A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1924.
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Birlingham is a secluded village and parish about 10 miles from Worcester and 2 from Pershore. It lies on the right bank of the Avon in a bend of the river, and Bow Brook bounds it on the west. On the south-east it is watered by Berwick Brook, a tributary of the Avon. The road from Tewkesbury to Pershore runs through the west of the parish, and near Defford Bridge on the western boundary is joined by the road from Upton upon Severn to Pershore.
The village is scattered, but contains several large modern houses. The Court House, belonging to the Porter family, was lately the residence of Major Lord Charles Cavendish Bentinck, Master of the Croome hounds. Near it is a picturesque quadrangular building of 17th-century black-and-white work, now divided up into tenements. Birlingham House, the residence of Mr. William Jardine Gresson, is a large modern building. St. James's Church occupies the centre of the village. To the south is the pound, and south-east of the churchyard in the village street are the parish stocks. The school (public elementary), with master's house attached, built by the late Miss Porter in 1855, was enlarged in 1895 and 1912.
The manor-house, the residence of Mr. Charles Arnold Crane, is about half a mile south of the church; near it are the almshouses. These are rent free for eight of the most deserving among poor men or women of the parish.
At the extreme south of Birlingham, where a branch of the Berwick Brook flows into the Avon, is Nafford water-mill (corn). The mill is on the opposite side of the river, but the parish boundary here passes to the south of the river to include Nafford. In the south-west of the parish is a quay on the Avon.
The whole parish lies low, the ground, which reaches its highest point, 123 ft., a short distance above Defford Bridge in the north-west, being only about 70 ft. high at the church, and falling as low as 40 ft. at its lowest point in the south; the land along the river banks is liable to floods. It is extremely fertile, with a subsoil of Lower Lias and a large proportion of it is employed in fruit-growing. The total area is 1,272 acres, of which 355 are arable land, 742 permanent grass, and only 2 woods and plantations. (fn. 1)
An Inclosure Act for the parish was passed in 1773. (fn. 2)
Among ancient place-names are included Haisshom Meadow (deed undated) (fn. 3); Wulsiefurlong, Rufurlong, 1314 (fn. 4); Bollecroft, Boresfeld, Harleywod, 1501–2 (fn. 5); Dean Orchard, Great and Little Asham Furlong, and the Doles Meadow, 1813. (fn. 6)
BIRLINGHAM formed part of the earliest endowments of Pershore Abbey and was then for a time lost to it, ten manses here being said to have been restored to the abbey in 972 by King Edgar. (fn. 7) By 1086 Pershore had again lost Birlingham, which, as a member of the manor of Pershore, had been granted by King Edward the Confessor to the abbey of Westminster. (fn. 8) The abbot was then holding 3 hides and 1 virgate, of which Urse held 2 hides and 1 virgate. (fn. 9) The manor represented by the hide held in demesne by the abbot was apparently subinfeudated in the 12th century to the D'Abitots. The abbots continued as overlords, (fn. 10) the manor being held of them at a fee farm of £11, (fn. 11) until it returned into their hands in 1378. (fn. 12)
