A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.
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WESTONBIRT WITH LASBOROUGH
The rural parish of Westonbirt with Lasborough lies 3 miles south-west of Tetbury. Lasborough, formerly a separate parish, had become depopulated by the late 14th century and by the mid 17th had been united for civil purposes with Westonbirt. (fn. 1) Lasborough remained a separate manor and ecclesiastical parish although the benefices were united in 1868.
Westonbirt was a small compact parish of 850 a., bounded by a Roman road on the north-east, an old road from Tetbury on the north-west, and the old Westonbirt-Leighterton road and the Sherbourne brook on part of the south-west. The southern boundary, which is also the county boundary with Wiltshire, follows field boundaries. To the northwest beyond a part of Tetbury lay Lasborough, an elongated parish of 1,054 a., bounded on the southeast by the Tetbury-Leighterton road and on most of the north-east by the Roman road. Part of the western boundary follows the stream on the floor of the Lasborough valley; (fn. 2) it was redefined in 1838 after a dispute. (fn. 3) In 1935 the two parts were united geographically by absorbing 346 a. of Tetbury parish, which with the addition of 21 a. of Shipton Moyne (fn. 4) brought the north-eastern boundary into line with a new road that had replaced part of the Roman road. (fn. 5) The enlarged parish comprises 2,271 a. but the account printed below relates to the area included in the parish until 1935 together with the area on the north-east side of Westonbirt between the Roman road and its replacement.
Most of the parish lies on the Forest Marble, rising from c. 400 ft. in the south-east to c. 650 ft. in Lasborough before dropping steeply into the valley, the sides of which are formed by the underlying strata of the Great Oolite. The floor of the valley is overlaid with fuller's earth (fn. 6) from which issue several springs. The Sherbourne brook flows eastwards across the south part of Westonbirt. Formerly the parishes were not heavily wooded. Bowldown wood in south-east Lasborough, recorded in 1519, (fn. 7) included 27 a. in 1797. (fn. 8) The light stone soil was suited to both arable and pastoral farming and much of Westonbirt lay in open fields, the inclosure of which was completed in 1745. (fn. 9)
In the mid 19th century the character and appearance of Westonbirt was transformed by Robert Stayner Holford. In 1829 he founded the arboretum on former common downland in the north-west and he later laid it out with broad rides aligned on Westonbirt House. The collection of trees and shrubs from all parts of the world was continued by his successors and in 1956 the arboretum was acquired by the Forestry Commission and opened to the public. In the early 1970s it covered 117 a. and its comprehensive collection was known especially for its conifers and maples. (fn. 10) In the 1840s R. S. Holford enlarged the manor-house park (fn. 11) which had been created by 1674 (fn. 12) and had been divided into two parks by 1700. (fn. 13) Its extension involved rerouting several roads (fn. 14) and moving the village. (fn. 15) The landscaping of the gardens involved the diversion and culverting of the brook in the late 1860s and a small lake was created west of the church. (fn. 16) In the park, which comprised 550 a., a golf-course was laid out before 1936 (fn. 17) on the site of the former village.
In the north-western valley Lasborough park, which includes land in Newington Bagpath and Boxwell with Leighterton, was created for deer and coneys by Sir Thomas Estcourt before 1612. (fn. 18) In the mid 17th century it was used as a coney warren (fn. 19) and in the 1830s larch poles were sold on a considerable scale. (fn. 20) In 1927 it included 110 a. (fn. 21) During the First World War there was an airfield in the centre of Lasborough. (fn. 22)
The two parts of the parish were crossed by several important routes. The route along Bowldown Road, used by the Romans between the Foss Way and the Severn, (fn. 23) was probably the most important ancient route. The village name of Weston presumably derives from its position west of the road, as distinct from Easton Grey east of it. The affix Birt, first recorded in 1309, (fn. 24) was evidently added when the manor was in the hands of the Bret family. Part of Bowldown Road was turnpiked in 1798 as the Gloucester-Malmesbury road. (fn. 25) A toll-house near Park Corner (fn. 26) was built before 1808. (fn. 27) By 1854 that part of the turnpike bordering Westonbirt had been diverted slightly north-eastwards in two stages, the southern part (fn. 28) probably before 1848. (fn. 29) Bristol way, recorded in 1635, (fn. 30) which passed north-west of the village, was turnpiked in 1743 as the BathCirencester road. (fn. 31) It was diverted to the north-west c. 1850 and at the same time the road joining it from Sherston to the south was moved westwards. (fn. 32) The road from the village of Westonbirt (fn. 33) across the park to Easton Grey (fn. 34) was closed c. 1868 and replaced by a new road skirting the enlarged park. (fn. 35) The Romans used a route across Lasborough between Bath and Chavenage Green. (fn. 36) The old Bath-Gloucester road by way of Frocester crossed Lasborough parish and incorporated part of Bowldown Road. (fn. 37) It was turnpiked in 1758, together with the route branching north-eastwards to Tiltups End, (fn. 38) which later replaced it as the main road from Bath to Gloucester and Cheltenham.
