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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There was probably a church at Bisley in pre-Conquest times and 2 priests were recorded there in 1086. (fn. 1) One of the priests may have served a chapel of ease at one of the other settlements of the large manor of Bisley, possibly at Stroud or at Paganhill. (fn. 2) The large parish served by Bisley church originally included the whole of Stroud; the church built at Stroud was given rights in 1304 but it remained a chapel to Bisley until the early 18th century, and even afterwards Stroud remained tithable to the Bisley tithe-owners. (fn. 3)
It seems unlikely that the two priests in 1086 were the precursors of the two portioners who later shared the profits of Bisley church, for that arrangement appears to have resulted from divisions in the overlordship and lordship-in-fee of the manor in the 12th or early 13th century. The two portions in the rectory, one known as the first portion comprising two thirds of the profits, (fn. 4) and the other known as the second portion comprising one third of the profits, (fn. 5) were recorded from the early 13th century. (fn. 6) By 1291 a vicarage had been created out of the profits of the first portioner and in his gift, receiving a new endowment of land and tithes in 1360. (fn. 7) The portioners were still required to be resident and presumably also to take some part in serving the cure in 1314 when both had temporary leave of absence (fn. 8) and it is likely that the size of the parish to be served was one reason for the continuance of an arrangement that gave it 3 incumbent clergymen. The duties of the portioners may have ceased, however, at the new endowment of the vicarage in 1360; the first portion, at least, was a sinecure in 1383. (fn. 9)
The advowson of the first portion of the rectory was evidently in the possession of the Mortimers by 1254 when their kinsman Hugh Mortimer was portioner, (fn. 10) and it later descended with their right in Bisley manor. In 1331 the Crown, as holder of Roger Mortimer's forfeited lands, and Gerard de Alspathe, Roger's assignee, presented rival candidates, the Crown's presentation succeeding, (fn. 11) and the Crown presented to the portion on at least 3 other occasions in the 14th century because of the minority of Mortimer heirs. (fn. 12) A share in the advowson of the second portion belonged to Richard of Bisley in 1274 (fn. 13) and in the 14th century his heirs and the earls of Hereford presented alternately; in 1361 the earl also had the turn of the Bisley family because of a minority. (fn. 14) The earls' right was assigned to Mary, daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, and her husband Henry of Lancaster. (fn. 15) The right of the Bisley family was acquired with their share of the manor by the duke of York, patron of the first portion, in 1434. (fn. 16) The duke had presumably also acquired the other share of the advowson of the second portion by 1445 when he granted the two advowsons to Stoke College (fn. 17) which appropriated the two portions in 1480. An annual pension of 26s. 8d. to Worcester cathedral was charged on the profits of the portions at the appropriation (fn. 18) but the college was paying only 10s. to the cathedral in 1535. (fn. 19)
The advowson of the vicarage, which was exercised by the first portioner, (fn. 20) passed with the portions of the rectory to Stoke College. (fn. 21) Although it was said to have been included in the lease of the rectory made by the college in 1537, (fn. 22) it was exercised by the Crown in 1553. It continued to be exercised by the Crown until the early 19th century from which time it was exercised by the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 23)
In 1322 the first portion of the rectory was said to be worth 38½ marks and the second 28 marks; (fn. 24) that the sums bore little relation to the supposed two thirds and one-third shares was possibly due in part to the exclusion of the vicar's share from the first portion. In 1480, however, by which date a considerable fall in value had occurred, the portions were valued in the proportions ascribed to them at £20 and £10, (fn. 25) and the united rectory was being farmed at £30 in 1535. (fn. 26) The later history of the rectory estate is given above. (fn. 27)
