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The History of Ilmington - Chapter 3


The Manor of Ilmington 1086-1496

The term Manor in both this and the subsequent chapter refers to all the land of Ilmington, the boundaries of which had already been established.  Under the feudal system which prevailed here at the beginning of this period the land was held by the Lord of the Manor by favour of the king.  A certain portion known as demesne land was the lord's farm.  The remainder of the land was held by his tenants who paid for it by their services to the lord.  Some of these services would certainly have been military service when this was required, as the manor was held by the lord 'for a knight's fee'.  The community of tenants was closely governed by the Manor Courts presided over either by the lord of the manor or his steward.

In this and the following chapter it is proposed to give an account of the lords of the manor in so far as they appear to have affected the community; to throw such light as can be obtained from the documents of the period on the size and nature of the community; and lastly to quote a few examples of the types of land tenure which appear in the documents. 

In the Domesday Survey of 1086 A.D. the manor is stated to be held by Count Meulan.  He was one of the Norman lords who had been granted large estates both in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, so Ilmington was one of many.  He died in 1118.  An account of the subsequent changes in the lordship of this manor is to be found in Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, but for the purposes of this account it is enough to say that it passed to the de Harecourts and later to the de Montforts.  The principal seat of the de Harecourts was Stanton Harcourt and that of Peter de Montfort was at Beaudesert, so again Ilmington was a subsidiary manor.  The de Montforts of Beaudesert became extinct in 1327 owing to the failure of the male line, but before this subsidiary branches had become established both at Ilmington and Coleshill, and the Ilmington branch continued until 1496.

The first Peter de Montfort who held Ilmington was a man of national importance.  He fought with Simon de Montfort on the side of the Barons against the King.  They were successful at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 and Peter was a member of the Commission which governed the Kingdom for a short time.  However, he lost his life at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and his son was taken prisoner.  After this the manor passed back to the Crown for a short time, but by 1272 appears to have been in de Montfort hands once more, and to have been held until 1496 when it was again forfeited for the part played by Sir Simon de Montfort in the Perkin Warbeck rebellion.  It is likely that Ilmington men were required for services in some of the many wars and rebellions of these years.

It was during this period of the Norman overlords that the earliest parts of Ilmington's present church were built.  The Victoria County History for Warwickshire dates the lower part of the nave as mid-12th century and the lower part of the tower late 12th century.  The chancel is in part 13th century.  It seems therefore that de Harecourts and de Montforts are likely to have been responsible for this, and judging from the magnificent Norman arch between nave and tower the concept of the original stone church can have been no mean one.  The only trace of either family now remaining is the shield in stone of the Montforts of Beaudesert mounted on the 16th century porch. It may have been removed from another part of the church in the restoration of 1846.

Peter de Montfort held free warren, that is full hunting rights except of deer, and also such jurisdiction as allowed him to hang offenders (1).  Possibly the site of the gallows is marked by the fieldname Galley Oak.  The first mention of a 'Mannour House' so far found is in Dugdale's Antiquities already quoted, and it is dated 1221.  Where this was sited is not certain.  It may have been in Berry Orchard but nothing except the partial moat remains and there has been no excavation.  The name Berry Orchard today has no relevance to the site.  No one remembers it as an orchard, nor has it many berries.  However, if the derivation of Berry from burh as already suggested is accepted, and the old english derivation of orchard from ortgeard meaning a fruit garden is added, then this may support this siting of the early manor house.  In the 17th century a dovecot stood here, but of this there is now no trace.  As is shown in an appendix to the following chapter, Ilmington Manor has been held by many different families, but it appears to have been in the de Montfort family for about two hundred and thirty years, which is longer than for any other one family.

To estimate the size of the community and its development, return must be made to the Domesday Survey.  In demesne there was land for three ploughs, i.e. about 330 acres, and it was served by nine serfs.  In addition 660 acres were held by twenty four villeins and three bordars.  There were eight ploughs though this acreage would be expected to have carried nine.  There were no free men.  A priest is mentioned which implies a church probably of wood and replaced later by the earliest parts of the present church.  There was therefore a community of about 30 households, the majority of whom were villeins holding something under 30 acres each in the common fields, sharing their ploughs and no doubt contributing oxen to the plough teams.  These teams were unwieldy and needed a considerable distance for turning.  It is said that this caused curved ridge and furrow to be formed and faint traces of these curves still show in a field along the track to Southfield.  The bordars held about five strips each in the common fields, that is about five acres.  There were in addition 40 acres of meadow.  This was probably the land reserved for hay.  How many animals were maintained is not known, but the acreages mentioned are little more than half that of the enclosure nearly 700 years later, and the boundaries of the manor had probably been already fixed.  There must have been a considerable amount of wood and rough pasture.

