Alcester (St. Nicholas)

ALCESTER (St. Nicholas), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the Alcester division of the hundred of Barlichway, S. division of the county of Warwick, 15 miles (W. S. W.) from Warwick, and 103 (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 2399 inhabitants. The name of this place is a contraction of Alnceastre, denoting its situation on the river Alne. Its position on the line of the Ikeneld-street (which may still be traced within a mile to the north-west), and the discovery of numerous relics of antiquity, afford evidence of its having been a Roman station; which by most antiquaries has been identified with the Alauna of the Itineraries. In the time of the Saxons it was a place of great importance, and a royal residence; the inhabitants being described by Capgrave as given to luxury and viciousness, from an abundance of worldly wealth. Egwin, third bishop of Huicca, who first preached Christianity here, founded the abbey of Evesham; and at a general synod held at this place, at which were present Bertwald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Wilfred, Archbishop of York, the endowments of that house were confirmed. Alcester is said to have been formerly of much greater extent than at present, and to have contained three parochial churches; which opinion is corroborated by the discovery of human skeletons, and numerous foundations of ancient buildings, in that part of the parish called the Blacklands, now an extensive meadow, lying between the present town and the bridge over the Alne, to which, in all probability, it formerly extended; and also by the site of a monastery founded in 1140, by Ralph de Boteler, for Benedictine monks, afterwards made a cell to the abbey of Evesham, and valued at the Dissolution at £101. 14. per annum. The remains have been converted into a farmhouse, and are situated about half a mile to the north-east of the town, in the centre of which, according to Leland, they originally stood.

In the reign of Henry I. the place was a free borough, and in that of Henry II. it was rated, among the other boroughs in the county, at four marks as a yearly aid. In the 21st of Edward I., Sir Walter de Beauchamp, lord of a moiety of the manor, obtained the grant of an annual fair for eight days, to begin on the eve of St. Giles; which time being found inconvenient, the eve of St. Faith was appointed by another charter in the 30th of that monarch's reign. In the 28th of the same reign Beauchamp also received a grant of free warren in all his demesne lands here and elsewhere. His son Walter, in the 13th of Edward II., obtained a charter for another fair, to be held annually for eight days, beginning on the eve of St. Barnabas the Apostle; and his brother and successor, Giles, procured in the 14th of Edward III., a charter to fortify and embattle his manor-house here. His great-grandson, Sir John Beauchamp, purchased the other moiety of the manor from the family of Bortreaux, and, having thus become lord of the whole, obtained, in the 25th of Henry VI., a charter confirming the privilege of a court leet with waifs and estrays, a market, and all other privileges enjoyed by his predecessors.

The town is pleasantly situated on the river Arrow, at its confluence with the Alne, in a fertile and richly-cultivated vale, surrounded with finely-wooded eminences; and consists of one principal street, from which, near the market-place, others diverge in the direction of the roads to Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Evesham. The houses are in many instances well built, and of handsome appearance, occasionally interspersed with ancient buildings having projecting upper stories, and many modern brick-built cottages. The principal manufacture is that of needles and fish-hooks, in which from 500 to 600 persons are employed. The market, which is well supplied with corn, is on Tuesday; the fairs, principally for cattle, horses, and sheep, are on Jan. 26th, March 23rd, May 18th, July 27th, Oct. 18th, and Dec. 7th. The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates; and a court leet is held annually in November, when bailiffs and constables are appointed by the steward of the manor. The powers of the county debt-court of Alcester, established in 1847, extend over the whole of the registration-district of Alcester, except the parish of Ipsley. The town-hall, situated in the centre of the market-place, is a plain building, of which the lower part, appropriated to the use of the market, is of stone, supported on circular arches and round Tuscan columns.

The parish comprises by measurement 1200 acres of good fertile land, and extends to the Ridge Way, which separates a portion of the county from that of Worcester. The living is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £14. 18. 10., and in the gift of the Marquess of Hertford: the income arises from land granted in lieu of tithes, comprising 90 acres, and valued at £215 per annum. The church, formerly dedicated to St. Andrew, was built in the beginning of the thirteenth century; but of the original structure only the tower remains, the battlements of which, together with the body of the church, were rebuilt in 1732, when the edifice was dedicated to St. Nicholas; it has been lately rendered more commodious by extensive galleries erected at the expense of the rector. The exterior preserves a characteristic appearance, harmonizing with the tower, to which the interior, with a flat ceiling supported on round Tuscan pillars separating the aisles from the nave, forms a striking contrast. Near the altar is a tomb with recumbent effigies of Sir Fulke Greville and his lady, finely sculptured and coloured; also an elegant monument to the second marquess of Hertford, in which his effigy, in a sitting posture, is beautifully represented in white marble. Two chantries were formerly existing in the church; one in a chapel of "Our Lady," founded by one of the Botelers of Oversley; and the other by John, son of Giles de Beauchamp, in the 36th of Edward III. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. The free school, which is open to all the boys of the parish, was instituted in 1592, by Walter Newport, of Goldney, in the county of Northampton, who endowed it with £400, producing £20 per annum, which is paid to the master, who has also a house and garden rent-free: there are but few boys on the foundation. The poor law union of Alcester comprises 18 parishes and places in the county of Warwick, and 4 in that of Worcester; and contains a population of 16,833. Beauchamp's Court, the ancient manor-house, now a farm, about a mile and a half distant, gives the title of Baron to the Earl of Warwick.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.