A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1913.
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'Clive surnamed Prior, seated in the fruytful Vale of Evesham and the large spredinge medows of the ryver Avon, runneth out as a foreland between the countys of Gloucester and Warwicke.' (fn. 1) The parish lies mainly on the left bank of the Avon, but a part of the north-west boundary is formed by the Arrow, about 100 acres of land known as Worcester Meadows, on the right bank of the Avon, being thus included.
The village of Cleeve Prior stands about a quarter of a mile from the river, backed by the long low ridge of Cleeve Hill with its crest of trees. A road, locally said to be Roman, (fn. 2) runs along the length of the ridge to Marlcliff Hill in the north-eastern corner of the parish; the hamlet of Marlcliff lies just beyond the eastern border in Warwickshire. The boundary here coincides for an unusual distance with the limits of various fields, though in this respect the southern border is even more remarkable, lying as it does entirely along the edges of the fields in an almost straight line. Possibly it marks the end of the old common lands inclosed in 1775. (fn. 3) The parish contains about 1,521 acres of land, of which 685 are arable and 711 under permanent grass. (fn. 4) The soil is clay and the subsoil lower lias, (fn. 5) and the chief crops are wheat, barley and beans.
An old road runs from the Icknield Street through Marlcliff to Cleeve Prior and enters the village close to the 'King's Arms,' where the beehive yew-tree and quaintly cut bird above the hedge emulate the glory of the 'Prior's Garden' at the manor-house.
The older houses and cottages of Cleeve Prior are built of limestone quarried in the neighbourhood, and their rubble walls present a marked contrast to the half-timber construction elsewhere so abundant. On the north-east of the church, which stands in a large churchyard surrounded by stone walls, is the manor-house, a T-shaped two-storied building of Elizabethan and earlier date, with its principal front towards the east. The oldest portion appears to be the entrance hall, with the apartments on the south side, the walls of which, though plastered inside and out, seem to be half-timber. The house probably assumed its present shape towards the end of the 16th century, when the north wing, containing, on the ground floor, the kitchen and offices, appears to have been remodelled and an entrance porch added at the south-east of the hall; perhaps, also, the rooms at the south end belong to this period. All this later work is of stone rubble masonry; the windows, where left in their original form, have stone mullions. In the north wing, approached from a lobby opening into the hall, is a staircase of original Elizabethan date. In the old court room, opening out of the hall on the south, is some panelling of the same date. now painted and grained. A second staircase leads out of this room, entered by a door in the panelling at the side of the chimney stack in its south wall. The hall appears to have been repaired internally in the first half of the 18th century, to which date the bold marble architrave of the fireplace belongs. There is also good panelling of the same period in the room at the east end of the north wing. Under one of the floors there is a hiding hole where Thomas Bushell is said to have been concealed for many months in 1650. The most interesting feature from an architectural point of view is the two-storied Elizabethan entrance porch on the east side. The side walls are of rubble, but the front wall is of ashlar work in a remarkably good state of preservation. The outer doorway has a semicircular head with slightly sunk spandrel panels, each occupied by a bust in high relief. The head of the bust in the left-hand spandrel has been broken off. Over the head of the doorway is an entablature, supported by three carved consoles, the frieze enriched with human heads and lions' heads alternately. The room over the porch has a stone-mullioned and transomed window of four lights with a moulded sill, beneath which is a delicately modelled strapwork panel inscribed 'DWE+ETTE+MW | NE+DROITE' (Dieu et mon droit). The whole is surmounted by a gable with bracketed kneelers and moulded coping, crowned by the figure of a winged boy. The entrance doorway within the porch has a moulded wood frame and straight-sided four-centred head with foliated spandrels. The door itself is a fine specimen of 16th-century joinery. A magnificent avenue of clipped yews, known as the 'Apostles and Evangelists,' borders the flagged path leading to this entrance. In the yard on this side of the house are some stone stables with external stairs of the same material leading to the loft above. From the detail of the woodwork remaining, these appear to be of early 16th-century date. On the north side of the house is a circular pigeon-house of stone in excellent preservation.
