A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Down Hatherley – A Short History
By W.D. Pereira 2005c
The village of Down Hatherley, close to the River Severn in Gloucestershire, England, has been inhabited for almost 2000 years. A 6 acre field contains the remains of a Roman villa which although never formally excavated has produced coins and a brooch of that period. A Saxon burial site has also been found in the same field. The name Hatherley in the Domesday Book stems from the word Atherlai meaning a hawthorn clearing. There is also an Up Hatherley on higher ground away from the river.
In the Domesday survey of 1086 it is recorded that one Edmar a thane held Atherlai during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). It seems after the death of Edward, Atherlai was appropriated by King Harold. On Harold’s defeat and death at Hastings in 1066, the land was recorded under the title of Terra Regis, with others which William the Conqueror seized as his own property. The Domesday Book incidentally was conceived at the Gloucester Parliament before the one in Westminster.
Down Hatherley was later attached to a Baron Giffard and in 1311 held by a Sir John de Wyllenton until being passed on by marriage to a Sir John Willoughby in 1389. Notably a Sir Fulke Greville (1554-1628) succeeded to the estate, again through marriage. Greville himself served at the royal courts of both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, holding several high government offices. He had been knighted by the Queen and he owned Warwick Castle so Down Hatherley was a minor property.
Turbulent times followed in the form of the English Civil War and Down Hatherley passed through several hands before being purchased by a George Brett. The Brett family found favour with Oliver Cromwell because of its support for the Parliamentary cause. During that period, King Charles I had besieged Gloucester for six weeks but never managed to take it. He abandoned the siege because a Parliamentary Army assembled at the village of Heathrow, Middlesex, marched to relieve Gloucester.
Down Hatherley Church dates from the 15th Century, its tower and the base of the east wall being the only remaining parts of the original. A climb up the low and circular stone staircase to the top of the tower shows how much smaller people must have been in those days. The font has been dated as belonging to the Tudor period. The main body of the present church was reconstructed by the Victorians during 1859-1860 in keeping with the style of the former building.
Hatherley House, now the Hatherley Manor Hotel, was built in the 17th Century. It was once moated but that was later filled in. The manor had a number of owners, one Sir Matthew Wood, being twice Lord Mayor of London. By the middle of the 19th Century it was in the possession of Anthony Gilbert Jones three times Mayor of Gloucester, father of nine children. Charles Allen Jones, the seventh and youngest son, invented the modern stepladder and the folding deckchair.
The most famous yet little known Down Hatherley character was born in 1735. Son of the rector, his name was Button Gwinnett and his autograph is today the world’s most expensive. He became a merchant in Bristol, went to America eventually settling in Savannah, Georgia. Active in politics, Button Gwinnett was appointed Georgia’s first Governor and in 1776 went to Philadelphia where he signed the Declaration of Independence. His signature is much sought after by those collecting the set.
Unfortunately Button Gwinnett’s end was due to his impetuous character. He quarrelled with the military commander of the Georgia patriots and their political differences led them to a duel with pistols. Both were wounded and, while the Colonel survived, the Governor died of gangrene three days later. His grave in the old colonial cemetery at Savannah was later identified when a coffin containing a corpse with a shattered thigh bone was reopened. Today, Gwinnett County in Georgia is named after Button.
The Victorian census of 1851 listed a total of 240 people living in Down Hatherley – 109 male and 131 female. Most people then were employed in farming, the majority of males being referred to as agricultural labourers. Today Down Hatherley has a population of 450 with a wide range of professions. In addition to 165 houses, the church and hotel, there are riding stables, two sports clubs, three plant nurseries and four working farms.
Down Hatherley residents participated in both World Wars and there are memorials in the church listing those who died in the First and Second. Among the most famous for WW1 was Frederick Courtenay Selous (1851-1917), a friend of Cecil Rhodes and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Selous married Gladys Maddy, daughter of Henry Maddy, Canon at Down Hatherley (1856-1907). Outside beside the church door there are the graves of RAF airmen killed locally during WW2.
The biggest building at the edge of Down Hatherley is the ‘shadow factory’ created in the late 30s by the Rolls Royce and Bristol Engine companies for the design and production of variable pitch propellers. Thousands of these were made there for many types of wartime aircraft including the Spitfires and Hurricanes that won the Battle of Britain. The same design, construction and production complex now produces landing gear for the Airbus, Boeing and other contemporary aircraft.
Although at the centre of a triangle comprising the City of Gloucester, Regency Cheltenham and the Norman market town of Tewkesbury, Down Hatherley has been preserved within the Green Belt and appears much the same as it did 50 years ago. The lane through the village runs between fields for most of its length with an S-bend round the ancient church. The village is lovingly maintained both by the borough and parish councils, as well as by the fortunate property owners.