The vicar's share of the profits of the first portion was valued at £6 13s. 4d. in 1291. (fn. 28) At the new ordination of the vicarage in 1360 the first portioner released to the vicar all the small tithes, including those from flax, hemp, honey, apples, pears, gristand fulling-mills, fisheries, and commerce, and all the corn and hay tithes from the glebe land belonging to the portion. (fn. 29) In 1689 the vicar was said to be entitled to all the tithes of the rectory lands and the small tithes of the remainder of the parish; he also had the tithe hay of meadows called Stean Meads and a fifteenth of the impropriator's tithe corn, but under an agreement made in the mid 17th century those tithes and the vicar's tithes of wool and lambs were taken by the impropriator who paid the vicar a rent of £45 a year for them. In 1689 the vicar was receiving cash payments for saddleand pack-horses, milch-cows, mill-wheels, hens and cocks, and gardens. His other tithes were then said to include those of woods of under 16 years growth, (fn. 30) although attempts by the vicar John Sedgwick in the 1630s to enforce payment of tithe wood by Thomas Master, lord of the manor, and Walter Master, owner of the Hillhouse estate, had apparently proved unsuccessful. (fn. 31) At the tithe commutation in 1842 the vicar was found to be entitled to all the tithes of the rectory lands, and all the small tithes and a tenth of the great tithes of the remainder of the parish, the tenth presumably representing the share in the hay and corn tithes mentioned in the 17th century. The vicar was awarded a corn-rent of £750 for his tithes. (fn. 32) In 1612 he owned 16 a. of land and 8 tenements; (fn. 33) c. 15 a. of glebe remained in 1856. (fn. 34)
The vicarage was valued at £18 16s. 4d. in 1535, (fn. 35) £50 in 1650, (fn. 36) and £120 in 1750. (fn. 37) By 1798 its value had risen to £200 and in 1814 it was valued at £550, (fn. 38) no explanation for the sharp rise being apparent. In 1856, in spite of the award at the tithe commutation, the living was valued at only £528; (fn. 39) possibly some of the tithe rent-charges had been applied to the new daughter churches.
A house was assigned to the vicar by the ordination of 1360. (fn. 40) The vicarage house was said to require timber, wattle, and thatch for its repair in 1563, (fn. 41) and a stone front is said to have been added to the house by John Sedgwick in the earlier 17th century; (fn. 42) in 1689 it was described as a house of 4 bays with a barn of 2 bays. (fn. 43) It was partly rebuilt before 1744 when it contained 9 bays and also had a new stable and barn of 8 bays. (fn. 44) Thomas Keble regarded the house as unfit for his residence in 1828 (fn. 45) and rebuilt it, to the designs of William Franklin, in 1832. (fn. 46)
One of the earliest incumbents of either portion of the rectory found recorded was the first portioner Hugh Mortimer, who was accused of forging papal letters in 1254. In 1257 he was licensed to hold the benefice in plurality with the church of Old Radnor (fn. 47) and in 1280 he was given permission to let his portion at farm while he lived in Ireland in the service of Maud Mortimer, presumably the wife of the patron Roger Mortimer. (fn. 48) In 1270 Hugh was given licence to hunt with dogs in the forests of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire. (fn. 49) He was succeeded as first portioner in 1290 by another kinsman of the patron, also called Hugh Mortimer, who had not yet entered orders (fn. 50) and was still not in priest's orders in 1294, when he was also cited for plurality. (fn. 51) Henry of Upavon, the portioner in 1314, was given licence to study for a year. (fn. 52) Peter de Lacy, who acquired the living by exchange in 1351, (fn. 53) also held the rectory of Northfleet (Kent) and a prebend at Wolverhampton in 1363, when he was granted a canonry at Lichfield on condition that he resigned Wolverhampton and Bisley. (fn. 54) In 1404 the portion was held by Walter Medford, chancellor of Salisbury, (fn. 55) after whose death Thomas Duncan, M.A., was instituted in 1423. (fn. 56) Richard Edenham, bishop of Bangor, held the portion for a few months in 1470-1. (fn. 57)
The second portion of the rectory was held from 1282 by Robert of Bisley (or le Eyer), of the patron's family. He had licence for 2 years' absence for study in 1310 (fn. 58) and Bartholomew of Elmham, instituted to the second portion in 1313, had leave of absence in the king's service the following year. (fn. 59) Another member of the Bisley family, Henry of Bisley (or le Eyer), was instituted in 1317 and had leave of absence for a year's study in 1318. (fn. 60) Stephen Roach, who held the portion from 1361 to 1370, (fn. 61) was appointed a guardian of the temporal possessions of the bishop of Bath and Wells during a vacancy of the see in 1364. (fn. 62)
The names of the medieval vicars of Bisley are recorded from 1302 (fn. 63) but little else is known of them.
