A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1924.
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THE BOROUGH OF PERSHORE
Persora, Persovere (vii cent.); Perscoran, Persora, Persore (xi cent.); Perssovere (xiii cent.); Pershora (xiv cent.).
The town of Pershore is nearly equally divided between the parishes of Holy Cross and St. Andrew. It consists mainly of one long street, known as High Street in Holy Cross and Bridge Street in St. Andrew. The boundary between the two parishes runs down the middle of Broad Street, the market-place, which branches out at right angles to the principal street. The town lies on the road from London to Worcester. (fn. 1) After the destruction of Twyford Bridge over the Avon in the Civil War, this became the main trade route between the two cities, but about 1750 (fn. 2) a new road was constructed connecting Evesham and the old Worcester road, and the route through Pershore became of less importance.
The town is grouped round the market-place, which is planted with trees. The streets, though picturesque, contain few houses of earlier date than the 18th century. There are, however, good specimens of domestic architecture of the Georgian period, and some of the houses have fine staircases, panelling and ceilings. The buildings on the east side of the main street back on to the River Avon and have gardens running down to the bank. Under the premises of the Capital and Counties Bank, (fn. 3) on this side is a stone-roofed cellar, or crypt, divided into two apartments by a cross wall with a wide four-centred arch. The southern division appears to have served as a chapel, as in the south wall is a well-preserved piscina with a moulded and cinquefoiled head. In the west wall are the jambs of two original openings, one terminating in a pierced quatrefoil. In the north wall of the northern apartment is a square-headed locker, and between the two rooms is a large vice of which only one step remains. The walls are ashlar-faced and the vault is elliptical and plain. The date is probably the 15th century. The two churches of Holy Cross and St. Andrew are both in the west of the town, the churchyards being separated only by the roadway.
In the south of the town the Evesham road, there called Bridge Street, passes over the Avon by Pershore Bridge. In 1290 Sir Nicholas de Mitton left 12d. for the repair of this bridge. (fn. 4) In 1322 it was in a ruinous state, and in spite of pontage grants in that year and 1337 (fn. 5) seems to have remained in an unsafe condition until 1346, when an inquiry was made as to the liability for its repair and the method of expenditure of the pontage levy. (fn. 6) The men of Pershore placed the liability on the Abbot of Westminster, who owned the land on either side, but after much litigation it was decided in 1351 that the obligation to repair the bridge lay equally between the abbot and the men of the town. (fn. 7) In 1388 it was again in ruins, (fn. 8) and when Pershore Abbey was destroyed some of the materials were used for repairing it. (fn. 9) In 1607 its condition caused grave danger to travellers using it. (fn. 10) On 5 June 1644 Pershore Bridge was destroyed by King Charles's army on the way to Worcester to prevent Waller from following, and forty men were drowned owing to the haste with which the destruction was completed. (fn. 11) The present bridge is a structure of various dates and the subject of numerous partial rebuildings and repairs. It consists of four sections, of which the third from the north spans the main stream of the Avon; all except the last section appear to be of mediaeval origin. The first consists of three semicircular arches with split water piers and refuges on the east side, which is of stone; the west side is of brick. The second section is also of three spans with similar piers and refuges on both sides; it is repaired in brick. The third or main section is of seven spans with semicircular arches and similar piers and refuges on the east side only; the parapets are of brick and the fourth arch is wider than the rest. This arch, the one broken down by Charles I, was repaired in stone, locally said to have been taken from the ruins of Elmley Castle. The fourth section, consisting of two brick arches, is of more recent date. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster now repair Pershore Bridge, paying the county council for doing the work.
George Perrot, one of the barons of the Exchequer, died at Pershore in 1780. The house built by him about 1760, now called Perrott House, is the residence of Mr. William Pearce, F.S.A. It is a fine specimen of a Georgian town mansion, with decorations in the Adam style. Thomas Woodward, the animal painter, was buried in the abbey church in 1852. (fn. 12)
The house of Anne Thomas of Pershore was licensed for Anabaptist worship in 1723. (fn. 13) The Baptist chapel in Broad Street, however, was founded in 1658. John Ash, LL.D., the lexicographer, became minister of this chapel in 1746. (fn. 14) It was rebuilt in 1839.
