Fretherne and Saul: Economic history

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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'Fretherne and Saul: Economic history', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 10, Westbury and Whitstone Hundreds, (London, 1972) pp. 162-165. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section


AGRICULTURE. The evidence about agriculture in Fretherne and Saul before the 16th century is extremely sparse. In 1086 the demesne of Fretherne, with 1 servus, had 1 plough-team, and there were 2 plough-teams shared between 3 villani and 3 bordars. The value of the estate had fallen from 60s. before the Conquest to 30s. (fn. 1) Saul was not separately mentioned in Domesday. An agreement of 1269 about the commoning rights of the tenants of Gloucester Abbey's manor of Saul over arable, pasture, and meadow within Fretherne manor shows that the fields of the two manors were not distinct, and also that the demesne of Fretherne was still in the lord's hand. The agreement mentions a field called the Lower Wheatcroft, (fn. 2) and a further agreement of 1310, specifying that the field was in Fretherne lordship, clarified the common rights there of the Saul tenants and stated that the field was left unsown every third year. (fn. 3)

Wheatcroft field was one of six open fields regularly mentioned at later dates in Fretherne and Saul; the others were Marsh, Lower, Sand, Pool, and Hill fields. Marsh field, also known as the Marsh, (fn. 4) appears to have been much the largest. Wheatcroft was quite small. (fn. 5) Hill field was alternatively known as High field. (fn. 6) West field may have been the same as either Marsh or Lower field. (fn. 7) Also recorded were Pulse field, perhaps the same as Pool field, (fn. 8) and Twinpool, which was evidently distinct from Pool field (fn. 9) and may have been the same as Sand field. Although it would be possible to argue from the disposition of the fields (fn. 10) that the three on the west, Marsh field, Wheatcroft, and Lower field were the original fields of Fretherne, and the three on the east those of Saul, it seems more likely that the three divisions that may be inferred from the agreement of 1310 (fn. 11) were represented by Hill field, Pool field, and Wheatcroft with Lower field, while Sand field was originally part of Pool field, and Marsh field was brought into cultivation comparatively late. In 1843 Saul parish included land in all except Wheatcroft, and Fretherne parish in all except Sand and Pool fields, (fn. 12) and that had evidently been so from the late 16th century. (fn. 13) No evidence has been found of the division of the fields into furlongs. The ridges were small, usually c. ¼ a., and sometimes less than 1/6 a. (fn. 14)

The common meadow of both parishes lay in the east, by the bank of the River Frome. Most of it lay in Saul's mead, which included land belonging to Fretherne parish. (fn. 15) For permanent pasture Fretherne and Saul relied mainly on the warths along the Severn on the south-west, lands either reclaimed from the Severn or left high and dry by a change in the river's course. The warths were stated to be the equivalent of salt marshes; (fn. 16) a salting was mentioned in the agreement about commoning of 1269. (fn. 17) The warths had evidently long been regarded as commons in the early 17th century (fn. 18) when a change in the river's course increased their area in Fretherne and Saul by over 80 a. A part of the new ground called Fretherne Warth, amounting to 12 a. near Fretherne Lodge, was appropriated by Richard Clifford, as were 30 a. in Frampton parish by Isaac Bromwich. On the 70 a. of Saul and Fretherne Warth, adjoining Saul and Fretherne Old Warth and not divided from it, the inhabitants of Saul and Fretherne successfully maintained their supposed commoning rights against the claim of Erasmus Finch, crossbow maker to Charles I, to possession of all the new ground under a Crown lease of 1631. (fn. 19) By 1801 the whole of Saul Warth, as the commonable area came to be known, amounted to c. 100 a. and was commoned in two ways: from the Saturday before Whitsun until 12 August the owners of lathes, lots, or beastpastures turned their cattle out on the warth to the number of lathes that they owned, and had the exclusive right to do so, but from 12 August until 5 April all the parishioners of Fretherne and Saul could turn out their cattle, apparently without number. The exclusive commoning had apparently been practised before the 17th-century enlargement of the warths, but the commoning by all the parishioners may have been introduced only after that enlargement. (fn. 20) In the earlier 19th century tithes were payable on 137 beast pastures in Saul Warth. (fn. 21)