Edmund of Elcombe who was instituted in 1349 (fn. 64) was perhaps from the hamlet of that name in Bisley. John Prout held the vicarage from 1369 until 1378 when he exchanged it with Robert Marriott for Woodchester rectory (fn. 65) and Marriott exchanged the living in 1383 with John Edward, the chantry priest of Bisley. (fn. 66) A later chantry priest, James Lowe, became vicar in 1509. (fn. 67) John Fowler, of the local clothier family, was vicar from 1543, (fn. 68) and in 1551 he was found to have a satisfactory knowledge of doctrine. (fn. 69) Richard Rawlins, apparently the assistant curate, was serving the church as well as the cure of Rodborough in 1563; (fn. 70) in 1566 he was excommunicated for not paying the subsidy. John Lightfoot, vicar from 1572 to 1588, (fn. 71) was cited in 1576 for failure to catechise (fn. 72) and in 1584 was described as a conformist and neither a graduate nor a preacher. (fn. 73) His successor Christopher Windle, who remained vicar until 1625, (fn. 74) was dispensed to hold Bisley with Syde rectory in 1592. (fn. 75)
John Sedgwick was instituted in 1625 and Daniel Layford in 1638. (fn. 76) In 1641 Sedgwick and some parishioners complained that Layford had gained the living after securing Sedgwick's deprivation on a false charge of simony; they said that Layford, whom they described as 'superstitious in observance of ceremonies, but lax in performance of duties' was a drunkard and was in prison for debt. (fn. 77) Layford agreed the same year to give way to Richard Britton, whose Puritan sympathies were evidently more to the taste of the parishioners. (fn. 78) Britton signed the Gloucestershire Ministers' Testimony of 1648 (fn. 79) In 1650 was described as a constant preacher. (fn. 80) In 1659 he was implicated in Massey's attempted royalist rising at Gloucester, motivated it was said by his fears of the influence of Quakers and Anabaptists. (fn. 81) He subscribed at the Restoration and remained vicar until his death in 1679. (fn. 82) Stephen Phillips was vicar from 1715 to 1740 and was succeeded by another Stephen Phillips who remained vicar until his death in 1782. Edward Hawkins, vicar 1782-1806, was also rector of Kelston (Som.) from 1798. (fn. 83)
In 1827 the church life of Bisley was revitalized and given a new direction by the institution of Thomas Keble, the younger brother of John Keble. Keble set the pattern for Tractarian observance by his practice of daily services and gathered around him a group of clergy of sympathetic views who were later described as the 'Bisley school' of the Oxford Movement. (fn. 84) Keble's curates included from 1828 to 1834 Sir George Prevost, Bt., later archdeacon of Gloucester, (fn. 85) from 1842 to 1848 Isaac Williams, devotional poet and author of several Tracts, (fn. 86) from 1843 Robert Gregory, later dean of St. Paul's, (fn. 87) and from 1847 Robert Suckling, who was later perpetual curate of Bussage. (fn. 88) During Keble's incumbency and largely at his instigation places of worship were provided for the villages in the south of the parish: churches were built at Oakridge, Bussage, and France Lynch, and the early18th-century chapel at Chalford was consecrated and restored. (fn. 89) Keble also played a leading role in attempts to alleviate the distress and unemployment prevalent in the parish during the early years of his incumbency. (fn. 90) He died in 1875, having been succeeded at Bisley in 1873 by his son Thomas who remained vicar until his death in 1903. (fn. 91)
A chantry at Bisley, dedicated to the Virgin, had been founded by 1274 when Thomas, rector of the second portion, was assigned custody of its possessions. (fn. 92) In 1285, however, a chaplain was presented to the chantry by the first portioner, (fn. 93) whose successors continued to exercise the patronage, the right passing with the portion to Stoke College. (fn. 94) At the dissolution of the chantries, when the chantry was said to have been founded by Osbert, a vicar of the parish, its lands were valued at £4. (fn. 95) The house and lands belonging to it were granted on lease by the Crown from 1551. (fn. 96) The chantry chapel was described as being in Bisley church in 1274 (fn. 97) but later it was said to be in or below the churchyard; (fn. 98) it was again said to be inside the church in 1510 (fn. 99) and before the restoration of the church there was a chapel within the east end of the south aisle which it may have occupied. (fn. 100)
