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Berkeley Vale Gallery & History

Berkeley Vale History by Jean Young

The Berkeley Vale has a rich history, largely due to its position, adjacent to the River Severn and midway between the Roman city of Gloucester and the later, prosperous port of Bristol. Off Sharpness Point ancient ruins can be seen, to which, until the Sharpness to Gloucester Canal required a re-routing of the river, a streamlet was directed. (See Google maps)

Was this the Old Minster? Roman? It was lost by the mid 10th century but, clearly, had lands at Hinton with names enduring on 1840s tithe maps. Did Vikings try to raid it as they did Lindisfarne? We know that there was at least one Viking landing on Saniger Sands in 903, followed by a battle with Saxon fighters at Wanswell. Five hundred Vikings were reported slain.

The local Huicci tribe did not belong to Mercia or to Wessex but did co-operate with King Alfred to defeat the Vikings occupying the Thames Valley in the late 9th century. Berkeley was important in the reign of Alfred’s son Edward. It may have been a Burgh (settlement fortified on three sides with river on the fourth) with a mint.

A Saxon nunnery existed (near the present castle) which provided safe living for women. Earl Godwin, father of King Harold, had the nunnery closed and took over its estates, using trickery and slander against the nuns. His wife disapproved and refused to live there. The estates passed to Harold and then to William the Conqueror and his appointed reeves. In 1154, after the 18 year war between Stephen and Matilda, her son, now Henry II, gave the estates to Robert Fitzharding, the new lord of Berkeley who had financed Matilda.

Was it Edward II whose body was found murdered in Berkeley Castle in 1327? If not what stranger, laid to rest in St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, brought it rich pilgrims?

Was Berkeley involved when Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, seized the throne from his cousin, Richard II in 1399 and became King Henry IV? Shakespeare wrote of it.

The local Battle of Nibley Green was fought in March 1470 between rival lords for Berkeley Estate lands. Viscount de Lisle was killed.

It was through The Vale, en route for Gloucester and a bridge into Wales, that Margaret of Anjou passed with her Lancastrian army in 1471. The city gates were closed and she had to go on. At Tewkesbury her army was defeated. So died the Lancastrian hopes until Bosworth in 1485.

The Civil War of the 1640s included an attack on Berkeley Castle and the constant skirmishes along the Severn, by the parliamentary forces of Colonel Massey, Gloucester commander.

In later times Dr Edward Jenner was famed for his work with smallpox vaccination.
Toll roads brought custom to the inns of Stone, Newport, Cambridge etc. Railways linked Berkeley Road and Cam to Bristol, Gloucester and beyond. Sadly, in the industrial revolution, the woollen trade, which had been our mainstay for centuries, went to Yorkshire. Woodford Mill tried diversifying but then fell silent. Berkeley Nuclear Power Station has come and gone, replaced by a splendid technical college.
Peter Scott’s Wildfowl Trust is known world-wide.

Taking a visitor around the lanes and gentle slopes of Ham and Hill, I remarked
“It isn’t the Cotswolds.”
Response “No. I much prefer this.”