Friday, 27 June 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~31~ Field Barns and Outfarms in Worcestershire

This week Emily Hathaway, Historic Environment Countryside Assistant, has chosen Worcestershire's field barns and outfarms as her Treasure: 

The significance of field barns and outfarms in the Yorkshire Dales and Derbyshire is well recognised; you may not, however, automatically associate Worcestershire with these often humble but highly distinctive buildings. Field barns and outfarms are farm buildings, set within the fields, at a distance from the main farmstead. They may have historically been used as shelters for cattle or sheep, threshing barns with yards or combination barns, with a threshing bay, storage for the crop and housing for cattle.

A small, isolated field barn, for grazing stock (historically cattle), dating to approximately 1830, at Pound Green Common in Upper Arley. © Worcestershire County Council

One of a number of outfarms north of Kemerton, incorporating a threshing barn, animal housing and a yard for the collection of manure © English Heritage NMR 27767_010

The mapping of farmsteads, outfarms and fields barns, as part of the English Heritage and Advantage West Midlands funded 'West Midlands Historic Farmsteads and Landscapes Project', has demonstrated the importance of field barns and outfarms in both a historical sense and as integral features of the 19th and 20th century Worcestershire landscape. Mapping has highlighted particular concentrations of field barns and outfarms in areas with high levels of fruit production and market gardening, such as in the Teme Valley and around Pershore, demonstrating the importance of manure to the expanding orchard industry during the 19th century, and in the arable lands of the south east, where nucleated settlement is prevalent. The majority of extant field barns and outfarms are dated, from cartographic sources, to the 19th century, walking round the landscape, however, it is clear that some earlier examples survive and further research is needed to ascertain better dating evidence across the county.

The distribution of traditional outfarms and field barns in early 20th century Worcestershire, mapped as part of the West Midlands Historic Farmsteads and Landscapes Project.

The fields in this landscape north of Kemerton mostly result from the post-medieval enclosure of strip fields around the settlement, where most of the farmsteads continued to be sited into the 19th century. Some clearly retain the curved boundaries of these medieval strips and others reflect the reorganisation of the farmed landscape with enlarged fields and regular boundaries. These village-based farmsteads were also served by field barns and outfarms which are shown in the foreground. © English Heritage NMR 27761_017

The fields in this landscape north of Kemerton mostly result from the post-medieval enclosure of strip fields around the settlement, where most of the farmsteads continued to be sited into the 19th century. Some clearly retain the curved boundaries of these medieval strips and others reflect the reorganisation of the farmed landscape with enlarged fields and regular boundaries. These village-based farmsteads were also served by field barns and outfarms which are shown in the foreground. © English Heritage NMR 27761_017 Field barns and outfarms are extremely vulnerable to dereliction once redundant, the widespread introduction of artificial fertilisers, bale silage production and the centralisation of farming activities being key factors in their abandonment, consequently these unassuming buildings are fast becoming part of memory.  Of the 977 outfarms and field barns currently recorded in Worcestershire, 72% have been completely lost from the landscape or demolished and replaced with modern sheds, since the turn of the 20th century. A significant proportion of those which survive appear, on aerial mapping, to be redundant and falling into disrepair. Few are listed reflecting the fact that they have long been undervalued both as historic buildings and for the contribution they make to historic landscape character.

It is clear that many field barns and outfarms are no longer suitable for their original purpose, forcing the question 'what future use do they have?' Some may provide suitable storage facilities for hay or farming implements, others important shelter for wildlife (including barn and little owls, bats, small mammals and insects) or educational facilities, others may be suitable for residential or commercial conversion.

Traditional outfarms and field barns, like farmsteads, are heritage assets which make a significant contribution to landscape character and local distinctiveness, recent studies have also demonstrated the economic value of high quality conserved landscapes, in terms of local jobs, tourism and inward investment. New uses which both enhance and are sensitive to historic character and significance are to be encouraged, without this another piece of our agricultural history may disappear from the landscape all together.

More information on Historic Farmsteads and Landscapes Project can be obtained from the Historic Environment Record or from the following websites:  

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Manorial Documents Register Project June 2014: The Landscape of the Manor

This month, in order to set the documents covered by the Manorial Documents Register project in context, we will look at what a manor looked like in the landscape.  This is a really brief overview, but if you wish to find out more, lots of exciting work has been done by archaeologists and historians—please do come along to The Hive to explore the resources in our Local Studies and Archaeology Library, as well as archives and the Historic Environment Record.

