A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1968.
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Beckford lies 6 miles east of Tewkesbury, on the southside of Bredon Hill. (fn. 1) Becca's ford, from which the parish takes its name, (fn. 2) was presumably on the Carrant brook. The ancient parish covered 2,778 a., (fn. 3) and included the hamlets of Grafton, Bengrove, and Didcot. Didcot lay in Tewkesbury hundred. (fn. 4) In 1931 Bengrove (357 a.) was transferred to Teddington parish and Didcot (431 a.) to Dumbleton parish; the remaining 1,990 a. of Beckford (including Grafton) were transferred to Worcestershire. (fn. 5) In 1965 c. 140 a. were transferred from Beckford to Teddington, and c. 102 a. from Teddington and c. 127 a. from Dumbleton were transferred to Beckford. (fn. 6)
The ancient parish stretched across the wide valley of the Carrant between three hills; Beckford and Grafton tithings in the north reached the 625 ft. contour on Bredon Hill, Bengrove in the south-west reached the 600 ft. contour on Oxenton Hill, and Didcot in the south-east lay on the lower slopes of Dumbleton Hill. The shape of each tithing was narrow on the hill slopes and widened as it reached the valley floor. The resultant three-legged shape of the parish was emphasized by the detachment from Beckford of Great Washbourne in 1177. (fn. 7) The western boundary of the ancient parish was marked by a stream running down Bredon Hill, the Carrant brook, the road from Overbury to Teddington Hands, and a stream running down Oxenton Hill. The southern and eastern boundaries mainly followed field boundaries. The way in which the parish narrowed to a point on Bredon Hill in the north, in the same way as the neighbouring parishes of Conderton and Ashton under Hill, (fn. 8) resulted from the division of the pasture on the top of the hill. For the same reason, presumably, the boundary between the tithings of Beckford and Grafton divided the northern wedge of the parish into two narrow fingers on the side of Bredon Hill. Bengrove's boundary with Beckford in part followed the road running east from Teddington Hands. (fn. 9) Didcot was divided from Ashton under Hill by the TewkesburyEvesham road and from Grafton by a hedge to the east of the buildings at Saberton. (fn. 10)
The parish lies mainly on the Lower Lias; there are large patches of river gravel around Beckford village, a stretch of boulder clay between Beckford and Grafton, and alluvium along the banks of the Carrant. A fault line runs along Bredon Hill above Grafton; below it are fallen masses of Oolite and above it are the successive strata of the Middle and Upper Lias and the Inferior Oolite. (fn. 11) The parish is well supplied with springs. Before 1907, when Winchcombe R.D.C. laid water on to Beckford and Grafton from a spring above Grafton, many inhabitants used wells sunk into the superficial sand. (fn. 12)
The landscape is dominated by Bredon Hill, which is studded with tree-lined hedges, small copses, and orchards. There is some woodland on the hillsides around Didcot Farm and Bengrove. At Didcot there were numerous oaks and ashes in the mid-16th century, (fn. 13) and the Wakeman estate in Beckford had a 'fine display of old timber' in the 18th century; (fn. 14) elsewhere in the parish there seem to have been only small areas of woodland. (fn. 15) William Wakeman (d. 1836) felled many of his trees, (fn. 16) but the land immediately north of Beckford village retains, to some extent, the character of park-land. On the valley floor, where the common fields survived longest, (fn. 17) there are fewer trees. There is deeply-marked ridge and furrow in some parts of the parish, particularly in areas of old inclosure near Didcot Farm, south-west of Grafton village, and east of Beckford Cross. There are many old quarries and sandpits on Bredon Hill.
The earliest known settlement in the parish was on gravel east of Beckford village, (fn. 18) where there were many inclosures used for stock-raising. The site went out of use c. A.D. 70, perhaps because the coming of the Romans caused a change from stockraising to arable cultivation. (fn. 19) Bredon Hill may have been used for corn-growing: the remains of what may have been a corn-drying building (fn. 20) and of 2ndand 3rd-century pottery have been found. (fn. 21) On the gravel west of Beckford village, just outside the parish boundary, there was a cemetery, dating largely from the 6th century, containing at least 107 graves. (fn. 22)
By the late 8th century there was a minster church at Beckford. (fn. 23) It presumably stood in or near Beckford village, which stands on sand and gravel on the north bank of the Carrant. The centre of the village lies a furlong from the brook, and although only 5 of the 26 houses assessed for tax in 1662 (fn. 24) have survived, its plan, a main street closed at each end by a cross-road, is probably ancient. The chief houses, Beckford Hall, the Court House, and the vicarage, stand on the north side of the street close to the church. A 16th- or 17th-century house stands at the east end of the village by the site of the pound. (fn. 25) At the west end of the street is a Victorian stone cross. Near the entrance to the churchyard the street widened out to form a small square where, in the early 19th century, stood a slate-roofed cross; the square, then called the market-place, and bordered on the north side by thatched, timberframed houses, (fn. 26) was probably part of a village green. Houses were built on the west and south sides of the square in the 18th century. The cross has been removed, the timber-framed houses replaced by brick buildings, and most of the square made into a paved courtyard. The Manor House, an old house but not a manor-house, (fn. 27) stands alone on the south bank of the Carrant. It is probable that other houses besides the surviving Malt-House Cottages stood on the lane running past the Manor House from the west end of the village, which led across the bridge into Beckford open fields. The mill (fn. 28) may have stood just west of the bridge.
The appearance of the main street changed significantly in the 1860's, perhaps, as local tradition records, after a serious fire, (fn. 29) but also through the activities of a progressive landlord, Robert Timbrill, and through the opening of Beckford station (1865; closed 1963) on the Ashchurch-Evesham branch of the Midland Railway. (fn. 30) Most of the old houses in the main street were replaced by brick houses built 'in the style of villadom'. (fn. 31) Robert Timbrill built the Towers, a massive brick house later called Beckford Grange, in 1865; the school and near-by cottages were built on land given by his father; (fn. 32) a number of other brick houses, detached and semidetached, with names such as 'Eastville' and 'Westville' date from the same period. Timbrill provided gas for the village from works built on the Carrant west of Beckford. In 1870 the village was described as 'remarkably clean and interesting'. (fn. 33) Whereas the Towers and Beckford House, another brick mansion built c. 1840 at Little Beckford, (fn. 34) were both the centres of landed estates, other villas built in the later 19th century were not connected with the land, and in 1905 the village was described as 'curiously suburban and uninteresting'. (fn. 35) A sewage works was built c. 1906. (fn. 36) A village club was built at the west end of the main street in 1937. (fn. 37) In the mid-20th century new houses were built by the R.D.C. south of the village at Little Beckford, and by private builders on the road between Little Beckford and Beckford, in the village street, and on the Grafton road.
Apart from Beckford Hall (fn. 38) the most notable house in Beckford is the Court House, so called because manorial courts were held there in the 19th century. (fn. 39) It may be the rectory house occupied by Richard Wakeman in the mid-16th century. (fn. 40) It survives as an H-shaped house, largely rebuilt, but the original plan probably comprised a timber-framed hall and a cross-wing on the north. The cross-wing, which is also timber-framed, retains its early internal doorways and chimney. There are indications that the hall once extended further south. The plan might be that of a medieval house, but no fabric survives that is clearly earlier than the 16th century. Dalton House, on the west side of the square is an 18thcentury brick house of two stories with dormers; it has sash windows and a wrought-iron porch. The Nind family's house on the south side of the square, (fn. 41) derelict in 1965, is an 18th-century brick house of two stories, with a modillion eaves-cornice, sash windows, and three-quarter columns and an entablature to the doorway.
