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Frocester, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 16:14 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013

Eddie and Arthur Price outside their home Frocester Court

Eddie and Arthur Price outside their home Frocester Court

Roman villas, premier league cricket, a beer festival, and a social life that keeps you young at 90-plus; Frocester might be a village of fewer than 200 residents, but there's plenty going on, as Katie Jarvis discovered

THE VIEW from the top of Frocester Hill is one of Gloucestershire's finest sights: the wide Severn plain stretched out like a carefully-woven carpet of green tufts.


For millennia, the river swept through here, its waters and the rains dissolving and carrying away the soft limestone, leaving the harder, higher rocks - such as Frocester Hill itself - untouched. The hill is so steep that, in the days of carriages, drivers would stop at the bottom and swap horses for oxen.


To visit the village of Frocester, you need to descend that same hill. But to get to know this ancient settlement, you need to delve far lower - into the very earth on which it sits. As the Price family will tell you.


Five years ago, workmen digging at the top of the hill made an extraordinary discovery. They uncovered the entrance to a rock formation created during the last Ice Age, which ended 14,000 years ago. There was one person who could tell them exactly what they were looking at: Arthur Price, Frocester born and bred.


An expert in building stone archaeology, Arthur told them they'd uncovered a lissom - a natural fissure in the rock around 30ft deep and 90ft long, dating back many thousands of years. Parties of potholers flocked from far and wide to explore this fascinating cavity for the short time it lay exposed.


For Arthur and his father, Eddie, it's one of many discoveries beneath Frocester's rich soils. Just a few weeks ago, Eddie was presented with an MBE for services to archaeology.



TO GET to Eddie Price's home, Frocester Court, you drive along an old Roman road and under an Elizabethan arch. In fact, this estate sits on 8,000 years of human history. In half a century of digging, Eddie and his team have uncovered Stone Age axe heads from Cornwall; pre-Roman coins made by the Dobunni tribe in nearby Bagendon; and more than a ton-and-a-half of pottery, much of it Roman.


Eddie's passion for archaeology - for passion is what it is - began in 1958 when a Captain Gracie of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society began excavating a Roman villa under the ruined Church of St Peter in the village.


In 1961, excavations began on a stone building unearthed by ploughs at Frocester Court itself. By the time the dig finished last year, it had become the longest-running continuous excavation in Britain


"I asked if I could help dig and I was given an area full of black soil," Eddie says. "It turned out that I was in the kitchen of a late 3rd or 4th century Roman villa that had burned down. The first thing I found was a wicker basket full of corn. From then on, I was hooked."


The villa Eddie unearthed beneath the field yielded parts of an 85ft-long mosaic made at the Corinium School in Cirencester.


More gruesome finds have included skeletons, including babies, some casually thrown into the surrounding ditches. One was a woman with her head removed. Another had an abscess on her arm which had reached the bone. Three knife scores show attempts to lance it: she probably died of blood poisoning and shock.


"We now know there have been 5,000 years of people farming this site," Eddie says. Indeed, one of the greatest finds was the Frocester Bronze Horse, a cast bronze figurine from the late first or early second century, now in Gloucester City Museum.


IT'S FAR from the only historical treasure at Frocester Court, of course. For beside the 15th century farmhouse -which Queen Elizabeth I visited in 1574 - sits Frocester Medieval Estate Barn.


Although it's better known as Frocester Tithe Barn, that title isn't strictly accurate. A tithe was the tax that would have been levied on local farmers in the form of grain, especially to support the clergy or the church. Certainly, this estate was owned by monks from St Peter's Abbey - now Gloucester Cathedral - who were granted the land by the brother of the King of Mercia in 823 AD. "But you have to bear in mind that the home farm here would probably have been a minimum of 800 acres, 600 of which would have been arable. This barn was put up to store their own produce, not a tithe," Eddie explains.


Dating from somewhere between 1284 and 1300, it's one of the most important and best-preserved barns in England.


FARMING is still at the heart of life in Frocester. Even today, there are eight working farms within the boundary, including the old squire's place, now owned by the Home Farm Trust, supporting people with learning disabilities. And then there's John Hawkins' farm, whose family has worked the same land since 1895.


