A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 10, Westbury and Whitstone Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.
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THE HUNDRED OF WESTBURY
WESTBURY hundred lies on the west bank of the Severn in two separate parts. From the mid 17th century it comprised the parishes of Blaisdon, Newnham, Tidenham, and Woolaston, and parts of Churcham and Westbury-on-Severn. The remainder of Churcham, comprising Highnam manor, was in Dudstone and King's Barton hundred, having been in Longbridge hundred in 1086; Rodley tithing in Westbury parish was in the Duchy of Lancaster hundred; the whole of each parish, however, is treated in the present volume.
The constitution of the hundred underwent several changes between the Norman Conquest and the mid 17th century. In 1066 Westbury hundred included Westbury, Churcham, Longhope, Bulley, the estates of Stears, Hyde, and Ruddle in Newnham, and probably Blaisdon, as part of Longhope, and Minsterworth, containing a total of 50 hides. (fn. 1) The Forest of Dean manors of Dean and English Bicknor, containing three hides and a half yardland, were recorded as part of Westbury hundred in 1086, but Dean had been granted by Edward the Confessor free of geld, for the keeping of the forest. (fn. 2) By 1221 English Bicknor and Dean, by then divided into Mitcheldean, Littledean, and Ruardean, lay in St. Briavels hundred. (fn. 3) Westbury hundred was further reduced in area by the 15th century when the estates of the Duchy of Lancaster in Bulley, Longhope, Minsterworth, and Westbury came to be regarded as a separate hundred. (fn. 4) The Duchy of Lancaster hundred included the tithing of Rodley in Westbury parish, (fn. 5) and from the mid 16th century to the mid 17th the tithings of Adsett and Elton were also regarded as part of the Duchy hundred (fn. 6) because they formed part of Rodley manor, which was considerably more extensive than Rodley tithing. (fn. 7) The doubtful claim of the whole of Rodley manor to be in the Duchy hundred was revived in the 19th century. (fn. 8) Northwood tithing in Westbury parish was recorded within St. Briavels hundred in 1608, (fn. 9) but it is possible that only detached parts of Flaxley parish at Northwood Green and Walmore Common were concerned.
Tidenham and Woolaston became part of Westbury hundred in 1536. In 1066 Tidenham and Lancaut had formed Tidenham hundred, amounting to 30 hides, while Woolaston had been divided between Lydney hundred, which included the two estates at Aluredston in Woolaston, and Twyford hundred, which consisted of only two estates at Woolaston and Madgett amounting to no more than five hides. (fn. 10) Tidenham hundred is not found recorded after 1086, and apparently was merged with Twyford hundred by the mid 13th century. (fn. 11) During Henry III's reign Twyford hundred, as part of the marcher lordship of Striguil, was withdrawn from the county. It had presumably by then absorbed Aluredston, since the lord of Striguil's liberty was said to stretch from the Cone brook, which formed the eastern boundary of Woolaston, to Chepstow Bridge. (fn. 12) The reunion of Tidenham and Woolaston with Gloucestershire in 1536 and their inclusion in Westbury hundred was part of Henry VIII's reorganization of the administration of Wales; (fn. 13) although they were sometimes omitted from returns and surveys of the hundred in the 16th and 17th centuries (fn. 14) they thenceforth remained part of the hundred.
Westbury hundred belonged to the Crown, the sheriff accounting for the profits of courts in 1169 (fn. 15) and holding courts in the late 18th century. (fn. 16) Twyford hundred was held by the Crown until granted to the Earl Marshal, lord of Striguil, by Henry III, (fn. 17) and descended with Striguil (fn. 18) until its inclusion in Westbury in 1536.
