Some evidence exists to show that there was Roman occupation in Slimbridge. Relics have been found both in the field to the east of Lane’s End bungalow opposite the end of Gossington Lane and in the field behind Lancelot Court. A Roman ford has been discovered across the River Cam at Old Ford Farmhouse. There is also evidence of a Roman road running along the course of the present A38. The recent discovery of numerous Roman coins and brooches has reawakened interest in finding out more and the society will be leading efforts to establish whether a Roman community may have existed on and around the site of the current village.
In early times, the Severn would also inevitably have drawn travellers to the shoreline although there is no historical record of how readily boats could land near present day Slimbridge.
Later, there is a strong case for stating that the Vikings made camp, possibly on the River Cam, when they made a big assault up the River Severn to the Midlands. The name Heslinbruge has appeared as an early name for Slimbridge and was commonly used by the Vikings when they built a stone pass, usually not much more that 300 metres from where their boats were moored, to their campsite. This suggests that the village has not always been centred around where the church is now located. Slimbridge Street, now called Ryall’s Lane, might well have been the original centre of the village. Other names for Slimbridge include Slymbrugge and Slymbridge.
The Domesday Book gives the first quantitative picture of elements of what is now known as “Slimbridge Parish” as components of King Edward’s Berkeley Estate. In 1066 William the Conqueror granted William Fitz-Osbern about half of King Harold’s lands including the manor of Berkeley. In 1068 William appointed Roger de Berkeley reeve of the manor of Berkeley. When William died in battle in 1071, Roger was confirmed as reeve, reporting directly to the king.
Roger was followed by two further generations of the first Berkeley family, all called Roger de Berkeley. The last Roger de Berkeley was dispossessed in 1152 and the feudal barony of Berkeley was then granted to Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy burgess of Bristol. He was the founder of the Berkeley family which still holds the castle and which has become inextricably linked to Slimbridge. The estate’s records are invaluable to modern day Slimbridge historians.
The treacherous waters of the River Severn led to the construction of the Gloucester Sharpness canal which was first conceived in the late 18th century but only fully opened in April 1827. This briefly brought trade through the parish from a new direction although its commercial viability was almost immediately challenged by the construction of the nearby Bristol to Gloucester railway in 1844. The canal remains in use today although mainly for leisure purposes.
Slimbridge is today defined by its church, St John’s, whose spire can be seen from all over the vale. The first explicit reference to a church in Slimbridge goes back to 1146 but the present-day church has seen many changes since then. In its time Slimbridge has provided three bishops for London, Carlisle and Exeter, one of whom, Bishop Oglethorpe, crowned Elizabeth 1. Two versions of corbels portraying Elizabeth and Oglethorpe adorn the east wall of the chancel, one set original and one set Victorian replacements.
The parish has many links to famous people including William Tyndale and Edward Jenner. The records held at Berkeley Castle, Gloucester Archives and by the Slimbridge Local History Society provide a fascinating insight into the sometimes turbulent history of the parish.
Evidence of previous generations remains for the casual observer who can still see the medieval ridges and furrows in the surrounding fields, the Grade I listed church of St Johns, the numerous Grade II listed houses and the Grade II listed tombs in the graveyard.