Marshfield is a small market town in the local government area of South Gloucestershire, England, on the borders of the counties of Wiltshire and Somerset.
Marshfield is at the southern end of the Cotswold Hills, and is in the Cotswolds AONB. The A420 road bypasses the town on its northern side. Marshfield, which is in the north is the long stretch of flat-looking fields bordered by dry-stone walls. To the south, the view and the country is quite different, for there one is quickly into the wooded valleys and hedge-lined fields of Bath and North East Somerset, not that the north is without its interesting small valleys too. There are numerous footpaths (many signposted), bridle paths, and pleasant walks in all directions. The ridge is of oolitic limestone and fossils often occur.
High Street is the single main thoroughfare of Marshfield and is approximately 350m in length and straight.
The eastern part of the town contains the parish church, Manor House and Home Farm, a group of historic buildings noted for their architectural features.
Almost every house along the high street is more than 100 years old, from the Georgian architecture Gothic toll house at the western end to the groups of medieval barn, dovecote (The lord of the manor was the only man allowed to keep pigeons-for fresh meat in winter), and early Georgian stable range which go with the manor house and Home Farm. Near the toll house stand the fine almshouses of 1612, built for the use of eight elderly villagers by the two sons of Marshfield, Nicholas and Ellis Crispe, who had gone to London and made their fortunes largely through the West Indies trade. They endowed the houses with funds to provide a free residence, garden, and £11 yearly. Many houses date from Tudor era and Stuart times (a few were originally timber-framed) and have gables and mullioned windows. Several have bow fronts and there are five examples of shell-pattern door arches typical of Queen Anne work. The finest front in the high street is perhaps the Catherine Wheel (right) some of whose buildings at the rear are much older than 1700.
The name derives from the Old English language word March or border, hence Border Field being the literal translation.
The town is rich in history because of its location in the heart of Cotswold wool country, near to Bath and Bristol. Located within an agricultural area, Marshfield gained market status in 1234. The layout conforms to that of a typical market town with long narrow burgage plot gardens extending back from the narrow frontages, and served by two rear access lanes (Back Lane and Weir Lane).
The majority of buildings lining the street are of 18th century origin although several buildings date from the 17th century. The building style is largely Georgian. The facades of the buildings are unified by the consistent use of local stone and other materials, which adds character to the town.
Marshfield was a casualty of the Battle of Lansdown (July 1643) during the Civil War. A Royalist army under Price Maurice and Sir Bevil Grenville were hoping to link up with Charles I at Oxford and avoid a confrontation with the Parliamentary Forces gathered at Bath under Sir William Waller. Marshfield, which had about 300 houses at that time, on 4 July was used as an overnight billet and provision store for the King’s army of 6000. Next day the royalists were tempted into an abortive Battle at Lansdown, each side withdrawing with heavy losses. Sir Bevil Grenville (whose monument now stands on the site of the battle) died in Cold Ashton rectory and as the Royalists fell back on Marshfield for repairs almost every house had wounded men on its hands. When the depleted army moved on the reinforced Cromwellian army soon followed. There was little time to stow away the church’s simple treasures before the invading despoilers were at work. As a piece of local doggerel composed 200 years later had it “The empty niche above the door, where Mary’s image stood, And ravaged reredos testify to their revengeful mood.”
It is not known just what damage may have been done as a result of the Civil War. Canon Trotman, a prominent authority in Marshfield’s more recent past, speculated publicly about the likely missing treasures. He noticed the large stones on either side of the east window, with rough infilling under them. The large stones evidently formed canopies for figures now missing and which have been the marble figures found in 1866 during alterations at the Angel Inn (now 42 high Street) and later removed from the parish. Two or three other figures probably completed the statuary. Canon Trotman further presumed that the figure of the Virgin may have been taken from its niche in the porch by the Parliamentary troops, but adds forcefully, “Even they could scarcely have done more havoc with the church than the hand of the so-called restorer in 1860 who, while substituting the pitch pine seats…for the old carefully locked pews and capacious gallery, effaced at the same time much that should have been interesting to us today.” Canon Trotman was speaking in 1906.
With Cromwell’s victory in the Civil War, the period of the commonwealth (from 1649 until the restoration of Charles II in 1660) ensued during which time marriage was treated as a secular rather than religious ceremony. John Goslett as a magistrate therefore married 92 couples during that period from the parish and around, in may cases the banns having been called on three successive market days in the market Place at Marshfield (as an alternative banns could still be read in church). there was clearly no long-term disadvantage in all this for Mr Goslett for a tablet to his memory was nevertheless placed in the church, beside the east window of the north aisle.