Inclosure of the parish in 1774 led to the building of outlying farms, notably Brook Farm to the south and Home Farm to the east of Beckford village. Court Farm, north of Beckford Hall, may have been built after earlier, private inclosure. (fn. 42) Inclosure also facilitated the development of housing along the road from Teddington Hands to Evesham; rows of brick houses and a few isolated villas were built throughout the 19th century beside and close to the road. The area was known as Little Beckford by the late 19th century. (fn. 43) The Beckford Inn, known in 1774 as New Inn (fn. 44) and in 1965 as the Beckford Hotel, was probably the earliest building on the road. The 'Red Lion', the only inn in Beckford in 1715, (fn. 45) presumably stood in the village street and may have been the inn kept by Samuel Freeman in 1637; (fn. 46) it was mentioned in 1789 (fn. 47) but not in 1856. (fn. 48)
The hamlet of Grafton lies between the 200 and 250 ft. contours on Bredon Hill 1½ mile north-east of Beckford, and its name indicates a woodland settlement. (fn. 49) The plan is irregular, a number of farms and cottages lying on a steep lane running between Middle Farm and Upper Farm, while another small group of houses stands further west at Lower Farm. Sunnybrook, in orchards west of Grafton, is the only outlying farm-house. The hamlet was well established by the 12th century when it had its own chapel. (fn. 50) Grafton is small and isolated, and the hamlet has changed little: 15 houses were assessed for tax in 1662 and, in contrast with Beckford, many have survived. In 1662 only one house had as many as 4 hearths, (fn. 51) and Grafton has never had a wealthy resident landowner. There has been no modern building.
Thatched roofing survives on several buildings in Grafton, including the weather-boarded barns at Lower Farm and Middle Farm. Lower Farm itself is timber-framed and faced with rubble and weatherboarding; immediately south of it is a framed house with decorative curved timbers; the lower story is faced with rubble and has a stone-mullioned window with dripmould. Middle Farm is of rubble, with an earlier timber-framed wing at the rear. A row of timber-framed and thatched cottages above Middle Farm is partly faced with rubble and brick, and incorporates a five-light stone-mullioned window with dripmould.
Bengrove lies in a hollow below the 200-ft. contour on the north side of Oxenton Hill. The name is first recorded in 1287. (fn. 52) The settlement appears always to have been small. Only 4 houses were recorded there in 1662 and 1672, but each had 3 hearths. (fn. 53) The relative prosperity of the inhabitants there in the 17th century, when they were freeholders, is also expressed in the additions made then to two of the houses — rubble facing, stonemullioned windows, and massive stone chimneys. Bangrove Farm, T-shaped with timber-framed extensions, has a chimney with the date 1658 and the initials of John Hale; a wall incorporates a stone from a demolished house with the date 1655 and the initials of John Roberts. Bengrove Farm is also timber-framed with 17th-century additions, and has the date 1628 and the initials of John Morris and his son John. (fn. 54) In 1965 the old site of Bengrove had only the two farm-houses and a modern cottage, with ponds and other signs of former dwellings. A few more cottages were built after the 18th century by the road running east from Teddington Hands.
Didcot hamlet, reduced by the 17th century to a single farm, (fn. 55) lay on the lower slopes of Dumbleton Hill. The name is first recorded in the 11th century. (fn. 56) The hamlet declined after the fields were inclosed for sheep-farming in the late 15th century, (fn. 57) but it had been large enough to have a chapel, belonging to Tewkesbury Abbey, that survived into the 16th century; (fn. 58) the chapel probably stood immediately south-east of Didcot Farm, where in 1840 there was a small rectangular inclosure between Great and Little Chapel Hay. (fn. 59)
The parish was crossed at its widest point by the road from Teddington Hands to Evesham, which in part at least was an old route, for it marked the parish boundary for a short distance. (fn. 60) It was a turnpike road from 1789 to 1877. (fn. 61) Two lanes linked it to Beckford, one running north from what in 1774 was called Pinson's Cross, at Little Beckford, the other running north from Beckford Cross (formerly New Inn Green). (fn. 62) In 1794 the lane from Beckford Cross through Beckford to Conderton was turnpiked, and in 1826 the road from Beckford Cross to Alderton; both were disturnpiked in 1872. (fn. 63) Beckford was linked to Ashton under Hill by a lane referred to as ancient in 1774; Grafton, standing to the north of the lane, was linked to it by two lanes which met at Middle Farm, of which the eastern one, called Stonebridge Lane in 1774, (fn. 64) continued past Didcot towards Dumbleton. The road running east from Teddington Hands between Beckford and Bengrove was a turnpike from 1726 to 1747 and from 1755 to 1872. (fn. 65) North of that road the old direct route from Beckford to Bengrove shrank to a footpath. In 1774 at least two roads ran up Bredon Hill to the pastures and quarries there; Hill Lane ran from Beckford probably on the line of the modern lane past Court Farm, and the other ran from Grafton. (fn. 66) In 1789 a road society, formed by gentlemen in the Bredon Hill area and meeting at Beckford, aimed to improve the roads in the area and encourage the surveyors of highways. (fn. 67) A charity for the upkeep of the public roads originated in an allotment of 3 a. at inclosure in 1774. It yielded c. £2 in 1927 and was in existence, though not used, in 1965. (fn. 68)
In 1086 81 inhabitants were enumerated, of whom 12 were in Didcot. (fn. 69) In 1327 74 people were assessed for tax, 29 in Beckford, 28 in Grafton, 10 in Didcot, and 7 in Bengrove. (fn. 70) In 1381 178 parishioners were named, 112 from Beckford, 57 from Grafton, and 9 from Bengrove. (fn. 71) There is no figure for Didcot in 1381, but it was said that 30 people left their homes there on inclosure in the late 15th century. (fn. 72) There were said to be 41 households in the parish in 1563, (fn. 73) and 50 families in 1650. (fn. 74) In the late 17th century it was estimated that there were c. 25 families in Beckford, c. 20 in Grafton, and 4 in Bengrove. (fn. 75) In 1727 and 1728 the parish seems to have been affected by disease: there was a total of 86 burials, far more than in normal years. (fn. 76) The population rose, nevertheless, from c. 250 in the early 18th century to 403 c. 1775. (fn. 77) In 1801 the total was 459, 281 of whom lived in Beckford, 178 in Grafton and Bengrove. Throughout the 19th century the population varied little, except for a sudden rise between 1861 and 1871, the period of Beckford's rebuilding, from 473 to 545. Numbers had fallen to 461 by 1881, and remained fairly constant until the boundary changes of 1931. (fn. 78)
In the early Middle Ages Beckford was dominated by an alien priory established c. 1128 as a cell of the Priory of Ste. Barbe-en-Auge (Calvados). (fn. 79) Beckford Priory was a flourishing conventual house in the 12th century; because of its prosperity it became a centre for scribes who sent their work back to the mother house. (fn. 80) Before 1153 the canons built their own oratory, (fn. 81) but the elaborate Norman architecture of Beckford church may have owed something to their influence. (fn. 82) Beckford Priory suffered during the wars with France; (fn. 83) by 1374 only two canons were living there, (fn. 84) and in 1399 it was said to be no longer conventual. (fn. 85) Some of the priory's successors as lords of Beckford manor achieved a more than local repute, and Beckford Hall remained a major influence in the life of the parish. (fn. 86)
An ancient custom called 'Thomasing', whereby aged women perambulated the parish on St. Thomas's Day calling on the principal residents for alms, survived until 1925. (fn. 87)
Manors and Other Estates.
