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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WESTBURY-ON-SEVERN, a large rural parish of scattered hamlets and farmsteads, lies 6 miles southwest of Gloucester between the River Severn and the Forest of Dean hills. A part of Flaxley parish, comprising 58 a. to the west of Walmore Common, was absorbed into Westbury parish in 1882, (fn. 1) and a small detached part of Westbury lying just inside Littledean was merged with that parish in 1883; (fn. 2) Westbury parish was left with an acreage of 8,272. (fn. 3)
The northern half of the parish lies on the Keuper Marl and the southern on the Lower Lias. (fn. 4) Garden Cliff at Cleeve, rising to 70 ft. above the Severn, exhibits a clearly defined section of the Rhaetic beds and has long been an attraction for geologists. Considerable fossil remains have been found there and at a peat and forest bed in the bank a little below the cliff, including presumably a large bone - by tradition the thigh-bone of a giant- which was formerly preserved in Westbury church. (fn. 5) The name of the cliff is a corruption of Garne, which was the medieval name for that part of the parish. (fn. 6)
The southern half of the parish, inclosed by a loop of the Severn, lies close to river-level and is subject to flooding; particularly severe floods were recorded in 1852 and in 1899 when a high tide breached the protecting earth sea-wall and inundated much of Rodley and Cleeve. (fn. 7) A considerable area on the west side of Rodley has been reclaimed from the river. In 1785 the bank ran close to Court Farm, the Heald, and Hayden, where the line of the old sea-wall was still visible in 1969; a bar of sand along the bank was growing grass in 1785, (fn. 8) and by 1839 almost the whole area known as the Lower Dumball had been reclaimed. (fn. 9) A further area west of Hayden had been taken in by 1879 and by the end of the century a new sea-wall had been built inclosing the Lower Dumball. (fn. 10) The Upper Dumball on the south side of Rodley is probably also reclaimed land, and there the process had apparently begun by 1601 when Rodley Marsh open field included land outside the sea-wall. (fn. 11) The reclamation was evidently connected with a gradual shift of the main current towards the opposite bank, which has been noticeable since the late 19th century. (fn. 12) Most of the northern half of the parish is gently rolling with some small but pronounced hills, although no part rises to more than c. 200 ft. Part of the north-east, however, is occupied by Walmore Common, a level marshy tract of c. 200 a. lying below the level of the river and separated by a ridge from the low-lying land to the south; in the late 17th century it was said to lie under water for most of the year, (fn. 13) and in spite of drainage work in the late 19th century (fn. 14) it remained liable to heavy flooding in the 1960s. The whole parish is drained by a system of man-made channels and natural watercourses, those in the north mostly connecting with either the Westbury brook flowing through the west part of the parish to the Severn near Garden Cliff or the Ley brook which forms the north-eastern boundary to its confluence with the river.
Much of the parish was evidently at one time thickly wooded: the suffix ley, denoting a clearing, became incorporated in the names of five of its tithings, (fn. 15) and Walmore manor in Northwood tithing consisted of assarts in the 12th century. (fn. 16) A fir-wood was recorded on Westbury manor in 1086. (fn. 17) Ley Woods in the north of the parish are the main surviving piece of woodland. Ley Park and Birchen Grove, the two main parts of the woods, were mentioned in 1300; (fn. 18) the former, which was presumably imparked by one of the lords of Westbury manor, covered 76 a. in 1785. (fn. 19) Among several smaller woods and coppices are Broughtons Wood at Elton and Ley Court Wood (formerly Aylston Grove) which were mentioned in 1717, (fn. 20) and Adsett Grove; another called Phillips's Grove, which was cut down after 1839, gave its name to Grove Farm at Boseley. (fn. 21) Over 540 oaks grew on the demesne farm of Boseley manor in 1607, (fn. 22) and the Colchesters' scattered estates in the parish were well planted with oaks and elms in 1785. (fn. 23) The woodland of the parish was estimated at 250 a. in 1839, (fn. 24) and at slightly less in 1901. (fn. 25) Most of the open fields were concentrated in the south part of the parish before inclosure in the mid 19th century, but in 1969 that area as well as the rest of the parish was mainly pasture; orchards have have long been numberous. (fn. 26) The predominant building material is brick, although in the south of the parish a coarse blue Lias stone, which was being quarried at Chaxhill in the later 19th century, (fn. 27) has also been fairly widely used for houses, farm buildings, and walls, and there are some cottages of the Old Red Sandstone in the east. Relatively few timber-framed buildings survive, but there are more than is immediately apparent because of the use of rough-cast and other facings.
