The Parish of Hamstall Ridware

The name Hamstall in Anglo-Saxon means homestead and indicates an early settlement. The combination of Anglo-Saxon elements with the Celtic rid- makes a fascinating puzzle for students of place names and suggests a time when Anglo-Saxon settlers and the native Celtic population lived side by side.

There are three entries pertaining to Hamstall Ridware in the Domesday Book:

  1.  Land of St Remy’s (Church)  in Offlow Hundred
    The Church holds 1 virgate of land itself in Hamstall Ridware. Land for 1 plough. Godric holds it from the Church. He has half a plough. 2 villagers have half a plough. A mill at 2s; meadow 2 acres. Value 5s. Earl Algar gave these two lands to St. Remy’s.

  2. Land of Earl Roger in Offlow Hundred. Hamstall Ridware. Walter holds from him. 1 virgate of land. Land for one and a half ploughs. 2 slaves; 4  villagers. Meadow, 4 acres; woodland 1 league long and a half wide. Value 5s. Edmund held it; he was a free man.

  3. Robert of Stafford also holds 3 virgates of land in Hamstall Ridware. Herman holds from him. 3 thanes held it; they were free men. Land for 4 ploughs. In lordship 1, with 1 slave. A free man holds 1 virgate of this land; he has 2 villagers with half a plough. A mill at 2s; meadow, 8 acres; woodland 1 and a half leagues long and in width 1 league. Value 15s.’

At the time of the Norman Conquest, the family of Asser Geun, the Saxon thane controlling Hamstall Ridware, became the lords of the manor, taking the name de Ridware. It is possible that the field called The Moats, which contains a moated site where 12th century pottery has been found, may have been the site of the first manor house. Or it may be that two manors existed side by side for a time. In the early Norman period the church of St. Michael and All Angels was built on its beautiful spot overlooking the River Blithe, perhaps replacing an older house of worship. Remains of this early period of the village’s history can also be seen in the ridge and furrow patterns which remain on Cowley Hill, once part of the open field system.

The de Ridwares held the manor until the 1370s when, there being no male heir, the land passed to the Cottons. The brick watchtower at the Hall was built at this time and symbolises the aspirations of the Cotton family. The large altar tomb in the church also attests to their powerful presence.

Maud, or Matilda, Cotton married Sir Anthony Fitzherbert and the manor passed to the Fitzherberts of Norbury in 1517. During his life Hamstall Ridware would have glimpsed the larger world beyond its borders, for Sir Anthony Fitzherbert was a celebrated judge during the reign of Henry VIII. He was involved in the trials of Ann Boleyn and Sir Thomas Moore, amongst others, and was the author of several books on the law. He and his wife are buried in the church at Norbury (Derbyshire), the home of the Fitzherbert family.

It is said that, on his death bed, Sir Anthony made his son and heir Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, swear that he would remain true to his Catholic faith. The promise was kept, but he paid dearly for it, dying in the Tower of London after thirty years of imprisonment. During the last years of the Fitzherbert ownership the gatehouses and porch, buildings of great beauty and prestige, were built.

In 1601 the ownership of Hamstall Hall passed to Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire. For a period of time it kept its prestige as the principal residence of the Leigh heir. Well into the 18th century the east wing was retained as a suite of rooms for the Leighs when they were in residence. Eventually the hall was leased to a series of tenant farmers, the east wing fell into ruin and was eventually pulled down, and Hamstall Hall took on the appearance of a working farm. The estate was sold in 1920.

Hamstall Hall

According to Ian Ferris (A Survey of Hamstall Hall, 1984),

‘No source, either documentary or structural, gives details of the earliest manorial centre, and indeed it is not until 1518 that a reference to the ‘capital mansion’ of the manor allows a link to be made with the present site of Hamstall Hall’.

Looking between the pepperpot gatehouses which once formed the entryway to Hamstall Hall, one has the best viewpoint for understanding the history of these buildings.

The Watchtower now looks rather decrepit, but it was once a status symbol of the first order. Its function was never military. It was a place from which the lord of the manor could survey his estate and the lands beyond. It is said that four counties can be seen from the top. 

