Wolfhampcote’s church stands in an isolated position, surrounded by fields which form part of the well known deserted medieval village site, but do not be misled into assuming that all the mounds which can be seen are the result of the destruction of the village some time late in the 14th century. Some are disused canal workings, dating from the earlier part of the last century, and made when Braunston was an important focal point for water-borne traffic. Adjacent to the canal were substantial basins where narrow-boats on their way to or from London could load or discharge the many products required in this agricultural area.
Later disturbances were also caused during the building of the now redundant L.N.E. Railway which crosses the village site on an embankment, but this line leading to Rugby was never very profitable and had a comparatively short life.
Today, as it has done for many centuries, the river Leam, the furthest stream from the churchyard, forms the parish boundary; the village originally spread beyond this towards Braunston, but at that time the county boundary was not so clearly defined as at present. The major part of the parish was enclosed under Acts passed in 1744 and 1757, although in many places, particularly near Flecknoe, the district still has the appearance of being largely unaltered since pre-enclosure times, giving a rather bleak open landscape, this by no means being the result of modern farming practice.
1086: Recorded in Domesday Book
Wolfhampcote was recorded in the Domesday Survey as being owned by Turchill, the Saxon Earl of Warwick, who owned large areas of land in Warwickshire before the Conquest. The parish was then called `Ufelmescote’ and among the people living there was a priest, which suggests a church on the site before the arrival of the Normans. No traces of this earlier building have yet been discovered.
Although according to the Domesday Survey there was a church at Wolfhampcote no trace of this early building survives. It is likely that if it existed it stood on the same site as the present church. But we know that in 1248 Geoffrey de Langele placed a chaplain, called Henry, in charge and that eight years later Robert de Langele presented the living to Peter de Leycestria, a noted pluralist and sub-deacon of St Mary’s Church in Warwick.
The Manor and the Living of the Church
1330 circa – 1614: The Peto Family
The Langley family held the right to the living until in 1331, when, early in the reign of Edward III, the manor passed by marriage to the Peto family. In 1365, Sir John Peto granted the living to Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and in 1392 the Earl gave the church to the Dean and Canon of the Collegiate Church of St Mary at Warwick. During the l4th century the church was rebuilt and in the next century the roof
1614-1800: The Clarke Family
In 1614 Sir Edward Peto, of Chesterton, also in Warwickshire, sold the land to his tenant Robert Clarke . The manor remained with this family until in 1800 when Thomas Clarke, the last male heir, died. In the church may be seen several memorials of this family, others having been lost or damaged during the years.
1826-1904: The Tibbits & Hood Families
In 1826 the estate was bought by Charles Tibbits, of Barton Seagrave in Northamptonshire. Later in the century Mary, the daughter and heir of Richard Tibbits, married the third Viscount Hood. She still owned the property at the time of her death in 1904 when it was sold and the manorial rights finally extinguished. The family later took the name Gregory-Hood which it retains. Monuments relating to several members of this family can also be seen in the church.
The hamlet now consists of a cottage, behind which stands an old stone tithe barn, the manor house, probably built in the 17th century, which survives as the present farm house and, standing slightly isolated, by the old Central Line, the last vicarage, built in 1873 and now a private house. Standing apart from all these is the church of St Peter in what was the centre of the original village.
The Black Death
Local legend suggests that the village was wiped out by the Black Death brought in by refugees from London, but there is no evidence to support such a theory in the surviving records which are extensive. It is much more likely that a few cottages still remained after this great plague and after struggling to maintain their land the villagers drifted off to more prosperous places leaving the Lord of the Manor to clear the land for sheep grazing as best he could.
So it has remained until the present time, the land probably being too difficult to cultivate. The site is now protected from damage by arable farming under arrangements made between the Department of the Environment and the landowner in pursuance of the Ancient Monuments legislation.
After the village disappeared the church remained to serve the few people still living in the parish as well as the neighbouring hamlets of Flecknoe, Nethercote and Sawbridge. Today Flecknoe is a small village, but the other two are now not much larger than Wolfhampcote.
Ovencote or Wolfhampcote?
In medieval times the village was often known as `Ovencote’ being referred to as such in the early parish registers, while documentary evidence also exists to show that at the end of the 11th century the inhabitants were one priest, four brothers, four bondsmen, seven villeins and ten bordars (smallholders) with their families; perhaps a 100 persons in all.
