A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1968.
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Woolstone, 5 miles north of Cheltenham, is a small parish lying partly in the vale and partly on the slopes of an outlying hill of the Cotswold escarpment. The parish, which was 787 a. in area (fn. 1) and elongated in shape, was merged in 1935 in the civil parish of Oxenton. (fn. 2) The account here printed relates to the area that until 1935 comprised the parish of Woolstone.
The Tirle brook, running down the valley that divides the outlier known as Woolstone Hill and Oxenton Hill from the main escarpment of the Cotswolds, marked the southern boundary of Woolstone at the eastern end, before it turns northward across the parish. Two streamlets running off Woolstone Hill feed it. The eastern streamlet marked the east boundary of the parish; the western divides the small eminence of Crane Hill from the body of Woolstone Hill. From the level ground that formed the west part of the parish, drained by the Moor brook (fn. 3) marking the southern boundary there, the land rises steeply to over 400 ft. at the top of Crane Hill and again to 734 ft. at the summit of Woolstone Hill. There, at the former boundary between Woolstone and Oxenton, (fn. 4) is a fortified earthwork called the Knolls. (fn. 5) From the Knolls the boundary between the parishes ran in a nearly straight line WSW., passing north of Crane Hill. The lower part of the parish lies on the Lower Lias; as the ground rises, the Lower Lias is overlaid by the Middle and Upper Lias and at the top of the hill by the Inferior Oolite. (fn. 6) No extensive woodland in the parish is recorded; the land has been used almost exclusively for tillage and pasture. (fn. 7)
Woolstone village lies on the southern side of Crane Hill and on the north bank of the Tirle brook. When the church was restored in 1873 fragments of what were thought to be Roman buildings were uncovered, (fn. 8) but there is no evidence of extensive Roman settlement or of the continuity of settlement. The houses, ranged along each side of the village street, form a relatively compact settlement. The older houses are mostly west of the church, including the Grange, which is partly 17th-century, (fn. 9) and a small timber-framed house of the 17th century with later additions in stone and a contemporary thatched barn. Two timber-framed cottages south-east of the church are also of the 17th century, and a few other thatched and timber-framed cottages were pulled down after 1845. (fn. 10) Most of the other houses in the village are of brick, built in the 19th century or later. In 1964 Woolstone had, unlike the neighbouring village of Gotherington, only a few newly built houses. A red brick farm-house on the lower slopes of Woolstone Hill, and Bozard's Farm, a 19thcentury brick house in the extreme west of the parish, were the only outlying houses.
There were 18 people assessed for tax in 1327; their number and the amounts they owed (fn. 11) show that Woolstone was then larger in relation to its neighbours than in later periods. Forty-six communicants were recorded in 1551, (fn. 12) 10 households in 1563, (fn. 13) and again 46 communicants in 1603. (fn. 14) In 1650 there were said to be 17 families, (fn. 15) in the early 18th century c. 90 inhabitants, and in the late 18th century c. 100. (fn. 16) The population increased slightly between 1801 and 1831, remained fairly constant in the mid-19th century, and decreased to 62 by 1881. During the 20th century the population fluctuated slightly and had risen to 85 before the parish was joined to Oxenton. (fn. 17)
The road called Salter's Way in the 15th century (fn. 18) was perhaps the one crossing the parish from north to south, which was a turnpike road from 1755 to 1872. (fn. 19) The bridge on that road crossing the brook at the boundary with Gotherington was called Woolstone Toll Bridge in 1824. Then as in 1965 roads ran west and south from the west end of the village to Tredington and Gotherington. (fn. 20) The village street, leading to Woolstone Hill, was, at its east end, known as Nicholl's Lane in 1839. (fn. 21) The village had neither main water nor electricity until the 1950's. (fn. 22)
Woolstone was among the lands, formerly belonging to the monastery of Deerhurst, that were held in 1086 by the abbey of St. Denis, Paris. (fn. 23) The abbey retained the manor of WOOLSTONE as part of its cell or priory of Deerhurst; (fn. 24) in 1467 Woolstone passed with the other estates of the priory to Tewkesbury Abbey, (fn. 25) which held the manor until the Dissolution. (fn. 26)
The Crown granted the manor in 1543 to George Throckmorton (d. 1548) of Deerhurst. (fn. 27) From him the manor passed to his nephew, Sir Thomas Throckmorton (d. 1568), whose son Sir Thomas (fn. 28) evidently lost possession to John Parsons and his son Conan, recorded as lords of the manor from 1570 to 1574, but regained possession in 1574. (fn. 29) Sir Thomas died in 1608, and his son Sir William Throckmorton (fn. 30) appears to have dismembered the manorial estate. (fn. 31) He is said to have sold the manor in 1630 to Thomas Coventry, Lord Coventry, (fn. 32) and the largest estate in the parish descended with the barony and later the earldom of Coventry; (fn. 33) in 1964 the Croome Estate Trust, on behalf of the Coventry family, held 383 a. in Woolstone. (fn. 34)
