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overcourt

Over Court is a private residence in Bisley village.

The house has its origins in the 14th century and was altered in the early 17th century, probably when the Tayloe family bought the property. Its medieval plan is essentially that of a hall with a surviving oriel and upper-cruck roof truss, cross-passage and a cross wing comprising solar and cellar. Additions were made in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One of Bisley’s historical myths suggests that Over Court was at one time a Royal hunting lodge and was restored by Edward IV for his mother Cecily, the Dowager Duchess of York. Both statements are incorrect. Despite the fact that her husband Richard, Duke of York, led the Yorkist forces at the battle of Wakefield in 1459 and after capture was summarily executed, she was very wealthy in her own right being an heir of the de Mortimers and of the Nevilles. The manor of Bisley, remote from national political circles in which she moved, was hers in her own right and became a royal manor only on her death when the reversion passed to the crown. Moreover from 1464, when it was revealed that he had secretly married a commoner, to his death in 1483 she was estranged from her son Edward.

Over Court was one of the sites of the manor of Bisley associated, almost certainly, with the de Mortimers. The other house described as a site of the manor of Bisley was the Lower Court, later named Higon’s Court and afterwards Jaynes’s Court which the de Bisleys established. Over Court was the centre of an estates or farm and may have been occupied by Joan de Bohun, a Mortimer heiress, between 1296 and 1327. Described as the 'maner: superioris', Over Court eventually became the property of Richard, Duke of York and was leased by him in 1446-1447 for £5.13.4 annually, including all lands in demesne and pasture, to John Burne; from 1450-1451 to 1452-1453, the tenant was John Butt.

With the death of Cecily in 1493, the manor of Bisley reverted to the crown. Over Court was leased to one John Borwey in 1536 and later to William Compton, a prominent Chalford clothier, the father of Walter Compton who inherited his estate in 1546. William Compton's father John was a Wiltshire man and William had come to Bisley and established himself as a clothworker, marrying well into the Shewell family – Elizabeth, possibly one of the five daughters, together with her seven brothers, commemorated on a brass plate in All Saints Bisley to their mother, Katherine, wife of Thomas Shewell of Ferris Court.

In 1551, Edward VI granted the manor to his sister the Princess Elizabeth who leased 'all scite of the manor called Over Court, part of the manor of Bisley' to John Snowe in 1555. The Snowes were another prominent local family who were wealthy clothiers and farmers. A new lease was made for 21 years to Snowe, his wife Agnes and their son John in 1567. By 1588 Snowe the Elder had died and his son John Snowe, Junior, his wife Alice and their son William assumed the lease of Over Court.

In 1588, Elizabeth, by now Queen, leased to Hugh George of London, gentleman, 'all that syte of her highness manor of Bysleigh called Over Court together with all the demesne lands leased and belonging to the same site'. Hugh George in turn leased Over Court in 1594 to Thomas Tayloe (I), his wife Alice and their son Thomas for an annual rental of £3; all the manorial rights and advowsons were, however, reserved. The Tayloes were another family of wealthy and important clothiers who were related to the Snowes. They lived at The Thrupp where they owned Ham Mill, and Thomas mentioned his 'farm' at Bisley in his will After his death in 1600 his widow Alice married Richard Webley a yeoman. In 1608, by which time Alice had died, Webley was recorded as holding Over Court in the right of his wife.

We have a good description of Over Court in a survey made for the Crown in 1608 by which date the estate had been split. The main house at Over Court, described as beautiful and large, had ten rooms and a tiled roof. There was a large barn, an ox-shed, sheephouse, stable, with five rooms, dovecot, orchard, two gardens, and three yards, the whole covering one acre. Also included was a building called The Courthouse, probably the forerunner of The Bear public house. Close by there were two closes of pasture as well as a meadow of two acres called Palemead – these were below the house in the area of the property now known as Paulmead; they were known by this name because the ground was fenced with ‘pales’. This part of the estate was occupied by Christopher Bidmead who. together with his sons Richard and John probably farmed the estate; Bidmead, Senior, was a trained soldier. There was also a small house of three rooms occupied by William Tayloe who may have been the eldest brother of Thomas Tayloe (I). Another even smaller house close by was occupied by Thomas Hopkins. Apart from some small fields, the estate included 140 acres in each of the common fields of Battlescombe and Stancombe; it was entitled to graze up to 420 sheep on the common pasturage and to 20 loads of firewood from the common woods. By this time, none of the manorial woods belonged to the Over Court estate. Webley was Thomas Tayloe’s executor and the reversion of the estate was to Alice and Thomas Tayloe (II).

