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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In 1086 the demesne had one plough-team, compared with five shared among the tenants. The value of the estate had declined from 100s. before the Conquest to 30s. (fn. 1) In 1220 there were again six plough-teams (fn. 2) and the proportion of the land held in demesne may have remained roughly constant between the late 11th century and the early 14th, for in 1327 the lord's assessment for tax was one-fifth of the total for the whole township. (fn. 3) In 1322 there were 200 a. of demesne arable, (fn. 4) of which 80 a. were sown with wheat. (fn. 5) An expansion of the demesne may have already begun, and in 1336 the arable was 268 a., of which 160 a. were sown with winter wheat, and there were also 116 a. of demesne meadow, woodland, and several pasture. (fn. 6) By 1424 the demesne comprised more than a third of the total arable land of the manor: whereas the tenants, free and customary, shared 10 yardlands the lord had 5 yardlands and 90 a. (fn. 7) The yardland then, as in 1591, (fn. 8) is likely to have been c. 40 a., while the number of yardlands suggests that there were only two to each plough-team in 1220. The expansion of the demesne was not accompanied by any decline in the number of tenants or in the size of their holdings so it may be assumed to have resulted from the breaking of new ground. The labour-services of the customary tenants, in manual works and ploughing, were the only form of rent that they paid in 1322, and accounted for nearly half the total value of the manor. (fn. 9) Fourteen years later, however, the customary tenants owed cash rents amounting to 35s. in addition to their services. (fn. 10) By 1397 the demesne was let at farm. (fn. 11)
In 1086 the tenants were a priest, 2 villani, and 6 bordars, who with five ploughs between them had relatively large holdings. (fn. 12) By 1322 there were 36 tenants: 3 were freeholders with estates ranging from a yardland to a quarter-yardland or fardel, while of the customary tenants 15 were half-yardlanders, 6 were fardellers, 10 were cottagers, one held a mondayland, and one was the smith who held by service of making the demesne ploughs. The rent from the free tenants fell from 32s. 1d. and 1 lb. of pepper (fn. 13) to 17s. 2d. and 1 lb. of pepper in 1424, but the number of free tenants had by then increased to six. (fn. 14) In 1591 the rent remained the same and the number was up to seven. (fn. 15) The main group of customary tenants in 1424, as in 1322, was made up of 15 half-yardlanders and 6 fardellers, to whom one half-fardeller had been added; the cottagers and others were not recorded in 1424, but 30 people held farms of demesne arable, meadow, and pasture, of whom 17 were also free or customary tenants. There were thus 41 agricultural tenants in all in 1424. (fn. 16)
By 1591, when the demesne was divided between two large farms, the copyhold land seems to have included some former demesne, for it included 12¾ yardlands and amounted to c. 700 a., clearly a higher proportion of the total area of the manor than was included in the customary land in 1424. There were 27 copyholders in 1591, their holdings (apart from the smith's shop) ranging from 60 a., including 1¼ yardland, to 1/8 a. (fn. 17) The copyhold tenures appear to have been converted to freeholds and leaseholds during the 17th century while the Baylys and the Lloyds had the two large estates : (fn. 18) the latest known reference to copyhold tenure in Wheatenhurst is of 1649 when a copyhold was granted in the court baron of William Bayly. (fn. 19) The copyholds were granted for one, two, or three lives, and when only one life remained a reversionary copyhold for up to three more lives might be granted. The widow's right of freebench was enjoyed only by the first wife of the first tenant named in each grant, and only so long as she remained unmarried and chaste. (fn. 20)
Two open fields in Wheatenhurst, Rudding field — lying between the village and the Grove — and Sand field, were named c. 1270; (fn. 21) Rudding field was represented in the 20th century by Long Redding and Big Redding, east of the village. West field and High field were recorded in 1426, (fn. 22) and West field and Nether field in 1591. The fact that West field lay near the middle of the parish on the northern boundary (fn. 23) suggests that the open-field land in early times lay all in the south-east half of the parish, on the higher ground. In 1638 West field and Nether field were recorded together with Twinpool and High field; (fn. 24) High field, later divided into Great and Lower. High fields, lay immediately south and east of West field, but Twinpool was at the north-west end of the parish, as also was Breach field, the name of which perhaps indicates that the arable land there was taken into cultivation comparatively late. Homage field, recorded in 1812 (fn. 25) and perhaps the same as Nether field, lay south of the village near the south-east end of the parish. Each selion in the open fields in the early 17th century was c.⅓a. (fn. 26)
A gradual process of inclosure of open-field land may have begun as early as the 13th century, when selions were exchanged, (fn. 27) and 38½ a. of several pasture belonging to the demesne in 1336 but commonable between November and May (fn. 28) is likely to have been former open-field land. By 1591 about half of each freeholder's land and half the total acreage of the copyhold land lay in closes. (fn. 29) In 1717 the whole of the Whitminster House estate, then 417 a., was inclosed, though Twinpool and West field were still common fields. (fn. 30) In 1804 Breach field and Lower High field still lay partly in uninclosed selions; (fn. 31) so did Great High field, West field, and Homage field in 1812, but common rights had not been exercised there for many years. (fn. 32) In 1836 an exchange of lands was made evidently for consolidating pieces of the open fields, (fn. 33) and in 1838 only Twinpool leazes remained as dispersed strips. (fn. 34)