In theory and popular imagination, the medieval manor was a self-contained system, governed by a lord under the jurisdiction of his court.  Peasants produced food and resources for themselves and for the lord's household to consume and sell surplus. Reality was not always so clear cut, however.  Market production, trade and contact with other settlements, including towns and other manors in a big estate, was more extensive than previously believed, and manors became less self-sufficient with time. 

The shape, size and composition of a manor varied through time and depended on the local geography, economy and jurisdictional arrangements.  In some upland or rocky areas of the country, manors were long and thin, or consisted of scattered parcels of land and resources.  A more 'typical' manor, however, is often imagined as a village, consisting of the manor house and outbuildings, peasant dwellings, perhaps a church, a mill, and some fishponds.  This compact or nucleated settlement would be surrounded by fields, pastures, meadows and woodland. 

This type of compact unit did exist, and there are Worcestershire examples, particularly in the south east and central east of the county.  We must remember, though, that manors could contain more than one village or parish and vice versa.  The manors forming the large estate of the bishops of Worcester often contained one or more complete settlement, as at Alvechurch and Hartlebury.  The county also included many hamlets and other dispersed settlements.

This is a detail of a mid-18th century map of Clifton manor in the parish of Severn Stoke, by John Dougharty.  The map was made prior to enclosure: note the manor house, tenant houses and ponds surrounded by fields divided into strips.  Meadows are represented elsewhere on the plan.  Clifton was part of the estate of the Earls of Coventry.  This document is held by Worcestershire Archive Service and can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive at reference x705:73/BA14450/246.

Imaginative illustration of Grafton Flyford during the 14th century.  Illustration by Deborah Overton

The following list gives an idea of what might be found on a manor, but it is not exhaustive, and not all manors contained all of the features described.

Capital Messuage    
  • Manor House
  • Fishponds and moats. These are still visible as earthworks on the episcopal manors of Alvechurch and Hartlebury
  • Dovecotes
  • Barns
  • Granary 
  • Stables
  • Bakehouses
  • Brewhouse or Cider-press—for example at the manor of Elmley Castle

  • The lord’s own land, sometimes a single unit with arable, pasture and meadow; otherwise strips of demesne land be scattered amongst those of tenants in the open fields.  The amount of land 'in demesne' and how much of it was cultivated as opposed to pasture, depended on the lord and fluctuated with the economy, with some lords choosing to let out, or farm land during times of economic downturn. In the 14th century, the bishops of Worcester reduced their demesne arable by converting some land to pasture and by leasing out other land.  The lords of Elmley Castle similarly leased demesne after the Black Death.

Land let to tenants in return for rent and/or labour services
  • The size of peasant holdings varied from manor to manor and within a single manor.  A holding could consist of a house within an enclosure known as a toft, and often next to another enclosed piece of land or garden known as a croft, along with strips of arable land and pasture in the open fields.
  • Larger peasant tofts could include outbuildings for animals, granaries, malthouses, kitchens, etc.  Buildings were usually about 15 feet by 30 or 45 feet, single story, and of cruck frame construction.  Archaeology and court rolls can tell us about these buildings and their repair.

Land and land use

Open Fields
The term 'open fields' does not just mean land that was unfenced—it also usually implies communal[1] use of land (especially pasture) and cooperation in cultivation and animal husbandry, according to by-laws set out in the manor court.  During the middle ages, a crop-rotation system of agriculture was prevalent, where one field would lie fallow to prevent soil exhaustion while the other one or two were cultivated.  Different fields would be used for growing different seasonal crops, such as corn, wheat, rye, barley, peas, beans and oats.  Before the Black Death, a two-field system of agriculture, with one field left fallow, was used in south east Worcestershire, but there was flexibility—for instance, after the harvest, arable fields could be used for grazing.

Fields were divided into furlongs and further subdivided into ploughstrips held by individual tenants and ploughed by teams of oxen.[2]  The strips were divided by un-ploughed raised, grassy ridges, or marked by stones in the 16th-century manor of Elmley.  Peasants' strips would not be concentrated in a compact block, but scattered throughout the open fields, to ensure that each holding would contain a mix of lands of different qualities.  The lord's demesne strips would often be scattered amongst those of the tenants. 

The remains of medieval agriculture may still be seen in the form of earthworks known as ridge and furrow.  These, and the remains of shrunken or deserted villages, can be seen in aerial photographs and a technique known as LiDAR.

