A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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The ancient parish of Ansty lay four miles north-east of Coventry; its area was 1,015 acres in 1891. (fn. 1) The parish, which was of an irregular shape, was bounded by Shilton on the north-west and north-east, on the south-west by Walsgrave-on-Sowe, and on the south-east by the district of Combe Fields. These boundaries were unchanged until 1932, when an area of 539 acres on the south-west of the parish was transferred to Ansty civil parish from Walsgraveon-Sowe. Ansty was in Foleshill Union and Rural District until 1932, when the enlarged parish became part of Rugby Rural District. (fn. 2) The area of the ancient parish slopes from the north to several watercourses which drain into the River Sowe; one of these watercourses, the Withybrook, forms the south-east boundary of the parish. (fn. 3) The village stands on a low ridge in the middle of the parish, and from it there are extensive views over Coventry and the valley of the Sowe to the south-west.
The village is built along the Leicester road, which crosses the parish from south-west to north-east. Immediately north of the village another road branches south-east towards Brinklow. The Oxford Canal runs from west to east, skirting the village on the south, and crosses the watercourse at the eastern boundary of the parish by the Hopsford Viaduct. The railway from Rugby to Nuneaton crosses the east of the parish and runs immediately north of the canal viaduct. The village and parish have been very little affected by modern building and remain rural in character (1964).
MANORS AND ESTATES.
In 1086 and earlier Ansty, with Foleshill, was one of the estates of the Countess Godiva. (fn. 4) The estate came into the hands of the earls of Chester and descended, with other Coventry lands, to Hugh, Earl of Arundel, Robert de Montalt, and Robert de Morlee. It was among the lands exchanged by Robert de Morlee with Queen Isabel in the early 14th century, (fn. 5) so that the overlordship descended with the manor of Cheylesmore. (fn. 6)
The earliest known mesne lord of Ansty was Roger de Boscherville, who held half a knight's fee there in 1183-4. (fn. 7) By 1243 the half fee was held by Thomas Ireys, who had married Agnes, the Boscherville heiress. (fn. 8) The estate was held by Agnes Ireys in 1275, (fn. 9) and by her grandson, Henry Ireys, in 1316. (fn. 10) Elizabeth Ireys, presumably Henry's widow, was occupying the estate in 1327, (fn. 11) and retained a third as her dower after she married again, probably by 1332. (fn. 12) Henry's daughters, Thomasina and Maud, married John and Hugh de Culy respectively, and in 1337 they settled the estate, which was then referred to as a manor, on William de Culy. (fn. 13) In fact by 1357 the estate had descended to Maud's son, Sir Roger de Culy. (fn. 14) Roger's death without issue in 1359 (fn. 15) led to a dispute over the manor. His widow Margery (d. 1380) married John Deincourt; the heir, Elizabeth, Roger's cousin and wife of John Stanhope, then released the manor to John Deincourt, (fn. 16) who did homage for it in 1385. (fn. 17) When John died his heir Roger was a minor, and custody of the manor was granted to Sir William Arundell in 1394. (fn. 18) In 1402 Roger's rights were challenged by Ralph de Aderley, by virtue of a grant by Elizabeth and John Stanhope to Ralph and his heirs in 1380. (fn. 19) After prolonged litigation, (fn. 20) Roger Deincourt retained possession, but quitclaimed the estate in 1406 to Sir Richard Stanhope, son of Elizabeth and John Stanhope. (fn. 21)
The manor remained in the hands of the Stanhope family (fn. 22) until 1506, when Sir Edward Stanhope, after being temporarily dispossessed by the king in satisfaction of a debt, sold it to George, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury. (fn. 23) The earl gave the estate in the following year to the Dean and Canons of St. George's, Windsor, (fn. 24) who retained it until 1867, when it was vested, with the rest of their estates, in the Ecclesiastical (later the Church) Commissioners. (fn. 25) The Ansty estate then consisted of approximately 725 acres held under six leases. Of this about 640 acres were sold in three lots in 1869 and 1870 to the lessees - Arthur Robarts Adams, the Revd. C. C. Adams, Francis Wigston, and the executors of J. A. Sartoris - and the remainder was disposed of in a number of smaller transactions which were completed in 1886 when the last of the estate was sold. (fn. 26)
