A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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Prescott, lying on the Cotswold escarpment five miles north-north-east of Cheltenham and two and a half miles west of Winchcombe, was an extraparochial place that became a parish under the Extra-Parochial Places Act of 1857. (fn. 1) The parish was enlarged in 1883 by the area of Rushy Cockbury farm (103 a.), formerly a detached part of Winchcombe, (fn. 2) and in 1935 by the whole of Stanley Pontlarge (684 a.). (fn. 3) The history printed here, however, is confined to the area of 500 a. (fn. 4) that comprised Prescott up to 1883.
The parish was elongated in shape, 2 miles long and less than a mile across at its widest. The western boundary, which skirts the earthworks of Nottingham Hill and was defined in an 8th-century charter, (fn. 5) remained unaltered in 1962. Most of the northern boundary of the parish was marked by the Tirle brook, and the short southern boundary touched the turnpike road from Cheltenham to Winchcombe. The eastern boundary followed field-boundaries round Rushy Cockbury farm to near the head of the combe down which the Tirle brook flows, followed the brook for 500 yards, and then veered off towards the minor road from Gotherington to Gretton, meeting it at the point where it is crossed by the railway line (fn. 6) (built 1904–6) from Cheltenham to Honeybourne junction. (fn. 7)
The parish lies on a steep slope facing northeastward, and the land rises from under 250 ft. in the north to over 800 ft. in the south. The successive strata of Lower, Middle, and Upper Lias are crowned, above 750 ft., by the Inferior Oolite, from which stone has been quarried, (fn. 8) and the soil is clay and stone-brash. Arable farming was practised in the 13th century, and the ridge and furrow visible on the northern and eastern sides of Prescott in 1962 marked the position of former open fields. Since the Middle Ages, however, most of Prescott is likely to have provided permanent grassland, rough grazing, woodland, and orchards. (fn. 9)
There is no village in Prescott, and no documentary evidence that the few houses there were other than scattered farmsteads and their associated cottages. There may have been a small nucleated village round the chapel. (fn. 10) The traditional site of the chapel is a small level piece of ground near the east side of Prescott at 400 ft., (fn. 11) 100 yards south-east of Chapel Close Farm, which was formerly called Orchard Farm and Manor Farm. The site, a terrace above the stream, would have been a fairly good choice for a village, and unevennesses visible in the pasture in 1962 may indicate the foundations of houses. Two hundred yards south-east of this site is Manor Farm, near which some houses were demolished in the early 20th century. (fn. 12)
In 1327 there were five taxpayers in Prescott. (fn. 13) In 1672 eleven houses, none of them large, were assessed for tax, (fn. 14) and c. 1700 there were said to be 12 houses and about 50 inhabitants. (fn. 15) In the 18th century the population fell, (fn. 16) but in the 19th rose from just over 30 to over 60 in the middle of the century. By 1901 it had fallen again to 40, and from 1911 it fell steadily. (fn. 17) The houses lie between the 300-ft. and 600-ft. contour lines, below the line of springs issuing from the Middle Lias, on sites that have probably been occupied since the 16th century; the exception is Prescott Hill Farm, below the earthworks of Nottingham Hill, at 700 ft., where there may have been no building before 1807.
The buildings at Prescott Hill Farm, all of rubble masonry with Cotswold stone roofs, centre on a large barn built by Thomas Peacey, son of the lord of the manor, in 1807. The row of three small cottages, later enlarged and thrown together to form the farm-house, may be of the same date: one end of the cottages and one side of the barn are covered with pigeon-holes. Two unusual cart-houses beside the barn were built c. 1860. (fn. 18) The farm-house of Pardon Hill farm (it was formerly Pardon Hill Lodge) is timber-framed with a brick filling and a thatched roof. The other houses were built in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, of rubble masonry or brick. Pardon Hill and Prescott House originated in the 17th century or earlier: in 1962 there survived, built into each, the core of a Cotswold farm-house, and though afterwards enlarged each was used as a farm-house in 1830. (fn. 19) Prescott House was greatly enlarged by the Earl of Ellenborough between 1848 and 1871 as an elaborate Gothic building, on a suitably remote and commanding site. Pardon Hill was enlarged at a later date, in the style of an Elizabethan Cotswold manorhouse.