Much of the land of the parish, because it lies low and often wet, is more suitable for permanent grass than for ploughing. Ten acres of meadow were recorded in 1086, (fn. 35) and the demesne had 48 a. of meadow in 1336 (fn. 36) and apparently even more in 1424, when it was let. (fn. 37) Writers in the 18th and 19th centuries said that the land was mostly rich meadow and pasture; (fn. 38) one noted the good cheese and cider. (fn. 39) Most of the farms had cider-houses, (fn. 40) and in the 16th century the custom of the manor was that a tenant who spoiled his fruit trees forfeited his copyhold. (fn. 41) In the late 18th century the chief arable crops were wheat and beans, and some barley (fn. 42) and flax was grown, (fn. 43) but the proportion of arable land was low, (fn. 44) being about a third in the south-east part of the parish, where some conversion to pasture was recommended, (fn. 45) and about a fifth in the north-west. (fn. 46)
In the earlier 19th century most of the parish belonged to the two manorial estates, and in 1838, at a period when the 81 a. of the Lea Court estate was temporarily merged in the Whitminster House estate, only two others of the 60 freeholds in the parish were over 20 a., the Parklands estate mentioned above (75 a.) and Jackson's farm (114 a.). (fn. 47) Occupation of the land was similarly divided between a few farmers: only six farms were more than 50 a. in 1838, and of them Whitminster farm (later Kidnam's) was 300 a. (fn. 48) In 1831 five of the six agricultural occupiers employed labour. (fn. 49) The number of farms rose to a maximum of eight in the 1930s, when three were more than 150 a. (fn. 50) In the 1960s three of the larger farms together with Saul farm were run as a single unit of over 700 a., while there were three other farms of over 150 a. and two of a little under 100 a. (fn. 51) The farming was then mostly dairying and beef; the arable acreage, which had contracted to 149 a. by 1901 (fn. 52) and to less than 30 a. by 1933, (fn. 53) had expanded again to over 200 a. (fn. 54)
In 1086 there was a mill at Wheatenhurst, (fn. 55) and it was presumably from the same mill that William de Say in the 12th century granted tithes, in corn and fish, to Troarn Abbey. (fn. 56) The mill evidently remained part of the manor and before 1220 a fulling-mill was built beside it, for Henry de Bohun and his wife Maud gave the tithes of the fulling-mill also to the abbey. (fn. 57) Millers were recorded in 1248 and 1306. (fn. 58) There was both a corn-mill and a fulling-mill in 1322 (fn. 59) and 1336, (fn. 60) as also in 1593. (fn. 61) The mills and their watercourses were extensively repaired in 1424, (fn. 62) and afterwards comprised a corn-mill and malt-mill under one roof and the fulling-mill. (fn. 63) In 1453 all three were held by the same lessee, (fn. 64) but by 1478 the fulling-mill was again held separately. (fn. 65) The fulling-mill was enlarged, for in 1549 the mills were described as two corn-mills and two fulling-mills called Whitnesters mills. (fn. 66) The fulling-mill has not been found recorded as in use after 1604, (fn. 67) and by 1764 it had become or been replaced by a paper-mill. It was then worked by Thomas Evans, who was followed there as paper-maker in turn by Joseph Smith (d. 1791), Mrs. E. Smith, Thomas Smith (fl. 1804, 1819), and Hester Smith, who in 1834 was the last recorded paper-maker. (fn. 68) The mill produced c. 1806 the coarser sort of paper. (fn. 69) In 1804 the paper-mill stood between two corn-mills occupied by Richard Carter, which were driven by undershot wheels (fn. 70) and had presumably been working since the 16th century, being rebuilt in the mid 18th century. (fn. 71) The diversion of the mills' water to the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal in 1833 (fn. 72) may have brought the mills to a stop. In 1835 a corn-mill was still there, (fn. 73) but by 1838 there was no mill. (fn. 74) The site of the mills, near the bridge a furlong south of the church, was clearly visible in 1968.
The existence of the fulling-mill in Wheatenhurst was partly responsible for the importance of clothing trades among non-agricultural occupations there. In 1608 the parish had 7 tuckers, 3 broadweavers, and 2 clothiers. (fn. 75) Broadweavers were also recorded in 1655 (fn. 76) and 1727, (fn. 77) a clothier in 1753, (fn. 78) and a sergeweaver in 1762. (fn. 79) The clothing trades may have lasted into the early 19th century: in 1821 more families were supported by trade and industry than by agriculture, and only slightly fewer in 1811 and 1831. In 1831 there were also a dozen families supported by work on the River Severn (fn. 80) and, presumably, the canals. A sailor was among the inhabitants in 1608, (fn. 81) an 18th-century shipwright has already been mentioned, (fn. 82) and there were bargeowners in the mid 19th century. (fn. 83) Of the ordinary village trades, carpenters or wheelwrights are recorded intermittently from 1195 to 1927, (fn. 84) blacksmiths from 1322 to 1939, (fn. 85) cordwainers from 1679 to 1755. (fn. 86) There was a surgeon in 1641 (fn. 87) and in 1856. (fn. 88) In the late 19th century Whitminster Court was used briefly first as a watch factory and then as a printing works. (fn. 89) The main road may have encouraged the number of shopkeepers in the 19th century, (fn. 90) and by 1939, as in 1968, the blacksmith's shop was one of two motor garages on the main road. A nursery garden, the Western Forestry Co., had been established at Highfield House by 1939 (fn. 91) and was active in 1968. The chief employer of non-agricultural labour was John Attwooll & Co. Ltd., a firm which in 1945 had changed its name from A. E. Drew & Son and moved from Ross-onWye to Whitminster Lodge, where in 1968 up to 50 people were employed in hiring marquees, making marquees and tarpaulins, and selling camping equipment. (fn. 92)