Tetbury: Introduction

Pages 257-260

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



Growth of the Town and Outlying Settlements, p. 260. Manors and Other Estates, p. 264. Economic History: Agriculture, p. 269; Mills, p. 270; Trade and Industry, p. 270; Markets and Fairs, p. 272. Social Life, p. 273. Local Government: Manorial Government, p. 275; Parish Government, p. 276; Public Services, p. 277. Church, p. 277. Roman Catholicism, p. 280. Protestant Nonconformity, p. 280. Education, p. 281. Charities for the Poor, p. 282.

The large parish of Tetbury, comprising a prosperous market town and the small hamlets of Upton, Charlton, Doughton, and Elmestree, lay on the southeast boundary of Gloucestershire, 9 miles south-west of Cirencester. The second part of the name of the parish refers to an ancient fortification above the junction of two streams, possibly established to command the crossing-point of a branch track from the Great Cotswold ridgeway. (fn. 1) The site appears to have been settled by the Saxons at an early date and its position on the boundary between the lands of the Hwicce and the West Saxons probably gave it an added importance; 'Tetta's minster' mentioned in 681 was evidently there. (fn. 2) In the 11th century Tetbury was the centre of a large agricultural estate which probably by then included settlements at the four outlying hamlets. It benefited from its position on the great road from Oxford to Bristol and it may have become an unofficial centre of trade even before the beginning of the 13th century when its lord, William de Breuse, created a borough and market town. The town's new role was emphasized by the alienation in succeeding years of most of the agricultural land still belonging to the manor. The town appears to have flourished in the later medieval period and by the 16th century was enjoying considerable prosperity, derived from its market for wool and agricultural produce, an indigenous cloth-making industry, and the provision of lodging for travellers.

The acquisition by the townsfolk of a lease of the market tolls gave them the means to secure control of their own affairs in 1633 by the purchase of the manorial rights, and from that date the government of the town was carried on by a group of feoffees assisted by a consultative body called the Thirteen. The spirit of co-operation which marked the purchase of the manor did not long survive, however, and mistrust of the powers of the feoffees led to prolonged litigation, which hindered the principal public project of the next century, the rebuilding of the parish church. The town continued to prosper with wool-stapling succeeding cloth-making as the main industry. At the beginning of the 18th century Tetbury was described as 'a great thoroughfare town out of the north into the south-western parts of this kingdom, whose markets are very considerable, having not less than a thousand pounds laid out every Wednesday in the year in wool, yarn, serges, corn, bacon, cheese, and cattle'; it was judged to rank as the next town in the county after Cirencester and Tewkesbury. (fn. 3) That period saw the building of fine houses by the clothiers and wool-staplers and, in spite of a gradual decline in trade, the physical improvement of the town continued in the later 18th century and was exemplified by the new Gothick church completed in 1781.

By the early years of the 19th century the decline in the market trade and wool-stapling industry was marked, and in 1823 it was said that 'the place is rendered uncommonly dull in consequence of the desertion of trade'. (fn. 4) From that time the town played a reduced role as a market, shopping, and social centre for the prosperous agricultural region surrounding it. It did not get the railway until near the end of the 19th century, and then only a branch line, and it attracted no new industries or surburban accretion. In 1974 Tetbury retained the appearance and character of a traditional country town, although by then new housing and the recent establishment of an industrial estate promised change.

The ancient parish of Tetbury was roughly wedgeshaped and covered 4,627 a. (fn. 5) The long south-east boundary, of which part was also the boundary between Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, (fn. 6) is marked for some of its length by a branch of the Bristol Avon which rises in the parish. The other boundaries mostly follow field-boundaries across the high plateau-land, although the short northern boundary follows the course of the Cotswold ridgeway. (fn. 7) In 1894 the rural part of the parish was formed into the new civil parish of Tetbury Upton, leaving 114 a. in the town and its immediate vicinity as a separate civil parish and urban district. (fn. 8) In 1925 the urban district was extended by the addition of 320 a. from Tetbury Upton, (fn. 9) and in 1935 Tetbury Upton lost 346 a. in the south-east corner, beyond Bowldown Road, to Westonbirt with Lasborough. (fn. 10)