The Bishops of Worcester held an estate at Beckford and Didcot, first mentioned in the period 757–796, and again in 967 when Bishop Oswald leased land in Didcot to one of his thegns. (fn. 88) In 1066, however, Beckford was held by Rotlesc, a housecarl, which suggests that the bishop's rights had passed to the king. (fn. 89)
After 1066 William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford (d. 1071), joined Rotlesc's estate of 11 hides with one of 8 hides at Ashton under Hill to form BECKFORD manor. Possibly William held without royal consent, for the Domesday jurors had seen no writ granting the manor to him and he paid no farm. (fn. 90) William's second son, Roger d'Ivry (usually surnamed de Breteuil) inherited the earldom, taking Beckford at a farm of £30 a year. By conspiracy in 1075 Roger forfeited the manor, which had no further connexion with the Earldom of Hereford. (fn. 91) Instead Henry I granted it to William de Tancarville, his chamberlain (d. 1129); during William's lifetime it was held by his son Ravel the chamberlain, who claimed to hold not at farm but freely in demesne. (fn. 92) When c. 1128 Ravel granted Beckford to the canons of Ste. Barbe-en-Auge, the king after some delay (fn. 93) confirmed the grant in free alms. (fn. 94) Ste. Barbe's right to the manor was subsequently disputed. During the Anarchy William de Beauchamp, who claimed Beckford 'in time of war . . . by hereditary right', twice evicted the canons from Beckford. (fn. 95) After papal intervention William de Beauchamp was forced to make restitution of damages and later released all claim to the manor. (fn. 96) Under Henry II the yearly farm of £30 was claimed from Beckford manor because, as the canons alleged, at the time of the grant to William the chamberlain the king's roll had been negligently left unaltered. (fn. 97) The claim apparently lapsed, for from 1158 the sheriff deducted the £30 from the farm of the county, (fn. 98) and before 1162 the king confirmed Beckford to Ste. Barbe in free alms. (fn. 99) The sheriff's deduction was challenged on the grounds that the £30 had never been part of the farm, and not until 1179 was it allowed. (fn. 100) Between 1185 and 1189 Henry II again confirmed Ravel's grant of Beckford to Ste. Barbe. (fn. 101)
The priors of Ste. Barbe appointed priors of Beckford, (fn. 102) who held the manor, with some interruptions, until the end of the 14th century. When in wartime the king took the temporalities of the priory into his hands, he normally regranted them to the prior at a high rent. (fn. 103) In 1358, after the prior had been accused of waste at Beckford, the farm was granted for life to Giles Beauchamp; it was restored to another prior in 1361. (fn. 104) When, in 1374 and 1379, it was again granted to laymen, there were contingent payments for the maintenance of the prior and canons. (fn. 105) In 1379 the priory was committed to Sir John Cheyne, Speaker of the House of Commons, at an annual farm of 100 marks. (fn. 106) Sir John made Beckford his principal residence; by 1383 he held the priory rent-free; in 1389 the Prior and Canons of Ste. Barbe granted it to him, his wife, and his son in survivorship. Sir John obtained both papal and royal confirmation of his rights in Beckford, and also persuaded the king that the priory was not conventual. (fn. 107) He died in 1413 or 1414, his son Sir John in 1420, and his wife Margaret in 1437. Margaret's heir was Anne, daughter of the younger Sir John and wife of Sir Thomas Roos. (fn. 108) In 1438 the king granted the issues of the manor for life to Sir Robert Roos, (fn. 109) whose relationship to Sir Thomas is not clear.
In 1444 the manor was granted in free alms to Eton College, and a grant of 1441 to Sir John Beauchamp of the reversion after Sir Robert Roos's death was revoked. Sir Robert surrendered his lifeinterest in 1445. (fn. 110) In 1462 Edward IV transferred the manor to the Yorkist foundation, Fotheringhay College (Northants.), which retained it until 1547. (fn. 111) It was then granted by the king to Sir Richard Lee of Sopwell (Herts.), (fn. 112) who settled it at one time on his eldest daughter Anne and her husband, Edward Sadler, and later on another daughter Mary and her husband, Humphrey Coningsby. (fn. 113) Sir Richard Lee was dead by 1577 when Humphrey and Mary settled the manor on themselves for life, with reversion to the heirs of Mary. (fn. 114)
The manor was then partitioned, the estate broken up, and some of the copyhold land sold to the tenants. (fn. 115) In 1582 part of the manor, including the manor-house, was sold by the Coningsbys to John Wakeman, whose father Richard (d. 1597) had been tenant of the rectory estate since 1547 and was already tenant of the manor-house in 1582. (fn. 116) John Wakeman also acquired before 1614 lands and rights from the Franklin family, purchasers of the other part of the manor. (fn. 117) The Wakemans' estate continued to be called Beckford manor. (fn. 118) John Wakeman, lord in 1608, was succeeded in 1625 by his son Edward. (fn. 119) During the Interregnum two-thirds of Edward's Beckford estate was sequestrated for recusancy: at Edward's death in 1659 it passed to his son, Richard, who had raised a troop of horse for the king, and who was living at Beckford Hall in 1662, the year of his death. (fn. 120) Thereafter the manor descended in the Wakeman family until the 19th century: Richard was succeeded by his son Benedict (d. unmarried 1729), Benedict by his nephew William Plowden Wakeman (d. 1765), and William Plowden by his son Benedict (also d. 1765) and his brother Henry (d. 1787). Henry's son William lived at Beckford Hall until his death, unmarried, in 1836, when he was succeeded by his great-nephew, Walter Wakeman. (fn. 121) Walter was still lord of the manor in 1856, though the house was occupied by a tenant. Before 1863 both house and manor were purchased by Hattil Foll (fn. 122) (d. 1881), whose son Hattil E. Foll (d. 1936) was a minor novelist. The father sold Beckford Hall and the estate in or before 1881 (fn. 123) to Capt. Henry Ashton Case, who was the owner until his death in 1935. In 1936 Beckford Hall and 45 a. of the estate were bought by the Salesian Society; (fn. 124) most of the land was added to the Overbury estate. (fn. 125)
Beckford Hall is a building of stone and rubble standing in park-land on the north side of the church. The central range of seven bays has two stories, attics, and a basement. On the western elevation are seven gables between which are elaborate rainwater-heads bearing arms; the windows have stone mullions and continuous dripmoulds, and there is a central doorway. The range, which is one room deep, probably dates from the mid17th century. Early 19th-century prints (fn. 126) show that behind the central range was a second range with a gable at the southern end, and that the central doorway had a segmental pediment. In 1662 the house was assessed on 22 hearths. (fn. 127) The oak panelling of the dining-room was added by Benedict Wakeman (d. 1729). The house was in poor condition in 1836; (fn. 128) it was restored in the late 19th century, and a tower and wings were added, by Capt. Case. A new entrance was made in the south side. The chapel in the east wing was designed by Ion Price; it replaced an earlier chapel in the servants' rooms. (fn. 129) There is an ancient avenue of box trees in the grounds.
