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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About 780 Ethelmund son of Ingeld granted an estate, described as 30 hides at Over, to Gloucester Abbey, and in 804 his son Ethelric confirmed the estate to the secular clerks then at the abbey. (fn. 1) The estate appears to have covered much more than the small area at the east end of Churcham parish that was later known as Over, and it is possible that it actually included the whole area of the later manors of Churcham and Highnam. The abbey cartulary relates, however, that those manors were granted to the abbey by a nobleman called Wulfin le Rue soon after the arrival of the Benedictine monks at the abbey in 1022. Wulfin was said to have killed six priests between Churcham and Gloucester and, seeking absolution from the pope, to have been required to find six priests to intercede for him in perpetuity; he granted Churcham and Highnam to Gloucester Abbey on condition that it should provide monks to make the intercession. (fn. 2) The two manors were evidently represented by the five-hide estate of Ham and Morton and the sevenhide estate also called Ham which belonged to the abbey in 1086. (fn. 3) In 1287 the Abbot of Gloucester claimed free warren in Highnam and Churcham by virtue of a charter of Henry II, (fn. 4) and he received a grant of protection in the manors in 1322. (fn. 5) The two manors were retained by the abbey until the Dissolution.
The manor of CHURCHAM was among the former Gloucester Abbey lands settled on the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester cathedral in 1541, (fn. 6) and it was retained by them until the 19th century. Soon after obtaining it the dean and chapter leased Churcham with three other manors to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and later granted a lease, to run from the end of the earl's term, to Thomas Kingswood, one of the prebendaries of the cathedral. Kingswood apparently held Churcham for some time before 1559 when he complained that his lease of the manor, and another lease demising to him the part of Birdwood which belonged to the manor, had been stolen. (fn. 7) In 1569 the manor was leased for three years to John Bellamy. (fn. 8) During much of the 17th and 18th centuries the manor was leased in separate moieties for terms of 21 years, although in practice the leases were generally renewed after 4 to 10 years. Until the 19th century the manor estate included almost the whole of the Churcham division of the parish, the only other estate of any size there being the part of Birdwood belonging to the lords of Highnam. (fn. 9)
John Brown, an alderman of Gloucester, who was presumably the same man who had 5 servants at Churcham in 1608, (fn. 10) was described as lord of the manor at his death in 1639; his widow Sarah had a lease of the whole manor soon after his death and later granted her interest to John Harris of London. (fn. 11) In 1649, however, John Harris apparently held only a share of the manor from the parliamentary commissioners; (fn. 12) his widow Hester was seeking a renewal of his lease in 1660. (fn. 13) In 1661 the dean and chapter leased a moiety of the manor to William Harris, a London merchant, who retained it until 1669 or later. From 1681 that moiety was held by Thomas Harris, who lived at Churcham, and in 1719 and 1726 the lease was renewed to successive vicars of Churcham acting as trustees under Harris's will. From 1733 the moiety was held by Ebenezer Harris of Churcham (fn. 14) who died in 1741. (fn. 15) In 1742 it was leased to Charles Barrow who held it until 1777; (fn. 16) that moiety of the manor then reverted to the dean and chapter who subsequently retained the manorial rights over it in hand. (fn. 17)
The other moiety of the manor was apparently held by Thomas Pury, alderman of Gloucester, in 1649, (fn. 18) and during the later 17th century it had a variety of lessees, including three Londoners. From 1718 that moiety was held by George Stoughton who made his home at Churcham. Eugenia Stoughton, evidently George's widow, obtained a renewal of the lease in 1746 (fn. 19) and from 1753 to 1766 or later the moiety was held by Thomas Rous acting as trustee for Eugenia, who had married Watson Powell. (fn. 20) In 1773 the moiety was leased to James Money and in 1786 and 1792 to William Money. (fn. 21) By 1803 it had reverted to the dean and chapter (fn. 22) who apparently retained the manorial rights over the whole manor in hand until 1855 when it passed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The commissioners sold over 500 a. of copyhold land before 1889 and had sold the remainder of the estate by 1920, (fn. 23) and in 1970 there was no large landowner, most of the farms belonging to the farmers.
There was evidently a manor-house on the site of Churcham Court on the north-west side of the churchyard by the early 13th century. (fn. 24) In 1526 the site of the manor was granted on a long lease at a rent which comprised one good horse and quotas of wheat, oats, geese, capons, and pullets; the lessee undertook to rebuild a kitchen on the site. (fn. 25) In 1649 the house there was of six bays and comprised a kitchen, a little hall, lower parlour, pantry, two cellars, a hall above stairs, an upper parlour and four chambers with cocklofts above. (fn. 26) It was presumably the house with seven hearths for which William Harris was assessed in 1662. (fn. 27) In 1792 it was described as a large brick and tiled mansion house with five rooms on a floor. (fn. 28) The existence of another smaller house nearby close to the west end of the church presumably resulted from the division of the manor into two moieties. The smaller house was known as the Manor Farm in 1791 when it was described as an old timber-built and tiled farmhouse; (fn. 29) it was rebuilt in the 19th century as a single brick range of two stories.
