A History of Stoke Gifford†by Rev. D. R. Evans

First compiled and published by the Rev. D. R. Evans, A.K.C., B.D., in 1958
and now reproduced with his permission

The parish of Stoke Gifford in the County of Gloucestershire covers about fourteen square miles and consists of three centres of population, the main village or, as it is sometimes called Great Stoke, and the hamlets of Harry Stoke and Little Stoke.

The first mention of Stoke Gifford in historical records is in the Domesday Book now in the British Museum. This records that Duns a Thane held Stoche in Ledbury hundred in the reign of Edward the Confessor. It was taxed at five hides, there were twelve plow-tillages, whereof eight were in demean. It paid a yearly rent of £6 in King Edward's reign. The parish then goes back at least to Saxon times i.e., before 1066. The Domesday Book also records that in Saxon times Stoche had one priest and it is legitimate to conclude from this that there was probably a church in the parish in those days.

After the Norman invasion of 1066 the Manors of Brimpsfield near Cheltenham, and Stoche were given by William the Conqueror, to one of his able lieutenants, Osborne Giffard as a reward for services rendered during the short campaign against the English. Duns, the Saxon was dis-possessed of both these manors and nothing more is heard of him. The Norman, Osborne Giffard, came from the little valley of Scie in Normandy and his family had been known as the Lords of Longueville-la-Giffard. It was after this family that Stoke Gifford received its present name, Stoche, apparently means†property. The modern word, stake, is still used in the phrase "to have a stake in" meaning to have a right to the property. Giffard, the name of the Norman family who once owned the manor means "one with round cheeks and double chin" a type to which the Giffards do not seem to have conformed. They were brave, lawless, loyal men, the kind to have near in troublesome times but always a nuisance under peaceful conditions.

Their headquarters were at Brimpsfield where they built their castle. This stronghold overlooked Ermine Street, the main road from London to the West, an ideal site for men of the Giffard type with a predilection for murder, robbery and loot. From the castle mound they built a keep, giving them plenty of time to ambush any particularly tempting cavalcade. For over two centuries the Giffards held Stoche and Brimpsfield, doing much as they liked and defying all efforts to suppress them. It was the time when most power lay in the hands of the barons and the kings were very much under their control.

Later, a John Giffard, fighting for the barons against the king slipped through the city gate into Gloucester riding in a bale of wood. Once inside he rallied a few friends and captured the city. Eventually however, Baron John went too far for he raided the royal baggage train of Edward II as it passed through Brimpsfield. The King, in retaliation, sent an army to destroy the castle. Later, John Giffard was taken prisoner at Boroughbridge, Yorkshire and was hanged, drawn and quartered at Gloucester.

Rough, lawless though they were they were not unmindful of the spiritual needs of their people and retainers. Strong stone churches replaced the wooden Saxon ones. The Norman church at Brimpsfield and the solid stone font at Stoke Gifford are however the only memorials of the Giffard family. No trace remains of their castle and keep. There was, however, according to a chronicler of the 17th century, a freestone monument in memory of John Giffard in the chancel of Stoke Gifford church, but of this nothing remains. The parish church at Leckhampton is fortunate enough to possess an effigy of this gallant though lawless Norman.

Soon after the death of John Giffard the manor of Stoke Gifford passed into the† hands of Maurice de Berkeley. He became the founder of the Stoke Gifford branch of the Berkeley family. It was during the time of the Berkeley family's connection with Stoke Gifford that the present church was built. Most of the existing church was built in the late 14th century and probably incorporates earlier Norman work. It consists of nave, tower, Lady Chapel and porch with its distinctive ogee arch. Inside the porch is all that is left of the HOLY WATER STOUP in which the holy water, blessed by the priest, was kept. Parishioners, on entering the church would dip their forefingers in the water and then make the sign of the cross. On the South side of the tower is the SUN DIAL which, with the blocked up doorway in the South wall of the nave is a reminder that this side then presented the most public view of the church, the road, Church Road, running quite nearby.

photo of stoupe in st michael's church porch

The Berkeley family lived in the Elizabethan mansion of Stoke Gifford, now known as Stoke Park Hospital. Built on one of the most imposing sites in Gloucester, the house commanded, as it still does, a magnificent view over Bristol, and what was then the forest of Kingswood.

