High church on hill so good they named it thrice

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

YOU can drive to the top of Church­down Hill, leave your car at The Green and take the foot­path that leads to St Bartholome­w’s Church on the sum­mit.

It’s a stiff stroll, but choose a clear day and your ex­er­tions will be re­warded with a panoramic view to­wards the dis­tant Malverns in onwe di­rec­tion, Cleeve Cloud in the other.

It’s like be­ing on an is­land set adrift in the Sev­ern Vale.

The hill has a cap of hard marly rock that has slowed the time­less ef­forts of wind and wa­ter to wear away the rise.

The marly was quar­ried in years gone by for road stone and dur­ing the First World War Ger­man pris­on­ers pro­vided the labour.

Al­though the hill has a hard hat, slip­pery clay lies be­neath the sur­face so over the eons seep­ing wa­ter has coaxed clumps of the hill to slip down its slopes.

Th­ese tumps once had in­di­vid­ual names – Devil’s Oak Tump, Low Knoll, Kiss­ing Tump, Tinker’s Hill – though th­ese ti­tles have al­most fallen com­pletely from use.

Springs flow from the hill. On the west side is Muz­zle Well where a steady trickle drib­bles into a stone trough as it has since pa­gan days.

Mys­ti­cal pow­ers were once at­trib­uted to the well and it was said a maiden could stare deeply into the wa­ters and see the re­flec­tion of her fu­ture hus­band.

Church­down Hill is an an­cient place, as the deriva­tion of the name re­veals.

Church came from the Celtic word crouco, mean­ing hill. Down came from the Saxon word dun, mean­ing hill. And later gen­er­a­tions added the suf­fix hill.

So Church­down Hill ac­tu­ally means hill hill hill.

Its other name is Cho­sen Hill. At one time the parish em­braced Church­down and Huc­cle­cote vil­lages.

There is an old joke that when­ever the Rec­tor de­clared “Oh Lord bless our cho­sen peo­ple”, mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion from Huc­cle­cote called out “And what about us?”.

No­body knows why St Bartholome­w’s was built on the peak but there are the­o­ries.

The church was built in the late 12th cen­tury from lo­cally quar­ried stone and may have been com­mis­sioned by Arch­bishop Roger of York, who was im­pli­cated in the mur­der of Thomas Beck­ett.

Per­haps Roger chose a dif­fi­cult site on pur­pose as a sort of penance.

An­other the­ory is that the church was a sta­tion for pil­grims on their way to St Oswald’s shrine in Glouces­ter.

Or, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal lore, that the Devil car­ried the church to the top of the hill to in­flict pain and pun­ish­ment on those who went to wor­ship there.

The real rea­son prob­a­bly has some­thing to do with the Bronze Age burial mound that the church was built on, a lit­eral demon­stra­tion of Chris­tian­ity’s dom­i­na­tion of pa­gan ways.

Church­down be­came a favoured des­ti­na­tion for pic­nick­ers when the vil­lage rail­way sta­tion opened in 1874.

Half a dozen tea gar­dens catered for the tourists, in­clud­ing Fishlock’s, which served re­fresh­ments at the top of the hill and fer­ried its sup­plies up and down in the pan­niers of a don­key.

There was even a golf course on the hill, nine holes and two miles long, which boasted over 200 mem­bers, but closed dur­ing the First World War.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War the tower of St Bartholome­w’s saw ser­vice as a sig­nal sta­tion for the Home Guard.

Mes­sages were sent from this van- tage point to units at Ro­tol and the Gloster Air­craft Com­pany at first by Aldis lamp, then by field tele­phone and even­tu­ally wire­less.

In June 1940 an over-en­thu­si­as­tic mem­ber of the Home Guard rang the church bell, which caused panic in the lo­cal­ity as peo­ple took this as a sign that Nazi para­troop­ers had landed.

An en­quiry re­vealed that the bell toller had mis­heard the ra­dio mes­sage that Jer­sey had been in­vaded and be­lieved Durs­ley had been over­run.

To­day there are two pubs in the vil­lage, but once there were four.

The Olde House at Home was an ale and cider house in Brookfield Road, where the 17 cen­tury build­ing still stands com­plete with cider press.

No trace re­mains of the Ris­ing Sun, or of a hostelry near Sugar Loaf Bridge which was called the Sugar Loaf, but the Old Elm Inn may be re­called by older res­i­dents.

It stood in front of what be­came the Bat and Ball, which re­placed it in 1938.

Church­down Stores

St Bartholome­w’s

Church­down Vil­lage in early 1900s look­ing to­wards St Bartholome­w’s Church on Cho­sen Hill

Church­down Olde Elm Inn

Durs­ley Mar­ket House

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