As a newcomer to this district, I was very impressed by the amount of historical interest in this small out-of-the-way spot.
Castle Frome, which is referred to on old maps as Frome of the Castle or Frome of the King, is about two miles from Bishops Frome and about the same distance from Canon Frome, which received its name from the canons of Llanthony Abbey who administered it. The river Frome skirts the above villages and runs through Bromyard. The old canal runs south-west of Canon Frome towards Hereford and became disused after the railway was built.
In 1645 during the Civil War, a Scottish army, under the Earl of Leven, attempted to capture Hereford for the Parliamentarians; failing to do this the Scots infiltrated round Hereford and reached the Frome valley. There was a royalist garrison at Canon Frome where there was a residence belonging to the Hopton family, with a drawbridge and moat. It was a strategic point in the line of communication between Hereford and Worcester, and changed hands on several occasions. A most interesting account of these operations is contained in the Military Memoir of Col. John Birch, which can be found in Hereford Library.
The castle, from which Castle Frome gets its name, was situated on high ground east of the church; it is reputed to have been destroyed in the Stephen and Matilda wars and today only the remnants of its earthworks survive in thick woodlands. Town Farm, close to the church is not particularly old, but excavations have revealed Roman roadworks and specimens of wild hellebore which is a sign of Roman occupation.
The church of St. Michael is small, but well constructed and maintained; there is a sunken roadway running just north of the church towards the castle. The most interesting features of the church of St. Michael are the Unett tomb, the font, the stone crusader’s head, and the communion chalice; these will be described later. Inside the churchyard there is a magnificent yew tree about nine feet in diameter, while the local Gospel Yew is near the lodge to Birchend about one mile away on the Ledbury road.
There are various Gospel yews, oaks and ashes scattered about the country, where the local parsons used to hold occasional services. At the Birchend one there was a seat where farmers used to gather in the evening for a chat.
Birchend was the seat of the Unett family and the lodge is a very colourful Victorian landmark with gay gardens on the road to Ledbury, built by a Mr. Pitt of Birchend for his ladylove. This practice seems to have been a common one in these parts, because I have been told that the owner of Paunton Court did the same thing in Victorian times. Not much is known of the original Birchend building which was burnt down at some time, but there was a homestead moat, which was destroyed at the time of the modernization of the farm.
Mrs. Farr, who lives at Yarkhill now, lived at Castle Frome most of her life, and was able to provide me with local information. She says her mother told her that one lady of the village used to avoid paying toll at the turnpike by driving her donkey-cart down the front drive of Birchend and up the back to rejoin the road.
The name Unett is not a common one and there are no apparent descendants in this neighbourhood, but Mr. John Unett of Malvern has carried out considerable research and has produced a family tree which hangs on the church wall, together with a black and white reproduction of the two figures on the Unett tomb. Old records show that in 1569 the manor was leased to William Unett for the term of 10,000 years at the yearly rent of one red rose. Mr. John Unett claims no descent from this family, but from a Staffordshire branch. The Unetts married into various local families but not with the Slaughters of Cheyne Court, the other big house in the neighbourhood which was also burnt down., the only remains being a 16th-century barn, said to have been used as a chapel, with an interesting turret. The heroine of In spite of all, a novel by Edna Lyall (1901) describing Herefordshire during the Civil Wars, was one Hilary Unett.
The Mormon connection with Castle Frome is rather an extraordinary one. In 1840 John Benbow, who farmed Hill Farm, joined the Latter Day Saints and taking with him about 600 converts went to Salt Lake City, U.S.A., where he became a leading member of the community. An old man, William Taylor, who died some forty years ago, aged about eighty, worked all his life at Hill Farm and was to1d by his parents how John Benbow had organised the United Brethren and how they were all baptised in a pond a short distance from Hill House. For many years, with the exception of the war years, a steady trickle of Mormon pilgrims came in August and September. After the last war, owing to the American forces being over here, they came all the year round. They came to see the pond and occasionally a child was baptised. On the whole they were harmless types, dressed like black crows, and some were interested in the church registers to trace their ancestors. One unfortunate local man lost his good-looking wife, who was smuggled off to the U.S.A. and not heard of since. There are three Benbows buried in Castle Frome churchyard. Ann (95) in 1851, Sarah (69) in 1855 and Thomas (80) in 1873.
The Unett tomb, with alabaster reclining figures of a cavalier and his wife, is situated in the sanctuary and includes small effigies of his family. An interesting mystery is the fact that four daughters are represented on the tomb, but only three are referred to on the tablet overhead.
