Aston Cantlow is a very old village, an Anglo-Saxon burial ground having been found there, being mentioned in the Doomsday Book. From this we learn that the pre-conquest owner was Earl Alfgar, son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, with Aston Cantlow being rated at “five hides with room for ten ploughs”. It is also listed as having “nine Flemings, sixteen villeins, one priest, and ten bordars”. The mention of a priest means that there must have been a church in the village in Anglo-Saxon times. The Flemings mentioned probably came to England in the train of Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, and they would have made a sizeable colony in the village as the “nine” referred to would have been families; that is, nine Flemings with their wives and children. Why they chose to live in Aston Cantlow is a different question!
Following the Conquest the Manor was given to Osbern Fitz Richard, passing subsequently into the hands of the Beauchamps. In 1169 the manor passed to William the Chamberlain of Tankerville, who, four years later, was farming it on rent from the King. From him it passed probably to Ralph de Tankerville, but we know that in 1205 King John granted it to William de Canteloupe from whom the village gets the second part of its name ofCantlow. It later passed into the hands of the Neville family who lost it when Sir Edward Neville was executed for high treason in the reign of Henry VIII, and his lands were confiscated. The manor was later restored to the Neville family and the village, together with large parts of the surrounding area subsequently became part of the estate of the Baron of Abergavenny, It later became part ofthe Thomas Wood Estate which was sold in the great sale of 1918. It was this 1918 sale that saw the end of an era when the village was sold off in 47 different Lots.
The two words which make up the name of the village were coined at different times in its history. ‘Aston’ is a common place-name which developed from a word in Old English meaning ‘the eastern settlement’ and was certainly in use before the 11 th century. As described above, ‘Cantlow’ was added in the 13th century when the manor of Aston came into the hands of the Cantilupe family.
Click here for some views of Aston Cantlow from old postcards
History of Wilmcote
In ancient times Wilmcote (variously also known as Wilmecote/Wilmundecote) probably deriving the name from ‘Wilmud’s Cotes’ or cottages, was little more than a hamlet overshadowed by the then more important settlement of Pathlow. At this time a Court Baron held a Court Leet twice a year in Pathlow. Indeed in 1664 the villagers of Wi1mcote were fined for failing to fulfil their duty to repair the important road to Pathlow. This extract from the Doomsday Book illustrates the dominance of Pathlow over Wilmcote.
“In Patelau (Pathlow) Hundred Urso holds of the said Osbern, son of Richard, 3 hides in Wilmecote. The arable employs 4 ploughs. In lordship 2; 2 slaves; 2 villagers and 2 smallholders with 2 ploughs. Meadow, 24 acres. The value was 30 shillings; now 60 shillings. Leofwin Doda held it freely in King Edward’s time.”
This quote from the Doomsday Book indicates that there were about 200 to 300 acres of cultivated open fields and a few acres of meadow land.
In 1228 there was a dispute in the village between William de Wilmecote and the Archdeacon of Gloucester over the advowson (the right to nominate the priest of the chapel, which then existed in the village). Later in the fourteenth century the advowson was owned by Henry de L’isle of Moxhull who held the Manor of Little Wilmcote.
In 1325 the Manor of Great Wilmcote was given to John, son of John de Wyncote by the Earl of Pembroke. Later, in 1561, the Manors of Wilmcote were granted to Adam Palmer and George Gibbes, the former being an executor of Robert Arden, Shakespeare’s grandfather.
Wilmcote existed as two separate villages, known as Little and Great Wilmcote, until the eighteenth century,. The History of Warwickshire by William Dugdale claims that in 1672 each village consisted of about forty houses. Lord Abergavenny was Lord of Great Wilmcote with the Duke of Dorset being Lord of Little Wilmcote.
By 1743 the open fields around the villages had been enclosed and the familiar pattern of fields and hedges that we see today had begun to take shape.
The population of Wilmcote in 1871 was 468. With the community in the nineteenth century having expanded due to the large scale exploitation of the local lias Limestone. Stone pits had been worked around Wilmcote for many centuries. With the coming of the Canal in 1816 larger quantities of the stone were able to be transported away and by the 1880s the majority of the villagers depended on the stone quarries for their livelihood, as did many of the villagers from Aston Cantlow and the surrounding hamlets.
In 1860 the Stratford-upon-Avon Railway opened and the stone which was crushed and burned to make Portland Cement was transported away by this newer, faster mode of transport. By the outbreak of the First World War the quarry workings had been abandoned leaving only a few quarry men’s cottages and some large holes in the ground to show that they had existed.
Click here for some views of Wilmcote from old postcards.
History of Shelfield
The name Shelfield is from the Old English scylf and hyll meaning “hill with a plateau”, or as Margaret Gelling has suggested, “an unexpected or exceptionally flat topped hill”. George Lewing, writing in 1849, claims that the name was a corrupted version of Shelve Hill which arose from the idea that the hill had been shovelled or lifted up above its original level.