The Abbot of Westminster was perhaps still holding the manor in demesne in 1186–90, when it was said to be an appendage of his court at Pershore. (fn. 13) In 1199 William D'Abitot paid 20s. for assarts in Birlingham. (fn. 14) In 1219–20 Geoffrey D'Abitot granted to William, Abbot of Westminster, service claimed by the abbot for Geoffrey's holding in Birlingham and Defford. (fn. 15) Geoffrey D'Abitot paid 6s. 8d. for this holding about 1280. (fn. 16) In 1314 Geoffrey D'Abitot was lord of Birlingham and received a rent of 2s. for 6 acres of arable land which George Tribel of Birlingham held by grant from Geoffrey D'Abitot, grandfather of the said Geoffrey. (fn. 17) Though land was said in 1329 to be held of Geoffrey D'Abitot as of his manor of Birlingham, (fn. 18) the manor had probably passed before 1317 to John de Sapy, who had married Sybil, cousin of Geoffrey. (fn. 19) In 1317 John received a grant of free warren at Birlingham, (fn. 20) and on 4 May 1322 the manor was in the king's hands on account of John's forfeiture for rebellion, and a keeper of its stock and wainage was appointed to make arrangements for the king's advantage. (fn. 21) On 3 March 1323–4 it was granted by Edward II to Hugh le Despencer the younger, (fn. 22) to whom it was confirmed by John de Sapy and Sybil his wife. (fn. 23) Hugh le Despencer was executed in 1326, (fn. 24) and the manor again came into the hands of the king. (fn. 25) It was granted in 1329 to the king's leech, Master Pancius de Controne, in fee simple, because he had been anew retained to stay with the king for life. (fn. 26) It was bought of the leech by William de Clinton, Earl of Huntingdon, in 1340. (fn. 27) The earl died seised of tenements in the vill of Birlingham in 1354, (fn. 28) and his widow Juliana held the estate until her death in 1367, her successor being her husband's nephew, Sir John de Clinton. (fn. 29) The manor must, however, have returned into the possession of John de Sapy before 1331, when he was obliged by the Abbot of Westminster to lower his mill pool at Birlingham, which interfered with the abbot's estate at Pensham. (fn. 30) John de Sapy, grandson and heir of the abovementioned John, (fn. 31) was distrained in 1376 at a court of Binholme for a fine for acquiring the manor. (fn. 32) On 5 April 1378 licence was granted to Sir Richard Scrope, Walter Perham, Richard Rook of Westminster, and Thomas Durdant to grant the reversion of the manor after the death of Sir John de Sapy, who held for life, to the Abbot of Westminster. (fn. 33) In 1389–90 the abbot was called upon to give an account of his tenancy of the lands of John de Sapy, late sheriff, in Birlingham. (fn. 34) In 1463–4 the abbot granted annuities out of his manor of Birlingham to Phidias Josselyn and William Taylor, aldermen, and Thomas Urswick, recorder, of London, (fn. 35) and in 1465–6 to John Randolf and others. (fn. 36) The manor remained in the hands of successive abbots until the Dissolution, (fn. 37) and was granted in fee on 8 July 1541 to John Carleton of Waltonupon-Thames and Joyce his wife with a close called Bullens and a wood called Roughhill, in exchange for lands in Walton. (fn. 38) On 14 July 1551 John Carleton, then of Brightwell Baldwin, co. Oxford, bequeathed the manor to his wife Joyce with reversion to his son Anthony, and on 4 November following he died. (fn. 39) In 1562 Anthony Carleton sold the manor to Sir Thomas Russell. (fn. 40) It then followed the descent of Strensham (fn. 41) until 1695, when Sir Francis Russell sold it to Thomas Lord Coventry of Allesborough. (fn. 42) Since that date it has descended with Croome D'Abitot, (fn. 43) and is now in the hands of the Earl of Coventry. (fn. 44)
When the manor was granted to John Carleton in 1541 a yearly rent of £20s. 3d. was reserved to the Crown. (fn. 45) This rent was granted to Lord Hawley and other trustees for the sale of fee-farm rents in 1670, (fn. 46) and was sold on 31 January 1672 to Sir John Banks, William Bright of London and John Orton of London, haberdasher. (fn. 47)
The estate of 2 hides and 1 virgate which Urse held in 1086, in succession to Alfric and Donning, of the Abbot of Westminster, afterwards became a fee held of the abbot's manor of Binholme in Pershore, (fn. 48) and was said to be held of that manor as late as 1595. (fn. 49)
Urse's interest passed with his other estates to the Beauchamps of Elmley Castle, the manor being held of them until the 15th century. (fn. 50)
