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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Stowell, one of the smallest parishes in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds but long the centre of one of the principal estates in the area, lay near Northleach at 16.5 km. SE. of Cheltenham and 12.75 km. NNE. of Cirencester. For much of its history the country house called Stowell Park, the church, and a few cottages for estate workers were the only buildings in the parish. From 1656 Stowell was united for ecclesiastical purposes with Hampnett (fn. 1) and in 1935 it became part of Yanworth civil parish. (fn. 2)
The parish of Stowell comprised 851 a. (fn. 3) (347 ha.) and had the shape of a flattened arrowhead, its south-east boundary formed by the Foss way and its north-east boundary by part of a salt way leading from Droitwich (Worcs.) towards the river Thames at Lechlade. The crossroads made by those two ancient roads at the eastern tip of the parish was probably the 'cross by Stowell' where the Bradley hundred court met in the late Middle Ages (fn. 4) and the place called Bradley where the tithingman of Stowell was required to perform watching duty in 1394. (fn. 5) The west boundary of the parish left the salt way at a place called, by 1759, Hangman's Stone (fn. 6) and ran to a small stream, which it followed down to the river Coln; it then descended the Coln to meet the Foss way at Fossebridge. (fn. 7)
In 1086 Stowell was a member of the large manor of Northleach (fn. 8) on the other side of the Foss way but its situation and boundaries suggest a more ancient tenurial connexion with its western neighbour, Yanworth. Such a connexion is also suggested by an agreement made between the lords of Stowell and Yanworth in 1457, adjusting the boundaries between their two manors and releasing all claims to intercommoning. The landmarks given in the agreement cannot be identified clearly, but the 63¾ a. of land given then to the lord of Yanworth may have been near the boundary between the manors in the valley of the tributary of the Coln west of the later Oxpens farm buildings, and the 103 a. given to the lord of Stowell in exchange, adjoining the Foss way and so presumably forming a detached part of Yanworth, was possibly in an area to the south of the later Stowell park. (fn. 9)
The land of the ancient parish is formed of the Inferior Oolite and the Great Oolite, with an intervening band of fuller's earth outcropping on the hillsides (fn. 10) and causing the eruption of several springs in the vicinity of Stowell Park house. A height of just over 200 m. is reached on the north-east boundary and the land falls to c. 130 m. in the Coln valley. A wood called Stowell grove, occupying part of the hillside on the west side of the parish, covered 50 a. in 1842 and with other smaller groves and plantations made a total of 81 a. of woodland in Stowell; it belonged, as did the whole parish, to the Stowell Park estate. (fn. 11) A deer park, encompassing Stowell Park house and its attendant buildings on three sides, existed by 1750 (fn. 12) but was possibly established much earlier. It covered 89 a. in 1842. (fn. 13) The house was described c. 1775 as being hidden from the Foss way by plantations, (fn. 14) perhaps referring to the long shelter belt at the roadside; the belt had certainly been planted by 1842, when a similar belt (in the late 1990s replanted with saplings) extended along the salt way on the north-east. (fn. 15) A large new plantation called Camp wood was formed on Foss hill at the south end of the parish in the late 20th century after the removal of a wartime camp. (fn. 16)
Eleven tenants or servile inhabitants were recorded on Stowell manor in 1086. (fn. 17) Seven people were assessed for the subsidy in 1327 (fn. 18) and 18 for the poll tax in 1381, (fn. 19) but only the lord of the manor was listed at Stowell in the military survey of Gloucestershire in 1522. (fn. 20) A single household, evidently that of the lord, was recorded there in 1563 (fn. 21) and the nine or ten communicants recorded in 1551 and 1603 (fn. 22) were presumably servants or members of his household. The lord's household was the only one mentioned at Stowell during the 18th century, (fn. 23) and in 1801 only 13 people, comprising 3 families and occupying two houses, were enumerated. The population rose to 43 in six houses by 1831, and the only significant increase later in the century was from 50 in 1881 to 83 in 1891 after the 3rd Lord Eldon took up residence at Stowell Park. In the early 20th century the parish had a population of c. 70, and 74 people were enumerated in 1931 before the union with Yanworth in 1935. The population of Yanworth civil parish, a total of 166 at the union, was later temporarily boosted by the inhabitants of the camp at Foss hill in Stowell: 830 people were enumerated in 1951, but only 138 in 1961 after the camp's removal. (fn. 24)
Little is known of Stowell's small medieval settlement beyond the record of tenants in 1086 and taxpayers in the 14th century. Probably the few houses were mainly in the area where the manor house and church stand on the hillside above the Coln; the springs there may be the origin of the name, which appears in 1086 and later as 'Stanwelle'. (fn. 25) A John de Stonwelle was one of the taxpayers in 1327, but another taxpayer was called John le S(c)agges, (fn. 26) suggesting that there were one or more dwellings lower down the hill, near the Coln, where the name Skeggs was used later for a small plantation. (fn. 27) As the record of 1381 shows, the depopulation of Stowell was only partly connected with the Black Death and the general slump in arable cultivation of the 14th century.
