A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 9, Bradley Hundred. The Northleach Area of the Cotswolds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2001.
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Bradley hundred was assessed at a total of 94 hides in 1086. Its constituents were Northleach manor, with its members of Farmington (then and for several centuries afterwards called Thormarton), Stowell, and Upper Coberley, and Compton (later called Compton Abdale), Hampnett, Hazleton, Yanworth, Salperton, Turkdean (as two estates), Winson, and an unnamed manor in Crown hands which is assumed to have been the later Coln Rogers. (fn. 1) Most of those places later formed separate parishes, but Yanworth was a hamlet and chapelry to Hazleton, and Northleach parish after the early 13th century comprised two distinct parts, Northleach borough and Northleach Foreign (or Eastington). Upper Coberley, though remaining in the enlarged Bradley hundred and administered for some purposes with Eastington, became part of Coberley parish, and Winson, also remaining in Bradley hundred, became a hamlet and chapelry of Bibury parish. In this county history they are included with their respective parishes in Volume Seven. (fn. 2)
Wacrescumbe hundred in 1086 was assessed at a total of 72 hides. Its main constituent was Withington manor with its members of Little (later Cassey) Compton, Foxcote, Little Colesbourne with Hilcot, Dowdeswell with Pegglesworth, Aston (later called Aston Blank or Cold Aston), and Notgrove. (fn. 3) Also in the hundred were Shipton (as five separate estates), Hampen (as two estates), and Whittington. (fn. 4) Sevenhampton, then part of Prestbury manor but stated to lie in a different hundred from it, (fn. 5) is assumed to have been part of Wacrescumbe. The place from which the hundred was named was possibly in the valley of the river Coln on the east boundary of Withington, where a pre-Conquest perambulation mentions a place called 'Waecles cumbe', (fn. 6) though the site, fairly inaccessible and apparently unconnected with ancient main roads, seems an unlikely choice as a hundred meeting place. The only reference found to Wacrescumbe hundred after Domesday was c. 1105 when the bishop of Worcester, lord of Withington, secured confirmation from Henry I that Dowdeswell, Pegglesworth, and Cold Aston should geld with, and owe suit to, Wacrescumbe. (fn. 7) Of the constituents of the hundred Withington (including Little Compton, Foxcote, Little Colesbourne, and Hilcot), Dowdeswell (including Pegglesworth), Cold Aston, Notgrove, Sevenhampton, and Whittington became separate parishes, while the Shipton estates formed two parishes called Shipton Oliffe and Shipton Solers. One part of Hampen was included in the Shiptons, while another was a detached part of Compton Abdale parish.
The amalgamation of Bradley and Wacrescumbe into one hundred, retaining the name Bradley, had occurred by 1220. (fn. 8) The only later change in the composition of Bradley hundred was that from the early 16th century Aylworth, a hamlet of Naunton parish and previously included with it as part of Slaughter hundred, came to be regarded, for reasons that are obscure, as part of Bradley. Aylworth's history is given with Naunton in Volume Six. (fn. 9)
Bradley hundred formed one of the group of Cotswold hundreds known as the Seven Hundreds of Cirencester, in which from 1189 Cirencester abbey exercised hundredal rights. The jurisdiction and ownership of the Seven Hundreds are described in another volume. (fn. 10) In Bradley hundred about half of the parishes and tithings secured total or partial freedom from the hundredal jurisdiction. (fn. 11) Withington and its members, including Cold Aston and Notgrove, attended a view of frankpledge held at Withington by the bishops of Worcester, but the lords of Dowdeswell, another former member of Withington, secured the right to hold a separate view by the end of the Middle Ages. The lord of Sevenhampton, the bishop of Hereford, claimed to hold his own view in 1287 and one was held later at either Sevenhampton or Prestbury. After the establishment of Northleach borough c. 1220, Cirencester abbey agreed that its officers should hold the view for it in the court of Gloucester abbey in the town; Gloucester would take the profits of the leet, but its bailiff was required to make an annual visit to the main hundred view. Later arrangements at Northleach were complicated by the development of a court held by the burgesses of the town in their own right, but in the 20th century an annual leet, purely formal in character, was held at Northleach by the lord of the Seven Hundreds, Earl Bathurst, as a reminder of the ancient hundredal jurisdiction exercised by his predecessors. For Hazleton and Yanworth manors the lord, Winchcombe abbey, made a similar agreement with Cirencester abbey in 1249 to that made for Northleach, and by 1303 Cirencester's officers also held a view for a part of Shipton known as Shipton Pelye. Llanthony priory secured a separate view for its tenants at Turkdean, and so also it seems did the lords of the manors of Farmington and Hampnett.