The demesne of Fretherne manor appears to have been usually kept in hand by the lords of the manor until 1726 or slightly later. It amounted to over 100 a. (fn. 22) By the mid 16th century there was no demesne land in Saul manor, if indeed there had ever been. Gloucester Abbey's manor of Standish in 1541 included customary rents from Saul totalling £9, (fn. 23) and in 1547 the manor had 8 customary tenants in Saul. (fn. 24) In 1599 Saul manor, as it was then called, had 8 tenants, (fn. 25) presumably copyholders. A lease in reversion of 1625, charged with rent in eggs or cash and with heriots in cash or kind, may indicate a general change in Saul from copyhold to leasehold tenure. (fn. 26) The number of agricultural tenants is likely to have been smaller in Fretherne than in Saul, for in 1608 only 4 husbandmen were named in Fretherne compared with II in Saul. (fn. 27) In Fretherne in 1640 only 5 inhabitants out of 18 assessed for a poor rate were listed as holding more than 20 a., (fn. 28) and in 1732 only 6 out of 26 assessed for land tax had assessments of over 6s. (fn. 29) In 1831 there were 8 agricultural occupiers in Fretherne, of whom all but one employed labour, and 5, all employing labour, in Saul. (fn. 30) In 1841 and 1842 there were 5 farms of over 70 a. in Fretherne and Saul, of which the largest were Saul farm (199 a.) and Fretherne Lodge farm (144 a.), (fn. 31) the chief farms of the two manorial estates.

Saul had a considerable proportion of arable land c. 1775, (fn. 32) and Fretherne was divided a few years later nearly equally between grass and arable. (fn. 33) In 1806 Saul had considerably more arable than Fretherne; (fn. 34) c. 1840 there were 246 a. in Saul and 172 a. in Fretherne. (fn. 35) At the end of the 18th century beans were the crop most frequently grown, with wheat next. (fn. 36) The customary rotation was two crops and a fallow. (fn. 37) Dairying was important in the local economy, (fn. 38) as also was fruit growing for cider. (fn. 39)

The open fields of Fretherne and Saul were inclosed in 1843, under an Act of 1839. (fn. 40) Although there is some evidence of the consolidation of ridges in the fields in the 17th century, (fn. 41) there is nothing to indicate extensive inclosure of open fields before the mid 19th century. The award of 1843 allotted 196 a. of open land in Fretherne and 312 a. in Saul. It also recorded 358 a. of old inclosures in Fretherne and 230 a. in Saul. The newly inclosed land included Saul Warth. In the two parishes there were 71 landowners in all, of whom 42 received allotments, ranging from less than 1 a. to 141 a.; 27 of the allotments were under 3 a., and in addition 8 people, at their own request, received lump sums of from 18s. to £20 instead of small allotments to replace their rights and interests. (fn. 42)

In the later 19th century and afterwards the number of farms fell, though the breakup of the Fretherne Court estate after 1919 appears to have caused an increase of the number in Fretherne. (fn. 43) In 1967 there were 8 farms of 80–200 a. By 1901 the total extent of arable had shrunk to 135 a., (fn. 44) and there was very little arable in 1919 (fn. 45) or 1933. (fn. 46) In 1967 some corn was being grown and sheep and pigs were kept, but dairy cattle and beef cattle predominated. Gardens formerly belonging to Fretherne Court, with extensive glass houses, were used commercially for nurseries from c. 1924, (fn. 47) as in 1967.


Winebaud de Ballon gave Framilode Mill, with the consent of his son Roger, to Gloucester Abbey in 1126. (fn. 48) In 1291 the abbey's mill at Framilode was valued at 3 marks, a high figure. (fn. 49) In 1513 the abbey leased its two water mills on the river Frome at Framilode to Thomas Bullock, his wife Alice, and their son William, (fn. 50) and the Bullocks, together with William's wife Agnes and their son Thomas, received a further lease of the two mills in 1533. (fn. 51) The elder Thomas Bullock died in 1545; (fn. 52) in 1556 William bought the reversion of the mills, with other property, from Thomas Winston, lord of Standish, and by then there was a fulling mill in addition to the two grist mills. (fn. 53) That enlargement may have been why a litigant in 1590 described Framilode Mills as lately built, (fn. 54) but the same litigant at about the same time said that the mills were rebuilt c. 24 years ago by Robert Bullock, (fn. 55) the infant son and heir of William Bullock at his death in 1556. (fn. 56) Robert Bullock died in 1572, and his son and heir William (fn. 57) died without issue. (fn. 58)