At the start of the 18th century the manor house was apparently the only dwelling in the parish. (fn. 28) In the early 19th, however, there were also a few cottages occupied by labourers on the large farm in which Stowell was then included: in 1812 there were two cottages and a yard and farm buildings at Oxpens near the north end of the parish, one, with a dog kennel, to the south of Stowell Park house at the later Dogkennel Cottages, and another, (fn. 29) later occupied by a gamekeeper, on a lane leading down from the house to the Coln. In 1841 three families of labourers lived at Oxpens and two at Dogkennel. (fn. 30) Lord Eldon added more cottages for his staff and estate workers after he took up residence at Stowell in the early 1880s (fn. 31) and he built a small farmhouse, Home Farm, east of the house in 1886. In 1923 there was a total of 11 cottages on the estate at Stowell, six of them at Oxpens. (fn. 32) In 2000 most of the houses in Stowell (and in the neighbouring village of Yanworth) were occupied by employees on Lord Vestey's Stowell Park estate. (fn. 33)
In the Second World War a hospital for the American army, comprising a large collection of huts, was built on Foss hill in the south part of the parish. After the war it became a school for girls from Polish refugee families. (fn. 34) The school continued until 1953, (fn. 35) but in 1950 the Northleach rural district converted some of the huts to 32 dwellings to accommodate homeless families pending the completion of housing schemes in its area; some huts were occupied until 1959. (fn. 36) Later they were dismantled and the site landscaped and planted.
In 1086 Stowell was part of the manor of Northleach, one of the Gloucester abbey estates then held by the archbishop of York. (fn. 37) Stowell has not been found recorded again until 1236 when, having perhaps descended for some time with Farmington, another member of Northleach at Domesday, (fn. 38) it was held from William of Hastings. (fn. 39) In 1285 Emme de la Penne had an intermediate lordship between the tenant-in-demesne and the Hastings family; (fn. 40) her right presumably derived from John de la Penne, who had the wardship of the tenant during a minority in 1272. (fn. 41) No later record of the overlordship has been found, except that in 1564, apparently through a misunderstanding deriving from his exercise of leet jurisdiction, it was said to be vested in the lord of Bradley hundred, Thomas Parry. (fn. 42)
Geoffrey Martel held the manor of STOWELL as ½ knight's fee in 1236. (fn. 43) It passed later to Richard Martel, apparently Geoffrey's son, (fn. 44) and Richard's heir held it in 1272. (fn. 45) Adam Martel held it in 1285, (fn. 46) and by 1307 it belonged to another Adam Martel, (fn. 47) whose lands were in the hands of royal receivers in 1322, presumably as a result of his involvement in the recent rebellion. (fn. 48) An Adam Martel, probably the same mentioned in 1322, was later said to have enfeoffed John Fachel with the manor to hold in trust for his son Adam and the son's wife Ellen, who were both minors at the time of their marriage. In 1343 Adam Martel, the son, settled Stowell on himself, his then wife called Cecily, and their heirs, with remainder to Robert of Staverton and his heirs. That same year, however, John Fachel's grandson, also John Fachel, claimed the manor against Adam on the grounds that his grandfather had been seised in his own right, and the younger John is said to have been awarded the manor in court; (fn. 49) Adam had a grant of free warren in the manor in 1345, (fn. 50) but John was presumably in possession of it in 1355 when he presented to Stowell church. (fn. 51) Claimants under John's supposed title were later in possession of the manor and were challenged by James Clifford and his wife Margaret, daughter and heir of Robert of Staverton. The Cliffords' claim was upheld, (fn. 52) and they were dealing with the manor in 1374. (fn. 53) In 1389 William Weston and Thomas Bird, presumably feoffees in trust, presented to Stowell church. (fn. 54) The same or another James Clifford was lord of the manor in 1394 when, in preparation for accompanying Richard II's expedition to Ireland, he granted his lands to four feoffees, Anselm Guise, John Haresfield, Thomas Alford, and Matthew Clifford. (fn. 55) Haresfield and Matthew Clifford apparently still held the manor in 1410, when they presented to the church. (fn. 56)