No records of the Westbury hundred court have been found. In 1169 an income of 20s. was received from the court (fn. 19) and in 1247 the jurors presented that the hundred was worth 2 marks a year. (fn. 20) The court met every three weeks early in the 14th century. (fn. 21) In common with the other hundreds west of the River Severn no Englishry was presented or murdrum fine due from the hundred in the 13th century. (fn. 22) High constables were sworn between 1673 and 1716 and courts continued to be held in the late 18th century. (fn. 23) The perquisites of the manor of Tidenham and hundred of Twyford were worth £68 8s. 3½d. in 1248, (fn. 24) and in the late 13th century the reeve of Tidenham regularly accounted for pleas and perquisites of the manor and hundred courts. (fn. 25) Franchises in Tidenham manor claimed by the Duke of Norfolk in 1468 included rights usually associated with hundredal jurisdiction, and by the late 16th century there was a court leet in Tidenham. (fn. 26) In Westbury hundred the borough of Newnham was exempted from the hundred in the late 12th century, (fn. 27) and in 1286-7 Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, claimed view of frankpledge, vetitum namium, and assize of bread and ale in his manors of Rodley and Minsterworth, which were exempt from all suits of shire and hundred. (fn. 28) The tithing of Elton, however, which was usually regarded as part of Rodley manor, (fn. 29) paid the common fine and a rent called tithing silver to Westbury hundred in 1659, together with Ruddle, Westbury, Upper Ley, Lower Ley, Blaisdon, and Churcham, amounting to £9 6s. 8d. The courts leet, courts baron, sheriff's tourn, hundred courts, and views of frankpledge together with fines, perquisites, waifs, estrays, deodands, goods and chattels of felons, fugitives, condemned persons, and outlaws in the hundreds of Botloe and Westbury were then said to be worth 26s. 8d. (fn. 30) Courts leet were held for Ruddle manor in the late 18th century, (fn. 31) but Blaisdon, Churcham, and Westbury appear to have owed suit to the hundred court. The hundred meeting place cannot be identified with any certainty, but Malsdon in Bollow tithing in Westbury may have been the medieval site. (fn. 32) The name of Twyford hundred is retained in a corrupt form as Wyvern Pond in Woolaston. (fn. 33)
The parishes within the hundred lie in two groups west of the Severn on the relatively low ground between the tidal river and the higher land of the Forest of Dean and May Hill. The northern part of the hundred between Gloucester and Newnham is gently rolling, lowlying land which rises in only a few places more than 100 feet above sea level and is subject to seasonal flooding of meadows along the river and at Walmore in Westbury. Only in the western parts of Blaisdon and Newnham does the Keuper Marl and Lower Lias of the river basin give way to the Silurian limestones and shales and the Old Red Sandstone as the land rises steeply to the wooded hills adjoining the Forest of Dean. The southern part of the hundred containing Tidenham and Woolaston is of a different character. There is only a narrow belt of level riverside land formed of the Keuper Marl, and both parishes have a large proportion of hilly, wooded, and waste land which was chiefly within the medieval Tidenham Chase. Most of the Carboniferous Limestone plateau lies over 500 feet above sea level with cliffs up to 200 feet high dropping abruptly to the River Wye.
The settlements within the area are scattered, and apart from the former borough of Newnham the only nucleated villages are the small ones of Blaisdon and Westbury-onSevern. There are numerous hamlets and isolated farms bearing witness to the lengthy process of clearing woodland; Welsh influence is recalled in the medieval place names of Walmore and Welchbury in Westbury, and Walleston in Newnham. (fn. 34) In many of the parishes waste land survived in sufficient quantity for predominantly 18th- and 19th-century hamlets to be built on encroachments, as at Birdwood in Churcham, Nottswood in Blaisdon, and the hamlets in Tidenham and Woolaston. In the northern part of the hundred the older houses are mainly timber framed, but in Tidenham and Woolaston the usual material was stone. Externally the ancient features of most of both the timber framed and the stone houses are concealed by later rough cast and other rendering.
The River Severn, which in 1970 was not bridged between Gloucester and Chepstow and therefore formed a barrier to communication, was formerly of great economic importance to the hundred. Newnham had a thriving trade as a port, chiefly with towns up river, Bristol, and Ireland; there were other landing places at Cone Pill, Bullo Pill, and Broadoak, important ferries at Beachley and Newnham, and a number of lesser crossings; there was also considerable river traffic between the Wye valley and Bristol. Boat building and salmon and shrimp fishing were carried on extensively until the 19th century.
The main land routes follow the Severn closely. The Roman road from Gloucester to Usk following the right bank of the river from the crossing at Newnham to Chepstow was turnpiked in 1757, (fn. 35) as was the road through Westbury to Gloucester in 1725-6. (fn. 36) Another Roman road went westwards from Gloucester to Churcham where it forked to Mitcheldean and Ross, the latter route also being turnpiked in 1725-6. (fn. 37) Few routes run northwards from the river; those from Newnham to Littledean and from Tidenham to St. Briavels are the most important. The first railway to South Wales, running parallel to the Severn, was opened in 1851, and branches from Grange Court to Hereford, Newnham to Cinderford, and up the Wye Valley were constructed in 1853, 1854, and 1876 respectively; (fn. 38) only the main line remained open in 1970.
Much of the hundred formerly lay within the boundaries of the Forest of Dean, which at its most extensive in the 12th and 13th centuries included all or the greater part of the parishes in the hundred, but from 1300 the forest was usually more narrowly defined to exclude the whole hundred. (fn. 39) There is evidence of widespread medieval assarting in Tidenham and Woolaston, (fn. 40) but Tidenham Chase was not inclosed until 1815. (fn. 41) Open fields existed in all the parishes and were mostly inclosed by a gradual process between the 15th and early 19th centuries. Farming remains the chief occupation of the hundred, but the importance of fruit growing and cider making, especially from the 18th century, has been replaced by dairy farming in the 20th century, Gloucester and Chepstow are the principal market towns for the area, and in 1970 those not employed in agriculture chiefly found work in those towns and in Lydney and Mitcheldean. The opening of the Severn motorway bridge in 1966 improved communications with Bristol, but only in parts of Tidenham had there been extensive housing development by 1970, when most of the hundred remained rural in character.