In 1401 Woolstone manor included a grange with a stable and sheep-house. (fn. 35) No other reference earlier than the 19th century has been found to a house associated with the manor, though tradition represents the house called the Grange, west of the church, as the manor-house. (fn. 36) The Grange may have been included in the estate described as a manor which Sir William Throckmorton conveyed in 1608 to John Roberts, (fn. 37) who was living in Woolstone at the time. (fn. 38) John Roberts rebuilt and enlarged the house in 1639, (fn. 39) and a Mr. Roberts occupied the largest house in the parish in 1672. (fn. 40) The Grange estate may have been the one owned in 1787 by the Revd. Mr. Collett, in 1803 and 1825 by Thomas Arkell of Great Washbourne, and in 1832 by Thomas Mills. (fn. 41) Thomas Mills apparently owned the Grange at his death in 1845, and following the death of Edward Mills the house and 209 a. were put up for sale in 1894. (fn. 42) Thomas Pike of Cheltenham bought the Grange in 1897, and it changed hands several times (fn. 43) before 1951, when it was bought by Mr. Geoffrey Evans, the owner in 1964. (fn. 44)
The Grange is an L-shaped house comprising a small 17th-century building, a large 18th-century extension, and a 19th-century kitchen block. The 17th-century building is of stone with a Cotswold stone roof: it has mullioned windows, a gabled upper story, and dormer windows to the attics. If it was the house that had 8 hearths in 1672, (fn. 45) part of it was demolished in the 18th century. The main part of the house, which may have been built about the time of a sundial in front of it dated 1741, has a south elevation of ashlar, sash windows with architraves, and a parapeted slate roof.
An 18th-century house of brick, which stands opposite the church and became the rectory in the early 20th century, (fn. 46) was called the manor-house in the late 19th century, (fn. 47) perhaps because (until 1890) it was the largest house on the Coventrys' estate.
In 1086 the estate of the abbey of St. Denis in Woolstone was reckoned to be 5 hides. (fn. 48) By the mid-13th century the Prior of Deerhurst had 12 bovates of demesne, which could not be stocked because there was too little meadow, (fn. 49) but by 1291 when the demesne amounted to 2 plough-lands there was sufficient meadow to support stock valued at 20s. (fn. 50) By 1401 the demesne, with the grange and other buildings, was being let at farm. Probably by then, as in 1423, the labour-services of the tenants were commuted. In 1479 the rector held yardland of demesne and the customary tenants held c. 30 a. of demesne in small parcels, as tenants at will. In 1570 the demesne let in small parcels was called pennyland. (fn. 51)
In the 13th century Woolstone manor included both free and customary tenants. (fn. 52) The number of freeholders was perhaps always small, and in 1479 three were recorded. (fn. 53) In 1557 the same three freeholds survived. (fn. 54) The number of customary tenants had evidently declined by 1479, when 7 of the 8 tenants each held 2 or 3 tenements separately named after previous tenants. The customary land totalled c. 15 yardlands, and the individual tenements were mostly of a yardland or less. (fn. 55) In 1543 there were still 8 customary tenants. (fn. 56) The customary tenants owed rent in cash and kind, and heriots were paid in kind, at least until the 16th century. Copyholds were sometimes granted in reversion, and were presumably not heritable; widows had freebench, but forfeited it if they re-married without licence. (fn. 57)
Woolstone field, recorded in 1248, (fn. 58) presumably comprised all the arable land in the parish. By 1572 the arable was divided between four fields, Cox Elm field, Crane Hill, Hen Hill, and the field next to Gotherington, (fn. 59) which was later called Dean field. (fn. 60) The selions in the fields varied in size between a. and a. (fn. 61) In addition to common pasture on the hill and in land described as the common park, at the west end of the town, there were leys of pasture in the fields. Hay came from the town meadow, sometimes called Woolstone meadow. (fn. 62) Flax was among the crops grown in the 16th century. (fn. 63)
In the early 17th century the sale of the manorial estate was accompanied by the enfranchisement of the copyholders. Two freeholders were stated to hold former customary land, (fn. 64) and no later reference to copyholds has been found. The former copyholds seem to have been small, and to have been 8 in number: in 1608 there were 7 husbandmen recorded, (fn. 65) and in 1631 the former common pasture and manorial waste had been divided into 8. (fn. 66)
The division of waste and pasture, recorded in 1628, (fn. 67) is the earliest evidence of what appears to have been a gradual process of consolidation and inclosure, of which there is little record. In 1628 and 1631 there is some indication of consolidation of open-field arable, for estates described then lay in uneven portions in fewer than the four fields of 1572. (fn. 68) Some open-field arable, however, survived until 1767: an exchange recorded then may have been part of the final stages of inclosure of the fields. (fn. 69) By 1839 the whole parish was inclosed, with the possible exception of the town meadow. (fn. 70) In the 18th century the land was described as rich pasture and arable. (fn. 71) In 1801 only 48 a. were returned as sown, with wheat, barley, and beans, (fn. 72) and in 1839 only 89 a. out of 756 a. were arable, the rest being meadow and pasture, with very little woodland. (fn. 73)
