Henley Town Profile


Henley-in-Arden & Beaudesert Warwickshire

The two parishes of Henley in Arden and Beaudesert are now, for all practical purposes, one small market town of some 3,500 inhabitants. In medieval times the two Manors, although separate, were always associated. Beaudesert, the elder of the two, is linked with the powerful De Montfort family who settled there after the Norman Conquest and gave the Manor it’s name – originally “Beldesert”, a derivation from the Norman French meaning “Beautiful Waste”. For many years the name was pronounced “Belser”, but now known locally as Beaudesert, and pronounced in the English, not French fashion.

St John’s and the Guildhall

In the 11th century Thurstan De Montfort built a fortified Norman castle of wood and stone probably on the site of an ancient British castle, on the hill known locally as “The Mount”. In 1140 the same Thurstan De Montfort was granted a Charter by the Empress Matilda – daughter of Henry 1 – to hold a market and weekly fair in his castle. The people of Beaudesert prospered and the town of Henley grew, to accommodate the traders and users of the market. It is thought the Norman Church of St. Nicholas in Beaudesert Lane was also built by Thurstan De Montfort, being noted for its east window, said to be amongst the finest in the County. Apart from Thurstan’s son, Henry, granting a mill to the monks at Wootton Wawen, the first document of importance mentioning Henley was a Charter granted in 1220 by Henry III to Peter De Montfort to hold both a weekly market and yearly fair at the feast of St. Gile. The history of Henley and Beaudesert is all but identical. Peter de Montfort was amongst the most powerful of the Barons siding against the King and in 1265 was killed with his famous namesake – Simon de Montfort – at the Battle of Evesham. As a reprisal the town of Henley and its castle were burnt down by Royalists after the Battle and no vestige of it remains, although the outline of its fortifications remain.

By 1296 Henley was a styled borough, the rise of the burgher class meant Henley became an important market town, but had no church. Henley and Beaudesert although now joined remained two separate ecclesiastical parishes, the former in the ecclesiastical parish of Wootton Wawen. It was both a difficult and dangerous journey and so in 1367 “at the sole charge o the. inhabitants” a church was erected in Henley to be a Chapel at Ease to the mother church at Wootton Wawen. A Chapel was erected, then in 1448 the present church of St. John the Baptist was built. This Church housed the Chapel of the Guild of St. John, one of the medieval guilds of a social and religious order its purpose being to “render mutual assistance of all kinds between its brethren and engage in works of charity”. The Guild was founded by the then Lord of the Manor – Lord Boteler of Sudeley who was a great benefactor. The two benefices of Beaudesert and Henley were joined under one incumbent in 1915.

The remains of the 15th century Market Cross – one of the few still existing in Warwickshire – is composed of local stone but the raised base of three steps and shaft are all that is left. The cross was saved from destruction during the 17th century, kept covered and attached to the Old Market Hall which was pulled down in 1793. The head of the cross finally fell and was lost about 1894. Proclamations have been made from the Cross for five centuries and recent declarations of national importance include the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1952 and her Jubilee in 1977. A model is to be found at Joseph Hardy House.

The one mile of Henley High Street is classified as a conservation area and contains many buildings of architectural interest.

A major characteristic of the town is the Lord’s Waste, although little is known about its influence, function or history. Along the length of the High Street the demarcation between the Lord’s Waste (which originally was cobbled – some of which remain to this day) and the public footpath is easily identified. Whilst Warwickshire County Council, as highway authority, take responsibility for maintenance of the public right of way, it will not assume any authority for the area known as the Lord’s Waste. As ownership, and therefore legal responsibility for its maintenance, cannot be identified, popular opinion has decreed that current ownership be vested in the property owner as a frontage, but subject to the right of the public to have access over it. Any future planning consents should take account of the need to maintain the landmark as an historic feature of the town.