Three hundred cassata of land at Pershore were given by Ethelred, King of Mercia, in 681 to his thegn Oswald. (fn. 15) By a charter ascribed to King Edgar and dated 972 (fn. 16) Pershore was confirmed to the abbey of Pershore, and is there said to have been granted by King Coenwulf at the request of the ealdorman Beornoth. This charter is written in a hand about a century later than its nominal date, but probably gives with accuracy the lands claimed by Pershore Abbey towards the middle of the 11th century. (fn. 17) Soon after this time Edward the Confessor took away a large part of the possessions of the abbey of Pershore and bestowed them upon the abbey which he had refounded at Westminster. (fn. 18) King Edward's gift included various liberties, sac and soc, toll and team, infangenthef, forstal, miskening and other privileges, (fn. 19) which gave the abbot the right to establish a borough at Pershore. By 1086 he had a flourishing borough here, with twentyeight burgesses rendering 30s. and tolls amounting to 12s. (fn. 20)
There is no record that the monks of Pershore had any of the privileges pertaining to a borough until the time of Henry II, but from the fact that later the Abbots of Westminster and Pershore claimed a prescriptive market in common it would appear that the Abbot of Pershore must already have enjoyed this right before the division of Pershore. There is no indication in Domesday Book that the estate at Pershore held by the Abbot of Pershore (21 hides) was more than an ordinary manor with dependent berewicks. (fn. 21) Henry II granted to the monks freedom from toll and exactions of all kinds throughout their lands in the county, toll and team, infangenthef, manbruch, miskening, misweinge, forfeing, ferdwite and other liberties similar to those granted by King Edward to Westminster. (fn. 22) King John confirmed this charter in 1200 (fn. 23) and Henry III in 1227, the latter adding a grant of a fair at Pershore. (fn. 24) The abbey and a large part of the town had been burnt in 1223, (fn. 25) and the establishment of a fair was probably an attempt to restore the fortunes of the borough.
The term 'burgus' as applied to Pershore is found for the first time about the middle of the 13th century. (fn. 26) It was described as a 'vill' in 1210. (fn. 27) From 1254 it appeared at the assize courts as a hundred co-ordinate with Pershore Hundred. (fn. 28) It is not mentioned on the Pipe Rolls as contributing with the other boroughs to aids and tallages.
It is difficult to determine how far the two abbeys held the borough in common. The pontage mentioned above must have been levied on all the inhabitants, for the tenants of both abbeys were responsible for the repair of the bridge. (fn. 29) Each abbot had the amendment of the assize of bread and ale for his own tenants and had his own pillory and cucking-stool. (fn. 30) The market they held in common, (fn. 31) but the fair which had been granted to the monks of Pershore never seems to have been shared by the Abbot of Westminster. Disagreements arose between the two abbeys as to their respective rights at an early date. In 1233 various causes between the abbeys were heard before the Prior of Coventry (fn. 32) and further dissensions arose in 1252. (fn. 33) An agreement made perhaps about this time apparently settled various differences. The separate jurisdiction of the abbots in their respective fees was insisted upon, and the scope of two already existing courts of pie-powder determined. Each abbot was to have the amercements of his own men for trespass in the market, while the amercements of strangers were to be divided equally between the two abbeys. A thief taken in the market was to remain in the custody of that abbot among whose stalls he was found and to be judged in his court unless the bailiff and men of the other abbot wished to