In 1839 the largest estate, Lord Coventry's, was c. 390 a. and let to 6 tenants; the Grange estate comprised two farms of 119 a. and 69 a.; there was one estate of 62 a. and several smallholdings. (fn. 74) The Coventry estate comprised only three farms in 1885, (fn. 75) amounting to 376 a.; and in 1894 the Grange estate was 209 a., and one other farm was 73 a. (fn. 76) By 1964 Grange farm had grown to c. 320 a., the Coventry estate of 383 a. comprised two farms, and there were a few small holdings. (fn. 77)
The parish remained predominantly pasture in 1901 and up to the Second World War. (fn. 78) In 1964, although there was more pasture than arable, farming was mixed, with mainly sheep on the upland farms and arable and cattle on the lower land.
The personal name Millward and the place-name Millham occur in 1327 and 1479 respectively. (fn. 79) A windmill was recorded in 1616; (fn. 80) an 18th-century map of the county marks a water-mill at the west end of the village. (fn. 81) Only two occupations not directly connected with farming, those of carpenter and shoemaker, were recorded in 1608. (fn. 82) Ten people were engaged in trade, manufacture, or industry in 1801, compared with 53 in agriculture, and in 1831 there were 10 families in agriculture and 5 in trade or industry. (fn. 83) There was a shop in Woolstone for a short time in the late 19th century, (fn. 84) but no craftsmen were recorded. In 1964 increasing numbers of inhabitants went to work outside the parish, particularly to Cheltenham, and a small number of professional and retired people lived in Woolstone.
The free tenants of Woolstone in 1479 owed suit to the Prior of Deerhurst's hundred court at Elmstone Hardwicke every three weeks. The view of frankpledge for Woolstone, however, was taken at the Woolstone manor court, of which court rolls survive for 140212, 146284, 1508, 15579, and 15738, with draft rolls for various years in the period 15431605. In the 15th century courts were held three or four times a year, but later they seem to have been less frequent. A tithingman was appointed by the court; (fn. 85) no reference to a constable for the parish has been found.
No churchwardens' or overseers' accounts are known to have survived. (fn. 86) Between 1783 and 1803 expenditure on poor relief more than doubled, although in 1803 only two people were receiving regular relief. After a sharp increase by 1813, expenditure in 1815, when four people were receiving regular relief and six occasional relief, was the same as in 1803. (fn. 87) In 1835 Woolstone became part of the Tewkesbury Poor Law Union. (fn. 88) In 1935 it was transferred from the Tewkesbury to the Cheltenham Rural District. (fn. 89)
Although Woolstone is on the edge of the areas served in the early Middle Ages by the churches of Beckford, Bishop's Cleeve, and Tewkesbury, it is likely that it was dependent on Deerhurst church, to which it owed a small pension until the Dissolution. (fn. 90) Woolstone church, recorded in 1269, (fn. 91) was called a chapel in the early 14th century. (fn. 92) The living was a rectory (fn. 93) and so remained in 1928, when it was united with the perpetual curacy of Oxenton; (fn. 94) Woolstone and Oxenton had been held by a single incumbent since 1854. (fn. 95) In 1933 Gotherington was added, to form the united benefice of Woolstone with Oxenton and Gotherington, and Woolstone and Gotherington were merged as a single ecclesiastical parish. (fn. 96)
The Prior of Deerhurst and later the Abbot of Tewkesbury held the advowson, (fn. 97) which was granted with the manor to George Throckmorton in 1543. (fn. 98) Sir William Throckmorton included the advowson in three separate conveyances of 1608 1610; (fn. 99) in 1616 John Powell sold it to William Swaine, (fn. 100) who in 1627 sold it to Sir Thomas Coventry. (fn. 101) The patronage afterwards descended with the Coventrys' estate, and in 1964 the Croome Estate Trust was patron of the united benefice. (fn. 102)
The clear annual value of Woolstone rectory in 1535 was 13 5s. 11d., (fn. 103) though in 1600 it was said to be worth only 6 13s. 4d. (fn. 104) The rectory was valued at 65 in 1650, (fn. 105) and at 70 a hundred years later. (fn. 106) By the 19th century the value had risen to over 200. (fn. 107) The rector's glebe in 1535 comprised 27 a., (fn. 108) and in 1572 included a glebe house with farm buildings and a dovecot. (fn. 109) The glebe land, exchanged with Henry Collett of Tewkesbury in 1767, (fn. 110) comprised 33 a. in 1828. (fn. 111) The parsonage house was said in 1812 to be not suitable for the rector, and in the 1830's was under repair. (fn. 112) The house, on the hill behind the church, was apparently two cottages joined together. In 1889 a large part of the house was destroyed by fire, and in 1890 Mary Coventry (d. 1892), mother of the rector, Gilbert George Coventry, rebuilt the rectory. The new house was not used by the incumbents as it was too large, (fn. 113) and it was later sold; in its place the house known as the manor-house was used by the rector in 1900 and was later bought as a glebe house, (fn. 114) and that house was later the parsonage of the united benefice.
