Dilhorne : A History of the Parish and its People



Dilhorne has probably never looked as green as it does in the 21st century. The evidence of mining, from which the community took its name has now all but disappeared under grass. Today one would have to look hard for the remains of the collieries or open cast workings, or the tramways that were constructed along with other signs of industrial activity.


Dilhorne is a prime example of demonstrating the misconception that the countryside does not change. This is also true of the settlements they contain. Trevor Rowley in his classic study Villages in the Landscape succinctly noted that ‘settlements, like the people who live in them, are mortal.’ The notable difference is that people have a predictable life-span and life-events which cannot be applied to settlements. However, settlements are never static, often growing, sometimes declining and constantly changing shape as they respond and adapt to both internal and external factors. It is these events which determine their life-span.


The settlement of Dilhorne lies in the ancient parish of the same name, six miles from the industrial heartland of ‘The Potteries’ and two miles from the market town of Cheadle. The parish also contained the township of Forsbrook, along with numerous outlying farmsteads, until 1849 when a chapel of ease was built at Forsbrook and its own ecclesiastical parish formed.


The name originates from ‘Dulverne’, meaning a place of digging or delving, while ‘Fotesbroc’ refers to the brook that runs through the centre of the settlement. Dilhorne could be described as a ‘linear village’, that is, one which developed along a stretch of road rather than having a central focal point. Forsbrook, on the other hand, could be considered a ‘square village’, its nucleus being at the junction of three roads around which the village square developed.


The shape of the settlement as being linear appears to have been determined by the topography. The area around the church offered a small ridge of flat, dry land with the natural resources of arable- and grazing land, and woodland and water nearby. Close to the church a group of dwellings would have huddled together for security from both man and beast. This may have extended in a northerly direction to where The Hall would be built and onto what would later become the junction of the High Street and The Common. Alternatively this later area may have developed as a separate community, slowly expanding as the dwellings around the church did. A natural area of lowland separates these two areas. Of the two it appears more probable that the original settlement was that centered around the church. The area around Godley Brook no doubt developed separately from both of these linked only by their inclusion in the same parish and township. However, through morphology, to the casual visitor all three of these areas today would be regarded as ‘Dilhorne.’


Equally it is just as difficult to be precise about the outlying hamlets such as Blythe Marsh, Boundary and Whitehurst. These may have developed at the same time or have been emigration from the original settlement. All three of the separate settlements appear to have grown piecemeal with little evidence of regulated planning, emphasised by the vast differences in tenement boundaries.


The Anglo-Saxon Settlement  


That Dilhorne appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 suggests that the community was established during the Anglo-Saxon period. The location would have been the choice of a thane who may have wanted to establish a homestead and to cultivate enough land for the sustenance of his own household. Alternatively Dilhorne may even have its origins in the Iron- or Bronze Age as the plentiful supply of coal would have provided fuel for the early furnaces. Without the evidence of archaeology it is impossible to be precise about the conception of the community, using only the few visible clues on the ground rather than what may lie beneath.


One of these early settlers gave their name to Callow Hill Lane. The name ‘Low’ often denotes a burial mound and its location on higher ground at a respectable distance from the community suggests that this was the resting place of a tribal leader, possibly the person who founded the settlement. Who he was is unknown, except that his name would have begun with the typical Saxon ‘Ca’ in the same way that an individual called Cafhere gave his name to nearby Cafhere’s Well, which has mutated through time into Caverswall. Alternatively, the name may have originated from the Old English ‘Calu’ meaning ‘bald.’ At the time of the burial this high spot above the community may have been bare of trees. Also at the end of Callow Hill Lane is the area known as St Thomas’s Trees. This large raised almost circular area is thought to be the site of an ancient settlement and during the 1920s a number of Roman coins were discovered on the site. This suggests that some form of habitation in the area had taken place before the Romans departed Britain in 410.


The houses of the Anglo-Saxon settlement would have consisted of a wooden frame in-filled with wattle and daub, being a mixture of clay, straw and cow-dung. As well as the door the small windows were fitted with wattle shutters to help protect against the elements, and the structure thatched with straw or reeds. In the centre of the earth floor was the hearth providing heat for both cooking and warmth. Sanitation consisted of cess pits outside.


The sound of the community was that of birds, the splash of the watermill, the rumble and creak of a cart travelling along the lane, the wheeze of the blacksmith’s bellows and hammer striking anvil. Standing above the village in the area of St Thomas’s Trees the view would not have been very different from that of today. It is largely a myth that England at this time was excessively wooded. Clearances of woodland had begun around 5000BC during the Neolithic Period and had steadily continued as wood was both fuel and building materials. Although still revered as the home of ancient spirits woodlands were also a place of employment for coppicing and charcoal burning, as well as feeding swine. With the exception of fields that were later sub-divided most of the patterns in today’s landscape would have been recognisable even then.