David Long, from Pennsylvania, reports that on the flat open land between his village and the lane you can often find musket balls. Battle Of Lansdown. Looking towards the battle site from the field it would appear to be a logical distance away particularly as they would have been firing uphill at about 45 degrees thus landing some distance from the battle site.
” The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon the cloudy seas, The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor. And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door ”
Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman.
Somewhere near to the Three Shire Stones on the Fosse Way near Marshfield there lies, even to this day, a stone that marks the spot of what the Bath Journal calls “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown”. The stone marked E.R. and the date 1761 refers to one Edmund Roach who, aged 38 yrs., was set upon by a highwayman. The 1761 Bath Journal reports, quote, ‘We are this instant informed, that one Edmund Roach, of Marshfield, a Chandler (candlemaker) was found dead near Westwood, on the Turnpike road leading from this city to Colerne gate; and from all circumstances that yet appear, was murdered and robbed, marks of violence appearing about his head, his pockets pulled out, and his silver watch and money gone. He is supposed to have had in his pockets four 36 shilling pieces and some guineas. All the marks of the watch that can yet be recollected are, the dial plate pretty much soiled, the black enamel figures on it much worn off and had lately a new spring put in it, a pale narrow old silk string of ribbon, a brass key, and a common brass seal set with glass, and a head engraved on it’. The report indicates a reward for the highwayman if found with information requested by Mrs. Eleanor Roach.
On 27 July the Journal continues the story. ” Since our last a man has been apprehended on suspicion of the murder and robbery of Mr. Roach last Saturday se’en night in the evening; he says he formerly belonged to the regiment of Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Y. Buffs, (Royal Gloucestershire Hussars) but, having a rupture, was discharged, and that he supported himself by travelling about the country, his account of supporting himself, however was so lame, he is committed to a place of security at Devices for further examination “. I have attempted research here and suggest this could have been the former Roundway Hospital near Devizes, Wiltshire. Nothing further is given and no name or fate was reported about the detained person. Current difficulties with this latest story are that Roundway wasn’t opened until 1845 so maybe he was taken to a Village lock-up near there. The above story featured in a local Bath paper in 1936.
From the Trowbridge Public records office (10/3/00) The original story from the Bath Chronicle weekly gazette (23 July 1761). Reads (in Old English) ” Sunday morning last a tallow chandler and a dealer in horses of Marshfield in the county of Glouscestershire was found dead near Westwood on the road leading from this city to Colerne in the county of Wiltshire. He left Bath Saturday evening on horseback and his horse strayed the same night to Colerne. Monday coroners inquest sat on the body and brought in their verdict of wilful murder several marks of violence occurring particularly violent blow on the back part of his head supposed to occasion his death (Which blow it is thought was given by a large knotty stick that was found, bloody, near the place he was murdered and the print of a women’s foot was plainly to be distinguished on the lower part of his belly. His pockets were turned inside out and his watch and money (amounting to £10:00) taken from thence- Monday evening , a woman enquiring for lodgeings, at Colerne for herself and husband was asked concerning her place of abode and not giving satisfactory answers caused some suspicion. She was thereupon strictly examined to touching the said murder and robbery. After some hesitation she confessed that her husband and some others had robbed the aforesaid Mr Roach and gave intelligence as to where her husband was to be met with. He was accordingly apprehended the next morning at Kington St. Michael in the said county of Wilts. He appears to be a seafaring man and on his examination confessed the robbery but denied the murder declaring that he found the deceased lying dead on the road having (as he supposed) been killed by a fall from his horse, he added, that he thought it no crime to rob a dead man he appears very resolute and yesterday a tinker was apprehended who has confessed his being concerned in the said murder and robbery and has impeached two other accomplices, besides that above mentioned who are likewise sailors. Diligent search is making after them. ” (Old English ends).
So, the earlier report seems to provide a more accurate account of the events. The problem now is that it throws up more unanswered questions. Gina Parsons, who researches her family background with her husband, appears to be the GGGGG Granddaughter of Edmund Roach. (see also)
Where was the Coroners court Held ? Where did the Coroner come from ? There are now five people involved including a woman. Who apprehended them? There was no Police force at this time. Was anyone indicted? The account suggests the husband’s story is believed. Mr. Roach was buried at Marshfield with the following epitaph on his headstone,
“BY MURD’ROUS BLOW MY THREAD OF LIFE WAS BROKE. DREADFUL THE HOUR! AND TERRIBLE THE STROKE! BUT HEAVEN PERMITTED! AND I MUST NOT LIVE. REPENT, THOU CURST DESTROYER OF MY LIFE. BEHOLD ME HERE, BEHOLD MY BABES AND WIFE! SEE, FROM THY BLOODY HAND WHAT WOES ARISE. WHILE CALLS FOR VENGEANCE PIERCE THE ANGRY SKIES. THOU TOO MUST SUFFER, THO ‘THOU’ SCAPE THE LAWS. FOR GOD IS JUST AND WILL AVENGE MY CAUSE. MY CHILDREN DEAR, MY WIFE, MY WIDOWED FRIEND. MAY PEACE AND SAFETY ON YOUR STEPS ATTEND. MAY VIRTUE GUIDE, AND TRUTH YOUR LIVES EMPLOY, THEN SLOW OR SUDDEN DEATH WILL END IN JOY.”