The Guild Hall, a half-timbered Elizabethan building stands in a beautiful walled garden north of St. John’s Church. Having been extensively restored, many of the original timbers remain. Meetings of the Court Leet and Court Baron, the feudal courts for the administration of justice within the Manor, were revived in 1915 and continue annually with traditional ceremony, for the appointment of a high Bailiff and other officers of the Court. The Court Leet had jurisdiction over petty offences, civil matters and inflicted fines and punishment and continues annually, the second Wednesday of November, to elect the officers of the Court in the traditional manner. The Court Baron dealt mainly with transfers of property and land. The Courts were presided over by the Lord of the Manor (in his absence the Steward) and all members of the Court would be present. The burgesses would elect the officers annually, – High Bailiff, Low Bailiff, Mace Bearer, Constable, two Brook Lookers, Ale Taster, Butter Weigher and two Affearors. The Town Crier is appointed by the Steward, Chaplain and High Bailiff. The Court Leet is now presided over by the current Lord of the Manor, Mrs Robin Hardy-Freed, daughter of the American lumber millionaire Mr Joseph Hardy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who bought the title at auction in London and has shown great interest and affection for the town and it’s inhabitants. Through his generosity the Guild Cottage has been completely renovated and substantial sums provided for the Heritage and Educational Centre.

We are grateful to the Heritage Centre for allowing us to use their guide as the basis of this brief history.

Town Profile Polesworth Warwickshire

Recent archaeological research indicates that Polesworth, situated in the Anker valley in North Warwickshire, has been regarded as a good place to live ever since it was selected as a camp site by early nomadic clans. An ideal defensive site, protected on three sides by the river and hidden within the folds of the surrounding countryside, even today ­when only remnants of the ancient Forest of Arden remain – photographers have difficulty finding a view of the Abbey and village centre from nearby hilltops. It is, therefore, no surprise to find examples of most building styles and materials within the parish boundaries. During the Saxon and Norman eras, the town centred around the powerful, richly endowed, Benedictine Abbey – its Norman arcade, imposing Nunnery Gateway, recently renovated cloister wall, picturesque _bbess’ doorway and the stone effigy of Abbess Osanna remain as our legacy. The original settlement pattern can still be recognised, with houses to one side of both Bridge Street and High Street, clustered along the Abbey’s boundary walls, whilst those opposite stood in approximately one acre plots. Traditional cruck style houses remain, although only one has retained its thatch roof. (see photo above right) Renowned for the quality of education provided for the daughters of wealthy patrons, Polesworth Abbey amassed lucrative land holdings and controlled a number of mills around the country. Its nuns were granted a charter market and fair and in later years Polesworth Fair was reputed to be one of the largest hiring fairs in the country, with people ‘travelling up to thirty miles to attend’! Traditionally held on the ‘Hall Court’ – adjacent to the Tithe Barn and Dovecote – ensured that area remained an open space until the 1950’s when it was chosen as the best site for the Memorial Hall and Library. A large section, however, remains as open space, maintained by the Community Association.


ASHTAV News Dec 2003_clip_image002
64, High Street

Both the Abbey and the Cockayne family who later rebuilt nearby Pooley Hall in 1508 as one of the earliest examples of a ‘brick built castellated mansion’, were granted the right to ‘impail’ hunting parks. It is believed that the boundaries of Abbey Green Park, opposite the Abbey (which was gifted to the village when the opencast workings were completed in the early 1960’s), probably follow at least some of the ancient boundaries of the original hunting park. Residents and visitors are therefore able to enjoy similar views to those extolled by the many literary figures who either lived in the vicinity or were frequent guests of the Goodere family, who had purchased the ‘estate ‘in 1544, following the voluntary dissolution of the Abbey in 1539. Michael Drayton (Poet Laureate) having been a page in the Goodere household, based a number of his poems upon his childhood surroundings – Lady Anne Goodere being the lady portrayed as his ‘Idea’ in many of his works. Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, Inigo Jones were particular friends of the family, as was John Donne, who not only co-wrote a number of literary works with Sir Henry Goodere but exchanged letters ‘of the most intimate kind’ – often on a daily basis. As to whether or not the young Will Shakespeare lived and was educated at Polesworth…………….documentary evidence of his early years is proving elusive but many scholars believe Polesworth’s claim has some validity. A claim we suspect which will continue to excite literary debate. The area can certainly claim that Raphael Hollinshed, whose famous ‘history’ is acknowledged as the primary source for Shakespeare’s historical works, was employed by the Burdett family as steward of nearby Bramcote Hall, where he died in 1580. Banished to Polesworth by Charles 1, Lady Lucy Goodere and her husband Sir Francis Nethersole continued the nuns’ educational legacy and formally founded schools for both girls and boys in 1638. Rebuilt by their Trustees in 1818, the imposing cupola topped school building dominates the main shopping area of the village, and is now a busy centre for community activities.