The Dean and Canons of Windsor kept the direct lordship of the villein holdings, (fn. 27) but granted a lease of the manor, or more correctly the demesne estate, for 61 years, to Richard Harrison in 1544. (fn. 28) He sold the remainder of his lease, about 1550, to John Barker, (fn. 29) a member of a Berkshire family, who was succeeded as lessee by his son, William. (fn. 30) Richard Barker, John's grandson, was described as of Ansty in 1619, (fn. 31) and was lessee of the manor in 1637. (fn. 32) His daughter Mary married Thomas Woodcock, who died about 1640, and their daughter Anne (d. 1671) married Richard Tayler. (fn. 33) Tayler took advantage of the confiscation of church lands to buy the manor, presumably in 1659 since he was still referred to as tenant in the summer of that year, (fn. 34) but he had to restore it and become a leaseholder again after the Restoration. Richard Tayler died in 1676 and was succeeded by his son Edward, who rebuilt the manor-house later known as Ansty Hall. The Taylers remained in Ansty until the death of Edward Tayler, a lunatic, in 1799, when the estate passed to his nephew Simon Adams, son of Elizabeth and Clarke Adams of East Haddon (Northants.). Simon Adams, to whom the care of Tayler's estates had been committed by 1782, (fn. 35) is said to have been living at Ansty from 1783 onwards, (fn. 36) and was certainly there in 1788. (fn. 37) He died in 1801 and was succeeded by his son Henry. The Adams (from 1893 Woollcombe-Adams) family owned the estate until after the Second World War and were often described as lords of the manor. (fn. 38) In 1956 Mr. P. E. Woollcombe-Adams sold the Adams estate to his cousin, Mr. D. Stopford Adams, a member of a younger branch of the family and a great-grandson of Henry Adams. (fn. 39) Mr. Stopford Adams was occupying Ansty Hall in 1965. (fn. 40)
The date at which the lessees of the manor first came to live in the village and the whereabouts of the earliest manor-house there are not certainly known. In 1506 there was a grove called Ansty Park, apparently on the demesne estate, (fn. 41) and in the 19th century it was recalled that 'the old mansion or manor-house' had stood in the Hall or Upper Park, then forming part of land called the Moats (fn. 42) which in 1651 had been described as a close of pasture 'abutting upon the churchyard'. (fn. 43) A large gabled house was marked on a late-16th-century map of Ansty, standing on the village street to the south of the church and the present hall, (fn. 44) but here the ground slopes too steeply for it ever to have been the site of a moated building. However, a field, still known as the Motts and containing a mound in its south-east corner, lies to the north and north-west of church and hall, (fn. 45) in the area which in the late 16th century was occupied by closes called 'the farm close', 'the grove alias the park', and 'the pale'. (fn. 46)
The present Ansty Hall stands on rising ground to the north of the main road, overlooking a small park. As originally built by Edward Tayler about 1678, it was a rectangular two-storied house of red brick with stone quoins and dressings. On plan it was two rooms deep, its principal fronts facing north-west and south-east. The lower part of the north-west elevation and many of the internal features belong to this period. It seems that there may originally have been an approach to the house on its north-west side from Shilton Lane, which was then the most important road in the area. This would have crossed what is still called Avenue Field, adjoining the Motts, (fn. 47) and its line may be indicated by the belt of trees standing near Shilton Lane.
The house was much altered by Simon Adams about 1800. He added a third story, changed some of the windows, and gave the building an imposing south-east front with a central pediment. Above its new doorway a date-stone of 1678 has apparently been re-set. Further additions to the house were made in the late 19th century. Internally the hall contains 16th- or early-17th-century oak panelling, brought from elsewhere. The staircase has a balustrade of pierced scrollwork and may date from 1678; parts of it, however, show signs of alteration, and the newel caps are of somewhat earlier design.
In the 15th century Coventry Priory had several pieces of land in Ansty. (fn. 48) At least one piece had been a gift of Roger de Boscherville in the 12th century, and others were in the priory's possession by the mid 13th century. (fn. 49) The pieces did not amount to an estate or manor; most of them were connected either with Ansty rectory, or with the priory's lordship of Sowe Waste. (fn. 50) In 1539 the property consisted of Ralph Swillington's holding, worth 14s. a year, and Sampson Webb's holding, worth 1s. a year, both described as in Shilton and Ansty. (fn. 51)
During his delineation of commoning rights in the district in the mid 14th century, the prior made agreements not only with Roger de Culy, but with Roger Onley, Robert Forest, Robert Jordan, and the Prior of St. John's Hospital, Coventry. (fn. 52) These freeholds survived at least into the early 17th century, when some were said to have been added to the principal estate by Richard Barker. (fn. 53) Joshua Clark and Henry Jephcott, for example, as well as the Dean and Canons of Windsor, were represented at the Cheylesmore court in 1617. (fn. 54)
There is a joint Domesday entry for Ansty and Foleshill (fn. 55) (which may also include Exhall), and as Foleshill is both much larger than Ansty, and a very different parish, it is impossible to distinguish any separate features of Ansty at that time. Nor, because of the small size of the priory's estate there, do the priory's 14-thand 15th-century rentals give as clear a picture of Ansty as they do of Sowe or Foleshill.
