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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The parish of Woodchester, well known as the site of a Roman villa, (fn. 1) lies on the west side of the Nailsworth valley two miles south of Stroud town. In 1972 the parish, a triangular unit comprising 1,206 a., occupied the same area as the ancient parish. Its eastern boundary follows the Nailsworth stream, on which several cloth-mills were built, and the southern boundary is formed by the Inch brook and ornamental ponds built on the brook by the late 18th century. (fn. 2) The north-western boundary is formed in part by the Stroud-Dursley road, turnpiked as far as Buckholt wood in Frocester in 1780. (fn. 3) The western slopes of the Nailsworth valley, where the main settlements stand, are broken by steep wooded coombs formed by tributaries of the Nailsworth stream. The steep wooded north slope of the Inchbrook valley rises to a height of over 750 ft. at Bown hill. The Nailsworth and Inchbrook valleys are formed by deposits of Upper Lias Clay and Midford Sand, and most of the western part of the parish by the Inferior Oolite, with small deposits of fuller's earth and the Great Oolite on Bown hill. (fn. 4)
The main route through the parish in early times followed the slopes of the Nailsworth valley and linked the two main settlements, South Woodchester, also called Far Woodchester, and North Woodchester, also called Near Woodchester. (fn. 5) That route, which formed part of the old road linking Stroud and Nailsworth through Selsley, was replaced in 1780 by a new road which followed closely the Nailsworth stream and continued to be the main route through the parish in 1972 as part of the Bath-Cheltenham trunk road. Also in 1780 the new Stroud-Nailsworth road and the Stroud-Dursley road were linked by a new road, called Selsley Road, running from east to west through North Woodchester. (fn. 6) A railway was built in 1867 linking Nailsworth with the main line at Stonehouse and having a station, situated just inside Rodborough parish, for Woodchester. The line was closed for passenger traffic in 1947 and for goods services in 1966. (fn. 7)
The parish, as its name suggests, has always been heavily wooded; woodland was first recorded in 716, (fn. 8) and presumably lay in the valleys of the brooks which feed the Nailsworth stream. Sales of wood appeared regularly as an important contribution to the value of the manor in the 15th and 16th centuries, when tenants also enjoyed valuable rights in the woodland. (fn. 9) A park was recorded at Woodchester from 1311 (fn. 10) but was greatly enlarged by an inclosure which absorbed the open-field and common land of the parish in the early 17th century. (fn. 11) The park, known as Woodchester, or Spring, Park, (fn. 12) was situated in the west of the parish and extended into the neighbouring parishes. (fn. 13) It was said to be the largest park in the county in the early 18th century when its circumference measured seven miles, (fn. 14) and it was later landscaped, possibly by John Spyers who made a survey in 1782. (fn. 15)
The earliest settlement at Woodchester, a substantial Roman villa widely known from its excavation by Samuel Lysons in the 1790s and for its large mosaic pavement, (fn. 16) stood at the northern extremity of the parish. The site was probably settled continuously from that time (fn. 17) and was chosen for the site of the church (fn. 18) and the manor-house. (fn. 19) The main settlement of the parish follows the line of the Nailsworth valley at a height of c. 150 ft. above the stream with two concentrations of population, at South Woodchester and North Woodchester. Although much building has been done since 1800 the description of the settlement in the later 18th century, 'Higher in the view are many good houses and gardens, thickly scattered and distributed for about a mile in length', (fn. 20) remained substantially correct in 1972.
The older part of the village of North Woodchester stood south of the old parish church on the ancient middle section of Selsley Road, where two pairs of 17th-century cottages remain and a few others retain 17th-century features. The cottages, which include the Royal Oak, recorded as an inn since 1781, (fn. 21) are all on the south side of the road. In the early 19th century a few cottages and a substantial residence called the Lawn, the home of J. Brynmar Jones in the 1890s when he was M.P. for the Stroud division, (fn. 22) were built on the north side of Selsley Road by Church Lane. A few houses for the professional classes, including Selsley Lodge and Oakley House, (fn. 23) were built later in the 19th century when a number of cottages were erected, possibly on the site of earlier ones. (fn. 24) The building of a new parish church and a school in the later 19th century moved the focal point of the village southwards where previously there had only been a few dwellings. The movement was further underlined in the earlier 20th century when an estate of 50 houses was built in that area by the Stroud R.D.C., which also built a few houses on the lower part of Selsley Road at that time. A small estate was added to those on Selsley Road by the council in the 1950s. Since the late 19th century private development has generally taken place west of the village on the higher slopes of the valley, and assorted houses of brick or stone have been built on either side of Selsley Road at various times.