Another story says that a rendezvous for Dick Turpin on the London-Bath road was reputed to be Star Farm, formerly a posting-house, half a mile east of Marshfield. This I’m sure could be disputed and would tend to be as a result of local lore of the times. No confirmed evidence of this exists.
On 7 July 1763. A highwayman robbed a gentleman’s servant of 5/- at Tog Hill turning, amongst other robberies. (In Old English) He is described as being a short young man, much pitted with the small pox ; well mounted on a dark brown horse with a flick tail and blind in one eye. One of the stirrups is new and the other old, and the highwayman had on a brown surtout coat. He later that day fatally injured a pig killer at Wickwar. (Click for full story of Daniel Neale the highwayman.) (Old English ends).
On 29 January 1798 three highwaymen well-mounted and armed, stopped Mr Stephen Toghill of Marshfield at lynch Hill and with dreadful imprecations, demanded his money, which he hesitating to comply with one of them struck him on the arm with such violence as to deprive him of the use of it. Another with a knife cut his breeches from the waistband through his pocket down to the knee and robbed him of notes amounting to £43. Mr Toghill has offered a reward of £50 for discovering the offenders. (Old English ends). (One for crimestoppers!) This has now been verified. (Bath Journal 29/01/1798). Also in the Gloucester Journal.
The village fire engine was purchased in 1826 for £50:00 and was still in use in 1931. It had to be operated by a gang of men on either side of it using a hand pump. In 1896 the Fire Brigade had its capabilities tested to the utmost. Two houses with thatched roofs, in the main streets, caught fire at Mid-day, when all hands were engaged in the fields, but the Brigade mustered quickly in sufficient force to prevent fire spreading to other houses.
St Mary’s parish church with its tower provides an important focal point that can be observed from numerous points in the town and is a landmark visible from miles around. The church is on the eastern side of the town. A church has stood on that site for more than 1,000 years. The first was dedicated to St Nicholas, and at west Marshfield there was another, of which no traces remain, to St Pancras. It is thought that a field called St Pancras Close marks the site. In Bristol Museum there is an ancient deed of about 1125 confirming to the Abbot of Tewkesbury various tithes and ecclesiastical benefices, among them Marshfield church, at that time very much smaller than the church we see today.
It is recorded in the annals of Tewkesbury Abbey that on 1 June 1242, in the reign of Henry III, Walter de Cantilupe, Bishop of Worcester, in whose diocese Marshfield then stood, came to dedicate a newly-built church at Marshfield. The monks of Tewkesbury Abbey restored and rebuilt the church in the perpendicular style in about 1470. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the right of presentation of the benefice was given to the warden and fellows of New College, Oxford, by Queen Mary, in lieu of property of which they had been robbed by Henry VIII of England. The college’s first incumbent came into residence in 1642, only to be disposed during the English Civil War. New College still has the benefice in its gift.
A chalice of 1576 and a paten probably dating from 1695 are in regular use, and Communion plate given by the Long family in 1728, including two large flagons, is used for the Christmas Eve midnight service each year. The church was restored in 1860 and more carefully in 1887 and 1902-3 under Canon Trotman. The chapel of St Clement in the north aisle was restored to its original design in 1950 as a memorial to the late Major Pope of Ashwicke Hall, a considerable benefactor of Marshfield. A new cemetery to the north of the village was opened in 1932, the churchyard being full.
Non-conformist worshippers in the town are served by Baptist and Congregational chapels, and by Hebron Hall. Conversion of an old barn into the present church hall was done in 1933 at a cost of £650.
The Parish Register dates from 1558, the first years of Elizabeth I’s reign. The first two volumes were indexed and fifty copies printed by a London antiquarian in the time of Canon Trotman. For the first 150 years entries were generally written in Latin and initially only baptisms were recorded, burials being first entered in 1567 and marriages five years later.
According to inscriptions on the town’s War Memorial 27 villagers died in action during the two Wars, 20 men during World War I 1914 – 1918 and 7 men during World War II 1939 – 1945.
