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Genealogy and Gloucestershire, England

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Map showing where Gloucestershire is
Click on the map to see a larger, more detailed map of Gloucestershire (19,520 bytes)

Contents

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Introduction

This page is devoted to the county of Gloucestershire, England, and covers the origin of its name, an outline of its history and geography, links to other web sites concerned with the county, genealogical resources relating to the county and the same types of information in more detail for those cities, towns and villages in the county in which I have a family history interest. In doing this, it is not my intention to duplicate unnecessarily, nor to compete with, web pages which already do some of those things, but to complement such pages and provide links to them, with appropriate description of what they have to offer.

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Origins of the Name

The county name means, as with others of similar format, the county based on Gloucester. For the latter, the -cester ending means it was a Roman camp (from the Old English ceaster), while the first part is a corruption of the Roman name of the city, Glevum. Glevum is derived from the Celtic descriptive root (not the name) describing the river (the Severn), glev- meaning "bright" or "shining".

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Geography

Gloucestershire is situated at the head of the Severn estuary, and is variously described as being in the south-west midlands, the south-west of England or the Welsh borders, all three of which are true. To the west it is bordered by Monmouthshire (Wales) and the Severn estuary, to the north by Herefordshire (Welsh borders or Marches) and Worcestershire, to the north-east by Warwickshire (Midlands), to the east by Oxfordshire (south Midlands), to the south by Wiltshire and the south-west by Somerset (both south-west England).

It is very roughly rectangular in shape, with the longest sides running from south-west to north-east. It is about 55 miles long by 33 miles wide.

It consists of four distinct geographical areas. The western part is largely occupied by the hilly Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, the eastern half by the limestone Cotswold Hills, with the very fertile Severn Valley in between. In the extreme south-west a small area is effectively a suburb or dormitory area for the city of Bristol. Bristol itself has at various times and for various purposes been considered to be a part of Gloucestershire, a part of Somerset, shared between the two, a part of the short-lived count of Avon and (as now) completely independent. For the purpose of this page I do not consider it to be a part of Gloucestershire.

The county has a small coalfield in the Forest of Dean, but this has not led to major urban growth in that area, which remains largely woodland with a few small towns. The last mine closed some years ago, leaving forestry, tourism and sheep rearing as the main activities. The Severn valley is ideal cattle country, while on the Cotswolds arable farming has largely replaced the traditional sheep rearing. Many of the Cotswold towns had their prosperity based on woollen manufactures from the local sheep, but now rely on a combination of small-scale light industry and continuing operation as market towns serving their immediate locality.

The biggest urban centre in Gloucestershire is the cathedral city of Gloucester, but even that is hardly a large city. Its population in the 1921 census was 51,330, while the second town of the county, nearby Cheltenham was home to 48,444.

Places with over 4,000 population in the 1931 census (as listed in AA Handbook 1946), omitting Bristol and its satellites, were:
Gloucester 52,937
Cheltenham about 50,000
Cirencester 12,700
Stroud 8,364
Tewkesbury 4,352
Lydney 4,158

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History

Numerous burial mounds and the finding of stone and bronze tools and weapons show that the area now known as Gloucestershire was well-populated during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, while hill forts along the Cotswold escarpment and many burials and artefacts show it was important during the Iron Age. The Romans had several major roads in the area as well as two cities (now known as Cirencester and Gloucester). Some time after the departure of the legions the Saxon Hwicce took their place, although being far to the west of the Saxon landings this was one of the later parts of Britain to fall under their control. The Hwicce eventually became a subsidiary kingdom under the overlordship of King Offa of Mercia, and after his death the area was absorbed into the expanding kingdom of Wessex. After the Norman Conquest Gloucestershire became a part of the fortified boundary with Wales, leading to the construction of great castles at Berkeley, St. Briavels and Gloucester. Several of the battles between Stephen and Matilda took place in the county. During the Wars of the Roses victory at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 sealed Edward IV's victory over the Lancastrians and his hold on power. During the Civil War Gloucestershire, especially the Severn Valley, was the scene of much military activity, and the city of Gloucester was the site of a major siege.

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Web Pages about Gloucestershire

There is a useful on-line catalogue of material held at 7 local studies centres.

As with most counties, a local newspaper site gives news, history and other information about the county.

The Cotswold Hyper-Guide gives a useful illustrated guide to many small towns in and near the county.

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Genealogical Resources for Gloucestershire

The UK Genealogy Interests Directory, a new and growing facility, has a page of surname interests in Gloucestershire.

As with all counties, the first port of call for genealogists should be the relevant GENUKI web pages, which give a far more comprehensive guide to genealogical resources for the county than I am able to give here.