interfere, when he was to be judged by the bailiffs and men of both abbeys. (fn. 34) Any new works done in the market (fn. 35) were to be undertaken at the joint cost of the two abbots, and any profits thereby accruing to be divided between them. The abbots further agreed that the portmote should be held by the common bailiffs of the two abbeys if the bailiffs so chose, otherwise each bailiff was to hold a portmote for his own men. (fn. 36) The bailiffs evidently decided upon the latter alternative, for separate court rolls exist for the two parts of the borough. This decision probably retarded the growth of the borough, for by it the town became subject to the jurisdiction of three separate courts, (fn. 37) and no corporation has ever been developed. Binholme seems also to have been an independent liberty, exempt from the jurisdiction of the borough. (fn. 38)
The existing Portmote Rolls for the abbey of Westminster's part of the borough begin in 1329. (fn. 39) The courts were possibly held in the house later known as the manor-house of Pershore Portsmouth, in the High Street of Pershore, south of the Swan Inn. The officers of the abbey of Westminster were a bailiff and two ale-tasters, a constable (fn. 40) and a clerk of the market, an office which existed at an early date. (fn. 41) In the reign of Elizabeth there were added to these, overseers of the streets, of Lovewell, of flesh and fish (fn. 42) and a common swineherd. (fn. 43)
The early courts were concerned chiefly with aletasters' presentments and pleas relating to small debts and the purchase of land. Towards the end of the 14th century by-laws for the borough begin to appear in the rolls. The inhabitants were forbidden to frequent the unlawful games called tennis, football and 'the dyse' under pain of 12d. (fn. 44) The bakers were forbidden to buy grain except at the Tuesday market (fn. 45); all dogs called 'mastyffes' were to be kept indoors at night and all tenants were to be at home by nine o'clock. (fn. 46) The victuallers were forbidden to sell their wares at any other place than the messuage called 'King's Borde' on pain of forfeiture of their goods. (fn. 47) Tenants were not to allow their workmen or apprentices to play illegal games or frequent taverns on feast days. (fn. 48) By a later ordinance the taverners were to assist in carrying out this by-law by abstaining from keeping 'any man's sons, servants or minstrels within their houses at the due time of servis nor also after 8 of the clock in the night' on pain of 10s. (fn. 49) Everyone was to put his swine and kine under the charge of the common herd, (fn. 50) the streets were to be thoroughly cleansed once a month, (fn. 51) and the inhabitants were forbidden to have any 'inmates' or sub-tenants in their houses. (fn. 52)
The Abbot of Westminster's part of the borough does not seem to have suffered so much from the Dissolution as did the part held by Pershore Abbey. The Court Rolls from the time of Edward VI to the middle of the reign of Elizabeth show an increase in activity among the local administrators, by-laws and ordinances being much more numerous then than at any other time. After 1573 the portmote rolls cease. (fn. 53)
Already in the time of Henry VIII the portmote court seems to have been losing its burghal character, the change being reflected in the nomenclature of the court. Between 1525 and 1527 the style of the court was changed from Pershore Portmote to Pershore Portsmouth, (fn. 54) the old name 'portmote' being reverted to only in one or two instances in the reign of Elizabeth, when, as appears above, attempts seem to have been made to revive the borough. The interest of the Abbots of Westminster in the borough was granted in 1542 as the manor of Pershore Portsmouth (q.v.) to the dean and chapter, (fn. 55) and its further descent will be found under that manor.
