Castle to Church

The bustling life of the Bailey has been replaced by a forlorn abandoned church and the graves of people who lived a century ago.

England was in turmoil following the Norman invasion of 1066. The invaders needed to subjugate the Anglo Saxon population. They constructed forts known as Motte and Bailey castles which they built in large numbers across England.

William the Conqueror’s victory brought the feudal system which removed land ownership from the Anglo Saxon population. All land was vested in the new King William who in turn granted holdings to ‘tenants in chief’, French nobles and clergy who had assisted in the successful invasion. Land was measured as manors which could be larger or smaller than one village, and consisted of the surrounding fields, tenants, peasants and slaves.

Gilbert de Maminot, Bishop of Lisieux from 1077 to 1101 was one of eight barons who with John de Fiennes defended Dover Castle by providing troops to man this strategic hilltop fort.

He was also sent by William to request from Pope Alexander II his agreement to the planned invasion of England. Apparently Gilbert was successful, so much so that the Pope gave Gilbert a banner to be carried in battle.

In return for his service Gilbert was granted tenancies in Yorkshire, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, in all 33 properties, one of which was Lasborough Manor at Neueton, as it was then known.

Lewin of Barton owned this and two other properties in 1066 but by 1086 he had lost everything and Gilbert is recorded in the Doomsday book as the chief tenant, with his son Hugh as sub-tenant. On the property were five village families, seven slaves and one priest. From earning £10 in rents under Lewin political unrest had reduced the estimated earnings to only £2.50.

Ordericus Vitalis, in his Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, provides commentary on Gilbert both good and bad. He notes that for the Bishop ‘ease and leisure were his great objects, and he indulged frequently in dice and other games of hazard. Negligent and slothful in his ecclesiastical duties, he was ready and active enough in hunting and hawking’.

However he was generous to the poor, wise in justice and tireless in defending what he felt was right and freely gave of his knowledge in the sciences, in particular astronomy.

He continued his close relationship with William I as he was the King’s Chaplain and Physician. He attended William during the last four weeks of his life in 1087 and he attended the King’s funeral in his ecclesiastical capacity.

It is probable that Gilbert was responsible for building the Motte and Bailey on a steep ridge that provided his soldiers with a grand view of the surrounding countryside and into the deep valley below, through which flows the Little Avon.

The castle comprised of a 150ft motte made of the small stones from the ditches dug to the north south and west. Some reports note no sign of a bailey while others mention a building platform to the north, which may have been the location for a bailey.

Motte and Bailey

The Motte and Bailey castles were established to provide a base for soldiers, horses and their provisions. At the same time the speed with which they appeared and their numbers awed and frightened the local population.

Castles is probably a grand term in today’s perspective. The Motte or mound in Norman French, was a large mound of earth on which a wooden tower was built to provide a view over the surrounding land and act in a defensive role.

Its companion Bailey (enclosure in French) was made up of a strong outer palisade fence with often inside, stables, stores, soldiers quarters and kitchens.

Depending on the size, the threat levels and the money and time available there would normally be a surrounding ditch to improve the defences.

Often the castles were privately built and research has shown that these fortifications were not constructed to some grand overall strategy.

In spite of their seemingly fragile nature compared to the well known large stone forts, they were highly defensible and served well to subjugate the native populations.

Today their reminders are in the form of grassed over mounds with little obvious shape or significance.

Drawing : Permission requested

The Motte in 2011 with the Church in the background, possibly where the Bailey may have been

Directly across the valley was, another motte and with no evidence of a bailey. The two castles were no doubt designed to operate together, providing protection over Gilbert’s Gloucestershire estate.

By the 1100's the defensive Motte and Bailey Castles were no longer required. It was around this time that a small parish church was built on the flat land adjacent to the remians of the Motte which feasibly is where the bailey would have been.

No records exist but it is known that Newington Bagpath church is of Norman origin, possibly from the 1100s. At those times the interior of a church would have been painted with colourful murals illustrating scenes from the bible.

