By Andrew Plaster
Published in B&AFHS Journal 155 March 2014
The parish of Wickwar in south Gloucestershire is bounded by the parishes of Cromhall and Charfield in the north, Hawkesbury in the east, Yate and Rangeworthy in the south and Tytherington in the west. The parish consists of two hamlets of West End and Hall End and formerly consisted of the small village of Bagstone. Historically Wickwar was a thriving market town but decreased in size and importance as it is equidistant of 4 miles from the two market towns of Wotton-under- Edge in the north-east and Chipping Sodbury in the south. This probably explains why Wickwar never developed into a sizeable town.
The place-name 'Wickwar' is first attested in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it appears as 'Wichen', meaning 'dairy farm or settlement'. The original settlement was located around the church to the north of the village. The present geography is explained by the fact that in 1285 Roger de la Warre, whose ancestor John had been granted the manor in 1185 by King John, obtained a charter for a market from King Edward I and created a new planned settlement, now the High Street, which became known as Wickwar. The earlier village, apart from the church, disappeared. The de la Warre family was to give their name to the state of Delaware in the USA. The manor passed to the Ducie family of Tortworth in the early 17th century.
The parish church dedicated to the Holy Trinity stands on high ground on the northern edge of the village, reached by a raised footpath called the Stank (meaning dam – there was a lake here until the 19th century). The present handsome building, with a prominent tower, dates from around 1300 with additions and alterations in the 14th and 15th centuries. A major restoration in 1880 has left its mark. On the outside of the north wall, there is an interesting sculpture of St John the Baptist dated 1496, originally housed at Pool House, a Tudor manor house demolished in the 19th century. Inside the church are a carved oak Jacobean pulpit, a magnificent brass chandelier of 1728,
the Chapel of the medieval Guild of the Weavers and Dyers of Wickwar and the Gunston memorial window depicting the history of the village, given in 1977 by Sir Derrick and Lady GUNSTON in memory of their son John, killed in World War Two. To the north of the church, within the churchyard, is the Sunday school, built in 1837 in a Gothic revival style. The churchyard also has a number of chest tombs, which represent a good collection of local and classical tomb forms and contribute greatly to the setting of the church.
Until the introduction of the Municipal Corporation Act in 1883, Wickwar was legally a borough with a Mayor and Aldermen, although the population was never more than about 1,000 until the late 20th century. The mace of 1709 is still preserved. The main street, the present High Street, was laid out around the market place with uniform burgage plots and rear access lanes. Burghers paid an annual fixed rent to the overlord but they could sell their tenancies much as in the free market today. In addition they often carried on trades and crafts which, together with their property rights, distinguished them from the feudal peasant. Livestock were often kept on the burgage plots behind the house and this necessitated the rear access lane. The High Street has a fine collection of mostly 18th-century fronted, rendered or stuccoed houses, including Albert House and the Police station. Wickwar had a weekly market on Mondays and fairs on 6th April, 2nd July and the first Monday in November. There was probably a market building of some kind in the middle of the High Street, replaced with the increase of road traffic in the late 18th century by the present Town Hall of 1795. This is an impressive building with arched openings and a bellcote with pinnacle. It had an open market area and the village lock-up on the ground floor, with a meeting room upstairs which is still used for parish council and other meetings. The clock, which strikes a bell in the turret hourly, is said to be oldest town hall clock in Britain and may have been in the previous building. In 1676 the Mayor was ordered to wind the clock, and it is still wound daily.
Until the 18th century, Wickwar prospered through the woollen industry; John Leland’s Itinerary in the 1530s called it ‘a pretty clothing townlet’. One reminder of this is the Alexander HOSEA Primary School, established in 1684 and formerly named the Endowed School. This is the only school in Wickwar. Hosea (pronounced ‘Hosay’) was an apprentice weaver who lived in the village. In pursuit of wealth, he, in the Dick Whittington style, travelled to London where he made a fortune through the hostelries he bought. He became Upper Bailiff of the Worshipful Company of Weavers in the city of London and did not forget the village where he lived. With his fortune he set up a school for boys situated in the north end of the High Street. The school moved from the original building in Victorian times to the adjacent site, and girls were admitted for the first time. http://www.alexanderhoseaprimary.ik.or g/p_Staff.ikmlThe new school grew, and in 1992 the school moved site again. A third school was built away from the High Street. This school, the present one, took the name of Alexander Hosea when it moved. The earlier schools still stand and have been converted to private housing. In the late 19th century, the village had several schools, of which the Girls’ School founded by the Earl of Ducie in 1860 is now the Village Hall and the Infants’ School of 1878 is the Youth Centre.
