By Robert Millard

Published in B&AFHS Journal 112 June 2003


The South Gloucestershire parish of Hawkesbury close to the Wiltshire border comprises villages of Little Badminton and Hawkesbury Upton (formerly Upton), and hamlets of Hawkesbury (formerly Stoke), Inglestone, Starveall, Upper and Lower Kilcott, Dunkirk and Petty France. Other villages of Hillesley and Tresham were in the parish until they became separate parishes in 1856 and 1923 respectively.

We see the land start to change from virgin forest to small clearings ploughed fields and the emergence of elaborate burials evidence of which are the long barrows and tumuli such as Nan Tow’s Tump located between Starveall and Saddlewood. There are quite a few that surround the parish today, as we are in the Stone Age, the forests were cleared with stone axes. These can sometimes be found along with flint tools in the local fields. A Bronze Age fort is located at the end of Sandpits Lane above Horton it is round in shape enclosing the area of a small stadium and made up of a series of ditches and earthworks, another which is in sight of the first is behind the Roman camp garage on the A46 road just south of the parish it was indeed a Roman camp but it was 1500 years old when the Romans arrived so they transformed the round earth works into an oblong which was their standard format and more familiar to them. It was not long before they came our way, we know they must have walked through Hawkesbury fields and byways as they had forts along the escarpment and an old road that exists linking the Roman camps to Hawkesbury. It is still called Bath Lane but it is only a track today, it passes by Farm Pool which is a natural spring and on past the monument.

The earliest documentary evidence so far found is a Charter of 972AD granted by Saxon King Edgar bestowing lands and privileges to the Abbey of Pershore. It is thought these may have been a Royal estate previously. These include Suthstoce (South Stoke, the present Hawkesbury), Hilleahe (Hillesley), Tresham, Badimyncgtun (Badminton), Uptun (Hawkesbury Upton), Ealdanbyri (Oldbury on the Hill), and Dydmeretune (Didmarton). The latter two were in the parish until about 1250, which was in the Hundred of Grumbolds Ash, a Saxon division of the county. The Domesday Book survey of 1086 confirms the Abbey of Pershore held the Manor of Hawkesbury.

We must also mention Wulfstan born about 1008 and ordained in Worcester, refused the relatively easy life to become vicar of Hawkesbury. It was during this time he became a vegetarian after the temptation of a well fattened goose, turned to monasticism, later became prior of Worcester Cathedral, and was one of the few English men to keep his position after the Norman Conquest. He succeeded in almost stopping the slave trade between Bristol and Ireland. After his death in 1095, he was canonized in 1203. St Wulfstans remains were re-entered in Worcester Cathedral in the presence of King Henry III.

At the dissolution of the Monastery in 1539, both the Manor and the rectory were seized by the Crown. The Manor had a yearly value of £159 15s 1d in old money, John BUTLER of Badminton was granted the manor and tithes of Hawkesbury by Letters of Patent in 1546 in whose hands they remained until 1609, when for about £5000 they passed to Arthur CREWE of Hillesley in 1620. It again changed hands this time to Sir Robert JENKINSON, a knight from Walcot, Oxfordshire, whose ancestor one Anthony JENKINSON sailed with Sebastian CABOT.

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin was first built at Hawkesbury around 700AD on the site of the present church. The original building may have been a Saxon minster church, where secular clergy would have provided care for this large parish. During recent alterations in the basement foundations were found to support this, the early church probably had a thatched roof and was a quite modest construction of one stone built hall and out buildings to house the priests. Most of the more elaborate memorial tablets in the church are to members of the JENKINSON family. “The churchyard filled with hoary altar tombs, the fine topiary hedge of clipped yews, which encompassed them on three sides and is shaped into 34 arches, the old vicarage with its many gables, and the farm buildings about it, make a memorable group”, described in Arthur Mee’s Gloucestershire book. A Rev. POTTER COLE was vicar of the parish for 73 years. He died in 1802 at the age of 97 after “constant practice of every Christian duty”. Parish registers (from 1603) and other records are kept at Gloucestershire Record Office.