Even to this day, some of the older local villagers of Braunston and Flecknoe refer to the village as Ovencote, although both Robert Morden’s and John Speed’s maps of Warwickshire show Ovencot as a hamlet between Braunston and Wolfhampcote. Perhaps they are referring to Braunstonbury, directly adjacent to Wolfhampcote on the East side of the river Leam? It is hard to say as the maps of that time are not accurate enough at that scale.
During the centuries which followed there are scattered references to the parish in the various surviving records, including an account of a trial held at Coventry in 1221 concerning three cases of murder in the village; one of these involved a villager called Geoffrey who killed Robert, son of Richard of Flecknoe. He afterwards fled into the church of St Peter, seeking sanctuary, and later acknowledged his crime before going into exile.
Later references to the church are also found in the Quarter Sessions Books, in two fine copies of glebe terriers dating from 1682, and in the parish registers. The first volume of these dated 1558, was the result of the Injunction of 1597 when Queen Elizabeth approved an Act to record all baptisms, marriages and burials in a bound parchment kept in each parish church. At the same time it was decreed that parish records from the first year of the Queen’s reign, which was in 1558, should be copied into the new books from their beginning, and this was done at Wolfhampcote by the incumbent, John Fisher,
Some years ago the glebe terriers and the parish registers, from 1558 to 1768, were transcribed by Dr Edward Reid-Smith, a life long friend of the church, and printed privately by him. The volume on the parish registers is now almost a rare book in its own right as only a 100 copies were printed for sale but the originals of the documents can be seen at the Diocesan Records Office at Warwick where they were placed for safe keeping when the church was closed. There is a copy at The Hall in Wolfhampcote.
The Dissolution, 1586
At the Dissolution the patronage passed to the Crown, and not long after 1586 came into the possession of Thomas Spenser, who presented the vicars in subsequent years.
The church remained unaltered until the first of the modern restorations, in 1848, when work was carried out at the expense of Lady Hood, who also built the family mausoleum on to the east end of the church. This was repaired in 1976 and the entrance blocked to prevent further damage by vandals, who had in the past obtained access to the interior. It was commonly thought that the chancel was also rebuilt at this time, but evidence of old stonework uncovered during the recent restoration shows that this was probably not the case. It appears much more likely that the outside of the chancel was faced with the stonework that can be seen today, leaving the original structure intact behind this later facing.
Excavations and Archaeological Investigations
Around the churchyard are a few grassy enclosures which mark the area of a house with its accompanying land, or toft, but there is no visible indication as to where the dwelling actually stood in the enclosure, which is about 160 ft by 100 ft in size, although it is likely that it fronted on to the main village street. The original moated manor house stood on the north side of the churchyard, the site being visible across the modern track which serves the farm. Although the village has been known to historians for many years, there has been no large-scale archaeological investigation of the site, apart from a trial excavation carried out in August, 1955, by a group of students under the direction of Mrs. D. G. Hurst. This investigation was sponsored by the Deserted Medieval Village Research Group with funds from Birmingham and Coventry Museums. Traces of pottery from the 11th to 15th centuries were discovered, the greatest proportion being from the period between the 12th and late 13th centuries when the village was flourishing. Traces of timber buildings were also found in the clay soil, together with such items as knives, buttons, buckles, a rare barrel padlock as well as a stone spindle whorl and a bone shuttle indicating that cloth making took place in the district.
“I still remember the excavation in 1955, it was a hot summer and the young men, who I should imagine were university students, found the digging extremely onerous.” J.Thompson
Acknowledgements & Credits
This brief history of Wolfhampcote and it’s church draws extensively from an original article written by Lyndon F Cave who was the architect and overseer of all the modern work done in and on St. Peter’s. He in turn acknowledged the help and advice of Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, who had been Hon. Director of the Friends of Friendless Churches since its formation and was chairman of the Redundant Churches Fund during the period when the modern repairs were carried out.
Reference has also been made to the history of St. Peter’s in the volumes of the Victoria County History of Warwickshire as well as the following works compiled by Dr Reid-Smith: The Parish Registers of Wolfhampcote Parish Church 1558-1768 and Notes on the History of Wolfhampcote Village and Church. Copies of both these may be seen at the County Record Office in Warwick.
Text by James Thompson with grateful acknowledgement to Lyndon F Cave