The 19th-century hall at the rear was built over the undercroft of the medieval priory. The undercroft was discovered and restored in the mid-20th century. It consists of a stone-vaulted chamber, later divided, four bays long from east to west and four bays wide. Two 12th-century circular columns support the vault and there are massive buttresses; one of the columns has a cushion capital, the other a square capital with chamfered abacus. The work may be part of the oratory built by the canons of Beckford between 1135 and 1153. (fn. 130)
The other part of Beckford manor, conveyed by the Coningsbys to John Franklin, came to be known later as the manor of ASHTON UNDER HILL AND GRAFTON. (fn. 131) John died seised of the estate in 1596, and his brother and heir Richard (fn. 132) in 1615, by which time certain rights and lands formerly attached to it had been sold to John Wakeman. Richard's son and heir John was a minor; (fn. 133) in 1615 or 1616 Sir Thomas Glover, probably as guardian, obtained with Edward Wakeman royal confirmation of their rights in the whole manor, with a view to final settlement of the two parts, and apparently surrendered all manorial rights except over the demesne. (fn. 134) John Franklin was succeeded by his son Richard, created a baronet in 1660, who died c. 1685. Sir Richard's son, also Sir Richard, died in 1695, (fn. 135) and his widow Anne was lady of the manor in 1701. (fn. 136) Sir Richard was succeeded as baronet by his brother Thomas (d. 1728), (fn. 137) but a Sir Robert Franklin was said, perhaps erroneously, to be lord c. 1710. (fn. 138) In 1712 John Twisleton and his wife Anne conveyed the estate to Henry Bridges, from whom it passed before 1718 to James Bridges, Earl of Caernarvon. (fn. 139) By 1753 it was in the hands of George, Lord Carpenter of Killaghy, who was created Earl of Tyrconnel in 1761. (fn. 140) He was lord of the manor in 1774 and retained an interest in the manor until 1786. (fn. 141) The manor then passed to John Blackburn, who was succeeded by Edward Blackburn before 1810. (fn. 142) William Baldwyn, who owned an estate and Lower Manor Farm in Ashton, was recorded as lord of the manor in 1870. He died in 1898, (fn. 143) and successive owners of Lower Manor Farm were regarded as lords of the manor: John Collins in 1902, Arthur Roberts in 1906, and Henry Bailey in 1923. (fn. 144)
An estate at Didcot held in the Middle Ages by Tewkesbury Abbey came to be known later as DIDCOT manor. (fn. 145) It originated in a grant of 3 hides out of Beckford manor, made shortly after the Conquest by William FitzOsbern to Ansfrid de Cormeilles. (fn. 146) Ansfrid died before 1101 and was succeeded by Thurstan de Cormeilles, probably his son. (fn. 147) In the reign of Henry I Thurstan's son Alexander granted the estate to Tewkesbury Abbey, which retained it until the Dissolution. (fn. 148) In 1526 it was granted to William Cartwright and his four sons in survivorship. (fn. 149) In 1544 the Crown granted the reversion in fee to Richard Tracy of Stanway, (fn. 150) who held Didcot at his death in 1568. Tracy was apparently successful in defending his title c. 1556 against John Throckmorton, who claimed the reversion under a grant by Tewkesbury Abbey. (fn. 151) In 1608 Richard's son, Paul Tracy (d. 1626), was holding the manor; he settled it on the marriage of his son Richard to Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Coningsby, and Sir Richard Tracy held Didcot at his death in 1637. (fn. 152) Thereafter Didcot descended with Stanway manor until at least 1798, when Francis Charteris (fn. 153) still had an interest in it. In 1800, however, Richard Stock, formerly the tenant, was said to be owner. (fn. 154) By 1840 the manor was held by Edward Holland, lord of Dumbleton manor, with which Didcot was afterwards owned. (fn. 155) In 1937 the lady of the manor was Caroline, Viscountess Monsell, daughter of Henry William Eyres of Dumbleton. She died in 1959 and was succeeded by her son, the Hon. H. B. G. Eyres Monsell. (fn. 156)
A freehold estate in Beckford was held by the Freeman family from the Middle Ages until the First World War. (fn. 157) In 1469 John Freeman held a house and 2 yardlands, by knight service, of the Prior of Beckford. (fn. 158) In the late 17th century William and Edward Freeman were armigerous. (fn. 159) Richard Freeman, owner in 1698, was succeeded by William, and William by his son William (d. 1764). The heir to the estate, another William, was a minor, and at inclosure in 1774 Mary Freeman, perhaps his mother, (fn. 160) received an allotment of 53 a. and also had 26 a. of old inclosures. (fn. 161) On the death of William Freeman in 1827 the estate passed to his nephew John. (fn. 162) The last of the family to hold the estate, Capt. William Freeman (d. 1934), was in possession by 1879. In 1889 the ancestral house was known as the Manor House; (fn. 163) it was later leased until sold with the estate c. 1926 to Capt. Arthur Davey. The owner in 1965 was Lt.-Col. J. GarnetLawson. (fn. 164)
The Manor House stands in its own grounds on the south of the village. The original building is a 16th- or 17th-century L-shaped structure of rubble with a Cotswold stone roof. There are gables, stonemullioned windows, and dripmoulds. In 1662 the house had 4 hearths. (fn. 165) Large-scale additions were made in the 20th century.
The rectory estate, appropriated to the Abbey of Cormeilles in or after 1235, (fn. 166) originated in the grant to the abbey by William FitzOsbern of his demesne tithes, 3 yardlands, and the churches of Beckford and Ashton under Hill. (fn. 167) From 1177 the tithes of Tewkesbury Abbey's estate in Didcot were included in the rectory. (fn. 168) Until the rectory was put to farm in the mid-13th century it was administered through Newent Priory, a cell to Cormeilles. (fn. 169) In 1247 it was granted to the Prior of Ste. Barbe at an annual farm of 60 marks, (fn. 170) and was held by the priors of Beckford, along with Beckford manor. During the wars with France the rectory was at times taken into the king's hands and regranted to the Prior of Beckford. (fn. 171) The rent, however, was a heavy burden, and shortly before 1370 the Prior of Beckford surrendered the rectory to Newent Priory without licence. The Crown then granted it to Thomas Hervey, a royal official, (fn. 172) but it was restored in 1372 to Newent Priory and Hervey received a pension of £40 a year from Newent. (fn. 173) In 1396 the farm of the rectory was granted to William Longbrook, clerk, and in 1399 to Sir John Cheyne and Thomas Horston, clerk. (fn. 174) In 1411 the rectory passed with Newent Priory to Fotheringhay College, and so in 1547 to Sir Richard Lee, at a fee-farm rent. (fn. 175) From 1548 it was leased to Richard Wakeman. (fn. 176) With the manor, the rectory was later divided between the Wakemans and the Franklins, (fn. 177) who each held the tithes over their own lands; the tithes of most of Bengrove were held separately by the Morris family and later passed to the Baldwyns. (fn. 178) At inclosure in 1773 Henry Wakeman received 198 a. and the Earl of Tyrconnel 134 a. for the tithes of Beckford and Ashton under Hill, and John Baldwyn 31 a. for those of Bengrove. (fn. 179) The tithes of Didcot were commuted in 1840, when the impropriator, Charles Ranken, was awarded a rent-charge of £42 a year. (fn. 180)
By 1066 Beckford was the centre of a large arable estate, assessed at 11 hides. On the demesne were 3 plough-teams and 16 servi and ancillae; the tenants, 34 villani and 17 bordars, had 30 plough-teams. Before 1086 Didcot, assessed at 3 hides and carrying with it 5 ploughteams and 12 villani, was taken out of the estate and thereafter remained a separate agrarian unit. (fn. 181) The rest of Beckford was united with Ashton under Hill as a single manor assessed at 16 hides in 1086; there were then 7 plough-teams on the demesne worked by 28 servi and ancillae. The tenants, 32 villani and 21 bordars, held 31 plough-teams. A small rectory estate, 3 yardlands with 2 villani, was also in existence by 1086. (fn. 182)
The demesne increased in size during the 12th century, partly by the ploughing of new land. (fn. 183) Later surveys suggest that although the demesne arable was reduced the number of plough-teams decreased more slowly: an undated 13th-century extent valued 10 plough-lands of demesne at 40s. each, whereas in 1291 and 1371 the demesne was described as 4 plough-lands in Beckford, worth 30s. and 32s. 6d. respectively; in 1293-4 the Prior of Beckford had 7 plough-teams. By the mid-15th century demesne farming was no longer practised; the demesne is identifiable with parcels of pennyland held by tenants in addition to their customary holdings. (fn. 184) The parcels were held at will for rents varying in Beckford field from 22s. to 3½d. a year and amounting to nearly £9. In Grafton field the pennyland was split into c. 40 holdings rented at £11 2s., almost as much as the customary land. Although pennylands were scattered throughout the two fields, their occasional concentration within certain furlongs suggests partial amalgamation of demesne at an earlier period.
