Bisley: Local government

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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'Bisley: Local government', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds, (London, 1976) pp. 30-32. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]


In the later 14th and early 15th centuries courts for Bisley manor, recorded on the same series of rolls, were held sometimes in the name of the Bisley family and sometimes in the name of the earls of March; presumably one court was being held for both parts of the manor, the respective lords making a division of the profits. Apart from the occasional plea, the court was concerned wholly with estate matters, in particular with the management and conservation of the extensive woodland. By the 1350s the court appointed and heard presentments from 3 woodwards, who were responsible for different areas of woodland. They were the woodwards for Bussage, Oakridge, and 'Wygesty', the latter sometimes known alternatively as the woodward of Timbercombe or Catswood; (fn. 1) in 1536 the 3 woodwards were being paid an annual fee by the manor. (fn. 2) The office was served by the occupants of particular tenements, for in 1600 John Gardner, who held Frampton Place freely from the manor, was said to be by his tenure one of the three 'foresters' who kept the woodland. (fn. 3) Officers called the riders of the woods recorded in the mid 16th century were apparently additional to the woodwards. (fn. 4) From 1435 a separate court of woods was held to supervise the management of the woodland but by 1676 it was being held in conjunction with the court baron. (fn. 5)

From the late 16th century the manor court was largely concerned with stocking and preventing encroachments and quarrying on the commons which replaced much of the woodland. Later with the disappearance of customary tenures, the court came to deal almost exclusively with the management of the commons. From the end of the 17th century it appointed sheep-tellers and in 1736 2 tellers and 2 haywards were appointed; from 1783 those officers were joined by a parish shepherd. A reeve, whose office was anciently filled on a rota system, was also appointed by the court until the early 19th century, (fn. 6) although by the beginning of the 18th his whole duty was the collection and payment of the fee-farm rent owed to the Crown from the manor. (fn. 7) The manor court may have met at the building called the court-house which adjoined Over Court in 1608 (fn. 8) but in the later 17th century that building was reserved for the Bisley hundred court; (fn. 9) in 1766 and later the manor court met at the Bear inn. (fn. 10) The earliest surviving court roll for Bisley manor is for 1335 and there is an almost complete series for the period 1350-1445. (fn. 11) Records of a few courts survive for the 1540s; (fn. 12) there is a complete run for 1584-1602; (fn. 13) and rolls, court papers, and a court book cover the period 1675-1838. (fn. 14)

The abbots of Cirencester held a court for Througham manor and its members in the early 16th century, (fn. 15) and profits of court, amounting to only 12d. annually, were included in a survey of Bidfield manor in 1370. (fn. 16) A court was held for the rectory estate in the late 16th century, (fn. 17) and the Bisley feoffees also claimed to hold one at Sturmyes Court for their tenants. (fn. 18)

Frankpledge jurisdiction over the parish was exercised by Bisley hundred, which was for many years in the same ownership as Bisley manor. In the 1540s the hundred court heard presentments from tithingmen for Bisley, Bidfield, Througham, and Tunley. (fn. 19)

The heavy burden of poor-relief in a parish with so numerous a population of cottage weavers led to a succession of expedients. In 1677 the parish officers were given permission to build poorhouses (fn. 20) and in 1726 the parish hired a house called Joiners for use as a workhouse. In the 1730s and 1740s the workhouse housed 30-60 paupers. In the year 1728- 9 the expenses of running it, including the salary of £26 paid to the governor of the house, were £115, offset only to the extent of £30 earned by the inmates, and in 1748-9 the expenses had risen to £291 and the earnings were £24. (fn. 21) In 1782 the keeper of the house made an agreement to farm the poor there. (fn. 22) Between 1722 and 1724 14 people were required to convey their cottages to the parish officers in consideration of having been in receipt of relief for periods which varied between 1 and 7 years; the deeds empowered the officers to use the cottages for housing paupers or to sell them for the benefit of the poor but possibly the original owners were allowed to remain, the cottages being merely pledged as security against their requiring further relief. (fn. 23) The cottages were probably later taken into possession by the parish, which owned 20 cottages in 1837. (fn. 24) In 1722 the overseers were also paying the rent for numerous other paupers. (fn. 25)