Until the mid 19th century Westonbirt village lay south-west of the church on both sides of the Easton Grey road. (fn. 39) The village, which c. 1710 contained 18 houses, (fn. 40) comprised in 1840 10 cottages, the rectory, and a farm-house, (fn. 41) which may have been the house built shortly before 1709 for Minchins farm. (fn. 42) In 1854 R. S. Holford demolished the farmhouse (fn. 43) and most of the cottages, rebuilding the village further west where the school and some cottages already stood. (fn. 44) The new cottages, completed by 1856, (fn. 45) were probably designed by Lewis Vulliamy, the architect of the mansion built by Holford near the site of the former manor-house north-east of the church. (fn. 46) The village hall opened in 1923 was built largely at the cost of Sir George Holford. (fn. 47) New Farm, an outlying farm building in the south of the parish recorded in 1824, (fn. 48) was called Rushmoor barn in 1840 (fn. 49) and Elmleaze Farm by 1881. (fn. 50) Home Farm in the north-east of Westonbirt appears to be of the mid 19th century but incorporates earlier features.
The parish of Lasborough, which takes its name from a small earthwork above the Lasborough valley, (fn. 51) has no village. In 1086 13 tenants were enumerated on the manor (fn. 52) but in 1327 only five people, including the custodian of the manor, were assessed for tax in the parish. (fn. 53) Lasborough was depopulated by 1381, (fn. 54) when the lord and lady of the manor alone were assessed for tax, (fn. 55) but it seems unlikely that there had ever been more than a small village in the valley at the west end of the parish where only the church and manor-house survived later. There are a few outlying cottages, including a 19th-century lodge on the Bath-Cheltenham road. There was possibly a dwelling at the outlying farmstead of Bowldown by the mid 16th century. (fn. 56) Bowldown Farm dates from the 18th century and was extensively modernized in the 20th. Of the cottages there, two were built in the mid 19th century, evidently to designs by Vulliamy.
Nine male inhabitants of Westonbirt were recorded in 1086 (fn. 57) and 14 people assessed for tax in 1327. (fn. 58) In 1381 17 people were assessed in Westonbirt, (fn. 59) where there were said to be c. 40 communicants in 1551 (fn. 60) and 13 households in 1563. (fn. 61) Lasborough had c. 17 communicants in 1551 (fn. 62) and only 2 households in 1563. (fn. 63) Westonbirt had 30 families in 1650 (fn. 64) and the estimated population rose from 80 c. 1710 (fn. 65) to 106 by c. 1775. (fn. 66) In 1801 the population of the combined parish was 157, (fn. 67) of whom only about 15 lived in Lasborough. (fn. 68) During the 19th century there were marked fluctuations resulting possibly from building operations at Westonbirt House and variations in the size of the household there. It rose as high as 198 in 1821, 234 in 1851, and 282 in 1871, shortly after the completion of Westonbirt House; but it dipped to 138 in 1831 and to 154 in 1921, before rising, with the transfer of a population of 112 to the parish in 1935, to 226 by 1961. (fn. 69)
Two unlicensed alehouses were being kept in the parish in 1667. (fn. 70) The Hare and Hounds, a coaching inn mentioned in 1716, (fn. 71) stood inside Tetbury parish at the junction of the old Bath-Cirencester road and Bowldown Road on the site later occupied by Home Farm. (fn. 72) It belonged to the Doughton manor estate until 1834 when it was acquired by R. S. Holford (fn. 73) who by 1854 had replaced it with a new inn, built in the Renaissance style, on the north-west side of the recently diverted BathCirencester road. (fn. 74)
From the late 17th century until 1926 the Holford family dominated the community of Westonbirt. The physical changes that resulted from the interest of R. S. Holford (d. 1892) in horticulture and arboriculture have already been mentioned. Under his son Sir George Holford, who shared his enthusiasm, Westonbirt became widely known for its orchids. Westonbirt House, a mansion of unusual size and magnificence built for Robert, was visited several times by Edward VII. (fn. 75) The genealogist Thomas Lyte (1568?-1638) lived in Westonbirt for a time. (fn. 76)