The other components of Bradley hundred attended the hundred view of frankpledge. In the early 15th century (fn. 12) and in the 16th, when records of the views survive for the years 1558–69 and 1573–4, (fn. 13) tithingmen for Coln Rogers, Compton Abdale, Eastington with Upper Coberley, Salperton, Shipton Oliffe, Shipton Solers, Stowell, Whittington, and Winson attended to make presentments and in most cases pay cert money, though Coln Rogers and Eastington (both Gloucester abbey estates in the Middle Ages) were exempt from that due. Wardstaff, a watching duty, was owed by the same vills in the 15th century. (fn. 14) In 1400, when the burgesses of Cirencester were challenging the arbitrary actions of the abbot of Cirencester, one complaint was that he made all suitors to the courts of the Seven Hundreds attend at Cirencester; the proper meeting place for Bradley hundred court was, they said, the 'cross by Stowell', (fn. 15) and another record in the early 15th century gives the venue as 'the end of the vill of Stowell'. (fn. 16) Probably the place referred to was the crossroads of two important ancient roads, the Foss way and the Cotswold salt way, on the east side of Stowell parish, though a place called Hangman's Stone further up the salt way at the boundary of Stowell, Compton Abdale, and Hampnett is another possibility. One of those sites was evidently the place called Bradley adjoining Stowell that was mentioned in 1394, (fn. 17) but no later record of the place name has been found to fix it with certainty.
The 17 ancient parishes of Bradley hundred occupy a tract of the central Cotswolds extending from the high escarpment above the Cheltenham plain on the north-west to a point a few miles beyond the Foss way on the south-east. The area shares many of the physical and historical characteristics of the other Gloucestershire hundreds on the hills and has no particular features that give it a separate definition within that wider area. The land rises to its highest point at the escarpment, with part of Sevenhampton reaching 310 m. (1,017 ft.) and land at Pegglesworth, in Dowdeswell, a few metres less; much of the rest of the area is formed of high and rather featureless wolds with occasional narrow valleys. A broad ridge running through the area (followed in modern times by the main A 40 road from Gloucester and Cheltenham to London) was known in its north-western part as Puesdown. The hundred includes the sources and upper reaches of two of the small rivers, the Coln and the Leach, that drain towards the Thames and it touches two others, the Windrush on the north-east and the Churn on the southwest. The escarpment at the north-west edge drains to the Vale, and streams breaking out around Dowdeswell to form the river Chelt were collected in a reservoir as one of the main suppliers of water to Cheltenham in the late 19th century and the earlier 20th.
Most of the land is formed of the Middle Jurassic series, comprising the Inferior Oolite, a thin band of the fuller's earth, which forces out the springs which governed the siting of many of the settlements, and the Great Oolite; the topsoil is mostly a thin stone brash. As with the rest of the Cotswolds, the oolite has been extensively dug in small quarries, or sometimes in stone-mines, for stone and stone slates. The slates were won in particular at Puckham Scrubs in Sevenhampton, where a geological fault has exposed the slate beds of the Great Oolite. Whittington was a centre of quarrying for building stone in the 19th century, and a quarry in Farmington was still in production in 1999 as one of the last Cotswold quarries to be worked commercially. A few timber-framed houses survive in the region from what were doubtless once quite large numbers, and thatch remained common until the early 20th century, but stone and stone slates form the material of the great majority of houses, as well as of the many large and well-built complexes of farm buildings. The drystone field walls built at the inclosures of the late 18th century and the early 19th remained a defining feature of the landscape of the wolds at the close of the 20th, though in many places in a neglected condition and supplemented by wire.