Built in the late 15th or early 16th century, the tower dates from the time of the Cotton family and is probably the oldest visible part of the manor to survive. Under the Fitzherberts and the Leighs the tower was linked to the rest of the Hall by a luxurious suite of rooms. Eventually these were reserved for the Leigh family when they were in residence. When this wing was demolished the tower was once again left in splendid isolation as a folly.

The Gatehouses were built in the Jacobean period, probably around 1620,  at a time when the Hall was rebuilt.

Overlooking the garden on the east side of the Hall is a Jacobean porch. It is supported by Doric pillars, a stone tablet with surrounding scrollwork and an elaborate balcony with ornamental strapwork. This beautiful structure attests to the wealth of the lords of the manor at this time. It was probably built by the Leigh family in the early 17th century.

The Hall as seen today is largely Elizabethan in origin and is only the remains of a much larger range of buildings. Stebbing Shaw drew the house in 1797. Inside there are timbers remaining from the earlier medieval structure.

Looking at the manor buildings from the Blithbury Road, one sees primarily the working farm which remained after the Leigh family had ended their residence in Hamstall Ridware. The farm buildings are grouped around a courtyard which was formerly entered through the 17th century Great Barn. Other buildings include a malt house, stables, cart sheds and a cowbyre. These range in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries. These farm buildings were converted into the Ridware Arts Centre in the 1980s and subsequently into private houses. 

The Church of St Michael and All Angels

Churches with this dedication often stand on high ground and some believe it is indicative of an ancient foundation. The present church was built around 1130 in the Norman style. Originally it consisted only of the present nave and a shorter chancel. Some of the Norman masonry can be seen on the outside on either side of the tower. Inside there is a small Norman window above the arch leading into the tower. In the 14th century the church was lengthened to its present size and the walls were raised to their present height. Chapels were built on the north and south sides of the old chancel and the chancel was lengthened to its present form. The north aisle was added in the 15th century and the south aisle a little later. The lower part of the tower is 14th century work, the upper 15th and the spire of a later date. 

A rare feature of the interior is the absence of a structural division between the nave and the chancel. The two were originally separated by a large rood loft reached by a spiral staircase on the south side. The 14th century painted panels depicting the life of Christ may have formed part of the rood screen. The 16th century choir seats came from Lichfield Cathedral.

The most significant monument in the church is the Cotton tomb, which dates from the reign of Henry VIII. The Cottons were lords of the manor from 1375 to 1517. In the south aisle and outside in the churchyard there are monuments to the Stronginthearm family. They were yeoman farmers, unusual in having their own coat of arms, which appropriately shows strong arms uplifting swords.

There is very old stained glass, some of it 14th century, in the south chapel which is dedicated to St Cecilia. This includes coats of arms of the de Ridware, Cotton, Fitzherbert and Leigh families; a depiction of Dame Alice Cotton and a female saint with crozier - possibly St Werburga. Nine of the 12 apostles are represented in beautiful stained glass in the north aisle. St John is depicted holding a chalice with a serpent coiled within it.

In the south aisle, just inside the door, is a photograph of the Hamstall Ridware chalice and paten. These rare objects, designed to hold the wine and bread at Communion, were made around 1350 and were discovered in 1817 by a farmer, William Jaggard, who was digging a ditch. They were securely wrapped and had been buried on an old road near the manor. It is possible that they were buried to save them, either at the Reformation or at the time of the Civil War. The small cup (less than five inches high) and the plate (less than five inches across) are made of silver and gilt. The paten has in the centre a hand raised in benediction. Very little church silver from this period survives and these beautiful items are extremely rare. Upon their discovery, Mr Jaggard, who was the tenant farmer at Hamstall Hall, gave them to the lord of the manor, Lord Leigh. He had them restored and returned to the parish, where they were used at Christmas and Easter, but they were eventually removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They are now on display at St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Lichfield.

Other evidence of medieval religious life in Hamstall Ridware comes from the Ridware Chartulary. This document consists of 68 folios of parchment, which are filled on both sides with handwriting of the early part of the 14th century and bound into one quarto volume. It was compiled by Thomas de Ridware and was probably inscribed by a monk of Merivale. It records that William de Rydeware and his son William le Sage gave two virgates of land in Nethertown to two hermits of Hamstall Wood in exchange for land where they could build a house and live. This transaction took place in the late 12th or early 13th century.

