Ettington in ages past

A mischievous historian might suggest that Ettington was a divided parish, with the hamlet of Fulready a part of the Roman Empire, and the main settlement a part of the uncivilized wild lands, unconquered by Caesar.

For a time, anyway.

Of course, that was long before parishes were even invented. And eventually, even Ettington succumbed to the might of Rome.

It is true, however, that one of Britain’s most impressive Roman roads passes through the parish on its journey from Isca Dumnoniorum to Lindum Colonia*. And it is also true that the Fosse Way may well have started out as a defensive ditch, marking the western edge of occupied territory in the first decades after the Roman invasion in 43AD.

The manor of Lower Eatington (or Etendone) has been held by the Shirley family since the Domesday Survey in 1086, and possibly long before. No other family in England is known to be able to make such a claim.

The family seat, a neo-Gothic mansion called Ettington Park, was once named the Most Haunted Hotel in Britain. In 1963 it was the setting for the classic ghost film, The Haunting.

A Saxon thane called Saswalo held the manor in 1086, but died around that time. The manor passed to his son, Fulcher, and then to grandson Sewallis, who later moved to Shirley in Derbyshire and took the local name as his own. In 1247, another Sewallis undertook never to sell any part of the manor of Ettington – though the family seat, Ettington Park, is now leased to a hotel group.

There was already a priest at Ettington at the time of Domesday, and it seems a church had been built, or at least paid for, by Saswalo. The remains of a second church, Holy Trinity, still stand in the grounds of Ettington Park. Parts of it date from the 12th or 13th Century.

Legend has it that an early Shirley returned from the Crusades with the head of a Saracen he had killed; when he bent to drink from a pool in the village, the head fell into the water. Water still flows from the mouth of a stone head in the Saracen’s Well in Rookery Lane, so maybe…?

Visitors are welcome to admire the well, just inside the gate of Rookey Farm House.

The old myth was recalled in the name of a pub, The Saracen’s Head on the old Halford Road, which is now a private house called The Saracens. Nearby are Saracens Field, Saracens Yard, and Saracens Manor, a house that does not date back to the Crusades.

Sir Hugh Shirley won a literary nod from William Shakespeare, after he was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. Sir Hugh was Grand Falconer to King Henry IV, and was one of four knights who dressed in the king’s armour to confuse his enemies at the battle. Their sacrifice is recalled by Shakespeare in his play, Henry IV, Part 1, when Prince Henry challenges the knight who killed them:

“Hold up thy head, vile Scot, or thou art like
Never to hold it up again! the spirits
Of valiant Shirley, Stafford, Blunt, are in my arms”

Local lore has it that Shakespeare hunted at Ettington. The playwright was a friend of the Underhill family, who leased the manor from the Shirleys for 100 years.

A later lord of the manor, Robert Shirley, was accused of taking part in Royalist intrigues and died in the Tower of London in 1656. He may have been poisoned.

Dr William Croft, a celebrated composer of church music, was born in the manor house at Nether Ettington and baptised in the parish church in 1678. He went on to become organist of the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey, where he is buried. He wrote the tune widely used for the hymn, O God, Our Help In Ages Past, and his Burial Service music has been used at the funerals of kings and queens ever since, including for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

Another hymn, The Church Triumphant In Thy Love, is sung to a Croft tune that remains in the English Hymnal. The tune is called Eatington.

Ettington is a village that moved. It started out as a riverside community, around the manor, church and Domesday mill at Lower Ettington. The villagers were moved nearly two miles up the hill just over 200 years ago, when Evelyn Shirley cleared the land around his home to create Ettington Park, leaving the only the 12th Century parish church (now part-ruined) and the village cross.

That was not the only time Ettington saw a geographical shift. Until 1931, the parish stood on the Worcestershire border. It was the border that moved, not Ettington.

A secret from the Middle Ages may be concealed in the modern-day village, behind the whitewashed bricks of Lavendar Cottage and Rose Cottage on the Banbury Road. A chantry chapel, where priests could pray for the souls of the wealthy, was known to stand in Upper Ettington before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the time of Henry VIII. A pamphlet on Ettington’s churches says the location of the chapel is uncertain. But the Victoria County History for Warwickshire says, “After the Dissolution it was converted into three houses for the poor, and as such it was serving in 1730; it is now known as Rose Cottage.” The building has since been divided to form two homes. Inside, some of its ancient features are still visible.

Past occupants of Rose Cottage include the actors Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Williams and Dame Judy Dench, all members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

A new church opened in the relocated village in 1798, and was declared to be the ugliest in Warwickshire. It was built of poor-quality local stone and eventually demolished in 1913, apart from its tower, which was used for a time as a mortuary chapel. The tower survives, fenced off, close to the roundabout at the top of the village.

The current parish church was erected in 1903, and is rather more attractive. It was built in 14th Century style and has four bells, all of them much older than the church itself. Two are dated 1595 and a third 1621. They originally hung in the old church in Lower Ettington. The fourth was recast in 1803, but may be older still.

The village also has one of the oldest Quaker meeting houses in England. It was built in 1684 and meetings are still held every Sunday. They were thinly attended in the early days of the movement, because many of the local Quakers were imprisoned for their beliefs. The founder of their movement, George Fox, preached at Lambcote – now part of Ettington – in 1678.

Ettington railway station opened to passengers in 1873… and closed again four years later… and opened again in 1885… and closed again on Armistice Day in 1963. Non-human cargo was carried throughout, without a break, until 1965. The station complex included a goods shed and sindings that led into cattle pens. Various buildings survive, just off the road to Warwick.

When the railway came, E P Shirley fixed the spelling of the village name as Ettington. It had been written as Eatington on maps for the previous two centuries.

Rather wonderfully, signposts still use both Fulready and Fullready.

The Shirleys no longer live in Ettington Park. The house became a nursing home in the 1930s, and later, a prisoner of war camp. In 1979 a fire caused severe damage and it was boarded up for three years, until the house were leased and restored by a hotel company, along with 40 acres of land.

*The Fosse Way ran from Exeter to Lincoln, but try telling that to the Romans.

Fulready, Thornton and Lambcote

The modern civil parish of Ettington is actually made up of the ancient manors of Lower and Upper Ettington, Fulready, Thornton and Lambcote.

Thornton appears on maps as a deserted medieval village. Thornton Manor still stands, a stone fronted house more than 500 years old, with mullioned windows. It is not known why the settlement around it was abandoned.

Lambcote was a manor held by Kenilworth Priory. The name has been traced back to 1427. It has had a variety of high-powered owners over the centuries, but by 1714 it was being described only as a farm of 300 acres. The ancient manor house, which stood to the south of modern-day Ettington, was demolished early in the 19th Century.

The origins of Fulready are “confused”, according to the Victoria County History. In 1086 the overlord was one Turchil, but he was later succeeded by the Earls of Warwick.

There was high drama in Fulready in 1377, when Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, complained that some fifty persons broke into his manor with armed force, assaulted his servants and carried off his goods. Most were said to be craftsmen from Stratford. Since then, it appears nothing of historical note has happened in Fulready.

Click here to see pictures from an exhibition on 20th Century Ettington

LINKS

For old photographs of Ettington people and places, see the History page on David Neath’s Ettington website.

Most of the information on this page is taken from the Victoria County History of Warwickshire.

Information on the Shirley family is taken from an article on the Ettington Park Hotel website.

There are various internet articles about the Ettington-born composer Dr William Croft. Try this one

For recordings of Croft’s works, click here.

You can also watch TV’s Carol Vorderman grapple with the ghosts of Ettington Park.