You can't go far without hearing John's name mentioned. He's known for Frocester Fayre, the excellent farm shop he and his family opened in the village in 1999, selling all sorts of local produce including meat from the farm, and ready-meals cooked on the premises.


He's also at the heart of the village social life, much of which revolves around its famous cricket club.


What's the secret of the teams' success?


"Drinking!" John's son-in-law calls out. (There's rarely just one person in the family kitchen.)


"Everyone lives so long on it!" another family wag chimes in.


"Cricket is pretty much at the hub of the village - a lot are involved in it," John says. "We're in the West of England Premier League - won it last year. We run five sides on a Saturday and there's hardly any problem getting players; and on a Monday night, we have 160 youngsters from seven up to 16."


From April to September, there are games every weekend, as well as midweek. Touring sides flock to play: Richmond from Surrey has been coming for 30 years.


"I think one of the secrets of our success is that we've got a nice ground, and we've always been a very social club."


They sprung to prominence back in 1993 when they got to Lord's in the national Village Knockout Championships, losing in the final by a mere two runs. More recently, they engaged a professional coach, Nick Trainor, who used to play for Gloucestershire.


In 1980, another tradition was founded: Frocester Beer Festival. It's run by the cricket club in conjunction with the Dursley Lions, attracting 5,000 visitors from all over the world and raising around 40,000, half of which goes to charity.


IF YOU'RE after some good real ale, you can also visit the George Inn. Here, you'll share the bar with locals both contemporary and historic. On the walls hangs an array of photographs of old village characters: there's an austere group pictured on rent day at the Frocester Estate in 1911, which includes one Ambrose Cullimore, William Pick - landlord of the George Hotel - and a rather dapper Major L A Graham Clark, the squire. Next to the Major, though in a modestly separate frame, are three generations of his extravagantly-bearded ancestors, captured, so to speak, in 1855.


If the George's tendency to creaking floorboards is anything to do with their unquiet spirits, the current owners are forgiving. Libby and Michael Reynolds are keen to stay true to the inn's long heritage. "We like the pictures on the wall; we want to keep this place as old and traditional as possible," Libby says.


They bought it last year from a consortium of villagers who'd saved it from almost certain closure. "We come from Nympsfield, a little village a couple of miles up the hill, and we'd been looking to go into this business for a year or two beforehand. I worked in care 25 years, but my husband has been a businessman since he was 17, and he wanted to invest. It was one of three we were looking at, all quite local, but this is the one that, to me, really, really stood out," Libby says.


"We're concentrating on bringing its character out as much as possible, and on good home cooking. We do all sorts of meals, including breakfast seven mornings a week, using local produce such as Frocester Fayre meat."


The inn has stood at the centre of village life since the 18th century. In the function room, you can see an old sign that once hung outside, showing a stagecoach beside the witch elm on the Cross. If you were to take off the frame and look at the back, you'd see something even older: the original sign - a painting of King George himself - carefully protected underneath.


THE KING may have been here for centuries, but this is the sort of community where newcomers are welcomed too. Among the latest arrivals are Paula Windsor - a paramedic - and her husband Dave, an anaesthetist at Cheltenham Hospital - and they couldn't be bigger fans of Frocester. The moment they moved into their old schoolhouse cottage two years ago, they pushed 'housewarming' invites through all the village letterboxes. "You know how you do a party and you're not sure who's going to come? Well everyone turned up to ours! We must have had about 60 or 70 people packed into our home. They didn't know who we were, of course, and they all came with excuses, just in case: 'We've got skittles at 9 o'clock'; and they all ended up staying until gone midnight. It was brilliant, and from that point on, we began to know everyone in the village."


In this agricultural community, they're one of the few couples who commute to work. Paula's based in Filton, 25 minutes away, where she's a member of the air ambulance crew; at other times, she works alone in the fast-response car, which is often first at the scenes of life-threatening injuries. On a quiet day, she'll be at three or four incidents; otherwise, it can be every hour-and-a-half of a 12-hour shift.


"It can be difficult - you often have no idea what to expect - but the important thing is that I know I've a role to play and that I can help. For me, the real difficulty isn't on the patient and injury side; it's the environment I'm going into when I'm on my own in the car. The ambulance service can't always anticipate what you're going to find behind the door. There are times - particularly at night - when I turn up and I think: I wouldn't be in this part of Bristol at three in the morning if I wasn't working."


