ALTON: A FAILED MEDIEVAL BOROUGH
Alton is easily overlooked by the two million visitors who flock to one of the country’s most popular theme park each year. Almost hidden from the outside world by the dense woodlands that surround it, the attraction is spread across five hundred acres on the northern side of the Churnet Valley. If those who visit this self-contained community that seeks to delight and thrill were to take a moment and gaze southwards across the valley they may catch a glimpse of the castle, church tower and rooftops of a community that has existed in one form or another for more than a thousand years.
The settlement, like many places, has long ceased being the agricultural community it formerly was, with most of the inhabitants commuting to the nearby towns and cities to pursue their occupations, except for the few who find seasonal work within the theme park. Little remains of medieval Alton except the remnants of the original castle. The parish church, as in most instances, as well as the settlement itself, has been continually modified over time to meet the changing needs of the community it serves. As different forms of agriculture evolved so too did land usage transforming the surrounding landscape. Yet Alton still provides a ‘blueprint’ for the medieval settlement from the layout of its streets, lanes and trackways, housing plots and field boundaries.
The settlement of Alton is situated close to a natural precipice on the south side of the Churnet Valley, about four miles east from the town of Cheadle, seven miles north-west of Uttoxeter and eight from Ashbourne. The name ‘Alton’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon, meaning ‘Aelfa’s farmstead’, and it is possible that an Anglo-Saxon defensive structure existed on the site that Alton Castle occupies. During the past the name has been interchangeable with ‘Alveton’, the only reminder of this being Alverton Hall Farm and a few other properties that lie towards the south west boundary of the parish along the road to Denstone. The parish is divided into four townships – Alton (2251 acres), Farley (2221 acres), Denstone (1690 acres) and Cotton (1270 acres).
Roads developed from footpaths of where people regularly needed to go. This becomes evident when looking at the three that converge on the church and castle at the area known as ‘Town Head.’ The main Cheadle to Denstone road (B5032), formerly a turnpike road, bypasses Alton along the southern boundary of the parish through Gallows Green and Tithe Barn. The only road that dissects the settlement spurs from this road in a northerly direction to connect with Cotton and Oakamoor. However, this road would have originally terminated at Town Head close to the church and castle. Its continuance to Farley was formerly along Horse Road, before New Road superseded it. Another entry into Alton from the Cheadle to Denstone road is the one that spurs at Battlesteads. In the summer these roads were dry and dusty, and during winter wet quagmires which almost hindered rather than helped those who used them.
Castle Hill was formerly called Back Street and shows the northern extent of the medieval planned settlement, as well as the extent of the outer bailey of the castle. Towards its terminus the area is known as Town Head which is a name that denotes the end of a planned settlement. The southern most road terminating at Town Head is still called Back Lane for the majority of its length and shows the southern boundary of the medieval settlement. In the field immediately east of where Town Head Farm is situated can be seen a series of raised platforms which may suggest an early expansion of the medieval settlement.
Alternatively, it may be possible that the oldest part of the settlement may not lie within the shadows of the castle but is instead the irregular leaf-shaped area bounded by Smithy Bank, Knight Lane, and Malthouse Road, being similar in plan to other early settlements like Bagnall, Endon, and Foxt. If so, then this may have been the site of the original Anglo-Saxon settlement pre-dating the medieval castle and the planned settlement, and turning Alton into what is termed a ‘polyfocal’ settlement, meaning that there were actually two almost separate areas that developed simultaneously.
A number of other roads offer communication to neighbouring settlements. One spurs south from the Cheadle to Denstone road to Great Gate and Croxden Abbey. Saltersford Lane is an old packhorse lane that originally ran from Alton to the Roman Road at Rocester, its name deriving from its use in carrying salt, possibly from Nantwich to Derby. However, this is likely to have been the original road travelling east through the parish, the current one to Denstone being a later diversion. Nabb Lane also spurs south to offer access to Combridge and Crakemarsh and eventually Uttoxeter. The roads and footpaths remained the only methods of access to Alton until the opening of the canal in 1811. However, this only operated until 1846 and was superseded by the railway that reached Alton three years later in 1849 when the Churnet Valley branch line was opened and which operated until its closure in 1965.
2) The Origin of the Settlement
The earliest evidence of habitation dates from artifacts found in burial mounds or barrows discovered in the parish of Alton, as well as in neighbouring Farley, which suggest a period between late Neolithic to Late Bronze Age. Tools from these periods, such as axe hammers, also suggest that these people cleared some of the woodland for the purpose of cultivation and that some form of an agricultural economy existed. Barrows represented considerable investments in time and labour by the settlement and were not the efforts of a nomadic community.
The only remnant from this period is Bunbury, an Iron Age hill fort, that has now been swallowed up within the Alton Towers theme park. The Antiquarian Robert Plot described this on his visit of 1686 as ‘Near Alverton in this county upon a lofty situation, in the lands of the Right Honorable Charles, Earl of Shrewsbury…there still remains near the lodge, just such another fortress as that near Mear, only much larger, which they call Bunbury, of no regular figure encompassed with a double and sometimes treble trench according as the natural situation of the place seems to have required on the N, NW and NE sides, all the rest being naturally inaccessible, the whole including about 100 acres.’ Only the western rampart has survived to be included on Ordnance Survey maps. An excavation in 1961 uncovered ‘a rampart faced with a massive dry stone wall, close enough to the steep hillside to preclude the need for a ditch’ and with ‘well preserved timber lacing.’
There is no conclusive evidence to suggest Roman occupation although their settlement three miles south at Rocester would probably have had some form of influence on trade and agriculture. Rocester was established as a military fort during the pacification of the area by Agricola in 69AD although fifty years later it had become a civil settlement. The three gold Roman coins found in 1725, and a further nine bronze Roman coins in 1982, show that there was some connection. Robert Plot mentioned evidence of Roman habitation being found at the cave dwelling known as Thurse House, under Longhurst Hill, near Peakstones.
The Anglo-Saxons first infiltrated Staffordshire towards the end of the 6th century, and mainly settled in the central and southern areas of the county. Staffordshire, which was then part of Mercia, became one of their most powerful kingdoms. As the settlement of Alton was mentioned in the Domesday Book it would appear that it was already well-established before the end of the 10th century if not earlier. A local legend recalls how a battle was fought between King Coelred of Mercia and King Ina of Wessex in 716AD on the southern slopes of the Iron Age hill fort of Bunbury. ‘In the seventh year of Ceolred’s reign, Ina, king of the West Saxons, having raised a great army, fought him stoutly at Bonebury, says the abbot of Jourvall: when yet Ceolred (by advantage of his strong fortification) so warmly received him, that he was glad to withdraw upon equal terms, neither having much reason to brag of victory.’ This suggests that Ceolred was occupying the earlier Iron Age hill fort rather than establishing a new settlement. The site is marked on the ordnance survey map of 1900 as ‘Slain Hollow, site of battle between King of the West Saxons and King of Mercia, 716AD.’ The same map also records ‘Saxon sword and Celt found, 1834AD’ by the Flag Tower in the grounds of Alton Towers. However, the battle occurring here may be nothing more than myth. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does record a battle between Coelred and Ina but places it at Alton Priors in Wiltshire in 715AD. Coelred died in 716AD and was buried at Lichfield and it would be another hundred years before the whole of Mercia was conquered by the king of Wessex.
There is no conclusive proof that Alton was affected or influenced by the steady stream of Danes which settled in eastern England and as far westward as parts of neighbouring Derbyshire during the 8th and 9th centuries. However, the typical old Norse name ‘holm’ appears in the area known as The Hulme and includes Holm Farm, Holm Cottage, Holm Road and Hulme Springs, suggesting that either Danes or Norsemen settled in that area of the parish.
3) de Verdun Ownership
The manor became the established unit of landholding after the Norman Conquest. The term refers to an estate held by a lord, and consisting of his demesne, that portion of the estate farmed directly by the lord, and those of his tenants from which the lord collected rents and fees as well as obligatory labour and military services. Over time the latter two slowly evolved into monetary payments. The lord and the inhabitants of his manor swore a mutual oath with the lord offering protection and his subjects offering loyalty. In return the tenants of the manor received in fief or fee a conditional gift of land to possess and draw revenue from.
In the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor of Alton was recorded as ‘Elvetone’ and formed part of the lands belonging to the William the Conqueror, being large enough to support two ploughs. Before the Conquest it had been held by someone named Iuuar, who had also held the neighbouring manor of Denstone. At the time of the survey it was recorded as waste a term often given to marginal lands in Staffordshire, and it would appear that the manor had not yet been granted by the king to one of his subjects. This may be understandable considering the barren and geographical elements of the landscape when compared to other estates in more favourable locations.
The first Normans to occupy Alton were the de Verdun family. Originating from Verdun in western France the family, headed by Bertram de Verdun, had probably supported William the Conqueror during the invasion and subsequent takeover in 1066. A person of some standing, his name appears on the Mont St Michel cartulary of that year. Bertram originally settled in Buckinghamshire for at the time of the Domesday survey he was recorded as holding the manor of Farnham (Royal) which consisted of ten hides and had land for eight ploughs. He held the manor by grand serjeantry, a form of tenure conditional on rendering some form of personal service to the king, and as such the family later claimed the right to provide a glove at the king’s coronation and to support his sceptre arm on that occasion. His entry in Domesday suggests that Bertram had been in England for some time as it contains a note revealing that he had been abroad on the king’s business. Bertram may also have actively supported William the Conqueror in his ‘harrying of the north’ during the winter of 1069 helping to subjugate the rebellious Mercians in the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire.
William died in 1087 and was succeeded by his son William Rufus (William II). Bertram appears to have supported William II in the same way that he had supported his father. In just over forty years between 1087 and 1129 his single manor of Farnham had been supplemented with lands in both Staffordshire and Leicestershire. Whether Bertram had been granted these estates by William II (1087-1100) or Henry I (1100-1135), or both, is not clear. William II is known to have made substantial grants in Staffordshire and elsewhere to Hugh, earl of Chester, and so it is possible that Bertram was granted his Staffordshire manors by William II also, including the barony of Alton for one knights fee. This was a common form of tenure for a lord of the manor holding an estate of the king. In return for the manor Bertram 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. In 1100 Bertram acted as sheriff of Yorkshire, an office he probably held through his association with Hugh, earl of Chester, as he appeared to have no other connection with the area.
Bertram died about 1100 and was succeeded by his son, Bertram II. It is likely that he, and his father before him, supported Henry who made many of his followers into minor barony. Although the family were now well-settled in England, like many of the Anglo-Normans, they still spent large amounts of time at their estates in France and treated their English holdings simply as a source of additional revenue.
Bertram II was dead by 1129 and his son, Norman de Verdun, was in possession of Alton as a tenant-in-chief of Henry I and by this time the manor included an 800 acre deer-park that was mainly in Farley. Norman appears to have been well-connected with Ranulf II, the earl of Chester, having witnessed nineteen separate charters granted by the earl between 1130 and 1153. The places and dates of these charters reveal that Norman travelled throughout the country with Earl Ranulph far from his own estates. Norman is found with the earl at Rhuddlan about 1135, at Lincoln in 1144 and 1146, at Carlisle in 1149, and witnessing a grant made by Ranulf to Lancaster priory on the return leg of the journey.
It appears that Norman had already married someone named Agnes before his father’s death. However, Agnes died before or around the time of Norman’s succession to his family’s estates, apparently without producing any children. Norman's second wife was Lecelina de Clinton, the daughter of Geoffrey I de Clinton of Kenilworth, Henry I's chamberlain. Through Lecelina’s dowry the marriage also brought to Norman lands in both Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.
Henry I died in 1135, and his only son William had been drowned in a shipwreck in 1120. This left two rivals claiming the throne, Henry’s daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen de Blois. The succession was finally settled when Stephen was crowned king in 1135, agreeing to recognise Matilda’s son, Henry II, upon his death. During the civil wars caused by what many saw as Stephen usurping the throne Ranulf II supported Matilda, and therefore it is likely that so too did Norman.
