A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1924.
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This parish lies on the right bank of Bow Brook, which forms its eastern boundary, and is crossed by Besford Bridge in the north-east of the parish. There are beautiful views of the Malvern and Bredon Hills from the higher grounds, but the parish for the most part lies somewhat low, at about 100 ft. above the ordnance datum. In the east of the parish on the banks of Bow Brook there is a rifle range. The village, which consists only of a few scattered houses, lies mainly along the Severn Stoke Road, and is in the south of the parish. St. Peter's Church, described by Habington as 'a poore chappell buylded part of stone and the rest of timber, but yealdethe plenty of armes,' (fn. 1) lies at the southern end of the village. To the north is Besford Court, with fishponds to the north-east. It is a large stone mansion, built in 1912, the new work incorporating much of the old house. This now forms the west side of the house and dates from the early 16th century. It is a half-timber building two stories high and formerly inclosed a courtyard. The remaining block is L-shaped, with an entrance gateway in the middle of the long side. The original door remains with its wicket, and above it is a square projecting oriel window and a gable with a cusped barge-board. To the south of the doorway the windows, of 17th-century date, have pediments to the ground floor and cornices on the first floor. The north end of this wing has been lengthened, but much of the old north end has been again used. Facing the entrance on the other side of the original courtyard is a detached building with a large 16th or 17th-century window retaining its old glazing. In the south wing is a much damaged Jacobean fireplace, and several of the ceiling beams show traces of colour and black and white decoration. There was formerly a great deal of oak carving and panelling, which was removed by the owner, Lord Beauchamp, to Madresfield Court before Besford Court was sold to Mr. Noble. The modern house adjoins on the east and is built round a central cloister. A short distance to the west is a fine timber barn with two porches and a northern annexe, all recently renovated and fitted up for domestic use.
Prattinton, writing in 1820 of the various objects of value at the Court House, mentions among them tapestry and a state bed, painted glass of a knight of Jerusalem, and portraits including Richard II and Edward IV. (fn. 2)
The parish has an area of 1,383 acres, of which a large part is permanent grass. (fn. 3) The soil varies, being chiefly sand and clay; the subsoil is Lower Lias. The chief crops are wheat, beans, barley and fruit.
An Inclosure Act was passed in 1751. (fn. 4)
By a charter said to have been given in 972 land in BESFORDformerly granted to Pershore Abbey by King Coenwulf at the request of the ealdorman Beornoth was restored to that abbey by King Edgar. (fn. 8) Before the date of the Domesday Survey this had passed from Pershore to Westminster Abbey, (fn. 9) on which it had evidently been bestowed with the manor of Pershore by Edward the Confessor, 10 hides being included among the lands of St. Peter of Westminster. Besford was held of the Abbots of Westminster and of their successors the Dean and Chapter of Westminster until 1621, the owners of the manor doing suit at the court of Binholme in Pershore. (fn. 10)
At the date of the Domesday Survey 4 hides were entered as in demesne, and held by William the priest. One hide which never paid geld, but was then and previously waste, though worth 16d., was held by Walter Poer (Ponther) (fn. 11); and the Sheriff Urse was holding 5 hides previously held by Edward and Leofric. (fn. 12) Urse's interest in the 5 hides passed to his successors, the Beauchamps, lords of Elmley Castle, (fn. 13) a chiefage from the manor being paid to Elmley Castle in 1651. (fn. 14)
The first recorded tenants under the Beauchamps were the Besfords. Vivian de Besford paid 20s. forest fine in 1175–6. (fn. 15) In 1220–1 Vivian son of Osbert recovered seisin of 2 carucates of land in Besford against Walter de Nafford and Denise mother of Walter. (fn. 16) Walter son of Vivian de Besford granted land in Besford to Abbot Gervaise of Pershore (1204– 34). (fn. 17) Helen, widow of Sir Walter de Besford, granted to Abbot Roger of Pershore (1234–50) (fn. 18) the right to make assarts in Ramsen Wood in confirmation of an agreement made by her son Alexander in 1248–9. (fn. 19) Alexander must have been dead before 1268, for William Beauchamp directed by his will of 5 January 1268 that the wardship and