A stone effigy which is likely to be missed by visitors is a crusader’s bust in chain mail holding a casket. It obviously contained the heart of a knight killed in Palestine, where his body was buried.
The outstanding treasure of the church is the ancient stone font, reputed to be Norman, but the carving has a Scandinavian influence and represents the four evangelistic creatures and the Baptism. It is very similar to the Tympanum in Fownhope Church which shows the Virgin and Child, eagle and lion.
The monuments have not been unduly knocked about, but Mrs. Unett’s nose has caught it, and the East window has had to be replaced; some of the mediaeval glass has been preserved on the south side of the church.
The new East window was erected in memory of Lieut. Raine, R.E., who was killed in France in 1918. His parents lived at Hanburies, Bishops Frome, but preferred to worship at Castle Frome Church. The latest memorial in the church is a tasteful black and gold tablet to Lieut. Lock of Paunton Court, who was killed at Alamein.
As the years go by, it is becoming apparent that objects of historic interest are being neglected; this particularly refers to churches, which are becoming redundant and sold. The need for a Local History Society and its records is therefore vital.
NONCONFORMITY IN NORTH HEREFORDSHIRE
In February Miss Sue Hubbard, the assistant county archivist, came to speak to members about Nonconformity in North Herefordshire.
Miss Hubbard spoke of the three branches of Nonconformity which she felt had had most influence in the County, namely the Lollards, the Friends and the Primitive Methodists, and she suggested that the Lollards had paved the way for the Friends and Primitive Methodists of the 17th and 19th centuries.
The Lollards were active at the end of the l4th.century. They believed in reform within the church both of the moral standards of some of the priests, and of the high taxes levied by the Church and Pope. Furthermore, ‘the Great Heresy’, they did not believe in transubstantiation. Miss Hubbard mentioned Robert Eastman of Stoke Bliss and Thomas Delahay of Kyre as being local men who were Lollards. The sect suffered much persecution for their beliefs, and the last of them, Sir John Oldcastle, said to be from Almeley, was hanged and burned at the Tower. With his death the movement also died.
However, Almeley was to become the centre of more Independent thinkers two hundred years later when the Friends or Quakers built a meeting house there in 1679. The Friends flourished in a way the Lollards had not because they had an organised leadership, among whom at Almeley were Roger Pritchard and his family. The Friends were and are pacifists. They wanted freedom to worship God in their own way, and they suffered for it in fines and imprisonment. They were generous to the poor and needy, and laid great stress upon education.
The Primitive Methodists also did much to educate the people. This branch of Methodism believed in taking the church out to the people and there was an upsurge of Primitive Methodism in the Black Country in the early 19th Century. Miss Hubbard spoke of the Leintwardine Circuit and how Primitive Methodism had a similar appeal to the hard-pressed agricultural labourer as it had to downtrodden factory workers. When a farm labourer’s wage averaged 9/- a week and coal was 22/- per ton, life was hard and had few pleasures. The sincerity and simplicity of Primitive Methodism had a direct appeal to many.
The first Agricultural Workers’ Union for North Herefordshire and South Shropshire was started by a Primitive Methodist of the Leintwardine Circuit. Its motto was ‘Emigration, migration but no strikes’.
ENGLISH WOOL TRADE AND ITS INFLUENCE IN HEREFORDSHIRE
‘Possibly the most important animal which has ever trodden the earth’ was Mr. P.R. Baker’s description of the sheep when, in March, he talked to us on the English wool trade and its influence in this county.
Mr. Baker described the different varieties of wool, and said the finest short wool used in the manufacture of cloth was produced from Ryeland sheep here in the Welsh Marches. This breed originated in the south of the county, but the excellence of their wool reached its pinnacle in Leominster. It was not produced in great quantities for the Ryeland was a small animal with a light fleece, and delicate so that at night the flocks were kept in sheds.
In 1121, as recognition of increasing prosperity, Hereford was given the right to hold a three-day fair, and Leominster’s charter was granted for a market free of tolls. Forty years later Hereford’s fair was extended to seven days, thereby giving it national status. The old Wye Bridge and the present cathedral date from this period. Also around this time a colony of Jews, probably attracted by the wool trade, settled in stone houses in Maylord Street. The records of the Assize of Cloth in 1204 show Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford among the leading eight towns of the country in the production of material. Leominster’s growing importance later in the century can be gauged by the fact that Hereford and Worcester staged a joint remonstrance in 1266 and succeeded in getting its market day changed to Friday from Saturday. Around this time Weobley was granted a market, and the entire county entered a period of prosperity. Under the Tudors Leominster was granted the right to hold two fairs.
