Gerry Alcock has been digging through the deeds of his house recently. He is indebted to David Eddershaw for his help in doing so.
In 1888 William Epps was a man doing well. He had started as a wine merchant in Chippy and subsequently became Managing Director of Hitchmans Brewery the largest enterprise in town. That year (1888) he purchased what was still essentially a farm house without farmland at West End. It had no name. It was probably not in very good condition. But it was conveniently situated right opposite his brewery. Mr Epps immediately set about giving the place a major facelift. The whole roof was raised to accommodate a new servants floor in the eves with its own staircase going straight down to the kitchen in the basement. A couple of extensions were added. Most significantly the front of the house was remodelled using old stonework and giving it a rather "grand" look. The quality of a lot of this work was pretty poor. Probably appearances mattered most.
Two years later In 1890 Alfred Hitchman sold the family brewing business to a Limited Company and went to live in Weymouth. The first meeting of the board of the new company - Hitchman & Co. Ltd., was held in London on 27 March 1890 and among those present were Abraham Creswicke Rawlinson of The Elm, (acting Chairman), and Mr. Epps of the Manor House. This meeting minute was the very first time that the name "Manor House" had been used anywhere to describe the old farmhouse including in all the legal documentation about the house going back centuries.
William Epps had seen his opportunity. Chippy didnt have a Manor House so he had created one presumably suited to his new eminence. I was reminded of Mr Epps recently when I read in that he lived in a Manor House in Chipping Norton. I suspect the words "Manor House" probably appeal (across the centuries) to a particular kind of upwardly mobile person.
Back in the Middle Ages Chippy must have once had a real Manor House in the sense that it was occupied by the Lord of the Manor. Probably the Castle doubled up in the role. But as Chippy grew and became less feudal - controlled by the guilds and traders, the name died out for probably 300 years.until Mr Epps came along.
The house itself dates from the fifteenth century, and up to the late 18th century it was a simple single-storey structure. The central ground floor is still the way it always was - massively thick walls and flagstone floors. Cool storage recesses. There's a baking oven built into the wall underneath a fireplace above. Typical farmhouse stuff.
Around 1800 one part of the house was rebuilt with another floor (a sort of 18th Century Barn Conversion!) but attempts at precise dating are difficult because windows and stonework from the old structure were used in most of the rooms on the new floor.
Up until 1859 the house was part of a tenanted farm consisting of the house, several outbuildings and 135 acres of leased land - in several different parcels. One parcel was completely separate up where the school now is. The other stretched from the house down the hill. It was owned by the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester and the tenant was William Fowler. The Fowler family had farmed the land for many years certainly since from before the Enclosures in 1770. They had another 50 acres of land which they owned themselves.. The names of some of the fields which comprised the farm are interesting and still exist today in some form. Whipwell, Robin Hoods Pit Ground, Quarry Piece, Picked Close, The Leys, Little Ground, Fern Hill, and Mill Hill.
In 1853 William Fowler contracted to buy the house and the 135 acres of farmland from the Diocese. There was talk at that time about all church properties being "centralised" under a new national organisation so perhaps the diocese was hurrying to realise some of its assets. William had actually handed over the whole purchase price - 3800- to the Bank of England ahead of completion, which seems unusual. Perhaps it was a rush to get the sale on to the books. Unfortunately William died before legally completing the purchaseat which point things must have got really complicated for his widow Ann who was now alone. Her only son another William had emigrated to Australia. Her only daughter Milcah had gone off to Abingdon to marry a farmer. At exactly that time the ownership of Church Lands was indeed restructured and in 1857 the Church Commissioners became the new owners of the property. Although it was agreed (it seems reluctantly) by the Church Commissioners that the original sale contract would be honoured and that Ann would become the new owner, a new conveyance was required since both vendor and purchaser had now changed. This obviously all took time and during that period one of the Church Commissioners first "opportunistic" acts as landlord had been to sell off a slice of the farmland (part of The Leys) to the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Company. The sale of the property and land to Ann was finally completed in 1859.
Ann carried on with the farm. In the 1871 census she was shown as a "Farmer" employing 7 men and 4 boys. She died in 1872 leaving the house and land to her son William (now hugely prosperous in Australia) and her daughter Milcah (on her own farm in Abingdon). The kids clearly had no use for the place and immediately sold the lot (house and land) to Thomas Coles -a corn dealer in the town - and Thomas Keck Guy - a rope maker. Town Trade was now moving into farmers' previous territory and seeing some opportunities. Williams signature on the conveyance had to be notarised in Adelaide so the process all took some time and the sale was only completed in 1874. Thomas Keck Guy seems to have taken the farmland and Thomas Coles the house, orchards and land around it.
It was Thomas Coles who eventually sold the house to William Epps. In under twenty years the working farm at West End had passed out of the hands of the Fowler family and been broken up. The land was developed and the old farmhouse was "transmogrified" (to use George Hummers word) into The Manor House home of the Managing Director of the towns largest employer. A subsequent owner sold a slice of land for the new Post Office and another a slice for the Cinema. Just a small example of the countryside yielding to a growing town. A process which still goes on.the District Council recently asked for a slice for the Car Park.
Later the house was bought by Dr OShea a great town character who had his surgery there. He was joined by Dr Harry Steel and Dr Latcham. It was they who eventually took the medical practice across the road in West Street to the present site and Dr Harry Steel's son joined them there. The younger Dr Steel was with us and in place at the surgery until only very recently. Most of the towns older residents remember that when they went to the Doctor it was to "The Manor". They enjoy remembering where the surgery and Pharmacy were. They remember the doctors fondly. Visiting them was obviously not an unpleasant experience for young kids.
The big house at West End has never been a proper "toffs" residence. It may appeal to Chippys basic egalitarian instincts to know that its never been a proper Manor House either!