The name, Ansty, meaning a narrow pathway or pass, (fn. 56) may be thought to suggest that such a feature on the route from Coventry to the north-east has been important in the history of the village. But, as will be shown elsewhere, the most important medieval road was the route through Sowe Common and Barnacle to Shilton, sometimes called Shilton Lane, (fn. 57) which skirts Ansty on the north. The 'highway' through Ansty mentioned in the 14th century (fn. 58) was probably only the village street. A local historian has suggested that there was no road at all from Ansty to Sowe before the 19th century, (fn. 59) but it existed as a field boundary through the open field of Ansty in the late 16th century and, beyond the village, followed an awkwardly winding hedge to Shilton. (fn. 60) It was called Sowe Lane in 1698. The bridge over the stream just south-west of the village was called Tapping Bridge. (fn. 61) To the south, the path to Combe Fields, or Brinklow Lane, also followed a field boundary. (fn. 62) There was a road called Ansty Stakes leading to Nuneaton by way of Bulkington in the mid 17th century. (fn. 63) The realignment of the Sowe-Ansty road in the Sowe inclosure of 1756 (fn. 64) began the change to the modern road pattern. The road was turnpiked in 1812-13, (fn. 65) but continued to be less important than Hawkesbury Lane. It is only in the present century that it has become the main road from Coventry to Leicester.
The construction of the Oxford Canal in the 1770s (fn. 66) greatly changed the appearance of the village. It cuts across the north of the parish, close to the 300 ft. contour, goes under the main road near the west end of the village, and runs behind the houses on the south side of the village street. The canal bridge carrying the main road was evidently built a little to the south of the village street, so that a few of the houses which lay along the old street stand north of the bridge and at a lower level. The bridge was widened and rebuilt in 1909. (fn. 67) Further east the road follows the winding street itself, and this is lined with houses on both sides. From the bridge the canal forms a striking visual feature and the village has the appearance of a community built along the main road and largely dependent on it. This impression is historically quite misleading. The ancient village was comparatively isolated, standing in the midst of its fields, and dependent almost entirely on agriculture.
Another false impression is given by the commanding position of Ansty Hall with the church close beside it, suggesting a village traditionally dominated by squire and vicar. But this aspect of the village is not historically deep-rooted and was largely the work of the Adams family in the 18th and 19th centuries. The late medieval lords probably did not live at Ansty, and the manor was held in the 16th century by the lessees of the demesne estate. It was only in the 17th century that these lessees began to reside in the village and to establish themselves as the local lords. (fn. 68) The church remained little more than the poor chapelry it had been before the Dissolution. There was no resident vicar and sometimes no curate until T. C. Adams appeared in 1809. (fn. 69) Of the two 19th-century inns, the Crown and the Fox, the Crown is said to have been in existence since 1647, (fn. 70) but it seems unlikely that it was an inn until the turnpiking of the main road in the early 19th century. The local school and later the post office were built at Shilton. The present Ansty Hall, the vicarage (demolished c. 1939), the park, and even the church spire, were all comparatively late additions to an otherwise featureless landscape.
The late-16th-century map of the parish shows twelve houses along the village street, with the church and a single isolated house at Shuthooks to the north. Beyond the village gardens, to the east, south, and west, Ansty Town Fields was divided into three parts by the stream running from just west of the village towards Sowe, and by the lane to Combe Fields. To the north, towards Shilton, Barnacle, and Sowe Waste, was an area of closes, waste, and wood. The site of the church and graveyard, in one of the closes, and on a turning off the village street, (fn. 71) suggests that the layout of the parish had differed little when the church was added to it in the 12th century. (fn. 72)
In the 15th century the northern part of the later parish was part of Sowe Waste or Shortwood. This was common to the surrounding villages; parochial claims there were only just being established, and were probably not determined until after the Dissolution. (fn. 73) The waste was being inclosed and assarted from at least the 13th century, and the process was marked by a series of disputes and agreements between the Prior of Coventry, as lord of Sowe, and the lords of Ansty, Barnacle, Bulkington, and Shilton. (fn. 74) By these agreements, the parties recognised their respective rights to inclose and cultivate a part of the disputed area, and to surrender commoning rights, pannage, and estovers in the other's territory. The terms of the agreements varied considerably; in that with the Hospitallers of Barnacle, the Hospitallers were to retain commoning rights in Sowe and Ansty between the harvest and the sowing, while in that with Roger Culy rights were retained only in uninclosed lands. (fn. 75) There were special provisions in some agreements for the collection of tithes by the priory, but in other cases it had already become difficult for the priory to get the tithes from the closes which had become merged in another estate, and the uneven northern boundary of the parish was clearly in process of definition. (fn. 76) The names of some of these closes, including Ansty Park or Grove, Clerkspiece, and Priorspiece, were still used in the 17th century, (fn. 77) and were known in the 19th century. (fn. 78) General commoning rights, particularly for villein tenants, were thus steadily reduced. There was still some waste in the 15th century, when the beasts running on the common of Ansty were mentioned, and, in the late 16th century, the small pieces called Ansty Waste Field (fn. 79) were probably either still being used as common pasture or had only recently been inclosed.