Foreign merchants found Britain commercially backward and so the wool trade affected another development in the country’s economic life. A banking system was established here by Jews, Italians and financiers from the Low Countries.
Restrictions imposed by the Guilds, and also the need for swift flowing streams for the fulling mills, caused an exodus from the established wool towns to outlying districts. Thus began development in the Cotswolds. The established towns were seriously undermined in early Tudor times, and so cloth manufacture was forbidden except in certain towns. However, despite all this, Leland notes that Worcester’s trade was flourishing in the middle years of the 16th century.
Markets began to contract in the 17th century for English wool was becoming coarse except for that produced at Leominster. There was a gradual swing to mixed farming and attempts to produce more meat by cross-breeding which spoilt the quality of the wool. From 1750 Ryelands were being bred for their meat, and in 1790 cross-breeding with them was tried. That a Hereford weaver apprenticed his son to a shoemaker in 1775 was a sign of the decline in the wool trade. It was finally finished when Merino sheep were taken to Australia and the early 19th century saw the end of England’s career as a wool producer. Unfortunately a corresponding decline in the old towns followed.
Mr. Baker also traced the development of the industry from. the cottage to the factory system which began in the 13th century. Talking of the changes in agriculture he said the earliest enclosures of land were made for the purpose of wool growing in Tudor times, against which Tyndale fulminated in 1611. In the l6th and 17th centuries writers regarded Herefordshire as mainly enclosed. Numerous examples of depopulated villages, once prosperous in the Middle Ages, are on record, including Brinsop, Wormesley, Wootten Devereux and Pencombe where, it was said, ‘villagers turned away weeping’.
He ended his long and detailed talk with appropriate words engraved by a Cotswold wool producer on a window of his new house, ‘I praise God and ever shall, it is the sheep that pays for all’.
FIELD DAY IN AVENBURY
This field day was arranged with the primary object of finding sites of deserted settlement. During the months preceding the walk, members of the Society visited nearly every farm in Avenbury looking for possible places of interest and at the same time recording all the buildings in the parish.
Avenbury means ‘fortified place on the Avon’. ‘Avon’ is a common Celtic river name but how this applies to Avenbury which is by the river Frome is not clear. The parish covered some 3233 acres. Within the parish were the Domesday manors of Avenbury, Hopton, Sargeberie (Sawbury Hill), and possibly the manor of Froome.1 Little Frome, an estate in the parish, claimed the privilege of a subordinate manor within the manor of Avenbury 2 and these may well be one and the same.
Particular attention was paid to those places for which there is documentary evidence for past settlement. Included in the parish was the township of the Okes or Noakes. In the 13th century one part of the Okes consisted of nine messuages, sixty acres of arable land, two of meadow, one of pasture, and one and a half of wood. This was then held of the Crown by Agnes de Blerhesdon by the service of finding one horse towards conducting the King’s treasure from Hereford to London, for which she was allowed tweIve pence per day in going, and nothing on the return. 3 The detached part of Avenbury parish which included the farms of the Noakes and Sawbury Hill is now part of the parish of Bredenbury. At the Noakes, in a field called Noble Meadow (Tithe Map), S0 632550, three shallow hollows have recently been filled in. These, Miss Hickling considered, were probably house platforms where the stone foundations had been robbed for building stone. A great many sherds of medieval pottery were picked up at this site. Several flint chippings have been found in the soil at the Noakes. A large neolithic arrowhead or small spearhead, and what is probably a microlith have recently been found just east of the R. Frome, S0 635555.
