The area around Amberley first appears as part of the Woodchester Estate of Ethelbald of Mercia early in the 8th century. This was mainly woodland, but mention is made in his Charter of Senkley as Sengledeah, meaning a burnt clearing, as an island of cultivation in a wilderness of forest, a possible suggestion of a small settlement or township.
By the time of the Norman Invasion, this area had been split into two Manors both called Woodchester, one on the north side of the valley stream, the other on the south. The future Amberley Parish together with that known today as Rodborough, made up the northern Manor of Woodchester. Later the whole of this was amalgamated into the greater Manor of Hamptun (Minchinhampton) and included with it when that was given to the nunnery of Caen in Normandy by William the Conqueror.
Although that part of the Parish was administered with Hamptun Manor, it retained its identity, being henceforth referred to as the Tything of Rodborough. For the next 500 years Rodborough and the areas which now constitute modern Amberley Parish, were linked for local government under one officer known as a Tything man, with full responsibility to uphold the law in the whole Tything. It is during this period that historical facts are extremely difficult to find, making the next stage of the development of the Parish difficult to relate.
However, the fact that there are still various buildings and dwellings in the Parish from this period gives a firm impression of gradual habitation during the period from the 14th to the 18th centuries. There are several examples of old weavers' and estate cottages of the later middle ages in Watledge, Theescombe and St. Chloe and somewhat larger houses in Houndscroft, Pinfarthings and Theescombe, while beginnings of industry were emerging in mills along the Nailsworth stream boundary in the Woodchester valley during the same period.
The western area of the Hamptun Parish was developed mainly in the later 18th and early 19th centuries when the building of cottages on the hillsides at the edge of the Common greatly enlarged Box and produced another sizeable village at Littleworth and smaller settlements at St. Chloe, Amberley, Theescombe and Pinfarthing. Most of the seventy or so cottages built on former Common land that paid rent to the Lord of the Manor in 1809 were in those places.
The building of the new Churches at Amberley in 1836 brought considerable change to the ecclesiastical part of the old Hamptun Parish. The end of an incumbency saw the dismemberment of the benefice by the creation of new ecclesiastical districts, both for those Parishes and for the ancient Church at Rodborough which had been served in later years by a priest who was regarded as a curate by the Hamptun Vicar. These changes, together with the one at the end of the 19th century which saw Nailsworth created a Parish from parts of Hamptun, Avening and Horsley manors, created different boundaries for the civil and ecclesiastical parts of the newly formed Parish of Amberley.
Click to expand this original notice of Dedication of Holy Trinity, 1836
It seems surprising that when this newborn Parish was brought to its christening and someone said "Name this child" it was Amberley that emerged, not Littleworth or either of the other settlements around it. Possibly the fact that the Methodist Church was known as Littleworth may have been the determining factor because the only part which seems to have been previously known as Amberley was the area between Spriggs Well and where the Amberley Inn now stands, and this was part of Amberley Coppice.
The only Amberley place name in a document written before 1066 is, strangely enough, The Drillies. The word can mean either a dry pasture or path and seems to be the name given to the area enclosed by the earthworks on the Common between the Post Office and the Pines. This may have been a large stockade with a path leading out across what is now the road in front of the school, and entering the dense woods which largely covered the hillside between Nailsworth and the space occupied by Amberley Churchyard today.
This document is a Charter connected with grants of Church land and is included in the records of the old Hamptun manor. It apparently states that, in the reign of Alfred the Great, AD 871-901, there were disputes about the Parish boundaries of that time. Apparently, the boundary marks were to be cleared of all undergrowth and the inhabitants were to walk from mark to mark until they knew their exact positions. The name Amberley does not appear in these old documents or in the later manorial rolls but it seems almost certain that it existed, not as a village, but as a place where the people assembled to beat the bounds.