William Clifford owned Stowell manor in 1457 and it passed later to his daughter Elizabeth, who married first Edmund Catesby and second Thomas Limerick. (fn. 57) Limerick was patron of Stowell church in 1467 (fn. 58) and died in 1486. His second (or later) wife Joan may have survived him (fn. 59) and held the manor for a few years before it passed to his daughter and heir Agnes. Agnes, who married first William Tame and second Sir Robert Harcourt (fn. 60) (d. by 1504), settled the manor, from after her death, on her son Thomas Tame, (fn. 61) who held it, apparently as the sole landowner in the parish, in 1522. (fn. 62) Thomas Tame died c. 1545, having settled the manor on his wife Joan, who survived him, with reversion to his daughter Elizabeth and her husband Edmund Horne; Edmund survived Elizabeth and died in 1553, having settled Stowell on a later wife, Amy (or Anne), and leaving a daughter called Elizabeth. (fn. 63) In 1559 the patrons of Stowell church were Walter Baskerville and his wife Jane (in her right), (fn. 64) and Walter was living at Stowell in 1567. (fn. 65) In 1575 Anthony Bourne and Elizabeth his wife were dealing with the manor, (fn. 66) which they conveyed in 1577 to Robert Atkinson and his wife Joyce. (fn. 67) Robert died in 1607 and was succeeded by his son Henry, (fn. 68) who in 1627 with his wife and his brother John settled the manor, presumably in reversion, on his nephew Sir Thomas Wentworth (later earl of Strafford) and his heirs. (fn. 69) In 1655 the manor was evidently owned by John Atkinson, (fn. 70) later Sir John, who died in 1662, (fn. 71) and by 1667 it had passed to Thomas's son William Wentworth, earl of Strafford. (fn. 72)
About 1689 the earl of Strafford sold Stowell manor to John Grubham Howe, (fn. 73) who was then M.P. for Cirencester and sat for the county 1698–1705. A politician of pronounced Tory views, Howe was made a privy councillor in 1702 and was joint paymaster-general from 1703 to 1714. He died in 1722 (fn. 74) and was succeeded at Stowell (with Hampnett, which had usually been in the same ownership since the late 15th century) by his son John, who in 1735 inherited the adjoining estates of Chedworth, Yanworth, Compton Abdale, and Cassey Compton in Withington from another branch of the Howe family. The younger John was created Lord Chedworth in 1741 and died in 1742, his estates and title passing in turn to his sons John Thynne Howe, who was lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire from 1758 to his death in 1762, and Henry Frederick Howe (d. 1781). Henry was succeeded by his nephew John Howe, Lord Chedworth (d. 1804). (fn. 75)
The 4th Lord Chedworth devised his estates to his solicitor Richard Wilson and a friend Thomas Penrice, who were to sell them in order to finance numerous and valuable legacies, the largest for the executors themselves and the others mainly for friends and acquaintances connected with the theatre. After ineffectual efforts by an heir-at-law to upset the will, (fn. 76) the Gloucestershire estates were sold in 1812. Stowell and much of the land in the adjoining parishes were bought by Sir William Scott, (fn. 77) an eminent judge and M.P. for Oxford University, who was created Lord Stowell in 1821. He died in 1836 and was succeeded by his daughter Marianne (or Mary Anne), the wife of