A Pleasure Ground for the Duke: The Landscape of Fulbrook, Warwickshire

In this extended feature Professor Chris Dyer, emeritus professor of regional and local history at the University of Leicester, explores what the IPM of John, duke of Bedford, taken in 1436, can tell us about the changing landscape of Fulbrook in central Warwickshire.

Fulbrook, the manor, held of the earl of Warwick by knight service. There is in the site of the manor a hall with a chapel, various other necessary houses, and a dovecot, worth nothing yearly. There is a park, worth nothing yearly because depastured by the beasts; and within the park is a newly built house, and another house called ‘le Logge' next to the road that leads from Warwick to Stratford upon Avon, worth nothing yearly. There is a field called ‘Northbroke' next to the road from Warwick to Stratford, worth 20s. yearly; a meadow called Closemede', worth nothing yearly because the hay is to be used for the beasts in the park; a parcel of pasture lying between the park and the Avon, worth 6s. 8d. yearly; a fishery in the Avon, worth 8s.yearly; a parcel of land called ‘Inlond', worth 4s. yearly; 140 a. pasture outside the park, lying next to the road to Hampton Lucy, worth nothing yearly because it lies in common and not enclosed; and the prioress and convent of Pinley were seised of certain lands and tenements which were enclosed within the park, worth 18s. yearly. [1. CIPM , xxiv. 542.]

This extent is taken from the very long series of IPMs made after the death of the immensely wealthy John Duke of Bedford, brother of Henry V, and Regent of France from 1422. The duke died on 14 September 1435, and this inquisition in Warwickshire was made on 28 June 1436 by a jury containing some of the leading townsmen of Stratford-upon-Avon and various minor gentry who lived around Stratford and Warwick. [2. M. Macdonald (ed.), The Register of the Guild of the Holy Cross, Stratford-upon-Avon, Dugdale Society, 42 (2007), e.g. Thomas Iremonger, John Kynges, Thomas Mayell; C. Carpenter, Locality and Polity. A Study of Warwickshire Landed Society, 1401-1499 (Cambridge, 1992), e.g.  John Clopton, William Derset, John Woodlow, 652, 653, 670.] It has been chosen for this series because it gives us insights into the landscape history of the manor and parish of Fulbrook.

Fulbrook lies between Stratford and Warwick on the western side of the river Avon, which defines part of the parish boundary (see map 1). The Avon which bisects Warwickshire from south-west to north-east has traditionally been seen as the frontier between the Feldon (to the east) where nucleated villages cultivated extensive open fields planted with corn, and the Arden where settlements were scattered, arable fields were sometimes enclosed,  and more land was used as pasture and wood. This division of the county into contrasting landscapes was first described by John Leland writing in the 1540s, but the words Arden and Feldon were being used in place names centuries before 1500. In fact the frontier was not defined exactly by the river, as Hampton Lucy (in Bedford's day known as Bishop's Hampton) which adjoins Fulbrook to the south, was in many ways typical of a Feldon village, and a number of other similar settlements lay on that side of the Avon. [3. C. Dyer, ‘Rural settlement in medieval Warwickshire', Transactions of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, 100 (1996), 117-32.] Did Fulbrook's landscape belong in  Arden or Feldon?  The 1436 extent points to a transformation from one type of landscape to another.

Fulbrook, WarwickshireMap 1: Fulbrook, Warwickshire

John Duke of Bedford acquired Fulbrook, probably by purchase, a few years before 1421. After about two decades of his lordship, the extent gives a typically top-down view of the manor. It contained three residences, the manor, a newly built house, and a lodge. The land lay in a park, a field, a meadow, two pastures and a ‘parcel of land'. On that basis it seems a rather extreme example of the Arden model, as the land was almost entirely used for grazing or growing hay. The large area of Northbrook, after it had been given to the collegiate church of St Mary at Warwick in the 1460s, was rented  out to a Warwick butcher and then to a Stratford butcher, who would have been attracted by the pasture for the animals from which they made their living. [4. D. Styles (ed.), Ministers' Accounts of the Collegiate Church of  St Mary Warwick 1432-85, Dugdale Society, 26 (1969), 68, 76, 148.] It may already have become grazing land in the 1430s.