Wickwar suffered a marked decline in the clothing trade after the 18th century wars. Costs increased, the spinning jenny appeared and the hand weaver was doomed, although the manufacture of clay pipes seems to have prospered at this time. One maker, the appropriately-named Obadiah ASH, was mayor five times between 1714 and 1723. Thomas SOMMERS was described as pipe maker of Wickwar in the mid 18th century and Robert LOVELL was another pipe manufacturer of the same period. From 1800, malting and brewing developed, mainly thanks to the ARNOLD family who owned two breweries, John Arnold & Sons in the High Street and Arnold PERRETT in Station Road. The malthouse behind the High Street is now part of the premises of Wilcox’s Garage. The Arnold Perrett buildings became a cider factory for part of the 20th century and now house the Heritage Wine depository and the Wickwar Brewery set up in 1990, which brews real ales and is a flourishing business. English Country Pottery now occupies the cider-bottling building.
Perhaps it is not surprising that in the 19th century Wickwar had a reputation for drunkenness; there were at least nine public houses, of which only the Buthay (formerly the New Inn) survives. The actual buthay, where archery was practiced, is off the High Street and has been greatly encroached upon by houses and garages. The Beaufort Arms is now the Social Club. On the other hand, in a village of fewer than 1,000 people there were, in addition to the parish church, three non-conformist chapels. The Wesleyan one closed in 1870 and is now only remembered as Chapel House. The Baptist Chapel of 1865, of which Richard SHIPWAY was the founder minister, closed in 1947 and is now a private dwelling in the Buthay. The Congregational Chapel, built in 1817 with attractive buildings in the High Street, is still very active.
In the late 18th century, a turnpike road was set up passing through Wickwar. Tollgate Cottage still exists at the south end of the village, and the White Horse gate at the north end is remembered in the modern road, Turnpike Gate. The railway arrived with the opening of the station on Brunel’s Bristol to Gloucester main line in 1844. This had a big impact, not least with the building of Wickwar tunnel, which cost ten lives and led to draining of the lake near the church and later to the demolition of Pool House. All that remains of the house is its terraced garden which formerly stood on the edge of the lake. Several ventilation shafts mark the line of the tunnel. The station closed in 1964 as part of Dr. Beeching’s ‘axe’ and unfortunately was totally demolished. There was a station hotel nearby which is now a private dwelling.
A Bristol newspaper mentions the ‘Wickwar Gang’ (see the end of this article). They were a group of 40-50 people who had been committing crimes in Wickwar and the surrounding area for about seven years. Thirty-one of these people were arrested in 1826, including the parish clerk. The arrests caused outcry. The thieves had constructed a subterranean cave to store the stolen property. The entrance to the cave was found behind a fireplace in the house of John and Unity MILLS’ family in Yate Common.
In 1864, the 3rd Earl of Ducie built a large new rectory near the church, his sister having married the Rector. It is an impressive house with an interesting doorway surmounted by the Earl of Ducie's coronet and this is one of most notable houses in the village. It is no longer lived in by the Rector! Another important house is the Queen Anne period Hill House, where the brewer John Arnold lived in the 19th century and Sally, Duchess of Westminster from 1968 until her death in 1990. The inappropriately named Castle Farm House at the south end of the village is an imposing 18th and 19th century building, which is now a residential home for the elderly.
The Arnold Perrett Brewery was early in utilizing electric power from a hydroelectric generator, and the excess capacity was used to provide lighting to the High Street in 1888, making Wickwar one of the first places in the country to have electric street lighting. The original poles remained in use until they were removed in 1999 and the cables put underground, ending a link with the past but improving the appearance of the street.