In the 13th century 77½ yardlands were held by villeins at an annual rent of 10s. each; rents of cottars amounted to 60s. (fn. 185) In 1291 the commuted customary works were valued at £20. (fn. 186) In 1371 the tenants' rent was £35, much the same as in 1291; but it included rent of tenants-at-will and customary works had decreased in value to c. £11. (fn. 187) The taxassessment of 1327 suggests a wide range of wealth among the tenants. At Beckford 7 out of 29 were assessed at 4s. or more, and 11 at less than 2s. At Grafton 17 out of 28 were assessed at 4s. or more (one was assessed at 22s.), and only 5 at less than 2s. At Didcot one of the 10 was assessed at 4s. 0¼d., and 6 at less than 2s. At Bengrove 7 were assessed at a total of £2 8s. 11d. (fn. 188) In Beckford, Grafton, and Bengrove, most of those assessed for poll-tax in 1381 were divided evenly between cultores and servientes. (fn. 189) Whatever that distinction might imply, in the 15th century there was great diversity among the tenants. In Beckford in 1469 there were 2 freeholders, John Freeman, mentioned above, (fn. 190) who paid 16s. rent and 8s. for customary works, and another who held a house on the rectory estate, paying only 9d. for works. There were 29 customary tenants, most of whom also held pennyland. Five holdings of a house and one yardland survived, at a rent of c. 25s. each. Of the total rental of £30 more than two-thirds came from customary holdings. There were 5 tenants at will who held only small amounts of pennyland. (fn. 191) At Grafton in 1455 there was less variety: of the 10 customary tenants 9 held a house and one yardland, the other 1½ yardland; the normal rent was 24s. with 20d. for customary works. (fn. 192) The total rent was £26, the same as in 1471 when there were 11 customary tenants, 11 tenantsat-will, and 7 others who were probably also tenantsat-will. (fn. 193) Thus the combined tenant population of Beckford and Grafton c. 1470 was 2 freemen, 40 customary tenants and c. 20 tenants-at-will. Of the customary tenants half were cottagers or crofters. Seven small tofts in Beckford were vacant.
Although the division of the manor in the late 16th century coincided with the appearance of several small freehold estates, most of the land continued to belong to the two large estates. In 1774 Henry Wakeman and the Earl of Tyrconnel owned over two-thirds of the parish. (fn. 194) Besides the 'old estate' (fn. 195) of the Freeman family in Beckford, which in 1774 was c. 70 a., (fn. 196) the smaller estates lay chiefly in Bengrove and Grafton. In Bengrove the Roberts, Hale, and Shewell families each held a yardland in chief in the earlier 17th century; (fn. 197) the Morris family also held land there in addition to the great tithes. (fn. 198) The four estates accounted for most of Bengrove field. In 1774 the Roberts estate, which had passed c. 1667 to the Darkes, (fn. 199) was c. 55 a., the Hale and Shewell estates, amalgamated in the possession of Samuel Bubb, (fn. 200) were together c. 102 a., and the Morris estate was held by John Baldwyn, who had c. 85 a. with a further 31 a. for tithes. (fn. 201) In Grafton the Baylis and Dobbins families each held a yardland in chief in the early 17th century; (fn. 202) both had substantial houses there in 1672, (fn. 203) but at least one of the estates was broken up during the 18th century: in 1774 there was only one sizeable estate, c. 85 a. of old inclosure owned by William Beckford, apart from the estates of Henry Wakeman and the Earl of Tyrconnel. (fn. 204)
Grafton field and Beckford field were recorded in the 13th century, (fn. 205) and Bengrove field in the 15th century. (fn. 206) In the 18th century three fields were mentioned in Grafton and three in Bengrove: Churchway, Further, and Middle fields in Grafton, and Whitefield, and Upper and Lower fields in Bengrove. (fn. 207) It seems, however, to have been normal to identify ridges in the fields by furlong only, (fn. 208) and it is not clear whether cropping was based on the threefold division. Moreover, large inroads on the common fields by piecemeal inclosure probably led to frequent regrouping of furlongs. In the Middle Ages the chief crops sown were the usual cereals, although no reference to oats has been found. Goods and chattels belonging to the Prior of Beckford in 1293 included 180 quarters of wheat, 110 quarters of barley, 48 quarters of dredge, and 70 quarters of beans, peas, and vetches; extremely low values were given to each crop. (fn. 209) Flax, onions, and herbs were grown, and orchards were probably important then as later. (fn. 210) The manor also contained a vineyard as well as dovecots and a fishery. (fn. 211) Meadow-land was located chiefly along the banks of the Carrant. (fn. 212) In 1371 the Prior of Beckford had 60 a. of meadow valued at £7 10s. (fn. 213) In 1455, however, the tenants of Grafton held only 21 a. by lot. (fn. 214) By the 16th century much of the meadow in Grafton and Beckford seems to have been inclosed. (fn. 215)
There was extensive pasture for sheep on Bredon hill. In the 13th century it was stated that the manor could maintain 500 sheep; (fn. 216) in 1293–4 the prior owned 315. (fn. 217) There were at least 3 shepherds in the parish in 1381, (fn. 218) and a tithe custumal of 1488 was chiefly concerned with the tithing of sheep. (fn. 219) In the 16th century the rectory included pasture for 100 sheep on Bredon hill, (fn. 220) and even two relatively small holdings in Grafton had common of pasture for 130 sheep together. (fn. 221)
At Didcot, where in 1177 the Abbot of Tewkesbury had held 30 a. in demesne and there were 12 villein yardlands, (fn. 222) there was large-scale inclosure for sheep-farming. In 1500 the abbot's tenant converted 300 a. of arable to pasture; it was later said that 30 villagers left their homes. (fn. 223) Legislation against inclosure led to the reconversion of the land to tillage, and a subsequent lease stipulated that if inclosure was again effected the rent would be doubled. The hamlet was still uninclosed in 1540, (fn. 224) but it remained in single ownership and was reconverted to pasture: in 1553 400 sheep were distrained there. (fn. 225) By the 18th century Didcot was known as Didcot pastures. (fn. 226)
Inclosure in Beckford itself was not only for sheep-farming. An inclosed park, containing both pasture and arable, existed by 1470. (fn. 227) When John Wakeman bought the manor in 1582 much of it was probably inclosed, (fn. 228) but some of the arable in Grafton lay scattered throughout the fields. (fn. 229) In 1609 John Wakeman gave some or all of his ridges there to John Franklin and his copyholders in return for certain furlongs in Grafton field which he might inclose. (fn. 230) Although a condition of his purchase in 1582 was that Beckford Farm Hill and Beckford Hill above the park were never to be inclosed and were to be used exclusively for sheep-pasture, and that nothing was to be done that might interfere with the common rights of others, (fn. 231) the exchange of 1609 provided that Wakeman should surrender 210 sheep-commons in return for c. 60 a. on Bredon Hill near Elmley Castle; Wakeman already had an inclosure of c. 10 a. on Bredon Hill, and presumably the agreement made possible the stone-walled inclosure of c. 70 a., called Warren Hill, which the Wakemans owned in 1684. (fn. 232) In 1611 Richard Wakeman was letting a new inclosure of 8 