THE LANDED GENTRY

Who were the landed gentry in Arle in the early years? They can usually be traced through taxation records and of course through the elaborate tombs in local churches. There is also a wealth of documentation in the County Records office, which tell us much about these ancient families.

In 1686 the Hearth Tax Returns for Arle show the largest dwelling to be that of Fleetwood Dormer Esq., with nine hearths. This would have been the old Arle Court. One hearth was usual, but in Arle, a Mr. Lane had six, whilst Mr. Hyett and John Gregory had three, the rest varied between one and two.

The gentry had to pay many taxes namely Land Tax, Servant Tax, Hair Powder Tax, etc. Later a tax was introduced which affected most people, Window Tax, so that in order to avoid paying such tax, people had one or two windows blocked up.

In 1782 the Land Tax Assessment for Arle shows the richest owners to be absentee landlords - the Earl of Essex and the Hon. John Yorke. Amongst those assessed were two John Gregorys; one of Alstone and it is this family we will concentrate on.

The Gregorys were an ancient family of Arle whose names appear regularly in the Parish registers, living in Staverton, Alstone and Arle. Over the years, through advantageous marriages and purchase of land, the Gregory family came to own much of the land in Arle.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, one Mary Gregory married Walter Welch and so the family became Gregory-Welch. Their first son John Gregory-Welch born in 1775 married a rich heiress and through his wife, Frances Asser White, acquired land in Essex. At the time of the marriage, John Gregory-Welch lived in Dursley and of their 13 children, the first three were born at Dursley, when by 1804 the family moved to Staverton.

With a growing family, John felt the need to move to a larger house and so by the early part of the nineteenth century, he commissioned the building of Arle House in Village Road. This imposing family residence - a country estate with views of the Malverns - had an army of servants, tutors and governesses, but these increasing expenses and the lifestyle expected of a 'gentleman' of his means began to take its toll.

By 1837, having borrowed heavily from friends, relatives and his bank and being unable to meet his creditors, John Gregory-Welch was 'posted outlaw' on the church door and fled to France for a time. Eventually with family cooperation and consent, some of his creditors accepted part settlement. The rest were to be repaid over a period of time with money from the Essex estate.

For some years John, his wife and their daughters resided at Tenby, but even this more modest style of living was a strain, and he had to write to his solicitor in Cheltenham asking for funds, and whilst there required his solicitor to also advise his two unmarried sons to economise.

His eldest son George Asser-White-Welch was then resident at Arle House, but John, his wife and daughters moved back to Cheltenham, living for a time at Southend House, Prestbury Road, later moving to York Place, where he died in 1854.

Arle House remained in the possession of the Gregory-Welch descendants until 1944, when it was sold to Cheltenham Borough Council (see Volume 2). Sadly this very attractive residence as illustrated in prints by Rowe in the nineteenth century, has long disappeared, as has the ancient Arle family and it is ironic that a less exalted local family, though not as ancient in Arle should still be resident in Hesters Way. They lived modestly, worked hard and certainly were never outlawed for bankruptcy. Their modest little cottage still stands on the corner of Tanners Lane and Village Road and so the Betteridge family have outlasted the gentry.

Phyllis White has done an in depth study of the Gregory-Welch family which was published in 'Cheltenham History Society Journal', No. 4 in 1986.

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