Some of the Berkeleys of Stoke Gifford achieved great fame and distinction amongst whom was Sir Richard Berkeley who was born about 1531. He was a ward of the king in his early youth and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth about 1568. In 1569 he was made lieutenant of the Tower of London. He held also the offices of High Sheriff, deputy lieutenant of the County of Gloucester, and sat for the first Parliament of King James. His effigy may be seen at the Lord Mayor's Chapel in the City of Bristol.

His son, Sir Maurice Berkeley, was chosen knight of the Shire at the early age of 22 years. He became a member of the first parliament of King Charles 1st. Smythe in his ;Gloucestershire; records of this Sir Maurice that ;with much quiet he reapeth the fruite of a peacable country life at Stoke Gifford the antient and often mentioned seat of his ancestors;.

There was however a Maurice Berkeley who apparently did not enjoy such a peaceable life for during the reign of Richard II he enclosed certain ground at Stoke Gifford which was Common land. This had been done without the king's permission and an investigation was carried out ;to enquire of the parcell of ground which this Sir Maurice Berkeley had enclosed at Stoke and thereof made a parke without the king's lycense, wherein many of the king's liedge people claimed Common. As above to arrest diverse rebellious persons in Stoke, Winterbourne and Frampton who, warlikely arrayed, had made some attempts thereupon;.

It is for this period that local records first become available. The church register's first entry was made in 1590 and is still in safe keeping in the parish. The church wardens and overseers Account Book gives a fund of interesting information of the administration of the Poor Law Relief between the years of 1657 - 1720. This book is now in the Muniments Room at Badminton.

For the year 1663 appears a statement of a monthly rate levied upon certain parishioners. The list begins with Sir Richard and Lady Berkeley whose monthly contribution was 18/6, and contains about 40 of the names whose contributions varied between 1/8d. and 3/10d. This brought in a monthly income of £6.16.1d.

On the following pages the particulars are given of money paid out by the churchwardens in relief for the poor. Here are some typical entries.

To John Mattling the apothecary for powder and ointment for Joan Palmer, her son Henry 1664.;

For keeping of William Rogis is child one night and for bringing it to Bristoll 1/-;.

Paid for two boxes of purging ointment for Henry Palmer 2/- 1665;

There is ample evidence in this book that there was in Stoke Gifford an almshouse for the poor elderly folk maintained by the churchwardens and overseers out of that monthly income of £6.16.1d. The quarterly rent for this was 5/- and was payable to Richard Berkeley. Another entry reads ;Paid for 4 sarks of cole for the poore in the almshouse 20th December, 1658 2/-;. Obviously for the Yuletide fires.

Gifts of clothing, meat and bread are made at regular intervals to people in need. In 1669 the following entries appear.

To John Ward for bread and meat at Christmas 2/9d.;

11/2d to make John &&&.children clothes;.

1/- for one pair of shoes for his child.;

1670; Given to . Dawney for maintenance of a journeyman shoemaker who fell sick in her house - 5/-d.;

Help also was given in the careers of the young. In 1684 £6.10.0d. was paid to a certain Jos. Palmer when he was bound apprentice.

In 1711 a certain Mary Hale died and at her funeral bread and cheese was bought for the mourners. The women who had accompanied her at nights received ale, bread and cheese.

The entries are not without their humorous, side - at least to modern readers.

1711 a warrant of disturbance for one John Hill, a Doctor of Physic and his wife and for one &&& Millet to remove him from Harry Stoke 1/-d.;

Warrant for disturbance for Robert Hales 1/-d.; Paid to Robert Lawford in carrying the above named Robert Hales and his wife from Harry Stoke to Cossham 1413.; Harry Stoke seems to have been quite a place! The churchwardens were obviously very brisk dealing with troublesome parishioners.