Upon the death of Norman in 1153 the manor passed to his eldest son Bertram de Verdun III. The building of both the castle and church at Alton are attributed to him, although he was certainly responsible for founding the Cistercian abbey at Croxden in 1176. Bertram was a minor at the time of his father’s death and it appears that Richard de Humez, a constable of Henry II and who was frequently at court, took on the wardship of Bertram and the custody of his estates. Richard’s connections at court would certainly have advanced Bertram’s career.
Bertram III married Matilda de Ferrers, daughter of Robert Ferrers II, earl of Derby, sometime between 1139 and 1159. This was a socially unequal match which may have been for political reasons, as Robert’s honour of Tutbury lay isolated from his other vast landholdings in England and such a marriage, considering the location of the de Verdun estates, would have strengthened its position. Robert had supported the Plantagenet claim to the throne during the civil wars of the 1140s and so was an ally of both Ranulf II and Bertram. Bertram's marriage to Matilda appears to have been childless and she may well have been a minor with the marriage remaining unconsummated. Matilda died young and Bertram married a second time to Rohais de Amundeville and had eight children.
Bertram became closely associated with Henry II and appeared at the king’s court at Caen in 1166. He served as Sheriff of both Warwickshire and Leicestershire between 1168 and 1183. During the revolt of 1173-74 led by three of Henry’s three sons and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, Bertram remained loyal to the king even though his estates lay precariously close to those owned by those rebelling against Henry II. A further royal appointment was in 1175 as one of the king’s new itinerant justices and during the next four years Bertram served in eight counties. He also conducted business on behalf of the kings courts in France, Spain and Ireland where he was granted land in Louth by the king and held the lordships of Drogheda-in-Uriel and Dundalk.
Bertram invested heavily at Alton developing both the first stone castle and church. The reason why Alton was chosen as the caput, or main home, of the de Verdun family is likely to have been that this was their most closely concentrated group of estates. These included Audley, Balterley, Biddulph, Bradley, Bucknall, Caverswall, Croxden, Denstone, Farley, Fenton, Kingsley, Rownall, Stanton, Talke and Wootton, although it is impossible to determine why all of these came into the de Verdun’s hands. Alton Mill was in existence from at least 1181 and operated as a mill until the 1860s before finally closing in 1932. The mill, which technically was the property of Croxden abbey after being endowed by Bertram, was originally used for grinding corn, and in 1274 had an annual value of 20 marks.
Besides having a picturesque location, the castle offered a natural defense on its northern side from the steep-sided 100ft cliff face under which is a steep climb from the floor of the Churnet Valley. The remainder of the site was protected by a rock-cut ditch nineteen yards wide and nine yards deep that enclosed the roughly oval site and formed the inner bailey of the castle. An outer bailey is likely to have existed between this and Castle Hill Road, probably on the site later occupied by Pugin’s hospital-cum-almshouse, the boundary of which provided a ‘back lane’ for the planned settlement to its south.
Little remains of the castle erected by Bertram during the late 12th and first quarter of the 13th century. This may have been preceded by a simple motte and bailey constructed of earth and wood. Due to the natural topography of the site the construction of the raised mound of earth known as the motte may have been unnecessary since the position of the inner bailey would already have given a clear view across the Churnet Valley and down the area of what later became the High Street. If the High Street existed it would have been flanked on either side by modest dwellings consisting of a wooden frame in-filled with wattle and daub, being a mixture of clay, straw and cow-dung which required rebuilding each generation.
The remains of the curtain wall of the castle which would have surrounded the inner bailey, or enclosed yard, stretch from the western extremity of the site to run halfway along its southern edge surviving to where the current access bridge is located just beyond the remains of a square tower bonded into the wall. This tower features a blind pointed arch that springs from the string course (at ground level) to indicate the position of a barrel vaulted chamber that would have been accessed from inside the tower. Above this is a central arrow loop of circa 1190 with cross slit and fishtail-shaped base.
The original entrance to the inner bailey was towards the western end of the surviving masonry where the remains of two D-shaped towers still survive. Here the gatehouse was situated, the towers flanking a dentral gate passage with a portcullis at its outer (southern) end, the lower part of a portcullis groove of square section survives on the east side of the passage. A mural staircase entered from a door on the west side of the passage and gave access to the upper parts of the gatehouse. These would have consisted of little rooms for the guard and from where the portcullis was worked. Between the two towers and below the level of the former gate passage is a sally-port with a round arch, which gave access to a central corridor beneath the gate passage. Some of the surviving masonry may also date from the rebuilding that took place after the Barons’ War of 1264.
The inner bailey would have housed numerous buildings including stables, a granary, and accommodation for the garrison and those servicing the castle. Nothing remains of the keep, or central building of the original castle, which would have consisted of a number of small rooms built over three floors and forming a quadrangle which would have housed a large room on the ground floor with a great hall above. The smaller rooms on the ground floor would have served as storehouses and dungeons. Those of the upper floors would have been the bed chambers of the family and their guests. It might be supposed that Bertram built beyond his social class. Not being barony it would have been more appropriate to have constructed a manor house of more modest means. One reason may have been that he felt the need to impress those he was acquainted with, both socially and professionally, such as his former father-in-law the earl of Derby or Henry II.
Both the Cerdun and Furnival families are mentioned numerously in a manuscript known as ‘The Annals of Croxden Abbey’, of which Bertram de Verdun III was founder and subsequent members of his family patrons. In 1288 a priest from Walsall, called William de Schepisheved, was given the task of chronicling the life of the Abbey. He worked reverse chronological order to 1066, and then contemporaneously until 1320 when the entries in his hand stop, although the chronicle continues until 1374. One of the earliest entries concerning the family reads: ‘Bertram de Verdun, for the health of his soul through the grace of God, to redeem all his sins, gave the monks of Aunay the land of Chotes to found the abbey of St Mary in the Vale. But the one who disposes all things sweetly ordained that they should praise the name of the Lord elsewhere.’ In the foundation charter [of 1176] Bertram remembered his forefathers and dedicated the abbey for the good of the souls of ‘Norman de Verdun, my father, and Lescelina my mother and of Richard de Humez who brought me up, and for the salvation of myself and of Rohais my wife, and of my successors.’
The endowment of Croxden Abbey by Bertram consisted of his lands at Croxden (evidently including a mill), Alton, Madeley Holme (in Checkley), Crakemarsh (in Uttoxeter), Musden, and Oaken (in Codsall); a grove at Great Gate near Croxden; land at Tugby (Leicestershire) and a carucate called Lees at Hartshorne (Derbyshire); a salt-pit at Middlewich (Cheshire); a mill at Stamford (Linconshire); as well as the service due from Achard of Stamford for land there and at Casterton (Rutland); 7s due from Ralph de Normanvile for land at Burton Overy (Leicestershire); and the churches of Alton and Tugby. Henry II’s confirmation of Bertram's charter included also Tugby’s dependent chapels of East Norton and Keythorpe. By 1291 the abbey had established six granges, four in north Staffordshire, one in south Staffordshire, and another in Derbyshire. Many of these granges were probably associated with sheep farming, and Croxden became the principal exporter of wool to the continent from among the Staffordshire monastic houses.
Between 1185 and 1188 Bertram’s absences from his English estates became more noticeable as a result of his activities in Ireland. Even though the Scutage Tax had been introduced during the 1130s allowing those willing to pay a fine to be exempt from fighting alongside the king in war (signaling the beginning of the end of the feudal system) it appeared that Bertram, along with his father and grandfather, remained faithful in serving the monarch in military campaigns. Bertram also accompanied Henry II’s son, Richard I, on the third crusade in 1190, and although helping to successfully capture Acre on July 12th 1191 he died at Jaffa and was buried at Acre, as the Croxden Chronicler records.
Thomas de Verdun may still have been a minor when his father died at Jaffa. Four years later he appears in the Pipe Roll of 1194-95 accounting for his relief of 300 marks for ‘having the land and castles of his father’ suggesting that he had now reached his majority. Thomas appeared to have spent considerable amount of time at the de Verdun estates in Normandy.
By 1195 sixty-four sergeants were shared between the two main Verdun castles of Alton and Brandon (the latter in Warwickshire, having being founded by Geoffrey de Clinton and had passed by marriage of de Clinton’s daughter, Lescilina, to Norman Verdun). The sergeants who kept watch over the valley were paid one half-penny a day for food and received 1s 6d in pay for six months service. There was also payments for garrisons at both Alton and Brandon castles.
Besides military personnel there were two types of civil tenants, villeins and freemen. There was usually little distinction and sometimes the difference depended upon whether the land they possessed was free or unfree, although some villeins did have the right of selling, bequeathing and inheriting property. By the beginning of the 13th century a rich villein may have appeared better off than a poor free man through the size of his house and his possessions. The villein, or copyholder (so called because he held a copy of his land holding agreement recorded in the manor court roll), would have typically possessed a small cottage along with three or four acres which would have been sufficient to support his household. Under the feudal system he was obliged to provide certain labour duties such as ploughing and tending a certain acreage of land belonging to the de Verduns.’ Often there would be other obligations too such as providing a hen or a number eggs which bordered the ecclesiastical tithing system. Each villein was to abide by the customs of the manor which became the laws governing the community. With these duties came certain rights and the terms of his holding (normally twenty-one years which would be automatically renewed if mutually agreed). All these details were copied into the court roll, so both lord and copyholder were protected, and both were mutually dependant upon each other. With his duties to his lord completed the villein was usually free three days a week to work his own land, tend to his own livestock or participate in whatever craft or trade he was employed in.
Thomas de Verdun died just five years after inheriting his father’s estates’ in 1199 and they then passed to Thomas’ younger brother Nicholas. It appeared that Nicholas had at least some of his estates forfeited to the Crown which may have been the reason for his involvement in the rebellion which led to the sealing of Magna Carta as he was listed as fighting against King John during the First Barons’ War in September 1215. This must have been some form of personal grievance for when John died in 1216 Nicholas was siding with his successor Henry III. After the restoration of his estates Nicholas appeared to have spent the majority of the next ten years expanding the de Verdun’s estates in Ireland.
Upon the death of Nicholas in 1231 the de Verdun estate passed to his daughter Roesia de Verdun. She had married at least twice although the identity of her first husband is unknown, but he must have died before September 4th 1225 when Henry III sent a letter to Roesia urging her to marry Theobald II Butler. Roesia may have been reluctant to do this, as Henry sent another letter, this time to her father asking him to encourage her to make the match. Her father must have been successful in eventually persuading her and the marriage produced at least two children, a son John and a daughter Matlida. John would eventually inherit the de Verduns' lands from his mother, having already adopted the de Verdun surname in preference to Butler at least five years before her death. Matilda appeared to have married Walter de Lacy II before his death between 1238 and 1241, and had married John fitzAlan by 1242. Matilda outlived her husband and went on to marry a third time to Richard d’Amundeville before her death in 1284.
Theobald Butler died in Poitou in 1230. As a widow, Roesia now had her own independence provided that she did not marry again, and to guarantee this in 1231 she paid the customary heavy fine exempting her from being compelled to marry. She inherited and administered her lands and brought law suits against those who infringed her rights. She was responsible for building castles and establishing the town of Newtown in Dundalk in Ireland. She also founded the Augustinian nunnery of Grace Dieu near Belton in Leicestershire, granting it, in what seems to be a foundation charter, ‘the whole of my manor of Belton with the advowson of the church... and all other appurtenances and liberties which I or my ancestors once used to have in the same manor, having and holding of me and my heirs in pure and perpetual alms.’ The motivation for Roesia to establish the nunnery may have been to prove that she was equal to her ancestors, as well as securing a certain social position with her peers both living and dead. However, Roesia did not abandon the abbey established by her ancestors. She granted to Croxden, which she referred to as ‘my abbey’, a rent of 40s per year from the mills at Alton and in 1244 made a donation of 6 virgates of land in Hartshorn, Derbyshire, where the abbey had been granted some property previously by Bertram. Roesia died in 1247 and was buried at Grace Dieu. After at the dissolution of the monasteries her effigy was moved to Belton church where it still survives.