Fulbrook did not just lack arable fields in 1436. There was also a shortage of profitable rented assets. The extent, setting aside the 18s. rent which seemsto have lapsed when the Pinley holdings were taken into the park, appears to itemise rents worth a total of  £1 18s. 8d., when many manors would have produced an income of  at least £10. An important omission compared with conventional manors was of peasants, tenants and a village, which had contributed to the manor's income in the fourteenth century. In 1332 nine tax payers contributed to the lay subsidy. [5. W.F. Carter (ed), The Lay Subsidy Roll for Warwickshire in 6 Edward III (1332), Dugdale Society, 6 (1926), 75-6.] One was the lord of the manor, so the other eight were villagers each with a holding of land and a family to support. The village probably contained more than eight households, as usually smallholders were exempted from tax-paying because of their limited wealth, and there are references to smaller holdings in fines transferring land at Fulbrook before 1350. [6. F.C. Wellstood (ed.), Warwickshire Feet of Fines, vol. 1, 1195-1284, Dugdale Society, 11 (1932), 157, no. 740.]  The village had some of  the characteristics of a Feldon community. It took the form of a nucleated settlement, judging from the village street now visible as a holloway to the east of the manor house, surrounded by a dense concentration of fragments of pottery of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A name of one of the villagers in 1332, William ate Grene, suggests that there had been a village green.  The tenants cultivated quite extensive arable fields, perhaps as much as 240 acres according to the references to holdings and former holdings in a survey of  1392, and some of their ploughing has left us with ridge and furrow which is still visible in the east of the parish, adjoining the moats, in the south-west near Upper Fulbrook Farm, and in the west on the high ground near the Stratford-Warwick road. The Fulbrook villagers attended the parish church, and their corn was ground in a watermill which paid its rent to Pinley Priory, a small nunnery near Coventry.

By 1392 after the Black Death of 1349 and other problems, the village was in serious trouble, as the number of tenants was reduced to four, and four other holdings lay vacant in the lord's hands. [7. TNA, DL 43/14/3, fo. 60.] No manor court had been held that year, as presumably the few tenants did not generate enough business to justify  the steward's travel costs. This evidently persisted in 1428, when Fulbrook was reported to be one of the least populous villages in Warwickshire, with only four households. [8. Feudal Aids, v.187.] The failure of the 1436 extent to mention any rents of the kind normally paid by peasant tenants must lead to the conclusion that the villagers had by then gone completely. There are no subsequent references to a village or villagers.

The story of Fulbrook's disappearance  is typical of the dilemmas posed in general by the desertion of villages. John Rous, a local clergyman writing in the 1480s, who regarded depopulation as a social scourge which had removed more than sixty communities in the vicinity of Warwick, reported that in Fulbrook parish, which had once been a rectory, the church was destroyed, the villagers driven off, and only the manor house remained. [9. T. Hearne (ed.), Joannis Rossi, Historia Regum Angliae (Oxford, 1745), 123-4.] He complained that John  Duke of Bedford made a new park that endangered  travellers on the road between Stratford and Warwick, as robbers lay in wait behind the wooden park pale. Later historians have concluded that the village was destroyed when the park was made, though Rous did not say this directly, and in any case he cannot be regarded as a witness as he was writing half a century after the village had gone. If Bedford or his officials did get rid of the four remaining households, their actions followed decades of decay, and Fulbrook like other villages in the vicinity probably fell victim to misfortunes such as the decline in profits from growing corn, indiscipline in observing the rules of open-field farming, a shortage of labour, and outward migration. [10. C. Dyer, ‘Deserted Medieval Villages in the West Midlands', EcHR 2nd ser., 35 (1982), 19-34.]

The 1436 inquisition contains important clues that the landscape had been transformed since 1392.  When the duke of Bedford acquired Fulbrook he found himself in possession of a conventional manor and a somewhat decayed village (but many villages were in a shrunken state at that time). The eastern and southern part of the parish resembled a Feldon settlement, with its compact village and cultivated fields, but there was probably a good deal of Arden-style pasture to the west on the hills adjacent to the Stratford-Warwick road (Map 2.) A park may have been created before Bedford's acquisition of the manor as the lodge mentioned in the Inquisition, according to traditions of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, had been built by Joan Lady Bergavenny, who came in to a large landed inheritance in 1411, including a temporary interest in Fulbrook, and died in 1435. [11. C. Carpenter, ‘Beauchamp, William (V), first Baron Bergavenny (c.1343–1411), soldier and landowner', Oxford DNB.] A lodge implies a park, so Bedford may not have created a park as a new venture, but probably extended the area enclosed by the park pale over a large section of the parish south-east of the Stratford-Warwick road.

