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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FROCESTER, the site of a Roman settlement and formerly an estate of Gloucester Abbey, lies 10 miles south of Gloucester at the entrance of the Stroud valley. An elongated parish of 1,870 a., (fn. 1) it extends from the Gloucester-Bristol road on the north-west to the Cotswold escarpment on the south-east; Wickster's brook forms most of the northern boundary, and a tributary part of the western. Part of the south-western boundary with Coaley remained undefined in 1313 when an agreement fixed a portion of it near Frocester church and another portion to the south on Frocester Hill, and its course in between was not settled until later. (fn. 2) Most of the parish lies on the heavy Lower Lias clay at c. 100 ft.; the slopes rising to 745 ft. on the south-east are formed by the successive strata of the Middle Lias, Upper Lias, and Inferior Oolite. (fn. 3) Stone was being quarried on the summit of the hill in the early 18th century (fn. 4) and presumably from much earlier. Several small streams rise on the slopes and flow north to form the stream once known as Fell brook (fn. 5) which passes through Downton to join Wickster's brook. The wood mentioned at Frocester in 1086 (fn. 6) was probably Buckholt Wood on Frocester Hill; the wood was recorded by that name (meaning a beech wood) in the 13th century, (fn. 7) and in the early 16th century, when the wood included some oaks, the woodwardship was leased with the site of the manor. (fn. 8) In 1839 Buckholt Wood covered 88 a. (fn. 9) Much of the parish formerly lay in open fields, the gradual inclosure of which was completed by the early 19th century. (fn. 10)
Worked flints found on the lower hill slopes provide the earliest evidence of occupation at Frocester, (fn. 11) but the parish is named from a Roman settlement (fn. 12) on the road running down Frocester Hill towards the Severn crossing at Arlingham. (fn. 13) There was a Roman villa on the site later occupied by the church, (fn. 14) and another, in a field called Great Stanborough west of Frocester Court, was being excavated in 1968; other Roman sites have been identified on the south-east of the village and on the Coaley boundary to the south. (fn. 15) Tradition records that the medieval village was grouped around the church near the western boundary of the parish and was destroyed by a fire, (fn. 16) but it seems more likely that the main village from the beginning lay on its modern site on the Roman road about a mile east of the church; that was almost certainly the case by 1282 when there was a chapel of ease for the village. (fn. 17) The position of the church may be explained by the theory that it was built equidistant from Coaley and Frocester to serve both settlements; the choice of site was presumably also influenced by the existence of Roman building material. (fn. 18) Frocester and Coaley shared an open field in the early 14th century, (fn. 19) and a tradition of the connexion was presumably reflected in references in 1541 and later to Frocester cum Coaley. (fn. 20)
The Roman road remained the most important route in the parish, and the village was formed around its crossroads with an east-west route. The Roman road originally ran south-east from the crossroads along Court Lane on a straight course through the present garden of Frocester Court; (fn. 21) later it was diverted from the southern end of Court Lane, making two right-angled turns to skirt the grounds of the manor-house and rejoin its former route south of the house. (fn. 22) The road was turnpiked in 1726, (fn. 23) and Frocester became the first coaching stage on the journey from Gloucester to Bath; (fn. 24) there were toll-booths south of Frocester Court and at the top of Frocester Hill. (fn. 25) The turnpike road climbed Frocester Hill on the line of the surviving track through Buckholt Wood (fn. 26) until 1783 when, at the instigation of the vicar George Hayward, it was diverted up a gentler incline to the south; (fn. 27) another improvement made between 1803 and 1839 bypassed Court Lane by a new stretch of road from the main crossroads to the west of the great medieval barn. (fn. 28) At the northern boundary of the parish the turnpike crosses Wickster's brook by Lye Bridge, recorded in 1583. (fn. 29) The George Inn at the village crossroads had opened by 1759; (fn. 30) in 1803 it was said to be in full business in the posting line, (fn. 31) but in 1804 the landlord found it necessary to refute suggestions that there was a quicker route to Bath. (fn. 32) The inn was reconstructed c. 1820 as a large building with a central block and flanking gabled wings; it retains some 18th-century features. In 1826 there was said to be little traffic passing through the village, (fn. 33) but post-horses were still kept at the 'George' in 1839. (fn. 34) In 1968 the inn was renamed 'The Royal Gloucestershire Hussar' and it was used by that regiment for dinners and to house its mementoes. (fn. 35) In 1803 there were two smithies on the turnpike road, one on the west side of Court Lane and the other behind the 'George', (fn. 36) and in 1839 the village pound stood south of the crossroads. (fn. 37)