The parish comprised 12 tithings all of which had settlements by the 13th century. Westbury, Upper Ley, and Lower Ley were included in the manor of Westbury (fn. 28) and were described as vills in 1300, as was Boseley (fn. 29) where there was a separate manor in the 16th century. (fn. 30) Northwood was evidently settled by the late 12th century when the manor of Walmore there was granted to Flaxley Abbey. (fn. 31) Of the seven tithings which formed the great manor of Rodley, (fn. 32) Rodley, Elton, Adsett, Chaxhill, and Stantway were settled by 1221, and Cleeve and Bollow by 1300; (fn. 33) Elton tithing included part of Newnham parish which belonged to Rodley manor. (fn. 34) The whole of Westbury parish was evidently at one time within the jurisdiction of the Forest of Dean although the evidence is conflicting. The bounds of the forest given in 1228 and said to have existed from before 1154 included the whole parish, and this was confirmed by a perambulation in 1282; in 1300, however, it was stated by one jury that the Westbury manor tithings had been afforested only by King John, and by another that the Rodley manor tithings also had been afforested since 1154. The exclusion of Westbury manor was confirmed in 1301, although the decision was later disputed, (fn. 35) and the exemption of Rodley manor was presumably established by its inclusion in the Duchy of Lancaster. In the late 17th century only Northwood tithing and Walmore Common were regarded as within the forest, (fn. 36) and Walmore Common remained an outlying part of the waste of the forest until its inclosure in 1871. (fn. 37)
The road from Gloucester to South Wales, the main route through the parish, although apparently not a Roman road (fn. 38) is evidently an ancient one, and Westbury village took its name from a fortification guarding the approach to Gloucester from the west; (fn. 39) a field called Welchbury to the north of the village (fn. 40) may have been its site. The village grew up around the point where the road crossed the Westbury brook; a church had been built there by 1100, (fn. 41) and an ancient manor-house stood close by. (fn. 42) Although it was the parish centre and more nucleated than any of the hamlets Westbury village remained fairly small. Westbury tithing was apparently one of the smallest in terms of population in the 16th century (fn. 43) and only 17 able-bodied men were listed there in 1608. (fn. 44) The village evidently increased in size, however, during the 17th century and 36 families were recorded c. 1710. (fn. 45) At the entrance to the village from the east where the houses are set back from the road some small patches of grass perhaps survive from a larger village green. A village cross erected there to mark the Jubilee of 1887 stands in a medieval socket which was discovered built into the old chantry chapel. (fn. 46) From that point the village street extends along the main road, and a smaller street, Bell Lane, runs southwards alongside the churchyard. Immediately east of the churchyard is Westbury Court Garden, which was laid out at the end of the 17th century and is almost the only example of a formal 'Dutch' water-garden to survive in England. (fn. 47) Seven houses in the main street, then called Westbury Street, were mentioned in 1715, including one housing a smith's shop, another with a butcher's shop, and the inn called the 'Lion', (fn. 48) later the 'Red Lion', (fn. 49) at the corner of the two streets. The inn, which was remodelled in the late 19th or early 20th century with mock timber-framing, remained a public house in 1969. Bell Lane is built up only on the west side; c. 1710 there were a few houses on the opposite side of the lane including the church house, (fn. 50) but they were pulled down in the late 18th or early 19th century. (fn. 51) The houses on the west side include Bell House, a 16th-or 17th-century timber-framed building enlarged at subsequent periods; an original jettied gable facing the lane has been incorporated in a larger one of a later date. The house was the Bell Inn in 1737 (fn. 52) and until at least 1839. (fn. 53) Another house in the village was called the 'George' in 1715 (fn. 54) but has not been found recorded later. The village consists mainly of 18th- and 19th-century stone and brick cottages; a row of four on the south side of the main street was built by Maynard Colchester in 1812. (fn. 55) Court Farm at the north end of the village was apparently the site of a medieval manor-house, (fn. 56) and there was a house at Ardens, an outlying early-19th-century brick farm-house at the other end of the village, by 1614 (fn. 57) and possibly by the 1190s when Roger de Arderne witnessed Westbury deeds. (fn. 58)