This account book gives first hand evidence of the fact that the National Health Scheme which we enjoy, is nothing new, for here we have documentary proof that a similar scheme, though perhaps not quite so efficient, was working at Stoke Gifford 293 years ago. Those who could afford it were subjected to a means test and made themselves responsible for their fellow parishioners, who through no fault of their own were in want. The administration of the poor law relief was, in a rudimentary way, the working out of the sober Christian doctrine of a man's obligation to his brother man. However much the Poor Law may be derided, and whatever its obvious defects, at least in Stoke Gifford no one went without the necessities of life in what was certainly a stern, hard age.

The churchwardens and overseers remained responsible for local government until the Parish Council was formed in 1897.

There is also, at Badminton, a small exercise book dated 1768. It is the housekeeping account book of a Mrs. Pigge who was housekeeper of Silas Blandford, accountant to Norborne Berkeley, the Baron de Botetourt. It is written in very legible handwriting and contains the weekly housekeeping expenditure over a period of years. Here are two specimen weeks:

Editor's note: These tables use pre decimal currency, £= Pounds, s= Shillings, d= Pence
There were 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound making 240 pence in a pound.

Housekeeping for the 13th June to ye 25th 1768.

£ s d
3 Pds. of Currance 1 11
3 Pds. of Rainsons 1 3
3 Pds. course sugar 1 6
Paid the Butchers Bill 1 3 0
1 10 8

Housekeeping from 2nd July to ye 9th.

£ s d
Paid the Chimney Sweepers Bill 16 0
For a peck of Flour 3 0
For a peck of salt 1 3
For oatmeal or Barm 1 1
Paid the Butchers Bill 1 5 0
2 7 4

For other weeks accounts the following articles form the staple Stoke Gifford diet in Mrs. Pigge's time. Meat, raisons, wine, flour, bread, muffins, salt, mackerel, pepper, vinegar, coarse and lump sugar. Two fowls cost 1/6d. and in the absence of modern detergents scouring sand is purchased ;for the puter; (pewter) ;The Glocester Journal; was read and at one occasion the candle bill was £1.8.0d.

The parish was, of course, purely agricultural. In the beautifully kept account book of John Hopkins, a farmer of Stoke Gifford are listed the livestock kept on the farms during this period. This consisted of sheep, working oxen, milk and dry cattle, horses and pigs. The wage of a shepherd, obviously a very important man on the farm, was 8 / per 6 day week corresponding to the 1/ - to 1/6d. of the farm labourer. The cost of transportation of goods was relatively high as there are frequent entries of the cost of passing turnpikes, averaging 2/- a time.

It may here be recorded that Stoke Gifford once had an Elm tree of exceptional size. This was known as the Watch Elm, and, in its prime, was probably one of the largest trees in the County. The first edition one inch O.S. shows that it stood near the homefield entrance to Baileys Court Farm and that it gave its name to an adjoining farmstead immediately on the west side of Mead Road. Only the outbuildings at Watch Elm Farm now remain, the dwelling house, built on the south cast side of the premises, having long since disappeared. Mr. John Player, writing in the Gentleman's Magazine for November, 1766 (p.504), under the title of ;Some Accounts of the Watch Elm at Stoke Gifford in Gloucestershire; (with accompanying illustration), gives some interesting facts, and concludes his article with the results of a 1765 population survey of the parish. The author says:

This Tree was called the Watch Elm, from its being the place, where in former times those met who were appointed to do watch and ward, and from ifs being the standard whence they went to make their respective rounds.

It is so very ancient that no man living can remember it in a sound state, tho' some can recollect it four score years ago by the name of the Hollow Tree, and so long ago it was the sheltering place of hogs, sheep, etc.

