Nine Centuries of Stable Populations
Tom Pagett, Hagley Research Group
In November 2008, Hagley Research Group embarked on a project to establish reasons why a number of parish churches in Worcestershire had not altered the capacity of their naves since the 12th century by adding side aisles or by lengthening the existing nave.
About 170 parish churches were used as the basis of the project and some 7% met the criteria (12 churches).
Three sub-groups were established and they carried out 'desk-top research' which involved finding out as much as possible from a variety of sources without getting cold and wet.
Field visits were the made to each of the sites in turn with questions such as:
Is the parish nucleated or disperse?
Is there any sign of planning?
Do the memorials of the church show continuity of tenure by particular families?
Are there any traces of industry or mining, etc.?
What influence did people, politics and geography have over time?
St Andrew's church, Shelsley Walsh, Worcestershire August 2009
The results of this fieldwork were gathered together in three binders produced by members of the sub-groups.
Examination of the distribution of the parishes showed that the River Severn divided the twelve evenly. Those to the east showed no special pattern but those to the west were all in the valley of the River Teme.
Following the Teme into Herefordshire and Shropshire it was noted that manors were either tiny or very large. This, it is suggested, relates to the status of this border land, which existed from pre-Conquest to Henry VII's reign.
Another interesting pattern showed when all the known market towns were identified and a 3-mile circle was drawn around them. This showed that the Teme Valley settlements, except for Rochford were more than 3 miles from a market. Those to the east of the Severn tended to be either on the edge of the circle or very close to it.
The settlements were classified subjectively as dispersed, hamlets or villages. Half were considered to be dispersed settlements and the rest were evenly split between the other categories.
Some manors such as Pirton are unique in that at the Reformation they were acquired by the Coventry family, who seemed to use most of the land for their house and park plus a home farm.
Most of the other five manors to the east of the Severn appear to have ended up in the hands of minor families thus confirming the idea that cadet branches of the major families tended not to exploit their manors fully.
Industry does not play a major part in the economy except in the north of the
country, and that only in the far north. It was also noted in some cases that the
Black Death had contributed to lower numbers in the 14th century.
Modifications to church buildings were restricted to chancels and towers, and generally this work was limited to the early English and decorated periods, except for some fenestration work which one can really count as maintenance work.
Water power was harnessed mainly for milling corn and there are seven known mills on the Teme below Tenbury Wells.
St Peter & St Paul's church, Eastham, Worcestershire showing Norman south door with Saxon arcading above
In Landscape Archaeology language, this project was started 'bottom up', ie. On site with few preconceived ideas, and then the 'top down' approach was used to draw the data together from a wider point of view.
The majority of the stable settlements have the following points in common:
- The Church has a nave unchanged in size since c1100.
- The location of the market is over 3 miles away.
- Half of the settlements are of the dispersed type.
- The 'squire' is a member of a cadet branch of one of the major families.