Although three parts of Town Field were shown on the late-16th-century map, there is no other evidence of a three-course rotation in the parish, or of how the virgates or yardlands mentioned until the early 19th century (fn. 80) were related to actual holdings in the fields. The holdings of the villein tenants in the mid 15th century show little or no pattern, with two holdings of about 60 acres, three of between 25 and 40 acres, six between seven and thirteen acres, and various smaller pieces. (fn. 81) The most important field was Southfield; Middlefield and Aylesfield were also mentioned, but may only have been closes. There was a cultura called Straightfurlong in Southfield, (fn. 82) but other culture appear to have been closes. (fn. 83)
The inclosure of the open fields seems to have taken place in several stages during the 17th and 18th centuries. Richard Barker is said to have inclosed land after buying some freeholds in the early 17th century, and the Taylers apparently continued the process. (fn. 84) The glebe by 1674 consisted of 35½ acres in closes. (fn. 85) One close, of seven acres in fourteen leys, suggests a surviving arrangement of strips. (fn. 86) There had, however, been a single open corn field in the parish in 1664. (fn. 87)
The tithe award of 1850 (fn. 88) gives some indications of how the inclosure was carried out. H. W. Adams then owned about 600 acres, on 200 acres of which he had merged the tithe with the freehold; on another 350 acres he was owner of the tithes; 40 acres of his land were still scattered among the other fields, and so were tithed, and some other lands were untithed. The Award was concerned with some 220 acres held of the Dean and Canons of Windsor, which represent the leasehold or villein lands retained by the dean and canons after they had granted the demesne estate to Harrison in the 16th century. The Tithe Award map shows that these Windsor lands occupied almost exactly the eastern and western sections of the Town Field of the late-16thcentury map, and the 19th-century meadows and closes show signs of having been strips and furlongs. Most of the southern section of Town Field was, however, owned and occupied by Adams. The former open-field demesne land had clearly been consolidated and inclosed in this field, leaving the tenant land to more piecemeal inclosure in the other fields. The outlying farm later called Chronies Buildings may have been built for the consolidated holding.
Ansty did not, then, break up into several compact farms on inclosure. Apart from the lands owned and occupied by the Adams family, there were in 1850 eleven leaseholders on the Windsor lands. Of these, the largest was Thomas Reynolds, who was tenant or undertenant of over 80 acres in sixteen fields. (fn. 89) H. W. Adams had part of his land in hand under a farm bailiff; the principal leaseholders on his estate at this time were apparently John and William Pridmore, who were not natives of Ansty; (fn. 90) so that, in contrast to Sowe, where after inclosure farm buildings were dotted about the former open fields, there are in Ansty few buildings away from the village street and the canal. In the present village street most of the buildings date from the 18th and 19th centuries, but one substantial thatched house on the south side (now two dwellings) is timberframed and probably of 16th-century origin. More recent building has taken place along the canal west of the village and along the Sowe road to the south (1964).
