Samuel Rudder was a Gloucestershire topographer, printer and antiquarian who was born in Uley and baptised there in 1726. He ran a printing and bookselling business in Cirencester in the 1750’s and wrote and published several important works on the history of Gloucestershire. ‘A New History of Gloucestershire 1779’ includes historical accounts of various towns in Gloucestershire. It was compiled from printed questionnaires, which Rudder said made him very troublesome to his friends. He also used the research of other people including Sir Robert Atkyns who wrote ‘The Ancient and Present State of Glostershire’ in 1712. Samuel’s work was well received by critics and Horace Walpole described it as ‘the most sensible history of a county that we have yet’. It had taken 12 years to complete.
For the purposes of this website, we have extracted that section of Rudder’s document which relates to Thornbury and the surrounding villages and then divided the transcription into separate pages covering different aspects of the historical account. The following text is a transcription of part of Samuel’s document as it relates to Thornbury.
This large parish lies in the lower part of the Vale of Gloucestershire, within the hundred of its own name. It is bounded for several miles on the north-west by the river Severn, from whence to the opposite extremity, it is upwards of six miles in length, and crossing that direction, it is above five miles in breadth.
Thro’ all this extent of rich country, there is at present but very little tillage-land, and it is observable, that for the last forty or fifty years past, the corn fields here, as well as in general throughout the vale, have been gradually converted to pasture, whilst the very contrary practice takes place on the hills.
Large quantities of Wormwood and Mashmallows grow in meadows, also Asparagus and seed Purslain, which the inhabitants gather for their tables. And there are many other plants growing spontaneously, that the curious botanist would not pass over unnoticed; among which are the Acanthus, or Bear’s Breech, the black Maidenhair, Agrimony, the wholesome Wolfesbane, common Maidenhair, yellow Centaury, Wild Germander, great Celadine, Pilewort, Hounds Tongue, Eyebright, Fumitory, Wild Clary, St John’s Wort, Betony, Wild Marjoram, Polypody of the wall, Comfry, common Vervain, Heartsease, Misseltoe and some others.
A great part of the parish next to the Severn is very subject to inundations from that river. Near two thousand acres of land are rated to the repair of the sea walls in the upper level, but a much greater tract is liable to floods, whose waters stagnate on the marshes and low lands. Hence the inhabitants of that part of the parish are very unhealthy from the putrid air they breathe; and if any go from the hill-country to reside there, such persons are usually attacked with a violent ague on their first settling, which emaciates them, and proves fatal in a little time.
The town of Thornbury stands in the midst of the parish, a little above the marshes, but the air there is in some degree contaminated by the stagnated waters on the low lands. It is seven miles distant south from Berkeley, six westward from Wickwar, eleven north from Bristol, and twenty four south westward from Gloucester. It is a borough by prescription, and is governed by a mayor and twelve aldermen but sends no representatives to parliament. The mayor is annually chosen out of the aldermen, and the latter, upon a vacancy, out of the freeholders residing in the borough. The mayor attends the borough court, collects the lord’s chief-rents, and examines weights and measures; but it is difficult to ascertain the duties of his office with any degree of precision, as I find them no where described. And it may be presumed that much of that power which was anciently delegated to him, is lost for want of using it, so that his office is now become little more than nominal.
We know very little of the ancient state of this borough. About the Norman conquest it had a market, whose profits were then worth twenty shillings, according to Domesday. Leland made a visit to it in the reign of king Henry the Eighth, and describes it in his Itinerary as ‘set almoste upon an equalle grounde (i.e. nearly level) beinge large to the proportion of the letter Y, having first one longe streete, and two hornes goyne owt of it. There hathe bene, (says he) good clothing in Thornebyry, but now Idelnes muche reynithe there’. To which I shall subjoin that the clothing business is now intirely lost, and no manufacture supplies its room, except that the women and children are furnished with spinning work by master clothiers from other places.
The town stretches from north-east to south-west, parallel to the course of the Severn, at the distance of about two miles and a half from that river. It consists, as in Leland’s time, of one street of a good breadth, and about three quarters of a mile long, with two other streets, or rather lanes, of very little account.