The five southern tithings of the parish - Stantway, Chaxhill, Bollow, Rodley, and Cleeve- form a relatively well populated area lying within the loop of the Severn and based on the triangle made by the road from Gloucester to South Wales on the north and roads leading south from it towards the Framilode Passage. (fn. 59) Most of the farmsteads strung out at intervals along the roads were probably medieval sites and many can be traced by name from the 16th and 17th centuries. Relatively few of the houses and cottages, however, escaped rebuilding in brick or the local stone in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 106 able-bodied men listed under Rodley in 1608 probably included those of all five tithings; (fn. 60) c. 1710 48 families were recorded in Rodley tithing, 14 each in Chaxhill and Bollow, and 12 in Cleeve. (fn. 61)
The small tithing of Stantway apparently took its name from the main road. (fn. 62) It comprises a small group of 19th- and 20th-century houses at a bypassed bend in the road, (fn. 63) and a number of farmhouses south of the road including Stantway Court which was the centre of a small medieval manor. (fn. 64) At Gatwick where a house was mentioned in 1614 (fn. 65) there is a small settlement of late-18th- and early19th-century stone cottages. Gatwick Farm is an L-shaped 17th-century house of the local Lias stone comprising an early-17th-century range of one and a half stories and a taller east wing. The south end of the wing, which has a large cellar below it, appears to have been built or rebuilt in the 18th century. Perhaps at the same period a cellar was inserted below the opposite end of the principal range causing alterations in the floor levels above. A row of council houses was built south of Rock Farm in the mid 20th century. The main settlement in Chaxhill tithing is a group of 18th- and early-19th-century farm-houses and cottages at a by-passed bend in the main road; (fn. 66) two of the houses are of local stone but with brick fronts. The pound for the tithing stood by the roadside there in 1879. (fn. 67) Other cottages, mainly of the 19th century, are scattered along the main road eastwards to where it runs close to the river at the place known as the Flat. A house at the Flat where the Rodley manor court met in 1687 (fn. 68) is likely to have been an inn and was possibly the 'Duke of Gloucester' mentioned there in 1786. (fn. 69) In 1839 there were two inns at the Flat, the 'King's Head' and the 'Bird in Hand', (fn. 70) only the latter of which remained a public house in 1969.
A house at 'Crewett' mentioned in 1614 (fn. 71) was probably in Crowgate Lane which runs south from the main part of Chaxhill towards Bollow. Ninnage Lodge on the east of the lane is a low early-19thcentury brick house with a Gothic addition built later in the century on the north, and there are a number of 18th- and 19th-century cottages at Stanley further south. Bays Court where there was a house by the early 15th century is the earliest recorded site in Bollow tithing. (fn. 72) The Noards, where there was a house by 1623, (fn. 73) is an isolated stone and brick cottage on the river bank which was presumably occupied by fishermen. Another small house on the bank further south was the Bollow House Inn in the early 19th century, (fn. 74) but was later called the 'Sloop' after the craft which formerly delivered goods to a landing-place there. It closed as a public house c. 1930. (fn. 75) The central portion of the house is evidently timber-framed but it was later faced in brick and brick extensions were made at the sides.