In 1204 a report on the manor (2) quotes four ploughs, which would be for the demesne lands.  It also contains the only mention of animals, i.e. 500 sheep, 3 horses and 24 hogs.  In this case the plough teams were said to be of eleven oxen. 

In 1279 (3) under Peter de Montfort, a son or grandson of the great Sir Peter, demesne land had increased to over 500 acres, and that held by 39 tenants to nearly 900.  There were four free tenants.  The remaining tenants were villeins and cottagers.  The latter numbered eight and there were just over 50 households in all.  It is the ploughland that is mentioned here, and no doubt it had been gained from the woods and rough pasture.

By 1296 (4) when Sir John de Montfort inherited the manor there were 13 free tenants, 31 owing the services customary on this manor, and 17 cottagers.  As the land held by the tenants is not included in this document and the demesne land appears to have decreased, little more can be said save that the community now numbered at least 60 households. According to Professor Hoskins' statement in his study of the Population of an English Village (Wigston in Leicestershire) the end of the 13th century marked a period of great prosperity not regained for some hundreds of years.

The next information concerning the community comes from two tax rolls of 1327 (5) and 1333 (6). The first of these gives Ilmington and Foxcote separately and in Ilmington there are 29 names.  Professor Hoskins in the paper quoted above states that tax evasion was common, making these tax rolls most unreliable, and that the number of households is likely to be twice or three times the number of names on the tax roll.  There would also be the cottagers, probably not liable to any tax. This tax was a subsidy levied by the king, at this time Edward III.  From this data it is not possible to give a very useful estimate of growth.  If the 1327 tax list is doubled the community had remained at much the size it had reached by the end of the 13th century, but it may have continued to grow for a time.  Both tax rolls are quoted for the interest of the second names.  At this date they cannot be regarded as hereditary surnames, but this is beginning to occur as is shown in the comments following the second list.  Though only six years apart, few of the second names appear in both, and it is most unlikely that so many people had either died or moved.


The tax roll is taken from Vol. VI of the Dugdale Society Publication

People were known by their first names, but a glance at the list shows the need for distinguishing, for example, the many Gilberts.  This distinction might indicate their occupation or that of their forebears, or the place from which they had fairly recently come, or perhaps some feature of the site where they lived.  Richard Bercarius either was the shepherd or was descended from the shepherd.  Le Messager explains itself as does le Horsemon.  Le Mareschal may have been the man who marshalled the household, especially when Sir Peter was in residence.  As seen above there were two of them, and judging from the tax levied they must have been important men of the community.  William de Merston may have come from Marston and John de Lyndesy must have been a fairly new comer.  It is also interesting to see the names of women included.  Possibly they were widows at the head of their households.  Emma le Smyth could hardly have been practising her craft, so was the community without a smith at that time, or did he merely escape the tax?  Julian le Tayllur may have been the tailor.  Perhaps the house of Agnes atte Medwe was on the edge of the meadows or hay grounds.  The list shows very clearly the Norman influence on the language of the community of that time, which had already had nearly three hundred years of Norman overlords.  Spelling did not become settled until many hundreds of years later, and the language of the people may have approximated to that of Chaucer.

Some of these names appear in other documents of the period.  In Extracts from Warwickshire Feet of Fines in 1290, John de Waleye and John Geffrey were engaged in a land transaction as were Henry and Simon Benet in 1309.  In Bishop Reynolds Register, Thomas, son of Gilbert Gage of Ilmington is said to have been ordained in 1310.  Could this be the Thos. Gage of the tax roll of 1327, or were priests exempt from tax?  In the same register a Peter de Monteforti is said to have been granted leave to study for ordination in 1313.  In the list of incumbents

at the end of the next chapter he is shown as rector in 1312.  It was not unusual for one of the younger sons to become rector, and to become ordained later.

The tax roll of 1333 is just before the Black Death was recorded in Gloucester in 1349.  No record of this for Ilmington has been found but it is unlikely to have escaped and a report on the manor in 1458 lists only thirty messuages (7). The acreage of arable land had fallen considerably, though that of the tenants does not appear to be given.  Woodland of 200 acres was mentioned.  This may well be a picture of partial depopulation and decay of prosperity consequent upon a visitation of this plague.