In 1619, James I granted the manor of Bisley to his favourite George, Lord Marquis of Buckingham. Always short of money, it was not long before Buckingham started to sell off parcels of the estate lands. In the following year he sold Over Court to Thomas Tayloe (II) for £90. The sale included some of the estate lands with the right of pasturage in the common fields for 30 cattle, eight horses, 400 sheep, 30 pigs as well as 20 loads of customs wood. Buckingham reserved the manorial rights and did not sell all the estate lands to Tayloe.

Shortly after Thomas Tayloe (II) bought the Over Court estate, he assigned the house and all its demesne lands to Henry Twissell and Roger Scott for 60 years; Tayloe was to receive all the profits and the trustees had the responsibility of assigning the estate to such persons that Tayloe appointed. From his will written in 1661 it appears that Tayloe himself occupied and farmed the Over Court estate, but lived in only part of the main house. He also apparently retained his industrial assets, describing himself as 'clothier' in 1629. An important purchase was the 60 acres of Calfway Wood in 1629 for £400, but there were also several sales of the estate land as well as gifts of it to his several sons. In 1637 Tayloe passed his lands in Bisley in trust to his son Thomas Tayloe (III) and others and who on his father's death in 1666 assumed ownership of the Over Court estate. Thomas Tayloe (III) gave Calfway Wood to his namesake, probably the son of his brother Robert. He apparently continued to be involved in the cloth trade since he bequeathed to a relative his ‘shears and other tools for the dressing of cloth and such teazles as I shall leave’. Thomas Tayloe (III) died childless in 1685 leaving Over Court and his lands to his wife Anne who together with Thomas Tayloe (IV), whose relationship is unclear, continued to live there. When widow Anne died the property passed to Robert Tayloe the heir. Robert owned other property in the parish, such as the Bouns Horn estate, and having apparently little interest in the Over Court estate proceeded to dismember it.

Calfway Wood had been inherited directly by Thomas Tayloe (IV) and on 6 June 1695 he purchased Over Court estate from Robert for £200. From the documents, it is clear that Over Court was a farm and regarded as such with its barns, stables, cowhouses, gardens and yards. Close by and in separate occupation was the Barn Close or Home Close of two acres together with two small enclosures, referred to as furlongs or tynings, of 10 acres separated by Back Lane (and still known as such) called Park Land. The Barn Close had been identified in 1608, but the Park Land must have been enclosed from the common field after that date. Here at least we have a Bisley tradition with some truth in it, although it did not, as Miss Rudd records, extend as far as Lypiatt Park which did not exist as such at this time. The name ‘Park’ survived into the 19th century. The rights to commonage for 15 cows, four horses, 200 sheep and 15 pigs indicate that the estate had been halved agriculturally. The remaining commonage rights were probably held by William Eldridge who occupied one of the smaller houses noted in the 1608 survey. It was not long before Tayloe mortgaged Over Court; at the time he made his will on 14 January 1716 he lived in Gloucester and it is clear that by this time the estate was in serious financial trouble.

On his death in 1720, Over Court and what was left of the estate passed to Samuel Tayloe, a clothier of Hyde, and he, together with the mortgagors, took little time in disposing of it. In June 1721 it was sold, together with Calfway Wood, to Daniel Watkins, a gentleman of the city of London. Watkins was the son of Thomas Watkins of Stroud and the family may have had a previous connection with Over Court. He first had to buy out the widow’s interest as well as pay Samuel Tayloe. Even so, when he bought the estate, the main house and most of the remaining property were rented by William and Sarah Driver, proprietors of the nearby Bear Inn, for £20 annually. Over Court, known also as Court Farm, was now a relatively small estate, paying less than half the reeves’ rate which was paid for the adjoining Lower Court estate. Watkins died in 1736 and his widow returned to London, the estate being leased to Richard Champion and one George whilst Richard Driver still farmed there. It was clear that the estate could not honour the several bequests made by Watkins and his daughter Mary brought an action in Chancery. In April 1762 the estate included Litteridge Wood (57 acres), Calfway Wood (23 acres) and Lugg's Frith (10 acres). There were also some 25 acres of arable land, the bulk of which was at Lugg's Frith, and the remainder covered the house and outbuildings, a pasture of two acres and a small school house. Like all Chancery actions it dragged on and on until December 1764 when the Master allowed James Hutchinson of London to purchase the estate on behalf of Mary Watkins for £1,900. Not until September 1766 were formalities complete. During this period the house continued to be let to among others the Rev. William Pitt, curate of the Free Chapel at Chalford, Edmund Clutterbuck and Richard Driver who still farmed the estate. In 1766 the estate included the main house, with another house close by occupied by Richard Driver who also occupied the malt house, stables and other outhouses as well as 11 acres of farm land; in addition Robert Arundell leased the estate’s property at Lugg’s Frith, with that wood, Litteridge Wood and Calfway Wood being kept in hand.