Every Boxing Day at 11:00am increasing numbers of visitors come to the town to see the performance of the celebrated Marshfield Mummers or “The old time paper boys.” Seven figures, led by the Town Crier with his handbell, dressed in costumes made from strips of newsprint and coloured paper, perform their play several times along the high street. Beginning in the Market place after the Christmas Hymns which are led by the vicar the mummers arrive to the sound of the lone bell. The five minute performances follow the same set and continue up to the almshouses. The final performance is outside of one of the local public houses where the landlord delivers a tot of whisky for the “Boys”.
In the past centuries the mummers were probably a band of villagers who toured the large houses to collect money for their own Christmas festivities. During the latter half of the 19th century the play lapsed, presumably for lack of interest. The play was not entirely forgotten however. Then, in 1931, the Reverend Alford, vicar of Marshfield, heard his gardener mumbling the words ‘Room, room, a gallant room, I say’ and discovered that this line was part of a mummers’ play. The vicar’s sister Violet Alford (fr), a leading folklorist, encouraged the survivors of the troupe and some new members, including Tom Robinson (whose place waas later taken by his brother), to revive the tradition. There was some dispute between Miss Alford and the elderly villagers as to how the play should actually be performed, and the resulting revival was a compromise which differs in several respects from other versions: St George has apparently become King William and Father Christmas appears as an extra character. The costumes, as well as the play’s symbolism, are relics of an ancient and obscure original- perhaps the earliest performers were clad in leaves or skins, symbolizing the death and rebirth of nature.
When mumming began in Marshfield is unknown, but there appears to be documentary evidence of mummers’ plays since the 12th century. c1141 is believed to be a rough start date. The Marshfield play was discontinued in the 1880s when a number of the players died of influenza but it was resurrected after the Second World War.
The Paper Boys have performed nearly every Christmas since (there were no performances during World War II). The Paper Boys’ play is basically a fertility rite with traces of medieval drama and incorporates the story of St George and the Dragon. It was never written down, and over the centuries, it gradually changed through the addition of ad libs and misunderstandings. The nonsensical corruptions of the text reveal its origins as a story told by illiterate peasant folk, unaware of all its allusions. There have to be seven characters as seven was thought to be a magic number. They include Old Father Christmas (the presenter of the play), King William who slays Little Man John who is resurrected by Dr Finnix (Phoenix, a rebirth theme). There’s also Tenpenny Nit, Beelzebub who carries a club and a money pan and Saucy Jack who talks about some of his children dying—there are many references in mummers’ plays about social hardship.
The Paper Boys have to belong to families that have lived in Marshfield for generations and they must have the Marshfield accent. When a role becomes available, precedence is given to the relatives of present members of the troupe. Because it is a fertility rite, women are not allowed to participate. Each costume comprises a garment made of brown cloth covered in sewn-on strips of newspaper—hence the name ‘Paper Boys’. Each mummer maintains his own costume, repairing it as necessary. It is thought that, in the distant past the costumes bore leaves instead of paper strips.
Marshfield is justly proud of its special local tradition revived now for more than 40 years and looks forward each year to the social gathering each Boxing Day. The mummers have been featured on radio and television and at events of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. A few years ago they featured on the Rev. Lionel Fanthorpes “Fortean TV” aired on Channel 4. In 2002 they featured in a programme by Johnny Kingdom.
Until 25 October 1962, two fairs were held annually in Marshfield, one on 24 March and the other on 24 October. The fairs were first held in 1266 when the Abbot of Keynsham purchased the right and this privilege was confirmed in 1462. The rights of the fair must have passed to the Lord of the Manor at some time because in more recent times they were let to a manager at a yearly rental. In about 1885 the fair was rented by Mark Fishlock from Squire Orred of Ashwicke Hall.
Cattle, sheep, and pigs which were brought in for sale were penned in hurdles in front of the houses on one side of the High Street and White hart lane, causing much confusion, and clearing up afterwards. The streets at that time was unpaved. The farmers paid 1d per head for sheep and 2d per head for cattle sold at the fair, but no charge was made for animals not sold. until more recent times the dealers and afrmers bartered among themselves. Toll had to be paid for all sheep sold at the rate of 4d a score, this being manorial right of the fair. In May 1901 the fair was taken out of the street to a field adjoining Back Lane. It was a large fair at that time and about four or five thousand sheep and 300 cattle were brought on foot from miles around to be sold. the Market Place was generally filled with sideshows of all sorts.
There were often accidents and during the October 1905, one Thomas White, aged 45, was killed on the roundabouts. Gradually the weekly markets at Bath, Chippenham, and Bridgeyate took the business away from Marshfield fairs: they no longer paid their way therefore and so were ended.