The hundred had little woodland, with only Sevenhampton, Withington, and Dowdeswell having substantial tracts. Much of the rest of the area was almost treeless before the 19th century, when landowners planted numerous small coppices to provide material for hurdles and fencing, to act as shelter belts, and, increasingly in the late years of the century, to preserve foxes and pheasants. Fuel was short in the more eastern parishes, including Northleach which was one of the many places supplied from the woods of the Dowdeswell manor estate in the 18th century. Farming leases of the 18th and 19th centuries often included a clause providing for the carriage of coal for the landowner from the Severn Vale or Cirencester. (fn. 18)
The land has at times been very intensively cultivated as ploughland, although the thin topsoil, the altitude and openness which retarded the crops, and the lack of timber, did not make for easy farming. The name Cold Aston was adopted for one of the parishes by the 13th century and another near by was sometimes called Cold Salperton in the 18th. Among the outlying farmsteads of the area several were named Folly Farm or Starveall.
The two most important ancient routes traversing the area were the Roman Foss way, running from Cirencester north-eastwards by Northleach towards Stow-onthe-Wold, and a salt way to Droitwich running north-westwards from the river Thames at Lechlade. A main route from Gloucester to Burford and Oxford ran west to east over Puesdown, but in the days before the turnpikes it had a variable line: three crossings of the river Coln were in use near Andoversford, and further east a ridgeway route was used as an alternative to the road through Northleach town. Many minor roads of the packhorse era declined later to field paths, including an old Cirencester—Cheltenham road following the high ground through Withington and Dowdeswell parishes. The turnpikes established the road through Northleach as the main coaching route to London from both Gloucester and Cheltenham. The Cheltenham—London road once joined it on Puesdown, after following a circuitous route through Whittington and Shipton parishes, but it was rerouted up the Chelt valley and through Dowdeswell in 1786, and finally in 1825 a new line of road took it through Andoversford. The Stow road from Gloucester and Cheltenham through Andoversford and the Foss way became other parts of the Cotswold turnpike network in the mid 18th century. Only two railways were built through the parishes of the hundred, both of them late in the 19th century. The Banbury and Cheltenham line through Bourton-on the-Water and down the Chelt valley was opened in 1881 and was joined at Andoversford by the Midland & South-Western Junction line, opened in 1891.
The hundred was quite intensively settled by the late Anglo-Saxon period, the settlers presumably benefiting from the residual effects of clearance and cultivation under the Romano-British, who had favoured the valleys within easy reach of Cirencester for their villas; villa sites have been discovered in Whittington, Withington, Compton Abdale, Farmington, Shipton, and Turkdean, and at Wycomb, near Andoversford, the remains of a small town have been excavated. At Withington a monastery was founded in the late 7th century, and estates based on Dowdeswell and Andoversford and on Notgrove and Cold Aston are recorded in the following century. By the time of Domesday Book all 17 of the later parishes had villages at their primary settlements, which in the north part of the area were sited at intervals of no more than two miles from each other. The three largest parishes, Northleach, Withington, and Sevenhampton (whose name derives from seven ancient settlements), each had in addition several hamlets. The numbers of tenants recorded at Domesday, usually villani (probably holding yardlands), suggests that most of the land had already been brought into cultivation; only in some upland parts of Withington is 12th- and 13th-century assarting recorded. Open fields later covered wide areas of the wolds: in Farmington, for example, over 80 per cent of the parish (1,730 a. of 2,099 a.) lay in two great fields until inclosure. The area devoted to common pasture, usually the steepest land, was originally quite modest by comparison.