The Lord of the Manor, Sir Charles JENKINSON, the 7th Baronet became successively Lord of the Admiralty, Lord of the Treasury in 1767, Secretary of War under Lord North in 1778, was made a Peer as Baron Hawkesbury in 1786, and was made Earl of Liverpool in 1796. He died in 1808 and was buried at Hawkesbury. His son, the second earl was appointed Prime Minister after the assassination of Mr PERCIVAL in 1812. He held this high office for fifteen years until 1827 making him the longest serving Prime Minister in British history only retiring after a serious stroke from which he never recovered. He was also buried in Hawkesbury Church with great pomp and ceremony.

Life in the parish was based on farming and the woollen cloth industry. You will find a lot of the large houses are placed next to streams apart from the need for drinking water for the inhabitants and their livestock. Much water was needed for mills and wool washing and dying, and water was the limiting factor for growth of a farm. The production of cloth in this way had gone on unchanged for centuries, but two events were going to change this. Firstly the enclosures, what had been previously open land farmed in strips scattered around the parish, was consolidated by the land owners and fenced off the lands around Badminton now became Badminton Park, the home of the Dukes of Beaufort. They had a great influence over the parish. The amount of land registry activity for Hawkesbury reflects this at was also from this time we see the Cotswold stone walling so familiar today. The second was the Industrial Revolution; the Duke of Beaufort brought Belgian weavers over to here, and the locals called it “Little France”, hence Petty France, a hamlet in the south of the parish.

The inhabitants always had the desire to defend themselves. Various surveys of the past were actioned that established men with arms, recorded as “Gloucestershire Military Survey 1522” and “Gloucestershire Men & Armour for His Majesty’s Service 1608”. The Duke of Beaufort’s son General Lord Robert Edward Henry SOMERSET was famous for his efforts at Waterloo. A monument was erected in his memory in 1846, now a well known landmark and a symbol of Hawkesbury. It was for many years possible to climb the 144 steps to see a fantastic view but sadly due to its state of repair this is no longer possible.

The population was increased leading to create two new separate parishes: Hillesley in 1856 when St. Giles Church was built (named after an ancient chapel of ease demolished long before); and Tresham in 1923 which parish church was a chapel of ease and was heavily restored around 1900. Non-conformist chapels were built in some villages and hamlets. This was a time of increased opportunity and much building was done. Inhabitants were still mainly agricultural labourers and farmers. On the commons of Hawkesbury and Inglestone, many made a living from hurdle making (a type of fence panel resembling a gate). A vast amount of these were produced since enclosure and the woodland was managed with great skill. Many products were produced -wood lathes, spinning wheels, chairs, and lumber. Indeed if it was made of wood it was made there. The parish had its carpenters, masons and tradesmen of all types.

After the First World War 1914-18, we see the final decline of Hawkesbury and the domination of Upton as the village centre. The Hospital Hall, which had housed many wounded soldiers, became a village hall. A war memorial was unveiled in the 1920s on the plain at Upton. The ceremony was attended by the whole population. People left the parish to seek work further away in Listers factory in Dursley or Parnalls at Yate due to regular reliable transport. Many moved further a field knowing they could return easily.

Hawkesbury was granted a fair in the year 1252 to be held over the feast of St John the Baptist on the last Saturday of August and was permitted providing it was not to the detriment of the town of Bristol. Over the years it has evolved into Hawkesbury Flower Show and is held on the same day, it is Hawkesbury’s biggest day of the year and the day many of Hawkesbury’s exiles return to be with family and friends.

In the recent times we see an intake of strangers (a stranger is one who has not lived in the parish for fifty years). High demand for houses has increased the purchase price causing many young people buy houses elsewhere. New people take the material aspect of the parish seriously, but often have no family ties to it. As Upton expands many new houses spring up, many new faces appear hopefully they will form the long term Hawkesbury families of the future. It is vital we do our best to record our family’s history along side the material aspect of the parish history. Who knows perhaps we have another prime minister in the pipeline.

Hawkesbury History information http://www.hawkesburylocalhistorysociety.co.uk/ and Hawkesbury Family History Group http://www.hawkesbury.net.au/community/hfhg/ websites are intended to bring together local and overseas family history researchers with a common interest in Hawkesbury and surrounding villages. There is also a popular mailing list hosted by Geoff Brightman to join it is free and can be found at www.rootsweb.com look under England, Gloucestershire then Hawkesbury. We have regular meetings such as Get Together at The Beaufort Arms, Christmas Dinner etc. Although primarily being a web based group, we can also be contacted by post.


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