Gloucestershire Record Office is located at Clarence Row, Alvin Street, GLOUCESTER, GL1 3DW, Tel: (+44) (0) 1452 425295

There are two genealogy mailing lists covering Gloucestershire, WESSEX-PLUS, which also includes all south-west England as far east as Oxfordshire and Hampshire, and GLOUCESTER, which is confined to the one county. In each case, you can subscribe (free) by sending an email message to NAME-request@rootsweb.com (where NAME is replaced by either WESSEX-PLUS or GLOUCESTER) with just the single word
subscribe
in the body of the message with no other text and no signature file.

Stuart Flight's GlosGen site is a mine of useful information for genealogists interested in Gloucestershire.

In 1786 Ralph Bigland published a set of 4 huge volumes of his transcriptions of monumental inscriptions from churches, etc. in Gloucestershire. Many of the items described no longer exist, so this is an important and unique source of this information. The volumes, entitled "Historical, Monumental and Genealogical Collections Relative to the County of Gloucester" can be inspected in the Gloucester Record Office, or can be purchased (as an excellent quality facsimile) on CD from Archive CD Books (the not-for-profit service for genealogists and historians).

Another excellent Cotswolds site has been created by Allan Taylor. This includes some original records, major surnames interests lists (add your own!) and much other information.

I haven't yet visited, but the Genealogy Links pages are also recommended by those who have.

Free resource look-ups can be obtained from the Gloucestershire Lookup Exchange, who will also welcome any offers of help from resources you may have access to.

Graham Thomas's South Cotswolds Genealogical and Local History Guide is also well worth consulting if your interests are in that part of the county.

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Some Places in Gloucestershire

To appear in this section a town or village has to meet a number of criteria. First, it has to be of family history interest to me; in other words, one or more of my or my wife's ancestors lived there. Second, I must have, or have access to, the appropriate information to be able to set up the page. Third, I must have managed to find the time to do it. Finally, if I am aware that it has already been done by someone else, all that will be found here is a link to that other site.

However, for completeness sake, if the place meets the first criterion but fails on one or more of the others, then it will at least appear here as a heading, so the reader will have some idea which places may "get the treatment" at some time in the future.

The location of each of the places listed here is shown in red on the accompanying map of Gloucestershire (19,520 bytes).

Cirencester

St. John the Baptist Church My gggggggrandparents George Fisher and Sarah Longford were married in St. John the Baptist Church, Cirencester in 1720. Click for larger picture, 164,217 bytes

Cirencester was an important town in Roman times, at the junction of two major roads (the Fosse Way from Bath to Lincoln and the Ermin Way from Gloucester to Silchester). Under the Romans it was for a time the second biggest city in the country after London.

Leigh

St. Catherine's Church Also known as Lye, The Leigh or The Lye, my gggggggrandmother Sarah Longford was born here in 1701 and baptised in St. Catherine's Church. Click for larger picture, 225,140 bytes. It is a secluded village a few miles west of Cheltenham.

 

Meysey Hampton and Marston Maisey

St. Mary the Virgin ChurchMy gggggggrandfather William Bridges was born in Marston Maisey (which is actually in Wiltshire) in 1710, but was baptised in the neighbouring village of Meysey Hampton because at that time that was the location of the St. Mary the Virgin parish church serving both villages. Click for larger picture, 235,177 bytes.

 

Poole Keynes

St. Michael and the Angels ChurchThis village was transferred to Wiltshire in 1837, but returned to the Gloucestershire fold in 1897. It was in Gloucestershire when my gggggrandfather George Fisher and his father Jonathan were born here in the 18th century and were baptised in St. Michael and the Angels Church. Click for larger picture, 266,684 bytes. Jonathan's father George was also buried in the churchyard.

 

Shipton Moyne

The marriage register showing the marriage of my gggggggrandmother Elizabeth Townsend to Thomas Jasper in South Cerney said she was from this parish, but I have not been able to find any entry in the parish register for her or any of her family.

South Cerney

All Hallows ChurchMy ggggggrandmother Ann Jasper was born here in 1742, and married Jonathan Fisher here in 1760. Her parents married here in 1732. Ann's baptism and both marriages took place in the All Hallows parish church. Click for larger picture, 243,487 bytes.

 

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My Surname Interests in Gloucestershire

BRIDGES, 18th century, Meysey Hampton/Marston Maisey
DORREL, 17th-18th century Leigh
FISHER, 18th century, Poole Keynes
JASPER, 18th century, South Cerney
LONGFORD, 18th century, Cirencester, 17th-18th century Leigh
TOWNSEND, 18th century, Shipton Moyne and South Cerney

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Acknowledgements

The following have provided information which I have paraphrased on this page:

C.R.J Currie and C.P.Lewis A Guide to English County Histories (Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994), ISBN 0-7509-1505-6.

A. Room: Dictionary of British Place Names (1988), ISBN 1 85605 1775.

A.D. Mills: A Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford University Press, 1991, revised 1995), ISBN 0-19-869156-4.

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