In a survey of Pershore Hundred, which must have been taken shortly after the Domesday Survey, the land is returned as belonging to Robert. (fn. 51) This was probably Robert Parler, owner of Nafford, with which this estate at Birlingham seems to have passed. Sir Thomas Baskerville, who had married the widow of John Vampage of Nafford, was in 1553 sued by Joyce Carleton, lady of the principal manor of Birlingham, for a piece of ground or island called Bullens in Birlingham, and another piece of land called Crosehams in Birlingham or Eckington (fn. 52); and Thomas Wynchcombe of Chalgrove, co. Oxford, the second husband of Dorothy Vampage, was holding the manor in 1558 (fn. 53) and 1564 (fn. 54) as the manor of Birlingham with Great Comberton. This manor of Birlingham was included among the property of which Sir Thomas Hanford and Margaret Hugford his wife were seised in right of Margaret on 19 June 1575. (fn. 55) On 18 November 1594 Margaret died seised of 'the manor of Birlingham, formerly parcel of the possessions of John Vampage, and now in the hands of divers sub-tenants.' (fn. 56) This estate may have passed like the Hanfords' part of Wollashull to the Harewells, the coheirs with the Hanfords of John Vampage, for Thomas Harewell of Birlingham died in 1603, and was buried at Birlingham. The next record of it is in 1720, when it belonged to Richard Salwey. (fn. 57) It finally passed to Benjamin Booth of London by his marriage with Jane, only daughter of Richard Salwey of Moor Park (co. Salop). (fn. 58) In 1773 (fn. 59) Benjamin Booth claimed to be lord of a 'certain tract of land within the parish of Nafford,' and it seems probable that by this was meant this manor of Birlingham, confusion having already arisen as to the geographical limits of Nafford, for in 1775 Benjamin Booth and Jane his wife conveyed to William Woodward the manor of Nafford, (fn. 60) by which we should apparently understand Birlingham, Nafford remaining until a much later date in the hands of the Hanfords, and the Woodwards from about this date being described as of the Manor House, Birlingham. (fn. 61) William Woodward, of the Manor House, died in 1787, and was succeeded by his son William, who died in 1842, and was followed in the family estates at Birlingham by his second son Robert under an arrangement with the latter's elder brother William. Mr. Robert Woodward sold the estate in 1912 in lots to various purchasers.
The manor of MORE HALLwas held of the Abbot of Westminster's manor of Birlingham. (fn. 62) It seems to have come into the Clopton family by the marriage of William Clopton with the sister of John 'Delamorehall.' (fn. 63) William's son, John Clopton, was the father of Sir William Clopton, who married the second daughter and co-heir of Alexander de Besford, (fn. 64) and died seised of 10 marks rent in Birlingham, Defford and elsewhere in 1419. (fn. 65) His son Thomas seems to have died under age, and his eldest daughter and co-heir Joan married Sir John Burgh of Shropshire. (fn. 66) Sir John died in 1471 seised of the manor of More Hall. (fn. 67) His wife's heirs were John Newport, son of her daughter Elizabeth, Thomas Leghton, son of her daughter Ankaretta, and her daughters Isabel wife of Sir John Lingen and Elizabeth wife of Thomas Mitton. (fn. 68) This must have been the manor of Birlingham which Richard Mitton of Shrewsbury sold to John Carleton of Walton-upon-Thames on 1 July 1544–5, the pasture called Sheriffes Heye in the tenure of Sir John Russell being excepted from the sale. (fn. 69)
At the date of the Domesday Survey the manor of NAFFORDwas included in the lands of the abbey of Westminster as 'a small piece of land called Nadford' which neither paid geld nor owed service at the hundred court. (fn. 70) The overlordship of this estate remained with the abbot and convent and their successors, the dean and chapter, as late as 1617–18, (fn. 71) when it was said to be held of the latter as of their manor of Binholme in Pershore.
