A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1913.
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Stoke Prior is a large parish lying in mid-Worcestershire to the north-east of the town of Droitwich. It has an area of 3,835 acres, (fn. 1) of which 994 are arable land, 2,232 permanent grass and 1½ woods. (fn. 2) The village of Stoke Prior, in the west of the parish, lies in the valley of the Salwarpe, at about 200 ft. above the ordnance datum, but the land rises in the north, reaching a height of over 400 ft. at Finstall. The subsoil is Keuper Marl and the upper soil is clay, growing crops of wheat, barley and turnips.
The village lies on the Bromsgrove and Alcester high road, which passes through the parish from north to south, connecting the village with the hamlet of Sharpway Gate on the southern boundary of the parish. A branch from this road at Stoke Heath leads north-east to Aston Fields and Finstall.
The River Salwarpe, which rises in the Lickey Hills, flows south-west through the parish. On its course through Stoke Prior it is fed by several tributaries, of which the most important is Sugar Brook. On the banks of the Salwarpe lies the village of Stoke Prior, the inhabitants of which are almost exclusively engaged in the manufacture of salt. A new village has sprung up in the course of the last century to the south of the original settlement, clustering round the Stoke Prior Salt Works. These were built by Mr. Corbett, and now belong to the Salt Union. Salt was found here in 1828, (fn. 3) and the works are now the most complete and compact in the world. (fn. 4)
The Stoke Farm Reformatory for Boys, to the south of the village, was founded by Joseph Sturge about the middle of the 19th century, (fn. 5) and is managed by a committee under Government inspection. It contains on an average eighty inmates, who are employed in gardening, tailoring, carpentry, shoemaking, and general work on the farm. Near the Reformatory is the Colonial Training College, which has for its object the practical training in domestic work of ladies desiring to proceed to the colonies. To the north of the village at Stoke Heath (fn. 6) is the Grange, the residence of Mr. Arthur James Norton. To the west are needle-scouring mills, (fn. 7) and to the south-east is an old pound. To the south of the village are workshops and a wharf on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which passes through a great many locks in its passage through the parish of Stoke Prior.
Finstall, now a separate ecclesiastical parish, lies in the north, and practically constitutes a suburb of Bromsgrove. It includes Finstall Park, of 120 acres, the property of Mr. Ernest Montague Everitt, J.P., and now occupied by Mr. John Boultbee Brooks, J.P. The village hall was presented to the parish in 1904 by Miss Albright, and is used for religious services on Sundays and as a men's social club during the week.
The newer portion grouped round Bromsgrove station is locally known as Aston Fields and lies to the south of Finstall. It is a populous district, inhabited by the employees of the Midland Railway's wagon works, which are in this parish. The Aston Fields Workmen's Club was opened in 1891.
The Bristol and Birmingham branch of the Midland railway runs through the parish from south-west to north-east, with a station called Stoke Works near the salt works. This is also the terminus of the Stoke branch of the Great Western railway. Bromsgrove station lies in this parish, to the west of Aston Fields, and to the north of Finstall is the beginning of the Lickey incline on the Midland railway, with a gradient of 1 in 37.