a. called Saltpits. (fn. 233) Others were inclosing their land or converting to pasture at that time. Six closes of meadow and pasture, held in chief by Bernard Dobbins in 1626, (fn. 234) included 6 lands described in 1606 as lately laid down to pasture. (fn. 235) Before parliamentary inclosure the Earl of Tyrconnel held many pasture closes. (fn. 236) By 1774 935 a. in Beckford township were already inclosed, mostly belonging to the Wakemans. In Grafton there were 305 a. of old inclosure divided mainly between the Earl of Tyrconnel (107 a.), Henry Wakeman (80 a.), William Beckford (85 a.), and William Nind (15 a.); in Bengrove 122 a. had been inclosed, most of it owned by John Baldwyn (49 a.), Samuel Bubb (41 a.), and John Darke (24 a.). By inclosure under Act of Parliament in 1774 the remaining 474 a. in Beckford township were awarded chiefly to Henry Wakeman (256 a.) and Mary Freeman (56 a.); four others received less than 10 a. and the rest of the land was allotted for tithes. The remaining 454 a. in Grafton were awarded chiefly to the Earl of Tyrconnel (345 a.); three others received less than 10 a. The remaining 212 a. in Bengrove were divided mainly between Baldwyn (35 a.), Bubb (60 a.), Darke (31 a.), and Wakeman (19 a.); three others received less than 5 a. (fn. 237)
After inclosure the landowners remained few, but farms were generally small, except on the Wakeman estate in Beckford, of which at least half was still owner-occupied in 1830. (fn. 238) The total arable in the parish was said to be 878 a. in 1801, of which 376 a. were under wheat, 220 a. under barley, and 163 a. under beans; other crops included turnips (57 a.), peas (34 a.), and oats (23 a.). (fn. 239) The barley yield of 30 bushels per acre was high for the area. (fn. 240) In 1863 there were 8 farms in the parish, and by 1885 11, of which 5 were in Beckford, 3 in Grafton, 2 in Bengrove, and 1 in Didcot; in addition one man was described as a grazier. Until the 1930's cattle sales were regularly held in Beckford near the railway station. (fn. 241) In 1965 Beckford contained a number of orchards, and one farm (c. 150 a.) was devoted entirely to market-gardening.
In 1291 the Prior of Beckford had two mills. (fn. 242) A 13th-century extent mentioned only one mill in Beckford. (fn. 243) In 1371 the priory contained one watermill, (fn. 244) which was held by Sir John Cheyne at his death in 1420. (fn. 245) Mill furlong in Beckford township was mentioned in 1470. (fn. 246) No reference to Beckford mill later than 1592 has been found. (fn. 247)
A tailor was named in 1381, (fn. 248) another in 1449. (fn. 249) A smith was mentioned in 1470. (fn. 250) In 1608 there were 2 tailors, 2 weavers, a butcher, a shoemaker, a smith, a carpenter, and a cobbler. (fn. 251) In 1703 a mercer was named, (fn. 252) and in 1716 an exciseman. (fn. 253) In 1811 only 16 out of 105 families were supported by trade, manufacture, or handicraft. (fn. 254) By 1885 there were three firms of coal merchants located at the railway station. (fn. 255) Since the Second World War there has been extensive gravel working in Beckford. (fn. 256)
By the 13th century Grafton, Bengrove, and Didcot were established as separate townships. (fn. 257) In 1279 the Prior of Ste. Barbe claimed gallows and assize of bread and ale over his men. (fn. 258) In 1287 his right to view of frankpledge and waif, and to be quit of suit to the courts of shire and hundred, was successfully challenged, (fn. 259) but view of frankpledge belonged to Beckford manor in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 260) Courts leet were held at the Court House until c. 1872. (fn. 261)
A continuous series of overseers' and churchwardens' accounts survives from 1660. (fn. 262) There were two churchwardens; at first one represented Bengrove and Didcot, the other Beckford. In 1729 the vicar nominated his own warden, though not without opposition. (fn. 263) Until 1738 Grafton and Bengrove had a separate surveyor of highways; there were two surveyors for Beckford throughout. (fn. 264) Usually one overseer accounted for Beckford and Didcot, the other for Bengrove and Grafton. The funds at their disposal came partly from rates, granted by the vestry in multiples of a fixed sum of £4 13s. 4d. payable by 28 householders in 1704, partly from a rent of £9 a year from a piece of charity land. (fn. 265) In the 17th century expenditure was at times so low that the rent was sufficient; only one or two people were on weekly relief, and other payments for the poor, which included food, fuel, clothing, medical care, and apprenticing orphans, were infrequent. A few houses were built at the cost of the parish; (fn. 266) they were possibly the group of rent-free houses on the waste mentioned in 1834. (fn. 267)
Expenditure on the poor increased steadily throughout the 18th century, from c. £47 in 1732 (fn. 268) to £357 in 1796–7. By 1803 the number of people on weekly relief was 29; the weekly doles may have been reduced in 1815 when expenditure fell sharply, without any marked decrease in the number of people relieved. Between 1813 and 1815 the average cost of law-suits was as much as £55 a year. (fn. 269) In 1834 the rate was levied by a select vestry. It seems that the able-bodied poor were relieved only if they had a family, an allowance being available for all children more than two. The roundsman system was sometimes practised. (fn. 270)
In 1836 Beckford was included in the Winchcombe Poor Law Union, (fn. 271) and in 1864 in the Winchcombe highway district. (fn. 272) In 1920 a joint parish council was established for Beckford and Ashton under Hill. (fn. 273) Beckford was transferred from the Winchcombe to the Evesham Rural District in 1935. (fn. 274)
There was a minster church at Beckford in the late 8th century. In 803 it became the subject of a dispute at the Synod of Clovesho: Wulfheard, Bishop of Hereford, whose predecessors had long held Beckford church on lease from the Bishop of Worcester, refused to pay rent on the ground that none had been paid for 30 years or more. Denebeorht, Bishop of Worcester, produced evidence that it had been paid from Beckford to his predecessor Waermund (775–7), and accepted a compromise whereby rent was paid in alternate years. (fn. 275) It is not known whether the Bishop of Worcester retained an interest in Beckford church at the Conquest. (fn. 276) In or before 1071 William FitzOsbern granted the churches of Beckford and Ashton under Hill, together with demesne tithes and 3 yardlands, to his newly-founded abbey at Cormeilles. (fn. 277) A rector, Silvester, was in possession of the church in 1177. (fn. 278) In 1235 the Pope licensed the abbey to appropriate the rectory on the death or resignation of the rector, Peter the red, son of Roffridus, a papal doorkeeper. (fn. 279) A vicarage was established by 1247. (fn. 280)
Beckford church, like other Saxon minster churches, had a number of dependent chapels from an early date. Of the chapels, Ashton under Hill (fn. 281) was still annexed to it in 1965. In 1177 the Rector of Beckford granted Great Washbourne chapel to Tewkesbury Abbey in return for tithes at Didcot; (fn. 282) from 1656 to 1660 Great Washbourne was reunited with Beckford. (fn. 283) Grafton also had a chapel in the 12th century which survived until c. 1543. (fn. 284) A chapel at Didcot belonged to Tewkesbury Abbey; it passed with the Didcot estate to the Tracy family but had probably been disused since the depopulation of the hamlet. (fn. 285)