In 1086 Gilbert Fitz Turold held Nafford of the abbey, and Robert Parler held of Gilbert. (fn. 72) No reference to an under-tenant in Nafford then occurs for more than a century. Walter de Nafford was holding the manor and advowson in 1220–1, (fn. 73) and may have been identical with Walter son of William son of Ellis de Nafford who made a grant (undated) to Pershore Abbey of land in Besford, (fn. 74) which John his son confirmed to Abbot Roger (1234–50). (fn. 75) In 1229–30 Walter son of Vivian, owner of the manor of Besford, gave land in Besford to Sybil widow of Walter de Nafford. (fn. 76) William de Nafford presented to the church of Nafford in 1290, (fn. 77) and was then probably holding the manor. In 1338 and 1341 Robert Harley and Margaret his wife and Edmund Cornwall and his wife Elizabeth, who seem to have held some rights of overlordship in the manor, (fn. 78) sued Henry de Muryvale and Richard de Longdon for land at Birlingham, Henry and Richard possibly being tenants of the manor at that time. (fn. 79) Sir Roger Golafre appears to have been lord of Nafford in 1361, when he presented to the church. (fn. 80) William Golafre presented in 1400 and his feoffees in 1411. (fn. 81)
From this date until the beginning of the 16th century the manor followed the same descent as Ryall in Ripple. (fn. 82) Robert Vampage and Eleanor his wife sold it in 1506–7 to John Arderne, (fn. 83) who leased it to Robert for life at a rent of 20s. (fn. 84) Robert Vampage died in 1516, (fn. 85) when it reverted to John Arderne, who died seised of it in 1525, his son Thomas succeeding. (fn. 86) The manor must have been purchased of this Thomas by John Vampage, son of Robert mentioned above, (fn. 87) for John and his wife Anne were dealing with it in 1540, (fn. 88) and it subsequently followed the descent of Wollashull in Eckington (fn. 89) (q.v.).
A mill in Birlingham was granted by John de Birlingham and Joan his wife to Alexander de Besford and Joan his wife in 1341–2. (fn. 92)
Two-thirds of two water-mills, formerly parcel of the manor of Nafford, were held by Sir Thomas Hanford, and the remaining third by the said Sir Thomas and Margaret his wife in right of Margaret, in 1575 (fn. 93) and 1595. (fn. 94) These mills were granted to Sir John Russell by them for an annual rent from the mills and from the manor of Strensham on 7 December 1583. (fn. 95) This rent was the subject of a lawsuit between the Russells and Hanfords in 1622. (fn. 96) Nafford Mills were advertised for sale by the assignee of William Disston, a bankrupt, in 1814. (fn. 97)
There was a fishery at Birlingham in 1086. (fn. 98) In 1501–2 Edward Harewell paid 2s. for the farm of the several fishery of the lord of the principal manor of Birlingham in 'Hymmylbrooke' extending from Brokemyll to Avonmouth. (fn. 99) In 1695 a fish pool called Sharpoole in Birlingham was sold with the manor by Sir Francis Russell to Thomas Lord Coventry. (fn. 100) A several fishery in the Avon was held with the second manor of Birlingham in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 101)
The west tower dates from the 15th century, but the rest of the church was largely rebuilt in 1784, when it consisted of a chancel and nave. An engraving of this building, preserved in the vestry, shows a square-headed window on the south of the chancel and two pointed windows and one square-headed south of the nave, all apparently of the 18th century. The church was again entirely rebuilt in 1871–2 with money left by the Rev. Robert Eyres Landor, former patron and rector, the present south nave aisle representing the earlier structure.
The style is late 13th-century Gothic, and the chancel has a traceried three-light east window, a wagon roof and an oak reredos. The nave is of four bays and has an open timber roof. The aisles, of which the southern is considerably the wider, are lighted by windows of three and two lights. The 15th-century west tower is three stages high with diagonal buttresses at the western angles and an embattled parapet. The stair turret on the north side is carried above it and finished with a modern octagonal capping and spirelet. The ground stage opens into the church by an arch of two chamfered orders with chamfered jambs and plain imposts. In the west wall is a pointed and traceried 15th-century window of three lights. The second stage is not floored, and has a single-light square-headed window, and the third stage is lighted by square-headed two-light windows. It contains five bells, the first inscribed, 'Francis Bahrhlew, Samuel Palmer churchwardens William Bagley made mee 1692'; the second, 'When you me ring i'll sweetly sing, A.R. 1748'; the third, 'Henry Bagley made me 1685'; the fourth, 'George Lunne and John Cubberley Churchwardens 1685'; the fifth, 'Fear God and hounour the King 1685.'
The font is modern, as are the two stone lecterns, one representing an angel with a book and the other an eagle on a pile of rocks. Fixed on the west respond of the south nave arcade is a rectangular brass plate with kneeling figures of Thomas Harewell of Birlingham (d. 1603), Margaret (Harman) his wife and Mary their daughter. Painted on the surface are three coats of arms, the first Harewell impaling Argent on a cross sable five birds argent for Harman; the second is quarterly of twelve, being the fully quartered coat of Harewell, but much defaced; the third is Harewell impaling Sheldon.