In the early 13th century Richard of Througham built a chantry chapel adjoining his manor-house at Througham and endowed the chaplain with 40 a. of arable and other land. The chapel presumably served to some extent as a private chapel for the manor-house; Richard granted land to the rectors of Bisley to guarantee them against loss of rights, and promised that he and his household would attend the parish church at the great festivals and that the tenants of Througham would continue to attend every Sunday. (fn. 101) The chapel was included in the grant of the manor to Cirencester Abbey in 1261 (fn. 102) and it was rebuilt before 1319 when the abbot was licensed to celebrate there for a year. (fn. 103) It has not been found recorded later, although Chapel Piece was named on the manorial demesne in 1540. (fn. 104)
The parish church of ALL SAINTS, recorded by that dedication from c. 1230, (fn. 105) is a large building, comprising chancel, aisled and clerestoried nave with north vestry, and south porch, and west tower and spire; it occupies a commanding position above Bisley village. The site may have been occupied from antiquity, for Roman pottery has been found in the churchyard. (fn. 106) The likelihood of there being a church on the site in pre-Conquest times is supported by the existence of some carved Saxon stonework built into the fabric. (fn. 107) The church was apparently completely rebuilt in several stages during the 14th century (fn. 108) but little ancient work survives, for it was largely rebuilt in 1862 to the designs of W. H. Lowder, who was a curate at Bisley from 1860 to 1864. (fn. 109) The nave and aisles were rebuilt from the ground upwards, although on the original plan, and the chancel was very thoroughly restored (fn. 110) but the tower with its tall broach spire survives from the ancient church.
In the chancel the most considerable survival from the ancient fabric is an ornate 13th-century canopied recess placed externally on the south wall. Although possibly built as a tomb-recess it later served as a porch to a small chancel doorway; (fn. 111) at the restoration of 1862 the door was blocked and an effigy of a knight, formerly in the south aisle, was placed under the canopy. (fn. 112) The font has a Norman bowl of rough workmanship, which was in the churchyard for many years until 1862 when it was restored to its proper use and a new pedestal carved for it in matching style. (fn. 113) Reset in the wall of the north aisle is a series of incised coffin lids which were discovered at the restoration serving as guttering for the aisle. (fn. 114) A brass to Catherine Sewell (d. 1515) survives, and carved wallmonuments and metal inscription plates were moved under the tower at the restoration. Part of the medieval nave roof, with carved corbels and bosses, was incorporated in the roof of the vestry added then. A mural of St. Michael weighing the souls, in the north aisle, was revealed then but destroyed. (fn. 115) Until the restoration the nave and aisles were filled with private seats and galleries, including one in the south aisle which was entered by external stairs up to the aisle windows. (fn. 116) Another gallery, built across the chancel arch, was particularly obnoxious to the Tractarian clergy and was removed by the curate Robert Gregory in the face of some opposition in 1844. (fn. 117) Refitting of the old church carried out in 1770-2 included the provision of a singers' gallery and a new pulpit and readingdesk carpentered by Edward Keen. (fn. 118) The peal of six bells (fn. 119) was recast by Abel Rudhall in 1748 and one was recast and two more added by John Warner & Sons of London in 1864. (fn. 120) A new set of communion plate was acquired in 1862 but the church still has two pewter alms-dishes dated 1696. (fn. 121) The registers survive from 1547.
In the churchyard stands a 13th-century hexagonal structure with recessed trefoil-headed arcades crowned by a spirelet. Now identified as a 'poor souls' light' in which candles for the dead were placed, (fn. 122) it was originally thought to be a well-cover, and a local tradition concerns the drowning of a workman in a well in the churchyard which led to an interdict during which corpses were carried to Bibury for burial. (fn. 123) A short interdict following bloodshed in the churchyard was recorded in 1470 (fn. 124) and may have provided the basis of the tradition. The engraved inscription plates on the tombs in the churchyard include some with ornate early-18th-century lettering and others of the late 18th and early 19th centuries by Iles and Cook of Minchinhampton and Freebury and Franklin of Stroud.
