A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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Eyford was a small parish of 1,241 a. lying three miles west of Stow-on-the-Wold and three miles north-west of Bourton-on-the-Water. In shape it formed a rough square a mile across with projections from the south-east and south-west corners. The boundary between Eyford and Upper Slaughter ran partly along the Ey (or Slaughter) brook on the east and along the main road from Stow to Gloucester (making a detour to the south along the Ride plantation) on the south. (fn. 1) Eyford, which was depopulated in the 14th century and despite a rise in the number of inhabitants in the late 18th remained without a village centre, (fn. 2) was merged in 1935 with the parish of Upper Slaughter. (fn. 3)
The land lies mainly between the Ey brook on the east and the River Windrush, which is touched by the south-western extremity of the parish. (fn. 4) The Ey brook was widened in two places in the late 19th century to form ornamental stretches of water. (fn. 5) Running across the middle of the parish to meet the valley of the brook is a dry, steep-sided valley, above which the land rises to over 700 ft. on each side, forming a wide plateau between the dry valley and the Ey brook. In the valleys the land falls to 500 ft. (fn. 6)
Most of Eyford lies on the Great Oolite, with Stonesfield Slate and Fuller's Earth Clay in the north-west, and Inferior Oolite and Cotswold Sand along the Ey brook. (fn. 7) In the north-east and on the western boundary long and round barrows were visible in 1959, (fn. 8) and others down the eastern boundary and in the south-west corner were marked on a map of 1760. (fn. 9) Stone and slate have been quarried since the 16th century. The soil is thin and stony and for the greater part of its recorded history most of Eyford has been rough grazing land, being ploughed only when the demand for arable has been at its height. (fn. 10) In the south-east, the park made on the west side of the Ey brook c. 1770 (fn. 11) and woodland planted apparently as game or hunting covert at about the same time (fn. 12) occupy much of the land.
The Stow-Gloucester road, a turnpike from 1755 to 1877, (fn. 13) crossed the Ey brook by a ford until 1760 (fn. 14) or later; the other public road through the parish is Buckle Street, (fn. 15) which crosses the western boundary at Salter's Pool, a name indicating, perhaps, the antiquity of this route. Salter's Pool is one of many springs in the parish, which include Seven Springs or Charcoal Springs on the northern boundary, (fn. 16) Roaring Wells in the middle of the eastern boundary, (fn. 17) and Milton's Well (discussed below) just above the crossing of the Ey brook. These springs supply all the water for the parish.
In 1086 21 inhabitants were enumerated (fn. 18) and it may be presumed that in the early Middle Ages Eyford had a village. (fn. 19) Its most likely site was by the ford, from which it apparently took its name, and certainly the church was there, on the east bank of the brook: in 1545 the churchyard close marked the eastern limit of the Eyford sheep-pastures, (fn. 20) and in 1760 an orchard on the east bank, upstream of the ford, was called Church Orchard. (fn. 21) In the mid-14th century there were open fields east of the village, lying on both sides of the road to Stow. (fn. 22) The village appears to have been largely depopulated between c. 1300 (fn. 23) and 1327, when there was only one taxpayer, (fn. 24) and the reason was probably that it was no longer worth cultivating the comparatively barren uplands. The small value of agricultural produce in 1341 (fn. 25) makes it unlikely that the Black Death or intentional depopulation after Evesham Abbey acquired Eyford (fn. 26) was responsible for the decline of the community.