On the east side of the road which leads out of the village past the rectory in the direction of Marlcliff is a stone house, now an inn, with the sign of the 'King's Arms,' and in the gable is inscribed the date 1691 with the initials W.A. At the western extremity of the village, on the north side of the main street, is an interesting stone house, dated 1691, and formerly the residence of the Charlett family, but now derelict and used as a store-house for farm purposes. It is of two stories with an attic story in the roof; each floor contains two rooms, one on either side of the staircase, which is in the centre of the house. The room at the east end of the ground floor has a stone fireplace with a moulded four-centred head and jambs, and on the walls is a good plaster frieze, unfortunately in an advanced state of decay. In the room above is a fireplace of similar form. The handrail of the stairs appears to be of the 18th century. The house is gabled at each end and the single ridge-roof by which it is crowned is covered with stone slates. The windows throughout are mullioned, the attics being lighted by windows in the end gables and the staircase landing on this floor by stone dormers. The building is remarkable as an almost unaltered example of a small early 17th-century house. To the west of this, on the brow of Cleeve Hill, overlooking the valley of the Avon, is the base of an octagonal cross, probably of the 14th century. (fn. 6) Cleeve Mill, by the River Avon, is chiefly interesting from the beauty of its surroundings. The older portion of the building, which appears to be of the 17th century, is of stone, and in the gable of this part are pigeon-cells. The channels in which the mill-wheels work, or rather used to work, for it is no longer in active use, are covered by arched roofs of stone rubble masonry. A later addition has been made of brick.
The Barnt Green, Evesham and Ashchurch Branch of the Midland railway touches the north-west corner of the parish. The nearest station is Salford Priors, about a mile and a half from the village on the opposite side of the Avon.
The monastery of Worcester held land at CLEEVE PRIOR in early times; the monastic chartulary credits Ethelred with the gift. (fn. 10) In 1086 the church held in Cleeve Prior and Atch Lench 10½ hides, of which 2 hides less 1 virgate were waste, (fn. 11) but by the time of the survey of Oswaldslow (1108–18) the assessment of this holding had been reduced to 10 hides. (fn. 12)
King John came to Worcester in January 1207, and, after a solemn procession, prayed at the tomb of St. Wulfstan until Prior Ralf of Evesham, thinking the king's mind sufficiently softened for benevolence, came to him asking for liberties in Cleeve and three other manors, (fn. 13) which John granted, though not until he had received 100 marks and a palfrey. (fn. 14)
In 1220 a violent quarrel arose between the Worcester monastery and their bishop, William of Blois, who deposed Simon the prior and put in his own nominee, William Norman. (fn. 15) Eventually, however, it was agreed, by the mediation of the archbishop, that William of Blois should appoint another prior from outside the Worcester community, and that the convent should grant the manor of Cleeve Prior as compensation to William Norman for his life. (fn. 16) He died in 1233, and the estate then reverted to the prior and convent, (fn. 17) in whose possession it remained until the Dissolution. (fn. 18) Henry VIII granted it to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester, (fn. 19) who continued to be the lords of the manor until 1650, (fn. 20) when it was sold by the Parliamentary Commissioners to Peter Langston. (fn. 21) At the Restoration the dean and chapter once more became the owners, and they continued to hold the estate until 1859, (fn. 22) when it was taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are the present lords of the manor. (fn. 23)
At the time of the Domesday Survey the church of Worcester held a mill in Cleeve which rendered a sextaries of honey. (fn. 24) It seems to have been granted with the manor to William Norman, (fn. 25) but was not included in the lease made after his death to the men of the vill (fn. 26); in 1237 it was let to the son of Thomas the miller for his life. (fn. 27) By this time the nature of the rent had been altered twice at least, and the changes illustrate the process of commutation. During the early part of the 13th century the rent was paid partly in money, and the amount, probably up to 1233, was 3 marks and 40 'stiches' of eels yearly (fn. 28); this was finally altered in the lease of 1237 to a payment of 1 mark quarterly. (fn. 29)
The privileges granted to the monks of Worcester in Cleeve by King John during his visit to the city in 1207 were very extensive. They included 'soc et sac, thol et theam et infangenethef cum judicio aque et ignis et furcarum et ferri, et cum quitancia de visu thethingarum, et de murdris et misericordiis et cum omnibus aliis libertatibus et libris consuetudinibus.' (fn. 30) A grant of free warren in their demesne lands was obtained by the monks from Henry III in 1256, (fn. 31) and confirmed to them in 1355 by Edward III. (fn. 32)