the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, Henry Addington, Vct. Sidmouth. (fn. 78) She died in 1842 and was succeeded in the Stowell estate by her kinsman John Scott, 2nd earl of Eldon. The earl died in 1854 when the estate, including the whole of Stowell parish and several adjoining manors and large farms, totalled 5,756 a. It passed with the earldom to his son John, who came of age in 1866 (fn. 79) and held the estate until 1923. A large part of it, comprising Stowell, Yanworth, and Chedworth woods, was then bought by the Hon. Samuel Vestey, (fn. 80) son of Lord Vestey, the owner of refrigerated food and shipping concerns. Samuel Vestey succeeded to his father's title in 1940 and died in 1954. He was succeeded by his grandson Samuel George Armstrong Vestey, Lord Vestey, (fn. 81) who owned the estate in 2000. Cassey Compton had been reunited with the estate in 1927 and lands in Hampnett and Compton Abdale parishes had been acquired later, and in 2000 the Stowell Park estate formed a compact unit of 2,400 ha. (5,930 a.). (fn. 82)
Most of Stowell's owners resided on the estate from the time of Thomas Limerick in the late 15th century (fn. 83) until the death of the 3rd Lord Chedworth in 1781. (fn. 84) The 4th Lord Chedworth, however, lived at Ipswich (Suff.) and rarely visited his Gloucestershire estates; (fn. 85) all the household goods at Stowell Park were offered for sale in 1782. (fn. 86) For the next 100 years the house was leased as the farmhouse of a large farm, though the 19th-century tenants, members of the Councer and later Walker families, kept a considerable household; in 1841 Richard Councer had six servants living in. (fn. 87) In the early 1880s the 3rd earl of Eldon took up residence at Stowell and altered and improved the house and grounds, (fn. 88) and Stowell remained the country residence of the Vestey family in the 20th century.
Stowell Park stands high on the hillside, facing over the Coln valley to the extensive Chedworth woods which were long part of its estate. It incorporates a 16th-century or slightly earlier stone house, which was extended in the 17th century and disguised by alterations and additions made for the earl of Eldon in the 1880s.
The original house can be identified with the west seven bays of the north range and the north three bays of the west range. Probably of the 16th century, it seems to have been on an L or H plan with south projecting wing or wings; it was probably entered from the south. The walling is of coursed rubble, later roughcast. The westernmost of two bay windows on the north front is apparently older internally in its lower parts than the eastern one and may represent the hall bay window. There are three small doorways with plain-chamfered, four-centred heads in the thick walling, one leading into the east wing, one (blocked) on the south wall, and one (also blocked) leading from the north range into the west range. Under the north end of the original west range is a barrel-vaulted cellar with unmoulded transverse ribs. (fn. 89) In the mid 17th century the west range seems to have been extended to seven bays by the Atkinsons, whose arms appear over the west door (fn. 90) though not in situ. That range has a south-east staircase projection and may have contained a parlour. (fn. 91) The north range was probably also altered at the period, judging from the east gable. There is some mid 17th-century panelling, which was moved to the library in the late 20th century. In 1685 it was reported that 'the rooms are very little, all but the parlour and hall, which are fit for a country gentleman'. (fn. 92) The extent of the house remained the same throughout the 18th century and the early 19th, (fn. 93) though sash windows were inserted. (fn. 94) On the north side of the house there were farm buildings, including a large barn, stables, and a detached dovecot.