At the neighbouring farm of Sawbury Hill, SO 623553, traces of moating were recorded in the Victoria County History, but these seem to have disappeared. There are indeterminate earthworks in the fields immediately adjacent to the homestead and in the field immediately north of the homestead there is a large amount of stone. A hollow way leads from here down the valley in a northerly direction, SO 623554. In the Domesday survey Sargeberie was a small manor of two-and-a-half virgates held by Hugh of Roger de Lacy and was described as ‘waste’.1
Hopton, meaning ‘tun in the valley’, was another small separate manor held after the Conquest by Richer of William son of the Norman, and was one hide and one virgate.1 It is situated in the far south-west of the parish. The parish boundary passes through Hopton, but the farm of Hopton Sollers is within Avenbury. Hopton Sollers was described by Silas Taylor, c1640, as ‘the town on the hillside’. This was the seat of the Nicholetts family of whom the most famous was Col. Gilbert Nicholetts who was A.D.C. to the Duke of Marlborough, and served with him in all his battles except one, when he had leave of absence to be married. 4
On Sunday, 15th April, a successful field day was held, led by Miss Rosamund Hickling and about thirty-five members and friends were present. The first visit was to Avenbury Court by kind permission of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. There, looking down the valley towards Bromyard, the farm of Little Froome and Little Froome Mill were pointed out. An old road runs through Little Froome, past the mill to Avenbury Court. In 1797 it was proposed to put a turnpike gate across the end of a certain lane, leading into the town, at the Elms from a place called Little Froome, from or near a certain garden in possession of …Corbett to the opposite land in possession of Delabere Walker, surgeon. This lane was used by many coming to market from the Frome valley. 5 The mill is an 18th-century brick building, now a dangerous ruin. It finished its days grinding animal feed for local farmers and for Messrs J.W. Williams, and finally ceased work in 1920. The iron overshot wheel went the way of so many water-whee1s, going for scrap metal in the second World War.
Avenbury Court, SO 657526, is an interesting house which seems to have been much rebuilt. From the outside it appears c1800. However, downstairs there are heavy beams with wide chamfers and the whole of the ground floor seems c1600. Upstairs appears to be Georgian. A large vaulted cellar extends under the dining room and parlour. There is an outside kitchen with bake oven, a large timber-framed granary over stone-based barn, dated early 18th century by Mr Homes, and two adjoining circular brick hop kilns dated c1860-1880 by Mr Homes.
The party then walked down the road towards the church, noting the stone-walled fishpool adjacent to the farmhouse, now dry. The fields just south of the road are called Upper Pound Meadow and Pound Hopyard on the Tithe Map. The Brook House was pointed out, SO 662524. This is a white house with slate-hipped roof, c1800, and seems all one build. Sale particulars in the Herefordshire Record Office dated 1840 describe the Brook House as being the ‘manor or reputed manor of Avenbury’. It was sold by Edward Stillingfleet Cayley. The Stillingfleet family had held the manor for about 200 years. Dr. Edward Stillingfleet, who purchased it, was bishop of Worcester. 4 It seems that this family after building the Brook House may have possibly put a bailiff in the Court, which was later sold separately.
The rectory lying between Avenbury Court and the church was not marked on the Tithe Map. At that time it lay beside the road leading from Bromyard to Avenbury Church, SO 660532, and was built as the result of a suit, heard in the Exchequer in 1682, in which Thomas Kettleby, vicar of Avenbury, was plaintiff and Richard Corbett who lived at the Greave estate, the impropriator of the tithes, was defendant. 6
The church is now in a ruinous state. There is an unbuttressed west tower with pyramid roof going to pieces. Pevsner suggests that the arch towards the nave makes an early 13th-century date likely. The nave has disappeared. There are Norman windows still to be seen in the chancel.
We then proceeded to Lower Venn, SO 665506, by kind permission of Mrs. Yates and looked round this very fine house. It was originally a large timber-framed house of the 16th century. The back and side walls of the house have since been rebuilt in stone and the front plastered or roughcast. The early wide chamfered ceiling beams can still be seen in the hall (now dining-room), parlour wing, kitchen and the cellar which is under the parlour. It is possible that the hall was intended to be open to the roof but if so was very soon made into two storeys. Another small room with a moulded beam and leading out of the kitchen was added in the 17th century. The timber-framed farm building with access to the house was also built to the end of that century. Circa 1800 the original cross passage was widened to make the present hallway. The farm buildings are extensive with a particularly large and interesting barn.
Large fishpools lie just to the south-east of the house. A field, SO 666507, is called Church Croft on the Tithe Map. There is a very deep hollow way running north-west from Lower Venn and in the field immediately west of the farmhouse there are some ill-defined earthworks and another hollow way which continues westwards from the farm.
We then continued to Munderfield Court, by kind permission of Mr. and Mrs. Eckley. House platforms are visible in the orchard immediately south-east of the house, and on the west side of the old road leading south from the Court there are three slight hollows which Miss Hickling suggested were robbed house platforms. A field at Munderfield Court Farm, SO 647506, was called Big and Little Castle Field on the Tithe Map, but any earthworks have been p1oughed out.
