Welton Village History

The Last Thousand Years or so in Welton

The first documentary evidence about Welton is in the Domesday Book, but the village obviously existed well before 1086.  Roman coins and artefacts found in and around the village suggest that there was a Roman presence here and there may well have been Ancient Britons farming in the area before that, given that the village is only a stone’s throw from a number of Iron Age Hill Forts, including one at Daventry.

The name “Welton” probably comes from the Old English “welle” meaning Spring and the Anglo-Saxon “ton” meaning settlement.  There are several springs in the parish which would have made it an attractive site for a settlement.  Nucleated settlements with shared fields started to replace isolated farms during the eighth and ninth centuries, so Welton probably became established as a village at that time.  There was a Chapel belonging to the Church in Daventry on the site of St. Martin’s Church; in fact, the Anglo-Saxon font is still in the present building.  As a chapel rather than a church, burials could not take place in the churchyard.  Instead, villagers had to pay a “heriot” to the Church in Daventry for a burial there. 

The Norman Invasion

After the Norman invasion in 1066, things would have remained quiet for a few years, but then at some point, probably during the 1070s, Osbern de Neufmarche and his soldiers arrived and “violently seized” the Chapel.  This was most likely in response to the widespread rebellion taking place in the country, in support of Edgar the Ætheling’s claim to the throne.   We can imagine the local rebels barricaded inside the chapel for protection, but unfortunately history does not tell us much about how it all ended.  Osbern was given land in Welton and had his main residence here.  This was probably initially at the top of the hill, where the recreation ground is now situated.  It would have been a fortified manor house, possibly a little like a castle.  The Chapel was not returned to the Church in Daventry until the 1130s, when Osbern’s son William came to an agreement with the Priory in Daventry.

Osbern’s grand-daughter, Agnes, received Welton as a dowry when she married Richard Mallory of Kirby Mallory in Leicestershire.  The family split their time between Kirby Mallory and Welton and their descendants continued to have a house in Welton until the early 1400s.  At some point, probably in the 1200s, the house moved its position from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill, when it became fashionable for the wealthy to have a moated manor house a little way away from the dwellings of the common people.  This manor house fell into ruins in the fifteenth century; nothing is left of it but the lumps and bumps in fields behind the present Churchill Manor suggest that it was there.  The village, at this time, would still have been confined to the top of the hill with roads forming a figure of eight around the Church and the original site of Osbern’s fortified manor house.

The 13th Century

During the thirteenth century, there was a population explosion in Welton.  The Chapel was most likely enlarged during this time but would still not have been as large as the current building.  If you visit the Church, you will see a carving of a lion’s head on the west wall which dates from this time.  It may have been a winged lion (look at it from the side to see the wings), the symbol of St. Mark and may have been one of a set of four apostle carvings around the building.  Records still exist of who farmed which piece of land in the common fields.  Some family names would stick around for centuries, for example “Green”, “England”, “Tew” and “Eyre”.  Other families would die out in the troubles of the following centuries.

The 14th Century

The fourteenth century was a disastrous time nationally and locally.  At the beginning of the century, famine, caused by climate change and several livestock diseases, led to hunger and malnutrition.  Then in 1348-9 there was a catastrophic pandemic known then as “The Mortality” or “The Great Pestilence”.  We now refer to it as “The Black Death”.  The pandemic certainly wiped out a proportion of the population of Welton, including the Priest.  Later in the century the pandemic returned, and by the early 15th century, field and tax records show a much-reduced population.  It is likely that some of the houses in the village fell into ruin during this time.  Some people, however, benefitted financially from the pandemic, for example Henry Eyre who inherited his brother’s property in Welton (later to be known as Welton House) and his uncle’s property in Braunston. 

The 15th Century

In the early fifteenth century, the Mallory family ceased to live in Welton, and the fortified manor house fell into ruins.  The manor still passed to the Mallory family descendants through the female line, but they were absent landlords.  The manor was managed by the Catesby family of Ashby St. Ledgers, and John Catesby purchased Welton House from Henry Eyre.  Welton House was now the most prestigious building in the village.  It would therefore have been quite a natural progression for villagers when William Catesby bought the estate in the 1480s at the same time as acquiring several other villages in the area.  But normal life was interrupted in August 1485.  William Catesby, a staunch supporter of Richard III, needed to raise an army to fight against Henry Tudor.  It would have been made up from people from the local villages who were duty bound not only to pay their rent to William, but also to offer military service under his command.  On 22nd August, the armies came together, Richard III lost his horse, his kingdom and his life and William Catesby was captured.  A week later, William Catesby was executed as a traitor and the local villages became the property of King Henry VII.  How many of the army managed to return home, we do not know, but records after this time show that many of the family names did not continue.  It is therefore likely that this one event had a significant impact on Welton.  The surnames Tew, Green and England continued.

Around this time, many villages in the midlands were being cleared for sheep farming.  The population of the country had still not recovered after successive outbreaks of the Black Death, the income of estate owners fell, there were insufficient tenants to work the land and many estates were financially unviable unless the common fields were turned into pasture.  Welton was saved from this fate partially because it now belonged to the King and partially because of the rise of the cottage weaving industry.  There was no shortage of wool!   When other villages in the area were cleared, some of the displaced peasants moved to Welton and farmed the local fields or worked on their looms.  During the sixteenth century, things were therefore looking better for the village; in addition to employment in cottage industries and the fields there would have been a miller, a blacksmith, a wheelwright, a stonemason, a baker and the beginnings of other newer trades.  Many of the village houses were now being built or rebuilt using stone from the local stonepits and if you were very lucky, you may have had a chimney instead of a hole in the roof. 