The parish lies at 400-500 ft. on arid plateau-land that is broken only by the valleys of the Bristol Avon and a small tributary brook. The land is formed almost wholly by the Forest Marble, although the underlying Great Oolite emerges in small patches in the valleys of the two streams. (fn. 11) Most of the parish was once occupied by extensive open fields, which were inclosed by a gradual process before the early 19th century, and the outlying areas were occupied by sheep-downs. (fn. 12) No ancient woodland is recorded and the only piece of any size in the parish in 1974, Charltondown Covert, is an early-19th-century plantation; (fn. 13) otherwise there are only scattered foxcoverts.

The principal thoroughfare through the town was the main road from Bristol to Cirencester and Oxford; it was recorded south of the town as the way towards Bristol in 1248 when it crossed the stream there by a ford named Cherleford. (fn. 14) With the gradual abandonment of the Foss Way route running some way east of the town, a process in which Tetbury's increasing attractiveness as a staging-post presumably played a part, the road also became the main Bath-Cirencester route and was turnpiked as such in 1743. (fn. 15) The difficulty of negotiating the steep coomb where the road entered the town on the southwest below the church, and the steepness of Gumstool Hill by which it left the town on the north-east, led to the use of an alternative route passing along the north-west side of the town. The alternative route crossed the stream at Cutwell and followed the streets later called New Church Street and Comber's Mead to join the old route some way north-east of the town near Hillsome Farm; Comber's Mead was called the lane to Cirencester in 1594 (fn. 16) and the New Church Street stretch was described in 1681 as the highway on the back side of Tetbury leading between Cirencester and Bristol. (fn. 17) By 1622 bridges had been built at Cutwell and at the crossing below the church, which was called the Waters bridge, (fn. 18) but they were probably only small packhorse- or foot-bridges of the type that still survived beside both fords in 1974. In 1775 the turnpike commissioners employed a local mason, Thomas Webb, to build the high, four-arch, Bath Bridge to carry the road across the coomb below the church, (fn. 19) and established it as the principal entrance into the south of the town. On the north the Comber's Mead route, which was turnpiked in 1800, (fn. 20) became established as the principal route and was later known as London Road. In the Doughton area, south-west of the town, considerable alterations were made to the Bristol road in the mid 19th century, including a new stretch from south of Doughton hamlet into Westonbirt parish. (fn. 21)

In the town the Bristol road was crossed by another fairly important road, that from Malmesbury to Minchinhampton and Stroud; on the Malmesbury side it was turnpiked in 1756 (fn. 22) and on the Minchinhampton side in 1758. (fn. 23) An alternative route to that through Upton hamlet, going further east by Blind Lane and Ridge's Lane, was recorded in 1690 but presumably lapsed after 1758 in spite of attempts by the manor court to keep it open. (fn. 24) The road from Malmesbury entered the town from the south-east by a causeway called the Long or Wiltshire Bridge, recorded from 1594. (fn. 25) The two counties each repaired their respective portions. (fn. 26) The road leading west through Charlton towards Wotton and Dursley was also turnpiked under the Act of 1758, and the ancient lane to the hundred meeting-place at Chavenage Green retained a local importance until the late 18th century as the route from Tetbury to Nailsworth. (fn. 27)

Although road traffic and the inns serving it were an important element in the town's economy there was apparently little attempt to run coach-services from the town itself. The inhabitants relied on the Bristol, Bath, and Oxford coaches which connected with a London coach-route at Cirencester. In 1785, however, a Tetbury man was a partner in a London- Cirencester service which operated a branch coach to the town. (fn. 28) In 1823 the Bristol and Oxford coaches passed through the town daily and the Bath coach three times a week. (fn. 29) After the opening of the Great Western railway line from Swindon to Gloucester, Tetbury was served from a station on the Cirencester road 7 miles north-east of the town. (fn. 30) In 1889 a branch line was opened from Kemble with a station on the east side of the town. (fn. 31) The line was closed in 1964. (fn. 32)