Only one market town was successfully established, Northleach, founded by Gloucester abbey c. 1220. Much of the area was evidently served by adjoining towns, including Winchcombe and Stow-on-the-Wold whose fairs remained important dates in the local calendar in the 18th and early 19th centuries. (fn. 19)
The slump in arable cultivation and the Black Death in the 14th century hit the area hard, leaving it with shrunken villages and with some of its hamlets deserted or reduced to a single farmstead, as at Hilcot and Little Colesbourne in Withington and at Little Aston in Cold Aston. Some hamlets were later almost completely forgotten, including Thorndean in Withington, Calcombe and Nash in Sevenhampton, and Cockthrop in Northleach. In the late Middle Ages sheep raising maintained the viability of the area, but failed to stimulate a recovery in population. The change is symbolized in places by the building of sheephouses on the sites of groups of old tenant houses, as earthwork remains suggest happened at Hilcot and in a part of Compton Abdale, near Cassey Compton. The manorial owners often retained their flocks and pasture rights after they abandoned demesne arable farming, and flocks of the owners or of strangers were driven up from lowland manors to be summered on the hills. The open fields continued to provide the main grazing, usually at a ratio of 40 or 50 sheep to the yardland (a yardland in most manors comprising 40 or 48 'field acres'). Some lands, including in Sevenhampton and Withington, apparently became seriously overburdened by flocks in the 17th century; in the latter the farmers of Withington village ran c. 3,000 sheep on their fields in the early 17th century and disputed pasture rights in downland with the owner of Hilcot.
The success of sheep raising in the parishes surrounding Northleach was the stimulant for an era of prosperity for the town, which had a central role in the Cotswold wool trade between the late 14th century and the early 16th. Woolmen based there gathered the crop from surrounding villages and supplied it, for export to the Continent, to London merchants and the agents of foreign merchants. The fine Perpendicular parish church at Northleach, containing a collection of memorial brasses to woolmen, is its main monument to that prosperity, and, though the town remained small, there is also evidence of its late-medieval development in its plan and in the surviving architectural detail in some of its houses. The sophisticated and independent system of borough government that the Northleach townspeople had secured by the 1540s may, indirectly, be another legacy of its prosperity. Until the mid 17th century Northleach's viability as an urban economy was maintained by a clothmaking industry and by a fairly successful agricultural market, but subsequently it performed only a very limited and local role.
During the Middle Ages landowning in the region was dominated by important ecclesiastical institutions: the bishops of Worcester and Hereford held Withington and Sevenhampton respectively, Gloucester abbey Eastington and Coln Rogers, and Winchcombe abbey Hazleton and Yanworth. Several smaller monastic houses, among them Oseney and Bruern abbeys (both Oxon.), Westwood priory (Worcs.), and Studley priory (Warws.), also benefited by gifts from lay landowners. Farmington manor was acquired for the endowment of Edington monastery (Wilts.) in 1361, and estates in other parishes passed to Westbury-on-Trym college after its enlargement in the mid 15th century. After the Dissolution local yeomen, often already established in the manors as lessees, came to the fore as landowners, particularly various branches of the Lawrence and Rogers families in the west of the area; the former proved most durable at Sevenhampton and the latter at Dowdeswell, a small parish with an unusual number of resident gentry families in the early modern period. The Duttons of Sherborne were prominent in Northleach and Eastington. During the 17th century two branches of the Howe family held estates, which coalesced in the 1730s to produce the region's largest landowning unit, based on its smallest parish, Stowell. In the 18th century the Wallers of Beaconsfield (Bucks.) established a presence in several parishes, as did the Hopes of Deepdene (Surr.) in the 19th.
During the 17th century and the early 18th several of the larger houses, among them Upper Dowdeswell, Sandywell Park, Brockhampton, and Cassey Compton, were rebuilt in more modern styles for resident landowners, usually with new parks attached. The Duttons' Lodge park, developed in the early 17th century, took in parts of Eastington and Farmington. Most of the farmhouses and other dwellings were rebuilt or enlarged in the 17th century in the familiar Cotswold vernacular, but some significant medieval survivals remain: in Withington village three houses retain late-medieval timber roofs and the rectory farmhouses of both Turkdean and Cold Aston have medieval, vaulted undercrofts.
