The Severn Vale was covered with dense forest when the Iberians arrived about 4000 BC and cleared a patch to live. Celts from Central Europe followed in 1100 BC, growing crops in the valley but built homes within bank and ditch fortifications on high ground. The hill fort at Bury Hill, Moorend was never extended so today it is preserved as pasture land.
Defensive ditch and banks at Bury Hill
View over a bank across the Bury Hill Iron Age fort
Vespasian came with his Roman legions in 43 AD sailing here along the Severn estuary. The Romans established strategic sites at Bath, at Gloucester and at Cirencester. They constructed the Fosse Way by 49 AD starting from Exeter, passing through Bath and Cirencester and on to Leicester. There are traces that a Roman road passed between Sayscourt Farm and Westerleigh. The legions were recalled in 410 AD.
When the Romans withdrew a Saxon race from the Schleswig-Holstein area, sailed up the Severn and plundered the land. They liked what they found and settled here. At the Battle of Dyrham 577 AD the Saxon princes defeated the British rulers of Gloucester, Bristol and Cirencester, then retained control for the next half millennium. Their villages were built away from major routes to give them privacy. Saxon village names end in ‘ton’ or ‘ley’ or ‘ham’, such as Frampton, Wapley, or Dyrham. The Saxon system of local government incorporated village settlements into Hundreds, with the Hundred Court to settle disputes. The size of a Hundred means it was capable of sending one hundred fighting men to face an invading army. Frampton Cotterell is within the Hundred of Langley & Swineshead and some forty hundreds make up the Shire County of Gloucestershire.
The Normans conquered England in 1066 AD and William I divided the land into manors among his followers. Since the Cotel family were Lords of the Manor living at Frampton Court between the 11th to 13th centuries, our village gained a distinctive identity. Frampton means a Saxon settlement on the Frome, and Cotterell comes from the name of the feudal overlord. A Norman village had 3 Fields divided into strips. Each villein cultivated scattered strips to provide crops for his own family, but must serve the master 3 days each week. Four tenants share in a plough team to do ploughing, harrowing, haymaking and harvesting. One hide of land is about 120 acres. The Domesday Survey of 1086 AD for this village reads thus :--
Walter the Gunner holds Frampton Cotterell. 5 hides which pay tax. Alstan of Boscombe held it. In lordship one plough, 10 villagers and 11 small holders with 5 ploughs. 5 slaves. 2 mills at 5s. A church which was not there before 1066. The value was £8 but is now £3.
The Black Death caused by bubonic plague swept across the country in 1348 AD wiping out whole villages and killing half the population. The consequence of insufficient labour meant much arable land returned to grassland.
During the 1600s the English people began to oppose privileges of the monarch. There was fighting between Cavaliers and the Roundheads. This led to the Civil War 1643-46 when Charles I was beheaded and Cromwell assumed power. A plaque in St Peter’s Church, records that a royalist MP John Symes fled from Somerset and sought refuge here during the Civil War so this village most likely remained loyal to the crown.
Moorend Farm (1650) near Bury Hill fort
15th century chimney stack on Moorend Farm
Frampton Cotterell did not remain a small farming community. There was coal beneath our feet, part of the Bristol Coalfield. Local men were employed as colliers on an increasing scale, so the settlement grew and we became an industrial village.
Much local coal went to Warmley where William Champion in the 1740s was operating a factory to smelt copper and zinc. In its heyday Champion’s Brass Works was the largest in the world.
Other Bristol factories used coal to make goods of iron, glass
and paper. The Merchant Venturers financed ships from Bristol to export
manufactured goods across the world and to import tobacco and sugar. It was coal
that encouraged development of steam power a) to pump water so the mines
could go deeper; b) to make steam trains which carried coal to industrial works.
The trading ships also converted from sail to steam. Bristol’s economy was totally
dependent on coal from the Bristol Coalfield also the excellent
Champion’s factory building at Warmley (1743) – black quoins of clock tower are copper smelter
This began as a cottage industry in the 16th century because of
abundance of rabbit’s fur which was an essential ingredient of felt. It was
the experienced workforce plus plentiful coal, that encouraged Christie &
Co of Bermondsey to construct two 3 storey hat factories in Park Lane in
between 1818 and 1823. By 1834 more than 120 people were employed - producing
1300 hats per week and we were market leaders. The use of advanced machinery
caused Christie to relocate so production ceased in 1866.
Hat factory (1814) at Park Lane – tiny windows minimise draughts to safeguard rabbit fur
Three shafts were sunk just East of St Peter’s Church to
extract red haematite ore. These shafts - Burgess; Roden Acre; and Red Gin;
were up to 480 feet deep. The Midland Railway constructed a branch line 1863 to
join the main line at Iron Acton for transporting the ore to South Wales for
smelting. Water seeping into the workings forced them to close and the venture
was not a commercial success. The West Gloucestershire Waterworks Co took
over the Burgess shaft in 1884 to set up a Cornish Beam engine using local coal,
and was extracting a million gallons of water per day. This ceased in 1972
because of silting up and insufficient water quality.
Letter box embedded in pennant stone wall and installed during Queen Victoria’s reign
A horse drawn railway (dramway) was constructed by 1835
to transport coal from Coalpit Heath to wharves beside the Avon at Keynsham, but
it was inefficient and slow so lasted just nine years. The Midland Company
operated a steam-powered line to carry coal to the Bristol Floating Harbour from
1844, and the following year a line northwards to Gloucester.
Iron shoe in pennant stone sleeper (1835) supported the dramway from Coalpit Heath
A railway link-line was constructed by G.W.R. so trains could go directly from London Paddington to Cardiff. This link is from Wotton Bassett to the Severn Tunnel line at Patchway. Construction took place 1897 - 1903 involving a nine-arch viaduct over the Frome near Winterbourne, also a tunnel into the Cotswold escarpment at Old Sodbury. Coalpit Heath station had 5 passenger trains each way, but was closed to passenger and goods traffic on 3rd April 1961.