John de Verdun must have been born between 1226 and 1230. He succeeded to the de Verdun estates on the death of his mother, Roesia, in 1247. John married Margery de Lacy bringing with her the castle and honour of Weobley as well as moiety of Ewyas-Lacy (Herefordshire). This brought with it the responsibility of being a Lord-Marcher and as such John was ordered by the king in 1249 to take up residence on the borders to check the inroads of the Welsh. Evidence suggests that he was clearly considered to be a harsh lord and that he did not always use the correct methods to keep or recover what he felt was his. After John's death, Henry of Bray, John's bailiff, stated that John had extorted a grant of thirty-five acres at Cotesbach from him by throwing him into his dungeon at Alton.
In 1257 John was involved in the campaign against Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Gwynedd. By June 1258, the Baronial Movement had taken shape and had imposed the Provisions of Oxford on Henry III. It would seem that John de Verdun was himself one of the reformers, for he is named in the Provisions as one of those who were ‘chosen by the barons to treat in three parliaments a year with the king's council for all the community of the land about the common business.’ John was appointment Keeper of Staffordshire and Shropshire in 1263, and commissioned in 1266 to defend Worcestershire from the Baronial rebels besieged within Kenilworth castle.
During the Second Barons’ War of 1264 John may have been present when Tutbury castle was taken in the spring. This was the caput of Robert de Ferrers, earl of Derby, one of Simon de Montfort's most steadfast supporters, and lay eighteen miles south-east of the de Verdun caput at Alton. Alton castle, in turn, was destroyed later the same year. Under its annal for 1264, the Chester chronicle records that Robert de Ferrers III destroyed the castle at Alton during the Barons’ War.
The parish church, dedicated to St Peter, was first mentioned in the Foundation Charter of Croxden Abbey when Bertram gave to the abbey ‘the church of Alverton with all its appurtenances’ thereby suggesting its existence in the late 1170s. This is not to say that an earlier wooden structure did not occupy the site beforehand of which no trace remains. The dedication of the church did not occur until 1277 which may suggest that a substantial rebuild had taken place shortly before this. The church was appropriated by Croxden Abbey by 1267 when the second recorded vicar at Alton was appointed by the abbot of Croxden. The incumbent would have been given a house, glebe land which he would have farmed himself for his own sustenance, and the right to collect the tithes, a tenth of each of his parishioners stock. In return he was bound to keep the church in good repair, to financially assist those in need, and to provide hospitality to travellers.
The early church would have consisted of a nave and chancel, and possibly an aisle on the north side, divided by the Norman pillars and arches. Originally there was six bays rather than the present five, the sixth being lost when the tower was inserted into the west end of the nave in the early 14th century. This was necessary for the foundations as the land falls sharply away at the west end of the tower base. At one time the tower may have had a spire added, as the will of Richard Holme of Peakstones in 1541 mentioned ‘I wyll make oon [one] window in the west end of the stepull’ and ‘I gyffe to the poyntyng of the stepull xiid.’
During the service the congregation stood as the church was without pews or seating. Those who were unable to stand, such as the weak, elderly and infirm, leant against the walls or the pillars of the arcade. Mass was in Latin with little participation from the congregation. Sermons usually consisted of a lesson instructing the congregation about the articles of faith or on the seven deadly sins. Three services were held on Sundays – martins, mass and evensong – although mass was said daily and the priest was obliged to say the canonical hours every three hours for his own benefit.
John de Verdun had died by May 1274, and was buried at Croxden. In his late forties, he had begun rebuilding the castle at Alton after the damage inflicted upon it in 1264. That the castle was operational again by 1293 when the de Verduns’ were responsible for providing ‘one man for service in the castle of Alton during war for forty days’ as well as suit of court.
Charter lists provide the names of the first constables of Alton. Thomas Perhitun held the office about 1236, followed by Adam of Perhitun, and then William de Rownall, John of Wheathampstead, and Robert of Bucknall, who is described in separate documents as being both Theobald de Verdun’s steward and constable of Alton in 1303. Sometimes those in office were accused of abusing their privileges, such as ‘Alan Peys, the Bailiff of John de Verdun of Alton, took six oxen and cows from Richard of Rudyard, and retained four of them, and for giving up two of them, took a mark from the said Richard.’
Since the arrival of the de Verduns’ two centuries had elapsed and the dwellings in the High Street would have evolved accordingly. The modest low buildings of wattle and daub would have been replaced with wooden houses of differing in size although similar in appearance to one another, their width only constrained by the width of the plot. The largest would have belonged to the most industrious and on whom good fortune had smiled, consisting of two or possibly three bays with an upper floor for sleeping. The smallest of all was the humble dwelling of the poor widow, probably no larger than 13ft by 13ft and containing just one room. The average family home, however, would have been approximately 40ft by 25ft. All but the most modest dwellings were now built on a stone plinth or foundation. These were constructed of two curved oak beams (crucks) secured to a horizontal ridge beam. The wooden frame would have been in-filled with cob walls painted white and illuminated with narrow unglazed windows with shutters to offer security and to protect from draughts, and with floors of beaten earth covered in straw. Fireplaces, where they existed, were attached to an outside wall with the fire burning on a raised stone hearth crowned with a hood to help channel the smoke, otherwise a central fire was still in existence. Roofed with thatch, this would have extended a good distance beyond the walls to protect against rain. For those who could not afford thatch, turf was used as a cheaper alternative. It was not unusual for most buildings to have a slightly warped appearance as the timbers, which were unseasoned, dried and hardened during their first few years. Most were built cheaply and quickly still necessitating their rebuilding every thirty or forty years.
An Inquisition of 1274 recorded that a borough at Alton had been founded by about 1239 as an agreement made between the burgesses of Alton and the abbot of Croxden. This established certain rights including that the burgesses’ oxen were permitted to graze on Ringehay and in Longhurst Wood at certain times of the year in return for a rent of 5s, and an agreement not to buy oxen from any other market than Alton. The abbey, in return, agreed not to build a sheep-fold on the burgesses’ land. The agreement comes complete with the pear-shaped municipal seal which bears a turreted gatehouse design. The same inquisition goes on to provide further evidence of Alton’s borough status by noting the existence of the portmanmoot, or early council of the burgesses, there.
Both the borough and portmanmoot were not completely independent of de Verdun control. The revenues from the tolls of the oven and mills and leased out by the lord of the manor were retained and appeared in the customs of the manor in 1316. The earliest mention of a court at Alton appears in the charter by which Bertram III granted Sheen to Hugh of Okeover. In this, Bertram reserved to himself the wartpeny and Peter’s Pence of the said land and recorded that the same Hugh and his heirs were to ‘come to the afforcernent of [his] court, but only at the reasonable summons of [himself] or [his] seneschal.’ Similarly, the portmanmoot was seldom free of seigniorial control, being presided over by the lord’s bailiff or steward, and with the lord taking all or a part of the profits of justice. However, the 1274 inquisition records income from the portmanmoot but no separate manorial court, suggesting that the two were the same. Furthermore, the witness list of the burgesses’ agreement with Croxden abbey begins with Roger Gernon, Roesia de Verdun’s seneschal, an administrative office equivalent to that of steward, whose name is followed by men who could well have been members of Roesia’s court such as William of Ipstones, Robert of Denstone and William of Audley, again suggesting seigniorial supervision.
At a court at Alton during the time of Nicholas de Verdun (1199-1231), although from a record dated 1293, stated that the manor of Alton was entirely extra geldibile. This meant that Alton was excepted from making contributions to amercements and fines imposed upon the county, such as murdrum, the effect being to increase the burden that fell on the remaining vills. An assize roll entry states that Nicholas de Verdun increased the geographical extent of the jurisdiction of his court at Alton, and from this and other similar records suggests that the court met every three weeks.
It was at this Court that the operation of the Manor was administered. A jury of twelve (or alternatively nine or six) men were sworn in to make decisions and settle disputes. This was where the individual strips in the open fields would be allocated to the tenants, stipulating that everybody grew the same crop in the same field and harvested at the same time, as well as regulations governing the labour required for the Lord’s own demesne land.
Under the Lord of the Manor was the steward, and under him the bailiff, and finally the reeve, who was elected by the tenants as well as being one himself. It was they who saw to the smooth running of labour services and answerable directly to them was the hayward or woodward with responsibility for hedges, the swineherd, the cowherd, the shepherd, the dairyman, and the foreman of the mowers. The steward or bailiff was responsible for producing the demesne accounts, usually at Michaelmas (September 29th), which was the beginning of the agricultural year after the two intensive months of gathering in and storing the harvest. These were all unpaid occupations but those chosen would be exempt from a certain amount of their obligatory labour duties. The court was also responsible for ensuring that fees were paid by those using the mill, bread ovens and smithy and issuing fines to those who attempted to evade payment. They also dealt with petty theft, roads, ditches and fences that were not in good repair, and fining those who attempted to sell bad ale or underweight bread. Church courts dealt with morality issues while more serious crimes, such as felonies, homicide, larceny and treason, were normally the jurisdiction of the royal or crown courts.
It was common for feudal lords to create boroughs, distributing plots to tenants who became burgesses, and who then had more status and a greater amount of freedom than the ordinary villein. A standard annual rental for a burgage was 12d. Many burgesses then sub-let a quarter of their burgage for 6d, thereby making a healthy profit. These burgage plots can clearly be seen on both side of the High Street, particularly those on the northern side. The total of 40s rent from the burgesses at Alton found in the extent for 1316 suggests that there might have been forty occupied burgages there at that date. The lack of burgage plots further east at Town Head where Castle Hill Road and Back Lane meet may suggest that this area was not developed during the original planned settlement or was later reorganised in a piecemeal fashion. References to burgages and the privileges associated with landholding still occurred into the early 18th century.
By comparison the community of Betley in 1298 was surveyed as having twenty-nine and a half burgages and Brewood with only twenty-four and three-quarters. At the same time Leek possessed more than eighty burgages. In 1263 Robert de Ferrers attempted to create a town on his manor of Agardsley which he named Newborough. Ferres provided 101 burgage plots consisting of an acre on which to build a house, along with two acres of arable land for sustenance along with guaranteed freedom of tenure and a modest fixed cash rent. However, the town failed because Ferrers could not compel people to take up plots or stay in them. The new town was also near to two successful rivals, Burton and Uttoxeter, and so the rural surroundings of Newborough did not expand quickly enough, and an urban economy could not be sustained.
Borough status also brought with it the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. The 13th century was a time of high population growth, and as the population increased so too did the need for markets. Boroughs often developed into towns as they were designed to provide a legal and tenurial framework in which a town could grow. Towns were distinguished from villages not only by the incorporation of a charter but by the concentration of tenants not engaged in agricultural occupations such as trades, crafts, and administrative services. The town was designed to serve the needs of the rural hinterland, not just as a point of commercial exchange, but also as a focus for social, religious and cultural life. Any surplus commodities, such as cheese, wool or livestock, would have been sold or bartered for any items required. By the late thirteenth century almost everyone in the countryside lived within six miles of a town. The only rural areas that were not covered were thinly populated parts of the northern uplands, such as those of the Churnet Valley, and the centre of Cannock Chase.
The lord himself also benefitted not only from the rents of the burgages but also by imposing his own taxes upon the goods sold at the markets and fairs. There was at least one communal bread oven at Alton where, under the feudal system, inhabitants were obliged to bake their bread and in return would be taxed a nominal fee for the use of the oven. The fees from this oven, together with the market tolls, brought the lord of the manor an annual income of ₤33 4d. A similar fee would be extracted for the use of the mill so the inhabitants could grind their corn. Alton had two watermills, although by the early 14th century they had been rented out to tenants at will at a joint rental of 67s 6d given in kind in the form of wheat, oats and malt.