Are there other young couples for them to socialise with? She laughs. "In Frocester, everybody seems to be young at heart. They party longer and harder than Dave and me! It's the biggest party village I've ever known."


In fact, she wants to introduce me to Frocester's oldest resident, but the problem is, it's just after lunch. "The question is not whether she'll be having an afternoon nap; it's whether or not she'll be in..."



INDEED, Dinah Prout is not easy to track down. At 96, her social life is more hectic than that of people a third of her age; there's definitely something in the water at Frocester.


A farming girl herself, born at Coaley, Cam, she moved to Frocester when she married, 74 years ago, to live at Church Farm. With no electrics and no mains water, it was her job to clean the cow stalls and the dairy after every milking. The milk would be put into churns to be collected by lorry and taken to be made into chocolate at the Cadbury's factory in Frampton.


"Life at Frocester has not changed as much as in other places," she says. "It's still a very agricultural community. Of course, things have moved on. When I first moved here, we used cart horses on the land; it must be around 60 years ago that we changed to tractors."


'Old Harry' Aldrich and his son, Ron - Dinah tells me - were the farm's labourers who lived in Church Farm cottage. Every January, Old Harry would see in the New Year at the George by giving a rendition of the traditional Gloucestershire Wassail song. In his youth, he was one of the group of Wassailers who would travel from door to door with a wooden wassail bowl filled with ale.


There's a recording of him made in the George in 1966, in which his aged but strong voice sings out over the centuries, still pronouncing the word in the Middle English way: "waeshael", meaning "Be of good health".


It's hard to think of a better way to bring in 2009 than with The Frocester Wassail Song:


"Here's health unto Colly and to her right ear


Pray God send our farmers a happy New Year,


And a happy New Year that we may all see,


To me waes haeling bowl, I'll drink unto thee."



Frocester Medieval Estate Barn is open all year round in reasonable daylight hours; phone 01453 823250. Upkeep donations are welcome.


Frocester Beer Festival is on the Friday and Saturday of August Bank Holiday weekend; for details of Frocester Cricket Club, visit www.frocestercc.com


More information on the farm shop is at www.frocesterfayre.co.uk





THE VIEW from the top of Frocester Hill is one of Gloucestershire's finest sights: the wide Severn plain stretched out like a carefully-woven carpet of green tufts.


For millennia, the river swept through here, its waters and the rains dissolving and carrying away the soft limestone, leaving the harder, higher rocks - such as Frocester Hill itself - untouched. The hill is so steep that, in the days of carriages, drivers would stop at the bottom and swap horses for oxen.


To visit the village of Frocester, you need to descend that same hill. But to get to know this ancient settlement, you need to delve far lower - into the very earth on which it sits. As the Price family will tell you.


Five years ago, workmen digging at the top of the hill made an extraordinary discovery. They uncovered the entrance to a rock formation created during the last Ice Age, which ended 14,000 years ago. There was one person who could tell them exactly what they were looking at: Arthur Price, Frocester born and bred.


An expert in building stone archaeology, Arthur told them they'd uncovered a lissom - a natural fissure in the rock around 30ft deep and 90ft long, dating back many thousands of years. Parties of potholers flocked from far and wide to explore this fascinating cavity for the short time it lay exposed.


For Arthur and his father, Eddie, it's one of many discoveries beneath Frocester's rich soils. Just a few weeks ago, Eddie was presented with an MBE for services to archaeology.



TO GET to Eddie Price's home, Frocester Court, you drive along an old Roman road and under an Elizabethan arch. In fact, this estate sits on 8,000 years of human history. In half a century of digging, Eddie and his team have uncovered Stone Age axe heads from Cornwall; pre-Roman coins made by the Dobunni tribe in nearby Bagendon; and more than a ton-and-a-half of pottery, much of it Roman.


Eddie's passion for archaeology - for passion is what it is - began in 1958 when a Captain Gracie of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society began excavating a Roman villa under the ruined Church of St Peter in the village.