The landscape began to change during the later medieval period, particularly the fifteenth century, as tenants began to consolidate these strips into single holdings by exchanging land with other tenants, and enclosing the new bigger parcels of land.  These enclosures could then be used as pasture or meadow in addition to arable.

Pasture and Meadow
Manors had common pastures, shared by lord and tenants, as well as individually held pastures.  Pasture became more important from the late medieval period right up to the 18th and 19th centuries, as sheep farming became more profitable.  Through the process of enclosure, lords and tenants converted former open fields and common pasture to private ownership, and physically enclosed the land to use as pasture.

Woods and Waste
Woodland, like arable, pasture and meadow, could be held by individuals or shared in common.  Northern Worcestershire contained manors featuring woodlands, such as Hanbury and Alvechurch.  Some of these woods were within royal forests, such as Feckenham.  Clearing land for cultivation, or assarting, was practiced on woodland manors, particularly in the 13th century.  Marginal or waste land was also improved for cultivation.  Land that had been cleared would often look different, as these assarts were taken into private ownership and enclosed with hedges—here is where you might find lots of hamlets and scattered farms. 

Other features
  • Orchards
  • Markets and fairs 
  • Warrens.  The lord had often been granted the right of free warren
  • Fisheries and marshes
  • Mines and quarries.  The lord of the manor normally possessed rights to any mineral resources within the manor.  Dudley, for example, had coal and iron mines, and Elmley Castle had quarries.
  • Parks—e.g. Hartlebury.  As they required a licence and were fairly expensive to run, they were found on the estates of higher status lords such as the bishops of Worcester or the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, the lords of Elmley Castle.  They provided timber and pasture as well as hunting.
  • Mills (water and wind)
  • Infrastructure for industries such as cloth making or like tile-making, as  at Welland
  • Roads
  • Some manors may also have contained a parish church and vicarage, or chapel.  Many parish churches were originally founded by the lord of the manor, who held the advowson, or right to select the incumbent.

  • Arable land.  Land used for growing crops
  • Assart.  Woodland cleared, enclosed, converted to arable
  • Capital messuage.  Plot of land containing manor house and outbuildings
  • Croft.  Enclosure, adjacent to a dwelling, often used as a garden
  • Cruck building.  Structure based on a frame formed of twin curved, vertical timbers
  • Dispersed settlement.  Area characterised by scattered farmsteads and hamlets, with few nucleated villages     
  • Farm.  Fixed sum or rent paid for leasing land
  • Free warren.  The right, granted by the sovereign to the lord of the manor, to hunt small game
  • Nucleated settlement.  Settlement characterised by buildings clustered around a focal point         
  • Toft:  Enclosure containing a dwelling and outbuildings
  • Waste.  Marginal land occupied by rough grassland or woods, used as another source of common grazing, and often the subject of assarting in the 12th-13th centuries

Further Reading (also click on the links in the text above)

[1] The terms 'open fields' and 'common fields' are often used interchangeably, but agricultural historians have argued that 'common fields' in its strict sense denotes the carefully managed two and three field crop rotation system described above, while open fields refers to a more flexible system.  Both terms are usually applied to the region of central England sometimes termed 'midland' or 'champion'.
[2] Horses were also used as beasts of burden, but became more important during the later medieval and early modern periods.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~30~ crop marks captured through aerial photography

This week Mike Glyde, Historic Environment Planning Officer, has chosen to highlight how Worcestershire's crop marks can reveal the history buried beneath us:

As a general rule, most archaeological remains lie buried and unseen beneath our feet.  It is hidden from view, passing away the decades, slowly fading away.

But the past is not always that keen to stay hidden, and given the right conditions can spectacularly reveal itself in astonishing clarity, all be it briefly, but from a vantage point most of us will never see.

I am of course waxing lyrical about crop marks, (not to be confused with crop circles, those enigmatic shapes of neatly trodden corn made by talented young farmers), which are marks in ripening cereal crops showing the variation in growing conditions created by the different character of soils on long ploughed level archaeological sites. These are my personal Treasures of Worcestershire, and for a number of years I combined my pleasure of flight, photography and archaeology to add to your record of this fantastic source of information.

Worcestershire is made up of diverse landscape, but the two principle river corridors of the Severn and Avon Valleys, and the glacial terraces of Bredon Hill and Broadway provide the ideal conditions for these long lost sites to appear, like ghosts during a few fleeting days in summer. 