However, Alton was a prescriptive borough whereby it was not granted a charter and had existed as a borough ‘from time immemorial’ – meaning before the death of Henry II in 1189. A weekly market was held each Monday and annual fair was held on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross [September 14th]. The fair was worth 12d a year in market tolls to the lord of the manor. Markets offered an opportunity to sell grain, meat, leather and other crafts, and any other surplus stock. Selling this surplus stock brought in coin which meant that obligatory services to the manor could be replaced with a monetary payment by those who were commercially successful at Alton. This then offered more time and freedom for those who wished to pursue some form of commercial craft or trade. However, there is no obvious area for the market place. Alton’s failure as a borough can be attributed to similar reasons as Newborough, as well as being isolated, poor communications, too near to the developing towns of Cheadle, Uttoxeter and Leek, and abandonment by the Furnival family in the 14th century.
A law suit of 1283 reveals the opportunity of mobility of the burgesses of Alton at that time. During the middle of the 13th century the English barony were building castles in Ireland and insisted on populating them, as much as practically possible, with people from England. On August 13th 1283 Thomas Wade arrived in Carnarvon in Wales claiming to be a burgess of Catherlagh in central Ireland and felt it necessary to prove his ethnicity. He paid a Chancery Court clerk to send a writ to the sheriff of Stafford asking him to prove that Wade was not ‘a mere Irishman’ but originated from Alton. The sheriff’s reply, dated September 14th, stated that Wade ‘was born in Alton and was the son of Walter, son of Mary, burgess of that town and had several brothers and sisters, a merchant and went to Ireland and stayed there with all his merchandise. Some of his brothers and sisters went to him and stayed there. He never had any Irishry in his family but was pure English, and he and all his are pure English.’
However, the majority of people did not venture far beyond the limits of Alton. Travel during this period was hazardous, especially long journeys when being robbed or even murdered was a reality. Also, particularly at the beginning of the 14th century, most tenants were still ‘unfree’ and tied to the Lord of the Manor, not being allowed to leave their land without his permission. When people did travel it was mainly for business, such as to the local markets of Cheadle, Uttoxeter or Leek. This provided an opportunity for the exchange and sale of surplus goods. If a tenant had to pay a tax or a fine, either to the Lord of the Manor or the Church, selling at market was one of the ways of generating cash.
It was through travel that the inhabitants of Alton gained an awareness of what was happening in the wider world. At market travellers would have brought news of events elsewhere, as would the priest from the pulpit and proclamations from the market place. Those in the quiet backwater of Alton would not have been ignorant of who the King was, the outcome of wars, and disasters elsewhere.
Theobald, the third son of John de Verdun and first Baron Verdun, was born in or about 1248. He inherited the de Verdun estates on the death of his father in 1274. Theobald was the third son of John de Verdun, but his two elder brothers, Nicholas and John, had both been killed in Ireland in 1271. This did not deter Theobald from expanding the estates in Ireland and he had been constable of the country in 1274. It also appears likely that he was involved in the second Welsh war of 1282. He married Matilda de Bohun and had at least five children.In 1290 he was arraigned for high treason and sentenced to imprisonment and to forfeit all his royalties at Ewyas-Lacy, but the king took into consideration the service his ancestors had done for the Crown and ‘freed him from his imprisonment for five hundred marks fine.’
An assize roll of 1299 records some of the powers claimed by Theobald de Verdun as lord of the manor of Alton. These included the powers of ‘infangenthef, gallows, market, fair, warren, and wayf.’ These archaic terms refer respectively to the powers of thief-taking, the hanging of felons, hunting, and the appropriation of stay cattle. Theobald claimed that his family had held these rights from time immemorial, when challenged by the King’s officers. In the same assize roll, Theobald was accused of ‘taking travers from those driving wagons and carts…[within his manor] viz from every wagon [?] and from every cart 1d.’ Theobald was declared innocent of imposing these forms of taxation on those using the roads and lanes of Alton.
In 1300 Theobald was charged at Dublin with the imprisonment of John le Fysshere, and Hawisa, the wife of Geoffrey Cavekin, ‘and for taking for himself right of prison against the king, and detaining them in prison and iron from the beginning of Lent until now.’ Theobald answered that John was his chamberlain, and Hawisa his maid, and that when a stone of red carbuncle set in a ring and valued at one thousand marks was stolen, John was accused of the crime on the oath of his fellow servants, and Hawisa charged with assent. Theobald argued that he had then detained them in chains to recover the stone, and not to appropriate the position of the king. Theobald’s fondness for jewels is also attested elsewhere. In 1292, William de Tyttcleye was summoned to answer a plea of Theobald’s that he had unjustly detained a ruby set in gold, worth 100s. Equally, in the will that he made at Alton in 1295, Theobald left his sons, in total, one gold ring set with a ruby, one gold ring set with a diamond, a golden cross with a diamond, five gold rings set with sapphires, and ‘other precious stones.’
Theobald died in 1309, aged about sixty-one, at home at Alton castle. He had requested to be buried at his grandmother's foundation of Grace Dieu in Leicestershire, according to the terms of this will, which had been drawn up in 1295. However, the Croxden chronicler records: that ‘Lord Theobald de Verdun, our patron, departed to the Lord on Sunday the feast of St Bartholomew the apostle at Alton. He was laid with his fathers at Croxden with great honour on 12th October.’ This statement suggests the tradition of the de Verdun family being buried at Croxden which reached back to the foundation of the abbey by Bertram de Verdun in 1176. The chronicler continued: ‘Of him the saying of the wise men (Ecclesiastes 2) may fitly be said, ‘He died and is as if not dead. For he left after him one like him in name and in reality.’ And further, it can truly be said what follows there, ‘he left there a defender of the house against enemies and one giving grace to friends’”
Theobald II inherited the de Verdun estates on the death of is father in 1309. On July 29th 1302 he married Matilda daughter of Lord Edmund Mortimer at Wigmore. The Croxden chronicler recorded that in 1303, ‘on II August which was then a Tuesday, Matilda de Verdun gave birth to her firstborn daughter named Joan.’ In the eight following years, Matilda gave birth to another two or three daughters, as well as to two sons, John and William. These two sons were both to die before their father without heirs. Matilda herself was also to die young, and the report in the Croxden chronicle suggests that this was related to the birth of her last daughter in 1312. ‘On St Lawrence’s Day (10 August) Matilda de Verdun, lady of Alton, there gave birth [at Alton] to her fourth daughter, named Margery, and on the day of St Lambert the bishop next following, namely 18 September, she departed this life at the castle of Alton.’ Her burial took place ‘on the day of the blessed martyr Denis and his companions she was committed honourably to ecclesiastical sepulture in the conventual church of Croxden before the altar of St Benedict by Bishop Gilbert Enagdzinensum, Thomas earl of Lancaster and all the nobility of the land being present.’
The Croxden chronicle records that: ‘Theobald son and heir of Theobald de Verdun returned to England from Ireland and was made a knight... by King Edward on the day of St John the Baptist.’ (24 June). The Chronicler also records that Theodore married a second time to the king’s granddaughter (and widow of John de Burgh, the earl of Ulster's son) on February 4th 1316: ‘Lord Theobald de Verdun, patron of this house, married Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and of Lady Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward, at Bristol. This was no whirlwind affair as Theobald later claimed that Elizabeth had agreed to marry him twelve months earlier. Elizabeth was in the king's wardship at the time and was resident at Bristol castle. The king, however, appeared annoyed at losing a ward for whom he had other plans, and angry about what he saw as contempt for marrying without his licence, accusing Theobald of entering Bristol castle with force and arms and abducting Elizabeth. According to Theobald’s version of events, Elizabeth ‘came one league from the said castle on his orders, and there he married her; he added that he did not enter the castle and he did not believe that he had done anything in contempt of the king.’
Theobald died just five months later on July 27th 1316 ‘which was a Tuesday, at early dawn, Lord Theobald de Verdun, patron of this house, departed from this light at the castle of Alton.’ He was buried at the abbey by the abbot ‘on September 19th, namely the day of St Sequan the abbot.’ Following his funeral, the hospitality of the abbey was extended to his widow, Elizabeth, who remained at Croxden abbey for several weeks. Elizabeth was actually pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, and eventually gave birth to a fourth daughter thereby ending the male de Verdun line. ‘Lady Elizabeth widow of Lord Theobald de Verdun bore him a daughter named Isabella at Malmesbury on St Benedict’s Day. And so four sisters are joint heirs to the barony of de Verdun. The son of Lord William de Montague married Joan, the eldest of them. He died shortly afterwards, and Lord Thomas de Fournivall (sic) married her on Saturday the feast of St Matthias the apostle.’
On the death of Theobald his estates were divided into three parts. One third passed to his widow Elizabeth, while the other two-thirds reverted to the king to be administered by the king’s nominee until their eldest daughter Joan, then aged thirteen, should either marry or reach her majority. The Inquisition Post Mortem of Theobald commented that ‘This said castle is worth nothing beyond reprises, because it is ruinous. There are 200 acres of land worth yearly in all issues 66s 8d, each acre worth 4d.’ The final partition of the de Verdun lands amongst the sisters, however, had to wait sixteen years until Isabel came of age.
Nine months after the death of her father Joan married John, the eldest son of William, Lord Montague, at the Royal Chapel at Windsor in April 1317. Shortly afterwards her sister Elizabeth married Roger Dammory, a favourite of Edward II and who had been the nominated by the king with the administration of Alton castle while Theobald’s daughters were still in their minority. Both marriages had the influence and approval of the king and were based upon political alliances as Theobald’s loyalty to the Crown had always been questionable since his marriage to Elizabeth de Burgh. Joan’s marriage only lasted four months as John Montague died in August 1317. Again the castle reverted to the administration of the king’s nominee Roger Dammory.
In an attempt to prevent Dammory from exploiting his position, Thomas Barynton of Creighton, near Crakemarsh, a friend of the de Verdun family, had taken occupation of the castle with the approval of the Earl of Lancaster who was in rebellion against Edward II. Barynton and his men were described as ‘certain eveil-doers and disturbers of the peace [who] had entered the castle and detained the same from the King with goods, armour and victuals found there.’ The sheriff of Stafford, Roger Tromwyne, was ordered by the king to go to Alton in person with a body of armed men and to order the illegal occupation to cease and to hand the castle over to Tromwyne. When Tromwyne arrived at the castle they found ‘the gates closed and the drawbridge drawn and raised, and saw on the towers and the walls of the castle armed men walking about.’ One of the defenders, Ralph Lychtred, explained that Barynton was away and that he was not prepared to surrender the castle in his master’s absence, although Lychtred did accept the note from Tromwyne and promised to deliver it to Barynton on his return.
4) Furnival Ownership
In April 1318, Joan was married a second time to Thomas Furnival, son and heir of Thomas de Furnival of Sheffield Castle. Orders went out for Furnival to be given custody of Alton on 7 September 1318. Furnival’s loyalty to Edward II in this troubled region was assured by his being granted two thirds of Theobald II’s estates in both England and Ireland as his wife's purparty, or her share of the estate. Naturally complaints were made by Bartholomew de Burghersh, William Blount and their wives Elizabeth and Margery (the second and third daughters of Theobald II respectively) in 1320, not only Furnival’s custody of two thirds of the inheritance but also the extent of Alton taken in 1316 which, it was claimed, had been badly made. It was not until seven years later, possibly because Edward II still wanted the support of Furnival, that his successor Edward III ordered a new inquisition on 3 May 1327.
The full extent of their Staffordshire holdings listed in the new inquisition included: ‘Alveton manor including the castle, and two water-mills under one roof, out of which mills ought to be paid of ancient alms 40s yearly to the abbot of Crokesdene, a fishery, rent with an oven and toll worth ₤10, and there are foreign rents due from the lords of Careswelle and Ipstane 10s each, out of which are due 5s to the lord of Maddeleye, and rents out of Rouwenhale, Onenecote, Neubold, Heyme, Steubolde, Coneshale, Kynkesleye, and from the grange of Caldon, with the following members:
Balterdeleye: A messuage, land, rents, &c.
