By Shirley Hodgeson
Published in B&AFHS Journal 131 March 2008
Rangeworthy, in south Gloucestershire, is a small village situated on the old coach route from Bristol to Dursley. Now the road is considerably narrower than the 42 feet it measured in 1811, it was part of the Bristol Turnpike Road with a Turnpike House at Chaingate Lane and a Tollgate House at the Bagstone end. It is now called the Wotton Road. Three miles north is Yate station on the Bristol to Birmingham railway, Thornbury is 5 miles south east and Bristol is 11 miles north east.
Rangeworthy or Rangery, as it was originally known, was a chapelry in the parish of Thornbury at the time of the compiling of the Domesday Book. It is part of the hundred and union of Thornbury and the Manor was held by the King. Brictric, son of Algar, held the Manor in 1042 -1066 and Maud wife of William the Conqueror held it during his reign. The present Manor House appears to have been built in the early part of the 14th century. In the reign of Edward II it was held by Hugh de Audley, second husband of Margaret, daughter of the Earl of Gloucester and niece to the King. Margaret’s first husband was Piers Gaveston, once a favourite of the King but eventually executed at Warwick in 1312. Hugh de Audley and Margaret were still living in the Manor House in 1348. A few years later the Manor was held by Joan, widow of John TALBOT, Viscount de Lisle; the Lisle family being related to the Berkeley’s of Berkeley Castle.
In 1570 Robert HALE and his wife Alice CREW of Alderley, near Wotton-under-Edge bought the Manor House for 230 Marks, a Mark being a medieval coin worth thirteen shillings and four pennies. They were living in the House in 1598. Their grandson who became Lord Chief Justice lived at the Manor House until about 1640. The Manor House passed from the Hale family to Mr W. PHELPS in 1771, he let the property as a farmhouse with land, and it became known as Court Farm. Various tenants occupied Court Farm between 1840 and 1910. The Manor House was restored at considerable cost by Mr Chester MASTER in 1910 and from that time was called Rangeworthy Court. It has since been used as a private house, a school and a hotel. When I lived in the village, the Court was owned by a Captain and Mrs THOMPSON, who allowed their gardens to be used for many of the village activities.
Rangeworthy is in the Diocese of Bristol and Gloucester, the courts being part of the district of Thornbury. Holy Trinity church is sited at the centre of the village but the minister was housed at Thornbury or Wickwar until 1858 when a vicarage was built in the village. In 1976 the vicarage became a private house and now Rangeworthy must share their Minister with Wickwar and Hillesley.
Holy Trinity church was built in Norman times and despite alterations the south porch and the chancel arch are still as the builders left them. In 1847 the church underwent major restoration; a North aisle encompassing three bays was built providing more sittings, 120 in 1897 and 150 in 1935. The pulpit is over five hundred years old one of only sixty mediaeval stone pulpits in the country. The bowl of the font dates from the 13th century although it has been shaped to fit a later pedestal. The parish owns a three hundred year old parish chest that had lain in a barn of Rangeworthy Court for many years until it was returned to the church. On the left pillar of the south porch there is a scratch dial, which was used in pre-Reformation times by the priest to indicate the time of Mass. All the stained glass windows are modern designed by Sir Ninian COMPER and signed with his trademark of a strawberry leaf, blossom and fruit. The east window is a memorial to the men of the parish who gave their lives in the First World War. In 1897, Mr W.J. PHELPS, then Lord of the Manor gave one- fifth acre of land for a new burial ground so relieving pressure on the churchyard.
Dissenter Meetings in Rangeworthy seemed to start in 1651 when it was recorded that John Loniger was vicar and members had not paid their dues. In 1681 Robert HOBBS, a felt maker, was in trouble for not bringing his child to the meetings. The meetings were registered at the Quarterly Sessions and the congregation became known as Presbyterian. Thomas BUSH became the Minister in 1715; a new Chapel House was built in 1726 and registered as a Dissenters Meeting House. Out of a population of 140 in 1750, only 4 families were registered as Presbyterians. The Chapel House was never solemnised for the Minister to perform the marriage ceremony and worship ceased in 1947.
Rangeworthy Society of Friends was formed on 14 March 1665; they met in one of the houses in the village. In 1725 a will of Samuel Pratt provided money to educate poor children of the village.
In 1819 the Methodists leased some land and built a chapel, which was completed in 1820; a trust was set up to run the chapel and many people attended the services. Services were still being held in 1970 but later the chapel was closed and the building became a private house.