Bad years for the cloth trade required special measures. In 1785 the vestry decided to hire an additional house at Eastcombe and put the unemployed to work carding and spinning wool, which the clothiers of the parish agreed to supply. Prevalent distress in 1795 was alleviated by temporarily adding half as much again to the pay of paupers on constant or casual relief and by the purchase of provisions to be sold to the poor at reduced prices. (fn. 26) A programme of road-works was carried out in 1826 but only gave employment to c. 30 out of the numerous paupers. (fn. 27) A parish house was built at Custom Scrubs in 1823, (fn. 28) and in 1828 when the increase in paupers was overcrowding the workhouse and parish houses the officers bought two cottages at Oakridge. (fn. 29) Emigration was assisted out of the rates in 1837. (fn. 30)

In 1779 the parish built a pest-house for smallpox cases in the middle of Oakridge common (fn. 31) and a parish surgeon was employed from 1741. (fn. 32) Apprenticeships were made regularly during the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 33) In 1821 a select vestry was formed and in the same year a perpetual overseer was employed at a salary of 50 guineas. (fn. 34)

A total of £887 was expended on relief in 1776 and the cost had risen to £1,869 by 1803 and to £2,769, including £77 spent on litigation, in 1813. There was subsequently some falling off but figures well above £2,000 were again recorded in the depressed years of the late 1820s; the cost of relief usually considerably exceeded that in Stroud despite the greater population of the neighbouring parish. (fn. 35) In 1803 200 people were receiving permanent relief, 210 received occasional relief, and there were 50 paupers in the workhouse; the comparable figures in 1813 were 310, 180, and 51. (fn. 36) The surviving parish records include churchwardens' accounts for the periods 1637-66 and 1737-1807 and from 1846, vestry minutes from 1774, select vestry minutes for 1821-9, (fn. 37) and overseers' and workhouse accounts for 1722-62 (fn. 38) and 1794-1836. (fn. 39)

Bisley became part of the Stroud union in 1836 (fn. 40) and has remained in the Stroud rural district. A board of health functioned between 1849 and 1860 (fn. 41) and was reconstituted in 1864 (fn. 42) but the parish, being dismembered, was not given an urban district council under the Act of 1894.


  • 1. S.C. 2/175/7-10.
  • 2. S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/6664 rot. 8d.
  • 3. S.C. 2/175/13.
  • 4. S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/6664 rot. 8; S.C. 2/175/12, 22.
  • 5. S.C. 2/175/10; Glos. R.O., D 745/M6.
  • 6. S.C. 2/175/13; Glos. R.O., D 745/M6.
  • 7. E 134/5 & 6 Anne Hil./29.
  • 8. E 315/394 f. 122.
  • 9. Glos. R.O., D 2278/16.
  • 10. Ibid. D 745/M6.
  • 11. S.C. 2/175/7-10.
  • 12. S.C. 2/175/11-12, 22.
  • 13. S.C. 2/175/13.
  • 14. Glos. R.O., D 745/M 6-7.
  • 15. S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/1240 rott. 49v.-50v.
  • 16. Cal. Inq. Misc.iii, pp. 269-70.
  • 17. E 134/3 Chas. I Mich./3.
  • 18. Glos. R.O., P 47/OV 2/19.
  • 19. S.C. 2/175/11-12.
  • 20. Glos. R.O., Q/SO 1, f. 160.
  • 21. Ibid. P 47/OV 2/19.
  • 22. Vestry min. bk. 1774-1806.
  • 23. Glos. R.O., P 47/CW 3/1; D 2278/10, 12.
  • 24. M.H. 12/4164.
  • 25. Glos. R.O., P 47/OV 2/19.
  • 26. Vestry min. bk. 1774-1806.
  • 27. Glos. R.O., P 47A/MI 1.
  • 28. Ibid. P 47/OV 2/20.
  • 29. Ibid. D 1801/5.
  • 30. Ibid. P 47/OV 7/4.
  • 31. Vestry min. bk. 1774-1806; cf. G.D.R., T 1/28.
  • 32. Glos. R.O., P 47/OV 2/19.
  • 33. Ibid.; ibid. OV 9/1.
  • 34. Vestry min. bk. 1806-24, penes the vicar.
  • 35. Poor Law Abstract, 1804, 170-1; 1818, 144-5; Poor Law Returns (1830-1), p. 66; (1835), p. 64.
  • 36. Poor Law Abstract, 1804, 170-1; 1818, 144-5.
  • 37. Penes the vicar.
  • 38. Glos. R.O., P 47/OV 2/19; OV 9/1.
  • 39. Ibid. OV 9/2-18.
  • 40. Poor Law Com. 2nd Rep. p. 523.
  • 41. B. & G. Par. Recs. 68.
  • 42. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1889), 675.