An aerial photograph taken by Mike Glyde of crop marked enclosures, pits and other features near Broadway, Worcestershire.

In simple terms crop marks form by a process of differential growth caused by soil moisture deficit. A cereal plant grows better over moister more humic soil than free draining sandy soil.  Therefore where you have a site containing the remains of ancient ditches, pits and walls below the plough soil, this can, in the right conditions affect the growth rate of the crop above it.  Where cereal is growing over ditch filled with finer more humic material than the surrounding sands, the plants will grow taller, stronger and take a little longer to ripen.  The opposite is true for buried hard surfaces like walls and metalled tracks.  In an old fashioned normal summer, we have extended periods of dry weather (don’t laugh) and the surrounding natural soil and geology dries out.  By late June, when the crop ripens and begins to turn yellow, those plants growing over the archaeology may take a little  longer to ripen, as they have more moisture to draw upon.

Given good conditions these crop marks can create a plan of the buried features in astonishing clarity, such as the palimpsest of enclosures and pits near Broadway.  The problem is you can only record these from the air and so most people never witness them first hand. I count myself lucky to have experienced these normally hidden landscapes showing off first hand.

Archaeologists can then use these photographs to create accurate scale plans of the site using complex image rectification software. 

The Historic Environment Record holds around six thousand aerial photographs of a huge range of sites, from prehistoric enclosures, Roman Roads, deserted medieval villages, post medieval fowl decoy ponds and WW2 defensive.  Many of these sites have been rectified and are displayed on the counties Historic Environment GIS, and can be viewed at The Hive.

Flooding and the Historic Environment in Worcester

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has been commissioned by English Heritage to undertake a project aimed at appraising the impact of flooding and flood mitigation on the county’s distinctive and rich historic environment and landscape character.

Worcestershire is particularly vulnerable to riverine and rainwater flooding with large areas of the countryside, including numerous historic towns and villages, being regularly inundated. As well as impacting on local communities, the effects of flooding on historic environment features and character can be significant. In the future, climate change and altering land use patterns may lead to additional flooding of previously unaffected areas, creating new challenges for the historic environment and heritage management.

This project will provide considerable benefits to anyone across the county involved in water management, such as those tasked with the design and implementation of emergency response strategies and neighbourhood planning, and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). It will also inform related strategies associated with water quality and broader land management issues through initiatives such as Green Infrastructure Frameworks.

The initial stage of the project is the production of a catalogue of known historic environment features that have the potential to affect or be affected by flooding. This catalogue will form the evidence base around which the subsequent appraisal of sites will occur. Once these initial data gathering stages are complete the project will turn to look at three case studies from across Worcestershire. The aim of the case studies is to engage local communities and establish how we can work together to protect and enhance the historic environment. 

The first two case studies have been identified and these will be of Kempsey and Sedgeberrow. The location of the third case study is currently undecided and we would be happy to hear any suggestions. This case study could be linked to a specific settlement, or it could be more thematic and linked to a particular issue across a wide area of Worcestershire. If you have any suggestions please contact us at

For more information on the project please visit our website

You can view the first project newsletter here

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Upcoming new book launch event: Stories of Worcester

The first copy of the much anticipated children's history of Worcester, "Stories of Worcester", arrived at The Hive yesterday to the delight of staff and authors alike.

Pat Hughes (front left), co-author of 'Stories of Worcester' and WAAS staff Claire Haslam (r-l) and Julia Pincott (r-r) who have assisted with the process of publishing the book, with Pete Siddall (f-r) Managing Director of Tewkesbury Printing who delivered the first print of the book yesterday. 

The beautifully illustrated book tells stories from different periods of Worcester's past seen through the eyes of children. Although fictional, the stories tell of real events, people or places based on archaeological and documentary evidence found within the Archive and Archaeology service.

There is everything you would expect to find in a children's story, but not necessarily what you expect to find in Worcester. Tales of friendship, rescue, espionage and siege abound brought to life by brave and spirited children.

The book also offers a background history for each period and suggests how families can discover more here at The Hive and around the city.