Once the Chancery action was completed, Mary Watkins was free to marry J. Henry Peckitt, a London apothecary, in March 1767. She died childless in 1793 bequeathing the Over Court estate to her husband for life. Mary intended to leave the estate to a nephew and great-nephew, but Peckitt outlived them both and inherited Over Court. By 1802, it comprised only some 28 acres, all of which was farmed by William Driver. Peckitt died in 1808 and the estate descended to another Daniel Watkins, Mary’s elder brother's grandson. This heir was born in 1769 and became a surgeon, marrying first Martha Collins in 1793, by whom he had two sons and secondly Elizabeth Drew in 1808, by whom he had three children all born in Bisley. Daniel Watkins drew his will on 19 October 1829 leaving, inter alia, £1,000 to Mary. By January 1838 Mary had married John Bishop of Bisley, a mariner, and with him sailed for Australia where in Adelaide she died in childbirth on 26 May 1839 leaving an infant daughter who died a few weeks later. They were both commemorated on a small white marble rectangular urn in Bisley church, a memorial later banished by the Tractarians to the south wall of the belfry. Thomas, a butcher, and John, a tenant farmer, continued to live in Bisley as did their mother until her death on 10 January 1847 and burial in Bisley churchyard.

Thomas Watkins lived in the house which had become known as the Stable. In 1852, he sold the remainder of Over Court to William Gregory, a tiler and plasterer of Bisley, but not the woods belonging to the estate. In 1856 Gregory was awarded the contract to roof the new church at France Lynch and left his name and the date on one of the roof beams. The main house had been divided into two dwellings and rented out, to among others some of the Rev. Thomas Keble, Senior’s, curates such as H.A. Jefferys and Isaac Williams. It was sold by Gregory in 1854 to another curate who had lodged there, E.W. Pyddoke. A year later, Pyddoke gave one quarter of an acre of the garden of what was now called Upper Court for the building of Bisley National School.

Thomas Watkins died at the Stable, which by now was known as Over Court Cottage, in 1861. P.D. Rose, who lived next door at Jayne’s Court from 1857, purchased it in 1861; in the following year, Pyddoke the main house of Over Court in 1862 to Rose who bought Over Court Cottage from Watkins’s trustees in 1866. Because of its insanitary conditions, it was Rose who was instrumental in closing the adjacent churchyard for burials in 1860. Rose retired to Torquay in 1874 and in the following year sold the two estates, known at this time as The Grove, to Maj-Gen John Gordon C.B. who lived at Over Court until his death in 1899. Gordon had been commissioned in 1836 into the 6th Bengal Native Infantry and was involved in the siege of Cawnpore (Khanpur) as well as the subsequent the relief of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny; he was promoted Maj-Gen in 1879. Also living at Over Court at this time were Miss Antonia Whateley and Thomas Richard Kay at Over Court Cottage. General Gordon sold Jayne's Court in 1892, but the Over Court estate remained in the Gordon family until it was sold in 1919.

Huw Jones
Shermershill
May 2010

Further reading:

N.M. Herbert, A History of the County of Gloucester, volume 11, 1976
Mary A. Rudd, Historical Records of Bisley with Lypiatt, Gloucestershire, 1937
Ralph C. Tayloe, (Editor), The Tayloe Family of England, 1989
David Verey and Alan Brooks, Gloucestershire 1: The Cotswolds, 1999