The hundreds of Warwickshire

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1945.

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'The hundreds of Warwickshire', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred, (London, 1945) pp. 1-4. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]


At the time of the Norman Conquest the county of Warwick was divided into ten hundreds whose names, as given in the Domesday Book, were 'Berricestone', 'Bomelau', 'Coleshelle', 'Fernecumbe', 'Fexhole', 'Honesberie', 'Meretone', 'Patelau', 'Stanlei', and 'Tremelau', but later they were reduced to four, to which the names of Barlichway, Hemlingford, Kineton or Kington, and Knightlow were given. (fn. 1) A list of the parishes and townships in each of the four later hundreds is given in A Short Description of the County of Warwick published by the Warwickshire County Council in 1903, and their boundaries are shown on many maps of the county published in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 2) On recent maps no note is taken of them, as they no longer serve any purpose in the administration of the county.

Of the ten Domesday hundreds the largest in area was 'Coleshelle'. This was situated in the north of the county and took its name from Coleshill, near its centre at the junction of the Cole and Blythe, from its situation always a town of some importance. (fn. 3) Little if any change has taken place in its boundaries since the time of the Domesday Survey, but its name was changed in the 12th century to Hemlingford Hundred, and that name it still bears.

Lying to the east of 'Coleshelle' Hundred and extending to the Avon on the south and to the county boundary on the east was the hundred of 'Bomelau', which probably took its name from 'Bumbelowe', (fn. 4) a place not now identifiable in the parish of Brandon. Later, when the meeting-place of the hundred was removed to the artificial mound forming part of the extensive earthworks in the adjoining parish of Brinklow, (fn. 5) the name of the hundred was changed to 'Brinklow' Hundred.

South of 'Bomelau' Hundred, and lying on both sides of the Avon, was the hundred of 'Stanlei' or Stoneleigh, in which village, on an artificial mound near the church known as 'Motslow Hill', the hundred court was probably held; (fn. 6) and farther to the east and extending to the county boundary was 'Meretone' Hundred. This took its name from Marton, a village near the junction of the Leam and Itchen, where a place once known as 'Spelestowe' or 'place of speech' may have been the meeting-place of the hundred court. This place is mentioned in a deed of gift of lands (temp. Henry III) by Amice daughter of Henry Lovel of Marton to the nuns of Eaton (Nuneaton). (fn. 7)

Adjoining 'Stanlei' and 'Meretone' Hundreds on the south was the hundred known in the 11th and 12th centuries as 'Tremelau' or 'Tremelawe' Hundred, a name interpreted as meaning 'at the three mounds'. (fn. 8) The name itself is now obsolete, but the place where the hundred court was held may possibly have been on a well-marked hill near Lighthorne Church where a number of paths and roads converge. This would be near the centre of the hundred, and it bears the suggestive name of 'Mutt' or 'Moot Hill'. (fn. 9)

Between the last-named hundred and the county boundary was the hundred of 'Honesberie'; and still farther to the south the hundred of 'Fexhole', of which a detached piece, now represented by the parishes of Lapworth, Packwood, and Tanworth, lay some distance away in the west of the county in the wooded district of the Arden. The places which gave their names to these two hundreds are not known. 'Fexhole', it has been suggested, is an error for 'Foxhole'. (fn. 10)

In the extreme south of the county was the hundred of 'Berricestone' or Barcheston, which took its name from Barcheston, a village on the Stour. It was divided into two parts: one immediately to the south of 'Fexhole' Hundred, the other separated from it and from the rest of the county by the former Worcestershire parishes of Shipston-on-Stour, Tidmington, and Tredington. (fn. 11)

'Fernecumbe' and 'Patelau' Hundreds lay on the western side of the county between 'Tremelau' Hundred and the county boundary. The place from which the former hundred took its name is not known; the 'low' or tumulus which gave its name to the latter was on the top of a well-marked hill in the parish of Aston Cantlow. The name was long preserved in 'Pathlow House', shown on many Warwickshire maps, such as Thomas Kitchen's published in 1777 and James Sherriff's Map of upwards of Twenty-five Miles round Birmingham published in 1798, but on the Ordnance Survey map published in 1831, and on later Ordnance Survey maps, the house is called 'Hill Farm' and the adjoining district 'Pathlow'.

