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Wickhamford in the 17th century

In the Parish Review of July 1966, Rev. Peter Braby wrote an article about Wickhamford in the period after the end of the Civil War and this is produced below.  He had done a similar article on Badsey in the mid-nineteenth century but found little to write about in Wickhamford in that era.  Therefore, he turned his attention to two hundred years earlier, in around 1666.

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The Vicar’s Letter, 16th June 1966

My dear People

A few months ago I tried to conjecture what Badsey was like 100 years ago.  I said next time it would be Wickhamford’s turn.

But I know much less about Wickhamford in 1866 than in 1666.  In the 19th century it was a nondescript sort of place, with most of the life gone out of it since the Sandys family stopped living here about 1700, and finally settled on their other manor at Ombersley.  The manor house was occupied by a series of farmers, and fell into a state of almost complete dilapidation, as did most of the cottages in the village.  The people were for the most part extremely poor, and poverty usually causes migration.  The result is that in Wickhamford there was little continuity of residence by the same families.  This lack of continuous family tradition makes the history of Wickhamford in many ways less interesting than that of Badsey.

As is well known, the restoration in the 20th century of the old manor house, the church, and many of the cottages was largely due to the enterprise and generosity of the late George Lees-Milne.

Wickhamford in 1666

Let us then try to put ourselves in Wickhamford 300 years ago, and see what it may have been like.

In the first place, we should find that the whole life of the community centred round the manor and the church. It was a tight little community of between 60 and 90 people, and everyone had his place in the very feudal set-up which still existed. He was either a tenant or servant or official of the lord of the manor. Fortunately the proceedings of the manor court have been preserved, and the well-known local historian, the late E E A Barnard, published a whole series of extracts in the Evesham Journal in 1935-6.

During the early Stuart period the steward of the manor was none other than Robert Dover, who founded the famous Games on Dover's Hill. By this time, the only matters these manorial courts dealt with were questions of land tenure and the cultivation of the common fields. They were presided over by the lord's steward, and a small jury of tenants called the Homage. But we learn a great deal from the proceedings about the names of local fields and people, and the methods of farming. Little enclosures here and there were encroaching on the common land, and people were quick to stake their claims to compensation in the manor court.

Fallow fetches and ringed pigs

Here is an example of some of the regulations laid down at one of the courts:

  • No sheep shall be pastured or turned into the white stubble before Michaelmas. Penalty 20s.
  • Hereafter Gloucway shall for ever remain and lie for beast pasture and no horse shall be tied to the same. Penalty 20s.
  • Every tenant shall sow fallow fetches (vetches) in one field as the said Thomas Wagstaff and George Bliszard shall think fit. Penalty 20s.
  • Everyone shall ring their pigs after harvest, and shall take them up, as soon as wheat is sown. Penalty 3s. 4d.

Unfortunately there is a break in the records of the manorial court between 1650 and 1675. This does not mean that courts were not held during this time, at any rate after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Back to Normal

Three hundred years ago life was settling down to normal again in Wickhamford after the upheavals of the Civil War and Puritan rule. Mr David Cox of Evesham, who has done some statistical research on Wickhamford church registers, thinks there was a decrease in population at this time. It is difficult to assess, because, as in most parishes, a Puritan minister was intruded into the living during the Protectorate and did not bother to keep any records between 1656 and 1660. If there was a slight decrease in population it would not be surprising. Sir Samuel Sandys was a staunch royalist, governor of Evesham for the King during the Civil War, and no doubt recruited many young men from his estates to serve in the King's cause. If not killed, some may have been taken prisoner or settled in other parts of the country during the campaigns, and not returned.

But now the King had come into his own again, and Sir Samuel celebrated this triumph by having a new royal coat-of-arms painted on boards and placed above the church chancel entrance, where before the Reformation the rood had stood. The moulded oak panelling which forms a ceiling above it was the original "canopy of honour" for the rood.