The part of the borough belonging to the Abbot of Pershore was divided for purposes of jurisdiction into Pershore Oldland and Pershore Newland. The latter was an extension of the ancient borough southwest from the High Street. The date of its incorporation into the borough is not known, but it was before the early part of the 13th century, when burgages in Newland are frequently mentioned. (fn. 56) The business transacted at the two courts seems to have been identical. Both were in early times divided into two sessions, the view of frankpledge and court or little court (parva curia), (fn. 57) which were usually amalgamated from the 14th century onwards. The courts seem to have been held sometimes by the bailiff, (fn. 58) possibly as farmer, and sometimes by the steward of the abbey. (fn. 59) The business done in this court was much the same as that transacted in the portmote court, but the pleas of debt were transferred early in the 15th century to the court of the hall (aula) of Pershore, held at Pershore every three weeks. (fn. 60)
The officers of the Abbot of Pershore in the borough were practically the same as those of the Abbot of Westminster. The election of a constable for Oldland is first noticed in 1426, (fn. 61) but Newland apparently never had a constable. Similar ordinances as to games, victuallers, dogs, &c., were made in these courts as in the portmote. (fn. 62)
The existing rolls for Oldland and Newland cease in 1537 and the Ministers' Accounts (fn. 63) for the borough in 1491. The latter show that from the time of Henry IV the abbot had been receiving no revenues from the stalls in the market, as they were all standing vacant, (fn. 64) and though various new shops had been built in the market-place many of them were unoccupied. The town seems to have sunk into poverty at the beginning of the 15th century, many tenants having their rents pardoned on account of their inability to pay. (fn. 65)
With the dissolution of the monastery the Abbot of Pershore's part of the borough seems practically to have disappeared. In the particulars for a grant of the manors of Old and New Pershore to William and Francis Sheldon the town rents of Pershore, valued at £28 9s. 5d., were included, and the purchaser was to provide for keeping the fair at Pershore. (fn. 66) In the actual grant which took place in the same year the Abbot of Pershore's interest in the borough is called the manors of Old and New Pershore, (fn. 67) whose further descent will be found under the parish of Holy Cross (q.v.).
Pershore returned two members to the Parliament of 1295, (fn. 68) but has never been separately represented since that time.
In 1086 there were twenty-eight burgesses in that part of the borough which belonged to the abbey of Westminster. (fn. 69) Burgages are frequently mentioned in the 13th century, many of them changing hands at that time, (fn. 70) but they seldom appear after that date.
In the 13th century, when Pershore seems to have been at the height of its prosperity, it was probably a populous place. The number of persons contributing to the subsidy of 1276 from the 'villa' of Pershore was seventy-three, paying a sum of £13 2s. (fn. 71) An early 14th-century list of the tenants of the abbey of Pershore in the town shows that there were then about forty-seven paying rents ranging from 1d. to 6s. 8d. (fn. 72) Thirty of these were in receipt of alms at every distribution of alms from the monastery. On the subsidy roll of 1327 there are only fifty names and the sum contributed was £4. (fn. 73) The reason of this sudden decrease in prosperity was a disastrous fire which occurred in 1288, when the monastery and town were almost reduced to ashes, (fn. 74) more than forty houses being destroyed. (fn. 75) A rental of the part of the borough held by Pershore Abbey in 1388 shows that the abbot had then about ninety houses and cottages in the borough, about a third of them being in Newland. The shops for the most part were situated in Bridge Street. (fn. 76)
The inhabitants of Pershore have probably always been mainly employed in agriculture. Some trade in wool may have existed in the 14th century, (fn. 77) and there was a fulling-mill on the Avon in the 15th century. (fn. 78) Later the stocking trade became one of the principal industries, Defoe in 1753 describing Pershore as 'famous for the stocken trade.' (fn. 79) Glove making (fn. 80) and tanning were also important, (fn. 81) the former employing many of the women until the end of the 19th century. (fn. 82)
Early in the 19th century there were two establishments for the manufacture of watch springs. Woolstapling and matting were the chief trades in the middle of the 19th century, and towards the end of that century an agricultural machine manufactory (fn. 83) and two jam factories were established. These are still carried on, but market gardening and fruitgrowing are the chief industries at the present day. Pershore tradesmen's tokens of 1664, 1666 and 1667 have been found. (fn. 84)
The market at Pershore was held by prescriptive right. (fn. 85) In 1219 the market day was changed from Sunday to Tuesday, (fn. 86) on which day it was held until about 1876, (fn. 87) when it seems to have died out. A new fruit and vegetable market was established in 1911, (fn. 88) and is prospering.