marriage of the heir of Alexander de Besford should be sold and the money laid out for the benefit of his own soul. (fn. 20) This heir must have been Alexander's son, another Alexander. To the subsidy about 1280 Alexander de Besford paid 4s. 6d. in Besford. (fn. 21) In 1316 he was holding a knight's fee in Besford, (fn. 22) and in 1327 he headed contributors to the subsidy in Besford with a payment of 3s. (fn. 23) Alexander son of Alexander de Besford was engaged in a suit against John de Bishopsdon in 1325 (fn. 24) and 1328, (fn. 25) and in the latter year dower in Besford was recovered against him and others by Parnel, widow of John Thornden. (fn. 26) An order was issued in 1338 for the election of a verderer for the forest of Feckenham in the place of Alexander de Besford, who was so sick and broken by age that he could not perform the duties of his office. (fn. 27) He must have died before 1341, when John de Besford and Joan his wife were holding the manor (fn. 28) and made a grant of land to Alexander de Besford, probably their son, and Joan his wife. (fn. 29) Joan, widow of Robert de Harley, released lands in Besford and elsewhere to Alexander de Besford in 1376–7, (fn. 30) and in 1398–9 Alexander was dealing with land in Pershore. (fn. 31) He died without male issue, leaving either two or three daughters: Margaret, who married firstly John Dicleston of Dixton in Alderton (co. Glouc.) and secondly Thomas de la Hay; Joan, who married Sir William Clopton (fn. 32); and perhaps Agnes, who married Thomas Throckmorton of Fladbury, but the third is somewhat doubtful, (fn. 33) and Margaret and Joan seem to have divided the manor between them, Joan ultimately transferring her share to her elder sister for a rent of 30s. out of the manor. (fn. 34) Beatrice, widow of Alexander de Besford, who held of the lord a toft in which the capital messuage of her manor used to stand, and two parts of the manor of Besford, died in 1403–4, when it was presented that the daughters and heirs of Alexander, Margery wife of John Dicleston and Joan wife of John (an error for William) Clopton, owed suit for the same. (fn. 35) John Dicleston owed for relief and fealty for half a fee in Besford from 1408 to 1411. (fn. 36) The estate shortly afterwards passed to Thomas de la Hay, who had married John's widow. (fn. 37) After his wife's death on 24 August 1412, Thomas de la Hay continued to hold the manor. (fn. 38) Her son, Thomas Dicleston, must have died before 1419, when her three daughters were found to be her co-heirs. (fn. 39) Each married a member of the Harewell family. As heir of her brother, Elizabeth wife of John Harewell proved her age in 1419–20, (fn. 40) as did Maud wife of Richard Harewell (fn. 41) and Margery wife of William Harewell in 1422. (fn. 42) In the partition of their father's property Besford seems to have fallen to William Harewell and Margery his wife, who appears to have survived her son Roger, and was dead in September 1500. (fn. 43) At her death she was holding of the lord the old court of Besford, in which the manor of Besford was once situated, and was then the widow of Nicholas Giffard. (fn. 44) She was succeeded by her grandson Edmund, (fn. 45) who married Joan Russell of Strensham, and was the son of Roger Harewell by the daughter and co-heir of — Corbett of Cowleigh. (fn. 46) Thomas son of Edmund, who succeeded his father in 1532, (fn. 47) further enriched the family by marrying Margery sister and co-heir of John Vampage of Wollashull. (fn. 48) Edmund Harewell, the son of Thomas and Margery, again added to its property and importance by his marriage with Elizabeth daughter and heir of James Bury of Hampton Poyle (co. Oxon.). (fn. 49) Edmund and Elizabeth were dealing with the manor in 1588. (fn. 50) Their son Edmund, who succeeded to the manor, (fn. 51) was the last Harewell of Besford. He was knighted in 1603, and sold the manor in 1606 to William Sebright of London for £2,750, a lease for twenty-one years made by him on the previous 19 March to Rowland Berkeley being redeemed for £457 10s. (fn. 52) Habington describes most sympathetically the shipwreck of Sir Edmund's fortunes which necessitated this sale of the manor, and ascribes his sudden downfall, after the steady ascent of the generations that had preceded him, to the heavy expenses incurred by him in filling the offices to which he was appointed on account of his wisdom and character. He eulogizes him as 'Edmund Harewell, Knyght of the Bathe, Shyreefe of this county, an expert Justyce, a rare Commisyoner, and learned Gentellman. But overspending hymsealfe to serve his county in Offyces of authority (as hee towlde me hymsealfe) weakened hys estate, and then rowlinge from Besford to London and so backe agayne fyrst consumed and last sould all.' (fn. 53)