The inhabitants were practical people who learnt their tasks from their fathers. Dressed in tunics and leggings, with cloaks for colder weather, the majority would have been what is thought of today as peasants. The term ‘peasant’ is used as an umbrella for the working class when most of this social group were composed of farm labourers. During the Anglo-Saxon period these were known as ‘serfs’ although the terms ‘bordar’, or ‘villien’ for the more affluent, were used after the Norman Conquest. Naturally many other working class occupations including bakers, millers and blacksmiths were also in existence. Boys aged twelve were deemed mature enough to be adults, while those over fifty were revered as ‘the elders’ of the community. They would have known everybody, and everybody’s business, as the settlement would have been the limit of their lives. Some would have known people in neighbouring settlements and a few would have travelled to the embryonic market town of Cheadle.


Life was regulated by the months of the year. Ploughing would begin in January, followed by pruning and weed-clearing in February, before planting seeds in March. Sheep-shearing would occur in May, with the fleeces then washed and combed before spinning. In July reaping hay would take place to provide winter food for the livestock, followed by harvesting during the following month.


At the end of the day the household would have gathered around the central fire to enjoy storytelling, the main form of entertainment. This ranged from their own family histories which could stretch back many generations, to epic sagas such as Beowulf. Equally popular were evenings of guessing riddles.


Head down, nosing-I belly the ground

Hard snuffle and grub, I bite and furrow

Drawn by the dark enemy of forests,

Driven by a bent lord who hounds my trail,

Who lifts and lowers me, rams me down,

Pushes on plain, and sows seed.

I am a ground-skulker, born of wood

Bound by wizards, brought on wheel

My ways are weird: as I walk one flank

of my trail is gathering green, the other

is bright black. Through my back and belly

a sharp sword thrusts; through my head

a dagger is stuck like a tooth: what I slash

falls in a curve of slaughter to one side

if my driving lord slaves well.



Manor and Landholding


Brief glimpses of manorial tenure and the more affluent individuals who lived in Dilhorne may be glimpsed through the abundance of assize rolls and plea rolls that exist for Staffordshire. This was a period before the advent of surnames where those mentioned carried the last name of ‘de Dulverne’ to indicate where they were from. Less than forty years after the Domesday survey Radalphus de Dulverne was resident in 1120, followed by Ruald in 1166 and Robert sometime between 1185 and 1190. The Manor transferred to the Bagot family of Bramshall in 1196 when Millicent, the sister and heiress of the last Robert de Stafford married Hervey. He, like his predecessor, held the estate by service of a knight’s fee which was the common form of tenure for a Lord of the Manor holding an estate of the king. In return for the manor Bagot was obliged to provide military service to the king including arms, horses and men for up to a total of forty days active service each year. This was later converted to a money payment before finally being abandoned during the 17th century. Hervey Bagot probably remained on his own estate at Bramshall as a later Radalphus was also mentioned in 1199 and during the early part of the 13th century.


It was also at the end of the 12th century that the first resident of Forsbrook was recorded – Osbert de Fotesbroc – in a dispute over land at Forsbrook with Radalphus. About 1240 the township of Forsbrook, previously a dependency of Dilhorne, was merged with the Manor of Caverswall. This did not alter the ecclesiastical jurisdiction or administration of Forsbrook which still remained within the parish of Dilhorne. Later the Manor of Dilhorne was held by Radalphus in his own right as part of a knight’s fee. He was still present in 1227 although two years later Robert was recorded as Lord of the Manor. In 1243 Radalphus, possibly the third individual bearing this name, was recorded as being a knight.


It may have been this Radalphus de Dulverne (now often shortened to the more conventional ‘Ralph’) who in 1254 was in dispute with William de Caverswall over the rights to a mill, mill-pond and thirty acres of land in Dilhorne along with a rent of 8s. The outcome was that William and his heirs were to hold the mill, the pond and the thirty acres for the annual rent of 2d. and with an admittance payment of 40s. The Mill was again mentioned in 1297 when Ralph Freeman and his wife Elizabeth sued Margaret, the widow of Thomas de Rossynton for 5 messuages, 1½ carucates of land, 8 acres of meadow and 4s of rent as well as a fourth part of a mill which they claimed to be the right of Elizabeth. As with the location of the original settlement, the location of this mill is difficult to determine. There are no substantial streams in Dilhorne, while Forsbrook, by virtue of its name, only possessed a brook. This does not mean that any one of these was impossible as they may have been diverted to a sluice to provide sufficient power. It may be possible that the mill was on the same site as the current mill at Blythe Bridge. Although within the parish this may have belonged to the manor of Forsbrook, which, as previously mentioned, had now been merged with the manor of Caverswall. It may have been this change that caused the discrepancy over who actually owned the mill, acting as a catalyst for the disputes.