In 1226 the Abbot of Pershore obtained a grant during the king's minority of a fair at Pershore on the vigil, day and morrow of St. Eadburga (fn. 89) (7 July). In the following year the fair was extended for one day and the grant was made in perpetuity. (fn. 90) It was held in the churchyard of Holy Cross until about 1830, when it was removed to Broad Street. (fn. 91) The fair was granted in 1544 to William and Francis Sheldon, (fn. 92) and followed the descent of the manors of Old and New Pershore. It was, however, held on 26 June towards the end of the 18th century. (fn. 93) Before the end of that century two other fairs had been set up, one on Easter Tuesday and another on the Tuesday before 1 November. The latter, a sheep and pleasure fair, (fn. 94) was held in 1868, (fn. 95) but had died out before 1888. (fn. 96) The Easter fair still existed in 1888, (fn. 97) but has now ceased. The June fair is still continued as a horse and cattle fair, and fat stock sales are held monthly in the cattle market. In 1860 a statute fair was held on the Wednesdays before and after 11 October, but this is now obsolete. By an ancient custom of the town anyone who hung out a bush at his door had the privilege of selling ale without licence during the fair, but the bush-houses were suppressed in 1863. (fn. 98)
The boundaries of the borough are not known, (fn. 99) but may have been marked by various crosses referred to in the Court Rolls. From an ordinance at a court of Oldland by which all tenants were commanded to clean the street between Bowyers Cross and High Cross 'in the circuit of this court' (fn. 100) it would seem probable that these two crosses marked the limits of Oldland. Other crosses were Hampton Cross (fn. 101) and Newland Cross. (fn. 102) The Law Ditch (fn. 103) may also have been a boundary. The limits of the jurisdictions of the two abbots seem to have been well defined, and the only record of disagreement as to these limits was in 1484, when both abbots claimed suit from John Yardman. (fn. 104) The farmer of Binholme complained in 1406 that the commonalty of Pershore had levied on him for expenses properly belonging to the borough, (fn. 105) but the offenders in this case may well have been the abbey of Westminster's own men of the portmote.
The High Street is mentioned early in the 13th century, (fn. 106) and it lay principally in the manor of Oldland, which in the 14th century also included Middle Street, Newland, Taddelon and Monk Street. (fn. 107) Head Street (Le Hedstrete) and Le Forthei are also mentioned towards the end of that century. (fn. 108) The 'Rotherchepyng,' extending from the High Street to the ditch called 'Holdeneydyche,' was probably the market-place now known as Broad Street. (fn. 109) This was divided equally between the two manors. Until nearly the end of the 18th century there was a collection of permanent market stalls and shambles in the middle of Broad Street. Lich Street or Lich Lane, near the gate of the cemetery, and la Lode leading from High Street to the Avon, occur in the 13th century, (fn. 110) Dugbath in the 15th. (fn. 111) In the manor of Pershore Portsmouth were Bridge Street, which occurs in the middle of the 14th century, (fn. 112) and is occasionally in the 18th century called Mill Street, (fn. 113) and possibly Lowel Street, or Lovewell Street, which occurs in the 16th century. (fn. 114) The Bell Inn is mentioned in 1486 (fn. 115) and the 'Swan' in 1621 and 1690. (fn. 116) Other old inns are the 'Quiet Woman' and the 'Angel.'
Pershore was frequently visited by the early Kings of England. King John visited it during his stay at Worcester on 15 August 1204. (fn. 117) Henry III was there in May 1233, (fn. 118) July 1236, (fn. 119) and October 1237. (fn. 120) Edward I visited the town for a week in January 1282 (fn. 121) and in September 1294, (fn. 122) Edward II in January 1322, (fn. 123) and Edward III was there in December 1327. (fn. 124)
Though no battles took place at Pershore during the Civil War, both armies passed through it at various times on the march between Evesham and Worcester. Both King Charles and Prince Rupert were there on 12 September 1643. (fn. 125) In June 1644 Charles again passed through the town on the way to Worcester. (fn. 126) In March 1645 some of Massey's men set fire to the abbey, having heard that the Royalists intended to garrison it. (fn. 127) Parliamentary troops were stationed in the town in August 1651. (fn. 128)