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Covering Foxcote & Hilcot
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Parish History

Withington is a large rural parish 10½ km south-east of Cheltenham, which includes the village of Withington as well as the hamlets at Foxcote, Hilcot, Little Colesbourne and Cassey Compton.

The principal feature of the landscape of Withington and the seat of most of its settlement is a broad valley running from north to south. The river Coln follows a meandering course along the eastern edge of this valley with a series of springs flowing into the Coln from the western edge of the valley.

A long ridge on the west side of the valley incorporates Foxcote and Withington hills, where the parish reaches its highest point at 289m above sea level. A similar prominent ridge rises to the east side of the valley reaching some 230m.

Historically, the main valley and parts of the hills on either side were cultivated as open fields with large parts of the central ridge of Foxcote and Withington hills remaining common downland dedicated to sheep grazing. A line of tall pylons carrying an electricity grid cable became a prominent feature of the high ground of the parish from circa 1970.

A belt of woodland called Withington woods lies on the south boundary of the parish, forming with the adjoining Chedworth woods one of the few large tracts of ancient woodland in the central Cotswolds. Much of this woodland was felled during the First World War to provide timber for wartime use, but during the Second World War the woods were replanted with a mixture of conifer and hardwoods, using prisoner of war labour.

The main road from Gloucester to Oxford and London enters the parish at its Northern boundary at Kilkenny and leaves it at a crossing of the river Coln at Frogmill, and the Gloucester-Stow road, forming part of the original north boundary of the parish, branches from the Oxford road at Kilkenny and crosses the Coln further north at Andoversford.

The Midland and South Western Junction railway, built through the parish from Cirencester to Andoversford, was opened in 1891 with a small station for Withington just north of the village but the line was closed in 1961.

A number of Neolithic age long barrows exist throughout the parish dating back at least 5000 years. A Roman villa was discovered in the parish in1811 and excavated by Samuel Lysons with a floor mosaic now being part of the British Museum’s collections. A further excavation took place in 2006 which discovered a far greater villa complex than originally thought that extended to the East of the original Lysons’ discovery.

Between 674 and 704 AD, a monastery was established at Withington by Ethelred, King of Mercia and Oshere. By 1086 the Bishop’s of Worcester Manor at Withington comprised of the estates of Withington, and Little Compton as well as tenanted sub-manors at Foxcote Little Colesbourne with Hilcot, Dowdeswell with Pegglesworth, Notgrove and Cold Aston. The bishop’s ownership of the Manor of Withington was removed during the Civil War but reinstated after the Reformation until 1860 when the entire estate was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Since 1466, the Church had leased out parts of their estate to various individuals which continued until 1926 when the manorial rights and thus freehold of the estate were sold. With it numerous listed buildings mainly of 17th Century, including the High Street, Church and its churchyard, the area West of the Coln in the village, is not historically distinct from East of the river beyond the Mill Inn. Indeed some equally historical buildings of 17th and 18th Century can still be found on the Compton Abdale road. Woodbridge, Kings Head and Harnham Lanes illustrate good examples of late 18th and early 19th Century cottages.

The original Church was built in 1160 consisting of simply a nave and chancel. In 13th Century the chancel seems to have been extended followed by the construction of the upper part of the central tower the following century.

Hospitality has formed an essential element of the village for some time. Before 1507, an Inn was established in the village known as St George but when its licence was not renewed in 1791 it was converted to a residence. The current Mill Inn was opened by 1856 and became famous for its chicken in a basket. The King Head, which is still operating, was opened before 1884 however an Inn called The Compasses on Woodbridge Lane was closed in 1924.

A school has been part of the parish since 1822 when it was started in a private home and moved to its current location in 1864.

Foxcote was established before 1086 at the north end of the parish in a low valley formed by a tributary stream of the Coln. (fn. 128) The south side of the valley is largely occupied by the Manor House, and its grounds while the rest of the hamlet dominate the north side.

Another early medieval hamlet called Thorndean was situated near the centre of the main valley which became Thorndell in 1680 but took on the name Thorndale in the 19th Century.

Upcote Farm occupies a similar site at the head of a spring on the old road from Withington village to Thorndean and Foxcote. It was the centre of a freehold estate in the early Middle Ages.

Hilcot, in the narrow western valley of the parish, was established by 1086. Some of its dwellings were near Upper Hilcot Farm, which stands on the west side of the lane leading down the valley.

At Little Colesbourne in the south-west corner of the parish, opposite Colesbourne, another small manor had been established by 1086. (fn. 159) In the modern period it comprised of a single farmstead at Little Colesbourne Farm beside the Withington–Colesbourne road.

A former army hut was re-erected beside the railway line between the two parts of Withington village in 1921 to serve both as a reading room and a clubroom. In 1988 a new village hall was built on the same site. A tall maypole, topped by a weather vane, stood at the road junction south-west of the churchyard by the 1840s surviving until 1970’s.

The village had football and cricket clubs in the1950’s and a new playing field at the east end of the village, beyond Harnham Lane, was opened in 1967 as a result of the generosity of the several benefactors.