Yew Tree Farm in the north part of Rodley tithing was originally a medieval cruck-framed building of at least three bays. The two northern bays represent the former open hall divided by an open-truss with smoke-blackened timbers and an arch-braced collar-beam. The cruck partition at the south end of the hall, which probably separated the screens passage from the service bay, retains the shaped heads of two doorways. The upper part of the cruck partition at the north end of the hall was evidently removed when a timber-framed solar wing was built there, apparently in 1581, (fn. 76) and the ceiling in the hall and a chimney backing on the screens passage may also have been inserted at that period. Later a brick and stone wing was added on the south, and the west part of the house was faced in brick and given a porch in the late 19th century. (fn. 77) The house stood empty and ruinous in 1969. The northern half of Chapelmere opposite has exposed timber-framing of the late 16th or early 17th century; the southern half of the house, which has walls of the local stone and retains some windows with dripmoulds and ovolo-moulded mullions, probably dates from a partial rebuilding of the house in the mid 17th century. Vine Tree Cottage and Cowley's Elm Farm, further south, are 18th-or early-19th-century brick buildings, although houses on both sites were in existence by the 16th century and were occupied for a long period by members of the numerous Wintle family of Westbury. Hill Farm was also apparently occupied by the Wintles in the 16th century; (fn. 78) it is faced in brick but incorporates a close-studded timberframed structure, perhaps of the 16th century. Hutts Farm is a 17th-century timber-framed house comprising a main block and a cross-wing, the latter plastered over; the date 1665 and the initials of members of the Malson family are carved on a beam inside. (fn. 79) Brick cottages of the late 18th and 19th centuries are scattered along the road southwards to Blue Boys Farm. Among them is the Dove House which has a curiously elaborate brick front of three bays, probably dating from the 18th century, with stone quoins, a modillion cornice, and a central pediment with a crude shell device in the tympanum; the doorway is surmounted by a segmental pediment on brackets. Blue Boys Farm, recorded from 1774, (fn. 80) was an inn during the 19th century (fn. 81) relying for trade on the Framilode Passage and the mooring-place for boats at the Green on the near-by bank. (fn. 82) Bury Court and Court Farm both date from the 17th century or earlier and the former was apparently the site of the medieval manor-house of Rodley. (fn. 83)
The western road of the triangle, leading through Cleeve tithing, has fewer houses. The Heald, where there was at least one house by 1676, (fn. 84) is a settlement of a few late-18th- or early-19th-century brick cottages. There was an inn there during the early 19th century. (fn. 85) At Hayden to the north there is a single brick house in two occupations; there was probably a house on the site by the early 14th century when a family called of Hayden held lands and tenements in Cleeve, (fn. 86) and during the 17th century Hayden was occupied by sailors. (fn. 87) Cleeve Farm, recorded from 1677, (fn. 88) and Gravel Farm, both 18th- or 19th-century houses, form another small settlement at a roadside green. (fn. 89) Moys Hill was the home of a branch of the Malson family from 1541 to at least 1712; (fn. 90) the house was almost entirely rebuilt in brick in the 18th or early 19th century, although it retains some beams inside dated 1655. There are a few cottages at the Strand by the water's edge; a row of cottages there was pulled down c. 1948. (fn. 91)
The tithings of Lower Ley and Upper Ley (formerly Netherley and Overley) form the northeastern part of the parish; they consist of scattered farms with only a few cottages. Lower Ley, which has 8 or 9 farms, had a considerable population by 1608 when 54 able-bodied men were enumerated; (fn. 92) c. 1710 the tithing had 20 families. (fn. 93) Gamage Court and Lower Ley Farm were probably medieval sites. (fn. 94) Baglaw, recorded in 1692, (fn. 95) is a small 17th-century timber-framed farm-house of a single story and attic partly faced in brick, and Green Farm comprises a timber-framed block and a later brick addition. The other houses are mainly 18th- or 19th-century brick buildings. Upper Ley, where 28 men were recorded in 1608 (fn. 96) and 16 families c. 1710, (fn. 97) has fewer farm-houses. Old Ley Court was the site of a medieval manor, and by the early 17th century there was a small settlement where Ley Mill and Leyfold Farms, both brick houses of c. 1800, stand facing each other on the road to Huntley. (fn. 98)