The house, then described as having 'no outstanding architectural character', was extensively remodelled in French Renaissance style for the 3rd earl of Eldon to the designs of John Belcher (fn. 95) and was probably that architect's most important country house commission; work had begun by 1885 and was completed before 1889. (fn. 96) Belcher replaced the sash windows with mullioned and transomed windows, probably refaced the south front in ashlar, and recast the north bay windows, perhaps adding the easternmost one. He reroofed the house and renewed most, if not all, of the embattled parapet. Inside he reorganized the staircase, improved the circulation, and redecorated the interior, re-using much old panelling; the staircase and dining room at the south end of the west range were in Jacobean style, and bedrooms have panelling in late 17th- and 18th-century styles. He made a walled 'Green Court' on the north side of the house, enclosed by the existing barn, which he planned to convert to a banqueting hall, ballroom, or billiard room. Belcher also added a south wing, which included a new entrance and a 'Lower Hall', and provided, on the north-east, service accommodation in 17thcentury Cotswold style with English baroque style interiors. The octagonal kitchen is based on medieval monastic examples. A laundry was built north-east of the Green Court.
Belcher's proposals were completed c. 1918–20 to the designs of Sydney Tatchell, (fn. 97) who built a south smoking room, a vaulted corridor linking service wing and laundry, and perhaps added the Flamboyant-style chimneypiece in the Lower Hall. Tatchell also made a south terrace with a conservatory at the west end, and replaced part of the outbuildings north of the Green Court with a badminton court (fn. 98) (later converted to a banqueting hall) in early Elizabethan style. Alterations for the Vesteys in the late 20th century included the building of a new badminton court adjoining the Green Court and the demolition of the smoking room and the west wall of the Court. Belcher's decoration was removed from the reception rooms, some of which were amalgamated.
Ponds and watercourses found by Belcher in the gardens (fn. 99) may have dated from the 16th or 17th century. He laid out the grounds with a terraced west garden, decorated with statuary, and added various outbuildings including, to the south-east, a large stable court, walled kitchen gardens, and a gardener's house; (fn. 100) a timber peach house seems to have been contemporary. A second garden with brick-lined walls, the east one designed as a forcing-wall, was added on the east c. 1914, and a second timber peach house was built. A large new motor house was built for the Vesteys in the 1960s. (fn. 101) The lodge in French style, at the end of the drive on the Foss way east of the house, had been built by 1900, (fn. 102) presumably to a design of Belcher.
In 1086 Stowell manor formed part of the large manor of Northleach, but it was described as if a separate agricultural unit and possibly the owner, the archbishop of York, had a tenant there, though none was named in the survey. The demesne at Stowell was then worked by two ploughs and employed 4 servi and 2 ancille, and the tenantry were 5 villani, working five ploughs. (fn. 103) Those figures and the 8 ploughteams recorded there in 1220 (fn. 104) show that the small parish was fairly intensively cultivated during the early Middle Ages.
Little later evidence has been found before the 19th century for the agricultural development of Stowell, and in particular for the process by which, at some time after the late 14th century, (fn. 105) the tenant holdings were replaced by a single inclosed farm based on the manor house. The Cotswold location of the manor, particularly its proximity to Northleach, suggests the possibility that the small village was cleared for the purposes of sheep farming. The ownership in the first half of 16th century by Thomas Tame, of the prominent Gloucestershire family of woolmen and sheep graziers, may also be significant. His will of 1545 left various legatees a total of 100 sheep, (fn. 106) presumably part of a much larger flock kept at Stowell.
