Prestbury Park 7127

Cheltenham, England, Gloucestershire, Cheltenham

Brief Description

Cheltenham racecourse occupies a significant amount of the former medieval deer park of the Bishop of Hereford. It is consequently largely open grassland. The former moated manor house on its eastern side was probably never within the park, and no longer exists, although there are considerable remains of the moat. The boundaries of the former deer park are marked by footpaths and streams, and can be followed over the racecourse area, although west of the Cheltenham-Evesham road the former parkland is private farmland, with limited footpath access.

History

The Bishop of Hereford had a deer park in Prestbury, adjacent to a medieval moated manor house of which nothing but the moat remains, from at least 1136. There are documents and maps which provide pointers to its history, but the first known map is dated 1768. The park was divided by the construction of the Cheltenham to Evesham turnpike road in 1810, and the area west of the road was separated and sold before 1897. The area east of the road was used occasionally as a racecourse from 1823, but its continuous development dates from 1898 and a change of owner.

Visitor Facilities

There are public footpaths across the site and much is open during race meetings or for other public functions at the Centaur.
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

There are public footpaths across the site and much is open during race meetings or for other public functions at the Centaur.

Directions

Off the A435 Cheltenham to Evesham road.
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Prestbury
History

Detailed History

The date of the formation of Prestbury Park can be placed with confidence in or even before 1136, when the tithes of the Park were excluded from a grant to the newly-founded Llanthony Secunda Priory near Gloucester. There are, however, two major points of discussion; one is the boundary and extent of the early park, its subdivisions and how it was used; the other is the relationship to the moated manor house site.

Looking east from the manor house site today, the slopes of the Cotswold scarp are still extensively and fairly densely wooded. In the early medieval period, the woods reached further to the west than they do today; Shaw Green at the edge of the manor house site suggests a clearing in the wood, as do the field names ‘Gamage Hay'. There were oaks in Prestbury woods in 1287 when six men claimed the right to take three oaks from the woods each year. At that date there must have been numerous thorn bushes or trees within the park, as the men also claimed a long-standing right to cut a pack of thorn once a week. Oak was still growing in the park in the 15th century when the park keeper claimed the customary right of pannage for six pigs, and there were enough trees in the 16th century for wood to be stolen by a marauding gang from Cheltenham.

There were certainly deer in the park. Richard Swinfield, bishop of Hereford, kept Christmas in Prestbury Park in 1289, and the party consumed four does, and nine does were salted for store. On his return from London, the bishop saw the construction of a rabbit warren in the park. The following year a survey of his estate noted that the park had little value apart from the sustenance of ‘woodland animals'. Another reference to deer is made in 1393, when trespassers killed a buck and other wild animals, and again in 1516 when the marauding party from Cheltenham killed a buck. A buck and a doe were stolen a few years later. A lease in 1529 stipulated that a track through the park was not to be used during the ‘close' season when the deer were breeding or nurturing their young, and at the end of the century there were said to be 100 deer in the park. As well as deer, rabbits, hares, and other game, the park keeper in 1420 could keep twelve young horses, and it is significant that one field in the area was named Horse Croft, and another Yearlings Park. Breeding horses as well as maintaining them for transport may well have been one activity in the park.

There is an unusual amount of early documentation which mentions field names, including early leases, a survey of 1623, a map of the park dated 1768, and a map prepared in 1842 in connection with the commutation of tithes which reveals that a surprising number of early names were still in use. Much of the area has always been grassland; several fields were marshy, judging from their names. There has been a loss of field boundaries and names since a significant area of the park has become a racecourse.

Combining these various sources of information suggests that the area of the park was close to 300 acres in 1623 and again in 1768. Field names strongly support the placing of this area west of the bishop of Hereford's manor house and west of his demesne lands. The Hunting Butts were on the south-western edge; the deer were driven between the banks here so that they could be shot at by bow and arrow. The field pattern of the park is of a few large closes. The field pattern in the demene area is of irregular, small closes, which once included a vineyard, orchards and gardens. A small stream running south to north formed a very distinct dividing line; the land rises from this point towards the west.

The complicated division of the tithes of the parish also reveals useful information on the area of demesne and of park. Demesne paid tithes to the bishop and to Hereford's dean and chapter, and the park paid tithes to Llanthony Priory, which suggests that the park was actually villagers' land enclosed by a bishop at an early date, with consequent loss of common grazing rights. Small streams to north and south provided boundaries to the bishop's demesne, and the distinctive curve of the park's western boundary was marked by a line of wooded brakes. Trees along this line on the 1884 Ordnance Survey map were remnants of the brakes.

Period

  • Medieval (1066-1540)
  • 12th Century
References

References

Contributors

  • Anthea Jones

    1