Five people were assessed for tax in Northwood tithing in 1327; (fn. 99) 30 men were recorded there in 1608 (fn. 100) and 12 families c. 1710. (fn. 101) The oldest house in the tithing is apparently Grange Court, once the centre of a large manor. (fn. 102) Northwood Green, a straggling settlement mainly of 18th- and 19thcentury brick houses centred on a small cross-roads green, was extended eastwards in the mid 20th century by new bungalows and houses, (fn. 103) and a few council houses were built near the green in the late 1950s. (fn. 104) There are a few cottages, including one that is timber-framed, along Hampney Lane running south of Ley Woods; some near the east end of the lane were pulled down in the 1930s. (fn. 105) Frocester House on the east of Northwood Green was the Junction Inn in the later 19th century, (fn. 106) but in the early 20th century the inn moved to a new house south of the railway junction which gave it its name and next to the fruit-market. (fn. 107) The stone wall of a pound, presumably that for Northwood tithing, survived at the roadside opposite the fruit-market until the 1930s. (fn. 108)
Adsett tithing in the centre of the parish had 31 able-bodied men in 1608 (fn. 109) and 16 families c. 1710. (fn. 110) The farm-houses there include the 17th-century Longcroft, (fn. 111) Pinnock's Place, evidently the Pinnell's Place which belonged to Walmore manor in 1717, (fn. 112) and Morwents Farm, an early-19th-century brick house of two stories with a porch with columns and fan-light. Brimstones in the north part of the tithing is a small timber-framed cottage which was recorded from 1666, (fn. 113) and a pair of cottages west of it were apparently once timber-framed although later rebuilt in brick. There was formerly a farm-house at Whitehouse further south, (fn. 114) of which only the farm buildings survived in 1969. Adsett Court is a large 19th-century brick house. There are a few cottages at the road junction to the north of Adsett Court where a small grass plot presumably represents the Adsett Green mentioned in 1698. (fn. 115) The adjoining tithing of Boseley probably never had many houses although 14 families were recorded there c. 1710. (fn. 116) In 1607 the manor-house at Boseley Court and two other houses were the only houses in the tithing mentioned in a survey of Boseley manor; the other tenants' houses were scattered among the adjoining tithings. (fn. 117) No separate muster list was given for the tithing in 1608, its inhabitants probably being included with Elton. A house at Horseman's Bridge on the lane to Longcroft was mentioned in 1658. (fn. 118)
The large tithing of Elton forms the western part of the parish. In 1608 75 able-bodied men were recorded there (fn. 119) and over 50 families c. 1710. (fn. 120) Most of its scattered farm-houses are late-18th- or early-19th-century buildings, although there was a house at Elton Farm by the 16th century, (fn. 121) and also one at Wincoll's Farm, which in 1765 was described an old decayed messuage. (fn. 122) Pound Farm on the main road, named from the pound for the tithing which stood opposite, (fn. 123) has a 17th-century timber frame beneath a coating of rough-cast, and diagonallyset chimney-stacks. Emming's Farm is a smaller timber-framed house which was faced in stone in 1834. (fn. 124) Peglar's Farm in the north part of the tithing is a timber-framed house of the late 16th or early 17th century faced in rough-cast; it is L-shaped with a gabled staircase block in the angle. Broughtons is a substantial early-19th-century stuccoed villa built on a hill with a view across the river. A group of cottages, mostly in stone but including two with timber frames, stands along the parish boundary on the road below Pope's Hill in the area known as Blackmore's Hale. Blackmore's Hale Green was mentioned in 1591; (fn. 125) there were at least four houses there by 1639, (fn. 126) and in the later 17th century the tithing was sometimes known as Elton and Blackmore's Hale. (fn. 127) One of the cottages there housed the Plough Inn in 1788 and until c. 1880. (fn. 128) There is another small group of cottages near Upper Hall, all of them of brick with the exception of a derelict timber-framed cottage of one story and dormered attic with a lateral stone chimney with projecting bake-oven. Another projecting bake-oven survives at an L-shaped timber-framed cottage with a gabled dormer south of the Littledean road. A small cottage further east was the Traveller's Rest Inn in 1839 and until at least 1891. (fn. 129)
Braodoak, a hamlet on the Severn in the south part of Elton tithing, owed its growth to the river trade, (fn. 130) of which the remains of a quay and a derelict wooden barge were the only visible reminder in 1969. The first record found of a house there was in 1639, (fn. 131) although the settlement probably existed earlier. Broadoak consists mainly of 18th- and early-19th-century brick cottages standing between the main road and the river; one is dated 1763 and another 1799. Broadoak House, the most substantial house there, was built c. 1800. It is of brick with stone quoins, dentil cornice, and a pedimented doorcase; the interior retains decorative plaster ceilings and carved fireplaces. A brick and stone building in the garden was being used as a private school in 1846. (fn. 132) The Broadoak Inn, at a house at the east end of the hamlet, was open by 1760 (fn. 133) and until the early 20th century. (fn. 134) Another inn, the 'White Hart' recorded from 1783, (fn. 135) remained open in 1969.
