By Eric Garrett
Published in B&AFHS Journal 105 - September 2001
The South Gloucestershire parish of Olveston comprises two villages and three hamlets i.e. Olveston, Tockington, Old Down, Ingst, and Awkley. The parish formerly comprised two tithings of Olveston and Tockington and a chapelry of Alveston until 1846, when it became a separate parish. The tithing of Tockington was much larger than the tithing of Olveston being almost twice in size forming lower and upper tithings respectively. The southwestern end of the lower tithing that stretched to Redwick and Northwick formed part of a new parish of Pilning, created in 1881.
The district has been occupied from the Stone Age. Sites remain of the Iron, Bronze and Roman periods. Almost half of the parish was in the salt marsh, and the remainder comprised two rising shelves at 50 and 200 feet above sea level. The salt marsh has progressively been drained from the Roman and Saxon periods conjointly in construction of a sea wall to prevent inundation of the river Severn. For 2000 years Olveston parish has been an access route for travellers crossing the river Severn. This still occurs today via the M4 and M48 motorways.
The title lords of the various manors have disappeared, their ownership held mainly by Americans. Property owners of the parish in the past were also merchants of Bristol i.e. CROK, DENYS, POYNTZ, BERKELEY, WALSH, PARMITER, CASAMAJOR, WHITEHEAD, PEACH, WILLOUGHBY, CHAMPNEYS, and GOLDNEY.
The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin was built about 1170 and rebuilt in 1370. In 1605 the church was struck by lightning and fire started in which the five bells of the tower were lost and the needle spire and much of the chancel were destroyed. Thomas HAINES, the schoolmaster of the time, wrote an extremely lengthy account of the tremendous hailstorm accompanied by fierce thunder and lightning that broke over the parish of Olveston. John PAUL, the vicar of nearby Almondsbury, was so moved by the storm that he recorded a memorandum on the cover of his parish register. The present tower was built in 1606. Successive restorations and an enlargement of the church continued throughout the 19th century.
Thomas Haines was also a parish clerk, having succeeded Thomas SYNAM, from 1626 – 1646 during which period he made a beautiful transcription of the earlier parish registers, now known as “Thomas Haines Book 1641”. One of his duties as clerk was to keep the registers up-to-date. He carried out his task with enthusiasm and often elaborated upon the entries, giving descriptions of events that were occurring locally. One example in the time of the civil war is “Elizabeth PULLEN, the daughter of Johane BUDDINGE widdow, buryed the 6th day of March 1644. Shee was killed by a souldier at her mother’s house at Hasell”. Parish registers (from 1561) and records, and school records (from 1850s) are on deposit at Bristol Record Office. The parish register includes one page of each list of Quaker births and burials dated 1697 – 1705.
A period of 200 years 1654-1868, the Quaker sect in the district had a Meeting House at Olveston with the STURGEs being its leaders. Its burial ground was acquired in 1654 at Lower Hazel. When George FOX the founder of Quakerism married Margaret FELL at Broadmead, Bristol in 1669, they spent their honeymoon at Hill House, in Olveston. As the sect began to founder through lack of leaders in the district, Methodism emerged followed with erection of chapels at Olveston in 1820, Tockington in 1840, Awkley in 1856, and Old Down in 1933.
The census returns afford snapshots of the population of the parish and the occupation of the inhabitants. In 1742 there were 117 houses, and 300 in 1851. Now there are probably over 700. The 1742 census was an unofficial one conducted by the vicar. It is more rudimentary than the official censuses. Its style is racy. There are references to John PRITCHETT alias Cucumber John, a loitering mason by name John HIGGS, Elizabeth VINCENT (a fat Quaker). In the census of 1851 about 50 heads of households are shown as farmers (including three bailiffs and a yeoman); they include three women, and more than 60 households with domestic servants living in. The population has always increased. In 1711 there were 240, by 1801 it was 900, in 1901 it was 1380, and it peaked at 2550 before the parish boundary change in 1988.
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”. During the Napoleanic period, a military regiment was formed as the “Tockington Regiment” under the command of Colonel Samuel PEACH at his residence Tockington House (now renamed Tockington Manor) that comprised some 400 men. This was followed with an Alveston Troop from the early Victorian period, and the Oldown Troop 1906-1914. The last of these troops being the Home Guard 1940-45.
The parish was principally agricultural until the Second World War together with its associate trades – blacksmith, farriers, saddlers, and carpenters. With good quality limestone in the parish, stonemasons and lime burners also existed. Farming started to become mechanised in the war, because of labour shortage, whilst other workers were draughted into aircraft industry at Patchway and Filton. Following the war the returned soldiers drifted away from agriculture into other trades outside the parish progressively creating a parish of commuters. With an increase in car ownership, the number of shops decreased but with some good fortune shops have remained.
In 1965, discussions took place to form a local historical research group. It was inaugurated in 1966 and named Olveston Parish Historical Society to cover the territory of Olveston and Aust parishes. The society has deposited its research papers and collection of photographs in Gloucestershire Record Office, where the majority of the parish’s history resides.
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