Prescott House was used from 1936 to 1956 as a club-house for the Bugatti Owners' Club, which exploits the steepness of the ground to provide a hill-climb for its members' cars; since 1956 the club has used the former dairy of Pardon Hill as its clubhouse. (fn. 20)
The road across the northern end of Prescott leads from Gotherington to Gretton, at each of which railway stations were opened in 1906 and closed in 1955 and 1960 respectively. (fn. 21) Several steep lanes lead from this road to the houses and cottages. Main water and electricity were available by the Second World War. (fn. 22)
Prescott, which was not mentioned in Domesday, (fn. 23) is said to have been part of the foundation grant to the monastery at Tewkesbury. (fn. 24) The manor of PRESCOTT was among those granted or confirmed to the abbey by William, Earl of Gloucester (fn. 25) (d. 1183), and in 1291 the abbot had two plough-lands in Prescott. (fn. 26) In 1535 the abbey's income from the manor was received by the cellarer. (fn. 27)
In 1545 the Crown granted the reversion of the manor, which had been leased in 1539 and again (for 21 years) in 1544, (fn. 28) to Walter Compton. (fn. 29) In 1570 Compton sold a chief messuage and lands said to amount to one-third of the manor to John Dobbins, who died in 1583 and was succeeded by his son John. (fn. 30) The younger John at his death in 1585 held a manor of Prescott, and left as his heir a son Thomas. (fn. 31) The same estate, though not described as a manor, was held by Henry Dobbins at his death in 1597, and passed to Henry's son Henry, (fn. 32) who was in turn succeeded by his son Henry in 1622. (fn. 33) The later history of this estate has not been traced, but members of the Dobbins family continued to deal with land in Prescott until the early 18th century, (fn. 34) and one of them, Edward, was living in a small house there in 1672. (fn. 35)
Walter Compton sold two other estates in Prescott, perhaps to the sitting tenants, in 1570, (fn. 36) and at his death in 1585 held no land there. (fn. 37) In 1595 his grandson Walter, son of William, sold or confirmed the manor of Prescott to John Playdell, (fn. 38) who in 1608 sold it to Sir John Tracy of Toddington, (fn. 39) later Viscount Tracy of Rathcoole. It then passed through the hands of, apparently, several groups of trustees before passing to Sir Humphrey Tracy of Stanway, Sir John's third cousin, (fn. 40) in 1638. (fn. 41) It was presumably a separate property that was settled in 1614 on the marriage of Sir Paul Tracy of Stanway, (fn. 42) grandfather of Sir Humphrey.
The manor then descended with the Stanway estate of the Tracy family. (fn. 43) Sir Thomas Meres, named as lord of Prescott and Stanway manors 1681–6, (fn. 44) was presumably a lessee, for both manors were inherited by the elder daughter of Anthony Tracy (otherwise Keck), Henrietta Charlotte, wife of Edward Devereux, Viscount Hereford. (fn. 45) She sold her estate at Prescott in 1799 to William Peacey. Peacey bought two other estates in Prescott, owning almost all the land there, and is the first major landowner known to have lived at Prescott: in 1801 he was described as of Pardon Hill. On his death in 1815 the estate passed to the four children of his son, and in 1848 they sold it to Edward Law, Earl of Ellenborough (fn. 46) and former Governor-General of India. After his death in 1871 without surviving children (fn. 47) the estate passed to Edward Richmond and, before 1897, to Mrs. Noblet (perhaps Richmond's daughter), who retained it until 1934. The estate was bought by J. P. Holborow of Rushy Cockbury and of the Gloucestershire Dairy Co. Ltd., (fn. 48) but parts of the estate were subsequently sold and in 1962 the Gloucestershire Dairy Co. Ltd. owned only Pardon Hill farm. (fn. 49)
Up to the Dissolution Prescott was a single estate, though in 1535 there were evidently freehold as well as customary tenants. (fn. 50) In 1570 the estate was divided so that there was one large freehold (the manor), one intermediate, and several small freeholds. (fn. 51) At the end of the 18th century the large estate absorbed almost all the smaller ones, (fn. 52) but in the mid-20th century ownership was again divided. In 1962 there were four farms, of 100–200 a. (fn. 53)
The existence of two plough-lands in Prescott belonging to Tewkesbury Abbey in 1291 (fn. 54) suggests arable farming, and the arrangement of ridge and furrow visible in 1962 showed that at some date the land had, where flat enough, been used for open fields. From the late 16th century, however, until the mid-19th century, when the chief crops were said to be wheat and roots, (fn. 55) there is no evidence for arable husbandry in Prescott. In 1535 nearly a third of Tewkesbury Abbey's income from Prescott was from the farm of a sheep-house, (fn. 56) and subsequent particulars of land specify closes of pasture, orchards, and woodland, but no arable. (fn. 57) The mention in 1517 of a pasture called Cockbury furlong (fn. 58) may indicate that there had once been open fields at the south end of the parish, where the land is high but relatively flat. In the early 19th century Rudge reported that the land was largely pasture, (fn. 59) and there are indications that there was little arable land at the end of the century. (fn. 60) In the 1930's about one-seventh of the land was arable, half was permanent grassland, and the rest was woodland, orchards, and rough grazing. (fn. 61) In 1962 nearly the whole of Prescott was grazing land, and it was used for raising beef-cattle, sheep, and pigs.
