Gloucester Wills 1541-1650

British Record Society Volume 12

Published 1895

Introduction to Original Volume

The Bishopric of Gloucester, at present united with that of Bristol under the same episcopate, is one of the six new Sees founded in the year 1541, during the reign of King Henry VIII. Previously to that date the district formed part of the Diocese of Worcester.

By the charter of foundation of the Bishopric of Gloucester it was ordained that the new See should consist of the city and whole county of Gloucester, but at some subsequent period certain Gloucestershire parishes were added to the Bristol Deanery, and are now considered part of the Bishopric of Bristol. These parishes are:

  • Almondsbury
  • Alveston
  • Clifton
  • Compton
  • Elberton
  • Filton
  • Henbury
  • Horfield
  • Littleton
  • Mangotsfield
  • Olveston
  • St. Georges
  • Stapleton
  • Stoke Gilford
  • Westbury
  • Winterbourn

These parishes, excepting Clifton, form the Deanery of Stapleton. The Deanery of Bristol at present consists of Abbot's Leigh, Bedminster, Bishopsworth, the City of Bristol, and Clifton.

Consequently, with some stray exceptions, no Wills from any of these parishes are to be found in this Calendar. In all the Diocese of Gloucester comprehends about 307 ancient parishes.

There are within this Diocese five "Peculiars," viz.:

1. Bibury

Bibury is a "peculiar," the privileges of which evidently originate in the fact that the manor formerly belonged to the See of Worcester. "The Bishop of Worcester was seized of the manor of Bibury with court leet and free warren, 15 Edward I, which privileges were allowed to the Bishop in a suit of quo warranto brought against him the same year."—Atkyns.

It was alienated from that See in 3 Edward VI to the Duke of Northumberland. "This church is a peculiar, with jurisdiction over those of Aldesworth, Barnesley, and the Chapel of Winson. What the rights of this peculiar were had been a subject of dispute ever since the foundation of the See of Gloucester, but it was agreed between Dr. Benson, late Bishop of Gloucester, and Mrs. Warneford, then lady of the manor, to lay all evidence relating to it before, the Dean of the Arches, and to enter into reciprocal engagements to abide by his award, which award was made. March 26, 1741. But the agreement became void at the death of that prelate; and the matters in controversy respecting the peculiar are in the same state as before. The lord of the manor doth not allow, to the Bishop of the Diocese, a right of visitation; he appoints his own official and chancellor, who hath the probat' of Wills, and the grant of licences for marriage, to those within the limits of the peculiar."—Rudder.

The places within the peculiar of Bibury are :

  • Bibury
  • Arlington
  • Aldsworth
  • Ablington
  • Winson
  • Barnsley

At p.206 is given a list of twenty-three Bibury Wills for the period 1590-1649, which are now at Somerset House. A few are also in the Bishop's Calendar.

2. Bishop's Cleeve

The Rector of this place had, till 1858, rights of granting letters of administration and probate of Wills of persons in his parish. A list of forty-three such Wills proved in this peculiar as are known to be extant for the period 1635-1796 will be found on p. 207. But the jurisdiction was a concurrent one with that of the Bishop, and consequently many, probably most, of the Wills from Bishop's Cleeve and its members are to be found in this Calendar. The manor of Bishop's Cleeve, like Bibury, was anciently vested in the Bishop of Worcester; It was resumed by the Crown in Elizabeth. "It is a peculiar exempt from the Archdeacon's visitation, but subject to the Bishop's triennially. The Rector exercises archidiaconal jurisdiction, proves Wills, and grants adminis­tration;"— Rudder.

In this parish are the following tithings and hamlets:

  • Southam, including Cockbury
  • Brockhampton or Brockington
  • Haymes
  • Gotherington
  • Stoke Archer or Stoke Archard
  • Woodmancot

"At the suppression the privileges formerly exercised by the Bishop were confirmed to the Rector."-Bigland.