The Coventry Canal opened in 1790 – the village expanded across the river as boat yards, wharves, blacksmiths, farriers and shops opened to service the ‘canal folk’ for whom Polesworth became a regular overnight stop. A river bridge of stone replaced earlier wooden constructions, although until the mid­1900’s carts etc still sometimes used the ‘pool’ – the traditional Saxon crossing. The construction of two large viaducts (early work of Bassett who went on to construct railroads across Europe and America) was completed in 1848. Henceforth, Polesworth could only be accessed via a bridge. Sand, gravel, clay and coal, plus finished goods, could all reach a larger market. Bell pits abound, much to the dismay of present day builders, and Polesworth pottery has been identified on archaeological sites around the Midlands. Today, the only remaining example of the many traditional yards ‘is a small section of Foster’s Yard’ near the Fire Station. Around the end of the nineteenth century new sources of power enabled pit owners to reach deep coal seams, and the sale in 1912 of the Polesworth estate in individual lots allowed construction of new homes to house a growing population. Electricity was available from 1924 and Polesworth residents were able to source almost all their needs ‘in house’. Water mill, cinema, farms, shops, churches, chapels, clubs, pubs and houses intermingled as the village expanded.


timber frame building
Timber frame cruck style cottages which ajoin the Abbey Gatehouse

During the war years Polesworth welcomed evacuees – the ‘Bevan boys’, a land army hostel, prisoner of war camp and ‘the fair folk’ who were prevented from travelling by wartime restrictions. The 1960’s witnessed the closure of the boatyard, clay works and ‘village’ mine at Pooley. Although all the miners were redeployed nearby, for the first time a majority of residents were forced to travel to work. Polesworth’s amenities and position made it a prime development location. Fortunately a number of factors combined to ensure that the residents of most edge-of-village developments had time to be assimilated into community life before another site was developed and to date, the open green spaces around the river and Abbey remain. Hopefully this generation will be able to both retain and maintain them for future residents and visitors to enjoy. As to the future, the recently opened Heritage Centre at Pooley Fields was designed to meet the latest sustainable and energy efficient construction methods available. Funding is in place to begin work on renovating the Grade 2 listed Congregational Church and its opening as a centre to display the Polesworth Society’s extensive collection of photographs, artefacts and collection of costume figures lovingly stitched (and stuck!) by Society members under the kind and watchful eye of Margaret Prior, now our Secretary. Little did she realise when she ‘volunteered’ just how many historical figures there were in Polesworth, but it is hoped that Princess Editha, the Bendictine Nuns, Leticia D’Arden, Henry 1st’s Saxon concubine from Pooley Hall, the Gooderes, Cockaynes, Chetwynds, miners, millers, canal folk, morris dancers et al can be joined by Claud Grahame-White (who landed in Polesworth in 1910); the Chaytor family (who produced electricity for Polesworth and were amongst the first to open pit head baths); and Alan Lloyd who opened the first of his chain of chemist shops in the village, etc

historical figures

Work continues on the Parish Council/Polesworth Society web site, planning applications still need comments, and the hopefully much revised North Warwickshire Plan should be published soon. The sympathetic restoration of the neglected cottage and outbuildings on the Bridge Street/High Street corner which presented a depressing sight when ASHTAV members walked around the village in October 2002, is nearing completion, set to provide four much needed smaller dwellings. Polesworth’s inclusion within the Countryside Agency’s “Market Towns Initiative” is providing an excellent opportunity, not only for the community to work together to meet its changing needs, but to once again realise some of Polesworth’s undoubted assets to ensure it remains a welcoming community where people are happy to live and work.

We should like to thank Sue Collins of the Po/esworth Society for preparing this history of their town and for supplying the photographs taken by Members of their Society.