Some of us then finished the afternoon by visiting the deserted medieval village discovered last year near the Grove, Brockharnpton, SO 696556. Although now in the parish of Brockhampton, the land on which this deserted settlement lies was, until the Local Government Board reorganization of parish boundaries in 1894, in the parish of Linton. There is a well-defined hollow way with house platforms, some of which have been robbed to repair the dam of a large stone-walled pond, the Grove Pool. The pool narrows at one end and it was suggested by Mr. Homes that this was a decoy. The course of the leat from the Grove Pool to Brockhampton Mill is still clearly marked. In an effort to find documentary evidence for a village on this site, the c1285 survey of the manor of Bromyard was examined. The scribes appear to have covered the present parishes of Norton, Brockhampton, Linton and Winslow in that order. They recorded seventy-four free landholders and sixty-six customary landholders. The following run of names in Brockhampton and Linton could be indicative: John of Brocamptone, Roger Lechlewis, Roger the Justice, Margerie of Stobinersh, Hugo of Stobinersh, Robert of Brocamptone, Roger of Evesham (who held Clater), William Kymole, Matilda of Stobinersh, Walter of Stobinersh. When elsewhere in the survey there are several people having the same place name for a surname, it is of a known centre of settlement within the manor, e.g. Keephill, Hodgebatch, Winslow, etc. It therefore seems possible that Stobinersh may have been the name of this village. 8
We would like once again to thank Miss Hickling for leading the field day, and also the many farmers and householders in Avenbury who have, so kindly allowed us to look round their houses and farms during the year and especially Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Yates, Mr. and Mrs. Eckley and Mr. and Mrs. Boulcott of Home House Farm, Brockhampton, whose farms were all visited by the party on the field day.
2. J. Duncumb, Collections towards the history and antiquities of the County of Hereford (1812),II, 23.
3. Duncumb, 21.
4. C.J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors.
5. Bromyard: A local history, 103.
6. Duncumb, 26.
7. Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club (1918), lvi.
8. I should like to thank Mrs P. Williams for supplying this information and also for writing the report on Lower Venn farmhouse.
LOOKING AT BUILDINGS IN CRADLEY
Philip and Ruth Nichols
On Sunday, 6th May, Mr Tonkin took a party to various buildings in Cradley. First a visit was paid to Seed Farm, by kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Pugh. This is a most interesting moated farmhouse which today presents an intriguing puzzle. Do the thick stone walls cover a timber-frame building; does the large chimney stack opening to two fireplaces in separate rooms replace an open fireplace in an original central hall; was there a partition in the present service wing; and at which end was the parlour? A search in the roof may answer some questions. The diagonal nibbed chimneys, the chimney starting at the upper floor level and the adjoining barn with hop treading hole were interesting, as was the large detached barn, which may once have been two separate buildings.
Mr. and Mrs. N.L. Harris welcomed us to Upper Vinesend Farm, a recent reconstruction of a ruined l6th-century house with herring-bone timbering. The open hall plan has been kept and many unusual carpenters’ marks are clearly visible. This must have been an old site and the original house had a hall and undercroft, which is now sealed off.
We then proceeded to Hill House Farm, the home of Brig. and Mrs. G.W. Goschen, and first explored the barns which included interesting base cruck and king post constructions. The house has much to offer; a very handsome staircase the handrail having a finger and a thumb moulding on opposite sides. A plaster ceiling included an oak leaf motif which might indicate Stuart sympathies. A large fireplace with a bake oven to one side and a grain drying oven on the other fill one wall. The later Regency room was memorable.
Next to Cradley Church – a Norman church reconstructed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 19th century but still retaining a 14th-century window with its characteristic eye on either side of the cusping. A pleasant wide church with no chancel arch but a lovely Norman tower with interior timber structure thought to be designed to carry the bells.
The black and white village hall was once a school with perhaps an upper floor. The exterior is very picturesque but the only interior feature to be noted were the dragon beams supporting the upper floor overhang.
We then went on to look at typical black and white houses in Cradley’s well-kept village. Apart from a number of pleasing houses, there were others that had been brought up to standard by liberal use of black and white paint.
The Society thanks Mr. and Mrs. Pugh, Mr. and Mrs. Harris and Brig. and Mrs. Goschen for so generously allowing us into their homes, and also Cradley Church and village hall authorities for their kind co-operation.