3. Child's Wickham

Child's Wickham is said to have possessed similar peculiar privileges, and the absence of Wills from this place in the Bishop's Calendar seems to confirm the statement. No Child's Wickham Wills appear to be extant at Gloucester, at any rate before 1660.. "The advowson [of Child's Wickham] formerly belonged to the Abbey of Bordesley, in Worcestershire. This is a peculiar and is visited by the Bishop and Archdeacon in the manor house, and the lord of the manor by custom entertains his visitor with a cake, a loaf, a pound of butter, a quarter of a sage cheese and a quarter of a plain cheese, a dozen of ale, and six bottles of strong beer. The Vicar has the probat of Wills within his peculiar."—Rudder.

Within this parish is the hamlet of Murcot, anciently a chapelry.

4. Deerhurst

Deerhurst had also a peculiar jurisdiction, and included the following parishes "which claim archidiaconal visitation at their mother church," viz.:

  • Deerhurst
  • Hasfield
  • Tirley (or Trinley)
  • Boddington
  • Lye
  • Corse
  • Staverton or Starton
  • Frothampton

Apperley, Wightfield, and Walton are hamlets within the parish of Deerhurst. It seems clear that whatever may have been its ecclesiastical position, the peculiar of Deerhurst did not exercise probate jurisdiction, since there are numerous Wills from this peculiar to be found in the Bishop's Registry. There was anciently a priory in this place founded about 715 ; it was dissolved by Henry VI, and Westminster Abbey was possessed of the manor at the time of Domesday, but previously it belonged to Pershore Abbey.

5. Withington and Dowdeswell.

It is said that the Rector of Withington has concurrent jurisdiction with the Chancellor of the Diocese of granting marriage licences and, until 1858, administrations and probate of Wills within the peculiar. We are not aware of the existence of any Wills so proved in the peculiars, though several from these parishes will be found in this Calendar.

"There was a nunnery at this place in Saxon times, and it was most probably endowed with the manor; it subsequently devolved to the See of Worcester in the eighth century." "Withington is a rectory and a peculiar. This parish and that of Dowdeswell are included. The churches are subject to the visitation of the Bishop of Gloucester, but exempted from that of the Archdeacon, the Rector of Withington exercising archidiaconal powers, proving Wills and granting administrations in both parishes."—Rudder.

The following hamlets are in Withington :

  • Compton
  • Cassey
  • Little Colesbourne
  • Hilcot
  • Foxcote
  • Owdeswell
  • Roseley
  • Broad well-end

With the exception of about sixty Wills recently discovered in the Registry, ranging in date from 1508 to 1540, there are none known to be extant at Gloucester of an earlier date than 1541. It might be thought that the ancient Gloucestershire Wills would be found at Worcester, but unfortunately such is not the case, for though the records in the Registry there go back to the latter part of the fifteenth century there are very few Wills amongst them belonging to this county.

It seems probable that the Bishop of Worcester delegated his jurisdiction in probate matters to his subordinate the Archdeacon of Gloucester, and that the latter's authority in testamentary business fell into practical desuetude after the creation of the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Gloucester in 1541, for the few early Wills referred to above appear to be the sole existing remnant of his records.

The testamentary records of the Consistory Court and the peculiars of Bibury (except the Bibury Wills 1590-1649) and Bishop's Cleeve were transferred to the care of the new Probate Court created in 1858, and are now preserved in the building erected at Gloucester for that purpose.

The Calendar of Wills printed in the present volume is a list of Wills proved in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Gloucester during the years 1541-1650* and may be estimated to supply references in round numbers to about 23,000 Wills. The ancient official manuscript Calendar upon which this printed one is based is a thick quarto volume bound in rough leather.

It is partly alphabetical and partly chrono­logical. It appears to have been compiled mainly at one period when there was some general rearrangement of the records, and not to be contemporary with the establishment of the Consistory Court. The Calendar also possesses the very serious defect that the residences of the testators are entered only in a few of the years. This led to the decision to collate the Calendar with the bundles themselves and to add from the Wills the residences, and also to make such corrections in the Calendar as might prove requisite.

For the first few years this task, if tedious, was a simple one, as the Wills for the period 1541-49 have been bound up in volumes, at the instance, it is said, of the late Sir Thomas Phillipps; afterwards at times the work became very trouble­some, and indeed unpleasant, owing to the state of decay and dilapidation of many of the bundles.