Fulbrook parish in 1436Map 2: Fulbrook parish in 1436

In the 1420s the manor house lay near to the parish church and the shrunken village, with the river nearby across a field. The site of the manor is now marked by two adjacent moats, of which the southern, larger one may be that mentioned in an IPM of 1324. It has masonry apparently from a gate house preserved as part of the wall of a modern house. The northern one has a deeper moat, but surrounds a smaller platform, and may be later in date, as it appears to have been constructed over part of the arable fields that are marked by ridge and furrow. One explanation of double moats is that one was part of a garden design, and there are signs of ponds and gardens associated with the later, northern, moat. [12. F.A. Aberg (ed.), Medieval Moated Sites, Council for British Archaeology Research report, 17 (1978), 10-12.] It may, however, have been built to protect the outbuildings of the manorial complex, such as the stable, or may represent a relocation of the manor house itself, but this is speculation. In relation to the 1436 IPM, the manor with its hall, chapel and dovecot is likely to have been situated on the larger southern moat. The duke of Bedford's numerous household would not have been easily accommodated at the manor house, but it was not just for convenience that he embarked on a major building programme a quarter of a mile south of the moated manor. He seems to have had a novel concept of buildings and the spaces around them, and was intent on creating a landscape for pleasure. Such a desire had led his brother to build the ‘Pleasance' to enhance the landscape around Kenilworth Castle. [13. A. Emery, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 2 East Anglia, Central England and Wales (Cambridge, 2000), 380-3.]

The IPM calls Bedford's Fulbrook residence a ‘newly built house', but Rous writing a half century later calls it a ‘noble tower equivalent to a castle'. For Leland in the 1540s, depending on memories as its ruin was almost complete, it had been ‘a pretty castle of stone and brick'. [14. L. Toulmin Smith (ed.), Leland's Itinerary in England and Wales (London, 1907), 46-8.] We are not dependent on these descriptions made when the building was in serious decline, because in the ploughed field in which the house stood is a mass of tile and brick, and an aerial photograph shows a rectangular structure measuring about 35m by 40m around a courtyard, with at least a dozen rooms, which represented the ground floor. [15. NMR 4603/27, aerial photograph taken in June 1990. This was placed on the heritage-explorer website in 2007, where it is wrongly identified as a Roman villa. http://viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/search/reference.aspx?uid=75750&index=108&form=advanced&period=ROMAN] The more important rooms, such as the hall and great chamber, would have been at first floor level reached by a number of rectangular staircases visible on the aerial photograph built on to  the outer walls. There is no hint that it had a fortified perimeter, so this was a house rather than a castle, though no doubt it had at least one tower, hence contemporaries noting its similarity to a castle. Its location was all important. The old manor house, which in its moated form may date from the thirteenth century, was sited for practical reasons near water and a road into Warwick, and was surrounded by productive corn fields and meadows, leading down to  the river with its fisheries. The new house took the duke and his companions away from the workaday world, on to the top of a small hill, from which the park could be overlooked. It did not echo the orientation of the moated houses, which were arranged strictly north-south, parallel to the village street, but instead was arranged south-west to north-east, so that one side, the north-west, faced the main area of the park.

The IPM  allows us to gain an impression of the size of the park, as it describes the land outside its pale: 140 acres of common pasture, and the enclosed land and pastures, which  judging from values, amounted to another 120 acres at most. With 200 acres or so in Northbrook, we are left with a park of over 400 acres, more than half of the parish, and including land which had in earlier centuries been under the plough. Within the park the deer would have been provided with patches of woodland for shelter and browse, and open grassy lawns.  They fed on grass and leaves in the park, and in the winter were given hay from the meadow down by the Avon. [16. J. R. Birrell, ‘Deer and deer farming in medieval England', Agricultural History Review, 40 (1992), 112-26.] As the IPM says, there was no grass or hay to spare for other animals. From the vantage point of his chamber window, but perhaps higher still on a tower, the duke,  his entourage and guests could spot the herds of deer in the morning, and plan their day's sport. This would probably have taken the form of ‘bow and stable' hunting, in which the hunters would have taken up positions for shooting, and the deer would have been driven past them, though a wounded animal would be pursued by hounds.[17. J. Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting: the Hound and the Hawk (London, 1988), 57-67; R. Almond, Medieval Hunting (Stroud, 2003), 82-4.] The lodge, which lay on the edge of the park near the main road, would perhaps have been on the itinerary during the day, where the party could rest and take refreshments. Members of the household who had not joined the hunting party could have watched their activities from the upper rooms of the main house or from the lodge. [18. O. Creighton, Designs upon the Land. Elite Landscapes of the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2009), 142-3.]  In addition to hunting deer, the park and river would have been ideal country for hawking.