Bedulf: 21s 8d rent of assize.
Bredleye: 40s rent and 10d works.
Buckenhale: A water-mill, rents, and 13s 4d every third year for a custom called Stuthe.
Coten: 50s rent of assize and a mill.
Denston: An acre of meadow, and 24s 1d rent.
Farleye: 118s rent and the pastures of Wrebedon and Okwallemor.
Fenton Culvert: ₤7 17s 4d rent and 13s 4d every third year for a custom called Stuthe.
Rammesouere: 6s 8d rent, &c., and 13s 4d. rent from the prior of Calewych for licence to have common of pasture in the common pasture.
Scene: 18s 4 1/2d rent of assize.
Sponne: 50s 8d rent of assize.
Stanton: A messuage, lands, rents, &c., including the pasture of Toraldeswode.
Strongeshulle: 39s 7½d rent, and the tenants give to the lord of Alveton two quarters of wheat of the price of 4s for the release of suit of his mill.
Wutton: A messuage, land, &c., a water-mill, a park, 14s rent of assize, and ₤4 16d rent at Rommesouere, a member thereof.
Wytston: 36s 8d rent of assize.’
The mills were reputedly the most valuable in Staffordshire and also had two fishponds worth half a mark annually. In 1339 the rent of the mills was paid largely in oats and oat malt. Estates outside of Staffordshire included Ewyas Lacy and Webbelie (Herefordshire), Hethe (Oxfordshire), Lodelawe and Stoke on Tyrne (Salop).
Alton and its members
Manor and castle of Alton and the manors of Farley, Stanton, Bradley, Denstone, Sheen, Sponne, Overcote, Nethercote, Whiston, Lyesenne, and Stramshall
Manor of Bucknall and a rent from Fenton Culvert
Manors of Balterley, Bidulf, Ramsor and a rent from Fenton Culvert
Manor of Wootton and a rent from Fenton Culvert
Manor and castle
Manor and castle
Stoke on Tern
Value in 1332
₤95 19s 1½d
₤95 13s 2d
₤95 18s 17½d
₤99 11s 6d
Lordship in Oriel
Manor and castle of Castleroche, manor of the Newtown of Dundalk and rents
104 acres in demesne, fishtraps, rents and a toll
Manor and castle of the Castletown of Dundalk, rents and half a mark of service when levied
Manor of Haggardstown and 64 acres in demesne, pleas, rents and a toll
Lordship of Duleek
4 carucates and 68 acres in demesne, rents and services when levied
2 carucates and 252½ acres in demesne, burgage rents, rents and services when levied
3½ carucates and 146 acres in demesne, rents and services when levied
3½ carucates and 54 acres in demesne, rents and services when levied
Lordship of Lough Sewdy
6 carucates at Incheleffer, pleas, tolls, rents and services when levied
8 carucates at Athleague, burgage rents, pleas, tolls, rents and services when levied
8 carucates at Moydow, pleas, tolls, rents and services when levied
8 carucates at Incheleffer, 8 carucates at Moydow, burgage rents, pleas, tolls, rents and services when levied
Value in 1332
₤50 5s 2½d
₤53 19s 1d
₤48 1s 10¾d
₤56 0s 6¼d
₤146 4s 4d
₤149 12s 3d
₤144 0s 6½d
₤155 12s 1/4 d
Table showing the results of the partition of de Verdun lands in 1332 (Hagger, ibid, p122).
Although the abbey and the de Verdun family appear to have had a largely harmonious relationship this changed when the patronage passed to Thomas Furnival. This may have been due to Thomas regarding the abbey as being his wife’s family monastery rather than his own. By 1319 the relationship had deteriorated to the point of conflict when Thomas visited the abbey and discovered only thirty monks rather than fifty. He began instituting a number of duties including the daily distribution of alms at the gate (a normal monastic duty), ‘the maintenance of horses and hunting dogs at his pleasure and the receiving at table in a special room, of seven of his bailiffs from Alton every sixth weekday [Friday] throughout the year.’ Due to the reluctance of the monks to comply with his wishes Thomas began imposing fines which they perceived as unjustified. In addition, Furnival also abducted the monks’ livestock and disrupted their agriculture: ‘He took their cart near his wood of Greet [Great Gate] and kept it at Alton for three weeks until it was released by king’s writ. He imparked 160 sheep of both sexes from Mosdene at Wotton and kept them locked up in the park there for seven weeks, so that neither the sheriff nor another bailiff could have view of them. He likewise took twenty oxen and thirty-two horses in ploughs near the grange and Lees and detained them in the same way in that park, so that people could neither plough nor sow in these places, and no-one dares to ride freely through the gates of the abbey over the fee of Alton.’
The reaction of the monks to this sustained harassment manifested when they ‘made two hedges of thorns in [the abbey] gates so that no-one could pass in or out from the time of the Annunciation of the Lord until the feast of the translation of St Benedict, that is for sixteen weeks. But they made for themselves a little postern gate in the wall on the south side and there they went out secretly.’
The following year, 1320, relations between patron and abbey appear to have improved, for Thomas and Joan took their daughter Margaret to be baptised at Croxden. Margaret received baptism by the abbot himself, in the presence of other important ecclesiastical figures, hinting at the importance of the event. During the ceremony ‘the abbot of Croxden baptised her and the abbot of Rocester lifted her from the font.’ The following year ‘on the day of St Alban the Martyr, the chronicler records the birth of their son, Thomas, at Alton. In 1326 ‘William, their second son, was born on 23rd August at Alton Castle’ and seventeen months later, on January 6th 1328 the chronicler records the birth of a further son, Nicholas.
The Staffordshire Lay Subsidy Roll of 1332, being an attempt by Edward III to raise money to finance a war against Scotland, provides a list of names of those resident in Alton and their wealth:
A similar subsidy taken five years earlier containing just fourteen names, all but one who appear in the above list, suggests a fairly stable community.
Thomas Furnival, ‘Lord of Sheffield and Worksop and their appurtances’, died in 1332 and was succeeded by his son Thomas. His wife, Joan Furnival (nee de Verdun), died on October 2nd, 1334, when she ‘was taken by untimely death in childbirth; for on the day she died she was only thirty years and almost two months’ and was ‘buried near her ancestors between Lord Nicholas de Verdun, son of the founder, and her ancestor and Lord John de Verdun, her great-grandfather’. She was the last of the de Verduns to be interred at Alton and ‘was buried before the high altar of the abbey church by the abbot, assisted by the Abbots of Burton, Dieulacres, Hulton, Combermere, and Beauchief and the Priors of Worksop and Ecclesfield.’ With the shift to the Furnival family came also a relocation of the family to their Sheffield and Worksop estates, with Alton being relegated to simply another of their lesser estates. When Joan’s widower Thomas died in 1340 he was buried at Beauchief Abbey by the Abbot of Croxden.
In 1403 the monks at Croxden endowed the vicarage at Alton, and built a house for the vicar. This may be connected with the fact that two years later the abbey was granted permission to appoint its own monks as vicars. The chancel of the church was rebuilt during the early years of the 16th century by John Hipton, the 24th abbot of Croxden. This would have coincided with the Reformation. Until this point the majority of the interiors of churches, large and small, were emblazoned with colourful images of religious scenes covering the walls. The newly-established Puritans, considering this as a remnant of the old Catholic religion, obliterated these, usually by covering them with several layers of whitewash. The removal of plaster from the north wall of the nave in 1935 revealed traces of two medieval paintings. Both are fragmentary and appear to have been painted over an earlier image. The most prominent of the two is a text taken from the Book of Ezra 7:27. There are also four coats of arms painted on the pillars of the arcade dating from the 14th century, so badly faded now, that only that of St Chad is identifiable. Another example of St Chad’s crest is also found on the font, along with the lion rampant crest of the Talbot family.
Agriculture dominated the lives of most and there is still evidence of medieval field systems stretching from Saltersford Lane to Wheel Lane as well as on both sides of the Denstone road. Here can be seen the faint remains of medieval ridge and furrow patterns left by the method of ploughing that existed until the 17th century where the original open communal fields survived. The movement of soil year after year eventually built the centre of the strip up into a ridge and leaving a furrow between each ridge. These furrows often marked the boundary between strips and have been preserved as these fields became grassland or pasture rather than being eradicated by later and more advanced ploughing methods.
In addition to arable farming was the keeping of cattle which grazed on common land, swine that were allowed to forage in woodland, and meadows for haymaking. Another common sight would have been beehives throughout the settlement as honey was the only sweetening agent.
However, not all inhabitants were engaged in agriculture and other occupations included stonemasons and carpenters required to keep the castle in good repair, wheelwrights, coopers, carters, woodcutters and charcoal burners. Women were usually engaged in spinning, weaving, sewing, cheese-making, milking and feeding livestock, but would also provide labour for the harvest during August and September.
A tannery existed at Town Head which was still operating in 1817. This would have been a source of extra revenue for the community as leather was essential for shoes and gloves, as well as saddles and harnesses. Tanneries were usually located at the edge, or away from settlements, due to the unpleasant fumes produced in the processing of hides. This involved immersing the hides in large tanning pits containing a solution of lime or urine before being rewashed in either warm dung or bird droppings and finally treated in a solution made with barley or rye and stale beer, or urine, before the actual process of tanning could begin.
Due to the deposits of both ironstone and limestone in the Churnet valley, together with an abundant supply of wood for the fire and the river to power bellows and hammers, it would not be unlikely that some form of iron industry existed, possibly on the site where the smelting mills in the 19th century stood near to Lord’s Bridge. Similarly, south west of Gallows Green is an area known as The Spon. This archaic name derives from the oak used for shingles or wooden roofing tiles during the medieval period.
5) Talbot Ownership and Absenteeism
The Alton estates passed from the Furnival to the Talbot family through the marriage of Maud, daughter of Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival, and his first wife Joan. Maud held extensive estates around Sheffield and also the Barony of Verdon which included the Alton estate. She married Lord John Talbot who was later created the first earl of Shewsbury in 1407. The Talbots were one of the largest landowning families in England and lived at various estates they possessed. However, they would largely ignore Alton and it would be over 400 years before a member of the family took up residency again.
Between the dissolution of Croxden in 1538 and before 1708 the mill became the property of the earls of Shrewsbury. In 1539 the mill, along with other land including the rectory of Cotton, was leased to Francis Basset, while the remainder of the estate was eventually sold to Godfrey Foltjambe in 1545. In 1566 the mill, then in possession of the sixth earl, was leased for a term of twenty-one years to Henry Whiston and William Woodward.
By 1532 there were thirty-nine households in Alton and using a multiplier of 4.5 for these produces an estimated population of 176. The wills that survive for those from Alton during the 16th and 17th centuries help to reveal a picture of daily life within the settlement. Where corresponding probate inventories survive the majority of testators chose to dictate their wishes to a scribe when illness struck rather than as any long-sighted precautionary measure. Wills were used to express the wishes of the testator and nominating executors to see that their wishes were complied with. Their responsibilities also included collecting any money that was owing to the testator, and paying legacies and debts. In order to generate finances an inventory was drawn up of the testator’s possessions, often including his or her debts and credits. These were compiled by appraisers, who were often neighbours or relatives, one of whom would have had sufficient knowledge of the testator’s trade to accurately value his belongings.
It must be remembered that inventories were simply lists of what a person had at the time of death. Those elderly may have been living with children or other family members and therefore may have owned relatively little, falsely suggesting a lack of wealth. Although these documents are no more than a minimum statement of a person’s wealth at the end of their life they are still one of the best sources for examining social history at a domestic level. With these we can, to a certain degree, travel back into their world and into their homes.
