A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 7. Originally published by Oxford University Press for Victoria County History, Oxford, 1981.
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Rapsgate hundred in 1086 comprised Brimpsfield (which then included Cranham), North Cerney, Chedworth, Colesbourne, Cowley, Elkstone, Rendcomb, Syde, most of Coberley, and part of the Duntisbournes, a total of 78 hides and 1 yardland. (fn. 1) The Duntisbourne land, which became known as Duntisbourne Leer from the ownership of an estate there by Lire Abbey (Eure), (fn. 2) later formed part of Duntisbourne Abbots parish in Crowthorne and Minety hundred but remained in Rapsgate. (fn. 3) Part of Coberley, later called Little or Upper Coberley, belonged to Bradley hundred in 1086 as a member of Northleach manor (fn. 4) and remained in that hundred. (fn. 5) Eycot, later part of Rendcomb parish, was a member of Bibury manor (fn. 6) and passed with it into Brightwells Barrow hundred; (fn. 7) in the post-medieval period, however, it was not distinguished as part of that hundred, having lost its separate identity within Rendcomb as a manor and hamlet. Upper Coberley and Eycot are both treated below under their respective parishes.
Rapsgate hundred was one of the Seven Hundreds of Cirencester granted to Cirencester Abbey in 1189; their descent and liberties are described in another volume. (fn. 8) Among the estates of Rapsgate hundred exemption from the hundredal frankpledge jurisdiction was secured by the 13th century for Rendcomb, where the earls of Gloucester held a court which also had jurisdiction over the tithings of Calmsden and Woodmancote in North Cerney parish, and for Cowley, where Pershore Abbey claimed to hold a view under a charter of 1227. In Cowley the rights of the lord of the hundred were apparently further limited by the lord of the manor's right to use gallows and other instruments of punishment, (fn. 9) while at Rendcomb the earls of Gloucester also claimed return of writs. (fn. 10) At Brimpsfield by an agreement made in the 1230s the view was held in the manor court by the abbot of Cirencester's bailiffs, the lord of the manor taking the profits and paying an annual composition; (fn. 11) the same court also had jurisdiction over Cranham. (fn. 12) Chedworth also had a separate view held within the parish, but the profits of that were retained by the abbey. Another separate view was held in the manor of Marsden (in Rendcomb and Chedworth), where the abbey's bailiffs were given hospitality after they had held the hundred view at Rapsgate near by. (fn. 13)
The other places in the hundred—Cerney, Coberley, Colesbourne, Duntisbourne Leer, and Elkstone and Syde (which together formed a single tithing)—all attended the hundred view held twice a year at Rapsgate in the south part of Colesbourne parish on an ancient road from Cirencester to Colesbourne. (fn. 14) The tithings where the hundred had full rights were also liable to the watching duty known as wardstaff, (fn. 15) recorded in 1394 and apparently commuted by the later 16th century for the fine called wake that was paid at the view. (fn. 16)
Rapsgate hundred comprises an area of the Cotswolds extending from the escarpment above Gloucester in the west to the valley of the river Coln in the east. The valley of the river Churn forms the central feature of the landscape but most of the hundred is on the high wolds at 200–300 m. The land is formed mainly by the Great Oolite with the underlying strata of fuller's earth, the Inferior Oolite, and the Lower Lias outcropping in the valleys. There is extensive ancient woodland at both ends of the hundred in Cranham and Chedworth parishes, and landscaping and planting by the landowners along the Churn has given its valley the appearance of a continuous park.
The Foss way provides part of the east boundary of the hundred while Ermin Street from Cirencester to Gloucester crosses the high ground of the west part. The White way, the Calf way, and the Welsh way were among lesser ancient routes which crossed the hills. The era of turnpikes emphasized the importance of the two main Roman roads and of other routes such as the Gloucester—Oxford road by Seven Springs in Coberley parish and the old road from Cheltenham to Cirencester and Tetbury through Elkstone, but the main improvement came in 1825 with the building of the new Cheltenham—Cirencester road along the Churn valley. Only one railway line, the Midland and South Western Junction built through Chedworth in 1891, entered the hundred.
The villages of the hundred, established near crossing-points in the Churn valley or near springs in the coombs of the high wolds, are mainly small nucleated settlements. Cranham, however, is of a more dispersed nature, reflecting its establishment in woodland, and Chedworth was enlarged during the 18th century into a long straggling settlement. Some of the parishes have one or two small hamlets but other hamlets have disappeared, two in Chedworth as a result of agricultural depression in the 14th century and Eycot in Rendcomb and Stockwell in Cowley through the actions of landowners. Most of the villages, which are built of the local oolite, have some cottages and farm-houses of the 17th and 18th centuries, but in several the character is set by 19th-century estate cottages, while the larger houses, notably Rendcomb Park and Cowley Manor, were built by 19th-century landowners.
In the Middle Ages much of the land belonged to monasteries, including Gloucester Abbey, Pershore Abbey, and Llanthony Priory, or to magnates like the earls of Warwick, who held Chedworth, and the Giffards, who had a castle at Brimpsfield. In later centuries lesser local families like the Pooles and Partridges shared the land with more substantial owners like the Guises, Cravens, and Howes. In the mid 19th century a marked feature of the area was the purchase of estates by successful businessmen, including the Lancashire cotton-manufacturers William Hall and Theodore Crewdson and the financiers Sir Francis Goldsmid and James Hutchinson.
Agriculture suffered virtually no challenge from industry as the source of employment in the hundred. Sheep-farming was an important element in local farming from early in the Middle Ages and after the inclosure of the open fields and the introduction of roots and grassland leys was closely integrated with the arable rotation. Following the inclosures much of the land was formed into large farms, some as much as 1,000 a. (405 ha.). The late-19th-century depression brought changes in the pattern of agriculture with much land being taken in hand by the landowners and new enterprises such as dairy-farming being introduced. Some isolated fulling-mills were worked in the Middle Ages and later but the only indigenous industry apart from stoneworking to employ much labour was the potteries established at Cranham in the late 18th century and the 19th. Most of the villages remained essentially estate villages, but Chedworth attracted a considerable population of independent craftsmen and was the only place in the hundred where nonconformity gained a firm footing. In the 1970s most of the villages remained isolated and undeveloped, though many of the old farm-houses and cottages had been modernized and extended.