In 1381 no assessment for poll tax was made for Eyford, (fn. 27) and from 1376 no tithingman represented the vill at the hundred court. Although Eyford began again after 1528 to be represented at the hundred court (fn. 28) it is unlikely that anyone other than shepherds lived there. The terms of the appropriation of Eyford church to Evesham Abbey in 1462 indicate that there was no need for any spiritual provision in the parish, (fn. 29) and by 1540 two large sheep-houses were evidently the only buildings there. (fn. 30)
By 1650 there were two families living in Eyford, (fn. 31) one in a farm-house near the ford, and one in a millhouse further upstream. (fn. 32) The mill-house may have been the building described as a ruinous cottage in 1784, when in addition to the farm-house there was a larger house nearby, (fn. 33) and c. 1775 the population still comprised two families. (fn. 34)
In the next 25 years, with the conversion of much of the land from grazing to arable, (fn. 35) and perhaps with the need for more labour in the ornamental grounds of Eyford Park and in the quarries, nine new houses were built, (fn. 36) including Swiss Farm and the six Eyford Cottages. (fn. 37) The population in the 19th century fluctuated between 44 and 83 and more cottages and isolated houses were built, but not to form any sort of village or hamlet. (fn. 38)
The owners of Eyford appear to have lived there in the mid-17th century, (fn. 39) at the farm-house mentioned above. The larger house may have been built for Charles Talbot, Duke of Shrewsbury, who, though he appears to have owned no land in the parish, used Eyford as a retreat from his political activities at the end of the 17th century, and entertained William III there. (fn. 40) The house, described as a villa in the 19th century, (fn. 41) stood near the ford, north of the road and west of the stream. The farmhouse was a little west of it, (fn. 42) and around the big house the grounds were laid out before 1710 as water gardens and pleasure gardens. (fn. 43) These included a summer-house over a waterfall, which was ruinous (whether by design or neglect is uncertain) c. 1775 when the legend was current that Milton wrote part of Paradise Lost there. Milton's name has been appropriated to the well nearby, perhaps the medieval village well, which was restored and embellished in 1866. No evidence or reason for the Milton legend has been found. (fn. 44) From the later 18th century the estate was exploited more for its sporting than for its picturesque characteristics. North-west of the house was the warren (Warren Beds in the 20th century); in 1760 there was a dog kennel paddock south of the house, (fn. 45) and c. 1800 the owner kept a pack of hounds and was noted for his hospitality. (fn. 46)
Soon after 1870 the house by the road, built of stone with two stories and attics, was replaced by a new house near the centre of the park, known as Eyford Park. This house in turn was replaced in 1910 by another on the same site, designed in the 'Queen Anne' style by Sir Guy Dawber, who also designed (as a farm-house) the house called Eyford Knoll. In the 1870's the old farm-house was also removed from the site beside the road, where afterwards only the 19th-century lodge-cottage stood. At about the same time the house called Rockcliff was built as a dower house. (fn. 47)
Whether or not it is true that Eyford is the same as the 'Æeoport' confirmed to Gloucester Abbey in 872, (fn. 48) it was held immediately before the Conquest by Ernesi and in 1086 by Hasculf Musard. (fn. 49) The manor of EYFORD passed with other of Hasculf's Gloucestershire land to his great-greatgrandson Robert Musard, (fn. 50) who held one knight's fee in Eyford in 1235. (fn. 51) By 1264, on the death of Ralph Musard, brother and heir of Robert, Eyford may have been separated from the other Musard estates in Gloucestershire. (fn. 52) In 1273 the patronage of Eyford church, which later went with the manor, was exercised by the guardian of Thomas Delamare, (fn. 53) and in 1303 Eyford was held in chief as 1/5 knight's fee by Roger Delamare, who was returned as lord of Eyford in 1316 and who presented to the living in 1321. (fn. 54) By 1327 the estate had probably passed to Geoffrey Aston, who was the only taxpayer in Eyford then (fn. 55) and whose sons John and Walter in 1346 held ¼ fee once Roger Delamare's. (fn. 56) The sons, who retained connexions with Aston Somerville, one of the Musard estates (fn. 57) and the place from which they apparently took their name, enlarged their inheritance in Eyford, (fn. 58) and in 1370 Walter, who was Rector of Dumbleton, granted all his family's estates in Eyford to chaplains acting as agents for Evesham Abbey, (fn. 59) which was licensed to receive the manor of Eyford from the chaplains in 1375. (fn. 60) What may have been either an under-tenancy of this estate or a sub-division of the original Musard fee was granted as the manor and advowson of Eyford, by Walter Beysyn, Kt., to his son John in 1344. (fn. 61) John Beysyn died in 1360, having granted a life interest in the manor, which was said to be held of Reynold Delamare, and leaving as heir a daughter aged five. (fn. 62) In 1369 an estate described as the manor, apparently the Beysyns', was conveyed to Roger Charlton, (fn. 63) from whom Abbot John Ombresley acquired the manor and advowson for Evesham Abbey before 1380. (fn. 64)