In the churchyard on the south side is a modern stone cross. The lych-gate incorporates the reconstructed chancel arch of the old church. It is of 12th-cenury date with two orders on the external face, the outer having two rows of cheveron ornament and side shafts with cushion capitals. The inner face is entirely modern, and much of the work on the outer face is restoration.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms and burials 1566 to 1633, marriages 1566 to 1636; (ii) baptisms and burials 1638 to 1782, marriages 1633 to 1753; (iii) baptisms and burials 1783 to 1797; (iv) baptisms 1753 to 1812, burials 1756 to 1812; (v) marriages 1754 to 1812.
There was a priest at Nafford in 1086, (fn. 102) and the church at Nafford was in the 13th century the parish church, that at Birlingham being a chapel dependent on it. (fn. 103) This is still the case, though Nafford Church (St. James) was in ruins when Habington wrote, (fn. 104) and the exact site has long been a matter of conjecture only.
The advowson was claimed in 1220–1 by Walter de Nafford, (fn. 105) and it followed the descent of Nafford Manor (fn. 106) until 1686, when Compton Hanford presented. (fn. 107) After this date the Institution Books show a succession of different owners, Steeple Martin presenting in 1693, Margaret Lane, widow, in 1745, (fn. 108) and (after the advowson had been advertised for sale on 20 April 1775 (fn. 109) ) Peter Cocks in 1776, another presentation being made later in the same year by John Astley. John Astley's executors sold the advowson in 1783–4 (fn. 110) to the Rev. Thomas Bradstock, whose daughter Margaretta Penelope married Alexander Luders. (fn. 111) In 1829 Alexander Luders and his wife sold the advowson to Robert Eyres Landor, (fn. 112) of whom it is recorded that he was never absent from his parish for a Sunday until his death in 1869, at which date the advowson was in his hands. (fn. 113) It then passed to the Rev. R. Rashleigh Duke, in whose representatives it is now vested.
The dead of Birlingham and Nafford were in mediaeval times brought to Pershore for burial. (fn. 114)
The church table mentions that 'many ages since' a tenement was given to the parish and divided into two almshouses. In or about 1815 Thomas Chinnell Porter substituted eight new almshouses built upon his own land in exchange for the site of the old house.
In 1877 Miss Anne Porter, by her will proved 27 March of that year, bequeathed £500, the income to be applied in keeping in repair the almshouses which had been rebuilt by her father, Thomas Chinnell Porter (apparently the son of the aforesaid Thomas Chinnell Porter). The legacy was invested in £520 3s. 2d. consols, producing £13 a year.
The church table further mentioned that 6½ acres of land and two cow pastures were in the possession of the parish, the origin and precise trusts of which were unknown. Under the inclosure in 1774 about 4 acres were allotted in respect of these properties, now known as the Church Meadow and let at £6 10s. a year, which is applied towards the repairs of the church.
In 1837 Martha Porter, by her will proved 22 June in that year, bequeathed £333 6s. 8d. consols, the dividends to be applied in the maintenance of the Sunday school and in the repair of the church clock. £300 consols was in 1907 apportioned to the educational foundation and £33 6s. 8d. consols, producing 16s. 8d. yearly, for the repair and winding of the clock. The former has by accumulations been augmented to £342 12s. 10d. consols, and the annual dividends, amounting to £8 11s. 4d., are applied towards the management of the Sunday school.
The same testator also bequeathed £333 6s. 8d. consols for the benefit of the poor. The trust fund with accumulations is represented by £375 19s. 4d. consols, producing £9 8s. yearly, which is distributed in coal.
In 1879 Thomas Woodward, by his will proved at Worcester, bequeathed £100, the interest to be distributed at Christmas among the poor. The legacy is represented by £97 Highland Railway 4 per cent. stock, producing £3 17s. 6d. yearly.
In 1884 Mary Woodward, in memory of her late husband Robert Woodward, by deed, settled a sum of £375 London and North Western Railway 4 per cent. stock, the dividends, amounting to £15 yearly, to be applied in the promotion of thrift, education and temperance among the poor. The operation of the charity has for some time been suspended and the income accumulated.