The growth of the area since the Churches were built can best be seen by studying maps and census records of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Old tithe maps of 1804 and 1839 give indications of some 30 to 40 and around 100 dwellings respectively, suggesting some 150 to 200 persons for the former, and around 500 for the latter. Census figures for the middle of the 19th century show a dramatic rise to well over 300 dwellings and a population of around 1600. It is fair to point out that the 1804 map only included the area from Watledge to Lower Littleworth, while the 1839 figures included the whole of Houndscroft to the Bear Inn. The population figures drop to some 1250 by the end of the century, probably because of the creation of Nailsworth Parish from parts of Avening, Horsley and Hamptun manors in 1892. This figure appears to have been maintained throughout the 20th century up to the time of the second world war.
To close, it is worth looking at the ways of traveling from the Parish to other areas such as Minchinhampton, Nailsworth and the Nailsworth valleys several centuries ago. A study of the large Ordnance Survey map for the area shows it criss-crossed with a large number of footpaths and tracks, and it is obvious these were then the only way of getting in and out before the road system we have today was developed. Most of the paths and tracks, which cross the Common to Minchinhampton, Burleigh and Box linked up with others which led through the various woods and fields to points along the Nailsworth valley. Several of these are still usable today as long as one is dressed to suit, but many have become almost completely covered in undergrowth.
The map also clearly confirms the fact that the whole Parish area is riddled with underground streams which cascade into the valley stream at many points. A walk along the old railway line from Nailsworth to Woodchester clearly demonstrates this, as there are a considerable number of piped entries into the stream which runs alongside it. Another source of confirmation is the fact that many of the houses for sale during the period from the 1850s until the 1930s were advertised as having their own spring water and/or well supply. Records indicate that before the present water supplies became available, many of the houses had their own wells, most of which have now been filled in or built over.
This combination of underground streams and the soil structure has also resulted in several instances of landslip along the hillside during the 19th century. Examples recorded are at Dyehouse when the railway was being built, when apparently one Mr. Tabram went to bed at night with a saw and a hatchet so that he could open his bedroom door when it jammed in the night. There was also a stream below Amberley Court in Theescombe which was only contained by a combination of drains and buttress walls and a further example resulted in the old house at the Highlands being pulled down because it had become unsafe for habitation. It is certain, however, that without this natural water supply, our Amberley may never have existed, as it was a long way from the valley streams.
Finally, it is interesting to note the way that some of the Parish names have developed over the years. Originally, part of the old Hamptun Manor boundaries were marked by a path, and this was apparently known as the Bagpath or Packpath. Along the line of this path were the holdings of lands held by various persons either by means of a rent payment alone, by rent payments and specified services or by services only. Among these in the old Rodborough Tything were the ones at St. Loes, as previously mentioned, Houndscroft and Watledge. Houndscroft apparently derived its name from the holding of one John Hund while the neighbouring one, now occupied by Moor Court and the Bear Inn in particular, was at that time and for many years, the holding of the Horestone family, possibly named from the very stone which marks the limit of the Rodborough and Amberley civil Parishes. Watledge bears one of those names which have passed through many changes of fortune and seen better days. It seems to have begun as Heardanleah, a boundary post mentioned in Ethelbald's Woodchester grant. This means the Warders clearing, or the Warders field, and approximately 500 years later had become Wadden. Later still it was Wadden Edge. Then, in the early 19th century, it was Wadedge and later Watledge with the T creeping in during the last 100 years. On a tentative map of the Hamptun Manor c. 1300, the area now known as Theescombe is referred to as Maelscombe, possibly after Roger Mael or Mayel, a 14th century adventurer. It seems, however, that the modern name is probably derived from the words 'Thieves Combe' denoting a valley haunted by thieves.
Pinfarthing, referred to during the 19th century without the 's' at the end, appears to have emerged from a combination of pen (as for enclosing property or stock) and farthing (a quarter).
Text, map and photos extracted by permission from "A Village of Parts" by Roy Close
ISBN 0 9511658 0 1