The living was served by a curate in 1540 when John Cavell, rector since 1517, was blind. The next rector was non-resident, the living being served by a curate (fn. 115) who was in 1551 said to be satisfactory. (fn. 116) Nicholas Keck, rector 15821613, was a graduate and a preacher. (fn. 117) Joshua Elliot, rector from 1618, was said in 1642 to have gone away, (fn. 118) but he was still rector in 1650. (fn. 119) During the later 17th century and the 18th the rectors were often non-resident and the living was served by curates. Robert Bishop was rector for 44 years, 173983, and Edward Southouse for 34 years, 17951829. (fn. 120) Full services were held in 1750, (fn. 121) and a morning and evening service in 1825. (fn. 122) The two rectors from 1854 to 1906 were both members of Lord Coventry's family and served Oxenton also. (fn. 123)
A tenement and yardland in Woolstone and Gotherington given for obits in Woolstone church were granted in 1576 to John Farnham. (fn. 124) It may have been the estate said in the later 16th century to have been given for repairing the church: (fn. 125) in 1683 there was no endowment. (fn. 126)
The church of ST. MARTIN (fn. 127) is a stone building comprising nave, chancel, west tower, and south porch. It was described as new built in 1499, (fn. 128) and the surviving fabric is mainly 15th-century or later. There was a north aisle until the early 19th century, (fn. 129) and in 1964 the remains of a three-bay arcade could be seen in the north wall of the nave. The 14thcentury east window is off centre, and is flanked by one large and one small canopied niche of the 15th century. The north and south windows of the chancel are of the 15th century. The 15th-century towerarch has octagonal responds, and the tower has battlements and crocketed pinnacles, an external stair-vice opening to the nave, and a west window of two lights over an arched doorway. The tower leans, and in 1964 the bells had not been rung for some years. (fn. 130)
In the late 16th century the church was said to be in decay. (fn. 131) A gallery was built c. 1750. (fn. 132) The restoration of the church in 18713 included the removal of a brick chancel arch with an oak tie-beam, the rebuilding of the nave and chancel roofs, and the refenestration of the nave. The south porch was entirely rebuilt in 1877. (fn. 133)
The tall octagonal font has panelled sides and a deep chamfered base and no pedestal. (fn. 134) On the north side of the chancel a stone set in the floor bears the effigy of a priest of c. 1425, without inscription. (fn. 135) Two of the bells are dated 1633 and 1676 and the third is probably also of the 17th century. (fn. 136) Of the church plate only a pewter paten survived the fire at the rectory in 1889, (fn. 137) in which the church records were destroyed. (fn. 138)
Three Protestant nonconformists were recorded in the parish in 1676, (fn. 139) but no later evidence of nonconformity has been found.
A day school existed in Woolstone in 1818. (fn. 140) Another, started in 1820, had 10 fee-paying pupils in 1833, when there was also a Sunday school with 11 pupils, supported by the rector. (fn. 141) By 1846 the Sunday school was in union with the National Society and had a salaried mistress and an unsalaried master. Some children then attended the day school at Bishop's Cleeve. (fn. 142) The school built in Oxenton in 1862 was intended partly for the children of Woolstone. (fn. 143) In 1964 the children went to school in Bishop's Cleeve.
Woolstone shared with Oxenton in the charity given by Mary Coventry (d. 1890) by will proved 1891. (fn. 144)