A few of the smaller parishes were inclosed early by private agreement. At Dowdeswell, inclosed by its freeholders in 1562, and its hamlet of Pegglesworth, inclosed by a single landowner c. 1680, the incentive was partly the conversion of arable to big sheep pastures, and to some extent that was the case with the earliest parliamentary inclosure, at Farmington under an Act of 1714. In most of the parishes, however, the old system of two-course rotations and sheep on large open fields remained intact until the main era of parliamentary inclosure: 10 of the 17 parishes were inclosed in the period 1760 to 1820, usually at the decision of one major landowner. A few model farmsteads were built for the new ring-fenced farms that were created, but generally the old village farmhouses continued in use, with only barns built out in the fields. New labourers' cottages were added piecemeal, but Lord Sherborne built a fairly large group at Eastington after he inclosed it in 1783. The new five- and six-course rotations including turnips and grass seeds were adopted wholeheartedly and farmers grew prosperous raising fat sheep and cereals in the mid 19th century. Members of families such as the Hewers, Walkers, Handys, and Fletchers, though usually remaining tenants, became influential figures in local communities and their farms supported a large population of labourers; at Compton Abdale village in 1851 two large farms each employed 50 or so, and at Hampnett the bulk of the parish then formed a farm of c. 1,200 a., employing 65.
Northleach town enjoyed a modest revival of prosperity during the coaching era, when it was a staging-post on the main Cheltenham and Gloucester road to London, and as the site of a prison and the centre of a poor-law union (later a rural district) it played a role in local administration throughout the 19th century and the earlier 20th. It remained, however, a very minor market centre and attracted no industry apart from a brewery. A landowner in Salperton and Hampen, T. B. Browne, made attempts in the 1850s to provide employment by setting up sugar beet and flax factories, and quarrying continued in several of the parishes, but in the whole area the impact of industry was negligible. In the late 19th century the building of the two railways made Andoversford a market for livestock and a centre for the distribution of goods.
With the onset of agricultural depression in the 1870s rents fell sharply and much land was taken out of arable cultivation. With few non-agricultural resources to fall back on, village populations went into a decline, the total population of the 17 ancient parishes of the hundred falling from 5,570 in 1861 to 4,250 in 1901. (fn. 20) Timber production was developed in part of Withington by the owners of the Colesbourne estate, but it was field sports, a traditional feature of the the area, that became a mainstay of local estates in the late 19th century. Many isolated cottages came to be occupied by gamekeepers, and local inns catered for hunting enthusiasts and their mounts. Such pursuits, and the vogue for Cotswold scenery, helped to maintain the gentry element of the region in the early years of the 20th century, when new arrivals such as W. A. Rixon at Turkdean, Ernest Fieldhouse at Shipton, and Reginald Gunther at Withington developed estates and upgraded farmhouses as residences.
At the close of the 20th century the area of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds that had formed the hundred of Bradley remained very sparsely populated and still hardly affected at all by industry. Its agriculture was then based mainly on large owner-occupied enterprises, raising cash crops (varying in type and scale according to European Union subsidies) and sheep. The oldest-established resident landowners were of fairly recent origin, including branches of the Vestey family at Stowell Park and Foxcote in Withington and branches of the Wills family at Farmington and Eastington and at Soundborough, in Sevenhampton, but some of the old farming families, by then usually themselves owners, survived at Hazleton, Hampen, Sevenhampton, and elsewhere. Village populations were generally residential with a large proportion of the retired and elderly and only a modest commuter dormitory element. The modernization and enlargement of farmhouses and labourers' cottages and the conversion to dwellings of farm buildings, using traditional styles and materials as enforced by the planning authorities, was an established and a continuing feature. Northleach attracted some new housing after the opening of a bypass in 1984 ended a period of blight caused by heavy motor traffic, and Andoversford, where a small industrial estate was developed, and Shipton also expanded. It was not an area of the Cotswolds where tourism had much significance, with only Northleach enjoying a modest role in that respect.