In 1961, excavations began on a stone building unearthed by ploughs at Frocester Court itself. By the time the dig finished last year, it had become the longest-running continuous excavation in Britain


"I asked if I could help dig and I was given an area full of black soil," Eddie says. "It turned out that I was in the kitchen of a late 3rd or 4th century Roman villa that had burned down. The first thing I found was a wicker basket full of corn. From then on, I was hooked."


The villa Eddie unearthed beneath the field yielded parts of an 85ft-long mosaic made at the Corinium School in Cirencester.


More gruesome finds have included skeletons, including babies, some casually thrown into the surrounding ditches. One was a woman with her head removed. Another had an abscess on her arm which had reached the bone. Three knife scores show attempts to lance it: she probably died of blood poisoning and shock.


"We now know there have been 5,000 years of people farming this site," Eddie says. Indeed, one of the greatest finds was the Frocester Bronze Horse, a cast bronze figurine from the late first or early second century, now in Gloucester City Museum.


IT'S FAR from the only historical treasure at Frocester Court, of course. For beside the 15th century farmhouse -which Queen Elizabeth I visited in 1574 - sits Frocester Medieval Estate Barn.


Although it's better known as Frocester Tithe Barn, that title isn't strictly accurate. A tithe was the tax that would have been levied on local farmers in the form of grain, especially to support the clergy or the church. Certainly, this estate was owned by monks from St Peter's Abbey - now Gloucester Cathedral - who were granted the land by the brother of the King of Mercia in 823 AD. "But you have to bear in mind that the home farm here would probably have been a minimum of 800 acres, 600 of which would have been arable. This barn was put up to store their own produce, not a tithe," Eddie explains.


Dating from somewhere between 1284 and 1300, it's one of the most important and best-preserved barns in England.


FARMING is still at the heart of life in Frocester. Even today, there are eight working farms within the boundary, including the old squire's place, now owned by the Home Farm Trust, supporting people with learning disabilities. And then there's John Hawkins' farm, whose family has worked the same land since 1895.


You can't go far without hearing John's name mentioned. He's known for Frocester Fayre, the excellent farm shop he and his family opened in the village in 1999, selling all sorts of local produce including meat from the farm, and ready-meals cooked on the premises.


He's also at the heart of the village social life, much of which revolves around its famous cricket club.


What's the secret of the teams' success?


"Drinking!" John's son-in-law calls out. (There's rarely just one person in the family kitchen.)


"Everyone lives so long on it!" another family wag chimes in.


"Cricket is pretty much at the hub of the village - a lot are involved in it," John says. "We're in the West of England Premier League - won it last year. We run five sides on a Saturday and there's hardly any problem getting players; and on a Monday night, we have 160 youngsters from seven up to 16."


From April to September, there are games every weekend, as well as midweek. Touring sides flock to play: Richmond from Surrey has been coming for 30 years.


"I think one of the secrets of our success is that we've got a nice ground, and we've always been a very social club."


They sprung to prominence back in 1993 when they got to Lord's in the national Village Knockout Championships, losing in the final by a mere two runs. More recently, they engaged a professional coach, Nick Trainor, who used to play for Gloucestershire.


In 1980, another tradition was founded: Frocester Beer Festival. It's run by the cricket club in conjunction with the Dursley Lions, attracting 5,000 visitors from all over the world and raising around 40,000, half of which goes to charity.


IF YOU'RE after some good real ale, you can also visit the George Inn. Here, you'll share the bar with locals both contemporary and historic. On the walls hangs an array of photographs of old village characters: there's an austere group pictured on rent day at the Frocester Estate in 1911, which includes one Ambrose Cullimore, William Pick - landlord of the George Hotel - and a rather dapper Major L A Graham Clark, the squire. Next to the Major, though in a modestly separate frame, are three generations of his extravagantly-bearded ancestors, captured, so to speak, in 1855.


If the George's tendency to creaking floorboards is anything to do with their unquiet spirits, the current owners are forgiving. Libby and Michael Reynolds are keen to stay true to the inn's long heritage. "We like the pictures on the wall; we want to keep this place as old and traditional as possible," Libby says.


They bought it last year from a consortium of villagers who'd saved it from almost certain closure. "We come from Nympsfield, a little village a couple of miles up the hill, and we'd been looking to go into this business for a year or two beforehand. I worked in care 25 years, but my husband has been a businessman since he was 17, and he wanted to invest. It was one of three we were looking at, all quite local, but this is the one that, to me, really, really stood out," Libby says.


