Suckley was a very large manor, bounded by the county boundary with Herefordshire on the west and south, the manor of Knightwick and the River Teme on the north, and the present parish of Leigh on the east. The manor comprised the present parishes of Suckley, Alfrick and Lulsley which contain 2,692 acres, 1,648 acres and 843 acres to give a total of 5,183 acres or thereabouts for the whole manor. Suckley is divided from the other two parishes by the Suckley Hills which rise to over 550 feet and the village of Suckley on the Leigh Brook is between 225 and 250 feet above sea level. The land of Alfrick parish is below 75 feet by the River Teme at the north-eastern boundary and rises steadily to the west and southern boundaries to over 650 feet at the highest point. Almost the whole of the parish of Lulsley is below 250 feet and is grades 1 and 2 agricultural land.
There can be little doubt that the land was settled in pre-historic times. The Iron Age hill forts of Whitbourne and Berrow Hill lie less than two miles from the manor boundaries to the north and the Malvern Iron Age hill forts are only four miles to the south of the parish. There is the site of a Roman tile kiln just east of the Alfrick parish boundary at SO 758 512.
There is a great deal of evidence for Anglo-Saxon settlement in the area, including place names. Suckley means 'Wood where the birds are found'; Alfrick means 'Ealhred's wic or dairy farm'; and Lulsley means 'Lull's island or river land'. Towards the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, the manor of Suckley belonged to Earl Edwin as part of his great manor of Bromsgrove. After the Norman Conquest, the King granted Suckley to William, Earl of Hereford, and as a result the manor paid taxes at Hereford. However, Roger, the son of William, was condemned for conspiracy, and all of the Earl's estates were forfeited in 1074. At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, Suckley was in the Doddingtree Hundred of Worcestershire but was surveyed with Herefordshire because it was at Hereford that the manorial tax was paid. The manor was listed in the hands of the King.
'The King holds Suchelie. Earl Edwin held it. There are
5 hides. On the demesne are 2 ploughs, there are 22
villeins and 24 borders with 27 ploughs. There are 10
other borders poor men, and a mill worth 6s. and a bee-
keeper with 12 hives. The wood is 5 leagues in length
and breadth, and there is a fishery there. In Worcester is
1 burgess, but he renders nothing. There is a mill there
worth 6s. The tythe of this vill with 1 villein and half
a virgate of land St. Mary holds.
Earl Roger gave to a certain Richard half a virgate of
land in absolute freedom.'
'The King holds Suchelie. Earl Edwin held it. There are 5 hides. On the demesne are 2 ploughs, there are 22 villeins and 24 borders with 27 ploughs. There are 10 other borders poor men, and a mill worth 6s. and a bee- keeper with 12 hives. The wood is 5 leagues in length and breadth, and there is a fishery there. In Worcester is 1 burgess, but he renders nothing. There is a mill there worth 6s. The tythe of this vill with 1 villein and half a virgate of land St. Mary holds.
Earl Roger gave to a certain Richard half a virgate of land in absolute freedom.'
From the Domesday Survey it is possible to get some idea of what the manor of Suckley was like 1,000 years ago, and later Norman and medieval documents add to the picture. It should be remembered that the survey was not only describing the situation at the beginning of the Norman period, but also the state of affairs at the end of the Anglo-Saxon rule which had probably been in existence for a considerable time. The demesne with 2 ploughs was the home farm of the lord of the manor who was 1000 years ago, King William the Conqueror. The farm is now called Lower Court and would have been the centre of the village settlement and the name Court indicates that it was the place where the manorial courts were held. There were 22 quite substantial farmers with land in the manor probably with a virgate or half a virgate each. (A virgate was a variable acreage in different parts of the country, in the adjacent manor of Whitbourne it was 40 statute acres.) There were 24 smallholders each of whom probably farmed about 10 acres, and these 56 farmers had the equivalent of 27 ploughs, with the plough teams that usually comprised 8 oxen per team, between them. There were another 10 smallholders, the description 'poor men', perhaps indicates that although they had land they may not have had the oxen and ploughs to work it. It would seem that there were two mills with the attendant millers and their workmen. The bee-keeper with his 12 hives was important enough to note and probably paid a manorial tax. There was a half virgate farm belonging to the church of St. Mary, which was probably at Cherry Green where the name St. Mary's can still be seen on the Ordnance Survey map. Furthermore, before 1074 Earl Roger had given to a certain Richard half a virgate of land 'held in absolute freedom'. The mention of a fishery is interesting, this was surely on the River Teme, and probably supported one or more fishermen and their families.
