectory was vacant and he had the living of Mitcheldean. (fn. 250) Several rectors enjoyed long incumbencies, notably Anthony Sterry, who was presented in 1568 (fn. 251) and became a graduate after 1584, when he was living in Oxford. (fn. 252) Later he was also vicar of Lydney, where he resided, (fn. 253) and employed a curate at Abenhall. Curates were also employed by Sterry's successor at Abenhall, Edward Potter, (fn. 254) rector from 1623 and vicar of Longhope from 1626. Described as a preaching minister in 1650, Potter had been deprived of the rectory by 1655 and had recovered it by 1662, only to be deprived again by 1669. (fn. 255) Richard Hall, rector of Mitcheldean, also held Abenhall from 1685 until his death in 1723. (fn. 256) John Probyn, presented in 1785 by his father from whom he later acquired the manor, became archdeacon of Llandaff (Glam.) (fn. 257) but lived in Newland, where he became vicar for a short time, and later in Longhope, where he was a landowner. (fn. 258) Abenhall was often served for him by curates, including from 1813 his son Edmund, to whom he gave the rectory in 1827. Both Edmund (d. 1837) (fn. 259) and his successor James Davies, who took up residence in the parish, employed curates. (fn. 260) Davies, a friend of prominent Tractarians, remained rector until 1873. (fn. 261)
Obits in the church were founded by John Woodward and by Lady (Alice) Dennis. The latter's foundation was supported from the close on which the rector had his house (fn. 262) and presumably commemorated her first husband Thomas Baynham (d. 1500), (fn. 263) to whose anniversary the rector paid 2s. in 1535. (fn. 264) The endowments of both obits were sold to William Sawle and William Bridges in 1549. (fn. 265) Land held for church purposes in the early 16th century was appropriated by Joseph Vaughan before 1577. (fn. 266)
The church of ST. MICHAEL, so called by c. 1710 (fn. 267) although it bore a dedication to St. James in 1444 (fn. 268) and to St. Augustine in 1452 and 1580, (fn. 269) is built of sandstone rubble and has a chancel with north organ chamber, a nave with south aisle and porch, and a south-west tower. (fn. 270) The nave and chancel, which have no division between them, are of the later 13th century and the aisle and tower were added in the early 14th century, the chancel windows being renewed at that time. In the 15th century a new west window was put into the tower and the upper part of the tower was remodelled or rebuilt. On the tower, above a blocked west doorway, a carving of a shield bearing picks and spades, tools of miners, (fn. 271) was replaced by a copy in 1982. (fn. 272) The nave roof, which is unframed, may be 15th-century. The south doorway and its rear arch are round-headed and, although similar to plain 12th-century work, are probably of 1749, when the aisle was rebuilt with its roof to a lower pitch. (fn. 273) The porch, which also has a roundheaded doorway, was presumably added at that time. The aisle windows, of which that on the south side was round-headed in the late 18th century, (fn. 274) were given 14th-century style tracery, apparently after 1857 (fn. 275) and before the church was restored to designs by A. W. Maberly in 1874. At the restoration, financed by a fund inaugurated by J. W. Gregg, who was both rector and patron, the ceiling and a west gallery were removed from the nave and a vestry was built. (fn. 276) The organ chamber was created c. 1885 by extending the vestry westwards. (fn. 277)
The font, which dates from the 15th century, is of local workmanship and the octagonal bowl is richly carved, six faces displaying family coats of arms and two the implements of miners and smiths. (fn. 278) The glass includes 14th-century fragments, perhaps portraying St. Catherine, in the chancel north window. (fn. 279) The chancel contains memorials to members of the Pyrke family, notably brasses to Richard (d. 1609), his wife, and two sons, and an ornate monument erected by Mary (née Colchester) to her husband Nathaniel (d. 1715). (fn. 280) There are three bells, the treble cast in the 14th century, the second by John Pennington in 1655, and the tenor probably by Roger and Richard Purdue in 1682. (fn. 281) Among the plate are a paten given by Mary Pyrke in 1732 and a chalice acquired in 1734. (fn. 282) The surviving registers, which begin in 1596, include many entries for Mitcheldean during the incumbency of Richard Hall (1685-1723) and distinguish all entries for the extraparochial Forest of Dean from 1813. (fn. 283)
There were said to be no recusants in Abenhall in 1603 (fn. 284) but absenteeism from church was commonly reported by the early 17th century. Dissent grew after the Restoration; at least 6 men stayed away from church in 1676 and a Quaker lived in the parish in 1685. (fn. 285) In 1695 a house was registered for worship by Presbyerians, (fn. 286) presumably the Independent group which in 1715 had the same minister as the Mitcheldean Independent church. Other parishioners belonged to the Mitcheldean church at that time. (fn. 287) The Independents also had a meeting in Abenhall in the early 19th century (fn. 288) when they used a house on the Gloucester road at the end of Mitcheldean town. (fn. 289)
In 1833 a Sunday school supported by voluntary contributions and teaching 20 children was begun in Abenhall (fn. 290) and in 1846 the parish had two dame schools with 20 and 6 day and 29 and 7 Sunday pupils respectively. (fn. 291) A school built west of the church near the Littledean-Mitcheldean road in 1850 housed a day school, which in 1875, as Abenhall C. of E. school, had a daily attendance of 30 and was supported by voluntary contributions and pence. It was then owned and controlled by Henrietta Davies (fn. 292) and later it was supported by the Barton family. The school, which had an average attendance of 50 in 1885 and 23 in 1902, (fn. 293) became in 1903 one of the first to be closed by the county education committee, the children being transferred to schools at Mitcheldean and Plump Hill. (fn. 294) The building continued in use as a Sunday school and was apparently given to the parish by the representatives of Katherine Barton in 1913. It served as a parish room for many years (fn. 295) but was unused in 1988.
In 1930 the county education committee opened a senior school for Mitcheldean and adjoining parishes in new buildings in the north of Abenhall. (fn. 296) The school, the average attendance at which was 181 by 1938, (fn. 297) became a secondary modern school under the 1944 Educ ation Act and at a reorganization of Forest of Dean secondary education in 1985 was made a comprehensive school called Dene Magna school. New buildings had been added to the site in 1961 and 1980, and in 1988 there were 568 pupils on the roll, drawn from a wide area including Westbury-on-Severn and Ruardean. (fn. 298)