In 1327 two of the five taxpayers in Prescott were surnamed 'mason', (fn. 62) and may be presumed to have followed that calling. The population has otherwise been almost exclusively agricultural: in 1801, 1811, and 1821 agriculture was the only occupation. A solitary retail tradesman occurs in 1831, (fn. 63) but in directories from 1856 to 1939 the only occupation listed under Prescott was that of farmer. (fn. 64)
Administratively, Prescott was a member of Tewkesbury Abbey's manor of Stanway, and the view of frankpledge for Prescott was taken at Stanway in 1287 (fn. 65) and 1535. (fn. 66) This dependence ceased (fn. 67) when Prescott and Stanway were tenurially separated after the Dissolution, and in the late 17th century view of frankpledge for Prescott was taken at the manor court there. The only court rolls known to survive are for 1681–6, when nuisances were presented, reliefs and alienation fines were levied from freeholders of the manor, and a constable was appointed. (fn. 68)
Although Prescott was extra-parochial it possessed some of the officers of parish government and exercised the function of poor relief. Expenditure on the poor rose as much as the county average between 1775 and 1803, but the parish rate was unusually low in 1803 and only one or two people were regularly relieved in the early 19th century; a large proportion of the expenditure was on purposes other than poor relief. (fn. 69) Prescott joined the Winchcombe Poor Law Union under the Act of 1834, (fn. 70) and became part of the Winchcombe rural sanitary district in 1872 (fn. 71) and of the Winchcombe highway district in 1864. (fn. 72) On the dissolution of Winchcombe Rural District in 1935 Prescott was transferred to Cheltenham Rural District. (fn. 73) No parish meeting was held in 1962. (fn. 74)
Prescott was presumably once part of the large parish of Winchcombe. In 1175 a chapel at Prescott was confirmed to Winchcombe Abbey as a dependency of the parish church there, (fn. 75) and at about the same period it was said that the burial of the inhabitants of Prescott belonged to the abbey. (fn. 76) The ownership, however, by Tewkesbury Abbey of a compact stretch of land and the tithes from it (fn. 77) (the tithes were later conveyed with each piece of land on which they were payable, (fn. 78) so that Prescott was in effect tithe-free) made possible the severance of Prescott from the parent parish. It is not clear whether Winchcombe or Tewkesbury monks, if either, served the chapel at Prescott; no document has been found giving evidence of the chapel between 1175 and 1570, when it had gone out of use and its site alone was mentioned. (fn. 79) Prescott entries occur in the Toddington parish registers, (fn. 80) and the inhabitants in the 19th century used the chapel at Stanley Pontlarge, (fn. 81) a chapel of ease to Toddington; these facts suggest that the connexion with Winchcombe had been altogether forgotten before the chapel at Prescott went out of use. The site of the chapel was between Chapel Close Farm and Manor Farm. (fn. 82)
None known. Prescott became part of the Winchcombe United Schools District in 1875; (fn. 83) from 1885 to 1906 the children went to school in Gretton, and from 1910 in Southam and Gotherington. (fn. 84)