The survey indicates a considerable population in the manor of Suckley in 1086. There were at least 56 farming families dependant on the land for their existence, a beekeeper, fishermen and millers. The King's own farm, the farm of St. Mary's and the farm of Richard would also have supported employees and their families and there could have been employed labour on some of the other enterprises. The population of the manor could have been in excess of 400 people and the records indicate that there was probably a parish church here in Anglo-Saxon times where the community could worship. By 1086, the living of the benefice had already been given by William, Earl of Hereford, to the Abbey of Cormeilles.
At this time there was a church at Suckley dedicated to St. John the Baptist, with chapels at Alfrick and Lulsley which became churches in 1912 when the separate parishes were formed. Suckley Church was probably rebuilt in the mid-12th century and both Alfrick and Lulsley Churches have 12th century work in them. By 1291, the Prior of Great Malvern also had a portion of the living of Suckley Church.
In 1215, King John granted the manor of Suckley to Llewelyn, the Prince of North Wales, the husband of Joan the King's daughter. Their daughter, Helen, inherited the manor which passed, not infrequently following the female line, to the Burnell family and then the Hungerford family. In 1571 the manor was sold to Edmund Colles of Leigh, and by this time its value would have been in the demesne farm, Lower Court, earlier the King's manor house in Suckley. There were sub-manors and other important estates in Suckley which would have been granted at an early date to a follower of the lord of the principal manor and would have their own history. Suckley Court or Over Court (which means Upper Court as opposed to Lower Court) is puzzling. This is a moated site east of Lower Court and towards the parish and county boundary. It appears to have had the same history as Lower Court until 1597 when the site of the manor of Suckley called Lower Court and a capital messuage called Over Court were settled by Edmund Colles on his younger son, Edmund. Lower Court remained with the Colles family of Leigh, and Over Court or Suckley Court passed to the Moore family and by 1845 to the Huband family who still live there.
Another estate in Suckley referred to as a manor was the White House. The present house dates from the late 17th century, and it is possible that the medieval house, Haventree, across the road was the earlier manor house. Two farm houses called Lower House and Upper House suggest there was a hamlet associated with this manor and the limits of the main street were marked by the Lower and Upper Houses. The large house of Gaines in Whitbourne parish was built by Bellingham, the son of Francis Freeman of The White House, Suckley, about 1680. The Freeman family continued to live at the White House into the 19th century; it was purchased by Mr. Twinberrow about 1856 and is still with the same family. [See note 1].
Priory Redding and The Chapels, appear to be part of an estate in Suckley that belonged to the Prior of Great Malvern. In 1322 the Prior had to account to his brethren for the wood he was selling at Suckley.
In 1515 William Mucklow of Martley bought a considerable estate in Suckley called the manors of Suckley and Orcoppys. The site of this estate has not been identified but the name, Tor Coppice, south of Alfrick Pound, is very possibly a corruption of Orcoppys. Richard Mucklow in 1526 claimed the manor of Alfrick, whose manorial farm was probably Alfrick Court. The Mucklow Estate was held in the manor of Suckley.
There was also a manor of Lulsley which was at an early date granted to the Priory of Great Malvern. After the dissolution the King granted it in 1544 to John Fox and Thomas Hall. The moated site of Upper Court at Lulsley is the most likely site for this manor house and near to the church. Lulsley Court, to the north of the parish, is probably the centre of the estate of one virgate that Henry Houtin claimed in 1199, which had been assarted by his ancestors, that is cleared from the forest, and held by inheritance ever since, outside the King's forest. There was also in 1315 an estate in Suckley known as Hanley's Land held by a Thomas Hanley. In 1431 Simon Hanley of Hanley held a quarter of a Knight's fee in Suckley and Lulsley, which by 1515 belonged to William Mucklow and became merged with his other lands within the manor. Hayley's ground in Sinton's End in the Holy water of Suckley, recorded in 1627, may be part of this estate. Hayley Dingle is east of Folly Farm.
Suckley is fortunate that so many early documents have survived to record the larger estates of the Norman and Medieval manor. The smaller farms also have their history, which must in many cases pre-date the Domesday Survey of 1086, when there were more than fifty farms to support the population of Suckley, Alfrick and Lulsley.
This article was originally published in the Bromyard and District Local History Society Journal, journal 2 (1979), and is reproduced here with the permission of the author.
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