By the time of the Dissolution the abbey owned apparently all the land in Eyford, which mostly consisted of c. 1,100 a. of sheep-pasture, and was kept in hand by the abbot for the support of his household. (fn. 65) In 1541 Eyford, with other possessions of the abbey, was leased to Sir Philip Hoby, who received a grant of the estate in fee in 1545. (fn. 66) Sir Philip's brother Thomas (d. 1567) (fn. 67) was licensed in 1558 to settle Eyford in trust for his wife Elizabeth, (fn. 68) who married John Russell, Lord Russell, in 1574 and died in 1609. The manor was settled in 1592 on Anne, only surviving child of the second marriage, who in 1600 married Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert and later Earl and Marquess of Worcester (d. 1646). The estates of their son and heir Edward were finally sequestrated in 1649, (fn. 69) but Eyford had been mortgaged in 1642 to Andrew Wanley, who got possession in 1651 (fn. 70) and a freehold title in 1654. In 1656 the estate was partitioned between Andrew Wanley, Valentine Wanley, and Michael Nowell, but soon afterwards it all reverted to Andrew Wanley. (fn. 71) He was a London merchant who came from Basle in Switzerland; he died in 1679 and was succeeded by his son, another Andrew (d. 1688), who was in turn succeeded by his son William (d. 1747). William's son William died in 1762 and in 1766 Eyford was sold to John Dolphin of Shenstone (Staffs.) (fn. 72) John Dolphin died c. 1770, and Eyford was owned and occupied successively by his widow, (fn. 73) his son Thomas Vernon Dolphin, who was sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1798 (fn. 74) and died in 1803, and his grandson Vernon Dolphin. (fn. 75)
In 1840, when Vernon Dolphin tried to sell his interest, (fn. 76) and apparently until 1861, the estate was involved in suits in Chancery; by 1856 a Frenchman, General Davesies de Pontes, had acquired it by marriage with Vernon Dolphin's divorced wife, (fn. 77) and he devised it before 1870 to Mrs. D'Arcy Irvine. She sold it in that year to Sir Thomas Bazley, Bt., who built the house on the new site and had sold the estate by 1885 to Joshua Milne Cheetham, (fn. 78) M.P. (d. 1902). Cheetham was succeeded at Eyford by his youngest son John Crompton Cheetham, who sold the land in the western half of the parish and died at Eyford Park in 1959. His widow died there in 1961, and was succeeded by J. C. Cheetham's nephew Nicholas John Cheetham. (fn. 79)
In 1086 Eyford supported seven ploughs, (fn. 80) a fair number for a place of its size and situation, and by 1220 there were nine plough-teams. (fn. 81) In 1227 some of the land within the manor was held freely, (fn. 82) and the number of ordinands from Eyford in the early 14th century (fn. 83) suggests that there was a small group of reasonably prosperous free tenants. There was also, c. 1300, a certain amount of bond-land in Eyford. (fn. 84) Presumably the fall in population mentioned above was responsible for the small value of agricultural produce in 1341, (fn. 85) but at about the same time land was still held in comparatively small pieces scattered about the open fields. These fields may have been confined to a relatively small area east of the village, the road to Stow dividing them into two, with most of the parish used as pasture. (fn. 86) In 1361, when ploughing animals were still kept there, it seems that tillage in Eyford had not been entirely abandoned, (fn. 87) but by 1540, and perhaps much earlier, the parish was one large sheep-pasture. Belonging to the estate were two pieces of meadow in other parishes which had presumably been a necessary part of it when it included arable. (fn. 88)
Eyford appears to have continued to be used largely as a sheep-pasture up to the 17th century, (fn. 89) and in 1760, when the southern two-thirds of the parish had been divided into medium-sized fields, apparently for ploughing, the names of the fields suggest that most of them had until recently been uninclosed land, either pasture or park-land and warren. Brockhill Barn in the south-west corner of the parish, which existed in 1760, (fn. 90) may mark the site of the western sheep-house of 1545, (fn. 91) but it may also or alternatively be the first of two outlying barns (the other was New Barn, built by 1824) (fn. 92) that marked the change from grazing to tillage. By the mid-19th century about two-thirds of the farm-land, and over half the parish, was arable, (fn. 93) but the general movement of the late 19th century and early 20th away from arable was so marked in Eyford that in the thirties there was almost no ploughed land there. (fn. 94) In 1962 permanent and temporary grassland still predominated over plough, although, in addition to the raising of beef cattle and some sheep, barley, wheat, and Brussels sprouts were being grown.