Framilode Mills, still comprising two corn mills and a fulling mill, were conveyed by George Snig and George Staples to Edward and John Archer in 1600, by John Archer to Christopher Moore in 1607, and by Christopher Moore to Richard and Alice Andrew in 1612. (fn. 59) In 1683 Thomas Beard conveyed three water mills at Framilode to Rice Yate, (fn. 60) and in 1705 the Rector of Eastington received tithes from a mill in Framilode called Beard's. (fn. 61) In 1730 Yate's son Walter complained that the proposed Stroudwater Navigation would damage his mills called Framilode Mills; (fn. 62) in 1760 Walter's greatgreat nephew, Robert Yate, leased water cornmills and iron slitting mills called Framilode Mills to George Wilding (d. 1766) of Framilode, ironmaster, whose widow Elizabeth sold his interest in 1767 to William Purnell, John Purnell of Fromebridge, and Joseph Faithorne. (fn. 63) Those three, as partners in the manufacture of iron, tinplate, and brass, in 1778 bought from John Purnell of Dursley, William's father, other mills at Framilode, described as iron and tin mills, (fn. 64) that evidently shared a site with the Yates' mills. The mills bought in 1778 had belonged with Saul manor to George Lloyd in 1673, when they were described as two cornmills and two fulling mills, (fn. 65) and in 1680 Lloyd settled two cornmills in Saul on his daughter Anne who was married to Abraham Chamberlain. William Lloyd in 1707 conveyed them to his brother John, whose daughter and heir Elizabeth, with her husband Charles Chauncy, sold them in 1754 to George Wilding, mentioned above, and from Elizabeth Wilding the mills passed, by a series of transactions in 1777 and 1778, to John Purnell of Dursley. (fn. 66)

The whole complex of mills, standing on or beside the island site in the Frome at Upper Framilode, was a tinplate works in 1786, (fn. 67) and it was presumably in them that Henry Hathaway of Framilode had carried on his tinplate manufacture in 1775. (fn. 68) The tinplate mills of Purnell & Co. (fn. 69) were worked with some financial success, despite a setback in 1808, (fn. 70) and were responsible for the rapid increase in the population of Saul in the late 18th century and early 19th, (fn. 71) for the high proportion of inhabitants engaged in manufacture in 1821, (fn. 72) and for much new building in Framilode hamlet. In 1824, however, Purnell & Co. offered to let the works, for which an annual capacity of 23,000 boxes of tinplates was claimed. (fn. 73) Seven years later Framilode Mills were being used as a forge, (fn. 74) and the bulk of the working population was employed not in manufacture but as nonagricultural labourers. (fn. 75) In 1833 a Mr. Purnell was still concerned about the supply of water to the mills, of which some was diverted with his consent to the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal, (fn. 76) but by 1841 the island site was empty, described as waste. (fn. 77) In 1967 the site was overgrown but showed signs that it had been planted as an orchard.

A cornmill just east of the inn at Framilode passage was in use by 1841; (fn. 78) it was apparently worked then, as later, by steam, and it remained in use until the Second World War. (fn. 79) Parts of the mill buildings survived, near the house, in 1967.


A fair was held on St. James's day at Saul in the early 18th century, (fn. 80) but no record of it has been found in other periods. The cloth trade in Fretherne and Saul is represented by clothiers there in the mid 13th century (fn. 81) and the mid 18th, (fn. 82) and by weavers recorded between 1571 (fn. 83) and 1715: (fn. 84) in 1608 there were 4 or more weavers in Fretherne and 6 or more in Saul, and a fuller then living in Fretherne may have had the fulling mill mentioned above. There was also a glover in 1608, a tailor in 1608 (fn. 85) and 1658, (fn. 86) a clothworker in 1657, (fn. 87) and a tanner in 1823. (fn. 88) Two physicians lived in Saul in the later 17th century, (fn. 89) and a surgeon in 1717. (fn. 90) Other occupations, apart from those of blacksmith, mason, (fn. 91) and carpenter, (fn. 92) were mostly connected with water-borne traffic: mariners are recorded from the 14th century (fn. 93) to the 17th, (fn. 94) and after the building of the two canals there were shipbuilders, ship's carpenters, and barge-owners in Fretherne and Saul. (fn. 95) In the 1870s and 80s schooners and barques of up to 340 tons were built in yards at Sandfield Bridge and the canal junction. (fn. 96) Trows and other smaller vessels continued to be built in the early 20th century, and some boat repair work was done at the junction in 1967. (fn. 97) Some ship building was also done at Framilode in the 1870s and 80s. (fn. 98)