The book is to be launched at The Hive in the children's library at 11.00 on Saturday 28th June with a treasure hunt available from 09.30. Other activities such as story readings, making a Roman style mosaic tile or a railway signal box are planned for the day, with the opportunity to have your book signed by the authors at 11.30 or 14.30.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~29~ Kidderminster's Forgotten Potters: Finds from the DigMinster Community Excavation

This week's Treasures, brought to you by Archaeologist Rob Hedge, were uncovered during a recent community excavation called 'DigMinster'. The series of finds uncovered during the course of this project provide an insight into a largely forgotten chapter of Kidderminster's industrial heritage:

Last year, our archaeologists led a month-long community excavation at St Mary's Church in Kidderminster, part of the Kidderminster Civic Society's Historic Kidderminster Project, and enabled by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The 'DigMinster' excavation was led by Worcestershire Archaeology Project Officer Richard Bradley. The full report from the excavation, and more background to the project, is available here.

DigMinster volunteers hard at work removing the topsoil, August 2013

Some of the most intriguing finds to come from the project were small fragments of pottery and pottery-production waste. At first sight, they're unglamorous artefacts – tiny sherds of mis-fired cream and biscuit-coloured plates and dishes, but they're a window into an intriguing and little-known chapter of Kidderminster's industrial heritage. Finished vessels are frequently found far from production sites, as they were traded widely, but production waste is a 'smoking gun', as it would generally be dumped very close to the site of the kiln.

Creamware: the unglazed sherd is a 'waster', broken during or rejected after the first stage of firing. The glazed sherd on the right is an example of the finished product.

In addition to misfired pots, we discovered pieces of 'kiln furniture', fragments of coarse fired clay that were used in the kiln during firing to protect the pottery. These included fragments of box-like protective casings called 'saggars' and pieces of 'wad', the name given to curved rods of clay used to create a seal between stacked saggars to prevent kiln fumes from contaminating the glazed vessels during final ('glost') firing.

A piece of glazed creamware which has stuck to the bottom of the protective 'saggar' during firing

Kidderminster is famous for its carpets. Having been a centre for silk and worsted weaving, the late 18th century saw a shift in the dominant industry with the start of a booming carpet industry. Despite a decline in the late 20th century, carpet manufacturing is still a major local employer. Much less well-known, and shorter-lived, is the role of pottery manufacturing in Kidderminster's development. The arrival of the canal to the town in 1772 dramatically improved transport links, which would have enabled the importation of the raw materials required for pottery manufacture, and the export of the finished article. Although this helps to explain how a pottery industry developed in Kidderminster, it doesn't answer the question of why a town with no prior ceramic tradition suddenly started producing pottery.

Research by ceramic historian Rodney Hampson (1994) provides the answer. Production waste was discovered near to St Mary's Church during the construction of the ring-road in 1965 by C. I. Walker, a builder and keen-eyed amateur archaeologist. An engraving made around 1780 shows a smoking pottery kiln near the church. Detailed research into documentary sources including insurance records and newspaper notices has established that the brothers Nicholas and Joseph Phipps started manufacturing 'creamware' in a single kiln in about 1778. The Phipps were declared bankrupt in 1782, but the works were taken on by Ralph Stanley and Moses Turner. It seems to have ceased operation by 1798.

The exact location of the works seems to have been in a three-sided courtyard backing onto the east bank of the River Stour, with an archway leading onto Wharf Hill. It is recorded on the 1883 Ordnance Survey map as a 'Carpet Works', by which time the kiln seems to have been demolished. It now lies directly beneath St Mary's Ringway, just to the south of St Mary's Church.

Engraving showing Kidderminster in c.1780 with pottery kiln visible in centre. Reproduced from T.R. Nash, Collections for a History of Worcestershire (London, 1781-99) II, opp. 34.

Creamware was very popular in the late 18th century, and Rodney Hampson suggests that its popularity may have been behind the decision to set up the works in Kidderminster. The town's weaving industry was in decline, and the new canal offered the promise of fresh commercial opportunity. However, the fledgling Kidderminster pottery industry was soon overtaken by the carpet boom, and the experiment lasted just 20 years. It remains a little-known chapter in Kidderminster's industrial heritage, a bold experiment at a time when the town was searching for a new model of economic prosperity.

On 12th July 2014, some of the volunteers who participated in the excavation will be displaying a selection of the finds at the Kidderminster Carpet Museum. If you'd like to find out more, come along and talk to them.