Cookham Profile



It has been established that part of the area known as “The Cookhams” was inhabited by the Ancient Britons. There is also evidence of Roman occupation, but it was not until the seventh or eighth centuries, following the Saxon occupation, that the village began to be developed. It became increasingly necessary for the Saxons to move towards the river in order to protect themselves from the marauding Danes invading the area, having come up the Thames by boat, or forded it near Cookham Weir.

The High Street in Cookham contains a wealth of historic properties – The Old Forge being one of the oldest – 16th century – although it is probable that there had been a forge on this site for a considerable time prior to that date. It is now a restaurant but stands cheek by jowl with a garage – tending to the needs of present day Cookham residents in terms of horse power, not hoof power! Nearby stand two Victorian semis, the first of which was the birth place of Sir Stanley Spencer R.A. Almost opposite is Ovey’s Farm, proof if that were needed that at one time farming was carried on in the very heart of the village. The Kings Arms, a 17th century hostelry, was originally called the Kings Head and an interesting story concerns one Martha Spott who minted her own half-tokens for use solely in Cookham – doubtless used by customers for gambling.

Further along the High Street we come across a group of Georgian cottages, the first evidence of the considerable development of the village in the 18th century. Nearby stands a Chapel, to which the young Stanley Spencer was brought for services by his mother. It later became a reading room and village hall, known as the Kings Hall until 1960, and now the Stanley Spencer Gallery. Opposite stands Wisteria Cottage which was forced to undergo a face lift in recent years as the front wall was bowing dangerously outwards and had to be entirely rebuilt – each brick being numbered and replaced exactly in its original position. It is said that one day’s worth of building work had to be carefully removed and rebuilt due to the builder omitting, or overlooking, a solitary brick earlier in the day!

“The Olde Bell” is a 15th century inn, its name now changed to the “Bell & the Dragon”. Nearby used to be sited the Tarrystone – the meeting point for the local “Olympics”! From Tarrystone House one can see Lullebrook Manor, once the seat of the local squire and now owned by the John Lewis Partnership and used as a country club for their staff. To the right of “The Old Bell” is “The Old Apothecary” – which remained a chemist’s shop until the last decade of the 20th century. The Vicarage is of the Queen Anne period and the Church of the Holy Trinity is noteworthy, its nave dating from the 12th century. In the churchyard, almost hidden from view by overhanging branches, is the monument of an angel, the subject of one of Spencer’s paintings. From the wicket gate it is but a few steps to the river and Cookham Bridge. The first bridge was a wooden structure, built in 1839. This was replaced thirty years later by one of iron, which survives to this day. To defray the cost, a toll was levied until the 1940s, the Toll House being on the northern bank.

Interestingly the north bank of the Thames is in Berkshire. Until the beginning of the 19th century Cookham was a Royal Manor and had been a favourite fishing ground of the Kings. To prevent poaching upon the King’s preserves from the north of the river, the Berkshire boundary is some yards to the north of the river bank. It is here that in July each year one may witness the ceremony of Swan Upping – under the direction of John Turk, the Queen’s Swan Keeper and Waterman – two City Companies, the Vintners and Dyers decide on the ownership of the cygnets.

“The Old Ship” stands at the corner of Mill Lane, to which any number of alterations and improvements have been carried out, none having destroyed its charm. At one time it was a convent and a piscine still exists in the front downstair room. It ceased to be an inn some years ago, and contains no less than four staircases. Just three quarters of a mile from “The Old Ship” one comes to one of the prettiest reaches of the Thames, only accessible by foot, the Cliveden Reach and the My Lady Ferry. It was here, in pre-Norman times, that the river used to be crossed by means of a ford, although more latterly a ferry has operated. In School Lane we find a typical Victorian school, with many additions post the 1938/45 War. Opposite, a row of cottages, at one time “The Maltings”, which supplied the adjacent brewery. It was not until George III sold the Manor and it became possible for people to own property, that the village became attractive to rich merchants who made their homes there. The walls of Tannery House contain some interesting wrought iron grills, though the house must have been a part of the brewery at one time, judging by the nearby gantry. Shoes were also manufactured here in times past.


We should like to thank The Cookham Society for allowing us to use their leaflet – “Cookham Village Explored” as the basis for this introduction to their town. It was written by Desmond Atkinson – and illustrated by Sidney
Jewell – and we are grateful to them both.