A factory was opened by Cadbury Bros. Ltd. beside the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal in 1916, for converting milk into chocolate crumb to be taken by water to Bourneville (Birmingham). The original capacity was 40,000 gallons a month; the average monthly capacity, in addition to milk handled for the Milk Marketing Board, was 1¼ million gallons in 1967. By then the factory, which no longer used water borne transport, employed 160 people. (fn. 99)


  • 1. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 169v.
  • 2. Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Frocester B, p. 96.
  • 3. Ibid. p. 97.
  • 4. Glos. R.O., D 2193 (R. J. Cooper), drafts, sale partics. &c. (map).
  • 5. Glos. R.O., Q/RI 69.
  • 6. G.D.R. Saul terriers.
  • 7. Inq. p.m. Glos. 1625–42, iii. 30.
  • 8. Glos. Colln. deeds 139.5.
  • 9. Ibid. RF 139.5 (2). The watery land and Runnals in G.D.R. Fretherne terrier, 1612, may represent Pool field and Twinpool.
  • 10. Shown in, e.g. Glos. Colln. Box VII. 10–12.
  • 11. Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Frocester B, p. 97.
  • 12. Glos. R.O., Q/RI 69.
  • 13. G.D.R. Saul terrier, n.d. (16th cent.); Glos. R.O., D 149/T 1152; Glos. Colln. RF 139.5 (1).
  • 14. Inq. p.m. Glos. 1625–42, iii. 30; Glos. R.O., D 149/T 1152; Glos. Colln. deeds 139.5; ibid. RR 139.2; G.D.R. Saul terrier, 1807.
  • 15. Glos. Colln. Box VII. 10–12; Glos. R.O., Q/RI 69.
  • 16. e.g. Glos. R.O., D 149/E 37.
  • 17. Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Frocester B, p. 96.
  • 18. Glos. Colln. deeds 139.5.
  • 19. E 317/Glos./9; cf. E 178/5309. The land appropriated by Clifford was presumably the New Grounds shown in Glos. Colln. RF 139.3.
  • 20. Glos. Colln. RF 139.7; cf. e.g. Glos. R.O., D 149/T 205, T 1152; D 228/T 3.
  • 21. G.D.R. Fretherne tithe award; Saul tithe award.
  • 22. See p. 160; cf. e.g. Glos. Colln. RF 139.6.
  • 23. S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/1248 m. 13.
  • 24. S.C. 12/2/46.
  • 25. Glos. R.O., D 1229, Fretherne &c. deeds, 1646–1753 (copy of 1599 deed).
  • 26. Ibid. D 149/T 1152.
  • 27. Smith, Men and Armour, 315–16.
  • 28. Glos. Colln. RF 139.6.
  • 29. Ibid. 139.5 (3).
  • 30. Census, 1831.
  • 31. G.D.R. Fretherne tithe award; Saul tithe award.
  • 32. Rudder, Glos. 644.
  • 33. Bigland, Glos. i. 602.
  • 34. Glos. Colln. RF 139.10.
  • 35. G.D.R. Fretherne tithe award; Saul tithe award.
  • 36. Glos. R.O., D 149/E 79.
  • 37. Glos. Colln. RF 139.10.
  • 38. e.g. ibid. RV 139. 1–2.
  • 39. e.g. ibid. RF 20.11 (sale parties., lot 7).
  • 40. Glos. R.O., Q/RI 69.
  • 41. Ibid. D 149/T 1152; inclosure of part of Sand field is implied by D.L. 1/200 A. 52.
  • 42. Glos. R.O., Q/RI 69.
  • 43. See p. 161; Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1856 and later edns.).
  • 44. Acreage Returns, 1901.
  • 45. Glos. R.O., D 2299/1828.
  • 46. Land Util. Surv. Map, sheet 103.
  • 47. Local information.
  • 48. Dugdale, Mon. i. 546.
