Dursley (St. James)

DURSLEY (St. James), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the Upper division of the hundred of Berkeley, W. division of the county of Gloucester, 15 miles (S. W. by S.) from Gloucester, and 180 (W. by N.) from London; containing 2931 inhabitants. This place is supposed to have derived its name from the springs of water (in the ancient British, Dwr), and the tracts of fine pasture-land (in the same language, Ley), which abound in the immediate vicinity: of the former, the most remarkable is a spring on the south-east side of the churchyard, which flows so copiously as to cover a space of 100 square yards, and to drive a cloth-mill at a distance of only 100 yards from its source. Dursley was the residence of the Saxon family of Berkeley de Dursley, who were lords of the great hundred of Berkeley, and had a castle here before the time of Edward the Confessor. This castle was in ruins in the reign of Henry VIII., and in that of Mary it was taken down, and the materials used in the erection of the manor-house at Dodington: the site is now occupied by a Wesleyan meeting-house, but the fields adjoining are still called the Castle Fields. The town was one of the five boroughs in the county, that sent members to parliament in the reign of Edward I.; but it has long lost the privilege of representation.

It is situated at the base of a branch of the Gloucestershire hills, of which the sides are covered with overhanging woods of stately beech-trees, and the summits command extensive and picturesque views. The houses are remarkably neat, and regularly built; many of them are very respectable, and several are of handsome appearance, though intermixed with some of antique character: the principal streets are well paved, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The clothing trade has been carried on for many years upon an extensive scale, and is still the chief support of the town; the manufacture of cards has very much decreased since the introduction of machinery. The Gloucester and Bristol railway passes a few miles from the town. The market, originally held by charter of Edward IV. in 1471, is on Thursday; and fairs are held on May 6th and Dec. 4th, for cattle and pedlery. A neat markethouse, near the centre of the town, was built in 1738, at the expense of the lord of the manor; at the east end of it is a statue of Queen Anne. The corporation is prescriptive, and consists of a bailiff and 12 aldermen: the bailiff and two constables are annually elected at the court of the manor, and a constable and tythingman at that of Woodmancote, within the parish. The pettysessions for the division are held here every alternate Friday; and the town is the principal place of election for the western division of the county. The powers of the county debt-court of Dursley, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Dursley, and part of the districts of Thornbury and Tetbury.

The parish comprises, exclusively of the site of the town, 924 acres, of which 158 are arable, 536 pasture, and 200 wood and waste; the land is in a state of excellent cultivation. Contiguous to the town is a rock of puff-stone, which is easily cut when first raised, but soon becomes hard, and is extremely durable; it is found only at this place, and was used in building the walls of Berkeley Castle, part of the churches of Dursley and Cam, and the vaulted roof of the choir of Gloucester cathedral. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £10. 14. 4½., and annexed to the archdeaconry of Gloucester; net income of the two preferments, independently of fines on renewals, £232. The church is a spacious and handsome embattled structure, in the later English style, with a tower at the west end, and a south porch of elegant design, above which are three canopied niches. The nave is separated from the aisles by lofty columns and arches of light and graceful character; the timber roofs are richly carved, and against the walls of the south aisle is a monumental figure of Thomas Tanner, who, in the reign of Henry VI., erected this part of the church for a chantry: the chancel was rebuilt in 1738, and the whole of the interior of the church was repewed and beautified in 1826 at a cost of £1500. The spire fell down in 1699, and the present tower was built in 1709, at an expense of £1000. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans. The poor have several bequests. The union of Dursley comprises 11 parishes or places, of which 10 are in the county of Gloucester, and one in that of Wilts; and its population amounts to 16,621. Edward Fox, Bishop of Hereford, and almoner to Henry VIII., who was strenuously active in promoting the Reformation, was born at this place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.