Pleasing to the eye and set some distance away from the hustle-bustle of the town centre, Thornbury's substantial parish church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, stands proud, and its elegant tower tall, at the bottom of Castle Street, solemnly commanding the respect of those who pass by.
TOWN AND PARISH
Situated to the east of the Severn Estuary, approximately twenty miles south west of Gloucester and eleven miles north of Bristol, Thornbury, which contains the tithings of Kington and Morton was in the past a sizeable parish in terms of the area that it encompassed. Today, Thornbury's former chapelries of Falfield and Oldbury-upon-Severn are parishes in their own right. The parish is surrounded on the eastern side of the River Severn by the parishes of Hill, Rockhampton, Falfield, Tytherington, Alveston, Olveston, Elburton, and Littleton-on-Severn and overlooks the parishes of Woolaston and Tidenham on the opposite banks of the river.
A market town since medieval times, Thornbury held monthly markets hosting sales of cattle, sheep and pigs until comparatively recently. During the latter part of the 20th century Thornbury's proximity to Bristol coupled with ease of access to the motorway network, caused it to mushroom in size, turning the quiet rural country town into a busy dormitory town.
|Click here for a map of Thornbury.|
Early entries in Thornbury's parish registers record details of a number of baptisms and burials that took place at Oldbury-upon-Severn and Falfield.
It is also worth noting that the baptism entries spanning the period between June 1764 and about 1783 are extremely rich in genealogical detail, often giving the child's date of birth, its position within the family (eg 5th child, 2nd daughter) and perhaps most importantly, details concerning the mother's parentage.
One register, that listing baptisms and burials covering 1768-1812, contains a number of carefully drawn family trees. The families featured are: Hollister, Marsh, Parnell, Thurston, Whitefield, Grove, Holwell, Crowther, Raymond, Stone, Mathew, Salmon of Bristol, Cox, Raymond, Crowther of Shropshire, Skay or Skey, Drewe of Devon, Blackall of Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Devon, Courtenay of Devon, Hill, Stafford and Howard. Other families whose surnames feature at the top of blank pages, obviously with the unfulfilled intention that they be included are: Webb, Bwy or Boy, Wear, Stokes, Cullimore, Knapp, Adams, Trayhern, Sheppard, Collings, Curnock, Linck and Champneys.
THE UNFINISHED CASTLE
Shielded from casual view behind the parish church, Thornbury Castle, now a plush restaurant and hotel, has an interesting history associated with it. In 1510, having chosen to make Thornbury his principal seat, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, gained a licence from King Henry VIII enabling him to impark 1,000 acres and castellate his Manor. He soon commenced an ambitious building project, planning to construct a sumptuous and magnificent castle affording the latest comforts of the time. Although the castle was to have bastions, a portcullis and moat, the structure was designed to serve more as a fortified house than a fortress, Edward no doubt considering that his new castle should boldly reflect his status.
The building work continued until 1519 when the Duke's finances received a severe setback as a result of his daughter's marriage. Work resumed in 1521 shortly before, charged with high treason, Edward was arrested. Following his trial (a mere matter of formality as far as his accusers were concerned), the Duke was executed on Tower Hill, London, his estates, of which Thornbury was one, being promptly confiscated on behalf of the Crown.
In 1535, on a ten day visit to the area accompanied by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII stayed at Thornbury Castle. The Stafford family's fortunes took a turn for the better in 1554 when the sequestered manor, castle, town and park of Thornbury were returned to Edward's son, Henry, by Queen Mary who had spent part of her childhood there. However, unable to afford to complete the construction of the castle, Henry's descendants, choosing to neglect it, allowed the passage of time to reduce the castle to a ruinous state of repair.
Eventually, the Manor of Thornbury together with its castle passed into the possession of the Thomas Howard, 8th Duke of Norfolk and his heirs. The Howards took little interest in their by now much dilapidated castle at Thornbury until the 1850s when Henry Howard undertook extensive restoration work in order to make parts of the unfinished castle habitable. The conservative nature of the work carried out on the exterior of the castle means that today it can be seen very much as Edward Stafford intended nearly 500 years ago.