  • 49. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 231.
  • 50. Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Malvern, i, ff. 17v.–18.
  • 51. Ibid. ii, f. 78; S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/1248 m. 13.
  • 52. Hockaday Abs. cccxxxi.
  • 53. Cal. Pat. 1555–7, 133.
  • 54. D.L. 1/160 no. 35.
  • 55. D.L. 1/163 no. 5.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. 1555–7, 526–7.
  • 57. C 142/164/63.
  • 58. Fosbrooke, Glos. i. 322.
  • 59. C.P. 25(2)/147/1919/19; 297/5 Jas. 1 Mich./23; 298/10 Jas. I Trin./12.
  • 60. C.P. 25(2)/659/35 Chas. 11 Mich./14.
  • 61. G.D.R. Eastington terrier, 1705.
  • 62. C.J. xxi. 509b; for the Yate family see Visit. Glos. 1682–3, 211.
  • 63. Glos. Colln. R 135.1–2; Glouc. Jnl. 13 Oct. 1766.
  • 64. Glos. R.O., D 2193 (Purnell), Frampton deeds, 1765– 1826.
  • 65. C.P. 25(2)/658/25 Chas. 11 Trin./12.
  • 66. Glos. R.O., D 2193 (Purnell), Framilode deeds, 1672– 1777; ibid. 1777–1817.
  • 67. Glos. Colln., Box VII. 11.
  • 68. Bigland, Glos. iii, no. ccxxii.
  • 69. Rudge, Hist. of Glos. i. 375.
  • 70. Glos. R.O., D 2193 (Purnell), business papers.
  • 71. Cf. p. 159.
  • 72. Census, 1821.
  • 73. Glos Colln. RR 135.1 (1–2).
  • 74. O.S. Map 1", sheet 43 (1831 edn.).
  • 75. Census, 1831.
  • 76. Glos. R.O., D 2115/2.
  • 77. G.D.R. Saul tithe award.
  • 78. Ibid.
  • 79. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Glos. XL. 3 (1881, 1922 edns.); Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1939), 172; local information.
  • 80. Atkyns, Glos. 639; cf. Bodl. MS. Rawl. B. 323, f. 158; Bodl. MS. Top Glouc. C. 3, f. 218v.
  • 81. Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Frocester B, p. 95.
  • 82. Glos. R.O., D 149/T 239, T 1109; Bigland, Glos. iii, no. ccxxxii (Thos. Ellis); Gouc. Jnl. 8 Apr. 1760.
  • 83. Glos. Colln. deeds 139.30; cf. ibid. 5, 39.
  • 84. Hockaday Abs. cci.
  • 85. Smith, Men and Armour, 315–16.
  • 86. Glos. R.O., D 149/T 416.
  • 87. Ibid. D 1229, Fretherne &c. deeds, 1646–1753.
  • 88. Ibid. D 149/M 5; cf. ibid. M 6 (1832).
  • 89. Glos. Colln. deeds 209.36; Bigland, Glos. iii, no. ccxxxii.
  • 90. Hockaday Abs. cccxxxi.
  • 91. Smith, Men and Armour, 315–16; Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1856 and later edns.); the smith's shop in Saul, still identifiable in 1967, stood west of the church in 1920: O.S. Map 1/2,500, Glos. XL. 7 (1922 edn.).
  • 92. Glos. Colln. deeds 139.41; Glos. R.O., D 149/T 205.
  • 93. Reg. Mon. Winch. i. 5.
  • 94. Smith, Men and Armour, 315–16; Bigland, Glos. iii, no. ccxxxii; Glos. R.O., D 2193 (Purnell), Framilode deeds (1692)–1827; cf. also Farr, Chepstow Ships, 33, 144, 170. For a shipwright of 1608 who may have been of Framilode, see above, p. 134.
  • 95. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1856 and later edns.).
  • 96. Note penes Mr. D. Wathan, of Saul (copy in Glos. R.O., PA 283/1).
  • 97. Local information.
  • 98. Farr, Chepstow Ships, 149, 169, plate facing p. 12.
  • 99. Ex inf. the manager, Mr. D. Wathan.