A rentals and survey of 1495 (8) when the last of the de Montforts lost the manor, gives the following information:-


If the Foxcote tenants are omitted this again shows little increase in the number of households.  It will be noticed that the same names, John Smyght, John Brayne, Thomas Brythwell and Richard Canning all appear on the list of free tenants and customary tenants.  If the same name means the same man, then they must have owed service on a portion only of the land they held.  It is possible to relate only three of these names, Felyps, Brayne and Smyght to the earlier tax rolls, and these seem unlikely to be mere chance.  Of considerable interest too is the appearance of the names to persist for so long on this manor, notably Archer, Rose, Coldecote, Eddyn (later Eden) and at Foxcote, Canning.  This list also shows the majority of the community as fairly small landholders of one and a half virgates or less.  The virgate is synonymous with the yardland, and was probably under 40 acres.  Under the open field system a proportion of this was fallow each year.  More detail of this system is to be found in chapter 5.

In his 'Life on the English Manor', H.S. Bennett states that the landless free tenants may have come as squatters on the waste, and that they served as the craft and tradesmen of the community.  It might be expected that their second name would give some indication of this but that is not shown here.

Though not showing land tenure, the following land transactions from Warwickshire Feet of Fines may be of interest:


  • Several between 1195 and 1284 suggest that new people were coming to hold land in Ilmington.  This is suggested by such names as Richard de Pilardeton, Robert de Wudeford, and Ranulph de Stokes.  In 1290 John de Waleye obtained from John Geffrey of Ilmyndon, one messuage, a virgate and two acres of land.

  • In 1305 Henry de Monte Forti obtained from Henry de al Wande and Alice, his wife, a virgate of land in Ilmyndon.  From the list given at the end of the next chapter this Monte Forti does not appear to be the lord of the manor.

  • In 1309 Simon Beneyt obtained from Henry Beneyt two messuages, 1½ virgates of land and eight acres of meadow in Foxcote.

Finally, two examples of land tenure of the period are shown in the following:

  • 1364.  Richard Mountfort grants to Nicholas Archer rights of land which were those of William Benet of Ilmington and Foxcote.  (This is quoted by Revd H. Bloom in manuscripts at Birthplace Trust.  His authority is Warwickshire manuscripts in Cambridge University Library.)

  • 1364.  Nicholas Archer of Ilmyndone gives to Thomas Colgne of Thoneworth lands and tenements in Ilmyndon to hold for ever from the chief lords of the fees for due and customary service (9).

  • 1498.  John Aredone of Myredone to William Welar of Foxcote lease for life of half a meadow... with sufficient hedge bote for hedges and fences... rendering to grantor 20d. twice a year and any other dues, due to the king from the said lord(10). Hedge bote means that the tenant may cut timber to keep the fences in repair.


Land tenure at this period seems indeed both varied and complex.  Since both mention people not of Ilmington they suggest that at least from the second half of the 14th century there was land to spare.


The two small figures above show a dancing man and woman.  They are copied from a Bodleian catalogue of illustrations and come originally from a Latin bible written in the late 13th century. They are said to illustrate English rural life and therefore probably show the dress of the ordinary people of the community which has been under consideration.


(1525?) Fitzherbert, John. Newe tracte for husbade men.


This illustration is rather later than the previous image but shows ploughing with oxen.  It comes from 'English Woodcuts 1485-1535' by Edward Hodnett.

By kind permission of the Bodleian Library.


1521. Lily, William. Antibossicon.


This 16th century woodcut is included because part of it resembles so closely a small portion of sculpture in the South East corner of the South transept of Ilmington church.

By kind permission of the Bodleian Library.

  1. Antiquities of Warwickshire by Dugdale, 1730.

  2. Antiquities of Warwickshire by Dugdale, 1730.

  3. Antiquities of Warwickshire by Dugdale, 1730.

  4. P.R.O. C 133/76/4.

  5. P.R.O. E 179/192/4.

  6. Warwickshire Feet of Fines, Vol. 18, Dugdale Society Publications Vol. III.

  7. Lay Subsidy Rolls of 6 Edward III — Dugdale Society Vol. VI.

  8. P.R.O. Rentals & Surveys (S.C.11) no. 683.

  9. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford, Archer Collection.

  10. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Archer Collection.

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