Stowell apparently had two open fields in the Middle Ages. By an agreement of 1457 William Clifford, lord of Stowell, gave 63¾ a. in the north field of Stowell to Winchcombe abbey, lord of Yanworth, in exchange for 103 a. of less fertile land and meadow (then regarded as a part of Yanworth manor) in a field called Southfield Nevylle. The parties made a mutual release of all claim to commoning rights, not only in the exchanged lands but in the whole of their respective manors, (fn. 107) suggesting ancient arrangements for intercommoning between the tenants of the two manors. Southfield Nevylle was evidently 'le Nevele' recorded earlier, in 1355, when the lord of Stowell held 15 a. freely there from Winchcombe. (fn. 108) It adjoined the Foss way and if, as suggested above, it lay south of the later Stowell park, (fn. 109) part would have been included later in a large inclosed pasture there called Foss hill (mostly planted in the late 20th century as Camp wood). Foss hill, the only field specifically mentioned among the lands of the manor in a mortgage of 1750, (fn. 110) comprised 141 a. in 1842. (fn. 111)
At the end of the 18th century and for much of the 19th the parish formed part of a large tenant farm, based on Stowell Park house. John Handy was the lessee in 1786 (fn. 112) and 1801; at the latter date his farm, at a rental of £600, was the most valuable on Lord Chedworth's Stowell estate. (fn. 113) In 1842, when Richard Councer was the tenant, the farm included all the farmland (733 a.) in the parish and the buildings and labourers' cottages at Oxpens. (fn. 114) In 1851 Councer was described as the farmer of 1,100 a. employing 28 labourers (including 4 women and 7 boys). (fn. 115) In 1857, when he had been succeeded by John Councer, the farm comprised 958 a. in Stowell, Hampnett, and Yanworth and was held for a rent of £900. (fn. 116) It was later held by Thomas Walker (fn. 117) before being taken in hand by Lord Eldon when he came to live at Stowell Park in the early 1880s. (fn. 118) The earl retained it in hand for the remainder of his ownership until 1923. (fn. 119) It was leased for some years under Samuel Vestey in the 1920s and 1930s (fn. 120) but during the second half of the 20th century it was kept in hand by the estate as part of a much larger farming unit. (fn. 121)
In 1842 the farmland at Stowell was cultivated as 298 a. of arable and 432 a. of permanent pasture, (fn. 122) and in 1866 318 a. on Stowell Park farm was returned as under crops, mainly wheat, barley, roots, and clover or grass seeds, and 400 a. as permanent grassland. (fn. 123) The farm had a stock of 209 cattle in 1866, including a small dairy herd, and a flock of 1,544 sheep and lambs. (fn. 124) By 1896, against the usual trend and presumably as a reflection of hobby farming on the part of Lord Eldon, the land returned as under crops had increased to 521 a., with 310 a. of permanent grassland. The cattle and sheep had been reduced by 1896; (fn. 125) Lord Eldon had dispersed a flock of pure-bred Cotswold sheep kept by Thomas Walker, though he had built up flocks of Cotswolds on other farms of his estate. (fn. 126) In 1926 for the large tenant farm based on Stowell 466 a. was returned as cropped and 503 a. as permanent grassland and the farm supported a flock of 1,028 sheep and lambs; it then employed 18 farmworkers. (fn. 127)
From the mid 20th century the bulk of the farmland of the Stowell Park estate was managed as one large farm. In 1956 it comprised c. 3,500 a. and employed c. 50 farmworkers. It had a large acreage of permanent grassland and rough grazing but was predominantly arable, cropped with cereals, principally barley, and with grass seeds. The farm supported a large herd of beef cattle and a flock of over 900 breeding ewes. (fn. 128) In 2000 the Stowell estate farm, managed from the estate office in Yanworth village and farmed from the buildings at Oxpens, comprised c. 1,619 ha. (c. 4,000 a.). The land was cropped with feed wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, and peas and beans, and a flock of 1,260 mule ewes and a beef suckler herd of 320 cattle were maintained. The farm employed ten people, a farm manager, a foreman, a shepherd, two stockmen, and five tractor drivers. The estate as a whole (which included extensive woodland, mainly in Chedworth) then also employed three gamekeepers and five maintenance men, two of them drystone wallers. An estate sawmill was operated in Yanworth adjoining the woods, and a number of redundant farm buildings in the various parishes were let to small commercial enterprises. (fn. 129)
A mill recorded at Stowell in 1086 (fn. 130) was possibly on or near the site of Stowell mill on the Coln below Stowell Park. In the 19th century the building at Stowell mill was situated within Chedworth parish, though it then belonged to the owners of Stowell as part of the Chedworth manor estate. (fn. 131)
The small working population in Stowell parish in the 19th and 20th centuries comprised agricultural labourers and estate workers, the latter including a carpenter in 1896. (fn. 132)
The manor court for Stowell presumably did not survive the depopulation of the manor in the late Middle Ages and no record of one has been found. Leet jurisdiction was exercised by the Bradley hundred court, which was attended by a tithingman for Stowell in the 15th and 16th centuries. Walter Baskerville, the lord of the manor, appeared in that capacity in 1560. (fn. 133)
No records of parish government are known to survive and possibly none were kept in a formal way, government of the parish being in the hands of the lord of the manor or his lessee as sole occupier of the land. The lord, Thomas Tame, was acting as churchwarden in 1543; (fn. 134) there was no churchwarden in 1750; (fn. 135) and in 1851 the lessee of the farm, Richard Councer, styled himself chapelwarden. (fn. 136) In the early 19th century no poor rates were levied, the lessee paying for relief when it was required. In the 1780s the annual cost of relief was c. £8 and it was at a similar level in the years 1813–15 when one or two people received relief occasionally; in 1803, however, £40 was paid out and 5 people were on regular relief. (fn. 137) By the last years of the old system between £50 and £80 was required. (fn. 138) Stowell became part of Northleach poor-law union in 1836, (fn. 139) and of Northleach rural district in 1895, (fn. 140) and in 1974, as part of the civil parish of Yanworth, it was included in the Cotswold district.