Two armlets have been found, with the remains of a skeleton, near Stoke Prior. (fn. 10)
The land of ten tributaries at STOKE PRIOR was given to the monks of Worcester by Huthrid (Uhtred), subregulus of the Hwiccas, in 770. (fn. 13) Bishop Oswald leased 6 cassates at Stoke (fn. 14) to the thegn Eadmaer for three lives in 967, (fn. 15) and at the date of the Domesday Survey the monks of Worcester held Stoke Prior, which, with its berewicks of Eston (fn. 16) and Bedindone, (fn. 17) contained 10 hides. (fn. 18)
In 1207 King John acquitted the manor from suits at shire and hundred and from aids of sheriff, reeve and bailiff, and granted the monks sac and soc, thol and theam, infangentheof and other liberties. (fn. 19) In the time of Henry III the prior appropriated about 5 acres in the common of forest (communa foreste) at Stoke, (fn. 20) and about the same time he assarted about half a virgate in Woderewe at Stoke in Feckenham Forest. (fn. 21) It was probably the latter land (called half an acre) which was released by Henry III in 1248 from all rents usually levied on assarted land in the forest, on condition that the prior should appropriate no more land without licence. (fn. 22)
The chamberlain of the monastery, to whom this manor belonged, (fn. 23) leased it from time to time. (fn. 24) In 1225 it returned to his hands on the death of Reginald de Shortgrave, the farmer. (fn. 25) There were over fifty villeins on the manor, (fn. 26) and two free tenants, who paid 10s. a year rent. (fn. 27)
The manor remained in the possession of the priory (fn. 28) until the dissolution of the house in 1540, (fn. 29) and was granted to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester in 1542. (fn. 30) This grant was confirmed by James I in 1609, (fn. 31) and the manor remained with the dean and chapter until 21 March 1650, when it was sold by the Parliamentary Commissioners to John Fownes for £685. (fn. 32) At the Restoration it was recovered by the dean and chapter, and was confirmed to them in 1692. (fn. 33) They continued to hold it until 1859, (fn. 34) when it was taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who still own it. (fn. 35)
In 1780 both courts leet and courts baron were still held for this manor, (fn. 36) but they have lately fallen into disuse. Some court rolls and rentals of this manor are preserved in the muniment room of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester. (fn. 37)
At the date of the Domesday Survey the Prior of Worcester had two mills on his manor of Stoke Prior, rendering 2 ounces of silver yearly. (fn. 38) In 1240 Robert the chaplain held these mills for the term of his life, and paid an annual rent of 32s. (fn. 39) There was also a fulling-mill, which brought in 40s. a year. (fn. 40) A corn-mill called Baddington Mill on 'Salop' Brook was included in the sale of the manor to John Fownes in 1650. (fn. 41) The present Stoke Prior Mills are on the River Salwarpe, to the south-west of the village. Bant Mill on Spadesbourne Brook is on the eastern boundary, Sugarbrook Mill is at the junction of Sugar Brook with the Salwarpe, and Fish House Mill is a corn-mill on the Salwarpe to the north-east of the village. The needle-scouring mill in the village has been mentioned above.
The church of ST. MICHAEL consists of a chancel 40 ft. by 13½ ft., north vestry 8½ ft. by 9½ ft., north chapel (St. Catherine's) 18 ft. by 10 ft., tower (south of the chancel) 16¼ ft. by 15½ ft., with a small Lady chapel east of it 7 ft. wide by 8½ ft., nave 56 ft. by 18½ ft., north aisle of the whole length of the nave and 8½ ft. wide, with a modern vestry to the north of it, south aisle to the eastern half of the nave 29 ft. long and 9 ft. wide, and a south porch. These measurements are all internal.
About 1180 a small chapel was added at the east end of the north aisle with an archway opening into the chancel. At the same time the building of the tower was begun, the north and west arches being the first work; whether the latter really opened into an existing aisle is doubtful. More probably it was inserted preparatory to the addition of an aisle at a later date. The building of the tower seems to have lingered for some time, and the greater part of the superstructure is work of about 1200. The small chapel to our Lady east of it is a peculiar feature, but seems to have been part of the original plan. About thirty years later the chancel was lengthened eastwards and the north vestry built, and this was followed by the addition of the south aisle with its arcade of two bays about 1250, which is one of the most beautiful portions of the church. In the 14th century the east window was enlarged, a new window inserted in the south wall of the chancel, and the space between the 13th-century vestry and the north chapel was closed in and roofed over, the east wall of the latter being removed and the archway from the chancel considerably widened. The outer walls of the south aisle were rebuilt in the 15th century, and the former wood porch in the angle of the nave and aisle was, perhaps, of the same period.
At various times in the 19th century the church underwent much rebuilding and repair, the north and west walls being rebuilt, the nave reroofed, a new vestry added, and a new south porch being erected in place of the ancient porch, the woodwork of which now serves as a lych-gate.
The 14th-century east window is of five lights under a pointed head filled with net tracery, and has been considerably restored. The north-east window is a 13th-century lancet with widely splayed internal jambs. The pointed segmental rear arch has apparently been lowered.