An interesting 'custom of the manor from time out of mind' is mentioned in 1585: if a tenant seised of any custumary land took a wife and died during her confinement, the wife had the right of holding all such custumary lands and tenements for her life, unless she married again or had surrendered her estate in the premises of her own free will during her husband's life. (fn. 33)
In the register of Worcester Priory full details are given of the tenants holding land in Cleeve under the prior and of the services due from them in respect of their holdings in 1240. (fn. 34) During the whole of the 13th century the work of consolidating the monastic possessions in Cleeve was actively carried on. In the reign of John the prior and convent had granted to William Ruppe for his good service a hide of land. (fn. 35) This was afterwards let to Richard de Saunford and Hugh his brother, against whom an action for the recovery of the land was brought in 1211 by Thomas Ruppe. (fn. 36) The court, however, held that the prior's charter did not bind him to warrant to the heirs of William Ruppe, and the land was left at the disposal of the monastery. (fn. 37) A littlelater the prior and convent obtained a small holding from Henry de Cleeve, the son of Sweyn de Littleton, (fn. 38) and this gift was afterwards confirmed by Robert the Franklin and Alice his wife. (fn. 39) In 1240 Hugh de Cleeve did homage for certain lands in the parish which he held of the prior. (fn. 40) He died about 1240, when his lands passed to his widow Olive, (fn. 41) who demised them after the death of her son Thomas to Geoffrey Pipard. (fn. 42) The prior, however, declared that Thomas had sold the land to him, and brought a successful action for its recovery against Olive and Geoffrey. (fn. 43)
More difficult to acquire was a carucate of land belonging to Robert de Bellewe, which the priory was anxious to hold in mortmain, but which Robert, regardless of the health of his soul, seems to have been most unwilling to sell. In 1293 the convent tried to obtain licence for this alienation, but the jury declared that it would be the loss of the king 'because if the said Robert be hanged the King would have the year's waste and chattels,' and of the county, 'because if he live on the land he may be useful in assizes and summonses.' (fn. 44)
Fortunately for the monastery Edward I came to Worcester in the following year, and the prior, Philip Aubyn, apparently seized this golden opportunity to coax him into granting the desired licence, (fn. 45) though even then it was only sub condicionibus satis duris that the obdurate Robert at last agreed to give up his land. (fn. 46)
The manor-house and certain lands in Cleeve were rented from the dean and chapter in the 16th century by Edward Bushell, the second son of Edward Bushell of Broad Marston, co. Gloucs. (fn. 50) Thomas Bushell, the servant and admirer of Francis Bacon, is said to have been a younger son of this family. (fn. 51) He became the farmer of the royal mines, and did the king much service during the Civil War, having the so-called silver mines in Cardiganshire, and coining money at the mint in Aberystwyth Castle. After the Commonwealth was proclaimed he went into hiding for a time, (fn. 52) according to a local tradition, at Cleeve Prior, but eventually gave securities for his good behaviour and obtained a renewal of his lease of the mines from the Protector. (fn. 53) The manor-house at this time was held by Anthony Bushell, (fn. 54) a less ardent Royalist who deserted the king's service before the battle of Naseby, and compounded for his delinquency in 1649. (fn. 55) He lived to see the Restoration, and in 1662 'post multa sub regiis vexillis fortiter gesta placide in Domino obdormivit.' (fn. 56) His descendants were still in the parish in 1720, (fn. 57) as tenants of the dean and chapter, but seem to have disappeared before the end of the century. (fn. 58)
Another family that was established for some time in the parish was that of Charlett, of whom Habington says that his 'forefathers were of Cleeve Prior.' (fn. 59) Their name occurs in the 16th century, (fn. 60) and they were still living in the parish in 1698. (fn. 61) They continued in other parts of the county to a much later date.
The church of ST. ANDREW consists of a chancel 30 ft. by 16 ft., a nave about 40½ ft. by 15¼ ft., a south transept 16¼ ft. by 11½ ft. and a western tower 12 ft. square. These measurements are all internal.
The earliest work visible is a 12th-century buttress at the north-east angle of the nave. It is probably not in situ, and the details of its rounded angles suggest the jamb of a chancel arch rather than an external member. The existing nave, however, is but little later, dating probably from the first years of the 13th century, and, from its proportions and the irregular set-out with regard to the later chancel, may possibly have been the complete church without a structural chancel. Later in the 13th century the present chancel and small north and south transepts were added, the priest's door and chancel windows being inserted in the following century. The tower dates from late in the 15th century. After the Reformation the transepts were destroyed, and the present brick south transept was constructed in the 18th century. The church has been repaired and restored in recent years.
