The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, SYDE



The parish of Syde is among the oldest and smallest in England. The name (Cide, Side or Syde) derives from the Saxon settlements on the land sloping down to the River Frome. During the reigns of Edward the Confessor and Harold, the Manor of Syde, Elkstone and Combend was held by the brothers Leeuwin. After the Conquest Syde was awarded to Wm. FitzOsbert, cousin of the Conqueror and later Earl of Hereford, and by him to Ansfrid, Abbot of Cormeilles in Normandy, who in turn put in as tenant his son, Turstin, or Tourstain. The Domesday Book records the position in 1086 as:

Ansfrid holds Side and Turstin of him. There are three hides gelded. In the demesne are two carucates and one villein with the priest and three cottagers with one plough team and six serfs and four acres of meadow.”*

The total acreage is given as 364, Norman acres being a fiscal term, ie a measure of taxable (productive) land. Domesday did not include scrub or unusable woodland. (The area of the present parish is 628 acres.) By the end of the 11thC Syde had passed by marriage to the Giffards of Brimpsfield, and remained in their possession until the early 14thC when it was awarded to the Lords of Berkeley after the murder of Edward II.

South Doorway

There is evidence that a church existed here before Norman times, in particular the heavy lintel and Saxon style of the south doorway of the Nave, closed in the 14thC. This can be seen immediately opposite the Tithe Barn, where there is a corresponding doorway. Domesday certainly refers to a priest as living here, suggesting that a church was present by 1086.


The entrance to the church is on the North (village) side and is of early 12thC Norman construction. Note the heavy nail-studded door with timber of great age and an ancient wrought-iron closing ring. The timbers of the porch indicate a previous construction.


The font is 15thC and of octagonal form with panels quatrefoiled with rose centres but incomplete in carving. The unusual stem has five chamfered faces with deep gabled buttresses in the middle of the base. Much of the lead lining is original and the overlap is pierced for the staples of a cover fastening.

*hide = land than produced £1 income for land tax (geld) purposes, approx. 120 acres;

gelded = taxed; carucate = untaxable hide; villein = tenant farmer

Royal Arms

Above the chancel arch occupying the place of doom are the much-defaced arms of Charles II, with later drawings.

Nave and Tie-Beam roof

The king-post tie-beam roof is 15thC but the height of the nave and the inside of the arch of the closed south doorway are suggestive of Saxon construction. Within the framework of the south doorway is a panel giving details of a charity endowed in 1649 by Thomas Muggliton of Miserden that awarded an annual amount of two shillings to two or three needy persons in the parish. At the rear (west end) of the nave is a blocked doorway leading to the tower, and its position suggests that the floor of the church has been raised over the centuries. Records show that in pre-Reformation times, the villagers sat on a rush-covered floor at a much lower level. The pulpit and box pews probably date from the 18thC.

Chancel and Chancel Arch

The simple chancel arch is certainly 11thC Norman, and a screen would once have been present. The jamb has been partly cut away to allow a better view of the altar. Another altar may have existed on the north (left-hand) side of the arch, and here there is a small canted image recess with a cusped head, dated about 1350. At the same time a lancet was pierced through the wall to give more light. The chancel itself has been partly reconstructed and a central window replaces the original triple Early English lights. On the jamb of the south (right-hand) chancel window can be seen a 2” square votive cross, inscribed by, or on behalf of, Medieval pilgrims, to remind them on their return of vows made when setting out. Similar examples can be seen at Elkstone and Brimpsfield.


The saddleback tower is in a style frequently found in this area and was added in the late 13th or early 14thC. The tower houses three bells: two are 14thC, one bearing the inscription Protege Virgo Maria quos convoco Sct. Maria, while on the other is an alphabet in Lombardic capitals. The smallest bell was cast by T. Rudhall of Bell Lane, Gloucester in 1771.

Grave Cover.

A 13thC grave cover with incised wheel cross can be seen outside the porch.

Chantry House

In 1334, William, steward of the Third Lord Berkeley, lived at Syde and established for his employer four Chantry houses at which daily masses were said or sung for the souls of the departed. One of these can be seen beyond the Church and Manor along the road to Caudle Green. The authority from Rome stated that this Chantry was “founded by Sir Wm atte Syde to fynde a pryste to selebrate and pray for the said ffounders and ixpen Soulles for ever….the pryste shall live chastly and nott come to Marketts Alehouses or Tavernes neither shall he frequent Playes or unlawful Games…” One of the remaining traces of the Chantry is the piscina or basin for washing the Eucharistic vessels.

Tithe Barn and Priest House

The parish priest may have resided in the building known as the Priest House at the western end of the great 14thC Tithe Barn which forms the southern boundary of the graveyard. The barn was for centuries the collection point or warehouse for the tithe levies of the area. Hides, fleeces, timber, hay, corn and root crops were all collected for the great Abbeys of Cirencester and Gloucester. The Tithe Barn roof was damaged by fire in the 1930s but the stonework is original.

PLEASE PRAY before you leave for those who minister and worship at St. Mary’s.

PLEASE ALSO MAKE A THANKOFFERING and so help towards the upkeep of this special place and safeguard it for God’s greater glory and for future generations.

From notes by:

Robt Atkins, Kt (1712)

Saml. Rudder (1779)

F.W. Potto Hicks MA, FRGS (1954)


W.V.Virgo OBE (1971)

B.M.Powell (1987)