The pointed doorway into the vestry of a single chamfered order has been recut, and a straight joint in the walling between it and the lancet window possibly marks the length of the former chancel. The south window is of two lights under a traceried head of the 14th century. Below it are the 13th-century piscina and sedilia; the former has a rough trefoiled head, a circular basin and a modern shelf. The three sedilia are divided by detached octagonal shafts supporting pointed and moulded heads; above the shafts, in the spandrels, are small grotesque crouching figures. A moulded string-course runs along the wall face on either side of the sanctuary, and to the east of the 14th-century window in the south wall are signs of a blocked 13th-century lancet window. Square clasping buttresses support the angles of the east wall; their upper halves with the gable end have been renewed. The archway into the north chapel has jambs with bowtels and a half-round shaft on the inner face; the west jamb appears to be the original transitional one, the capital of the half-shaft being carved with a pointed leaf decoration and the other capitals with bold projecting flowers. In the east jamb the bases differ slightly and may be later, and the capital of the half-shaft here is plain. The two-centred drop arch has been widened and is obviously later. The jambs of the tower arch, though of greater thickness, are similar to those opposite. The capitals are, however, quite different, some being scalloped and others foliated. The arch is pointed and of three orders with a moulded label. The chancel arch is probably a 14th-century alteration of an earlier one and has been much repaired with modern stonework.
The 13th-century vestry is lighted in its east wall by an old lancet with a triangular pointed head; another lancet on its west side has been filled in, probably when the north chapel was enlarged in the 14th century. The chamber is vaulted in stone with chamfered diagonal ribs springing from angle corbels moulded with some elaboration. There is a chamber above, which is lighted on its east side by a lancet with old jambs and a new head. It was probably entered by an outer doorway on the north side, but its traces have been concealed by the modern stonework in the upper part of the wall. The north-eastern corner is strengthened by a clasping buttress, but that to the other angle has been displaced by a 14th-century buttress greatly repaired.
The north chapel or chapel of St. Catherine has a two-light 14th-century window resembling the southeast window of the chancel, but differently moulded; the window is set above the eaves course in a gabled head. To the west of it is a small round-headed light with a square external order; the jambs are old, and probably belonged to the original transitional light of the chapel. The arch from the aisle has been much modernized and a rood stair which stood here early in the 19th century (fn. 42) has been cleared away, but the upper door can still be seen above the north jamb of the chancel arch.
The western arch of the tower has jambs similar to those of the north arch, but with an extra chamfered outer order. The northern capital to the half-round shaft is scalloped, but that to the south jamb is moulded. The arch is pointed and of three orders. The building east of the tower probably served only as an altar recess to the chapel formed by the base of the tower. It has a pointed barrel vault and a moulded pointed arch opening into it. In the east wall are two lancets, all modern outside, and a third, original, in the south wall. To the west of the last is a trefoiled piscina. Over the chantry or altar recess is a large lancet window which has a later and lower rear arch below the wood ceiling, the upper part of the window, which is visible in the chamber above, being filled in. The external jambs have detached shafts with moulded bases and carved capitals; the arches are moulded and have labels carved with square flowers. Externally on either side of this window are blind recesses with a continuous edge roll to the jambs and arches and moulded labels. In the south wall of the tower is a small doorway, the jambs of which contain detached shafts on the outer face with bases and carved capitals. The head has a moulded outer arch forming a sort of tympanum. The deeply splayed plinth around the tower is cut through square by this doorway, which appears to be an insertion of slightly later date. Above it are a moulded string and two lancet windows with banded jamb shafts like that in the east wall; they are, however, at a lower level and of greater length. These windows are also flanked by two recesses (resembling those in the east wall) carried down to the level of the bands of the window shafts. Higher up another string-course marks the second stage outside, and the shallow clasping buttresses at the angles stop below it. The stair turret rises in the southwest corner, projecting slightly both ways, and is lighted by narrow slits. The third stage of the tower was till recently a blind story, but two modern lancets now admit the light from the north side. The fourth stage or bell-chamber is lighted by a triplet of lancets on each side with jambs of two orders, the outer having engaged shafts with moulded bases and bell capitals. Edge rolls are cut on the external angles in this stage. The upper part of the parapet is modern and plain, but the ancient corbel tabling still remains; each space is trefoiled and the corbels are carved as billet moulds with human heads and rams' heads arranged in irregular sequence. On the face of the stair turret is a sundial, apparently of cement, dated 1663. A tall timber spire covered with oak shingles crowns the tower; it is square at the base and splayed back to octagonal form from the parapet.