King Henry VII granted the manor to one of his relatives, David Owen.  David was still an absent landlord, as were his successors.  When King Henry VIII closed the Monasteries and Priories, the Chapel became a Church and for the first time in its history, villagers were allowed to bury their deceased relatives in the churchyard.  By the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the manor was owned by Richard Knightley (of Norton, Fawsley, Everdon, etc!).  Richard was a keen puritan and installed a puritan as vicar, Eusebius Walker.  This was well before the puritan movement took hold across all of England, and bishops were a little wary of it.  Eusebius came to the attention of the Bishop of Peterborough as he had excommunicated Joan Green for criticising the length of services.  A sermon could easily last for three hours or more! 

The 17th Century

In the Seventeenth Century Richard Knightley sold the estate to the Adams family, who set about building a new Manor House at the bottom of the hill, Churchill Manor.   Although the family administered the estate, they were not the only wealthy family in the village.  The owners of the Ashby St. Ledger estate still held Welton House (and would do so right up to the twentieth century) and there was another family in the village who were establishing a reputation in Northamptonshire, the Clarke family.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this family would continue to amass land and wealth, acquiring the estate of Drayton Manor in Daventry and building “Welton Place”, a large mansion in Welton complete with a landscaped park.  Meanwhile, the boundaries of the village expanded down towards the bottom of the hill.

The 18th Century

In the mid-eighteenth century, Welton was one of the first villages in Northamptonshire to feel the impact of inclosure of the common fields.  Whether this was a good or bad thing depended on how wealthy you were!  There were demonstrations, discussions in parliament, petitions, etc., but eventually an act of parliament was passed, and many villagers simply became tenant farmers or worse.  This event altered the landscape; there were new hedges planted and some of the more modern field names were established.  The weaving industry continued in Welton, but by the turn of the century was struggling because of the Napoleonic wars (which disrupted the export of the finished goods) and competition with the cotton industry in the north of the country.  After all, who wants to wear itchy woollen undies when you can have cotton ones!  The problems led to increased poverty in the village, for example, George Ringrose, a master weaver, initially had to expand his business to also run a shop from his house but eventually became bankrupt and lost everything.

The 19th Century

The Clarke family appeared to still be prospering; by the early years of the nineteenth century they had bought the estate of Welton Manor and were also managing farmland just down the road at Thrupp.  However, other documents show that they had a huge mortgage and rents from their tenants were often not forthcoming.  As a result, the debts mounted.  In the 1820s the family were forced to put part of the estate up for auction, but eventually were able to take out another mortgage to cover the debts.   Despite the financial difficulties, the Clarke family did what they could for the people of the village, for example building a school.  The first school was where the village hall now stands, and this was handed over to the National Society who were running Church Schools.  It moved to its current site at the beginning of the twentieth century.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the vicar, Rev. Darnell, ran a boarding school from what is now the Stone House.  This catered for the children of friends of his who were working abroad, mostly in the West Indies.  At the same time, Colonel Richard Trevor Clarke was making a name for himself in the world of horticulture.  He was a founder member of the RHS Scientific Committee, is quoted in one of Charles Darwin’s books and spent considerable time developing hybrids of common garden plants and cotton plants.  I’m afraid the story that he discovered the plant “Clarkia” is a myth – it was discovered by an American seaman, Captain Clark, in the previous century, however, some of our Colonel Clarke’s hybrids had “Weltonia” in the name.  Whilst this all made the village look prosperous on the surface, underneath this story there was severe poverty.  There were three or four attempts to start a workhouse in the village but the solution eventually was a number of parish houses let to the poor on peppercorn rents together with a Parish scheme for distributing alms to the poor.  Properties were falling into disrepair and Welton really was not on the top of the list of desirable places to live.  Some of the properties that were rebuilt during this time used the bricks produced in the local brick kilns but most remained “unsanitary”. 

Despite the poverty, people found enough cash to support the two pubs in the village (The White Horse and the Red Lion).  On Sundays, they would attend St. Martin’s Church or one of the two non-conformist chapels, The Baptist Chapel which sat on the corner where Ashby Road meets Station Road and the Methodist Chapel, situated in Well Lane. 

The 20th Century

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the new vicar, Mr Edward Liddell, tried to help the unemployed by organising woodwork lessons to teach young men a skill which could lead to employment.  Their handiwork can be seen in the church with the carvings on the pulpit and the carved hand just inside the North Door.  A brass plaque by the pulpit lists the names of those who were involved.  Sadly, some of those same names appear on the war memorial at the other side of the Church. 

The twentieth century probably saw the biggest changes in the fortunes of the village.  The coming of the motor car led to greater prosperity as people could travel to work.  Welton Place was let to the Garrard Family, jewellers to royalty, and many important visitors came to the village.  Whilst two World Wars took their toll in terms of lives, the devastation in a small village was minor compared to the cities such as Coventry.  Some of the older houses in the village were replaced by more modern houses.  Whilst we can be sentimental about what was lost, we would not wish to live in the conditions of some of those houses.  In the middle of the century, Welton House was bought by Sir Halford Reddish, Director of Rugby Cement.  He was a great benefactor to the village, donating the organ to the church and land for the village hall.  New housing was built as parts of the Welton Place estate were sold off.  Eventually, the mansion itself was sold off and demolished, making room for Clarkes Way.  At the bottom of the village, where Elms Dyke currently stands, there was a plastics factory.  Churchill Manor House was at one stage a Retirement Home, but was later converted back to a house.  By the end of the twentieth century, Welton House had also gone following a fire in the 1980s, making way for Halford Way.  The village was rapidly rising up the list of desirable places to live. 

The 21st Century

And here we are in the twenty-first century.  The next paragraph of history is up to everyone who lives in Welton to design and write for we are all history makers.

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