William Sebright, who belonged to the family of Sebright of Blakeshall in Wolverley, died seised of the manor on 27 October 1620, (fn. 54) and was succeeded by his nephew Edward, son of his late brother John. (fn. 55) Edward was created a baronet in 1626. (fn. 56) He was Commissioner of Array before the battle of Edgehill, and is said to have fought on the Royalist side, but a warrant issued by the king in 1646 for the cutting down of timber at Sebright's manor of Prestwood described him as 'in rebellion against us.' (fn. 57) He 'acted cordially' for the Commonwealth according to his own protestations, made in 1651 to obtain discharge from sequestration, when he declared that he took the Engagement, lent £1,000 on the Public Faith, relieved Parliament garrisons, served as Sheriff of Staffordshire, obeyed all Parliament orders through the wars, and lent and disbursed money for Parliament, and yet was sequestered on information that he assisted the king. He begged to be allowed to compound on the ground that he was very aged, and wished to have his poor estate free for his son, who was very young. He was ordered to pay a fine of £3,618 in June 1651. (fn. 58) He died on 8 December 1653, (fn. 59) and was succeeded by Edward his only son by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Earl of Manchester. He married Elizabeth daughter of Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley, and died 11 September 1679. (fn. 60) Their son Edward, third baronet, then succeeded. His son Thomas Saunders Sebright, who succeeded him as fourth baronet in 1702, (fn. 61) died in 1736, when the manor descended to his son Sir Thomas Saunders Sebright. On his death, unmarried, in 1761 (fn. 62) he was succeeded by his brother Sir John Saunders Sebright, sixth baronet. (fn. 63) He was a colonel of the 18th Regiment of Foot, and became a lieutenantgeneral. He represented Bath in three Parliaments (fn. 64) (1763–80) and died in 1794. He was succeeded by his son Sir John Saunders Sebright, who served for a short time in the army and was in 1807 elected M.P. for Hertfordshire, representing the county until the end of the first reformed Parliament. (fn. 65) As an independent member on 1 March 1831 he seconded Lord John Russell's motion for leave to bring in the first Reform Bill. He wrote and spoke much that was of value on practical agricultural matters. (fn. 66) He died in 1846, and was succeeded by his son the eighth baronet, Sir Thomas Gage Saunders Sebright, (fn. 67) at whose death in 1864 the manor passed to his son Sir John Gage Saunders Sebright. (fn. 68) Of him it was purchased in 1885 by Frederick Earl Beauchamp. He was succeeded in 1891 by his son William Earl Beauchamp, who sold the manor in 1910 (fn. 69) to Major George John William Noble, the present owner.
The old chancel, now practically rebuilt, was apparently of early 13th-century date and was the earliest portion of the building. The timber-framed nave was built in the late 14th or early 15th century and the south porch added soon after.
The chancel has a modern three-light east window and two others in the south wall. In the north wall is a recess, with a doorway to the vestry. The latter has ancient work re-used in the east window, and below it is an old window with three uncusped lights, re-used and lighting a basement. The chancel roof is of wagon form and modern.
The nave is timber-framed and stands on a modern stone base; the filling in of plaster is also modern, but the timbering is mainly original and massive. In the north wall are two square-headed three-light windows, and there are two more together in the south wall, all, however, mostly modern work. In the west wall is a late 14th-century window of two lights with a square traceried head, all in oak. The south door is modern, but the blocked north door is original and has a four-centred ogee head. The roof has modern panelled boarding of wagon form, but the trusses are ancient, the tie-beams having each a cross flory in the centre of the soffit and curved supporting struts. The alteration in level between the nave and chancel roof is boarded in on the west face. The south porch is of timber and structurally of the 15th century, but the barge-board and traceried filling at the sides are modern. Over the west gable is a modern square bell-turret with a shingled spirelet. It contains two bells, the first mediaeval and inscribed in Lombardic characters, '† Campanum Sanct' Micaelis'; the second has no inscription, but is of the same date (about 1300).