Stowell church originated by the mid 12th century as a chapel to Northleach church. In the late 14th century the inhabitants were buried at Northleach and the vicar there took the mortuaries and part of the profits of the church, (fn. 141) and Northleach remained the burial place for Stowell people in the early 17th century. (fn. 142) Nevertheless, Stowell had its own rector by 1269 (fn. 143) and it was described as a parish church in 1340. (fn. 144) The patronage of the rectory was exercised by the lords of Stowell manor. (fn. 145) In 1656 Stowell was united as an ecclesiastical parish with Hampnett on the petition of John Atkinson, the landowner and patron of both. (fn. 146) The union of the benefices was confirmed in 1660, (fn. 147) though the two evidently remained separate ecclesiastical parishes. Stowell continued to be served with Hampnett, becoming part of a united benefice based on Northleach in 1929, to which Yanworth was added in 1938. (fn. 148) In 1964 Stowell was separated from Hampnett and Northleach and, with Yanworth, became part of a united benefice based on Chedworth, (fn. 149) in which it remained in 1999.
In the late 14th century the vicar of Northleach took half the tithes of Stowell. (fn. 150) The owner of the other half was presumably the rector, but no further evidence about the disposition of the tithes of the parish has been found before the early 19th century when all of them belonged to the rector of Hampnett with Stowell. (fn. 151) In 1535 Stowell rectory included glebe (fn. 152) but in 1842 no glebe in Stowell was attached to the living. (fn. 153) In 1535 Stowell rectory, then on lease from the incumbent Humphrey Bowyer to the lord of the manor Thomas Tame, was valued at £6 a year. (fn. 154) It was worth £18 at the union with Hampnett in 1656 (fn. 155) and contributed £20 to the value of the united benefice in 1735. (fn. 156) The tithes of Stowell were commuted for a corn rent-charge of £170 in 1842. (fn. 157) There was no house for the rector at Stowell by 1735. (fn. 158)
Medieval rectors of Stowell included John Sodbury, abbot of Cirencester, who was instituted in 1467. (fn. 159) Walter Bede (or Turbot), a former monk of Winchcombe abbey, was rector 1559–73, holding the living with Hazleton rectory. (fn. 160) Edmund Bracegirdle served two terms, 1579–82 and 1590–1602. From 1580 he was also vicar of Chedworth and in 1591, prefiguring the permanent union in 1656, the rectory of Hampnett was united with Stowell for the term of his incumbency. Bracegirdle's successor Brian Atkinson, presumably of the patron's family, (fn. 161) also held Hampnett. (fn. 162) Francis Webb succeeded Atkinson at Stowell in 1606 (fn. 163) and remained rector in 1642. (fn. 164)
From 1656 Hampnett, which unlike Stowell had a small village, was the church of the united benefice. (fn. 165) Stowell church remained in use, however, largely in the character of a private chapel to the manor house; a few of the occupants of the house, including the politician John Grubham Howe (d. 1722), were buried in the church. (fn. 166) In the mid 18th century a single Sunday service was held at Stowell, in the morning or afternoon, (fn. 167) but by the 1770s services had been discontinued. (fn. 168) In 1810 the church was brought back into use for services (fn. 169) and in 1851 one was held each Sunday for a congregation of c. 10–15, made up of the household of the farmer of Stowell Park farm and those of his workers who lived in the parish. The parishioners were then, and presumably from the mid 17th century, buried at Hampnett, (fn. 170) but they were baptized and married at Stowell. Stowell church continued in the same roles in the later 19th century and the 20th, serving the Eldon and Vestey families and their estate workers. (fn. 171)
The church of ST. LEONARD (fn. 172) (sometimes in the past thought to be dedicated to St. Peter) (fn. 173) is cruciform on plan, comprising chancel, central tower with north and south transepts, and aisleless nave. It is built mainly of coursed limestone rubble with some large dressed blocks and with a stone slate roof; the 19th-century work is mostly in ashlar.