The social classes tended to mix with those of similar status, as can be seen where debitors and creditors are mentioned, some of who were spread over a wide geographical area including Abbots Bromley, Gratwich, Hixon, Stanton and Yoxall. Agriculture was the staple form of employment but specific occupations stated by testators include blacksmiths, a nail maker, weavers, a tailor, tanners, a carpenter and a cooper. Those engaged in agriculture appear to have practiced mixed farming, keeping livestock (oxen, cows, sheep and pigs) along with crops, the most numerous of which was corn.
Clothing appears to have been thought of as a prized possession by both male and female testators. Doublets, jerkin breeches, waistcoats, stockings and shoes were all popular items of male clothing. The most numerous items of female attire were gowns, petticoats, kerchiefs and hats. Richard Morres in 1576 bequeathed to his servant Thomas Morres ‘my best cote’, to his brother Robert ‘my second pere of hose and russet jacket and a high pere of shoes’, to William Hallams ‘my puke dublet’, to John Cope ‘my medley jerkin’, to his son Thomas ‘my chamlettedublet’, to William Woodward his brother-in-law ‘my best hose’, and to William Tylle ‘my best shirte.’ Elizabeth Burton in 1565 left her ‘second gowne and best coyfe’ to her daughters Anne and Phels, to Margaret Burton her ‘best gowne and best hat’, to Jane Wynterton ‘a whyte petycote’, and to her granddaughter her ‘worst peticote.’ Male testators would also bequeath clothing that had belonged to their wives who had predeceased them such as Robert Holme of Peakstones who, in 1571, left to his daughter Ellen ‘my wyves best frocke.’ Occasionally wills revealed family discontent. The will of Elizabeth Wooley in 1567 left a gown to his son’s wife and a kerchief, or cloth for covering the head, to his daughter ‘& yf any of them be not c[on]tent than they fynd any faults shall have nothing but my blessyng whech they had need of.’
Furniture was almost always recorded in inventories, the most popular form of seating being chairs, followed by stools and forms, the latter usually flanking long tables. Two of the inventories neglected to mention any form of seating, although both of these contained coffers which were also used as seats, with additional comfort provided by cushions. Cupboards were a common form of furniture. These were usually side tables, often with a series of shelves for displaying silver, pewter or earthenware. Less common were the two individuals with presses in which clothes or household linens were stored. The most popular item for storage were coffers, followed by chests and boxes, both used for storing clothes and linen.
Although most people possessed items of brass and pewter, iron was by far the most common metal of household utensils, largely due to the implements associated with the fire and cooking. The most common were pot-hooks and pot-racks, fire shovels, tongs, backstones, spits and grates. Other utensils included pots, kettles, dripping pans, jacks, toasting irons, frying pans, creepers, andirons, slices, brunderts and cobberts. Wooden household objects appear to have been used for brewing, dairying and storage, along with washing and salting.
These items throw light upon the cooking practices of the period. Meat was roasted on a spit in the fireplace. Pot-hooks hung from the chimney for suspending pots over the fire for boiling, an alternative method being pot-racks. Baking was accomplished on a large flat stone or iron plate commonly called a backstone, an alternative method being in bread ovens built into the chimney. However, because bread ovens were regarded as a fixture they went unrecorded.
The inventory of Ralph Woolley, who died in 1681, provides a picture of the household of an affluent gentleman in Alton during this time:
An Inventory of all the goods, Chattells and Cattel of Mr Ralph Woolley of Alverton Deceased was thus taken and Apraized the 4th day of March 1680/1 by us whose names are heare under subscribed.
Ffore purse appareoll and Bookes 05-00-00
Due unto Him upon Bond ffrom Mrs Mary Browne of
Woodford three hundred and forty pound 340-00-00
Due to him upon bond from Mr Charles Barnsley of
Hungry Bentley & Mr Isaack Hawkins of Burton upon Trent
fifty pounds 50-00-00
Due to him ffrom Richard Taylor and Thomas his son
Both of Walton upon Trent the summe of fifty pounds upon
lands securytie 50-00-00
Due to him ffrom ffrances Dent of Roster and James
Bamford of yr wottens upon bonds 10-00-00
Due to him from Jsuah Allin for money Disbursed for the
pofeffion of the house 30-00-00
and lands there unto belonging and money lent unto the said
In the parlour eight red lether chayres and one red
lether stoole all at 28s 01-08-00
Two seiled chairs at 6s 00-06-00
Six greene cushions at 3s
Two tables at 20s 01-00-00
One turned up table at 6s 00-06-00
One Grate Creeper to it 6s 8d (fire dogs) 00-06-00
Tree Grene Carpets at 8s
In the Chamber over the parlour one sceild bed with green vallens
and curtaines and a greene rag a quilt straw mat & cord all at 30s
One trundle bed with a fether Bed and chaf beds a fether bolster
a chaf bolster and greene covering and foure blankets where of
one is red 30s 01-10-00
One larg chest at 10s 00-10-00
One lesser of carved work at 6s 00-06-00
One cubbord with dores at 4s 00-04-00
One three sqaure band box at 12d 00-01-00
One fseild chayrea at 7s 6d 00-07-06
One close stoole and pan 6s 00-06-00
Table linin sheetes and other linins to be devided
between his two daughters 03-00-00
In the chamber over the kitchin one halfe hedded bed
one fflock bed and fether bolster two blankets and cover lid all
at 20s 01-00-00
In the chamber over the lower parlour one bed with red
furniture and one with Green furniture and all bedding
belonging unto them both at 6s 06-00-00
One fseiled chest at 6s 00-06-00
One table at 5s 00-05-00
One payre of garden sheares 00-01-00
One old trunk 12d 00-01-00
In the chamber over the howes one sceiled Bed steeds
one fether bed and bolster two pillowes 2 mats & cord
and foure blankets all at 02-00-00
Three old bed hillings all cover lids 10s 00-10-00
One twiggen chaire at 5s (rush works) 00-05-00
One little table 12d 00-01-00
One little cubbord at 3s 4d 00-03-04
In the celler one table leafe with twoo treseles that
belong toit at 4s 00-04-00
Pewter of All sorts 30s 01-10-00
Two brass pots 10s 00-10-00
One Bakeing iron als Baxstone 00-10-00
Back spr[illeg.]tle and a slice all at 10s 00-10-00
Three spits 3s 1 frying pan 18d 00-04-06
One iron driping pan one tinn bath at 00-05-00
Grate creepers pot hook of pot Rack ffire shovell and tongs all at00-06-08
One iron Hatchet Brom hooke and other Husbandry Implement 00-06-08
Three chayres three stooles one forme 1 payre of Bellowes 00-03-04
One screene with silk cloth upon it, at 00-04-00
One dresser in the kitchin at 5 shillings 00-05-00
Two fformes one chayre in Josuah house 00-05-00
Three Kine at 11₤ all 11-00-00
One cow at William Alkins at 3₤ 10s 03-10-00
One mayre at 5₤ 5s 05-05-00
Ffor hay in the Barn 40s 02-00-00
One payre of old wheles & a pack saddle 01-00-00
At the vicaridg in the houfe one table with two formes
belonging to it one sheet over the table all at 00-13-00
One lettle cubboard one dresser 00-02-00
ffoure joyce in the chamber 00-02-00
ffive inward Doores at 10s 00-10-00
ffore coppery ware of all sorts 30s 01-10-00
Burslem ware of all sorts 5s 00-05-00
House Howsehold provition 30s 01-10-00
The Bucket Chayne and rope at ye well 00-01-06
ffor a wayne rope 2s 41-15-10
The sum on the back of this leafe 499-15-02
Ralph was at the upper end of the social scale in Alton. The majority of the inhabitants lived a much more meager lifestyle as can be seen from the inventory of William Burton in 1622 and which typifies one of the yeoman farmers during the period:
Imprimis three oxen vii₤, six kyne xiiii₤, ten young beasts viii₤, all xxix₤
It. One mare and colt xls
It. 27 sheep xix₤ xs
It. Store swyne xs
It. Pewter and Brasse xs
It. Wooden ware xxs
It. yron ware iiis iiiid
It. waynes harrows plows yoakes and all husbandry gear xxs
It Bedding linnen wollen and all napery ware xxvis viiid
It. 30 stryks of oats and other houshould privion xlvs
It. his apparell & money vi₤ xiiis iiiid
During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned for Parliament. Despite nearby Uttoxeter being heavily garrisoned by the Kings’ forces Alton appeared largely ignored during the hostilities. The estate was then in possession of Philip Herbert, the fourth earl of Pembroke. This was because Catherine Talbot, the eldest daughter of George Talbot the sixth earl of Shrewsbury, had married William Herbert, second earl of Pembroke. Henry, their first son, became third earl of Pembroke, and at his death the title passed to his brother Philip, who was a Parliamentarian. Two and half miles away Wootton Lodge was garrisoned for the King by Sir Richard Fleetwood in a county that was otherwise largely neutral.
There are surprisingly few mentions of Alton during the Civil War and they only occur between February 1644 and April 1645. The majority of these deal with disputes over payment for the garrison and the theft of nearby cattle from the surrounding area. On February 24th 1644 ‘the Earl of Pembroke whereas we are informed that there hath been here and yet is very great spoyle in the springs and woods of the Rt. Hon. Earl of Pembroke within the manor of Alverton.’ On February 15th 1645 George Lea, a Recusant, was detained as a prisoner at the castle, so that ‘he cannot come to us as he alledgeth to make his composition.’ By this time Thomas Salt was Governor of the castle, and the War Committee at Stafford again requested that Lea should be sent to them so that ‘we may deal with him according to the orders and directions of Parliament.’
The castle was likely to have been destroyed towards the end of the Civil War or shortly afterwards. In July 1659 a report concerning the late overseer of the poor of Alton, John Twigg, stated that he had held excess funds that he had promised to give to a Mr Brett at Cheadle for the churchwardens and overseers of the poor to build a habitation ‘within the ruins of Alton castle’ for a poor man named John Hall.’ The overseers also dealt with unmarried mothers. A settlement order was issued to the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of Alton on 23rd February 1655 to provide for Jane Jackson who was ‘with child’ and having been a servant of John Twigg. A note dated 3rd March 1655 attached to the original order suggests that the original order should be disregarded as the responsibility for Jane Jackson lay within the parish of Ellaston.
The Hearth Tax assessment of 1666 shows that the settlement had a total of 44 households assessed as being liable for the payment of the tax. This had been introduced by Central Government four years earlier, the rationale being that hearths were fixed and easily identifiable, unlike individuals who could evade the assessors. Its unpopularity suggested its efficiency and in less than thirty years it was abolished. This provides an indication of the size, population and wealth of the village at that time. Using a multiplier of 4.5 suggests a total population in Alton of 198. However, a number of householders were considered to be too poor to pay the tax, and it is not possible to distinguish these households from the list of exemptions which also includes neighbouring settlements. Those exempt did not mean that they did not possess a hearth, being households that were free from the payment of church rates, either because they occupied property worth less than 20s. annually or as owners of premises worth less than £10. Those included in the tax possessed only one hearth suggesting that this was not a particularly wealthy community. However, it should be noted that the possession of only one hearth does not indicate the number of rooms in a property as some would have been unheated. Farley, by comparison, had 32 household and using the same principle produces a total population of 144, but again, excluding those deemed to poor to pay.
No dwellings from this period survive although the remains of a 16th century cruck-framed building with the remains of wattle and daub walling and a thatched roof is concealed behind the 18th century façade of number 28-29 Horse Road. The earliest surviving buildings in the High Street date from the 17th or early 18th centuries and are identifiable through one or more stone mullioned windows. These include 9 and 11 High Street (formerly one property now divided into two) and The White Hart Inn and The Bulls Head (both originally built as houses but operating as inns by the early 19th century). Rock Cottage on Malthouse Road, a modest one-and-half storey stone building from the 17th century, represents a major step up from the inconvenience of the earlier cruck-framed houses. Red Lion Cottage on Smithy Bank dates back to 1657 and is a typical two-bay 17th century yeoman farmhouse, retaining blocked mullioned windows on its gable. Number 22-23 Town Head has lost most of its mullions but retains a length of dripmould that is equally characteristic of 17th century architecture. Some of these properties also suggest an ongoing process of sub-division that continued throughout the 19th century.