The School was built on land let by Mr W. PHELPS from Rangeworthy Court and organised by a committee of the vicar and three others. Lessons started on 27 February 1871 with 51 pupils, ages four to fourteen and all-paying fees of three and one half pennies for each child for one week. It was found necessary for a teacher to stand in the road at the start of each day to ring the school bell; this simple measure ensured an improvement in punctuality. In those early years the school closed regularly for outbreaks of whooping cough and measles, closures also followed the seasonal picking of potatoes, apples, peas and hay harvesting. The children were given a basic education in reading writing and arithmetic and, as in many schools, girls were taught needlework, boys were taught history. In 1900 the children left school at the age of fourteen but the scholarship children went to Chipping Sodbury Grammar School. The War Years of 1939-1945 brought changes to the pattern of school life; the children brought gas masks to school and left to take shelter in neighbouring houses when ever the sirens sounded. In 1940 the school still operated two classrooms in the hall, the Infants in one area and the Juniors in the other. In 1966 the school had 66 pupils, in 2000 the numbers had fallen to only 45 pupils but the school has survived and still serves the children of Rangeworthy.
Agriculture was and still is the chief industry of the area. The land is mainly pastureland, which under the Manorial system was divided into acre and half acre strips of land. Estimates suggest that once Rangeworthy had 311 acres of Common Land much of which was enclosed in 1811. Farms and smallholdings were part of the dairy industry of the area, cattle, pigs and chickens were kept and the meat, eggs, cheese and butter were sold in the local markets of Chipping Sodbury, Yate and Thornbury. Milk was collected in churns to be transported to the large towns by horse and cart. Local residents collected milk, eggs and butter from local farms and I remember that one of my chores was to fetch the milk for the day, in an enamel-lidded can, from the dairy of Clarks Farm. In 1911 there were blacksmith, farmers, cycle dealer, wheelwright, poultry dealer, beer retailer, builder, hairdresser, and breeder of the York large pedigree pigs. In 1935 from a population of 248 could be found the following occupations smallholder, farmers, builders, shopkeeper, beer retailer, carrier, beer retailer, cycle agent and insurance agent. By 1960 most of the land was owned by just seven farmers.
Cider and Perry was the chief beverage of the area. Pool Farm, Rock House and the Rose & Crown Inn all had their own cider mills.
In 1900, Fullers Teasels were grown on land in Rangeworthy, they were harvested, dried and packed and then sent away. The teasel heads had little hooks, which were used to tease or comb wool and to raise the nap on woollen cloth.
Rangeworthy Common is situated on the northern edge of the Bristol coalfield; Old Wood Pit was excavated around 1850 by the Frampton Iron Company and became part of a line of collieries. It was run by Edmund Lloyd OWEN, Mining Engineer and Manager of the Rangeworthy Colliery in 1870, the Company took out a 42 year lease; the coal being sold to the Midland Railway for use in steam trains. The mine stopped working in 1888, it was claimed that the coal produced was inferior although local people disputed this fact. A small Adit or Drift mine was discovered which appeared to be part of the colliery. The Coal Board has no record of this mine and it has been suggested that it was an Iron Ore mine. The 1851 census shows that only four miners were living in the area, Richard POWELL, William LUTON, Charles DIXON and Zachariah TOWNSEND.
Felt hat making was an important source of work for Rangeworthy people, the hats were called “Wide a Wake” hats and apparently well known. In 1831 thirty-four families were involved in the industry all working in their own homes. By 1851, a row of cottages on the Rangeworthy Court estate housed seventeen felt makers and two milliners with names of CHANDLER, WERRET, OVENS, COOK, STINCHCOMBE, DEANES, SPILL, ROACH, and COLBOURNE. Isaac AMOS, grandly known as a hat manufacturer, lived in Rose Cottage in 1851. By 1861 the industry had declined, the census showing only eight felt makers and two felt hatters. In early times there was also a Hatters shop, which I was told, also sold groceries?
At one time there were a number of shops in the village, a general store in Chaingate Lane, Mrs CLARK ran the West Stores opposite Clarks Farm and in Wickwar Road there was a Post Office run by the SIMMONDS family. The village had its own Smithy until 1890 and I can remember people travelling to Iron Acton when they needed any metal objects mended. On my visit in 2007, I found just one shop, a Beauty establishment situated on the main road opposite the Memorial Hall.
The Memorial Hall was the first to be built as a permanent memorial to King George V; the opening ceremony was performed by Mrs C. A. LISTER and took place on 29th January 1937. Present at the opening ceremony were representatives of every part of life in the village including my grandfather the landlord of the Rose & Crown and all led by the Chairman of the Committee Captain E. Gratton THOMPSON.
Over the years there have been four Beer Houses in the village. The “Sign of the Bell” with living quarters and a shop, “The Star” used to sell beer, Rock House sold beer and was also a shop selling leather goods. In 1840, the Rose & Crown was owned by Rangeworthy Court Estate, the 1884 valuation listed many items of the farm and house then valued at £24-8-0. In 1890, a new building was erected which included living accommodation. This building is still standing today, and during the war housed my grandparents Walter and Lillian WALLACE.
In Gloucestershire Record Office can be found the Parish Registers 1704 – 1957, Bishop’s Transcripts from 1575, the 1813 Schedule of Land with owners and occupiers and the Tithe Award of 1844.
I would like to acknowledge the help I received from the church pamphlets and in particular Mrs Hardwick. The Rangeworthy Women’s Institute who published a history of the village in 1988 led me to the sources I needed, I would like to thank them.
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