A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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HOUSE OF KNIGHTS TEMPLARS
14. THE PRECEPTORY OF LYDLEY
The Templars, who had acquired estates in Shropshire by 1158, (fn. 1) owed their original endowments to William FitzAlan (I) and Herbert de Castello. Some time between 1155 and his death in 1160 the former granted them the townships of Cardington and Enchmarsh, half of Chatwall, a pension of 3 marks from Cardington church, and 5s. from Cardington mill. (fn. 2) At about the same time Herbert de Castello granted them a carucate at Lydley and two virgates in the adjoining township of Botville, a portion of his wife's inheritance. (fn. 3) Since the order chose to establish its preceptory at Lydley the latter may have been the earlier of the two grants. A few outlying properties were added in the next 25 years. Two messuages in Shrewsbury were given by William FitzAlan and a virgate at Cound by his brother Walter. Brian and Roger of Brampton granted a virgate at Kinlet, and a half messuage in Bridgnorth had come into the possession of the preceptory by 1185. (fn. 4)
The hamlet of Lydley, which seems to have shrunk to a single farm in the earlier 17th century and is now represented by a derelict range of cottages known as the Day House, stood alongside a stream, near but not on Watling Street. (fn. 5) Although the Templars built a mill in the hamlet shortly before 1185 (fn. 6) and seem also to have had fishponds there (fn. 7) the preceptory buildings apparently stood on the site of Penkridge Hall, (fn. 8) an isolated farmstead half a mile south-east of the hamlet which in the 12th century was situated at the junction of the forest of Botwood and the open commons of the Lawley. Their initial endowments had provided the Templars with a compact estate on the northern and southern slopes of the Lawley and Caer Caradoc hills and, like Haughmond Abbey in neighbouring Leebotwood, (fn. 9) they were quick to realize its economic potential.
Throughout its history the preceptory maintained a large demesne. In 1185 this comprised nearly the whole of Lydley township and other lands, presumably assarts, in Botville. (fn. 10) Since their tenants were excused from all services, apart from the obligation to surrender a third of their goods at death, it is evident than in 1185, as later, the demesne was being worked by a large staff of permanent farm servants. Excluding the sums received from Cardington church and mill and rents of 12s. 4d. from the four outlying properties, the 60 tenants on the Lydley estate in 1185 paid rents totalling £7 11s. ½d. for 17¾ virgates and 173½ acres. The latter were assarts, held on life-tenancies for rents of 2d. an acre, which were waived during the first three years after clearance. The standard holding was the half virgate but a third of the tenants held assarted lands in addition and a further third held assarts only. Although income from assarts represented only a quarter of the total rents, their extent, the favourable terms on which they were held, and the high proportion of recent settlers are a clear indication of the Templars' lively interest in forest clearances.
Soon after 1185 the Templars were able to appropriate Cardington church (fn. 11) and in the early 13th century they extended the Lydley estate further into the upland country south of Caer Caradoc and the Lawley. In 1232 they obtained a carucate at Holt Preen. (fn. 12) A half hide at Stoneacton was acquired about 1240, (fn. 13) while Comley had been added to the estate by 1255 (fn. 14) and Willstone by 1274. (fn. 15) The order was rather less successful in its efforts to expand into the wooded lowlands to the north of the hills. The boundary with Longnor was probably defined in 1222, when a portion of Botwood was surrendered to the lord of that manor in return for exclusive rights of common in the remainder. (fn. 16) The respective common rights of Lydley and Leebotwood tenants in Botwood were regulated in 1273, when the Templars were given the right to fish in the Cound Brook. (fn. 17) Their claims to assarts in the southwestern portion of Botwood, which lay in Church Stretton manor, were still a subject of dispute in 1292. (fn. 18) Less resistance was encountered to the east where, taking advantage of the lax administration of Langley manor in the earlier 13th century, (fn. 19) they had taken possession of the woods of 'Tywleshey' and Harlith, north and south of Causeway Wood. (fn. 20) Their rights here were, however, challenged in 1273 (fn. 21) and a similar attempt to usurp woodland in the part of Chatwall township outside the Lydley estate was foiled in 1276. (fn. 22) The Templars were granted free warren on their demesne at Lydley in 1302 (fn. 23) and were employing a forester there in 1308. (fn. 24)