During the Middle Ages the advowson of the vicarage followed the descent of the rectory estate, although the Crown often presented in the 14th century on account of the French wars. (fn. 286) In 1386 Sir John Devereux, farmer of Newent Priory, presented. (fn. 287) In 1547 the advowson passed to Sir Richard Lee. (fn. 288) The right to present was in dispute in 1573 between the Crown and two others, both of whom claimed a turn by grant from Sir Richard Lee. (fn. 289) By 1577 Humphrey Coningsby held the advowson, which he later conveyed to John Wakeman; both Coningsby and Wakeman granted turns to Nicholas Tracy of Kemerton. (fn. 290) Although the Wakemans held the advowson until at least 1763, and made presentations in 1593 and 1677, they were papists whose right was usually exercised by others. (fn. 291) The advowson seems to have passed to the Timbrill family, members of which presented in 1797 and 1865. (fn. 292) It passed subsequently to J. Gough, whose trustees were patrons in 1919. (fn. 293) By 1923 the advowson was held by the Martyrs' Memorial Trust and in 1964 by the Church Pastoral Aid Society. (fn. 294)
The vicarage was valued in 1291 at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 295) In 1535 the value was £16 16s. 10d. clear. (fn. 296) By that time the vicar's income came chiefly from the small tithes; there was no glebe, although the vicar held land as a tenant-at-will in the 15th century. (fn. 297) By 1488 a prescriptive modus operated, whereby the impropriator, who was also lord of the manor, paid a rent in kind for the small tithes of his demesne and the rectory estate. (fn. 298) At the end of the 17th century the rent was 8 quarters of wheat, 6 of oats, and 4 of barley, and £8 in money. (fn. 299) Among the small tithes recorded in 1488 were customary payments at Easter for gardens, onions and herbs, colts, and milk, while tithes of flax, fruit, and pigeons were not commuted. (fn. 300) In the 17th century the vicar was receiving the rent of a meadow in Didcot known as Vicar's meadow, (fn. 301) possibly identifiable with Ston meadow from which the vicar was receiving tithes in 1704. (fn. 302) The value of the vicarage seems to have risen little from 1650, when it was said to be £80, (fn. 303) until inclosure in 1774 when the vicar was awarded 186 a. for tithes. (fn. 304) When the tithes of Didcot were commuted in 1840 the vicar received a corn-rent of £39 14s. 3d. (fn. 305) In 1807 he owned a small cottage in Beckford as well as the vicarage house. (fn. 306) In 1816 the vicarage was valued at c. £300, (fn. 307) and in 1865 at £319. (fn. 308) The vicarage house, said to be in great decay in the 1570's, (fn. 309) was apparently rebuilt in the 17th century. The back part, a two-story stone structure, was presumably the house with 4 hearths in 1672 (fn. 310) and comprising 3 bays in 1704. (fn. 311) The house was greatly enlarged by the addition c. 1800 (fn. 312) of a new front block, a three-story brick structure with a Welsh slate roof.
Simon of Leicester, instituted to Beckford vicarage in 1279, was declared impotent and infirm by old age in 1298, when the custody of the vicarage was granted to another. (fn. 313) In 1324–5 the issues of the vicarage were committed to the Bishop of Worcester because the incumbent was a Frenchman. (fn. 314) During the 14th century most of the incumbents exchanged the benefice for another after a brief stay. (fn. 315) By contrast, John Lowthe, instituted in 1428, remained vicar for over forty years. (fn. 316) William Wilton, vicar 1509–10, was a fellow of King's College, Cambridge; John Russell, 1522–c. 1532, was Master of Fotheringhay College, (fn. 317) and Thomas Topcliff, c. 1534–1545, (fn. 318) was a fellow there. (fn. 319) Services at Beckford were taken by a curate, paid by the farmer of the vicarage in 1540 and 1544. (fn. 320)
The incumbent in 1551, John Chamberlain, was declared satisfactory, as well as distinguished in learning; he was for a time deprived of the living in Mary's reign. (fn. 321) Later he lived at Batsford and paid a curate to serve both Beckford and Ashton under Hill; he took away with him the only copy of the Queen's Injunctions and left the vicarage in decay. (fn. 322) In 1573, because of the dispute over the advowson, at least three vicars, including Chamberlain, claimed the living. (fn. 323) The parish was badly served: the curate served two cures and did not teach the catechism, and the clerk could not read. (fn. 324) In 1576 the Crown's presentee was instituted but resigned shortly afterwards. (fn. 325) The disputed presentation may reflect religious unrest: in 1603 one man refused to come to church and two to communion. (fn. 326) The incumbent during the Interregnum was Richard Eedes, a noted Presbyterian divine. (fn. 327)
In the early 18th century the vicars were absentees. In 1713 one curate served Beckford, Ashton under Hill, and Great Washbourne. In 1718 the incumbent was also Rector of Alderton. (fn. 328) Joseph Biddle, vicar 1768–97, however, lived in Beckford; his successor, John Timbrill, vicar 1797–1865, Archdeacon of Gloucester, and a prominent local churchman, rebuilt the vicarage and, though holding other livings, lived in Beckford until his death. (fn. 329) In 1825 he was holding one service every Sunday and 4 communion services a year for 35–40 communicants. The average congregation then was about 160; by 1851 the number had not increased significantly. (fn. 330) Archdeacon Timbrill later employed an assistant curate. (fn. 331)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST (fn. 332) is a building of coursed rubble comprising nave, chancel, central tower, north vestry, and south porch. The nave and lower stage of the tower are Norman, although they appear to be built on earlier foundations. The nave has 12th-century doorways on the north and south sides. The south doorway, set within a plain Perpendicular porch which has been much altered, is of four enriched orders. Attached shafts supporting the two middle orders have ornamented capitals. A sculptured tympanum stands on a richly carved lintel, supported by brackets decorated with carved heads. The tympanum has usually been seen as an illustration of animal creation adoring the Trinity: it shows a crucifix with a bird perched on the right limb, a disc above the left limb, and a strange beast on each side. (fn. 333) East of the doorway is a mutilated stoup. The north doorway has been blocked and much altered. A tympanum representing the harrowing of hell survives; below it on the lintel is a leaf pattern. The lintel rests on brackets decorated with carved heads. One enriched order survives and there is an attached shaft with a corbel-head instead of a capital. (fn. 334) The nave contains an original deeply splayed window on both north and south sides. An attached shaft with a 12thcentury capital in the south wall may have formed part of another window. The west end originally contained two large round-headed windows, which are visible in the masonry. The Norman chancel arch, later the tower arch to the nave, is of three enriched orders supported on attached columns: carved into the central column on the north side are two demon heads and a centaur. The southern columns were not completed and were later mutilated, probably to accommodate a three-decker pulpit.
