This photograph shows the familiar site of the cottages owned by the Town Trust in St Mary Street in Thornbury. Over the years, they have changed from four cottages to two and when house numbering was introduced in the 1950’s they were given the numbers 15 and 17 St Mary Street.
We are grateful to Meg Wise of Thornbury Museum who showed us copies of two indentures referring to the property’s early history and we’ve also collected one of our own. We are also grateful to the historian Caffall who extracted various early references to the property from court records. All these sources confirm that the property was given in trust by Thomas Slimbridge, a blacksmith who lived in Thornbury, for the benefit of the poor of the Borough. The Thomas Slimbridge Charity was set up by a deed poll dated 25th July 1584 in which Thomas gave several properties in Thornbury for the use of the poor. Using the Mayors Accounts books we have been able to trace many of the tenants who lived in the property since 1633.
Caffalls notes refer to a grant dated 15th January 1552 shows that Thomas Slimbridge acquired from John Thomas, a tailor ‘all that messuage or tenement with curtilage and garden adjoining in Thorneburie containing one full burgage in Sainte Mary Strete between the tenements of Edward Holbrook on the north and of the heirs of Lord Berkeley on the south and extending from the said street to Sainte Jonestrete’. John Thomas had bought the property on 28th June 1550 from Joane Gayner, widow and late wife of Mychell Gayner, weaver. In 1570 Thomas Slimbridge let the property to Richard Harbarde, a schoolmaster. It was described as having ‘one hall, three sellars, one kitchen, one garden plot containing by estimation 77ft in length. The counterpart lease was agreed for six years at a rent of 18/- per annum.
An indenture made 13th April 1637 refers to the lease of the property by ‘John Russell the Younger currier, Mary his now wife and William their son’. In this document the property is described as ‘All that messuage or tenement wherein Richard Tayer the elder lately dwelled and which heretofore was given by Thomas Slimbridge deceased for the use of the poor of the said Burrough and the orchard garden and backsides thereunto adjoining and belonging‘. Interestingly it seems that that this property was not listed in the original trust and that in Thomas’s will dated 1605 he left the property, then occupied by Richard Tayer, to Thomas Lewse, the son of Thomas Lewse of Horton. We can’t be sure how it came to came to be included in the charitable trust but we note that two of Thomas’s trustees appeared in court in Whitehall in 1606 so may be they challenged the will.
The next document dated 29th June 1724 refers to a lease of the garden and orchard behind the building to Charles Cossham, a sawyer of Thornbury. Interestingly it describes the building as being ‘a late decayed messuage or tenement and now newly erected and built up lying in the Burrough of Thornbury in a street there called St Mary Street als the Back Street formerly in the tenure of one William Russell and since that of Andrew Buck adjoining to an orchard now of Jonathan Barton on the south side to a street called St Johns Street on the east side and to a garden and orchard late of William Hobbes deceased on the north side thereof and the said orchard and garden were formerly the lands of Thomas Slymbridge deceased‘.
The Mayors Accounts confirm that Richard Tayer the Elder was renting the property from 1632 to 1637 paying £2 per annum in rent. John Russell took over the property in 1637 paying a reduced rent of £1 13s 4d per annum. In 1634 Phillip Harris took over the tenancy until 1647 when Henry Lawrence replaced him. William Russell took over the tenancy in 1657 when the rent was still at £1 13s 4d per annum. According to the Accounts Books William continued there until 1682 and then there is no mention of him or any other tenant. However indentures relating to adjoining properties mention that this property was still being occupied by William Russell in 1688 and 1697. There were two William Russells living in Thornbury at this time who were father and son. William Russell Senior was buried on 22nd April 1707 and his son was buried on 10th October 1715.
There appears to be have been along time when the property appears to have been left vacant. The orchard at the rear was let out to tenants separately including the Andrew Buck (referred to in the indenture above) who was paying 12s 0d per annum for ‘Russells orchard’ from 1711 to 1721.
This building had fallen into disrepair. The 1724 indenture referred to above appears to suggest that a new property had been built to replace the old property. There is no reference to this new building in the Mayors Accounts books. The first reference to the four new properties was in the 1735/36 Accounts book which follows a period when a lot of money was expended on building work in the town. We assume this new building to be the one from which the properties shown in the photograph above were created. We know that the construction and use of the building has been changed several times over the years. No mention was made of any tenants until 1751.
As far as we know tenants had to pay a ‘social rent’. From 1751 to 1801 the annual rent of each property was £1 5s 0d, and it was then increased to £1 10s 0d for the next three years. From 1804 the rent of each unit was £2 per annum until 1859.
In 1858/59 each pair of houses was converted by the Corporation into a larger single house and these were let at a rent of £5 per year. In about 1873, the rent was increased to £6 per year (or 2 shillings and 3 pence per week) and this rent continued until at least 1909 when it increased to £6 10 shillings per annum (or 2 shillings and 6 pence per week). Throughout the rest of the 1900’s the rent increased gradually until by 1950 it was £13 per annum (or 5 shillings per week) and by the time the houses were demolished in the 1970’s the rent was about £30 per annum.
From 1890 the responsibility for managing the houses was taken over by the Town Trust.
When house numbering was introduced in the 1950’s the two houses became known as 15 and 17 St Mary Street.
In the early 70’s the properties were acquired by Thornbury Rural District Council under a compulsory purchase order and they were re-developed as part of the new town centre. Although the two houses (15 & 17) have now combined and made into a shop, the developers managed in this case to retain much of the character of the original buildings. Since re-development it has been used by Mark 2 selling women’s clothes and Scope, a charity shop collecting for people with cerebral palsy.
Click on the thumbnail on the right above to see a photograph taken of the rear of the property at the time of the re-development.