The earliest recording of the name Hawkesbury was in the Domesday Survey of 1086, where it appears as Havochesberie, by which time the name had clearly been in existence long enough for its original Old English components to be uncertain.
The first element, Havoch almost certainly derives from the earlier word Hafoc, meaning hawk, although whether this in turn derived from a personal name or from the hawks of Sidney Smith’s kite-infested uplands of the Cotswold Edge will never be known for certain.
The second element, which by the time of the Norman Conquest had become berie could have at least three possible sources, all of which, as time passes, tend to evolve from their original Old English form into -bury endings. The first, favoured by Ekwall, (1960, 226) is burg or byrig derived in turn from burh, meaning a fort. Support for this element has in the past been drawn from the suggestion that Hawkesbury Knoll is the site of an Iron Age hillfort, however, although the Knoll possesses a Neolithic long barrow, and does appear to have a slight ditch across the end of the promontory, no earthworks of Iron Age date have been recorded (RCHM, 1976, 64).
The second possibility is that the ending is burh, but in the sense of an enclosed and protected place, rather than a stronghold: this could then be taken to mean the enclosed area which may have formerly existed around the church, where a small monasterium or brotherhood of clergy was established by the Abbey of Pershore in the tenth century.
The third option is for the ending to have derived from the word beorg meaning a barrow or rounded hill and referring directly to the Knoll, a round topped promontory, complete with barrow. From the thin evidence available it looks as if the old favourite of Hawks Fort is probably the weakest candidate: there is no hillfort nearer than Horton in the next parish.
The knoll might possibly have had a Neolithic enclosure around the long barrow, but without excavation this will remain just a suggestion.
Either of the other endings would fit, and visible evidence exists for both a likely ecclesiastical enclosure and, of course, for the shape of the Knoll. Until a record is found with clues to the Old English origins of the name its definitive, original, form will remain a mystery.
The Parish Charter, dated 972 (although the surviving copy is probably some thirty years later), by which King Eadgar granted the land of the original ecclesiastical parish to the Abbey of Pershore, makes no mention of Hawkesbury. (Birch, 1893. No. 1282). Instead the estate is referred to as the seven lands in Suth Stoc, or South Stoke. Stoke is a common Anglo Saxon name element, meaning merely ‘place’ although there is often the implication of a special or holy place. In this case Stoke at Hawkesbury is defined as South Stoke to distinguish it from Stoke on Severn, to the north, which also belonged to Pershore. South Stoke, also known as Stoke Hawkesbury in later documents, formed the administrative centre of the parish, and included the church and court, referred to occasionally as the nether court, to distinguish it from the court at Upton, at the top of the hill.
The original church of St Mary Hawkesbury may have been founded in the seventh century, when the manor of Hawkesbury belonged to Pershore Abbey, which according to Robert Atkyns (1712) founded a College for secular Canons here, although the dates are dubious: those given coinciding with the foundation of Pershore. The term monastery has also been used of the foundation, but Monasterium in the seventh century did not necessarily indicate a large or enclosed establishment. A further difficulty in the case of Pershore is that the mother house was subject to no less than four fires, in which records were inevitably lost (James, 1925,60).
By 972, when the parish received its charter, there would have been a church established at Hawkesbury, with a group of clergy serving the area round about, but there is no documentary evidence to confirm that it was a minster.
The seven lands in the charter refer to the original tithings of the parish: Stoc – Hawkesbury; Upton – the upper farm; Cyllingcocotan – the cots (dwellings) of the people of Cylla better known now as Kilcot; Badymincgtun – the farmstead of Bada or Beadmunds people (Little Badminton); Hildeslei – Hilds ley or clearing (Hillesley); Seddlewood -wood with dwellings (Saddlewood); Treshaa – Tirs meadow (Tresham).
All of the settlements in the list of tithings have survived into the twenty-first century, the majority now as full grown villages, although Stoc has become Hawkesbury and has undergone considerable shrinkage. Saddlewood is the only one of the seven to have retained what was probably its original form: a small agricultural settlement of a farm and outlying cottages, a form likely to have been common to most of the early settlements.
Birch, G. (ed) 1893. Cartularium Saxonicum. London.
Ekwall, E. 1960. Oxford Dictionary of Placenames. Oxford University Press
RCHM,1976. Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester Vol.I. HMSO. London.
James, M.R. 1925 Abbeys. G.W.R/ Ballantyne Press