The great turn-pike road from the north of England, through Gloucester to Bristol, runs upon a considerable eminence by the town, but there are only the church and a few houses to be seen from the road, because many lofty trees intercept the view on that side. The best prospect of the town is from the heights at Lidney and Woolaston, in the forest of Dean about five or six miles distant on the opposite side of the Severn, whence it seems to be larger than it really is. Some of the houses are built of brick, a few of stone, but the greater part seem to be wood buildings; and from the present condition of them, the town appears to be declining. It has lost its market from its vicinity to Bristol, and carrying the road by the side of it, has deprived it of the benefit of travelling business, whereas, before the turnpike was erected, the great road led through it. These losses, and the defect of its manufacture, must necessarily impoverish and depopulate the place.
The market, of which there is very little appearance, is held on Saturday, and there are three yearly fairs for the sale of horned cattle and hogs, viz on Easter-monday, on the 15th August and on the Monday before St Thomas-day.
The public buildings are the Boothall, the corn market-house, and the Shambles. There are four distinct courts held in the Boothall viz.
The court of the Honour of Gloucester. Of this Honour I have already given some account, p. 91. It remains only to observe, that in it pleas are held for the recovery of debts from 40s to any amount, within its jurisdiction, which extends over the following places in the county of Gloucester viz. Thornbury, Kington, Oldbury upon Severn, Cowhill, Morton, Mars, alias Mares and Falfield, Philpots, Saltmarsh (i.e. the Marshes in Olveston and Almondesbury), Rowles, Buckover, Hope, Rangeworthy, Titherington, Iron Acton, Charfield, Dodington, Marshfield, Mangotsfield, Bitton, Upton Cheney, Beech, Barr’s Court, Oldland, Hanham, Doynton, Gaunt’s Erdicot, Over, Tockington, Coate, Tewkesbury, Oxendon, Alderton, Boddington, Walton Cardiff, Kemmerton, Frampton Cotel, Hampton Mesey and Holyrood Amney. The action commences by affidavit of the debt before the steward or his deputy, who issues an attachment against the defendant’s goods, to be condemned and forfeited at the next court, unless two sufficient persons residing within the jurisdiction become pledges, in the nature of bail, for the debt and costs, if the defendant should be condemned in the action. Pledges being given, the goods are released, and the plaintiff proceeds by declaration, as in the course of common law. Matthew Hale esq is the present steward of this court.
The hundred court, held on Thursday every three weeks, before the steward, and two free suitors, for the recovery of debts under 40s arising within the hundred.
The borough court, held also on Thursday every three weeks, before the steward of the manor, in the presence of the mayor, attended by the serjeant at mace, where are tried actions of debt under 40s arising within the borough.
The manor court, or court baron, held occasionally before the steward of the manor and tenants, where, besides ordinary business, tenants are admitted to their copyholds. And the custom of the manor is, that such estates descend to the next heir like freeholds, with this exception, that the tenants children being all daughters, the eldest inherits, and so of nieces.
According to Sir Robert Atkyns, when he compiled his account of this parish (written in 1712), there were 270 houses, and about 1100 inhabitants, whereof 100 were freeholders; yearly births 33, burials 31. The inhabitants are now (in 1779) about 1971.
Of the Church etc
The church is a vicarage, in the deanery of Dursley, worth about 200l a year. Christ Church college, Oxford, are patrons, and the reverend Mr Holwell is the present incumbent. It was formerly given to the abbey of Tewkesbury, by Gilbert de Clare earl of Gloucester; and the abbey recovered it from the bishop of Worcester 26 E.1. It was appropriated to the use of the monastery by Walter bishop of Worcester, in the year 1314. The impropriation is now vested in Christ Church college, by grant from the crown 38 H.8. But the rectory of Thornbury was granted to William Fitz-Williams, and Arthur Hilton, 7 E.6.
The tithes of lady Symonds’s lands, and all the small tithes, belong to the vicarage. There are three chapels annexed to this church, Oldbury, Rangeworthy, and Falfield.
The church is dedicated to the virgin Mary. It is large and handsome, with a spacious aile on each side the nave, and two cross ailes, and a beautiful high tower at the west end. The great chancel belongs to Christ Church college. It is said that the body of the church and the tower were built by Fitz-Harding, who dwelt at Roll’s Place; and that the south aile was built by Hugh lord Stafford.
There were four chantries in this church, one dedicated to the virgin Mary, and erected in the year 1499; another called Barne’s chantry, of which Thomas Smyth was the last incumbent, and received a pension of 5l in 1553; the others were Bruis chantry, and Slimbridge chantry, whereof the abbat of St Augustin’s in Bristol was patron. The lands belonging to the two latter were granted to Sir Arthur Darcie 7 E.6.