Martin Benson, bishop of Gloucester from 1735 until his death in 1752, was a conscientious diocesan who took a close interest in his charge. He was among the first bishops to undertake a comprehensive survey of his diocese, and was exceptional in continuously maintaining it as a work of reference throughout his episcopate. He began work on it soon after he was consecrated, and the last entries were made shortly before his death.
The bishop needed to know the names of the parishes within the several rural deaneries within the diocese, the dedications of their churches, the nature and the value of the benefices which supported the clergy serving the churches, whether there was a glebe house, what church services were performed, the nature and size of the charitable endowments for the churches, for the poor and for schools, the names and qualifications of incumbents and curates, the numbers of inhabitants, the numbers of dissenters and Roman Catholics and their places of worship, and the names of the lords of manors and other principal inhabitants. All that and other miscellaneous information was carefully recorded and updated from time to time. Benson was much concerned with the value of benefices: some of them were very small and were therefore qualified to benefit from Queen Anne's Bounty, which was becoming widely effective during Benson's episcopate. The survey also gives particular attention to the extent and variety of religious nonconformity.
Six versions of the survey are now extant, and the edition here presented shows the significant variations between them and the successive changes that were made to them as working documents in frequent use. The book provides a detailed picture of the state of the diocese and its parishes (except for those in the rural deanery of Bristol) in the second quarter of the 18th century.