The east-west route through the parish was recorded in the early 14th century when the stretch near the church was known as Borghullesweye and crossed the stream on the Coaley boundary by Lapley bridge; (fn. 38) later, west of Frocester village the road was known as Peter Street, and east of it as Stanley Lane. (fn. 39) Frog Lane, leaving Peter Street on the west of the village, linked Frocester with Silver Street in Coaley in the early 19th century, (fn. 40) but by 1882 for most of its course survived only as a bridle-path. (fn. 41) The Bristol-Gloucester railway line running through the parish was opened, with a station at Frocester, in 1844; (fn. 42) the station was closed in 1961. (fn. 43)
In 1737 the main concentration of houses in the village was around the crossroads and on both sides of Court Lane; other houses were scattered along Peter Street, Stanley Lane, and Gloucester Road, the northern part of the turnpike. (fn. 44) In 1838 18 houses in Gloucester Road were mentioned, 19 in Peter Street, 12 in Stanley Lane, and 9 in Court Lane. (fn. 45) The village shrank during the 19th century when some six cottages in Court Lane, another four or five in Peter Street west of Bridge Farm and south of Woodman's Covert, and three on the west of Frog Lane, were pulled down. (fn. 46) In the 20th century a few others near Osborne House in Gloucester Road were demolished. (fn. 47) A few timber-framed cottages survive from the 17th century and earlier: one in Court Lane and another in Peter Street have a rare type of upper cruck framing at their gableends. Most of the cottages, however, were built in stone in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A pair of brick cottages in Tudor style in Peter Street were probably the labourers' cottages built by John Graham-Clarke in 1889. (fn. 48) Bridge Farm, a stone house of two stories, was described as newly erected in 1803, (fn. 49) and Frocester (formerly Frog Lane) Farm, (fn. 50) Church Farm, Upper Downton Farm, and Spring Farm are houses of a similar date and type. There was apparently an outlying settlement at Downton by 1313 when the croft of John 'Douninton' there was mentioned, (fn. 51) and an inhabitant of Downton was recorded in 1597; (fn. 52) in 1803 the settlement consisted of two farm-houses and two or three cottages. (fn. 53) The cottages had been demolished by 1839, (fn. 54) and Lower Downton Farm was pulled down in 1967 and replaced in 1968 by a new house further south. (fn. 55) There is an outlying stone cottage, formerly a pair, on the old road up Frocester Hill. Hill Farm near-by was apparently built c. 1910 when the Frocester Court estate was divided into two farms. (fn. 56)
Eighteen inhabitants of Frocester were enumerated in 1086. (fn. 57) In 1267 the parish was supporting 52 tenants and their families, (fn. 58) although only 12 were assessed for tax in 1327. (fn. 59) The population was estimated at 41 households in 1563, (fn. 60) and 40 families in 1650. (fn. 61) Thirty-four houses were assessed for hearth tax in 1672. (fn. 62) There were said to be c. 250 inhabitants in 61 houses c. 1710, (fn. 63) and there had been little increase by c. 1775 when the population was estimated at 262. (fn. 64) In the later 18th century there was an increase to 362 in 1801 and the rise continued to 437 in 1821; then a steady decline began, matching the disappearance of cottages, to 206 in 1961. (fn. 65)
The village had an alehouse in 1664, (fn. 66) and two victuallers were recorded in 1755; (fn. 67) one may have kept the 'Red Lion' which had closed by 1791, (fn. 68) and the other the George Inn, mentioned above. A cricket field was given by the Graham-Clarke family in the mid 20th century. (fn. 69)
Queen Elizabeth visited Frocester in August 1574 and stayed the night at Frocester Court, leaving the next day for Berkeley Castle. (fn. 70) There was a small garrison of Parliamentary troops at Frocester in 1643 during the siege of Gloucester. (fn. 71) Ralph Bigland, the herald and antiquary, married Anne, daughter of John Wilkins of Frocester, in 1737, and his son Richard Bigland lived in the village until his death in 1810. (fn. 72)