The three-light east window of the chancel is modern and is in the style of the 14th century. The north-east window has modern tracery, also of 14th-century detail, but the jambs of the reveal are original. On the south side is a round-headed piscina, and in the same wall a two-light window, identical with its counterpart on the north. The south chancel door is of the late 14th century, and has a chamfered round head and jambs. The western windows in the north and south chancel walls are also 14th-century work, re-tooled, and have trefoiled heads. The chancel arch is two-centred and of two chamfered orders, of which the outer is continuous, but the inner dies on to flat responds.
On the north side of the nave the first window is of two lights under a square head and contains some fragments of old glass. Between the first and second windows traces indicating the position of a north transept are visible in the wall. The second and third windows are 13th-century lancets with wide splays, and below the former begins a rough string-course carried west to the tower and repeated on the south wall. The north door has a rebuilt round head. The two-centred arch to the south transept springs from 13th-century capitals, but the transept itself is modern. The three windows in the south wall of the nave are lancets similar to those on the north, and the south door repeats the type of the north on a larger scale. The tower arch is two-century and of two orders, and the west window has three lights with modern tracery in the 15th-century style. The west door has a square external head, but is now blocked up.
Externally the tower is the finest feature of the church and is an excellent example of 15th-century work. The angles are supported by diagonal buttresses, and the parapet is embattled and had originally eight pinnacles, four of which now remain. The four belfry windows are of two transomed lights, with 15th-century tracery. Below the belfry are single-light windows and niches decorated with crocketed canopies. The chancel roof is modern, but that over the nave is of open timber, with moulded tie-beams, dating from the end of the 14th century.
The tower and nave are built of large ashlar work, but the chancel is of rubble masonry. The transept is mainly of modern red brick. On the north side of the eastern nave buttress, as stated above, are several 12th-century stones re-used. The font has an octagonal bowl with a moulding round the lower edge and a stem of the same form.
The tower contains four bells and a clock: the treble is inscribed, 'Cantate domino canticum novum, 1658'; the second, 'God be our good speed 1658, H.B.'; the third, 'Richard Sanders made me 1722,' with the churchwardens' names; the fourth, with the churchwardens' names, 1658.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms 1598 to 1717, burials and marriages 1599 to 1717; (ii) mixed entries 1717 to 1793, marriages extending only to 1754; (iii) baptisms and burials 1794 to 1812; (iv) marriages 1754 to 1812. There are no entries between 1641 and 1661. There is a book of churchwardens' accounts from 1695 to 1823.
At the time of the Domesday Survey there was a priest at Cleeve Prior who held 1 hide of land. (fn. 62) From the earliest date of which we have record the advowson of the church belonged to the priory of Worcester, (fn. 63) and in 1214 the living was appropriated to the monks by Walter Gray, Bishop of Worcester. (fn. 64) The church, which was worth £6 in 1291, (fn. 65) was reserved to the priory when the manor was granted to William Norman, (fn. 66) and its appropriation was confirmed in 1216 by Honorius III. (fn. 67) A vicarage was immediately ordained, (fn. 68) but there is no record at this time of a royal licence for the appropriation. This was probably not gained until 1308, when it seems to have been acquired through the agency of Walter Reynolds, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 69) The church was dedicated to St. Andrew, and a graveyard consecrated there by Bishop Walter Maidstone in September 1315. (fn. 70) The advowson remained in the possession of the prior and convent until the Dissolution, (fn. 71) when it was granted to the dean and chapter, (fn. 72) who retained it until the Commonwealth. (fn. 73) It was recovered by them at the Restoration, and has ever since that date remained in their possession. (fn. 74)
Bishop John of Coutances is said to have granted to the prior and convent out of the revenues of their church at Cleeve 17s. for pittances and 3s. for the maintenance of a light. (fn. 75) called the light of St. Romain. The latter grant was perhaps represented at the date of the suppression of the chantries, in the reign of Edward VI, by the rent of 1s. arising out of the lands of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester, which was applied to the maintenance of a lamp in the church of Cleeve Prior. (fn. 76)