The Norman age saw the development of great ecclesiastical power which lasted until the reign of Henry VIII. In Medieval England the church played a major role at every level of society. It was the source of wealth and power, succour and education, and hope of the attainment of heaven.

The golden age of the Cotswolds came with the growth of the wool trade in medieval times. Wool from the long thick fleece of the native Cotswold breed of sheep – the “Cotswold Lion” – provided more than half of England’s cloth production and was also exported directly to the continent. This trading, processing and weaving brought great wealth to the Cotswolds, and particularly to the wool merchants who handled much of the business.

William Shakespeare the playwright had two lost periods in his life and tradition has it that the second one from 1585 to 1592 was spent in the Cotswold. The accepted story is that in 1585 Shakespeare had to flee Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote Manor in Stratford after being caught on his land as a suspected poacher.

There are number of works that refer to Shakespeare‘s knowledge of the area. In Richard II he mentions the approach to Berkeley Castle is from the north through 'high wild hills and rough uneven ways’ and ‘standing by a tuft of trees.’

He refers to a number of Gloucestershire landmarks such as Woncot, the local pronunciation of Woodmancote, which some researchers maintain that it is 'almost certain that Shakespeare was familiar with the neighbourhood'

Chamber’s in his book ‘William Shakespeare’ (1930) states that "the documents concerning the marriage involve a puzzle. It took place towards the end of 1582, not in the parish church of Stratford, nor in any of the numerous likely churches whose registers have been searched". Is it possible that he was married in the little Norman church on the hill? As the register is only available form 1636 it is unlikely proof will be found.

A family named Shakespeare lived in the Dursely area and the adjoining Bagpath parish and have claimed a link to the famous writer.

John Shakespeare married Margeri Shipton on 21 August 1617 at St Bartholomew's. There are a confirmed seven members of the family buried at the church, including a William Shakespeare, clerk to the parish who died in 1782 aged 59.

In 1639 John Smyth of Nibley wrote in his Hundred of Berkeley that ‘scarce any church (worthy of the name church) can be lesse or worse built’.

For a short time from 1720 to 1731 the little church obviously became a trendy place to be married. Its beautiful peaceful location close to the main crossroads to Stroud, Tetbury, Bath and Gloucester and charismatic Rector attracted couples from far and wide. The Rev Thomas Lodge married people form Gloucester, Bristol, Purton and many more locations outside of the tiny parish. Of the 21 marriages carried out in 1729 only four were for local parishioners. In April 1731 Rector Lodge died and with him the happy ceremonies at the church on the hill.

Rev. Alan Gardner Cornwall of Ashcroft, who was rector from 1827 to 1842, published his memoirs, a valuable account of rural life in the early 19th century. He received an MA from Trinty College, Cambridge and then took holy orders, becoming Chaplin in Ordinary to Queen Victoria, before becoming Rector of Newington Bagpath and Owlpen. He married Caroline, the youngest daughter of Thomas Kingscote of Kingscote in 1828 and they lived in Ashcroft house for 44 years producing 14 children.

At his first Sunday sermon there were only eight in the congregation, the previous Rector having been known for turning people away to save himself the trouble of preaching.

Alan Cornwall biggest challenge came in the mid 1820’s. Technological advances brought great changes to the wool dependant economy of the Cotswolds. Carding engines, shearing frames, loom factories and a slump in the economy led to mass unemployment. Many residents remained unemployed which led to depression, poverty and death.

On his death in 1872 a commemorative plaque was placed in the Newington Bagpath church, which was removed in 1977 for safekeeping.

His son Alan Kingscote Cornwall (1830 -1913) succeeded him as recotor of Kingscote and Newington Bagpath. Another two sons, Clement and Henry emigrated to British Columbia during the gold rush. Finding that there were more stories of disaster than riches they decide to build a town to provide a place for prospectors to rest and replenish. They named the town Ashcroft. The town museum holds pictures and maps of Bagpath a small link to its origins.