The larger buildings in Alton date from the 18th or early 19th centuries, and include the Old Coffee Tavern on Smithy Lane and the Malthouse in Malthouse Lane. This is an extensive structure with a granary adjacent to the house. The main working areas are the cavernous brick and stone vaults dating from the 17th century below ground level and built into a former quarry. These include stone steeping tanks fed by chutes from the granary above, a furnace or malt kiln, and large areas to lay out and store the grain. The Malt House was still operating during the early 1880s.
The first mention of a school at Alton was in the will of Anthony Wall in 1682. He bequeathed a barn to his second wife Anne ‘to the use and benefit of a school to teach and bring up children of the poorer sort within the parish.’ The school opened in Moot Hall on the edge of the churchyard for twelve children to ‘read and write and cast accounts.’ This existed until The National School (later St Peter’s) at Town Head opened in 1847. This building was also where the manor court met.
Moot Hall, or rather its successor Moot House built in 1849, was also used as the police station. The distinctive looking lock-up at the top of Knights Lane had been built in 1819. The Quarter Sessions held at Stafford record various petty crimes that occurred between the 18th and early 19th centuries including:
1736 January 3rd: an order was issued to the constables and headboroughs of Alton constablewick to apprehend and bring to session wheelmaker Henry Milward of Cotton who had threatened an attorney and two bailiffs.
1772 April: Ann Beardmore of Alton was charged with the theft of an iron chisel belonging to George Gilbert.
1787 January: Francis Hollingsworth and George Harrison, both labourers of Alton, were charged with the theft of four live geese.
1791 May: Thomas Holmes, a farmer from Checkley, and John Holmes, a farmer from Rocester, along with Joseph Ball a labourer from Checkley and John Oaken a labourer from Rocester, were charged with forecable entry and detaining and removing Hannah Holmes a widow of Paradise Farm at Alton which she rightly occupied.
1792 July: John Elks, a labourer of Alton, was charged with the assault of Samuel Leese the constable of the parish of Alton.
1804 January: farmer Thomas Gould of nearby Rocester was accused of using a gun and a pointer dog to destroy game at Alton.
1817 January: Robert Harvey, a miller from Croxden, was accused of forcing his way through the Denstone Lane toll bar in Alton to evade payment.
1817 October: Stephen Byatt of Alton was accused of using a gate net for the destruction of game at Croxden.
1841 October 21st: Sixteen year old Samuel Jacobs was accused of assaulting Thomas Harvey at Alton by ‘discharging a pistol at him loaded with slugs, with intent to do him some grievous bodily harm, and stealing from his person and against his will, one knife and ten shillings in money.’ A judgment of death was recorded.
As well as petty crimes the Quarter Sessions also dealt with those who failed in their obligations particularly the upkeep of roads and bridges. In April 1655 the inhabitants of Alton, Denstone and Quixhill, were charged with the ‘nuisance’ of the bridge over the River Churnet at Salters Ford on the highway from Cheadle to Ashbourne being ‘dangerous and impassable.’ Six months later in October a writ was issued summoning the inhabitants to appear at court charged with failing to repair the bridge. In January 1693 the presentment of three surveyors of the highways stated that the road from Cheadle to Ashbourne is out of repair from Farley to the new buildings in the parish of Alton, and that the inhabitants of the parish of Alton should repair it. In July 1751 the inhabitants were charged with failure to repair and maintain a section of the highway from Newcastle to Ashbourne at Alton from Oakamoor Bridge at Farley to Ellaston Moor (1½ miles x 10 yards) ‘causing damage to carts and carriages and being a danger to both people and horses.’ In January 1772 the inhabitants of Alton were charged with the ‘nuisance’ of failing to maintain a section of the highway from Leek to Uttoxeter from a gate at Broad Ridding in Alton to Four Lanes End at Cambridge (2 miles and 6 yards) ‘causing damage to carts and carriages and being a danger to people and animals.’ The inhabitants were ordered to make reparation. Sometimes specific individuals were mentioned as was yeoman Thomas Smith of Alton in January 1756 who was charged with failing to maintain a 90-yard section of the Uttoxeter to Leek highway. In December 1775 an order was issued to the constable of Alton to distrain the goods of John Smith, Isaac Heath, Joseph Charlesworth and Richard Gould to the value of the fine they each refused to pay for neglecting their statute duty of the repair of the highway.
Occasionally petitions concerning the poor quality of housing were heard at the Quarter Sessions. In April 1660 Elizabeth Harrison of Denstone, ‘who has four small children, the youngest only two months, and is in great misery. Her habitation is unsafe and may fall upon their heads.’ Her petition is for the Justices of the Poor to award her 18d per week and a safe house to live in.
In 1708 the Duke of Shrewsbury leased the mill to Robert Bill for 99 years. Bill must have sub-let part of the mill because from 1734 to 1828 Thomas Patten and others were also operating there. Patten was manufacturing brass wire although a reference of 1742 also mentions ‘corn to be grinded’ at the mill. By 1834 the mill, by now a successor of the original medieval corn mill, was manufacturing colour and paint, and by 1841 had begun producing paper. The mill ceased operating during the late 1860s although the buildings still continued to be used as business premises for building contractors until finally being sold in the early 1930s.
By 1801 Alton parish had a total population of 1,633, of which 818 resided in the Alton township. Steady growth during the 19th century increased the total to 1,227 by 1901, although growth stablised during the 20th century with a total of 1,243 by 2001. During the 19th century this was exceptional growth for the Staffordshire Moorlands, second only to the silk town of Leek. By the second half of the 19th only two men owned farms (one of 200 acres and another of 35 acres), although twenty-five farm labourers lived in the settlement, which was still less than 20% of the workforce. Those employed in the building trades (stone masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, etc) counted for just over 20% although this figure was influenced by the earl of Shrewsbury’s building work not just at Alton but also Alton Towers and further away at Cheadle. In addition to these the mill offered a small number of papermaking and wire-making occupations, and there was still a blacksmith and a nail-maker. Most females were engaged in some form of domestic service such as housekeepers and servants although there was a small number of dressmakers and lace workers.
6) Talbot Ownership and Regeneration
After a period of just over four hundred years of largely being ignored, it was the fifteenth earl, Charles, who lived at Heythrop, Oxfordshire, that first took an interest in the Alton estate. He and his wife visited the estate occasionally, and being attracted to the countryside, and interested in landscape gardening, saw the possibilities of ornate gardens and parkland on the northern side of the Churnet Valley. In 1814 he moved from Heythrop to Alton, and took up residence in Alton Lodge. This was a double pile house (meaning one that is two rooms deep) of irregular shape built round a massive circular tower that may have had medieval origins. Two sets of service rooms had been added, one for the main house, and the other as quarters for the steward. The tower, the lodge, and the main service quarters survive as part of the present structure.
The earl employed a large number of both skilled and unskilled workmen and as well as transforming the grounds also began building work on a huge gothic mansion. Charles died at Alton in 1827 and it was the sixteenth earl, John, a cousin of Charles, who also decided to relocate from Heythrop and make the half-completed Alton his home. John continued completing the work began by his predecessor, which was then known then as Alton Abbey. He commissioned Catholic architect Augustus Pugin to give the project a gothic appearance.
Pugin was also commissioned to build a new castle in gothic style on the site of the original one on the opposite side of the Churnet Valley. The original castle had long been a ruin consisting ‘of two towers, the most perfect of which is overgrown with ivy, with a small vase in the centre; the other is partly fallen in. A covered archway, and fragments of the thick outer wall also remain.’ Most of what did remain of the original castle was demolished to make way for the new building.
Pugin’s new castle was L-shaped with wings running west and south from the chapel which stands at their junction. The chapel was begun in 1843 and built directly over the medieval crypt. The chapel is undivided from the hallway, the latter which rises through two storeys, with first floor galleries connecting the south and west wings. Towards the end of the castle’s construction the earl suggested that the building could be a home for priests although Pugin was ‘vehemently against the idea.’
There is a marked contrast between the wings. The south wing is grand in style and noble in proportions, containing large rooms with elaborate details including an oriel window in the largest first floor room, and large hooded fireplaces. Presumably this was built either for earl John’s cousin and heir, Bertram Talbot, or as a dower house for the earl’s wife should he predecease her. In contrast the west wing is plain, rising to three storeys with a row of dormer windows at the top, and appears almost institutional rather than residential. This floor may have been for the intention of housing retired priests and clergy.
Pugin’s original intention was ‘to demonstrate that Catholic art and Catholic charity could transform a village into something like the ideal community implied in his view of the medieval town of the mid-1400s.’ Work began in 1840 on a medieval hospital-cum-almshouse with lodgings for the poor as well as elderley priests, a school for poor children, and a church, arranged round three sides of a quadrangle. The north side comprised chapel, school, and warden’s lodging with its three-storey tower. Chapel and school doubled as parish church for the Catholics of Alton, the first warden being the earl’s chaplin. Originally the nave functioned as the schoolroom, and the chapel lay beyond the chancel arch where large iron hinge-pins carried doors that were shut when the school was in use. When open the whole building could be used as a parish church.
The east and south ranges, were intended for ‘poor brethren’ and retired catholic chaplains sharing a common dining room and library, with a single kitchen serving both communities. However, the popularity of the school intervened. The eastern range, intended for the ‘poor brethren’, eventually housed the Sisters of Mercy, while the southern range intended for the kitchen and service rooms and the guildhall became the upper school. The former schoolmaster’s house, a 17th century building outside the complex, became the Priest’s House and was remodeled and extended by Pugin around 1843. The church was dedicated to St John the Baptist and consecrated on July 5th 1930.
The sixteenth earl was also financially generous towards the construction of St Giles at Cheadle, St Mary’s at Uttoxeter and Mount St Bernard Abbey as well as other buildings further afield. Unfortunately the building on the site of the original castle was not completed before the sudden death of the earl in Naples in 1852. His body was buried in the church of St John the Baptist which he was responsible for.
Because the earl died childless the earldom passed as he had hoped to his cousin, Bertram, who was fond of both his uncle and Alton Abbey. Because Bertram also died childless the earldom again passed to a cousin. In his will the seventeenth earl left all the unentailed property to Lord Edmund Howard, the infant son of the Duke of Norfolk, who took the name of Talbot thereby causing a long and bitter lawsuit which saw the earldom pass to a senior member of a different branch of the Talbot family. This was Henry John Chetwynd, of Ingestre, who eventually became the eighteenth earl. However, the financial outlay of the peerage case cost him dearly and resulted in the sale of the contents of the Alton Abbey in 1867. It was his son Charles, the nineteenth earl, who first opened the grounds to the public towards the end of the 19th century. The Shrewsbury Hotel, later to become The Wild Duck, was built during the latter part of the 19th century probably in response to tourism to the Towers, on the site of a former quarry.
The Anglican church of St Peter was substantially rebuilt in 1830. This required raising the level of the floor in the nave three feet, and which can be seen quite clearly from the three steps which descend from the west end of the nave to the base of the tower. The alterations also included the removal of the box pews and double decker canopied pulpit, as well as a stone screen of three arches that separated the nave from the chancel. In 1860 the musicians gallery at the west end of the nave was removed, and ten years later the Vestry Committee ordered that smoking should no longer be allowed in the belfry. In 1883 the vestry was removed from the north side of the tower and a combined vestry and organ chamber built on the south side of the chancel. Before the organ was installed musical accompaniment was provided by the village orchestra. By modern-day standards the term ‘orchestra’ is perhaps an exaggeration. Any parishioner who possessed an ability, to a greater or lesser degree, was enrolled to play instruments that often included a bassoon, hautboy (oboe), flageolet (flute), clarinet, and any other wind instrument available, along with the fiddle and violoncello.