Churcham Court is rectangular on plan, apart from a small 19th-century wing at the north-east corner, but the house owes its present shape to alterations and additions at several periods. The three-gabled north front is rough-cast and has a central 19th-century porch; elsewhere the walls are faced with brick of the 18th century and later. There appear to be no remains of the medieval building, the oldest surviving portion being a timber-framed range of two stories and four bays on the south side, dating from the 16th or early 17th century; a large chimney, later enclosed within the house, stands against its north wall. At the west end of that range is a cross-wing with similar floor levels but without visible timber-framing. The cross-wing was once much longer, extending southwards almost to the smaller house west of the church; the southern projection was demolished between 1812 (fn. 30) and 1882. (fn. 31) The house was altered c. 1700 when a wide oak staircase with twisted balusters was inserted in the most westerly bay of the timber-framed range. The vicar formerly had a right-of-way through the bay and the front and rear doors of the house on his way to and from the church, which he continued to exercise on occasion until 1922 when the right was extinguished; (fn. 32) it is possible that there was formerly an open cross-passage in that position, enclosed when the staircase was inserted. At the same time the house appears to have been extended northwards, the present entrance-hall having a wide archway of c. 1700. The rooms in the north-east part of the house have higher ceiling levels than those elsewhere and it is likely that the whole of the frontage was rebuilt still further north in the mid 19th century when the north-east wing was also added.
The rectory of Churcham was also held by Gloucester Abbey in the Middle Ages and granted to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester in 1541. (fn. 33) It was leased to John Brown, the lessee of Churcham manor, in 1634, (fn. 34) and to his widow Sarah in 1639. (fn. 35) From 1661 until 1756 or later the rectorial tithes arising from Churcham manor and from Bulley were leased to the Harrises and the successors to their moiety of Churcham manor, (fn. 36) with the exception of the tithes of the demesne lands of the other moiety which the lessees of that moiety held on lease. (fn. 37) At inclosure in 1803 the lessee under the dean and chapter was awarded 102 a. of land for the rectorial tithes of Churcham manor. The rectorial tithes of Highnam, Linton, and Over were leased by the dean and chapter to the vicar of Churcham from 1663 and later granted to him in fee. (fn. 38)
The manor of HIGHNAM, comprising the hamlets of Highnam, Linton, and Over in the east part of the parish, was granted by the Crown in 1542 to John Arnold, (fn. 39) who had held the site of the manor on lease from Gloucester Abbey since 1516. (fn. 40) John died in 1545 and the manor passed to his son Nicholas Arnold, (fn. 41) who had been in the service of Thomas Cromwell and later of the Crown and was knighted before 1552. (fn. 42) In 1554 Sir Nicholas was implicated in Wyatt's rebellion and imprisoned in the Tower, but he was released and pardoned the next year; (fn. 43) in 1556 he again suffered imprisonment for plotting against the Crown. He was Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1558 and 1559 and later sat in Parliament for both the county and Gloucester city; in 1564-5 he was Lord Justice of Ireland. Sir Nicholas also gained a reputation for efforts to improve the breed of English horses. (fn. 44) He died in April 1580 and was succeeded by his grand-daughter Dorothy, who was married to Thomas Lucy, son of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote (Warws.). Dorothy died in September 1580 but Thomas, who was knighted in 1593, retained the manor until his death in 1605 when he was succeeded by his daughter Joyce, (fn. 45) the wife of Sir William Cooke. (fn. 46) Sir William, who was M.P. for the county in 1614, died in 1618 and was succeeded by his son Robert, who was knighted in 1621. In the Civil War Sir Robert raised a regiment of foot for parliament and was granted a colonel's commission; he sat for Tewkesbury in the Long Parliament. He died in 1643 and the manor passed to his son William Cooke who at first declared for the Crown but later supported parliament. William was sheriff of the county in 1663 and Mayor of Gloucester in 1672 and he later represented the city in Parliament for several years. (fn. 47) He died c. 1700 and Highnam manor passed to his son Edward (d. c. 1724), and to Edward's son Dennis. (fn. 48) (d. 1747). (fn. 49) Dennis Cooke's coheirs were his sisters Mary, who married Henry Guise, and Anne, who married Roynon Jones of Nass, Lydney. Henry Guise died in 1749 and Mary in 1750, and her moiety of the manor passed to her son John Guise who bought the other moiety from Anne's son William Jones in 1769. (fn. 50) In the mid 18th century the manor included all but c. 70 a. of Highnam, Linton, and Over. (fn. 51)
