Situated at 800 feet above sea-level our prehistoric burial places (barrows) show that there has been settlement on this site for thousands of years and the village here in Saxon days had the pretty-sounding name of Nymdesfelda. A Roman road leading up from the military camp at the bottom of Frocester Hill passed through the centre of the village and in the Doomsday Book it is referred to as Nimdesfelle.
The name suggests that as well as ‘the field of Nym’, there could also be an interpretation as a ‘holy place’. We know that there was a Priory in the valley before the Norman Conquest and the Saxon font and piscina in St Joseph’s Church are believed to come from Kinley Priory. The parish church of St Bartholomew has a 15th Century tower and the first vicar, Adam the Clerk, was appointed in 1185.
The village was situated on an important stage coaching route as illustrated by the fact that there were once no less than five coaching inns in Nympsfield. (Although only the Rose and Crown still retains its original purpose three others being private dwellings and one completely demolished). Perhaps five inns in a village wasn’t that unusual but many people remark upon how unusual it is to have two parish churches and such a large Catholic school in what is only a very small village.
There had been some sort of schooling in the village since the early nineteenth century and a Church of England school had been built in 1847. This is now the Village Hall. This school seems to have encountered various difficulties, notably retention of staff and an uneasy relationship between Protestants and Catholics. Ofsted would no doubt have been shocked at the 1883-4 Inspection Report which states: ‘The attainments in the school are better but by no means good. The most glaring fault is want of intelligence!’
A pamphlet (Facts concerning the Nymphsfield R.C. School…) asserts: ‘Education in Nympsfield previously to 1900 had reached low water mark’ and thus the Misses Leigh (granddaughters of William Leigh) were asked to help by the authorities leading to the establishment of the Catholic school in Nympsfield.
The building that now houses St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School was erected in 1962 but there has been a Catholic school in the village since October 1900 when a school was opened in what is now known as Chapel House on the Cross. The school was certified as ‘an efficient school’ (section 48 Elementary Education Act 1876) by the Education Department on 16th February 1901 and on July 3rd 1903 moved to a purpose built premises on what we call the Barrow and which now houses Nympsfield Social Club. Even after the building of our present-day school, Class 5 was housed in the old building and used to cross the road several times a day right up until the mid-1970s. The first three head teachers of this new school were Marist Sisters the order having come to the village in 1929. During the 1970s a large proportion of the school roll was made up of children residing at the Marist Convent in the care of the sisters and two full coachloads of pupils from Dursley meant that the school was very well subscribed with a class per year group.
The generosity and vision of the Misses Leigh shaped the village that we see today. They founded the Catholic schooling, funded the building of St Joseph’s Church and benefited the village and its inhabitants in so many ways. They are commemorated in the stained glass window of St Joseph’s Church and the Leigh Trust has been a generous supporter of both church and school projects over the years. The school site has developed over time and our most recent new-build, the Leigh Building, reminds us that the school we have today has its roots firmly in the past.