From the end of the Middle Ages until the mid19th century Eyford was not only a single estate but also, it seems, a single farming unit. (fn. 95) By 1863 Eyford Hill farm, centred on a house described then as new and built near the New Barn, was a separate farming unit, as was Brockhill farm which lay partly in Naunton. (fn. 96) By 1870 Park farm had also been separated from the home farm, (fn. 97) and in 1961 the land was mainly divided between three large farms. (fn. 98)
While the thin soil of Eyford did not, until the use of modern fertilizers, yield much agricultural produce the stone beneath it has long been valued. In 1542 a slate 'foss' and a stone quarry (described in 1545 as two quarries called slate-pits), which apparently lay in the north-west corner of Eyford, were held by a tenant as copyhold of Bourton manor. (fn. 99) Quarries in the north-west corner were being used in 1760, (fn. 100) and either these or others near Brockhill Barn were in use in 1822. (fn. 101) In the late 19th century many quarries were open, (fn. 102) extensive slatepits were in use until the Second World War, (fn. 103) and in 1962 the active workings of Huntsman's Stone Quarries, which were mainly in Naunton, extended into Eyford.
Because there was no church, Eyford was often described in the 18th century as extra-parochial, (fn. 106) though in fact it not only was a parish but had a rudimentary organization for parish government. In 1727 and 1737 the lord of the manor and the occupant of the farm-house were acting as overseers; in 1748 the lord of the manor acknowledged that as sole landowner he was liable to maintain the poor of the parish, and on his instructions his tenant at the farm-house did relieve paupers having settlement in Eyford until c. 1770. From then until 1782 there was no one qualified to serve as overseer, the only two householders in the parish being women, (fn. 107) but in 1784 Quarter Sessions decided that Eyford was a vill by repute and must find overseers. (fn. 108) No rates were levied in 1776 or 1783–5, but in 1803 there was a rate nearly up to the average for the area and the £62 it produced were spent entirely on the poor. (fn. 109) The amount spent on the poor was as high in 1814 and 1815, (fn. 110) but was much lower in the twenties and early thirties. (fn. 111) In the mid-17th century there was apparently no constable, (fn. 112) but a hundred years later militia returns were submitted by a man who signed them as constable. (fn. 113)
Eyford was included in the Stow-on-the-Wold Poor Law Union under the Act of 1834, (fn. 114) the Stowon-the-Wold highway district in 1863, (fn. 115) and the Stow-on-the-Wold Rural Sanitary District under the Local Government Act of 1872. (fn. 116) By its amalgamation with the civil parish of Upper Slaughter in 1935 Eyford came under the control of a parish council for the first time.
There was a church at Eyford by 1273 when the first of a series of nine recorded rectors was presented. (fn. 117) The patronage passed with the manor to Evesham Abbey (fn. 118) which in 1462, when the rectory was vacant and the last known presentation had been made in 1432, (fn. 119) appropriated the church. The endowments, which did not produce an annual income large enough to be assessed for tax in 1291 or 1341, (fn. 120) were to be used to maintain a grammar-master at Evesham Abbey. Pensions of 1s., 8d., and 8d. were reserved to the bishop, the prior and convent of Worcester, and the archdeacon, but no mention was made of providing for a parish priest. (fn. 121) The benefice became merged in the manorial estate, the church was allowed to decay, and the churchyard was used as a close in the 16th century; (fn. 122) it was afterwards believed that Eyford church had been a chapel of ease of Upper Slaughter that had been demolished. (fn. 123)
'Old Nelly', reputed to have walked regularly from her home in Eyford to Winchcombe to hear Methodist preachers, is credited with having persuaded them to visit Stowon-the-Woid (fn. 124) and found a community there in the early 19th century. (fn. 125)