Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Frome Oldford & Berkley Somerset Beggers bushe 1635

The Frome Oldford and Berkley sites are either side of a crossroads at the top of Oldford Hill, on the margin of the north common field.

An Indenture dated 10th September 1635 of church lands leased to Richard Treasure, includes “. . . and also other three acres of the said ten acres doe lye in another feild of Frome Selwood aforesaid called the Northfeild that is to say one acre of the said three acres doth lye nere Beggers bushe the way leading to Bartley on the Northside thereof and the land of Sr Thomas Thynne knight in the tenure of William Johnsons on the Southside thereof  . . “.

This is consistent with the area recorded on later surveys. Bartley must be Berkley – there is no Bartley in Frome. The “way” would be what is now Cuckoo Lane (referred to elsewhere in the Deed as Cuckohill) and (now but not then) Gypsy Lane. (Archives of St John the Baptist Church, Frome, reference number, transcription ©2010 Richard Myers and David Smart of the Frome Research Group).

A survey by Jeremiah Cruse (1814) shows an area named “Beggars Bush” at this location, and also in Berkley parish on the north side of the lane across the crossroads on the continuation of Cuckoo Lane, which were occupied by the same person who owned the Frome sites. The land between the sites was always open, and is now school playing fields. Maps by Day & Masters (1782), Richardson (1799), Greenwood (1822) and  1” O.S. all show only one building in the area. This is set back from the road, almost opposite the site across Cuckoo Lane, but is no longer there. It must have been an ancient building, as the field pattern seems to accommodate it, with a short lane to it, and a long garden/field behind. The Census of Frome taken in 1785 by Jeremiah Cruse records at Cuckoo Hill a labourer living with a family of 4 and with 4 cows, probably in this building.  (Cruse Survey and Map, Longleat Archives, copies and transcripts in Frome Museum)

The Tithe Awards for Berkley no.84-6 (1839) records the name in the same location in Berkley. The Tithe Awards for Frome no.888,89-2 (1840) records four fields named Beggars Bush which form a contiguous block south of Cuckoo Lane running east-west to the summit of the hill, at the northern end of the area marked by Cruse.

One of the Berkley fields (no.84), described as, “pasture land adjoining Gipsy Lane, Oldford Hill, known as ‘Beggar’s Bush’”, was included in a sale of property of 4th Marquess of Bath and Viscount Weymouth, on 15 September 1886. It was as sold to “Dommett” for £210, probably Emmanuel Dommett who occupied and at the same sale purchased two nearby fields. The site of the Frome West Woodlands Beggars Bush is now Dommetts Lane. This must be a coincidence as that is recorded earlier than this site (1608).

Phil Quinn notes that this site is on a boundary, next to a road and a crossroads. However, I don’t think the other evidence supports his theory that Beggars Bush sites were places where itinerant travellers were tolerated. Although the road from the crossroads towards Berkley is now called Gypsy Lane, it was called Berkley Lane until the late nineteenth century. In June 1814 the Constable for Frome, Isaac Gregory, records in his diary evicting an encampment of “gypsies” from Oldford Hill. However, Gregory did not call the area Beggars Bush or Gypsy Lane. The entry suggests the gypsies were camping were not at Beggars Bush but further down the hill, where the new turnpike had left a section of redundant road. Also, he was being anything but tolerant; the gypsies were not reported as having done anything, but he collected a party of men, and “routed” the travellers at 8 o’clock in the evening, when there were only women and children in the camp. He also went back the next year on a false alarm, but makes no other mention of travellers. His diary show that on other occasions Gregory was humane, using or refusing to use his powers as he saw just, including to protect the poor.


McGarvie, M. ed. Crime and Punishment in Regency Frome: The Journals of Isaac Gregory, Constable of Frome 1813-14 and 1817-18, 1984, Frome Soc. for Local Study


Phil Quinn, Richard Myers, Frome Museum

Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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