Winchcombe

Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

WINCHCOMB, a market-town and parish in the lower division of the hundred of KIFTSGATE, county of GLOUCESTER, 15 miles (N.E. by E.) from Gloucester, and 95 (W.N.W.) from London, comprising the chapelries of Greet and Gretton, and the hamlets of Coates, Cockbury, Corndean, Langley with the Abbey demesnes, Naunton with Frampton, Postlip, and Sudeley-Tenements, and containing 2240 inhabitants. This place which is of equal antiquity and importance, was anciently called Winchelscomb, of which its modern name is obviously a contraction. During the Saxon Octarchy, if not the metropolis of the kingdom of Mercia, it was at least the residence of some of the Mercian kings, of whom Offa founded a nunnery here, in 787. Cenulph, who succeeded to the throne of that kingdom, after the death of Egferth, Offa's son, who survived his father only a few months, had a palace here, and in 798, laid the foundation of the stately abbey, for three hundred monks of the Benedictine order; which he endowed with an ample revenue, and dedicated, with unusual splendour, to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

After the conclusion of the ceremony, which was conducted by Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by twelve other prelates, in the presence of the king himself, Cuthred, King of Kent, Sired, King of the East Saxons, ten dukes, and the flower of the Mercian nobles, Cenulph, leading to the high altar his captive, Ethelbert Pren, the usurper of the kingdom of Kent, whom he had made prisoner, generously restored him to his liberty without fine or ransom.

Cenulph, in the year 819, was buried in the abbey which he had founded, where also the remains of his son and successor, Cehelm, were deposited. The young king, after a reign of one year, having been cruelly murdered, at the instigation of his unnatural sister Quendreda, in the hope thereby of securing to herself the throne, was first obscurely buried, and afterwards, on the discovery of the foul deed, removed with much funeral pomp, and interred near his father in the. abbey church. He was at length canonized, and the numerous pilgrimages made to his shrine much augmented the revenue of the monastery, which was subsequently re-dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Cenelm.

It was afterwards in the possession of Secular priests, and had almost fallen into decay, when Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, in 985, reformed its discipline, recovered the lands of which it had been deprived, and restored it to the Benedictine monks, who held it till the dissolution. This was a mitred abbey, and its possessions were numerous; for, at the period of the Norman-survey, no fewer than nineteen manors were annexed to it, independently of Winchcomb itself; but the monks having opposed the Conqueror, were by him deprived of many of their lands. At the dissolution, the revenue was £759. 11. 9. The building is reported to have been exceedingly magnificent, and so prosperous, at one period, was its state, that it is said to have been "equal to a little university". Very few traces of it, however, remain, but the memorial is preserved in the name of part of a hamlet, which is still called the Abbey demesnes.

Of the civil history of the place few particulars are recorded: the town appears to have been walled, and to the south of the church there was an ancient fortress, or castle, which, according to Leland, having fallen into decay, and the ruins being overspread with ivy, gave the name of Ivy castle to a spot-which is now occupied only by a few cottages and gardens.

Winchcomb is situated in a beautiful vale, at the northern base of the Cotswold hills, by which it is sheltered nearly on every side, and is watered by the little river Isbourne, which flows close to it on the south-east: it consists principally of three streets, extending in a long line from east to west, with North-street, and a few smaller ones, branching from them.

The houses are in general low and of indifferent appearance, and, from its being but little of a thoroughfare, the place preserves an air of seclusion and tranquillity, and has that venerable character which denotes an old Anglo-Saxon town; it is abundantly supplied with excellent water from wells and springs. The cultivation of tobacco, which is said to have been first planted here after its introduction into the kingdom, in 1583, was, for a considerable time, a source of much profit to the inhabitants; but in the 12th of Charles I., that trade being restrained, the plantations were neglected. The principal branches of manufacture at present carried on are those of paper and silk, for the former of which there are in the neighbourhood two large mills, and one for the latter; there is also a tan-yard on a moderate scale. Other minor branches are cotton stockings and pins; and agricultural operations, with the spinning of linen and woollen, afford nearly constant employment to the parochial poor.

The market is on Saturday: the fairs are on the last Saturday in March, May 6th, and July 28th, for horses, cattle, and sheep; and. two fairs are held at Michaelmas for the hiring of servants. Previously to the time of Canute, Winchcomb, with a small surrounding district, was a county of itself; but, in the reign of that monarch, according to an ancient manuscript in the cathedral church of Worcester, Edric, who governed under him as viceroy, "joined the sheriffdom of Winchelscomb, which was entire within itself, to the county of Gloucester". In the reign of Edward the Confessor the town was made a borough, and the government was vested in two bailiffs and twelve burgesses, of whom the former have till lately been annually elected by the lord of the manor, but exercise no jurisdiction, the charter having for many years ceased to be acted upon.

The living is a discharged vicarage, with the chapelry of Gretton annexed, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Gloucester, rated in the king's books at £3. 4., endowed with £400 private benefaction, £400 royal bounty, and £400 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of C.H. Tracy, Esq. The church, dedicated to St. Peter, partly erected by Abbot William, in the reign of Henry VI., and completed at the expense of the parishioners, munificently assisted by Ralph Boteller, Lord of Sudeley, is a spacious and handsome structure, in the later style of English architecture, with a lofty square embattled tower, crowned with pinnacles; the walls are embattled, and strengthened with buttresses, also terminating with pinnacles; the south porch is a beautiful specimen of the style of which the roof is elaborately groined and highly enriched. The interior, consisting of a nave, aisles, and chancel, is of appropriate character; the nave is separated from the aisles by octagonal pillars and compressed arches, and from the chancel by an ancient carved oak screen. There are places of worship for Baptists and Wesleyan Methodists.

A free grammar school was founded, in 1522, by Henry VIII., who endowed it with £9. 4. 6. per annum, which was afterwards confirmed by Queen Elizabeth. The school, after being long continued in a house belonging to the corporation, now inhabited by some of the parochial poor, was united to a grammar school, subsequently founded by Lady Frances Chandos, for which she erected a school-house in St. Nicholas' street, endowing it with certain lands and tenements, for the education of fourteen boys; the income, arising from nearly twenty acres of land, is about £40 per annum, which is received by the master of the king's grammar school, who pays a sub-master to teach the boys reading, writing, and arithmetic; the number of scholars on both these foundations is about thirty-four.

A school for teaching children to read was founded by George Townsend, Esq., who endowed it with £5 per annum;, as a salary for the master, (since increased to £20 by the trustees), and also left funds for apprenticing the children, with whom a premium of £15 is. given. There are unendowed almshouses for six poor families, founded by Lady Dorothy Chandos, and various charitable bequests for the distribution of bread, clothing, and money to the poor. There are two mineral springs in the parish, one a strong saline, the other chalybeate, and nearly similar to those of Cheltenham.

In addition to the abbey of St. Mary, previously noticed, were a church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, in the east part of the town, of which there are no remains, and an ancient hospital, of which no particulars are recorded. About half a mile from the town are the beautiful remains of the magnificent castle of Sudeley, formerly belonging to the Botelers lords of Sudeley, which is noticed in the article on SUDELEYMANOR. Tidenham of Winchcomb, Bishop of Worcester, and physician to Richard II., is supposed to have been a native of this town; and Dr. Christopher Mercet, an eminent naturalist and philosopher, was born here, in 1614.

NAUNTON, a hamlet in the parish of WINCHCOMBE, lower division of the hundred of KIFTSGATE, county of GLOUCESTER. The population is returned with the parish.

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