What remains of it now is in a manner dead, only that part of it which you see represented a flourishing young head, which is even now fresh and lively.

The circumference of the trunk at the height of two feet above the ground, is forty-one feet. Its height at the lowest part where if seems to have broken down, is eight feet. It was blown down by the wind in 1760.

The parish of Stoke Gifford is but small, consisting only of fifty families, as numbered by John Player in September 1765, and containing one hundred and eleven as heads, eighty-six children, and fifty-three servants in all 250 souls; among which number, however, there are some remarkable instances of longevity, namely there were at the time of numbering, eight men whose ages added together made 573 years, and eight women whose ages together made 617, a remarkable difference, which perhaps may lead to consider how much more the hard labour of men tends to wear out their constitutions than the lighter labour of women. Add to the above instances that of two other women who now live about hall a mile out of the parish, who ages amount to 175, these till lately resided mostly in the parish.

The inscriptions on the eighteenth century graves under the church gives eloquent witness to the quiet faith in God which upheld the people in their times of sorrow and desolation. On one grave we see the lines :

My hope on Christ is fixed sure
Who wounded was my wounds to cure.

On the grave of Marion Lawford aged 22 is the following:

Speak her praises here I have no need
A vertitous damsel shee has been indeed
Belov'd by neighbours y livs far and near
And a dutifull daughter to her parents dear
Yet for all this, death took her life away
With speed to come to live with Christ in joy.

The tomb of Robert Lawford who died in 1704 has this inscription:

Between my son and daughter here my body lies
Whilst my soul do mount the starry skies
In hopes that we shall meet on Sion Hill
And Heaven with joyful Hallelujahs fill
Amongst archangels and the Heavenly train
Of blessed saints, Lord let my soul remain.

This family seems to have had its share of tragedy as the following lines of the grave of Thomas Lawford aged 19 shows

'O death, O death, what hast thou done
Why didst thou take this youth so young
O how couldst thou so cruel be
To such a youth belov'd as hee
By't thou hast caus'd great grief and woe
And eyes with tears to over flowe.

The grave of Daniel Parker who died in 1689 aged 24 years has these lines:

Short was my life yet live I ever,
Death hath its due, yet Dye 1 never.

The last of the Stoke Gifford Berkeleys was Norborne Berkeley. He lived like those before him at Stoke Park. His liberality is indicated by the motto on Stoke Park House, still visible today ;Mihi Vobisque; -;Mine and Yours;. It was he who, in 1760, renovated and extended the old Elizabethan mansion which the Berkeleys had built. The only relics of the Tudor and 17th century arrangements are the tremendous artificial platform at the southward end of a commanding hill ridge on which the house stands and the Jacobean balustrade running round that foundation platform on two poles.

The present house with a battlemented skyline and castellated appearance, belying its classical interiors, is in plan an 'H' with three sided bows at each end of the two upright limbs of the H. The north porch is early 19th century Gothic, otherwise the house is all of the 1760's with a few decorative details of the 'Adam' period after 1770. The central staircase is of some merit and may be from a period about 1740, and hence a survival from the earlier house. One room downstairs has a definitely early 18th century fireplace and also some 'Adam' bookcases. Another building of note is the orangery (now the Chapel) a charming little building which is presumably of Norborne Berkeley's time. It has a central pediment and four Corinthian pilasters.

The Berkeley family gave at various intervals much of the church plate still in use. The solid silver wine ewer was given in 1720 by the Dowager Duchess of Hereford who was a Berkeley. The two patens were given by John Berkeley Esquire in 1732. The chalice on which is inscribed Stoke Gifford in its original old spelling of ;Stoke Giffard;, was given in 1775.

Norborne Berkeley after being Sheriff of the County, member of Parliament and in high position at Court, was appointed Governor of Virginia in 1768. He was the last governor of this, our first colony for soon after his death the United States of America came into being. He died at Williamsbourg capital of Virginia in 1770 and a statue stands to his memory in this city. In Stoke Gifford church, near the pulpit, there is a fine memorial tablet to him containing many interesting historical details.

