Dursley, Gloucestershire

Historical Description

Dursley, a market-town, a parish, the head of a poor law union and county court district, in Gloucestershire. The town stands at the base of a steep hill, amid very fine scenery, at the terminus of a short branch of the M.R., 5 1/2 miles ESE of Berkeley, and 15 SSW of Gloucester. It is irregularly built, and contains many old houses. It was a borough as early as the time of Edward I., but does not appear to have ever been represented in Parliament, and it was governed by a chief officer styled prsepositus, who was succeeded by a bailiff and corporation, but this was abolished in 1886. It is a seat of petty sessions and county court, and has a head post office, a railway station, two banks, a market-house, a church, Wesleyan and Congregational chapels, almshouses, a workhouse, a police court, and two reading-rooms. The market-house and town-hall was built about the year 1738, and has at the east end a statue of Queen Anne. The church is a fine building of the Perpendicular style, and was restored in 1867; it has a handsome modern tower at the west end. A market is held on the second Tuesday in each month, and pleasure fairs on 6 May and 4 Dec. A woollen manufacture was carried on in early times, and of late years it has been revived in the neighbourhood, finding employment for 400 or 500 hands. Pins, agricultural implements, and wool cards are manufactured; there are two breweries and a tannery, and a considerable trade is carried on in halters and ropes. Bishop Fox, of Henry VIII.'s time, was a native, and the town gives the title of Viscount to the Earl of Berkeley. The parish comprises 1055 acres; population, 2273. It includes the chapelry of Woodmancote, which has a plain cruciform church erected in 1844. The manor belonged to the Berkeleys from Domesday till the time of Edward IV., and passed in the reign of Elizabeth to the Estcourt family, in whose hands it still remains. A baronial castle of the Berkeleys stood at the north-west end of the town, was pulled down about the time of Queen Mary, and is still commemorated by vestiges of its moat, and by the name of Castle Fields borne by the neighbouring fields. A peculiar kind of building material, called "tufa" or "puff" stone, very soft when first excavated, but becoming hard and durable on exposure to the air, is worked. The living is a rectory, united with the chapelry of Woodmancote, in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol; gross value, £348 with residence. Patron, the Bishop of the diocese.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5

Church Records

The Phillimore transcript of Marriages at Dursley 1639-1812, Gloucestershire is available to browse online.

The register dates from the year 1566, and contains some entries relating to members of the Shakespeare family.

The Gloucestershire Parish Registers are available online at Ancestry, in association with Gloucestershire Archives.


Church of England

St. James (parish church)

The parish church of St. James is an ancient and venerable building, chiefly in the Perpendicular style, consisting of chancel, clerestoried nave of five bays, aisles, south porch, and an embattled western tower containing 8 bells and a clock with chimes; the tower is of comparatively modern date, the ancient tower having fallen in 1709: the peal of 8 bells was re-cast with added metal in 1904, and a new clock with the Cambridge quarter chimes, and with a carillon playing a different tune for each day every three hours, was given by Mrs. Eyre, of Kingshill, in 1905: in 1888 a magnificent organ, costing £1,000, was presented as a memorial to the late F. E. Eyre esq. of Kingshill, by his widow, and a memorial window was erected in the chancel by members of the Wallington family; there are also memorial windows to the late Rev. Canon Madan, rector here 1865-87, and to the Rev. W. Bennett D.D.: a reredos of carved oak and mahogany, illuminated, was given by the late F. J. Searancke esq. and canopied sedilia and choir stalls were presented by the Rev. S. E. Bartleet M.A. rector 1899-1911, and G. Wenden esq.: the church was restored in 1867, when the chancel was extended eastwards about 25 feet, and the walls of the church raised about 20 feet in order to form a clerestory: the porch was restored in 1889 at a cost of £400: the late Dr. Tilton left, £500 for the decoration of the parish church and other purposes, and from the proceeds of this legacy the chancel steps were renewed in marble, a fine brass eagle lectern provided, and a stained window placed in the south aisle: there are 800 sittings.


Congregational Chapel, Parsonage Street

The Congregational chapel was rebuilt in 1808 near the site of a more ancient edifice, and has 600 sittings: adjacent to the chapel is a burial ground of one acre: in the chapel is a memorial tablet to William King, who originated the first Sunday school in the town, and suggested to his friend, Robert Raikes, the establishment of Sunday schools in Gloucestershire.


Wesleyan Chapel, Market Place

The Wesleyan chapel was erected in 1864, and has 550 sittings.


Old maps of Dursley are available on the old-maps.co.uk site, and a current map is available on the Streetmap.co.uk site.

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Gloucestershire online:

Villages, Hamlets, &c

Woodmancote (Dursley)

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the county of Gloucester, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.