Shelfield has remained as a sub-manor or township of Aston Cantlow throughout its history and it was not until the big sale in 1918 when all the old estate was split up that land in Shelfield was finally separated from Aston Cantlow.
A dominant feature of Shelfield is the former deer park. The park extended to 152 acres in 1273 and reached 161 acres in 1392. In 1538 the park together with the manor was in the King’s hand by reason of the minority of Henry Neville who was the heir. By 1554 it was held by the Skinner family, and a hundred years later the same family received a lease of the tithes of the park. By the end of the 16th century there appears to have been two parks called Shelfield Park and Lodge Park. Lodge Park was probably the original which was granted to Studley Priory by William de Canteloupe, while Shelfield Park seems to have been the later extension.
Before the middle of the 13th century the area of Shelfield was heavily wooded and formed an extension to the original Forest of Arden. The parks would have been enclosed by an oak palisade, fence or wall on top of an earthen bank, surrounded by a deep ditch. These were costly to maintain and this was one of the reasons that parks fell out of favour in the late middle ages when cheap bonded labour was disappearing. The bank and ditch are still visible in some places.
History of Newnham
The hamlet ‘new’ , ham’ is not as new as its name implies. ‘Ham’ is a Saxon word for a group of dwellings, and in 1086 Newnham is recorded as belonging to the prior of Coventry, although by 1316 it was part of the parish of Aston Cantlow.
During the heyday of the local quarries this small quiet hamlet is reputed to have been a thriving community of some 300 inhabitants, but by the mid 1800s it was primarily a farming community, consisting of four working farms and farm labourers cottages. Like much of the parish in 1776 a substantial area including the two largest farms, Tutnels Field and Redlands Field, was part of the estate of Baron Abergavenny, the Rt. Hon George Neville, and was later included in the great sale of 1918.
Perhaps one of the most obvious features of Newnham today is its abundance of wells. There was no mains water in Newnham until 1949when the owner of Tutnels Hill Farm paid for a supply to be brought across the fields from Wilmcote to Tunnels Hill Farm and also to Lower Farm, both of which he owned. The rest of the hamlet had no mains water until 1966, whilst mains electricity reached Newnham only in 1954.
Like Aston Cantlow, Newnham possesses a typical triangular village green, which was the most probable venue for the annual wake which used to be held on Trinity Sunday, and is remembered as occurring up to the end of the nineteenth century
History of Little Alne
” so leaving Great Alne on the winding road you may pass Little Alne without noticing it, but if you wish to, you will know where you are by the Smithy! ” W H Hutton - 1914
This hamlet consists of a few houses, some of which have been converted from a farm, and several cottages (one of which was originally a chapel and used briefly dhring the mid eighteenth century as a Public House) The lands given by the Cantelupes to the Canons of Studley involved large parts of the area now known as Little Alne .
The word ‘Alne’ is claimed to be Saxon for Alder and indeed the River bank is still lined with these trees. However another source suggests it is an ancient word for ‘very white’. This may indicate a foaming fast running River – how different today, it is becoming a slow snaking stream invaded by greedy vegetation! The River was for a time, known locally as the Rea, but the reason for that name has long since been forgotten.
There is good reason to believe that Little Alne was a stopping place for the Romans approaching the town of Alcester, which they founded and developed, but little is really known about the hamlet until the fifteenth century when the name of Fullwood/Fulwood/Fulwode.
A ‘Pedigree’ of the Fullwood family “taken” in 1619 shows 7 generations previous to this date, with the fIrst mentioned being Robertus Fulwood followed by examples of the family’s penchant for colourful names Radulphus, Radus, Wittins, Ricus and Elianora!
Alne Pastures is the most significant house still standing in the hamlet, originally facing an ancient timbered barn which was sadly demolished in the 1950s. There is evidence to suggest that Richard Fulwell (friend and relation by marriage to William Shakespeare) occupied the house and therefore may well have played host to the Bard; it was also possibly occupied by one of the Arden Sisters.
History of Billesley
The hamlet of Billesley consists of little more than the seventeenth century mansion of Billesley Hall and its outbuildings, together with the rebuilt medieval church. In the fields beyond the church the mounds and clumps of nettles mark the deserted settlement of the medieval village of Billesley Trussell. There is some evidence of an Anglo-Saxon occupation in the area, but the first documentary evidence occurs in 704-09 when the name “Billes lach ” (Bill’s clearing) occurs.
The Doomsday Book records the presence of a priest and a population of eight villeins, nine bordars and eight serfs, together with their families.
The second outbreak of the Black Death in 1361 seems to have started the evacuation of Billesley, and this was accelerated by the evictions ordered by the Trussells in the late 14th or early 15th centuries, so that by 1421there were only 4 persons recorded as living in Billesley, and the village was effectively abandoned by the end of the century.
You can find out more about Billesley’s Grade 1 listed All Saints’ Church at The Churches Conservation Trust website here.