"The New Church"

When this coat-of-arms was freshly painted, it must have been a sight to be proud of, in the newly built nave (though no doubt it did not strike the parishioners as incongruous that King Charles II should occupy the place once held by the King crowned with thorns, any more than that the effigies of Sir Samuel's ancestors should dominate the sanctuary of the Lord of Hosts). 'What is this about the new nave?' you may ask. 'We thought our church was much older than that'. Yes, when visitors ask me how old the church is, they seem surprised when I tell them that most of it was built in the 17th century. Yet that is so. An entry for 1640 in the baptism register bears the note: "the first baptized in the new Church".

They seem to have rebuilt the walls of the nave, while possibly retaining the old roof trusses. The window tracery and mouldings betray the period. The 13th-14th century chancel did not apparently need restoration at this time. It was in any case not the responsibility of the churchwardens but of the rector (ie Christ Church or, in practice, the person or persons to whom the college leased the tithes. There was as yet no tower. But a start was made on it at this time. At the visitation of 1674 the churchwardens present "the want of a flagon and a book of canons and 39 Articles and Table of degrees of Marriage and our steeple unfinished".

The tower was completed in 1686. There is said to be an inscription on the south side of the parapet bearing the date and the initials of the churchwardens. Mr Ted Parry and I recently risked our necks trying to find it, but it seems to be now altogether defaced and covered with lichen.

The single bell was hung the same year as the belfry was finished. It was cast by Matthew Bagley, and may have been the first bell cast by him at his new foundry on Merstowe Green, Evesham, set up in 1686.

Between the church and the manor house you would have seen an enormous tithe barn. It was demolished in 1900.

Tax Evasion

How did the churchwardens in those days raise the money for re-building and restoration? An annual levy was apportioned between the parishioners, and anyone who would not pay was presented by the wardens in the archdeacon's court.

One persistent non-payer in Wickhamford was Alice Booker, a widow. One of the Bookers, John, had already showed himself anti-establishment, for in 1665 the churchwardens presented him "for absenting himself from church these three years past and for refusing the paying of any dues to Mr Millington Minister there, and for detaining of the vicarage land". In 1674 the churchwardens present Alice Booker, widow, "for denying to pay her apportion towards the church levy, being 3d." Two years later the visitation acts book in the Diocesan Registry records that she had been excommunicated and refused to pay the levy, "saying she would see the Church on fire before she would pay anything towards the repair of the Church". In 1684 we find that she had been excommunicated for 11 years but was still paying nothing!

The New Vicar

William Millington was the first minister (or chaplain) to hold the two parishes of Badsey and Wickhamford in plurality. He had been collated by Christ Church to Badsey as early as 1643, but owing to the national troubles was unable to claim the benefice till the Restoration, when he was newly collated to both livings. He was a Worcestershire man, from Cropthorne, a graduate of St John's College, Oxford, and was in his late fifties when he came here. His wife died in 1663 and was buried at Badsey, but next year at the age of 60 he married Anne Dingley in Wickhamford Church. He died in 1677 and was buried at Badsey. According to the Badsey churchwardens in 1674 he was "a very honest good religious man and performs all duties belonging on him both with reverence and gravity and performing his duty in the church duly and constantly".

In 1688 John Booker of Wickhamford was still not paying Mr. Millington's successor his dues. It is only fair to state that Badsey also had its share of non-payers. The parson can't be popular with everybody!

Your sincere friend and Vicar,

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The article has been transcribed with Peter Braby’s own punctuation etc.   Links have been made in the text to other articles which give more details on some of the topics and people he mentions.  He comments that the Church tower inscription was not visible in 1966, but Peter Stewart took a good picture of this more recently and the details are still visible. William White and Richard Clarke were the churchwardens in 1678, when the tower was completed.  It is their initials and that date that appear on the side of the tower near the top. An article on how the church looked in the mid-1660s, before the addition of the tower, has also been written, with an image created by Peter Stewart.

Tom Locke, revised December 2020