John Guise, who became a baronet on the death of his cousin Sir William Guise of Elmore in 1783, held Highnam manor until his death in 1794 when it passed to his son Sir Berkeley William Guise (fn. 52) (d. 1834). Sir Berkeley was succeeded by his brother Sir John Wright Guise who sold the manor c. 1838 to Thomas Gambler Parry. (fn. 53) Thomas Gambler Parry became well known as a painter of frescoes and collector of works of art and locally gained the reputation of a philanthropist, founding a children's hospital, orphanage, and college of science and art at Gloucester, and providing a church and school for his tenants at Highnam. (fn. 54) Thomas died in 1888 (fn. 55) and his widow Ethelinda held the Highnam estate until her death in 1896. It then passed to Thomas's son by his first wife, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, the composer and director of the Royal College of Music, who was made a baronet in 1902. (fn. 56) On Sir Hubert's death in 1918 the estate passed to his half-brother Ernest Gambler Parry (d. 1936). Ernest was succeeded by his son Thomas Mark Gambler Parry who conveyed the farms of the estate to his cousin Mr. W. P. Cripps by deed of gift c. 1950, but retained the manor-house, Highnam Court, and the grounds and woods belonging to it, until his death in 1966 when they passed to his heir Mr. T. J. Fenton. (fn. 57)
The Abbots of Gloucester had a house at Highnam in the Middle Ages and almost all of the later lords of the manor have used Highnam Court as their chief residence. John Wygmore, Abbot of Gloucester from 1328 to 1337, (fn. 58) was said to have built a great grange at Highnam and completed the building of the abbot's chamber next to the great hall, with a small hall and a chapel. (fn. 59) A mansion was included in the lease to John Arnold in 1516, although the abbey reserved the use of part of it in time of plague at Gloucester. (fn. 60) In 1607 the house, which was built of lathes and squared stonework, included a hall, parlour, great chamber, and two porches. (fn. 61) The house is said to have been badly damaged in the battle at Highnam in 1643 and it was later rebuilt by William Cooke, reputedly before the end of the Interregnum; (fn. 62) Cooke was assessed on 18 hearths in 1772. (fn. 63) Because of its advanced style for the Interregnum period the design of the new building was inevitably connected with the name of Inigo Jones by writers in the 18th century and later, but no evidence has been found for the attribution or for the more plausible theory that one of his pupils named Carter was the architect. (fn. 64) If built before 1660, however, Highnam Court is to be added to the small but important group of country houses which formed a link between the work of Inigo Jones and the generally accepted style of the later 17th century. In that connexion the plan of Highnam Court, a compact rectangle two rooms deep from back to front, is especially significant. Thomas Baskerville, writing in the 1680s, noted that the new house had been built 'quadrangular, after the new fashion'. (fn. 65)
The surviving 17th-century house, which has been little altered externally, is of two stories and attics having a slight projection at each end of the south front. It is built of red brick with stone quoins and dressings and has a hipped roof, dormer windows, and enriched brackets to the deeply overhanging eaves. The window openings, which would originally have been fitted with mullioned and transomed casements, were later replaced by sashes; they have stone architraves, those on the first floor being surmounted by separate cornices, while the cornices above the lower windows form part of a moulded string-course which is continuous round the building. The former entrance front facing south is of nine bays including the two flanking projections. The central doorway has a scrolled pediment incorporating a cartouche, the supporting pilasters carrying festoons of drapery and fruit, carved in bold relief. Above the doorway is a shell-headed niche said to have originally contained the statue of Hercules which in 1970 occupied an alcove in a wall east of the house. (fn. 66) The only 17th-century feature which has survived internally is an oak staircase with heavy turned balusters and acorn-capped newels.
The interior of the house was completely refitted in the later 18th century. The decorative plasterwork in the principal rooms is in two distinct styles, the elaborate rococo of the mid 18th century and the more restrained 'Adam' style which followed it. The best rococo examples are the drawing-room ceiling and the wall-panels in the music room, the latter containing groups of musical instruments finely modelled in high relief. John Guise was employing two plasterers at the house in 1770, (fn. 67) but on stylistic grounds it seems likely that the rococo work was executed at a slightly earlier period. (fn. 68) The grand stone staircase, with its wrought-iron balustrade, and the Venetian window above it, were inserted in 1772-3. (fn. 69) Also at that period the music room and best drawing room were re-floored and new paving was supplied for the kitchen and offices, (fn. 70) the latter probably situated in the north-west wing which was in existence c. 1755 and may have survived from the earlier house. (fn. 71) Considerable alterations to the outbuildings and grounds were carried out by Sir Berkeley William Guise in the first twenty years of the 19th century. (fn. 72) In 1808 he built a new stable block to the north-east of the house; (fn. 73) standing round three sides of a courtyard, it is of two stories with rough-cast walls and an embattled stone parapet and has ground-floor windows set in arched recesses and first-floor windows with semicircular heads. In 1970 the stable block and part of the grounds were occupied by a firm of landscape gardeners.
