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

DURSLEY, a market-town and parish in the upper division of the hundred of BERKELEY, county of GLOUCESTER, 15 miles (S.W. by S.) from Gloucester, and 108 (W. by N.) from London, containing 3186 inhabitants. It is an irregularly built town, situated at the foot of a steep hill, clothed with a wood chiefly of beech trees. A baronial castle of the Berkeleys, once lords of the manor, built as early as the reign of Edward the Confessor, stood here previously to the reign of Queen Mary I., when it was entirely destroyed: the site is now an orchard, at the north-western extremity of the town; the fields adjacent to which are called Castle Fields. The town contains several respectable and some handsome houses, and a few which have the appearance of considerable antiquity: the principal streets are paved. Near the centre of it is a market-house, built at the expense of the lord of the manor, about 1738. At its east end is a statue of Queen Anne.

On the south-east side of the church-yard, springs of water rise so copiously as, at the distance of one hundred yards, to set in motion a fulling-mill; and on the banks of the stream are several cloth manufactories. This fountain is supposed to have occasioned the town to be called Dursley, from the British Dwr, water, and Lega, lea or pasture land. The market, held under a charter granted by Edward IV., in 1471, is on Thursday; and there are fairs, May 6th and December 4th, for the sale of cattle and pedlary. Dursley was one of the five boroughs in Gloucestershire which sent members to parliament in the reign of Edward I., but it has long since lost that privilege. A bailiff and four constables are elected annually at the court of the manor, but the power of the bailiff only extends to the examination of weights and measures, and the superintendence of the police. Contiguous to the town are the remains of a rock of tufa, or puff-stone, which cuts easily when first raised, but is extremely durable. This stone is said to have been used in constructing the walls of Berkeley castle, part of the churches of Dursley and Cam, and the vaulted roof of the choir of Gloucester cathedral.

The benefice is a rectory, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Gloucester, rated in the king's books at £10. 14. 4., and annexed to the archdeaconry of Gloucester, which is in the patronage of the Bishop. The church, dedicated to St. James, is a noble structure, consisting of a spacious nave, aisles, and chancel, with a tower at the west end. All the windows are pointed, and on the south side of the building is a handsome entrance porch, above which are three canopied niches. The whole south aisle, as well as the porch, is ornamented with battlements, pierced in quatrefoils, and other decorations in the style of the fifteenth century. The aisles are separated from the nave by a lofty arcade. On the timber roof are carved the arms of Berkeley and Fitzharding, and the device of Thomas Tanner, who, in the reign of Henry VI., erected a chantry chapel at the end of the south aisle, in which is a monumental figure of a skeleton beneath a canopy.

The spire fell in 1699, and was rebuilt the next year, at the expense of £1000. The chancel likewise was reared in 1738. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyan Methodists. A school for poor children is endowed with £7. 4. per annum, the produce of an acre of garden-ground, the bequest of John Arundell, in 1703. In 1811, Richard Jones bequeathed £1900 in trust to the rector and churchwardens, of which £450 was ordered to be laid out in ornamenting and improving the church; £300 to be appropriated to the support of a Sunday school for boys; £300 to another for girls; and the residue for the benefit of friendly societies, and other charitable purposes.

There is a charity school for poor children of Protestant dissenters, for the support of which Joseph Twemlow, in 1739, gave a school-house, for the residence of the master, who has a salary of £35 per annum, for instructing about thirty boys, the school having been benefitted by subsequent endowments. Almshouses existed here prior to 1617, which becoming ruinous, the ground whereon they stood was let, in 1821, on a building lease for ninety-nine years, at £8. 5. per annum, which is applied in aid of the church rate. The present poor-house occupies the site of a house called the Church-house, for which a consideration of £45 per annum is paid out of the rates, to be applied to the repairs of the church. Hugh Smith, of Dursley, left by will, in 1637, three tenements for the use of the poor, the site of which is let on a building lease, for ninety-nine years, at £4. 5. per annum, which is distributed at the discretion of the churchwardens.

In 1642, Sir Thomas Estcourt bequeathed property at Tetbury for charitable purposes, from which is paid a rent-charge of £10 to the poor of Dursley. In 1663, Throgmorton Trotman, merchant of London, left £2000 in trust to the Haberdashers Company, out of the produce of which £15 per annum is paid for preaching a lecture at Dursley every market-day. This is the birthplace of Edward Fox, Bishop of Hereford, and almoner to Henry VIII., who has been reckoned among the reformers. Dursley gives the title of viscount to the Earl of Berkeley.

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