The Wills were originally bound together in bundles in alphabetical order under Christian names, like the Calendar itself; and this fact must be borne in mind when making a search, as, except in a few cases, the Wills are not numbered for reference. The binding of many of the bundles has been broken, with the result that constant searching has, in not a few years, very seriously disarranged the Wills, and it must not be taken that any given document will be found in the place indicated by the Calendar. Often, indeed, Wills have got removed to other bundles than those to which they belong.

In fact, in some years they are in such disorder that it is very difficult to find any particular Will required. Some of the worst instances are indicated in places in this volume. The present condition of the ancient Wills at Gloucester is a standing disgrace both to the Probate Court and to the Treasury, though it is only right to add that it is a scandal of long standing, and one for which the present officials are in no way responsible.

The Wills are mostly originals, and it does not appear at this period to have been the practice at Gloucester to register them; at any rate, no register-book is extant. In some cases a fair copy of the Will has been preserved along with the original, and in many instances this practice will account for the appearance in the Calendar of names in duplicate. Very many of these instances will be found marked with an asterisk in the present volume.

The ancient Calendar, after having been transcribed by a clerk for the purpose of printing this volume, was carefully collated with each bundle in succession. All missing Wills were noted, any found un-calendared were entered in their proper places, any necessary corrections in the surnames or christian names made, and the residences of testators added.

When the place of residence did not appear in the Will, then the place of burial, if mentioned, or any other available identification, such as the place of probate, has, been inserted. Such places have bu. or pr., as the case may be, prefixed. Usually the spelling of place-names has been given as they appear in the Wills, but this rule has not been rigidly adhered to when a departure therefrom seemed desirable; i.e., names such as Berkeley are usually given in their modern rendering, and whenever the identification was undoubted places of similar name are distinguished: thus, Coaley and Cowley are as far as possible entered separately, though usually in former times both places had the same spelling of Cowley.

Christian names, again, are given in their modern form. Throughout, the aim of the Editors has been to remember that this volume is merely a Calendar, and accordingly to consult the convenience of those using it. The occupations of the testators have generally been omitted, though qualities such as clerk, parson, gent, or esq., have in most cases been added; but as the examination of the Wills was not intended primarily to go beyond the testator's name and residence these particulars, in some few instances, may have been omitted. Incidentally it may be observed that there is a very fair number of Wills of the parochial clergy.

From the words "super filo" added in the ancient Calendar to some few of the earlier Wills, it seems probable that there was formerly some other bundle of Wills not now extant.

In the earlier years of the Calendar, 1541-49, it will be noticed that the letter c. appears after some of the names. This arises from the fact that the copy for those years was the rough print issued by the late Sir Thomas Phillipps many years ago, in which the c. appears. It was thought better at the time to let it remain in the present work, but the Editors have been unable to ascertain its significance. Sir Thomas Phillipps' list was also collated with the Wills themselves.

The Bishop's Consistory Court, at any rate for purposes of probate, itinerated throughout the Diocese, and this is often shown in earlier times by the endorsements of the place of probate upon the Wills themselves ; indeed, the custom continued till about the year 1858, when the new Probate Court was constituted. As mentioned above, the Bishop's jurisdiction extended over the whole county, save such parishes previously named as have been transferred to the See of Bristol.

Kingswood, the Wiltshire parish, near Wotton-under-Edge, isolated in Gloucestershire, appears to have been regarded as episcopally in the See of Gloucester. There are a few Wills from other counties, and one of an Irishman. These out-county records are separately entered in the Index Locorum. For the period prior to 1650 no inventories appear to have been filed with the Wills, nor are any act-books preserved; at any rate, none are now in the registry, nor are there any administrations of intestates' goods at present extant, though certainly some existed at the commencement of this century, for in the report of the deputy registrar of the Diocese of Gloucester to the Record Commissioners of 1801 is this entry—"A volume of acts of administration granted in the years 1604 to 1614 inclusive."

This volume is no longer forthcoming: nothing is known of it at the Probate Registry, nor is the Bishop's registrar able to say what has become of it. This is an indication that there has probably been a considerable destruction of testamentary records at Gloucester. In the course of inquiry after the "Dispersed Wills" entered at the end of the manuscript Calendar of Wills and Administrations for 1660-76, two other small bundles of miscellaneous or dispersed Wills were found, neither of which appear to have been hitherto catalogued. One of them, " Bundle III," the contents of which will be found on page 205, is specially interesting.

