Village History

Our Charter

In 999 King Aethelred II issued two charters rehearsing events that had occurred some fifteen years earlier and, no doubt the reason for the charters, clarifying details.

In 983 Ealdorman Aelfhere of Mercia died. He had, for some years, been probably the most important adviser to a succession of Kings and he was a close ally of Aelfthryth, Queen Mother of King Aethelred. There is evidence, from charters and wills, that to the, no doubt extensive lands already held by the princes of Mercia the grateful monarchs had added more.

On his death he was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Aelfric Cild, and almost at once problems arose.

At a local level, a "noble matron" Eadflaed, who was almost certainly the widow of Aelfhere, complained to the King that Aelfric had "violently" seized several of her lands including Cerney. (It would have been in accordance with Saxon practice for a nobleman like Aelfhere to have sought royal approval when planning the disposal of his estates after his death and to have appointed the King as protector of the will.)

At a national level, it was claimed that Aelfric had instigated revolt and turned the people of his lands against the King.

At a Royal Council, held at Cirencester, in 985, the assembled nobles passed judgement on the affair. Aelfric was banished for treason and the disputed lands were returned to Eadflaed, on condition that at her death they would return to the King and he promised to pass them on to the monastery of St Mary's, Abingdon. This did in fact happen and it was the almost contemporary chroniclers at the monastery who reported the story. (They also lamented the fact that within a few years Archbishop Stigand duped the Abbot into parting with the parish, a story confirmed by an inserted entry in Domesday Book.)

For some reason, perhaps the death of Eadflaed, in 999 two charters were issued describing the events outlined above, discussing the perfidy of Aelfric Cild, and, most importantly for us describing in detail the boundaries of the "fertile" lands and of that "little settlement" of Cerney. Few parishes can have been established by such a distinguished cast: King Aethelred II, the Queen Mother Aelfthryth, the King's son Athelstan, and one version of the charter adds another son Eadred, the Archbishops of both York and Canterbury, ten bishops, four Ealdormen, six Abbots, assorted royal kinsmen and ministers.

Remarkably the boundaries of the parish of Cerney, which incorporates both South Cerney and Cerney Wick, have remained unchanged to the present day.

It can, therefore, be asserted that, whatever went before, the parish of Cerney as established by Royal degree, will be celebrating its 1000th birthday in a form not amended since the time of the Saxon King Aethelred II.

Our History

Throughout the millennia of pre-history our early ancestors, hunters, gatherers and eventually farmers, left evidence of their presence in our parish. By Saxon times there was a small settlement in Cerney and 1000 years ago, in the reign of King Aethelred II, as has already been described, the parish boundaries were defined. They, and the church that followed soon after, have survived to the verge of the new millennium.

The entries in Domesday Book, and the records of the church authorities, the great monastic houses which partly owned the village and the church, and occasionally the records of tax collectors provide us with increasingly frequent glimpses of the growth and development of medieval Cerney and Cerney Wick.

Indeed for a time, from 950 - 1150, the parish was of great importance because of its strategic location at the southern tip of the Cotswolds and also because of the richness of the soil and the lush meadows. Great lords sought to control the parish: Ealdormen of Mercia, Archbishop Stigand and successive Earls of Hereford. The destruction of Cerney castle in 1139, the triumph of King Stephen, and the succession of Henry II, effectively ended the political role of the parish.

The break-up of the manor followed and the parish was shared between the Priory of Lanthony Secunda at Gloucester, the Abbey of St.Augustine at Bristol and the St. Amand family. Despite the division the village grew and flourished. The records show that its population increased, agriculture flourished and the presence of a fulling mill, weavers, textile workers and dyers suggests a significant woollen and cloth industry in the 14th century. After the dissolution of the monasteries and with the fading of the St. Amand line, new owners broke up the estates and sold off much of the land.

The result was a rash of house building in the 16th and 17th centuries: Upper Up, Silver Street Station Road and the High Street, Church and School Lanes and much of Cerney Wick are all from this time. The economic base for this was undoubtedly agriculture and the richness of the meadows and water meadows were a source of widespread comment. The coming of the canal and its wharves and, almost a century later in 1884, of the railway only served to encourage the growth of the village, increasingly a source of labour as well as goods and produce for the surrounding area. The census returns of the nineteenth century reveal a village of around a thousand people at first working in the parish, but later many travelling to Cirencester and Swindon.

The last century has seen dramatic change. The railway has gone, gravel extraction has come and the canal, closed in the 1920's, is due for a new lease of life. The parish is now separated by man-made lakes, the Water Park, home to a growing leisure industry. New housing has proliferated and surrounds the historic centre of the village. The airfield was established in 1936 and served as an important training base for RAF personnel up to about 1970 when it was transferred to the Army as the Duke of Gloucester Barracks. An industrial estate along Broadway Lane has expanded rapidly and the village population has doubled in the past twenty years to over 3000.

Now 1000 years after our Charter, 900 years after Domesday and three times larger than the Victorian village we have made another attempt to take stock of where and what we are - and where we want to go and what we want for our successors in this large, vital and historically important community. Domesday was a result of questions asked of local people. Our appraisal follows the precedent. Domesday reported on what had been and what was. Our appraisal asks what is and what might be.

In its own way the appraisal is every bit as remarkable as the earlier enquiries. That it was accomplished in such a large community is a great tribute to the hard work of a handful of dedicated individuals and to the community spirit and participation of the whole parish. To suggest the report can guide us through the next 1000 years might be optimistic, but it surely provides a beacon to guide us into the next millennium.