In addition to these ten hundreds into which the county of Warwick was divided at the end of the 11th century, there are several references in the 12th century to a 'Chickenes' Hundred and to a 'Cotes' Hundred. The position of the former is entirely unknown, the latter, in the Assize Rolls of 1232 called Hundred' de Cotes, quod voc' suburbium de Warr', is believed to have taken its name from Cotes, now Coton End, an unimportant suburb of Warwick. In connexion with this hundred Professor Tait notes that before the Conquest Coton was a manor of Earl Edwin, to which were attached his third (as earl) of the pleas of the shire and of the revenue of Warwick borough; it may therefore perhaps have had hundredal privileges which were continued on its escheat to the Crown. (fn. 12)

During the 12th century it appears from entries in the Pipe Rolls that some rearrangement of the Warwickshire hundreds was made and their number reduced. In the south of the county 'Tremelau', 'Honesberie', 'Fexhole', and 'Berricestone' disappeared and were replaced by a new county division, the sipesocha of Kington; in the east of the county 'Bomelau', 'Stanlei', and 'Meretone', although retaining a certain independence, were combined to form the sipesocha of Knightlow; and the Domesday hundred of 'Coleshelle' became the sipesocha of Hemlingford. (fn. 13)

As a county division the sipesocha or sipesocna is mentioned in the 'Laws' of Henry I (6, 1 b), 'Comitatus in centurias et sipesocnas distinguntur', and the reason for its creation and the duty it was required to perform are indicated in the charter Altitonantis alleged to have been given by King Edgar to the monks of Worcester in a.d. 964. (fn. 14) By that charter the Worcestershire hundred of Oswaldslow, composed of the earlier hundreds of 'Wulfereslaw', 'Winburgetrowe', and 'Cuthburgelawe', was constituted 'unam naucupletionem quod Anglice dicitur scypfylleð oþþe scypsocne', from which it would appear that Oswaldslow was required to provide and maintain a ship's company, naucupletio or scypsocne, in the king's navy; a like duty, presumably, was also required of each of the Warwickshire sipesochae. (fn. 15)

But whatever naval services may have been required from the Warwickshire sipesochae in the 12th century, there seems to be no doubt that each of them also carried out the usual administrative duties of a hundred, and in the succeeding century the title of sipesocha was discarded and the earlier title of hundred was restored to them. They then became known as the hundreds of Kington, Knightlow, and Hemlingford, which, with the addition of Barlichway in the west of the county, have continued to the present day to be the names of the four hundreds into which Warwickshire is divided.

Each hundred comprised four High Constables' divisions. Most of these were probably in existence by 1625, when the Quarter Sessions Records begin, (fn. 16) though the Hearth Tax returns of 1662–74 provide the earliest complete record of their organization. (fn. 17) From then onwards the usual divisions, which were, of course, subject to recurrent minor adjustments, were as follows:—
Barlichway: Alcester, Henley-in-Arden, Snitterfield, Stratford. (fn. 18)
Hemlingford: Atherstone, Birmingham, Solihull, Tamworth.
Kineton: Brailes, Kineton, Priors Marston, Tanworth-in-Arden. (fn. 19)
Knightlow: Kenilworth, Monks Kirby, Rugby, Southam.

The office of High Constable was abolished by an Act of 1869.

Monthly meetings of the justices in each hundred were being held at least as early as the reign of Charles I. (fn. 20) During the greater part of the 18th century they appear to have fallen into disuse, no doubt because of the great increase in the statutory powers of single magistrates or two magistrates out of sessions. By the end of the century, however, the rapidly growing complexity of local government made necessary a return to the earlier system. The practice of issuing copies of the statutes to justices out of sessions was first adopted in 1790. (fn. 21) There is some evidence of Petty Sessions in each hundred in 1795 (fn. 22) and payments to the clerk of the justices in each hundred are recorded in 1798. (fn. 23) Under the Act of 1828, (fn. 24) sixteen Petty Sessional divisions, approximately corresponding to the High Constables' divisions, were organized as follows: (fn. 25)
Barlichway: Alcester, Henley-in-Arden, Stratford.
Hemlingsford: Atherstone, Birmingham, Coleshill, Solihull.
Kineton: Kineton, Long Compton, Mollington, Warwick.
Knightlow: Ansty, Leamington Priors, Rugby, Southam. Also a special sessions for licensing and the appointment of parish officers at Stretton-onDunsmere.