The church’s Norman heritage was largely lost with the mid 19th century rebuild. Originally the church consisted of a low tower at the west end, of Norman origin and a medieval nave. Some of the original tufa limestone is evident around the original north door that is now blocked.

Mass dial, St John's Chruch Devizes

Picture credit Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

During medieval times 1110 to 1600 it was common for Mass dials to be found on the south walls of churches. Usually near the priest door and four or five feet above the ground they were used as clocks to determine the time for mass.

These dials, also known as scratch dials were 6 to 10 inches across roughly cut into the wall in a variety of designs, but typically radiating lines from a hole in the centre. A wooden peg known as a gnomon (Greek indicator) was placed in the hole and the shadow cast by the sun moved round the dial, but it was more an event marker than a time piece.

A survey in 1928 carried out by Mrs Dina Dobson and published by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, recorded a scratch dial on the south side of the Newington Bagpath church with a 5 inch radius with the gnomon in place.

In 1858 notable Gothic Revival architect Samuel Sanders Teulon, added the chancel, re-built the nave and added height and conical roof to the tower. The external window arches were terminated with beautiful stone carved heads of kings and queens.

Within the church the naves large span roof covered the aisles with light provided by a large dormer window on each side. Seating was provided for children in the tower but was not favoured, the Eccleastical review of 1859 noted that this was ‘an arrangement which we seldom much approve of’.

It was a good example of an early English style church consisting of a chancel, nave, south porch, and an embattled western tower containing one bell. It could seat 230 parishoners, there is no mention of the number of children who could be accommodated in the tower.

Contemporary writings describe it as 'an unpretending structure though not devoid of interest. It occupies an isolated position on the hills ; it is surrounded by an extensive church yard and possesses a picturesque appearance, which is due in no small degree to the low broad tower, with its pointed roof’.

Declared redundant in around 1973 the church was closed in 1978. Subsequently it was sold to a private owner, who in 1995 obtained listed building consent to turn the old building into a home and studio.

Reports indicate that the plans stalled when a local farmer refused access to services being laid to the proposed dwelling. The interior would appear to be gutted, the floors lifted and it is likely many of its features such as the choir stalls with poppy-head finials and tiles by Teulon have disappeared.

It would be interesting to discover the whereabouts of the tablet to Edward Webbe, grandson of Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) who in 1677 published the work ‘The primitive origination of mankind, considered and examined according to the light of nature.’

In his will of 7 September 1708, Edward Webbe notes that he wishes his body to be very privately buried in the chancel of Newington-Bagpath Church

What is the fate of the floor stone which was in the nave? This was a memorial to other members of the Webbe family, certainly Margaret the unmarried daughter of Edward Webbe and his second wife Jane Godwin and one of her sisters, Hester or Susan whose ‘desire was to ly by her sister Margarett’

Adjoining the Webbe stone was an ancient gravestone with an engraved cross along the full length, with lozenge shapes at the three ends.

However the church stands forlornly, isolated, with tattered boarding, an abandoned rotting car, tumbled down gravestones and in danger of being consumed by the thickening trees, weeds and vines. Its days as a centre of a community and the short spell as a fashionable place of marriage have long gone.

The King's head

The church Today

the Queen's Head


Ecclesiological Society, The Ecclesiologist, Volume 17, Stevenson, 1859

Sir Robert Atkyns Volume 1 of The History of the County of Gloucester:

Compressed, and Brought Down to the Year 1803, G. F. Harris, 1803

Smith, A.H The Place-names of Gloucestershire: The North and West Cotswolds

Volume 39 of The Place-names of Gloucestershire, Albert Hugh Smith University Press, 1965

Verey, D. Gloucestershire: The Vale and the Forest of Dean, Volume 2 1925

Cambridge County Geographies






and-settlement-norman-england-and-wales Picture of the mound drawing –not yet used Schedule of monuments - LINK

Norman times


Church building

Bagpath people parish register Census -taxes taxes detail Marriages




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Church inscriptions - list of stones