Our prehistoric ancestors walked the land in and around our town; many Neolithic and Bronze Age round barrows, ancient burial mounds, can be seen on the skyline, and there are long barrows at Gatcombe Park and Whitfield’s Tump. The Longstone at Hampton Fields is thought to be the remains of another such mound. Iron Age earthworks, locally called the Bulwarks, sweep in a large arc around the Common, probably protective rather than defensive in origin, and some small Roman sites have been excavated locally, but the inhospitable plateaux as well as the nearby marshy valleys were probably places to be crossed as quickly as possible.
The first recorded reference to this area is in the eighth century, when King Aethelbald made a gift of land to the church in Worcester, and although the boundaries of this gift are unknown, they certainly included what was later to become the manor of Hampton in the Hundred of Longtree. At the time of the Domesday Survey Hampton, which had been held by Countess Goda before 1066, contained eight mills, twenty acres of pasture, woodland two leagues long and was valued at £28 – considerably more than Cheltenham! After the Conquest the lands were confiscated and given by William I to L’Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, Normandy. Norman rule brought a degree of stability to England, and the manor was run as an estate bringing wealth to the absentee landlord – the Abbess – through the sale of wool, grain and other agricultural goods. The demesne ground of the old manor is now known as the Great Park, and the manor house itself stood where the school now is.
Like many other places in the realm, charters were passed elevating Minchinhampton to the status of a town, giving the right to hold a market and extract tolls, the first probably in 1213. This was when it first became known as Minchin-Hampton, from the old word mycenen meaning nun. By Norman times the church was the most weatherproof building in a locality and would be used for many secular purposes such as courts, storage of valuables and meetings, and the porch or churchyard was an obvious site for a market. The original Holy Trinity Church, taking its dedication from the mother church in Caen, seems to have been like Holy Cross at Avening, but was in a parlous state in the C19th when the nave and chancel were rebuilt. Fortunately, the south transept with its excellent rose window remains. The spire has had its present truncated form for many centuries; the timbers would not support the total weight of stone and it had to be finished with the distinctive corona.
For the visitor or resident alike, to stop at the bottom of Bell Lane and take a moment to visualise a manor house to the west, church to the east and market place to the south is to take a step back in time to the centre of the mediaeval town of Minchinhampton. The area around Hampton Fields was common arable land, worked on a three-field system, there was pasture in the valleys and woodland covered much of the hilltop, grazed by animals under ancient rights, which survive to this day on the commons. Much of this wood was gradually enclosed and the timber cut and sold, with only the names such as Box, Beechknapp and Forwood to remind us of this heritage.
From this great mediaeval heritage developed the town and surrounding villages that make up the civil parish of Minchinhampton today. The woollen trade brought wealth, steam power and railways decline, Victoria benefactors endowed schools and churches, communities found new importance then were rocked by two World Wars.
To find out about all these, and much, much, more, there is a dedicated Local History website at www.minchinhamptonlocalhistorygroup.org.uk Here you will find historic images, articles about places and people and details of Local History Group events.