Bradley, Richard 2014. Dig Minster Community Archaeology Project 2013. Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service. HER reference: WSM48236. Report available at:'s%20Community%20report%20rev1.pdf

Hampson, Rodney 1994. Kidderminster Pottery, Journal of the Northern Ceramic Society, Vol. 11

Friday, 13 June 2014

Mystery locked volume in Lyttelton collection

During the process of sorting and arranging the Lyttelton collection, one of the boxes was found to contain a locked volume.  There was nothing on it to indicate what it was and there was no key anywhere in the boxes.  It was referred to as a 'locked volume' in the original list which accompanied the collection so had therefore been locked for some time.  This made it slightly intriguing and we pondered what it contained and how long it had been locked. 

 The locked volume

Our general assistant Alan was able to gently prize the lock apart without damaging it or the volume, so the mystery volume was finally open after who knows many years.  We were pleased to see it wasn't just a blank volume after all the effort of getting it open. A quick skim through revealed that it appeared to be what is known as a 'commonplace book'.

What is a commonplace book?
A ‘commonplace book’ is not a diary or a journal.  It is a kind of 'scrapbook' of all sorts of information such as favourite recipes, quotes, poems, proverbs, prayers, facts, ideas which form your own personal anthology.  They were often used by scholars and writers as an aide memoire or reference book.  Each book was unique to the interests of the author as it combined different pieces of information in an original way.  They can therefore can offer an insight into the tastes and interests of the person who compiled it.  They were popular with thinkers and writers from the Renaissance onwards and some universities used them as a study aid.  John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain all used commonplace books.

Why keep one?
You can write down ideas as occur to you.  You can write down passages from books, poems etc which you are particularly interested in or like and want to be able to find again quickly. You can record quotes you want to remember and add your own thoughts and comments.  Because you are writing things out again you are more likely to remember them and it gives you time to reflect on what you've read – hence the use as a study aid referred to earlier.  Jonathan Swift says of commonplace books in 'A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet' (1721):

'A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that "great wits have short memories:" and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day's reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own, by entering them there. For, take this for a rule, when an author is in your books, you have the same demand upon him for his wit, as a merchant has for your money, when you are in his.'

So what's in this commonplace book?
The volume contains a variety of items, some just a few lines long, others several pages.  Many of the items recorded are of a religious nature such as extracts from sermons like this one.

Part of a sermon by the Rev Waldgrave Brewster on the Resurrection of the Body

There are passages from letters such as 'Letter to a godchild', quotes from books of the day such as 'the Diaries of a Lady of Quality' and inscriptions from buildings or monuments the compiler has encountered such as a German inscription from a Swiss chalet.  There are also several poems such 'The Freed Bird' (1870) and 'Westminster Abbey' (1892) and a variety of hymns like the one below:

'God is here in all my gladness' by Rev J H Thomas

Who did it belong to?
At the moment we don't know who it belonged to.  There is nothing in the volume to indicate ownership and there are different styles of handwriting within the volume so we can't attribute it to one particular family member.  The earliest entry that's dated is 1849 and the latest seems to be 1892, so it had been kept for just over 40 years.  It's possible therefore that it could have been kept by one person throughout their life, but equally other people may have picked up the volume and used it to record information themselves.  Further research may reveal more about the compiler.

There are lots of websites about commonplace books, including advice on starting your own modern version:

Friday, 6 June 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~28~ Western Alvechurch: A distinctive 'At Risk' historic landscape

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Jack Hanson, Historic Landscape Officer. He has decided to highlight an area west of the village of Alvechurch, Bromsgrove as representative of the many locally distinctive, significant, and valued historic landscapes across the county which remain largely under-represented and unprotected.

Alvechurch Marina, along the Birmingham to Worcester Canal 

While many historic and archaeological features and landscapes are protected by statutory designations (e.g. listed buildings, Conservations Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty), there is a common misconception regarding the proportion of historic environment assets which they represent. In reality, such designations encompass a small proportion of the landscapes and features which define our collective heritage. For instance, less than 10% of surviving pre-20th century structures are listed buildings, with a large proportion of the remainder situated beyond the boundaries of Conservation Areas. Further, criteria for designating 'significance' broadly overlook locally significant features and character in favour of criteria pertaining to national importance.

'Landscape' is also widely overlooked in protecting individual assets rather than their setting, which so often contributes substantially to their value. Large swathes of the landscapes and 'townscapes' which define Worcestershire's urban and rural areas, valued for their distinctive character and sense of place, therefore remain unrepresented. These landscapes are at substantial risk of degradation through ill-conceived and inappropriate development which is not responsive to local landscape character, and wrongly assumes a lack of historic environment 'significance' through absence of statutory designations.