Some Rectors of Hamstall Ridware

One of the most notable men in 19th century Hamstall Ridware was the Rev Edward Cooper, rector here from 1799 to 1833. He lived in the beautiful Georgian rectory. His cousin, Jane Austen, visited him here in the summer of 1806. A more frequent visitor was his mother-in-law, Mrs. Philip Lybbe Powys, who provides a brief record of her visits through her diary. To set the scene, immediately prior to her daughter and son-in-law’s departure for Hamstall Ridware, on September 10th 1799, she records that she went to London to see a panorama depicting Lord Nelson’s victory, ‘which must give the highest satisfaction to all lovers of their country.’ The following extracts relate to her family in Hamstall Ridware:

Sunday September 13th 1799 - was to me one of the most melancholy days I ever experienced, as it was to part me and my dearest Caroline, who was to set off the next day for Staffordshire. They would not stay to breakfast, but set off as soon as they got up. The dear little children stay’d till after morning church, and not knowing or feeling any of the anxiety that we did, seem’d perfectly astonished to see us shed tears, and that we did not feel equal pleasure with themselves at the idea of their journey.’

On Monday 7th July 1800, Mrs Powys describes the journey to visit her daughter, initially in their own chaise, but subsequently by post-horses, through Benson, Woodstock and Oxford to Birmingham. Birmingham did not seem to impress:

‘We walked a long time about this immense place, curious certainly to see, tho’ its vast extent, crowds of dirty inhabitants, and bad pavements, made the whole not so pleasing.’

Things started to look up when they arrived in Lichfield:

‘where Mr Cooper sent a servant to meet us, with the key of a gentleman’s grounds, going through which shortened our way to Hamstall Ridware, where we got to tea. Cooper had walked about a mile from their house on our arrival at which, our dearest Caroline ran out to meet us; but after so many months' absence, she and myself were so overcome, that strangers might have supposed it a parting scene, instead of a most joyful meeting; but my sorrow was soon turned to its contrast, to find them all so well, and pleasantly situated.

July 9th - In the evening we went trout-fishing on the Blithe, a river running at the bottom of the meadow before their house. Thursday - walked up the village to Smith’s the weaver, to see the manner of that work, and ‘tis really curious to see with what astonishing velocity they threw the shuttle.

Monday 21st July - That evening we all walk’d up to Farmer Cox’s, a very fine high situation, and most extensive views; indeed the prospect all round Hamstall is delightful.

July 22nd - We took a long hot walk to the village of Murry, to see a tape manufactury, of which seven gentlemen of the neighbourhood are proprietors. The noise of the machinery is hardly to be borne, tho’ the workpeople told us they themselves hardly heard the noise! Such is use! The calendering part is worth observation, as the tapes all go through the floor of an upper room, and when you go down to the apartment under it, you see them all coming through the ceiling, perfectly smooth and glossy, where the women take them, and roll them in the pieces as we buy them at the haberdasher’s, whereas in the upper room they all looked tumbled and dirty.

Monday 28th July - We all set out early in the morn to see Shuckborough, Mr Anson’s, and Hagley, Lord Curzon’s. We went through Blythberry and Coulton, the latter a village rather remarkable for many of its cottages being built in a marl-pit with woods over it, the roots of its trees growing and hanging loosely over their little gardens, which are deck’d with all manner of flowers, and kept with the greatest neatness.

August 12th - All our party went a trout-fishing, but the heat was so intense it was hardly bearable.

Thursday 14th August - I walked down to the river Blithe by seven in the morn to see Caroline and the three eldest children bathe, which they did most mornings, having put up a dressing house on the bank.

Monday August 18th - We all passed a dull gloomy day, the following one being upon fixed for leaving our dear relatives.

January 7th 1801 - Caroline Cooper was brought to bed of a boy (on my birthday). He was christened Frederick Leigh Cooper.

Sunday May 3rd - Our son Cooper preached, as Caroline, himself, and family came to stay with us the week before.

May 27th - The Coopers, to our inexpressible grief, set out with their five dear children to Staffordshire.