At the death of Norborne Berkeley, the manor of Stoke Gifford passed to his sister Elizabeth, who in 1740 had married Charles Noel, 4th Duke of Beaufort. The property then passed to the Beaufort family in whose possession it remained until the beginning, of the present century.

The present church VESTRY was originally known as the Duchess' Room, from the fact that the Duchess of Beaufort, when in residence at Stoke Park, sat there at worship. There was at this time, no wall between chancel and vestry. This would explain also the unusual position of the PULPIT which is placed well within the chancel, presumably to give the occupants of the Duchess room a good hearing of the sermon. photo of Admiral and Mrs Close

Towards the end of the last century Stoke Park was let for many years by the Duke of Beaufort to a retired Admiral called Francis Arden Close.

The admiral and his lady, a great society beauty, were the very good friends of the people of Stoke Gifford. Lady Close is still remembered for her visits to the sick and poor of this parish, and the admiral for his efforts in the last restoration of the church. Contemporary pictures, now in the vestry, show that the church was, prior to this, almost completely covered in ivy. There was also a delightful rose window in the South wall of the nave. photo of St. Michael's Church Rose Window

In his younger days the Admiral had seen service in the China Seas where two powerful pirate fleets wrought havoc among shipping. On one occasion he was involved in a desperate but successful struggle with her one boats crew of 24 men and one gun against three Junks and 22 guns. There followed a period of rapid promotion to the rank of Admiral and on his retirement from the service Stoke Park became his home. The stained glass window near the high altar has perhaps more than a Biblical interest. The central figure, is, not our Lord, but a woman of great beauty who is performing an act of kindness to some rather ragged children. The right hand picture shows the faithless Peter in the sea. Bearing in mind what has been recorded about the Closes it is tempting to think that these two representatives are the likenesses of the Admiral and Lady Close, a print of the Admiral published by the Bristol Evening News in 1905 bears a striking resemblance to St. Peter.

An event which reads much like an episode from a story of Thomas Hardy ought to be recorded here. It will be understood that the parish during this time continued to be purely agricultural. In fact, no change had, of any magnitude taken place for a thousand years. At the time of harvest every parishioner had a right to glean on certain fields within the parish boundary. (Glean - to gather waste corn left on the ground). This corn became an essential contribution to the diet of the villagers in the form of flour for home made bread. A dispute arose about a hundred years ago between the parishioners of Stoke and Winterbourne over the gleaning rights of a certain field. Feelings ran high and the farmer hit upon a novel way of settling the dispute. ;Let each parish choose one woman and let them fight for it;. And the fight took place. The eager parishioners cheered on their representatives and suddenly someone shouted ;Butt her!; Whereupon the Stoke Gifford woman head down bowled over her opponent and the farmer declared Stoke Gifford the winner. The field which runs down the right hand side of the road to Winterbourne opposite the brickworks is now in Stoke Gifford Parish -by right of conquest! !

About this period a vicar named Edward Parker in 1825 wrote during a course of ill-health a series of letters to his parishioners in Stoke Gifford in booklet form which sold upwards of 1,000 copies; Some of which are still in existence. From these we learn there was a library in Stoke Gifford which has since perished.

From his letters we gather that Stoke Gifford was a very healthy place. He says, ;It is true that the inhabitants of your village are remarkable for longevity as for instance the present Clerks Silas Phillips and his father have held this office for 110 years. He mentions two brothers still living; Farmers Daniel and Abraham Webb whose families' average span of life worked out at 85 years each! ;But,; he adds, ;It is still true brethren, the fact of having so many pass away in so brief a space should impress upon you the awakening conviction that the scythe of death is moving amid the salubrious air on your hill as well as in the chill fog on the swampy marsh around the pent-up alleys of the crowded cities;.