The chapel at Chalford, known as CHRIST CHURCH after 1841, was built in the early 1720s by a subscription among local inhabitants and was vested in trustees. (fn. 125) The chapel, which remained unconsecrated, was served by curates who were nominated by the trustees and licensed by the bishop. The curate was supported by subscription and had an income of c. £40 in 1750. (fn. 126) In the mid 1770s the subscriptions failed and the chapel remained unserved for several years, (fn. 127) but by her will dated 1778 Mrs. Hester Tayloe gave £853 to support a minister who was to hold two services and preach a sermon each Sunday in accordance with established church principles; the will directed that if the bishop or the vicar of Bisley ever became patron, or if the chapel was left unserved for a whole year, her endowment should be assigned instead to the France Lynch dissenting meeting. (fn. 128) Subsequently the chapel appears to have been regularly served and in 1825 it was said to have a congregation of 300-400. (fn. 129) In 1841 it was enlarged and consecrated, and in the following year it was made a district church; it seems also to have been given an additional endowment, and a glebe house was built. (fn. 130) In order to circumvent Mrs. Tayloe's proviso the right of nomination was at first vested in three neighbouring incumbents, and in 1843 it was transferred to the archdeacon of Gloucester. (fn. 131) The living, a perpetual curacy later called a vicarage, was valued at £150 in 1856. (fn. 132)
The original chapel comprised nave with a small apsidal sanctuary, north aisle with an arcade of tall plain arches, and west bellcot. (fn. 133) The alterations of 1841, in the Romanesque style by Thomas Foster of Bristol, involved the lengthening of the nave and the addition of a chancel and a west tower with a short spire. In 1890 the church was reroofed and a gallery removed from the aisle. Most of the furntiture and fittings were made in the early 20th century by Peter Waals and others of the Cotswold craftsmen established locally. (fn. 134) A small private chapel built in the 1890s by Christopher Smyth, formerly vicar of Bussage, adjoining his house called Firwood at Brown's Hill later served for some years as a chapel of ease to Chalford. (fn. 135)
The first of the new 19th-century churches was ST. BARTHOLOMEW at Oakridge which was begun in 1835 and consecrated in 1837. It was paid for by subscriptions raised largely by the efforts of Thomas Keble and Sir George Prevost. (fn. 136) The church was initially a chapel of ease to the parish church, although curates were licensed specifically to serve it (fn. 137) and it had its own glebe house by 1838. (fn. 138) In 1849 it was made a district church (fn. 139) and the living, a perpetual curacy (later called a vicarage) in the nomination of the bishop, was worth £25 in 1856. (fn. 140) The church, comprising lofty chancel and nave, west tower, and south porch, was designed in the Early English style by Robert Stokes. (fn. 141)
The church of ST MICHAEL at Bussage was begun in 1844 and consecrated in 1846. The money was provided by 20 Oxford undergraduates who in 1839 had agreed to each put aside £20 a year until they had raised enough to build a church. (fn. 142) Bussage was made a district church in 1848, (fn. 143) and the living a perpetual curacy (later called a vicarage) in the nomination of the bishop, was worth c. £90 in 1856. (fn. 144) The church, which originally comprised chancel, nave, and west tower, was designed by J. P. Harrison in accordance with Ecclesiological Society principles. An aisle for the use of the inmates of the Bussage House of Mercy was added in 1854 and was designed by G. F. Bodley. (fn. 145) An iron mission chapel was built at Eastcombe in 1901 (fn. 146) but after the closure of the church school there in 1918 the school building was consecrated as St. Augustine's chapel; (fn. 147) originally a chapel of ease to Bisley, it was transferred to Bussage c. 1968. (fn. 148)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST at France Lynch was built in 1857 at the expense of an anonymous benefactor. It remained a chapel of ease to the parish church (fn. 149) until 1894 when Sir John Dorington gave £1,000 for the endowment of the living, which became a vicarage in the patronage of the vicar of Bisley. (fn. 150) The church comprises chancel, nave with bellcot, north aisle and vestry, and south porch and was designed by G. F. Bodley as his first complete church. (fn. 151)