August 2nd 1803 - Mr Powys and I set out for our son Cooper’s in Staffordshire, and reached Hamstall on the 3rd about six. Had the inexpressible joy to see Cooper, Caroline, and their six dear children in perfect health.

During this stay, the family made excursions to Tutbury, Derby and Beaudesert before returning home to Fawley on August 31st. The last recorded visit to Hamstall is in August 1805, when the family again took an excursion, this time to Matlock and Dove Dale.

Another remarkable rector was the Rev John Octavius Coussmaker who held the post from 1884 to 1921. During his long residence the village changed greatly and he recorded some of these changes in his diary; for example, he wrote down a version of the traditional Mummers’ play, which died out during his lifetime. He made a list of every bird he identified in the parish and every plant, as well as making notes on the history of the church and village. The following story is taken from his diary under the heading ‘The Good Old Times’:

‘In 1342 a petition was sent to the Earl of Arundel for redress because Sir Robert de Ridware and a band of robbers had seized the goods of William de Drakelowe and Richard de Horninglowe, merchants of Lichfield, value 40 marks. The merchants were on their way to Stafford and were robbed as they entered Cannock Wood between Wolseley and Great Haywood. The spoils were carried to Lapley Priory, where they were joined by Sir John and Esmond Oddingseles and other gentry, and were divided amongst them according to their state. Next day they rode to Blithbury Priory but were refused admittance by the Prioress. However, they broke into the barns and stayed the night. Next day the bailiff from Lichfield and his men attacked them, caught four whom they beheaded, and regained the stolen property. However, before the bailiff reached Pipe Ridware, he fell into an ambush that had been arranged by Sir Robert, who was now reinforced by his cousin Sir Walter de Ridware and his vassals, and the robbers again captured their booty. Next day, the merchants tried to lodge a complaint with the County Authorities at Stafford but were met by some of the robbers who chased them away. The petition complained that the good folk of Lichfield dared not venture out of their city because of the truculent behaviour of the robbers and their maintainers.

There is no record of how it all ended!


Blythfield Cross

The Reverend Coussmaker refers in his diary to the site of this ancient cross and speculates about its role. Writing in 1902 he records that

‘down by the Blythe, halfway between Hamstall and the junction of the Blythe with the Trent, there stands one cottage and the ruins of three more. This spot is called Blythfield Cross.’

He notes that in the time of Stebbing Shaw the base of the cross still stood, close to the river at the bend to the north of these cottages and close to the footpath that runs from Gallow (or Olive) Green to Nethertown. He could find no record or tradition why this cross was erected.

However, he records that Henry Gould, a farmer from Pipe Ridware, who for many years farmed the land where this cross stood, remembered the old foundations and that it used to be called the Butter Cross because an old market used to be held there. The road to King’s Bromley ford across the Trent used to run by this cross. Mr. Gould could not remember the market being held in his lifetime. The Reverend Coussmaker recalls there used to be a market at King’s Bromley and speculates that the market at Blythfield Cross might be held only when floods prevented people from crossing to King’s Bromley. He records that another road, then overgrown, used to run down the stream from Gallows Green to this Butter Cross. 

A different explanation was suggested by 70 year old George Birch, the sole resident of Blythfield Cross. He believed that this old cross, and those at Hoar Cross and elsewhere in the neighbourhood, were where services used to be held in times of disease epidemic.


Hamstall Ridware Parish Enclosures

Enclosures of open fields in this parish appear to have been achieved by a combination of voluntary and statutory means. In the north, the voluntary approach appears to have been successful; but in the south, open fields in the ‘Township of Hamstall Ridware which included Nethertown’ were enclosed as part of an Inclosure Award of 1815 which also involved the ‘townships of Barton under Needwood and Tatenhill in the Parish of Tatenhill and the Townships of Yoxall and Hoar Cross in the Parish of Yoxall’. Prior to the implementation of the Inclosure Award, the 20 landowners of Nethertown farmed some 300 plots of land averaging half an acre each. Following enclosure and consolidation there were just 29 plots averaging 5.1 acres.