By the beginning of the 14th century it is clear that the original manorial estate recorded in Domesday was being fragmented with portions now being held by different individuals. Richard de Draycott’s estates in 1305-6 included a freehold in Dilhorne held from Ronton Priory, his undetenant being Richard de Caverswall. This was confirmed again in 1311. In 1332 William de Caverswall petitioned a request for a view of frankpledge and chattels called ‘Waifs’ in his Manors of Caverswall and Dilhorne. This may have been an attempt by William to modify the system of tithingmen who were responsible for keeping the peace and dealing with anti-social behaviour.  William proposed a ‘reasonable fine’ and although an inquisition concluded that this would neither harm nor prejudice the King, the Chancellor refused to grant William the charter without the assent of King and Council. However, this appeared to have been granted either later the same year or the following year. This division continued throughout the 15th and 16th centuries when in 1589 the Copwood family, then resident at Dilhorne Hall, were Lords of the Manor. However, the manorial lordship did not descend with the Hall, passing instead to the Parker family of Park Hall, Weston Coyney with who it remained until into the 20th century.


The Subsidy Roll of 1327 was an attempt by Edward III to raise money to pay for a war against Scotland – yet another king following in both Alfred’s and William’s footsteps. Dilhorne contributed 16s. from seven men while Fotesbroc gave 24s. from ten. By comparison the Cheadle list contained twenty-six names, Caverswall twenty-three and Draycott fourteen. Compared with the population estimate based on Domesday  (see Table 1) these figures suggest that Cheadle had now overtaken that of Caverswall, no doubt as a result of better communications and the right to hold a market,  and that Dilhorne was still the least populated settlement.



Name (Dilhorne)



De Willo’ fil’ Symonis



Henr’ del Delfe



Joh’e filio Willi



Ric’o Saundre



Henr’ del Wal



Ric’o filio Willi



Rob’to de Stoundon




Table 2. The Subsidy Roll of 1327 for Dilhorne



There is no way of knowing what proportion of the population these figures represent. From studies undertaken on other communities where contemporary tax lists exist alongside this 1327 assessment it is clear that the figures only correspond to about a quarter of the taxable population. Taking this into account, and using a multiplier of six to represent household size, produces the following results. Although this figure may seem a little conservative it does produce a realistic estimate of the population, especially when compared to that obtained from Domesday.




















Table 3. Population 1327 

*The figures for Dilhorne and Forsbrook were not segregated in the Domesday Book. The combined figure for Dilhorne and Forsbrook here would give a population total of 408.



Life for these, and countless others, varied between subsistence and starvation, and England was far from ‘merrie’ for the majority. The village had expanded during the 230 years since the Domesday survey although it would soon decrease by between one third and one half and would not reach a similar figure again until the beginning of the 17th century.


Of course not all of the inhabitants were peasants. During the 14th century a few managed to bargain for themselves farms of considerable size. The result of this was that even after paying manorial rents and church tithes they were still able to make a profit.


Although not being of any use to estimate population the Archdeaconry list of 1532 reveals the names of those who paid money into a guild to purchase prayers for their spiritual benefit. The list is arranged by parish with the most prominent members of the community, and presumably those who contributed the most, towards the top. What is immediately apparent between this and the subsidy roll of 1327 (see table 2) is the conventional use of surnames.


The entry for Dilhorne contains twelve families. However, by comparison to other places the entries for both Dilhorne and Draycott (with sixteen families) are short, although this is where the manuscript appears to peter out. The standard entry consists of the name of the head of the family, the name of his wife (or wives in the case of remarriage), followed by any children:





The Paroche of Delos the Sonday after Corpus Christe Day


Thomas Adderley, Joan, uxor eius, Thomas, John, Elizabeth, Humphrey, Joan, Margaret, Ralph, George, Alice, Dorothy.


Robert Warner, Ellen, uxor eius, Agnes, George, James, Henry, Edmund, Robert, Joan.


John Teylor, Ellen, uxor eius, John, Agnes, Richard, Joan, Margery, George, Joan, William.


William Heyne, Elizabeth, uxor eius, Thomas, John, George, Margery, Ellen.


Ralph Pyott, Elizabeth, Alice, uxores eius, Henry, Anna, Margaret, Joan, Ellen, Thomas, Alice, Richard, John.


Henry Philip, Margery uxor eius, Joan, John, Elizabeth, Robert.


Thomas Maburley, Alice, uxor eius.


John Warner, Ellen, uxor eius, William, Ralph, Christopher, Joan, Ralph, Margaret.


Christopher Wright, Alice, uxor eius, John.


James Amere, Joan, uxor eius, Margery, Thomas, John, Joan, Margaret, Ellen, Elizabeth, William, William, George, Roger, Joan, parentes.


John Warelow, Margaret, uxor eius, Emmot, Richard, Ralph, Agnes, Ellen, John, William, Ewen.


John Torner, Alice, uxor eius.


Because this is a list of those wishing to be remembered in prayer, along with an examination of other parishes where contemporary information survives, it is apparent that not all the names recorded may still have been living. This helps to explain why Ralph Pyott gives the names of two wives, his first having died. Similarly, James Amere has two sons named William, one probably relating to an earlier child that had died. Amere also chose to include his parents who may also have been deceased. Taking into account these peculiarities the list suggests that the more wealthy of Dilhorne were now having large families with up to ten children.