South Woodchester, ½ mile south of North Woodchester, is the largest settlement in the parish and contains some 17th-century cottages on the main street. Rebuilding took place during the 18th century and early 19th when the main street was lengthened to the north and south: to the north cottages were built along a path to North Woodchester, on which a substantial residence called Woodchester House had been built in the mid 18th century; to the south the street was lengthened towards Atcombe Court, which incorporates some 17th-century buildings, (fn. 25) and weavers' cottages and a Baptist chapel were erected. Later in the 19th century cottages were built on the higher slopes west of the village on Bospin Lane and Laggar Lane where a small 17th-century house, the Laggar, was situated. Some more substantial houses were also built on those lanes, including the gabled residence called Rosare and the Gothic-style Tower House, the distinctive feature of which is explicit in the name. Some middle-class houses have been built to the west of the village during the 20th century when houses were also built on the road leading to the mill at Frogmarsh. A house at Frogmarsh, called Frogmarsh (fn. 26) and later Summerwells, was the chief house of an estate which later became part of the Atcombe estate. (fn. 27) The gabled house dates from the end of the 17th century (fn. 28) and was built of rubble, later faced in cement. By 1972 it had been converted to make cottages, one of which included a potter's workshop. South of Frogmarsh, on the lane called Convent Lane, are Atcombe Farm, a 19th-century farm-house with a barn of an earlier date, a Franciscan convent built in the 1860s incorporating an earlier farm-house called Bird's Hill Farm, (fn. 29) and the 18th-century Chester Hill House; the last was the residence of John Morton, Lord Ducie's agent and an agricultural innovator, in the 1830s (fn. 30) and later in the century of the Catholic writers and apologists Henry William Wilberforce (d. 1873) and Matthew Bridges (d. 1894). (fn. 31) During the 20th century a small terrace of council houses and some middle-class housing were built on Convent Lane. Pudhill (fn. 32) stands overlooking the confluence of the Nailsworth stream and the Inch brook, and north of the house on a road cut in 1787 (fn. 33) stand the Catholic church and school, built in the 19th century.
The Mansion stands at the west end of the park near the site of the manor-house built in the 18th century, (fn. 34) and the only other habitations in the western part of the parish are Selsleyhill Farm, a small farm-house on the Stroud-Dursley road, and Bown Hill Farm, a 19th-century farm-house.
In addition to the Royal Oak mentioned above, the Ram inn at South Woodchester has been recorded as an inn since 1766 when a friendly society met there. (fn. 35) A friendly society continued to meet there in 1816. (fn. 36) In 1690 the licences of five alehousekeepers of the parish were withdrawn. (fn. 37) In 1838 there were one public house and ten beer-houses in the parish. (fn. 38) Two public houses remained in 1972.
Thirty-three households were recorded at Woodchester in 1563, (fn. 39) and in 1650 there were said to be 60 families in the parish. (fn. 40) By the early 18th century the villages contained 120 houses in which c. 460 people lived (fn. 41) and a census of 1756 put the population at 792. (fn. 42) By 1801 the population had increased to 870 and after some decline it fluctuated only slightly until 1851 when 893 people were recorded. A decline, due partly to emigration, to 816 people in 1861 was followed by a rise to 974 inhabitants in 1871 from which figure the population fell back to 903 in 1881. Numbers declined steadily until the turn of the century when they began to increase once more to reach 856 by 1921. By 1931 the population had fallen to 767 but council-house building led to a recovery to 815 by 1961. (fn. 43)