High church on hill so good they named it thrice
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 Village in early 1900s looking towards St Bartholomew’s Church on Chosen Hill
Churchdown Olde Elm Inn
Dursley Market House