The rise of dissenting religions during the mid 19th century was also reflected at Alton. A Wesleyan chapel, built in 1856, is situated in the High Street opposite the gates of the St Peter’s Anglican church and continued to be used until 1959. The Primitive Methodists first began to meet in 1812 in Grove House on Smithy Bank until building a chapel at the top of New Road in 1826.
It was during the early 1920s, after the death of the twentieth earl, that Alton Towers was purchased by an organization which turned the house and gardens into a tourist attraction. The house remained empty although was partly used for tourists. During the Second World War the house was requistioned for the Officer Cadet Training Unit. When it was handed back in 1952 the building was gutted under instructions from the owners to how it is seen today.
The site was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy, originally from St Anne’s Convent in Birmingham in 1855 and the presbytery became their convent. They established St Aloysius’s School for Little Boys (later St John’s Preparatory School for Catholic Boys) in 1898. The castle remained a private residence until 1919 when the Sisters of Mercy purchased it for ₤3,500 to extend their boarding school. Each July during the 1930s the castle lawn was used to host a garden party in aid of church funds, with stalls and dancing. During the 1950s the whole site was sold and purchased with money subscribed from the parishioners and friends of the parish. This resulted in the complex of buildings being transferred to the Catholic Church and administered by the Archbishop of Birmingham. The school continued until 1989 and the castle remained empty until the Archdiocese of Birmingham established a Catholic Youth Retreat Centre there in 1996. Since 1967 the castle has been designated a Grade 1 listed building, and is also a scheduled ancient monument.
During its past the world came to Alton – nobles, royal officials, monks, churchmen, craftsmen, day labourers and peddlers. Nowadays, at least during the summer, the world still comes to Alton although largely in the guise of thrill-seeking daytrippers.
 History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, William White, Sheffield, 1851.
 At one time also known as Shrewsbury Bank.
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ‘Alton and Farley Conservation Area Appraisal’, 2007., p5.
 Robert Speake (ed.), ‘A History of Alton and Farley’,1996, p27.
 Approximately where Alton Towers and the Flag Tower stands.
 Robert Plot, ‘The Natural History of Staffordshire, p410.
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p11.
 These are listed in the Victoria County History Vol.1 as being: 1) Vespasian 70-77AD, 2) Titus 71-78AD, & 3) Domitian 81-96AD. These coins were found approximately 900 yards from the castle.
 Being bronze these had become corroded but have been dated to c.250-275AD.
 Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p33-34.
 Robert Plot, ibid. p172.
 Joseph Nightingale, ‘The Beauties of England and Wales, vol.13, 1813, p1009-1010.
 Ordnance Survey map Staffordshire sheet XX SW, second edition, 1900.
 Sir Frank Stenton, ‘Anglo-Saxon England’, p71.
 Now a Hollow Way.
 CF Slade, ‘The Staffordshire Domesday’, 1985.
 William Dugdale, ‘Baronage of England’ (1675) in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p41.
 Mark Hagger, ‘The De Verdun Family in England, Ireland and Wales 1066-1316 : A Study., Thesis Submitted for the Degree of PhD at the University of St Andrews., 1998., p1
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p4.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p16.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p12 & 16.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p12 & 18.
 Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p45.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p7.
 A mark was 13s 4d, equating to two-thirds of a pound.
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p4.
 The first monks would have come from the mother house at Aunay in Normandy. The reason de Verdun chose Aunay-sur-Odon as the mother house rather than an English foundation may have been because the abbey lay close to his lands in Normandy and it was also a favourite of Richard de Humez, who had raised Bertram during his childhood.
 This may have been Cotton.
 Chronicle of Croxden Abbey in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p46.
 Foundation charter of Croxden Abbey in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p46.
 ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’ in VCH vol.III, p226-230.
 Staffordshire County Council (Historic Environment Team), ‘Alton Historic Character Assessment’, 2013, p20, quoting Duggan, A. P. and Greenslade, M. W., 'Houses of Cistercian monks: the Abbey of Croxden' in M. W. Greenslade (ed.) A history of the county of Stafford volume III, 1970.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p32.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p42.
 Pipe Rolls 6. Richard I, 1194/5 in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p54.
 Pipe Rolls 6. Richard I, 1194/5 in Mark Hagger, ibid., p137.
 E A Kominsky analysed the landholding information supplied by the Hundred Rolls Survey of 1279 for seven Midland counties. 32% of all arable land formed the lord’s demesne, 40% was held by villeins and the remaining 28% by freeholders. More than a third of all the tenants held approximately half a virgate (typically 15 acres), one-fifth held one virgate (30 acres) while a few of the more successful families managed to acquire one hundred acres or more. In general the size of holdings gradually diminished as the population grew and out of the 13,500 holdings in 1279, 46%amounted to ten acres or less, probably near to the minimum for subsistence. Kominsky, E A, ‘Studies in the Agrarian History of England’, p230-237.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p47, 52 & 55.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p63.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p64-65.
 A virgate equalled approximately 30 acres, not necessarily on the ground but rather as a unit for taxation purposes.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p66.
 Mark Hagger, ibid.,p75 & 79.
 The plan of reform accepted by Henry III, in return for the promise of financial aid from his barons.
 Mark Hagger, ibid.,p82
 Mark Hagger, ibid.,xviii
 54 Annales Cestriensis, ed. R. C. Christie, Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, 14 (1886), p. 89; Croxd in Mark Hagger, ibid., p87.
 Annales Cestriensis, cd. R. C. Christie, Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, 14 (1886), p. 89, in Hagger, ibid., 28 & 29.
 Wooden plaque inside the church listing the vicars of Alton.
 Technically only the chancel, the upkeep of the nave fell on the parishioners.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p93.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p246. The term Suit of Court refers to tenants owing allegiance to their lord.
 SRO, D593/A/2/23/23 Grant of services of Richard Fitz Richard de Neuton with his father’s lands in Cheadle. Undated but circa 1236, one of the witnesses being Thomas Perhitun, constable of Alton.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p187-188.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p189.
 SRO D593/A/2/23/1 Agreement concerning pasture rights between Croxden Abbey and the Burgesses of Alton, 1239.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p169-170, & 180.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p196.
 The Totmonslow Hundred Rolls in Mark Hagger, ibid., p168.
 Staffordshire County Council (Historic Environment Team), ‘Alton Historic Character Assessment’, 2013, p17, quoting Palliser, D. M., 'The boroughs of medieval Staffordshire' in A. D. M. Phillips (ed.) North Staffordshire Journal of Field Studies vol.12, University of Keele, 1972., p68.
 Christopher Dyer, ‘The Urbanising of Staffordshire: The First Phases’, The 21st Earl Lecture delivered at Keele University on 9 November 2001. Published in Staffordshire Studies, vol.14 (2002).
 Christopher Dyer, ‘An Age of Transition?: Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages’, p91.
 The right to hold a market was originally granted to Nicholas in September 1227. The market appears to have ceased operating by the beginning of the 16th century.
 Writ of Diem clausit extremum on the death of Thomas Furnival. 13 Edward III, 1339 in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p56.
 A charter was a legal document and stated the size and extent of each holding, and the conditions of tenure.
 Writ of Diem clausit extremum on the death of Thomas Furnival. 13 Edward III, 1339 in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p55.
 Calendar of Inquisition Miscellaneous, 2260, in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p50.
 Mark Hagger, ibid.,p102
 Chester Assizes. Quo Warranto. 27 Edward I, 1299, in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p56.
 Chester Assizes. Quo Warranto. 27 Edward I, 1299, in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p56.
 WSL, 6/1, p. 202.
BL, Additional MS 18446, pp. 7-11; NLI, MS 8513, p. 97, in Mark Hagger, ibid.,p106
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 79v: Mortus est, et quasi non est mortuus simile sibi, et nomine et re relinquens post se. […] Relquit defensorem domus contra inimicos, et amicis rediit,
 Mark Hagger, ibid.,p114
 Mark Hagger, ibid.,p110.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r, Domina autem Elizabeth uxor ejus post seplturam infra abbatiam perhendinarit per mensem et amplius.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r.
 Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, 6, no.54 (10 Edward II)(HMSO 1905).
 Calendar of Fine Rolls 11, Edward II, membrane 7, 24 January 1317, in Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p51-52.
 Mark Hagger, ibid., p130
 VCH vol.vi.
 J E E S Sharp and A E Stamp, 'Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 7', in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 7, Edward III (London, 1909), pp. 68-78. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol7/pp68-78 [accessed 23 November 2016].
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80r.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80v
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 80v.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 81r.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 81v.
 'Staffordshire Lay Subsidy 1332-3: Totmonslow hundred', in Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 10, Part 1, ed. G Wrottesley (London, 1889), pp. 111-118. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/staffs-hist-collection/vol10/pt1/pp111-118 [accessed 25 November 2016].
 The exception was Thomas Tromwyn, possibly a relative of Roger Tromwyne the sheriff of Staffordshire who had been ordered to gain control of the castle when held by Thomas Barynton.
 BL MS Faustina VI, fol. 82r.
 ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’ in VCH vol.III, p226-230.
 ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’ in VCH vol.III, p226-230.
 Where The Spond Farm is located on the road leading to Bradley.
 VCH vol.VI.
 CRO D240/A/2/2.
 The 1532 Archdeaconry of Stafford List.
 Medley is a cloth woven with different coloured wools.
 Chamlette is a rich fabric made from a combination of wool, hair, silk, cotton and linen.
 Robert Speake (ed.), ibid, p116.
 ‘The committee at Stafford, 1643-1645 : the Order book of the Staffordshire County Committee.’ Collections for a history of Staffordshire. 4th series, vol.1. (Staffordshire Record Society, 1957).
 ‘The committee at Stafford, 1643-1645 : the Order book of the Staffordshire County Committee.’ Collections for a history of Staffordshire. 4th series, vol.1. (Staffordshire Record Society, 1957).
 ‘The committee at Stafford, 1643-1645 : the Order book of the Staffordshire County Committee.’ Collections for a history of Staffordshire. 4th series, vol.1. (Staffordshire Record Society, 1957).
 SRO, Q/SR/307/34.
 SRO, Q/SR/294/12.
 Rock Cottage has timber panels inside suggesting an earlier building.
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p31, 33 & 39.
 The 1918 Sale Catalogue of the Alton Estate mentions ‘two cottage in Horse Road formerly used as a school. William Salt Library, Sc L/1/9.
 SRO, Q/SBe/12/36.
 SRO, Q/SR/656/31.
 SRO, Q/SR/683/2
 SRO, Q/SR/694/18.
 SRO, Q/SR/697/22.
 SRO, Q/SB 1804 E/60.
 SRO, Q/SB 1817 E233.
 SRO, Q/SB 1817 M/568.
 Stafford Assize Calendars 1842-1843 in Staffordshire Record Society ‘Collections for a History of Staffordshire’, 4th series vol.15. (1992).
 SRO, Q/SB/292/72.
 SRO, Q/SR/420/3.
 SRO, Q/SR/611/17.
 SRO, Q/SR/697/22.
 SRO, Q/SR/621/1.
 SRO, Q/SB 1776 A/46, 55-58.
 SRO, Q/SR/309/22.
 The Dukedom was created in 1694 but became extinct on his death 24 years later in 1718.
 Patten later also produced ‘golden guineas’ and Guinea rods of brass at the mill before he relocated to Oakamoor in 1828. Golden guineas were brass token used in the slave trade. There production must have ceased at the time of the abolition of slavery
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p3. Farley, by comparison, had a population of 321 in1801which had increased to 431 by 1901.
 William Pitt, ‘A Topographical History of Staffordshire’ (1817).
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p27.
 Michael Fisher, 2002, ‘Pugin-Land’, page 53.
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p25.
 Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, ibid., p26.
 Alton Vestry Book (1798-1948) (SRO d1343/3).
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