The wooden fittings of the church are of particular interest. The rood-loft rests on a beam supported on curved struts and posts against the walls. It is of the 15th century, the beam being embattled and having a band of vine carving along the front of which only a portion at the north end is original. The loft front has a series of quatrefoils bearing traces of red, blue, gold and white colouring, and having carved roses in the centre of each; the moulded cornice is also coloured and has a cresting, which is modern except at the north end. The loft was anciently approached by a ladder. The walls of the nave have 17th-century panelling to half their height with Jacobean ornament at the west end. The turned communion rails of the same date are now in the roof. The old font, with octagonal bowl and stem of doubtful date, stands in the churchyard.
On the north side of the chancel are two remarkable memorials, one to Richard son of Edmund Harewell and Elizabeth (Bury) his wife, the other probably to Edmund son of Sir Edmund Harewell. The monument of Richard, who died unmarried in his father's lifetime, aged fifteen, is a stone altar tomb with panelled sides having the crest (a hare's head razed) at the west end, and the demi-figure of a child and two shields on the front with the charges obliterated. On the slab is the recumbent figure in alabaster of a youth in ruff and puffed trunks with a shield on either side the head, the first bearing Harewell quartering nine other coats, (fn. 70) and the second Vert a crosslet or for Bury, quartering a horn between three trefoils for Pincepole. To this monument was added shortly after a pierced wooden rail of semi-Gothic character, now much broken in front, and a panelled wooden erection against the wall behind, flanked by fluted Doric pilasters supporting an entablature. Of the panels six are occupied by painted coats of arms, and above the cornice is a scutcheon of the Sebright arms, quite foreign to the monument. Against the east wall of the recess on this side of the chancel is the memorial to Edmund Harewell [?], in the form of a painted triptych of oak. It has two pairs of doors or wings, the upper pair having externally two full-length angels holding shields, the first bearing the twelve quarters of Harewell and Bury, the other Gules a cheveron argent between three lions' heads or with two gimel bars gules and roundels sable on the cheveron, which are the arms of Susan Coles, his mother. Below are two more shields, the first Bury as on his kinsman's monument, the second a shield of Townsend quarterly of six, (fn. 71) for his maternal grandmother, Anne Townsend. On the inside of these wings is a long inscription in English verse relating to the early end, descent and virtues of the deceased, and two figures of Time and Death represented as a skeleton, both much defaced. The centre piece itself bears the large kneeling figure of a young man in Elizabethan costume with an inscription and a figured frieze of the Resurrection. In the lowest division is represented a body laid out for burial, and inside the lower leaves or wings are two amorini blowing bubbles. The execution of these paintings is much above the average for this period. On the south chancel wall is a tablet with twisted Ionic columns to Sir Edward Sebright, bart. (d. 1679), and Elizabeth his wife (1685). It bears the arms of Sebright impaling Knightley of Fawsley and marble figures of two daughters. On the north wall is a funeral helm with the Sebright crest, with sword and gauntlets, and on the east face of the rood screen are tattered banners and pennons, one with the same crest, and evidently all forming part of a funeral achievement of the 17th century. In the west window is a stained-glass shield, Argent on a fesse sable two pheons argent, and a number of old quarries bearing yellow flowers.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) 1539 to 1658 (burials to 1642 and marriages to 1650 only); (ii) all entries 1697 to 1750; (iii) marriages 1754 to 1812; (iv) baptisms and burials 1762 to 1812.
There was probably a chapel at Besford in 1086 served by that William the priest who held of the abbey of Westminster their 4 demesne hides. A reference to it occurs in 1186–90 as a dependent chapel of St. Andrew's, Pershore. (fn. 72) The chapel remained annexed to the vicarage of St. Andrew, Pershore, until 30 June 1865, when Besford was attached to Defford, and constituted a district chapelry known as Defford-cum-Besford. (fn. 73) The living was declared a vicarage in 1866. (fn. 74)
In 1218 John de Besford renounced to his lords, the Abbot and convent of Westminster, as patrons, and to St. Andrew's Church, Pershore, as mother church, all his right in the chapel. (fn. 75) The advowson now belongs to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.
The privileges of Pershore Abbey, as recited after one of the fires that took place there, included the right to have the bodies of all those holding land in Besford buried at Pershore, while those who had none were to be buried in the churchyard of Little Comberton. (fn. 76) This was a cause of many disputes. Habington wrote of the chapel as already 'pryvileadged with funeralls' in his day. (fn. 77)
The church lands originally consisted of about 1½ acres of land, the origin of which was unknown. The land was sold in 1890 and the proceeds invested in £257 1s. 4d. consols, producing £6 8s. 4d. yearly, which is applied towards church expenses.