Seventy-two inhabitants of Tetbury were recorded in 1086. (fn. 33) In 1327 59 people were assessed for tax in the town and 54 in the outlying hamlets, (fn. 34) and in 1381 there were over 130 taxpayers in the town and 70 in the hamlets. (fn. 35) In the late 1540s there were said to be c. 800 communicants in the parish (fn. 36) and in 1563 176 households. (fn. 37) In 1650 an estimate of 500 families was made. (fn. 38) About 1710 it was said that the parish contained 300 houses and c. 1,200 inhabitants, (fn. 39) but that was probably a considerable underestimate, for a local census found 566 houses and 2,216 inhabitants in 1737, (fn. 40) and the first estimate was almost certainly made before a smallpox epidemic of 1710-11 killed about 80 people. (fn. 41) The population was estimated at c. 3,500 in the 1770s, (fn. 42) a considerable overestimate as only 2,500 were enumerated in 1801. The population then rose only gradually to 2,982 by 1841 and 3,349 by 1871. A slight fall occurred to reduce it to 3,057 at the division of the parish in 1894. The residual Tetbury parish had 1,989 inhabitants in 1901 and there was little alteration in the earlier 20th century, with 2,237 in 1931; after the war new housing produced a rise in population to 3,117 by 1961. Tetbury Upton parish had 905 people in 1901, reduced by the 1925 boundary change to 462 in 1931, and the population remained at 466 in 1961. (fn. 43)

In 1144 Stephen's army camped at Tetbury during his operations against the earl of Gloucester's castles in the neighbourhood. (fn. 44) There was a disturbance in the town in 1305 when Thomas and Maurice de Berkeley and their retainers came and attacked some of their recalcitrant tenants from Redcliffe Street, Bristol, who were attending the fair. (fn. 45) In the early 16th century Tetbury was drawn into the feud between Maurice, Lord Berkeley, and the duke of Buckingham: hoping to win favour with Maurice, who was lord of the borough, the bailiff and burgesses prevented the duke from lodging in the town on his way from Thornbury to London. (fn. 46) In 1643 a royalist garrison established in the town was dispersed during Massey's operations against Beverstone castle. (fn. 47) The main route through Tetbury brought several rulers of England to the town, although only in passing: Edward I went that way from Bristol to Woodstock in 1293, (fn. 48) Charles I passed through in 1643, Charles II in 1664, James II in 1687, (fn. 49) and Queen Anne in 1702. (fn. 50) Humbler visitors were large numbers of Scots pedlars who were using the town as a regular rendezvous in 1683, apparently because it lay beyond the reach of the county authorities of Wiltshire in which they operated. (fn. 51) During the shortage of grain in 1766 there was a riot at Tetbury market between some farmers and poorer inhabitants, (fn. 52) and there were disturbances in the parish and surrounding countryside in the 1830 agricultural riots. (fn. 53)

Among notable inhabitants of the town was the Puritan divine, Edward Norris (1584-1659), the son of a vicar of Tetbury and later pastor of Salem Church, Massachusetts. Sir William Romney (d. 1611), a native of the town, became a leading citizen of London and one of the founders of the East India Company. (fn. 54) His gift of a lease of the market tolls established charities in the town and led ultimately to the townspeople achieving self-government. A monument in the parish church commemorates him jointly with the town's other principal benefactor, the vicar John Wight (d. 1777), who promoted the rebuilding of the church. (fn. 55) John Oldham, the poet, and several distinguished churchmen and scholars received their education in the 17th century at the grammar school founded by Sir William. (fn. 56) George Whyte-Melville (1821-78), novelist and poet, who lived at Barton Abbots in the town, was evidently attracted to Tetbury by the opportunities for foxhunting, the subject of much of his writing. (fn. 57)

The early history of Tetbury was dominated by its lords, particularly of the Breuse and Berkeley families. After the purchase of the manor in the early 17th century the chief families in the life of the town his grandson A. P. Kitcat, (fn. 58) who sold the practice in 1935. (fn. 59)