The main Gloucester-Chepstow road through the parish was turnpiked in 1725-6, (fn. 136) and the roads leading from it at Elton towards Flaxley and Littledean in 1769; (fn. 137) a turnpike stood at the Littledean turning. (fn. 138) Denny Bridge, where the main road crossed the Ley brook at its entrance to the parish, was recorded from 1591, (fn. 139) and in 1598 the Earl of Shrewsbury, lord of Ley manor, was regarded as responsible for its repair. (fn. 140) The Elton bridge, for which a rebuilding rate was levied on the parish in 1738, was presumably at Banker's Bridge. (fn. 141) The Gloucester-Chepstow railway running through the parish was opened in 1851; the eastern part to Grange Court Station was undertaken by the Gloucester and Dean Forest Company and the western part by the South Wales Company. (fn. 142) A halt for Westbury village was closed in 1959. (fn. 143) In 1853 the Hereford-Gloucester line making a junction at Grange Court was opened; (fn. 144) it was closed in 1964 and the station demolished. (fn. 145)
In 1327 103 people were assessed for tax in the parish. (fn. 146) In spite of a visitation of plague in the 1540s which caused c. 200 deaths in two years, (fn. 147) the size of the population was indicated by the high figure of 700 communicants in 1548, (fn. 148) and of 162 households in 1563. (fn. 149) There were said to be 300 families in 1650, (fn. 150) and c. 1710 about 1,200 people in 290 houses. (fn. 151) The population rose during the 18th century to c. 1,270 by 1765, to over 1,300 by c. 1775, (fn. 152) and to 1,651 in 1801. The rise continued steadily to 2,501 in 1851 when a gradual decline set in, and the population fell to 1,746 in 1931; there had been little change by 1961 when the population was 1,795. (fn. 153)
An annual July revel was held on Walmore Common in the mid 18th century; in 1752 the parish altered its day from Sunday. (fn. 154) A friendly society, whose activities included an anniversary procession to the church on Whit Monday, was formed at Broadoak in 1783; (fn. 155) in 1836 another friendly society met at the Bollow House Inn, and there was another at the 'Red Lion' in Westbury village in 1846. (fn. 156) A farmer's club was formed in 1840. (fn. 157) A parish hall was built in 1957. (fn. 158)
In 1643 during the siege of Gloucester the parliamentary forces had a small garrison at Westbury which later defected to the royalists. In May 1644 Massey marched out from Gloucester and defeated the garrison, which was occupying the church and Westbury Court. (fn. 159)
James Baynham, burnt as a Protestant heretic in 1532, is said to have been a son of Sir Alexander Baynham who held the Westbury Court estate. (fn. 160) John Guillim (1565-1621), a pioneer writer on heraldry, was the son of John Guillim of Westbury; (fn. 161) either father or son held free and customary lands from Rodley manor in 1591. (fn. 162) John Masefield's play The Tragedy of Nan is set at Broadoak in the early 19th century. (fn. 163)