The lower stage of the tower contains deeply splayed windows in the north and south walls. Their position east of centre shows that the lower stage was formerly part of a Norman chancel. About 1300 a tower of three stages, surmounted by a spire, was built; relieving arches were inserted in the north and south walls of the lower stage, and internally the remains of vaulting are visible. The spire was removed in 1622, (fn. 335) and a fourth stage added in its place.
The chancel was added also c. 1300. Originally both the north and the south wall contained two two-light windows and one single; the single-light window on the south side was enlarged as a low side window during the 14th century but was later bricked-up to the height of the other windows. The queen-post roof was also a later addition as is shown by a blocked window in the west wall of the chancel above the tower arch. It is possible that the dedication of the high altar by Walter Maidstone, Bishop of Worcester, in 1315 (fn. 336) marked the completion of the building of the tower and the new chancel.
Shortly before 1413 a small chapel was built on the north side of the chancel by Sir John Cheyne. (fn. 337) The two-light window in the north wall of the chancel, later blocked by a monument of 1662, may have been blocked when the chapel was built, for there is a squint beside it. The chapel was extended in 1686–7, (fn. 338) and subsequently used as a vestry. Other 15th century additions include the five-light west window and a window in the south wall of the nave. The 15th-century font has an octagonal bowl and pedestal with enriched faces. (fn. 339) Corbels in the nave, the trussed-rafter roof, (fn. 340) and a surviving fragment of wall-painting (fn. 341) are also probably 15th-century.
Blocked doorways, one above the other, north of the tower arch to the nave, formerly gave access to a rood loft, which was presumably destroyed, as ordered, in 1551. (fn. 342) The communion rails are Jacobean. The east window of the chancel, which has unusual tracery, may have been replaced during the 17th century. In 1656 the chancel was furnished with seats for a school by Jonathan and Isaac Blackwell. (fn. 343) In 1660 the royal arms were set up in the church. (fn. 344)
Throughout the 17th century the church seems to have been repaired regularly. (fn. 345) In 1750 the roofs and floors were said to have been repaired at the request of the archdeacon. (fn. 346) In the mid-19th century the church was restored at great expense. A gallery, which had been rebuilt early in the century, was removed and the old pews replaced by oak pews of a similar pattern. For 12 years from 1866 the church was lighted by gas. (fn. 347) In the 20th century the interior was stripped of plaster and whitewash; (fn. 348) other additions included a screen in the chancel arch, which incorporates remnants of a much older screen.
Monuments in the chancel include those of Richard Wakeman (d. 1662) and William Wakeman (d. 1836). In the tower are tablets to Archdeacon John Timbrill (d. 1865) and to members of his family. Monuments in the nave include tablets to two vicars of Beckford, John Harper (d. 1754) and Lebbeus Lunn (d. 1718). There is a small panel of Flemish glass in the Norman window on the north side of the nave.
There are six bells, three of 1697, one of 1714, and two undated. All appear to be by Abraham Rudhall. (fn. 349) The bells were rehung in 1910. (fn. 350) The plate includes a chalice and pewter cover (1576), a pewter flagon (1684), and a credence paten (1720). Two electro-plated alms plates were presented by Robert Timbrill in 1871. (fn. 351)
The registers of burials begin in 1538, of baptisms in 1549, and of marriages in 1573; they are virtually complete.
The chapel at Grafton stood on the west side of the main street, where the remains of a chancel arch, with mouldings, are incorporated in situ in Norman Cottage; excavation revealed the foundations of a small rectangular nave and chancel. Comparison with Great Washbourne chapel suggests that Grafton chapel was built in the mid-12th century. (fn. 352) About 1543 the chapel was broken into by local men, robbed, and apparently damaged beyond repair. (fn. 353) A cottage was built in the ruins in the 17th century.
The private chapel of the Wakeman family at Beckford Hall was the centre of Roman Catholicism in the parish for over two hundred years. In 1635 the education of Richard Wakeman 'under a priest' aroused the concern of the Privy Council. (fn. 354) Chaplains stayed at the house throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. (fn. 355) In the 17th century Roman Catholicism was probably confined to the family and their servants; only six papists were returned in 1676. (fn. 356) By 1735, however, the number had risen to 35, and it was reported that a bishop had confirmed at the house. (fn. 357) In the time of William Wakeman (d. 1836) the chapel was open at stated times for public worship, and Beckford was the centre of a mission numbering 50 people. After 1840 the Beckford Roman Catholics attended the oratory at Overbury, and later the Roman Catholic church at Kemerton. (fn. 358) Beckford Hall again became a Roman Catholic centre when it was purchased by Capt. Case in 1883; from 1936 it has been held by the Salesian Society. (fn. 359)
Although a Presbyterian meeting-house was registered in 1672, (fn. 360) no Protestant nonconformists were listed in the 1676 return. (fn. 361) In 1709 and again in 1770 a Presbyterian meeting-house was registered by a member of the Baylis family. (fn. 362) There were said to be 16 Independents in 1735 and 1750; (fn. 363) an unregistered house was used by dissenters in 1822, (fn. 364) but no meeting was mentioned in 1826. (fn. 365) A Quaker meetinghouse at Grafton, registered in 1692, (fn. 366) has left no further record. In 1912 the site for a Wesleyan Methodist chapel was given by Mrs. Jessie Creese out of the Beckford House estate. (fn. 367) The chapel, built of wood and iron, was sold in 1940 and removed to Uckington, to serve as a Baptist chapel. (fn. 368)
In 1743 a school in Beckford was taught by the curate of Great Washbourne. (fn. 369) In 1818 the only school recorded was a Sunday school, established and supported by John Timbrill, the vicar, and attended by 87 children. (fn. 370) By 1826 there was also a day school, attended by c. 17 children at their parents' expense. (fn. 371) The Sunday school, which also served Ashton under Hill, was later in union with the National Society from which it received an annual grant; other funds came from subscriptions and from the vicar. The school was held in the church. (fn. 372) In 1863 John Timbrill built a new school for the agricultural and manufacturing classes only, (fn. 373) which was conveyed to trustees in 1864. Its income in 1875 came from contributions and school pence. The school, a brick building standing next to the churchyard gate, was enlarged c. 1873. (fn. 374) A teacher's house adjoining the school was built in 1864. (fn. 375) Attendance was 53 in 1875, and 87 in 1907 when there was a separate infants department. (fn. 376) In 1965 the attendance was c. 35; the school was closed at the end of the year, the children going to Ashton under Hill. (fn. 377)
In 1539 John Dobbins, Vicar of Tetbury, gave a house and ½ yardland, (fn. 378) which in the 17th and 18th centuries was called Church land and yielded c. £9 a year that was normally used to augment the rates. (fn. 379) After inclosure in 1774 the property comprised a house and 5½ a.; it was let for £22 in 1826. (fn. 380) In 1743 John Harper, Vicar of Beckford (d. 1754), gave a house and land at Upton-on-Severn (Worcs.) for a bread charity. By 1826 the estate was let for £23, and the trustees were the same as for Dobbins's charity. (fn. 381) Elizabeth Hale of Bengrove (fl. 1735) (fn. 382) by will gave £20 for a bread charity. (fn. 383) A scheme of 1913 merged the Dobbins and Hale charities with a small part of the Harper charity as the Beckford United Charities, and named the residue the Harper ecclesiastical charity, both to be used for any suitable charitable purpose. (fn. 384) Thus in 1927 the Hale charity was distributed in bread, the Dobbins charity in the form of tickets on Beckford tradesmen. (fn. 385) The United Charities continued to operate in 1965. (fn. 386)