"We're concentrating on bringing its character out as much as possible, and on good home cooking. We do all sorts of meals, including breakfast seven mornings a week, using local produce such as Frocester Fayre meat."


The inn has stood at the centre of village life since the 18th century. In the function room, you can see an old sign that once hung outside, showing a stagecoach beside the witch elm on the Cross. If you were to take off the frame and look at the back, you'd see something even older: the original sign - a painting of King George himself - carefully protected underneath.


THE KING may have been here for centuries, but this is the sort of community where newcomers are welcomed too. Among the latest arrivals are Paula Windsor - a paramedic - and her husband Dave, an anaesthetist at Cheltenham Hospital - and they couldn't be bigger fans of Frocester. The moment they moved into their old schoolhouse cottage two years ago, they pushed 'housewarming' invites through all the village letterboxes. "You know how you do a party and you're not sure who's going to come? Well everyone turned up to ours! We must have had about 60 or 70 people packed into our home. They didn't know who we were, of course, and they all came with excuses, just in case: 'We've got skittles at 9 o'clock'; and they all ended up staying until gone midnight. It was brilliant, and from that point on, we began to know everyone in the village."


In this agricultural community, they're one of the few couples who commute to work. Paula's based in Filton, 25 minutes away, where she's a member of the air ambulance crew; at other times, she works alone in the fast-response car, which is often first at the scenes of life-threatening injuries. On a quiet day, she'll be at three or four incidents; otherwise, it can be every hour-and-a-half of a 12-hour shift.


"It can be difficult - you often have no idea what to expect - but the important thing is that I know I've a role to play and that I can help. For me, the real difficulty isn't on the patient and injury side; it's the environment I'm going into when I'm on my own in the car. The ambulance service can't always anticipate what you're going to find behind the door. There are times - particularly at night - when I turn up and I think: I wouldn't be in this part of Bristol at three in the morning if I wasn't working."


Are there other young couples for them to socialise with? She laughs. "In Frocester, everybody seems to be young at heart. They party longer and harder than Dave and me! It's the biggest party village I've ever known."


In fact, she wants to introduce me to Frocester's oldest resident, but the problem is, it's just after lunch. "The question is not whether she'll be having an afternoon nap; it's whether or not she'll be in..."



INDEED, Dinah Prout is not easy to track down. At 96, her social life is more hectic than that of people a third of her age; there's definitely something in the water at Frocester.


A farming girl herself, born at Coaley, Cam, she moved to Frocester when she married, 74 years ago, to live at Church Farm. With no electrics and no mains water, it was her job to clean the cow stalls and the dairy after every milking. The milk would be put into churns to be collected by lorry and taken to be made into chocolate at the Cadbury's factory in Frampton.


"Life at Frocester has not changed as much as in other places," she says. "It's still a very agricultural community. Of course, things have moved on. When I first moved here, we used cart horses on the land; it must be around 60 years ago that we changed to tractors."


'Old Harry' Aldrich and his son, Ron - Dinah tells me - were the farm's labourers who lived in Church Farm cottage. Every January, Old Harry would see in the New Year at the George by giving a rendition of the traditional Gloucestershire Wassail song. In his youth, he was one of the group of Wassailers who would travel from door to door with a wooden wassail bowl filled with ale.


There's a recording of him made in the George in 1966, in which his aged but strong voice sings out over the centuries, still pronouncing the word in the Middle English way: "waeshael", meaning "Be of good health".


It's hard to think of a better way to bring in 2009 than with The Frocester Wassail Song:


"Here's health unto Colly and to her right ear


Pray God send our farmers a happy New Year,


And a happy New Year that we may all see,


To me waes haeling bowl, I'll drink unto thee."



Frocester Medieval Estate Barn is open all year round in reasonable daylight hours; phone 01453 823250. Upkeep donations are welcome.


Frocester Beer Festival is on the Friday and Saturday of August Bank Holiday weekend; for details of Frocester Cricket Club, visit www.frocestercc.com


More information on the farm shop is at www.frocesterfayre.co.uk




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