Bagstone was in the far west of the parish. Once a separate manor, it was part of Abbey of Kingswood, granted to Sir Nicholas POYNTZ in 1540 but by 1546 it was surrendered to the King in lieu of taxes. The small village once had its own public house (The Plough, occupied by the MAGGS family for many years as licencees), shop, forge and a school which ran from 1897 to
1922. It also had a Tollgate run by the Trustees of Wotton Turnpike Roads which charged 6s 9d (34p) in 1837 ‘For one Horse alone drawing any cart’ with ‘Two Oxen drawing to be considered as one Horse’. At present time, there are 7 farms and 23 houses. Bagstone is now in the parish of Rangeworthy.
My ancestor’ s cousin, Joseph PLAISTER from Banwell, Somerset married Mary GASTRELL at Cromhall in 1808. He ran a shop in the High Street as grocer, tea dealer and cheese factor, from when he probably took over the business from a bankrupt Arthur Machin HOCKLEY in 1809. He also ran the business in Bristol to sell cheeses at White Hart inn yard in Old Market Street and was Mayor of Wickwar 1827 to 1831. He died in 1844 leaving a widow, three daughters and son William, who was also Mayor from 1844 to 1845 and who carried on the business until it became bankrupt in 1851, probably taken over by James OLIFF. There is a tombstone at the churchyard for Joseph and Mary PLAISTER and next to it, a flat stone for their married son William who died aged 39 in 1855.
In 1973 Wickwar was designated as a Conservation Area being of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. This area comprises the High Street, the area to the north around the church and open land to the west. Since 1978 there has been considerable new housing development on the eastern edge of the village facing out towards the Cotswold ridge. These developments have brought new families to the village. Wickwar affords individuals the opportunity to enjoy rural village life while being sufficiently close to Bristol, Bath, and Gloucester to allow relatively easy commuting. As a result the character of the village has changed quite dramatically in recent years.
Holdings at Gloucestershire Archives for the parish of Wickwar include the parish register dating from 1689, though the Bishop’s Transcripts commence in 1637 and there are many other surviving records. Churchwardens’ Account (1693-1747 and 1826-1927), Charity
accounts (1801-1836), papers (1701-
1895), Overseers’ accounts (1692-
1820) and papers (1664-1893) and Settlement and apprenticeship papers (1625-1844).
Sources and further reading:
Notebook on the history of Wickwar (1844) by Thomas GARLICK, who was the mayor of Wickwar 1833-36, (Gloucestershire Archives ref: D8645) ‘Wickwar – Through the Ages’ (1999) written and compiled by local residents. This book can be seen at Chipping Sodbury Library
‘The Parish Church of Holy Trinity Wickwar’, 47-page booklet. Copies available at the church. It includes a list of churchwardens.
The item below is from papers held at Gloucester Archives (D8645) The Wickwar History Notebook, believed to have been copied from a Bristol newspaper, published in the year 1826.
Apprehension of a Formidable Gang of Thieves
Incredible as it may appear numerous bandits, with the necessary appurtenances of romance, have been located at Wickwar Gloucestershire, for more than 7 years during which period although they have been the terror of the Neighbourhood and have extended their depredations over an extensive space of Country, they have contrived to elude the prying Eye of Justice Last week however, in consequence of some suspicious circumstances, the Police were induced to pay a visit to Yate Common, where they took into Custody an old man name of Mills, his wife, and their 4 sons and immediately after their apprehension, these persons disclosed the history of the lawless community with which they had been connected. The whole Gang is supposed to have amounted to upwards of 40, of which number, we understand, that 31 men and women have been apprehended. It appears, that connected with a Kitchen in Old Mill's house, in Yate Common, these Bandits had constructed a subterraneous cave, the entrance to which, was behind the fireplace, where the soot and a large pot effectually prevented the slightest suspicion, and in this cave the officers found 20 sides of bacon, quantities of cloth, wheat, barley, oats, malt, cheese, two bedsteads and £50, chiefly in half-crown pieces.