The nave has an early 12th-century north arcade of five bays with circular columns and half-round arches of two square orders. There are indications in the last pier to the west that the end bay is slightly later in date and the mouldings of the western respond base differ from the others. There is, however, nothing else left to verify this extension of the nave. The capitals are all of plain section with grooved and chamfered abaci and follow the forms of the piers. The 13th-century south arcade consists of two bays of graceful proportions and rich detail. The middle column is circular with four engaged shafts, and the responds are similar to half the column. The bases are of the water-table type, and the capitals have moulded bells with overhanging abaci. Part of the eastern respond, which had been cut away to let light into the pulpit, was restored in 1848. The arches are pointed and of two elaborately moulded orders, with a moulded label on the nave face, stopping on a bunch of foliage above the central column. The 12th-century south doorway of the nave has jambs of two orders, the outer with detached shafts in the angles, partly restored, and with capitals carved with stiff-leaf foliage. The arch is of two semicircular orders, and on the face of the wall to the west is cut or scratched an interlacing pattern. The south-west window to the west of the south doorway is a small 12th-century round-headed lancet, chamfered outside, and with splayed jambs and semicircular rear arch inside. The modern west doorway is said to have replaced a late 15th-century one. The window over, also modern, has three lights under a traceried head.
The south aisle is lighted by two 15th-century windows, each of three lights beneath a four-centred arch. A buttress of one stage between these windows has a niche upon its face with a trefoiled head. The parapet of the aisle is embattled, with pinnacles above the two buttresses, both set diagonally, that over the middle buttress being alone original. The three side windows of the north aisle are modern, and have each three lights in a square head. Below the middle window are the jambs of a 12th-century doorway, which were discovered and left in position at the rebuilding of the wall. The west window is a modern round-headed single light. The deep raking plinth to the west walls of the aisle and nave appears to be old, but the upper walling is nearly all new. The walling throughout is of ashlar stonework, and the south-west portion of the nave has been picked to receive plaster. All the roofs appear to be modern except the flat roof of the south aisle, which retains its original moulded principal timbers. The chancel is gabled and open timbered below and the nave is barrel-vaulted.
The octagonal font is of the 15th century. The sides of the bowl are panelled, and carved with two censing angels and four bearing shields. On the north the subject represented appears to be a baptism, in which a figure stands before a small font with angels in the top corners holding up his robe. The south face is quite blank, suggesting that the font originally stood against the wall. The under edge of the bowl is carved with Tudor roses, with a row of ornamental cresting above, and in the middle of the stem is a projecting band with carved flowers on its face. The other fittings are modern. In the vestry off the chancel is an old chest cut from a solid tree trunk.
In the south aisle lies an ancient stone coffin lid or slab, on which is the recumbent effigy of a priest; he appears to be holding a chalice, but the whole is much mutilated. On the east wall of St. Catherine's chapel, and hidden by the organ, is a brass with figures of Robert Smith, citizen and draper of London and 'free of the famous company of Marchant Adventurers,' who died in 1609, and his two wives (fn. 43) and children. The brass is set in a panelled stone slab. In the south aisle is another brass commemorating Henry Smith, also citizen and draper of London, who died in 1606; this brass must also have been set in a stone slab, which has now gone.
Of the eight bells the first two are of 1897, the third and fourth 1886, the fifth was cast by Henry Bagley, 1676, the sixth is dated 1663, the seventh has the motto 'Honi soit qui mal y pensi (sic) 1620' and the tenor was a 1663 bell recast in 1886.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms from 1564, burials from 1557, marriages from 1574, all to 1710; (ii) baptisms and burials 1710 to 1812, marriages 1712 to 1754; (iii) marriages 1755 to 1812.