In the mid 19th century Highnam Court was considerably altered and extended by Thomas Gambler Parry. Work carried out c. 1840 moved the principal entrance from the south to the north side, the 17th-century hall becoming a library. A large Ionic portico surmounted by a pediment was built at the north-east corner of the house giving access to a new entrance hall, the insertion of the latter involving the destruction of part of the north wall of the music room and its 18th-century ornamentation. A single-storied addition along the north side contained a corridor linking the entrance hall and the office wing on the north-west, and a high wall was built to screen off the garden east of the house and give the portico an apparently central position. Alterations were also made at that time to the office wing but much of the new work there was swept away in 1855 when the wing was again remodelled and extended to the west. Other mid-19th-century alterations included the enlargement of the central dormers on the east, west, and south fronts by the addition of small pediments and rusticated stone surrounds, the enlargement of one of the windows on the west into a new doorway surmounted by the Parry and Newcastle arms, and the addition, c. 1843, of a balustraded terrace on the south side. (fn. 74) The architect employed c. 1840 and in 1855 was Lewis Vulliamy. (fn. 75) who was known for his ability to design in different styles; he used red brick and stone for his extensions and it is not always easy to distinguish his work from the 17th-century original. Further alterations were carried out in 1869 to the designs of John Brandon, the most notable being the insertion of a billiard-room against the wall to the east of the portico. (fn. 76) Highnam Court became the repository of the valuable art collection built up by Thomas Gambier Parry, which included several early Italian paintings as well as objects in ivory, majolica, enamel, and glass; the collection was bequeathed by T. M. Gambier Parry at his death in 1966 to London University to be housed at the Courtauld Institute. (fn. 77)
The brook flowing west and south of Highnam Court has been utilized to form fishponds and decorative lakes in its grounds. In 1607 there was a series of three large ponds in the west part of the grounds, Shoell Pool in the north, Hourse Pool in the centre, and Orchard Pool at the south. To the south of the house there was a group of seven smaller 'stews' or fishponds, regular in shape and presumably created by the abbots of Gloucester. To the east, lying in the fork of the Ross and Newent roads was the large lake covering 11 a. known as the Great Pool. (fn. 78) In the early 18th century the Great Pool was stocked with a variety of fish and wildfowl, (fn. 79) and swans were later kept. (fn. 80) Shoell Pool and Horse Pool (by then called Dog Kennel Pool) were stocked with flounders in 1772. (fn. 81) Deer were kept in a paddock north of the house c. 1708. (fn. 82) In the mid 18th century there was a formal garden south-west of the house, (fn. 83) and work on a new garden and a hot-house was in progress in 1772. (fn. 84) The appearance of the grounds was altered considerably in the early 19th century: the chapel by the south-east corner of the house was demolished in 1807, (fn. 85) the fishponds south of the house were replaced by a single long lake, evidently the 'canal' which was under construction there in 1809 and 1810, (fn. 86) and the Great Pool was drained in the winter of 1817-18. (fn. 87) The two southern ponds of the three on the west were drained in the 1840s for the construction of a rock-garden, part of extensive new gardens laid out there by James Pulham for Thomas Gambier Parry. (fn. 88) Another feature of the grounds is the numerous conifers of different varieties planted by Gambier Parry. (fn. 89)
The abbots of Gloucester had another house on Highnam manor; it stood north of Over and was known as THE VINEYARD from the abbey's vineyard nearby. Abbot Walter Frouncester (1381- 1412) (fn. 90) added a stone house to buildings already on the site, (fn. 91) and the Vineyard was described as a goodly house c. 1540. (fn. 92) In 1541 the Crown granted the house and 16 a. of land to John Wakeman for the use of him and his successors as bishops of Gloucester, (fn. 93) and the grant was confirmed to Bishop Hooper in 1552; (fn. 94) the bishop was using it as a residence in 1575 and in 1640. (fn. 95) In 1672 William Montague, who in 1678 was described as the bishop's tenant of the Vineyard, was assessed for tax on 7 hearths at Over, and the bishop himself on 4 hearths. (fn. 96) The house had apparently been demolished by c. 1755 when the site was known as the Mount; 42 a. of land lying round about belonged then to the bishop. (fn. 97) In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the land was leased by the bishop to the lords of Highnam manor. (fn. 98) The site of the house, north-west of Over Hospital, was still clearly visible in 1970, a large rectangular area surrounded by a steep-sided moat.