The nave and chancel are of the mid 12th century. The north doorway of the nave has a shouldered surround and the south doorway, which is apparently reset, has plain jambs and a tympanum painted on the inside. The only original window is the west one; the north wall is windowless and has the remains of tiers of 12thcentury wall paintings. The chancel retains an original piscina. The crossing and the south transept (the north transept is a rebuilding) are of the later 12th century and Transitional in style. The crossing has double-chamfered arches, octagonal piers, and angle shafts on the outer faces with volute and stiff-stalk west capitals, and the transept has a lancet window in the west wall and fragments of late 12th- or early 13th-century wall paintings. A piscina in the south transept, a credence shelf over the chancel piscina, and the octagonal font date from the 13th century. (fn. 174) In the 14th century traceried windows were inserted in the chancel and in the south wall of the south transept; the southeastern one in the chancel incorporates sedilia. The blocked opening to a rood stair survives beside the chancel arch.
The church suffered from instability, leading to the collapse of the upper part of the central tower and its replacement by a gabled roof. All the piers of the crossing are tilted from the perpendicular, the two eastern ones markedly so, and buttressing has been added at the south-east angle of the chancel and transept and at the west end of the nave, where a central buttress of unusual form is pierced by an aperture for the west window and crowned by a grotesque. Probably because of continuing instability, the north transept was demolished c. 1700. (fn. 175)
While it was out of use in the late 18th century the church deteriorated and it was described as ruinous in 1803; (fn. 176) presumably some restoration work was done when it was reopened for services in 1810. (fn. 177) During 1898 and 1899 the church was restored for the earl of Eldon to the designs of C. Hodgson Fowler, (fn. 178) who replaced the north transept, added a west bell turret, inserted a new window in the south side of the nave, and reroofed and refurnished the chancel. New oak pews were installed in the nave in 1977 in memory of Samuel Vestey, 2nd Lord Vestey, and his wife Frances. (fn. 179)
Remains of a once extensive system of early wall paintings were discovered at or shortly before the restoration of the church in 1898. On the north wall of the nave was a Doom, of which the top tier, a Majesty with angels, is mostly lost; below survives the Virgin flanked by saints within a tier of blank arcading, and in the lowest tier is the weighing of souls. The remains in the south transept include a scene almost certainly related to St. Margaret and another which is possibly a representation of St. Laurence on his gridiron. (fn. 180) The only monuments are wall monuments to Lady Annabella Howe (d. 1704) and Anne Morgan (d. 1712), who were respectively mother and stepdaughter of John Grubham Howe (d. 1722). (fn. 181) The church has a single bell, cast by C. & G. Mears in 1848. (fn. 182) The plate includes a chalice of 1698. (fn. 183) The south side of the church has the large number of five massdials. The churchyard has no monuments, as Stowell probably never acquired full burial rights. (fn. 184) Registers for Stowell, recording marriages and baptisms, survive from 1810. (fn. 185)
In 1846 the children of the few cottagers at Stowell attended Sunday school at Hampnett. (fn. 186) From 1872 they attended a National school at Hampnett; known later as Hampnett cum Stowell school, it continued to serve Stowell until its closure in 1921. (fn. 187)