An earlier Inclosure Award (1806), that involved the enclosure of the Forest or Chase of Needwood, was important to Hamstall Ridware since the 90 parishioners who owned common grazing rights in the Forest were awarded allotments there. An area of some 430 acres adjacent to the present boundary in the north east, and lying to the south of Hoar Cross, was allotted to them. A new Y shaped road was constructed through the centre of the area, and subsequently two new farmsteads, Red Bank Farm and Hadley Cottage Farm, were erected, as well as several cottages on the smaller plots in the Hadley End and Woodmill areas.


The Population of Hamstall Ridware

Stebbing Shaw noted the following from which can be ascertained the size of the settlement: ‘When hearth money was collected about 1662, here were 94 hearths, which paid 9l. 8s.’ The census returns of 1831 give a population of 443; that of 1841 a population of 391. White’s (trade) Directory of 1834 lists some of the 443 inhabitants of the parish with their occupations.

William Cooper, Rowley; Ellen Cotterill, Netherton; James Gee, Sandborough; William Gee, Hamstall Ridware; Thomas Gould, Hamstall Ridware; William Jaggard, Hamstall Ridware; Joseph Jones, Netherton; Samuel Jones, Cowley Hill; Jonathen Lawrence, Netherton; Jonathen Lawrence, Rowley; Robert Lawrence, Sandborough; Thomas Lawrence, Netherton; William Orgill, Bancroft; Thomas Orgill, Rough Park; John Wooley, Hamstall Ridware; Joseph Wooley, Hamstall Ridware.

Other occupations in Hamstall Ridware

William Chapman, Shoemaker; Mary Fletcher, Victualler at the Rose and Crown; Joseph Fowell, Blacksmith; James Godwin, Shoemaker; Thomas Hicklin, Shoemaker; Richard Knowles, Gentleman; Charles Leigh, Shopkeeper; Joseph Lindsey, Tailor and Shopkeeper; Joseph Mason, Butcher; Edward Roobottom, Cornmiller; Ann Tomlinson, Free School; Rev Edward Rider Willes, Rector; Charles Wooley, Wheelwright, Blythfield Cross; Samuel Bently, Wheelwright, Cowley Hill.

As the above record shows, the school teacher at this time was Ann Tomlinson. The original village school was built onto an existing cottage in 1809 by Thomas Leigh. A new school building was opened in 1908 but unfortunately closed in 1983; the building was demolished and the site developed for housing.

The mill closed down at the beginning of the twentieth century and the building then became a cheese factory and a cowshed before being converted to a private house in 1982.

Public Houses in Hamstall

The Rose and Crown was the first documented hostelry, being recorded in the Trade Directory of 1834. This was in the possession of the Fletcher family (Edward, then Mary) but by 1850 it had passed to Samuel Avery.

The Rose and Crown was a well-known venue for timber sales from Needwood Forest. Today it is a pair of cottages, known as Church Farm and Church Farm Cottage, standing opposite the Old Rectory. At some point between 1854 and 1876 it seems to have gone out of business to be superseded by the Shoulder of Mutton. The latter is recorded in a conveyance of 1852. It was certainly operational as a pub in 1876 and when it was sold in 1886 it was described as ‘the only Inn in the village’, indicating that the Rose and Crown was no longer open by then. The Horse and Jockey at Hadley End is documented in the Parish of Hamstall Ridware from 1876 until being transferred to the Parish of Yoxall in 1934. The Chequers in Hamstall Ridware is listed under the landlord-ship of J Ingram but was no longer in existence in 1834.



Nethertown has a close historical relationship with Hamstall Ridware, which is the ‘upper’ to its ‘nether’, along the Blithe. It is possible that Nethertown was the site of fords across the Trent and there is speculation that a causeway could have run from the low ground by the Trent to higher ground above Hamstall Ridware.

In more recent times there was a public house there, the Old Golden Cup, which was very popular among fishermen who regularly visited it by boating along the Trent. However, it was delicensed in 1905 for continual brawling among its customers! One story tells of a customer who hanged himself in the barns across the road after such a fracas. The buildings have since been converted to residential dwellings. In 1850 Edward Dicken is listed as ‘beer retailer’ at Nethertown and later directories give the establishment’s name as the Golden Cup. A record exists of the inaugural meeting of the Lord Leigh Company of the Oddfellows Friendly Society held there in 1888. It was still operational in 1912 but not in 1916.



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