  • 1. Cf. Arch. Jnl. xci. 81-2. The history of Tetbury given here was written in 1974.
  • 2. Finberg, Early Charters of W. Midlands, p. 31.
  • 3. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 163v.
  • 4. Pigot's Dir. (1822-3), 64.
  • 5. Census, 1911.
  • 6. Long Newnton was transferred from Wilts. to Glos. in 1930: Census, 1931.
  • 7. Arch. Jnl. xci. 81.
  • 8. Census, 1901, 1911.
  • 9. Ibid. 1931.
  • 10. Ibid. (pt. ii); cf. G.D.R., T 1/178.
  • 11. Geol. Surv. Map 1", solid, sheet 34 (1857 edn.).
  • 12. See pp. 269-70.
  • 13. G.D.R., T 1/178; cf. Glos. R.O., D 587, map of Charlton man. 1799.
  • 14. C.P. 25(1)/74/18 no. 360.
  • 15. Cirencester Roads Act, 16 Geo. II, c. 22.
  • 16. Glos. R.O., D 566/M 16, f. 16v., a detailed survey of Tetbury in 1594.
  • 17. Ibid. DC/E 42/2; cf. Ogilby, Britannia (1675), plate 55, which appears to show this route.
  • 18. Glos. R.O., D 340A/M 1; cf. ibid. D 566/T 2/16.
  • 19. Rudder, Glos. 729; Colvin, Biog. Dict. Eng. Architects, 658.
  • 20. Tetbury Roads Act, 40 Geo. III, c. 75 (Local and Personal).
  • 21. Glos. R.O., D 1388/SL 4, no. 41; cf. ibid. D 587, map of Doughton man. 1808.
  • 22. Malmesbury Roads Act, 29 Geo. II, c. 77.
  • 23. Tetbury Roads Act, 31 Geo. II, c. 65.
  • 24. Glos. R.O., D 566/M 2, M 12.
  • 25. Ibid. M 16, ff. 6, 23v.
  • 26. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 162.
  • 27. See p. 176.
  • 28. Glouc. Jnl. 14 Nov. 1785.
  • 29. Pigot's Dir. (1822-3), 65.
  • 30. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1856), 368; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Glos. LIX. 1 (1884 edn.).
  • 31. E. T. MacDermot, Hist. G.W.R. (1964 edn.), ii. 192.
  • 32. Clinker's Reg. of Closed Stations (1971 edn.), 137.
  • 33. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 168.
  • 34. Glos. Subsidy Roll, 1327, 15.
  • 35. E 179/113/35A rot. 7, where the list is damaged.
  • 36. Trans. B.G.A.S. viii. 272.
  • 37. Bodl. MS. Rawl. C. 790, f. 10.
  • 38. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxxxiii. 92.
  • 39. Atkyns, Glos. 712.
  • 40. Glos. R.O., D 566/Z 11.
  • 41. Glos. Colln. R 300.3.
  • 42. Rudder, Glos. 733.
  • 43. Census, 1801-1961.
  • 44. Chrons. Stephen, Hen. II, Ric. I (Rolls Ser.), iii. 110.
  • 45. Cal. Pat. 1301-7, 352.
  • 46. Berkeley MSS. ii. 206-7.
  • 47. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 65.
  • 48. Cal. Close, 1288-96, 303.
  • 49. Lee, Tetbury, 19, 139. Lee's book is a genealogical and antiquarian work, which has little to say about the development of the town, its government, and trade.
  • 50. Glos. R.O., D 566/B 2/2.
  • 51. Cal. S.P. Dom. Oct. 1683-Apr. 1684, 83-4.
  • 52. Glouc. Jnl. 6 Oct. 1766.
  • 53. Ibid. 4 Dec. 1830.
  • 54. D.N.B.
  • 55. Bigland, Glos. iii, no. 267.
  • 56. Lee, Tetbury, 184-191.
  • 57. D.N.B.; Glos. R.O., D 2487/Z 2, MS. and TS. notes on the hist. of Tetbury by E. P. Harmer.
  • 58. D.N.B.
  • 59. For the fam., see Lee, Tetbury, 221-7.
  • 60. Glos. R.O., D 2487/Q 1, press cuttings; D 566/B 1/2, entries for 1875, 1900.
  • 61. Tetbury feoffees' min. bk. 1927-72, penes Mr. H. E. Phillips, chairman of the feoffees.