The view from the ‘noble tower' would also have satisfied the duke because he would have found that his property stretched to the horizon on the western side of his vantage point, and  the land fell from the high ground to form a natural amphitheatre. To the north-east his eye would be taken by a line of large fish ponds, a common feature in a park, on which swans no doubt floated and in which herons waded. At dinner, their appetites sharpened by the day's sport, the household could have consumed venison on days when meat was permitted, and no doubt pheasants and rabbits from the park, with doves from the dovecot, and waterfowl, including swans and herons, from the ponds. On fish days, as well as sea-fish bought in nearby towns, bream, tench, perch and pike could have come from their own ponds. In addition to the joy of seeing the park, ponds and surrounding countryside from his hill-top house, and  being able to serve high-status food to his guests and household, the duke would also have been aware that outsiders would perceive the large park as a symbol of privilege, as only wealthier lords would have them. A lord of the standing of the duke of Bedford did not need to prove his importance, but it was useful for him to make a point in a region where he was a newcomer, and which had an existing well-founded elite. Also he was establishing himself on the edge of south-east Warwickshire, where parks were rather scarce at that time. Travellers on the road between Warwick and Stratford would have been especially aware of the park boundary that ran along the roadside, which may have provoked admiration and envy, though Rous reports their resentment in the 1480s that the pale was providing shelter for criminals. The duke was also making a move which would become a commonplace in the fifteenth century, by transplanting his residence from its old established site near a village or town into the middle of a park. [19. S. Mileson, Parks in Medieval England (Oxford, 2009), 96-7, 99-110.] Bedford could also take pleasure from the way that his ‘pretty' castle could be seen from a distance, and advertised his presence. Its visibility was enhanced by its brick construction, making it a red building in a part of the country where most houses were either grey or brown. Leland reports that the earls of Warwick regarded Fulbrook as an ‘eyesore' and ‘a cause of displeasure'. Their own castle, though larger, older and much more formidable, stood on a not very prominent river valley site less than four miles away.

A further indication of the way that the landscape was remodelled is provided by the IPM's reference to 140 acres of pasture near the road to Hampton Lucy which was worth nothing (to the lord) as it was used as common pasture. The ‘road to Hampton' cannot mean the modern road leading south from the moated manor, as there is no room for 140 acres between the river Avon, Hampton Wood, and the ‘new house', but the road mentioned must have been the now defunct route which ran through the south-west corner of the parish, leading from the direction of Norton Lindsey. [20. VCH Warwickshire iii.91.] The more direct route, which must have existed when the village of Fulbrook was active, was presumably closed when the park was made. As Fulbrook was virtually uninhabited,  the common pasture in the south-west would have benefited the villagers of  Hampton and Snitterfield.

The duke of Bedford visited his escapist residence in its idyllic surroundings only occasionally, as his duties in France kept him out of the country for much of each year. He stayed at Fulbrook in 1421, and it was perhaps then that the project was planned and begun. The house was probably complete, or at least far advanced, when he visited twice in 1426 with his first wife Anne  of Burgundy. [21. J. Stratford,  The Bedford Inventories (Society of Antiquaries of London, 1993), 358-9; eadem, 'John (John of Lancaster), duke of Bedford (1389–1435), regent of France and prince', Oxford DNB. ] Certainly by then the park had been fenced and stocked, as the parker John Hont, and his wife joined the Stratford fraternity in 1425-6, and promised to provide a deer each year for the guild feast. [22. Macdonald (ed.),  Register of the Guild,  98.] Bedford  married for a second time in 1433, to Jacquetta of Luxemburg, and brought her to Fulbrook in the following year.  He spent so much time on the continent in the company of  European nobility, that one wonders to what extent the Fulbrook project was based on houses and parks that he had seen abroad. Certainly the extensive use of brick depended on continental technology, as there was no midland tradition of brick making or bricklaying which could have been applied to building the house. Flemish (or Dutch) craftsmen would have been recruited to do the work, as happened fifty years later when Lord Hastings built his castle (again really a house with some towers) at Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire. [23. A Hamilton Thompson, ‘Building accounts of Kirby Muxloe Castle, 1480-1484', Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, 11 (1913-20), 193-345.] Kirby Muxloe also stood in a new large park, as did Herstmonceux in Sussex, another ‘pretty' brick house or castle, built in the 1440s. [24. Creighton, Designs upon the Land, 127, 217.] Fulbrook was part of a fifteenth-century fashion, though as a product of the 1420s, ahead of  the projects of a similar type.

After Bedford's  death the Fulbrook estate came into the hands of the crown, and Henry VI stayed both at the ‘new house', and at the lodge, in 1438. [25. Stratford, Bedford Inventories, 359.] The ‘manor' and a new barn were being repaired when it was in the hands of the duke of Clarence in 1479-80, but this may refer to  buildings on and near the moated house. [26. R. H. Hilton (ed.), Ministers Accounts' of the Warwickshire Estates of the Duke of Clarence 1479-80, Dugdale Society, 21 (1952), 66.] The ‘newly built  house' fell into ruin and had a curious afterlife, as the materials were carried to Compton Wyniates when that mansion was being built in the early sixteenth century. [27. Emery, Medieval Houses, 380-1.] The park survived for longer, as we hear about the appointment of parkers, and no doubt (as would have happened in Bedford's day) a practical hunt with nets produced a supply of venison for the household of the lord, and for gifts to supporters. As the ‘newly built house' fell into disuse the moated manor house and lodge were left as the only inhabited buildings in the parish, with the parker, his family and a servant or two as the last residents.