The new church of ST. GODWALD at Finstall, built in 1883, consists of a chancel, south transept (containing the organ and vestry), nave and south porch. The style is of the early 14th century, and the materials are red sandstone with tiled roofs, the interior being faced with white bricks. A south vestry and north transept are included in the design, but not yet completed. The disused church of St. Godwald, which stands a short distance to the eastward, close to the railway, is a small rectangular building of red brick with stone dressings, lighted by plain pointed windows, and having a gallery at the west end. The roof is slated, and over the west door is a stone tablet recording the rebuilding of the church in 1773. The 18th-century fittings still remain, and the whole building is in the last stage of disrepair. It is now used as a mortuary chapel.
At the date of the Domesday Survey the Prior of Worcester had a priest on his manor of Stoke Prior. (fn. 44) A church there is mentioned in 1240, and to it belonged a curia and half a hide of land and the tithes of Crufting, as a composition for the tithes of the demesne. (fn. 45) The advowson belonged to the prior and convent, (fn. 46) and remained in their possession until the Dissolution. (fn. 47) In 1389 the prior and convent received a licence from the Crown to appropriate the church for the use of the chamberlain. (fn. 48)
John Toy, who was vicar in 1641, was the author of a poem describing the Plague in Worcester. (fn. 52) In July 1656 the council ordered that the sum of £40 a year should be settled on Richard Dowly, the minister, to augment the very small value of the vicarage. (fn. 53)
The chapel dedicated to St. Godwald at Finstall in this parish is mentioned in 1390, when all oblations received there were assigned to the vicar as part of his stipend. (fn. 54) These oblations amounted to 23s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 55) The chapel and chapel yard formerly called St. Godwald's Chapel in Stoke Prior were granted in 1575–6 to John Mershe and others. (fn. 56) Under the Stoke Prior Inclosure Act of 1772 5 acres of the common were allotted to the chapel of St. Godwald, and the allotment was to be held by the vicar of Stoke Prior or his nominee. (fn. 57) A district was assigned to the chapel in 1868, (fn. 58) and it was endowed with £50 out of the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1869, (fn. 59) and with a further sum of £150 in 1879. (fn. 60) The living is a vicarage in the gift of the vicar of Stoke Prior.
Henry Smith, citizen and draper of London, who died in 1606, as recorded on a brass plate in the parish church, gave by will to Stoke Prior, where he was born, £100 to be laid out in land, the rent whereof should be employed in the payment of 40s. a year for four or six sermons a year to be preached by strangers, 'the rest of the rent to be employed for the freeing the poorer sort of boys' schooling, to be elected as therein mentioned.'
Charity of John Saunders for apprenticing.
—In the table of benefactions it is stated that Mr. John Saunders, grocer, of London, gave by his will £10 a year for the placing of a boy of Upton Warren, Stoke Prior, or Chaddesley Corbett at May Day. An annual payment of £10 is made by the Grocers' Company, and is applied in the first-named parish. (See under Upton Warren, Halfshire Hundred.)
It is further stated in the same table that Joseph Fownes by his will left for the poor £20, and that the Rev. James Johnson, a former vicar, left £5. A cottage and land at Stoke Heath were purchased therewith, and are now represented by two plots containing together 1 a. 3 r. 36 p., producing yearly £6, which is distributed in bread to about fifty recipients.
In 1874 Joseph Page, by his will proved at Worcester 22 August, bequeathed £300, the interest to be applied for the benefit of agricultural labourers, their wives and children on St. Thomas's Day. The legacy was invested in £316 12s. 6d. consols with the official trustees, the annual dividends, amounting to £7 18s. 4d., being duly applied.
The official trustees also hold a sum of £194 14s. consols, arising from the sale of the old National school buildings at Finstall comprised in a deed of 9 September 1848. The annual dividends, amounting to £4 17s. 4d., are, under a scheme of 15 November 1898, applied in prizes and rewards to school children.