  • 1. For the relation of the four later to the ten earlier hundreds see Benjamin Walker, 'The Hundreds of Warwickshire', in Trans. Birmingham Arch. Soc. xxxi.
  • 2. The boundaries of the hundreds are well shown on C. and J. Greenwood's Map of the County of Warwick from Actual Survey made in the Years 1820 and 1821.
  • 3. The importance of Coleshill from its situation on a wedge of glacial gravels at the drainage centre of the Midland Plateau has been pointed out by R. H. Kinvig in Great Britain. Essays in Regional Geography by Twenty-six Authors (A. G. Ogilvie, editor), 210, 219.
  • 4. Mentioned in a deed of 1313 cited in The Place-Names of Warwickshire (Engl. Place-Name Soc. xiii), 95.
  • 5. For a description and illustration of these earthworks see V.C.H. Warw. i, 360.
  • 6. Place-Names of Warw. 152, 184.
  • 7. A photograph of this deed is in the Birmingham Reference Library (Cat. No. 292222). See also PlaceNames of Warw. 123.
  • 8. Olaf S. Anderson, The English Hundred-Names, 135.
  • 9. Place-Names of Warw. 247.
  • 10. O. S. Anderson, op. cit. 135.
  • 11. These three parishes were transferred from Worcestershire to Warwickshire by the Gloucestershire and Worcestershire to Warwickshire Transfer Order, 1931.
  • 12. Place-Names of Warw. 264 and Addenda, p. 1.
  • 13. Probably the earliest reference to the Warwickshire sipesochae is in Pipe R. 16 Hen. II.
  • 14. Birch, Cart. Sax. iii, p. 380.
  • 15. The meaning of the term sipesocha is discussed by Miss Helen M. Cam in a paper entitled 'Early Groups of Hundreds' contributed by her to Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait. See also Bosworth and Toller, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, s.v. 'Scip-fyllþ'; V.C.H. Worc, i, 248; and O. S. Anderson, op. cit., p. xix.
  • 16. For the earliest references to 'the High Constables' of Barlichway, Kineton, and Knightlow respectively see Warw. Co. Rec. i, 161 (1633), ii (1625), 146 (1632).
  • 17. In the first three returns (1662, 1663, 1665) the divisions are referred to only by the names of the High Constables. In 1667 no divisions are recorded.
  • 18. In the returns 1670–4 Stratford borough is grouped with the Snitterfield division, leaving Bidford as the centre of the fourth division. This may have been a temporary measure for Hearth Tax purposes, perhaps connected with the fact that in 1664 the High Constable of Snitterfield had failed to pay in his collection to the Sheriff (Lay Subs., 194, no. 343).
  • 19. Warwick borough was included, no doubt for Hearth Tax purposes only, in one or other of these divisions, in Tanworth, 1662–3, and in Kineton, 1665,1670,1673–4. In 1671 the Warwick returns were made separately.
  • 20. For the earliest references for each hundred, as in n. 16 above, see Warw. Co. Rec. i, 100 (1633), 153–4 (1632), 129 (1631), 151 (1632). 'Division' is frequently used in the minutes as equivalent to 'hundred'.
  • 21. Q.S. Minutes, 1789–1805, pp. 37–8; 14 copies were ordered to be distributed in 1797, when they were first allowed by the government, and 25 in 1822. After 1828 they were sent not to individual magistrates, but to the clerks of the newly established Petty Sessional divisions.
  • 22. Q.S. Minutes.
  • 23. County Treasurers' Accts.
  • 24. Stat. 9 Geo. IV, c. 43.
  • 25. Warw. County Bk. 1828 (at Shire Hall), 26–7.