It contains a list of some sixty Wills of a date anterior to 1541, earlier, that is to say, than any Wills hitherto known to be extant at Gloucester. This list contains some few Wills later than 1650, the date fixed for the conclusion of this volume; but it was nevertheless judged most convenient to include them herein.

The discovery of these few early records naturally leads to the question, "What has become of the early Gloucester Wills"? It is pretty certain that they were not proved at Worcester; and it seems most probable that they were proved before the Archdeacon of Gloucester, and that this jurisdiction fell into disuse upon the foundation of the See.

The task of collating the Calendar with the Wills devolved on Mr. W. P. W. Phillimore and the Rev. T. P. Wadley, to whom Glou­cestershire antiquaries are already indebted for his well-known volume of " Abstracts of Bristol Wills." The greater part of the collating was done by Mr. Wadley, often at considerable trouble and inconvenience, and the best thanks of the Society are due to him for the care he has devoted to the work.

Two indexes have been provided, one of places, the other of names, by which the value of this Calendar will be greatly increased. Referring to the latter, it may appear to many that a lexicographical arrangement of the Wills, such as was adopted for the "Calendar of Berkshire Wills," would have been preferable; but, apart from all other reasons, such an arrangement would have resulted in the present case in giving needless trouble to searchers, as, owing to the absence of any system of reference numbers for the Wills, they can only be found, as a rule, by noticing the position which they occupy in the Calendar.

Hence it was decided to adhere to the chronological arrangement, which after all has the advantage of exhibiting the Wills of any given period altogether. The Index Nominum is arranged on the principle of grouping the variant forms of a surname under the principal modern spelling, with ample cross-references. It should be noted that when an apparently distinct form is included in a group it is usually for the reason that the testator belonged to the same place as the rest.

The Index Locorum will be found especially useful to topographers, for by means of it the Wills of each parish can readily be collected together. As far as possible the hamlets are placed under their respective parishes, and ample cross-references given. It has not been found possible in every case to identify the hamlets named, and in such cases they are entered separately. The modern spelling of each place is given, with references to the principal old forms; but it has not been thought expedient to encumber the index with minor variant forms. The references to places outside Gloucestershire are entered at the end of the alphabet, but they are also included in the body of the index.

In consulting the index those interested in a particular parish must remember that there are several places with the same name which it was found impossible to distinguish, while many places now deemed separate parishes are often included in the mother parish. Thus, for example, wills belonging to Stone or Hill are doubtless to be found under Berkeley; so Stinchcombe comes often under Cam; Cowley and Coaley are mixed up, and so are the various Westburys, Amneys, Eastingtons, Prestons, Wottons, etc.

One notable feature of this index is the extraordinary frequency with which some places recur. It is not always easy to explain this, as it does not appear to be wholly a question of population. Gloucester, of course, we expect to predominate, but we should hardly expect to find so many Wills as appear under the names of Berkeley and Westbury. Indeed, for some of these places an index is of no use, as they recur practically on every page of the book. It would almost seem as if in some places it was regarded as a point of honour to act in accordance with the testator's Will without having it formally proved, since in many fair-sized parishes so few Wills comparatively were proved.

The Index Nominum has been prepared by Mr. Hamilton Hall, while the Index Locorum was undertaken by Mr. W. P. W. Phillimore, with the assistance of Mr. R. W. K. Goddard.

The Editors regret to have to record the death, on 29th Oct, 1893, of Mr. Montagu Herbert Jenner, the District Registrar, who afforded every facility in the progress of the work, and also of his chief clerk, Mr. William Meek Woodward, which latter occurred suddenly in the Probate Office on the evening of Wednesday, 19th September, 1894. Mr. Woodward, who was 62 years of age, succeeded in 1869 his father, Mr. Thomas Woodward, who had also been chief clerk in the Probate Registry for many years. He was well known to most Gloucestershire genealogists for the courtesy with which he was always ready to attend to their inquiries.

The requisite permission to print this Calendar was given by the late Lord Hannen, when he occupied the post of President of the Probate Division of the High Court. Since Mr. Jenner's death the facilities afforded in the preparation of this work have been continued by his successor, Mr. Rose Fuller, to whom the thanks of the Editors are also due.