There were 16 taxpayers in Ansty in 1327 (fn. 91) and 1332, (fn. 92) and 33 individuals in 1378-9. (fn. 93) In the mid 15th century there were 17 villein tenants and 10 houses on the Stanhope estate. (fn. 94) There were said to be 20 households in 1563. (fn. 95) In 1630 pews were allotted to 15 men, 15 women, some 18 maid-servants, and 8 men-servants; there were at that time said to be 12 copyhold tenants. (fn. 96) In 1730 there were about 25 houses. (fn. 97) The population rose sharply in the early 19th century. In 1801 there were 32 houses and 189 people, in 1831 51 houses (and one uninhabited) with 268 people. Thereafter the population fell steadily to 127 in 1891, and the number of occupied houses to 34 in 1901. (fn. 98)
The rise in population in the early 19th century was the result of the spread of ribbon weaving into the village. There was a weaver in Ansty by 1681, (fn. 99) but there was probably no continuity between him and the later industry. Cottage weaving spread north from Coventry in the early 18th century. In 1818 there were 69 people engaged in weaving in Ansty, out of a population which numbered 205 in 1821. (fn. 100) By the 1830s the trade was declining; of the 155 looms in Ansty and Shilton in 1831, 103 were unemployed, and in 1838 there were only 60 looms. (fn. 101) There was considerable distress at this time: about a fifth of the children in the neighbourhood did not go to school, principally because of poverty, and of these the elder children worked 'when they have it to do', but the young ones were 'in the streets'. (fn. 102) Nor was all well with agriculture at this time; only some 150 acres were sown in 1801, and it was said that 'the farmers of this parish, being tied from ploughing, do not get corn sufficient to feed the inhabitants'. (fn. 103)
In contrast to Foleshill and Sowe Waste, as ribbon weaving declined it was not replaced by general industry or suburban housing, and Ansty reverted to its rural character. In 1850 the tradesmen consisted only of a single shopkeeper, a butcher and tailor, a blacksmith, a shoemaker, and two wheelwrights. (fn. 104) In 1938, when there were complaints about the lack of social amenities in the village, there was no main water or sewerage, and only some of the houses had electricity. (fn. 105)
Ansty has had a curious historical relationship with the neighbouring village of Shilton and, to a lesser extent, with that of Barnacle. (fn. 106) They are small villages, a mile from each other, and with only low hills between. The three village fields bordered each other, and formed a continuous stretch of cultivation around the tongue of common extending from Sowe Waste. Ownership and parochial rights in this common were only slowly determined. In 1316 the three places were said to be one village (sunt una villa) under the lordship of Henry Ireys, (fn. 107) but Barnacle seems subsequently to have been associated with Bulkington, further away to the north (with which it had had an ancient connexion), and Shilton, (fn. 108) rather than with Ansty.
Ansty and Shilton chapels, because of the circumstances of their foundation, (fn. 109) never had the same close relationship with Coventry as chapels such as Sowe, on the pre-Conquest estate of Coventry Priory, or Foleshill, in the wastes of Cheylesmore manor. (fn. 110) With most of the chapelries around Coventry, Ansty appeared in the tripartite indenture of 1355, and both Ansty and Shilton in the leet book version of the charter of the county of the city in 1451. But Shilton did not appear in the tripartite indenture or in other versions of the 1451 charter, and although Shilton was from time to time administered with Ansty in the county of the city, and the two were virtually a single ecclesiastical parish, (fn. 111) Shilton kept a separate identity outside the county.
In 1649 the Warwickshire magistrates were still trying to decide which of several holdings fell in Ansty and so in Coventry, or in Shilton and so in Warwickshire. (fn. 112) On several occasions in the 17th century the Warwickshire magistrates seem to have assumed jurisdiction over Ansty. (fn. 113) In 1649, too, Barnacle was being assessed for rates with Shilton, not with Bulkington. The Aglionby family, the tenants of Barnacle Hall in the early 17th century, and the Fielding family, tenants there from the mid 17th to the early 18th centuries, worshipped at Shilton church. (fn. 114) As late as 1705 a single rate was levied in the three villages, Ansty, Shilton, and Barnacle. (fn. 115) It was probably only with the operations of the Census and the Ordnance Survey in the 19th century that the relationship of the villages was defined, and then on no real historical basis.
The prolonged doubt about the identity of Ansty is reflected in the fragmentary evidence about local government. Tithingmen were appointed in the Cheylesmore court in the 14th century, (fn. 116) and a tithingman, together with a constable, was still being appointed at the court in 1663. (fn. 117) The constable was being appointed at the Cheylesmore court in the mid 18th century, but the tithingman had apparently disappeared. (fn. 118) There were two overseers of the poor in 1760. (fn. 119) By 1841 two constables and an overseer were appointed at an annual parish meeting, which was also called a vestry meeting. The Revd. T. C. Adams then said that as it was a very small parish only just enough people could be found to be constables and overseers, and the proceedings were sometimes not written down; he had seen records of a manor court, but he had never known of one being held. (fn. 120) Ansty has been too small to have a modern parish council, but has a parish meeting, of which a member of the Adams family was normally chairman before the Second World War. It has been said that the Crown Inn was the traditional meeting-place in the village, and village stocks stood opposite the inn. (fn. 121) In fact, the magistrates were meeting weekly at the Fox Inn in 1850. (fn. 122)