He urges in closing, not to turn their backs upon the sacrament, to read their Bible daily and to be much in prayer.

The middle 1800s saw considerable replacement and modernisation among various parish properties-notable at Walls Court, Stanley Farm, Baileys Court, Court Farm and Little Stoke, while in the same period the present vicarage, the national school and the school cottages were built. Towards the close of the century, occupation of an ancient farmstead in the centre of the main village, known as Field Farm, ceased and the house and premises are now in almost complete ruin. Whatever the changes Stoke Gifford remained entirely rural until the coming of the railway in 1903 the main line connecting London with the South West, and with South Wales (via the Severn Tunnel-being then cut right through the parish. This involved a loss of part of Church Road for which the Great Western Railway Co. compensated by constructing the New Road (after called the Mile Straight) and was of course, the beginning of the present day railway marshalling yard, one of the biggest in the South West.

In 1897 the parish Church underwent extensive repairs and replacements. On the nave a new roof was erected and the ivy on the tower removed. The pews, pulpit, lecturn and Vicar's stall were also installed. The pews replaced the old box pews-the only remaining feature being the dado around the church. This has now been removed, though a part is still visible behind the organ. The tower has three bells, though originally there were four. It seems likely that the bells were installed in the 18th century, but the markings are hard to decipher.

Stoke Gifford passed from the ownership of the Beaufort family in 1915 with the exception of Stoke Park which had already been purchased by the Reverend Harold Nelson Burden. In November of that year eight dairy farms, several small holdings, barns, cottages and other properties were sold by auction at the Grand Hotel, Bristol, these in many instances being purchased by the sitting tenants.

The above Mr. Burden after carrying out missionary work in the backwoods of Canada temporarily settled in Bristol where he was offered and accepted the Chaplaincy of Horfield Prison. Both he and his wife became interested in their social work in the lack of care and training for backward children and following a visit to Germany to see the problems in that country, were inspired to start the Colony System in England. Stoke Park was purchased in 1907 and the first cases were received in 1909 boys being accommodated in Ivy Lodge (a converted stables) and the girls in the old Manor House, known as the Dower House, the orangery being adapted for use as a small chapel. The work of Mr. & Mrs. Burden was so successful that further accommodation had to be found. A large hospital block at Stoke Park in 1913, Beech House, The Towers and Heath House, all in Stapleton followed. These formed the nucleus of what is now known as Purdown Hospital. The first Mrs. Burden died in 1919 and there is no doubt that it was largely due to her interest and energies that so much accommodation was provided for the care and training of mental defectives in this country. Later Mr. Burden married Miss Williams the Superintendent of Stoke Park who after her husband's death in 1930 ably carried on his work at Stoke Park.

About 1936 a building for the surgical treatment of defectives was erected. The idea had to be abandoned and this new building eventually became the Burden Neurological Institute. This institute is one of the foremost of its kind in the country. It was opened in 1939 with its own Management Committee quite separate from that of Stoke Park.

Despite the nearby onset of coal mining, Harry Stoke (so called after a certain Harris de Filton) still retains its old time setting, but at the northern extremity of the parish the future of the original Little Stoke with its attractive farmhouse and cottages are still in the balance. Many of its acres are already utilised by the Bristol Aeroplane Company's factories, while a large building estate began in 1937 but developed chiefly since 1945, provides accommodation for nearly 1,500 persons. Although a further large scale building programme is projected, Little Stoke, with its large population and its modern primary school will still be an integral part of Stoke Gifford Parish.

The brief history may be concluded with the reminder that the parish church has been the meeting place of Stoke Gifford people for over a thousand years. It has seen Saxon head-dress, Norman Armour, Elizabethan ruffles, top hats and Crinolines. It still stands looking out over Gloucestershire a reminder of the past, a bastion for the future. It still ministers to the spiritual needs of the parishioners, which unlike the fashions do not change with the years. Its walls strong and weather-beaten, are battlements of the truth of God, in a changing and uncertain world.