Scarfields Farm with 17th through 19th century rural architecture

To illustrate this, I will discuss an area of landscape west of the village of Alvechurch, situated north of Redditch and immediately south of the M42. This area was identified during an English Heritage funded pilot project titled the Worcestershire Villages Historic Environment Resource Assessment which aimed to develop a method of 'townscape characterisation' to support local heritage and planning initiatives. This landscape was identified as of particular local distinctiveness and value, yet was deemed 'at risk' due to its low representation within historic environment listings and records.

The area is situated within a coherent remnant historic landscape incorporating the historic settlements and farmsteads of Scarfields, Withybed Green and Cooper's Hill, interspersed with well-preserved enclosures adjacent to the industrial waterways, marina and brickworks of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and the 19th century railway.

Landscape west of Alvechurch village

The landscape is divided by piecemeal enclosures of exceptional condition with a plethora of historic hedgerows and mature hedgerow-trees. Minimal sub-division or amalgamation of the enclosures has occurred in marked contrast to the broader regional landscape, with the enclosures interspersed by highly discernible earthworks and ponds pertaining to former marl pits. Historic footpaths and bridleways continue to generate a high sense of permeability throughout the landscape, and the raising topography grants highly characteristic viewsheds of the parish. Semi-ancient natural woodlands and modern plantations are interspersed between the field parcels, with dense tree-lines defining many of the topographic ridgelines. 

18th through 19th century worker's cottage, Withybed Green

The settlements are comprised of 18th through 20th century cottages, many of which represent the former dwellings of the agricultural and industrial workers of the farms, brickworks and canal. Several historic public houses form landmark structures within their respective settlements, with Cooper's Hill defined by large, statement Victorian through early 20th century dwellings along a highly enclosed historic route alongside further 19th and 20th century cottages. A number of well-preserved and maintained historic farmsteads intersperse the rural landscape, further enhancing the historic landscape character and setting of the area.

 Remnant field boundary south of Withybed Green

The linear infrastructure of the Worcester to Birmingham canal and the 'Cross-City' (historically 'Gloucester Loop Line') railway demarcate the furthest extents of the 20th century westward expansion of Alvechurch village. The brick canal bridges and plate-girder railway bridges therefore form highly distinctive gateways between the historic western parish landscape and the modern settlement. The canal has retained much of its historic character and condition through a continued commercial functionality facilitated by the expanded Alvechurch Marina, which services a now largely recreational narrow-boat industry. This, in conjunction with the continued industrial utilisation of the site of the historic Alvechurch brickworks has ensured a distinctive historic character persists through preserved canal-side features, architecture and activity. 

19th century railway bridge forming distinctive transport-infrastructural 'gateway' 

The landscape and its component 'character areas' are therefore seen to be of highly distinctive historic landscape character and of high sensitivity to degradation or fragmentation through development, redevelopment and modifications which do not appropriately reflect the area's historic environment.

However, in spite of this clear historic environment value, sensitivity and local significance this landscape's representation within statutory designations and records is particularly low: incorporating a single listed building, with no Conservation Area, Scheduled Monuments, or natural-environmental designations (such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest). Though numerous structures and archaeological monuments have subsequently been identified and recorded within the Historic Environment Record, these cannot adequately represent the collective influence of a diverse array of historic and archaeological features to a coherent landscape character and setting of distinctiveness and significance.

Historic environment character statement

By 'characterising' such landscapes, and producing 'character statements' (accessible by following this link – see statements Alv_011; 017; 019; 024; 025) we are able to more effectively promote the value and significance of these areas to the county as a whole. These statements record all the varied and distinctive attributes which collectively form the 'character' of an area, providing the evidence to justify their enhancement and/or conservation when managing landscape and environmental change.  The local importance of such landscapes, as the product of an amalgamation of numerous historic and archaeological features of lesser individual, but high collective value, can be readily promoted to ensure future discussion of potential development, or modification can be undertaken more sensitively and appropriately to the area's historic environments.

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service continues to pursue and undertake projects using historic characterisation to provide a means through which to channel and promote the significance of such landscapes within local and Neighbourhood planning, development, and conservation initiatives.

The full Alvechurch Historic Environment Characterisation can be downloaded here - 

The project report and survey methodology can be downloaded here –