Apart from an outlying property at Turford in Richard's Castle, which apparently belonged to the Templars in 1227 but had passed by 1255 to the Hospitallers of Dinmore, (fn. 25) Lydley's remaining acquisitions after 1185 were in Corvedale. Most of them were held in demesne and this development can be seen as an attempt to complement the upland economy of the home estate at Lydley with land more suited to cereals. The earliest of these was Lawton mill in Diddlebury, acquired before 1192, (fn. 26) but their principal Corvedale property was some six miles up the valley at Stanton Long. Four virgates were granted by Robert Walensis, c. 1225, (fn. 27) and a tract of moorland was acquired, c. 1255, from Thomas de Stanton, (fn. 28) who conveyed the remainder of his estate here to the Templars soon afterwards. (fn. 29) In 1266 they made an unsuccessful claim to the advowson of Stanton Long. (fn. 30) Of greater potential value was the adjoining manor of Castle Holdgate, with its barony, which was leased to the Templars of Lydley from c. 1263 until shortly before 1284. (fn. 31) Like earlier and later lords of this manor they seem to have held it in demesne; Templar corn from Castle Holdgate was seized c. 1274 by Sir John Giffard of Corfham while it was being carried to Ludlow. (fn. 32) It is clear from the reports of the hundred jurors in 1274 and from the lawsuits in which the Templars were involved about this time that they were exercising with some vigour their suzerainty over the numerous manors within the barony, most of which lay in Corvedale. (fn. 33) Lydley's interest in Corvedale may explain the appearance of the Ludlow merchant Roger de Hayton as one of their tenants in avowry in 1255. (fn. 34)
The preceptor and two serving brethren witnessed a deed in 1273. (fn. 35) It seems likely that this was the normal number of brethren in permanent residence at Lydley, apart from aged members of the order to whom corrodies had been assigned. Two corrodiaries, who had been granted board at the serving brothers' table, 5s. a year, and a robe in 1304 and 1307 respectively, (fn. 36) were found at Lydley when the preceptory was committed to the sheriff's custody in January 1308, (fn. 37) following the suppression of the order. The Templar Henry of Halton, who was described as Warden of Lydley and had assumed the duties of the preceptor, was still living there at Michaelmas 1308. (fn. 38) It is possible that his former superior was Stephen of Stalbridge, Templar of Lydley, who was arrested in 1311 at Salisbury, not far from the Dorset village from which he took his name, and subsequently sent to do penance at Merton Priory. (fn. 39)
The Crown took over an estate which, though more modest than it had been in the third quarter of the 13th century, was still flourishing. (fn. 40) Rents, with income from commuted labour services, terciary payments, and profits of courts, produced £30 13s. 10d., of which only about £4 was derived from the shrunken Corvedale estate and other outlying properties. Cardington church, which was not accounted for in 1308, had been valued at £13 6s. 8d. in 1291, (fn. 41) so that Lydley's gross annual income from rents and tithes was about £44.
Income from its demesnes, however, was clearly of greater relative importance in the preceptory's economy, particularly at Lydley itself, where there were 16 farm servants. Half of the latter were ploughmen and the livestock included 26 oxen, while 80 qr. wheat and 124 qr. oats were harvested in 1308 and 44 qr. maslin had been found at Lydley in January of that year. (fn. 42) Although no cows were found at this time 13 were sold later in the year. Two shepherds tended the substantial sheep flock to be expected on such a site; 280 sheep and 96 lambs were found in January 1308 and that year's shearing produced 254 fleeces. A dovecot had just been built and stone was being sold from a quarry. The demesnes at Holt Preen and Stanton Long, said to include 100 a. and 140 a. of arable respectively in 1338, (fn. 43) appear to have been more exclusively devoted to corn growing. Six of the nine farm servants on the two manors were ploughmen and, apart from six heifers at Holt Preen, the livestock were all plough-beasts. Wheat and oats were the sole crops grown.
By 1314 the Templar estate in Lydley and most of that elsewhere in Cardington parish had come into the hands of Edmund, Earl of Arundel, (fn. 44) who had some claim upon it as heir of one of the founders (fn. 45) and whose title was confirmed by the Hospitallers in 1324. (fn. 46) Cardington church, with Holt Preen and Stanton Long, passed to the Hospitallers of Dinmore. (fn. 47) Shortly after 1324 Arundel set the demesne of Lydley, with the preceptory buildings, on a stock-and-land lease to a syndicate of four persons (fn. 48) and, under the name of Lydley Hays, it was always leased as a single farm until the 17th century. (fn. 49) The existing house on the site of the preceptory, called Penkridge Hall by 1770, (fn. 50) was apparently built by its tenant Rowland Whitbrooke in the 1590s (fn. 51) and does not contain any remains of earlier structures.
Preceptors of Lydley
John de Houton, occurs 1261. (fn. 52)
Richard Lovel, occurs 1273. (fn. 53)
Stephen, occurs 1292. (fn. 54)
Henry of Halton, occurs as custos 1308. (fn. 55)