Hartlebury (St. James)

HARTLEBURY (St. James), a parish, in the union of Droitwich, partly in the Lower division of the hundred of Halfshire, but chiefly in the Lower division of the hundred of Oswaldslow, Kidderminster and W. divisions of the county of Worcester, 2 miles (E. by S.) from Stourport; containing, with the hamlet of Upper Mitton, 2051 inhabitants. This place, the name of which signifies in the Saxon language "the Hill or Place of Harts," has long been the residence of the bishops of Worcester, to whom the manor was granted by Burthred, King of Mercia, in the year 850. Walter de Cantelupe, bishop in 1257, commenced the building of a castle for the residence of himself and his successors in the see, which, about the close of that century, was completed by Godfrey Gifford, previously lord chancellor, who, on his advancement to the prelacy, embattled the building, and surrounded it with a moat. In 1646, the castle, which was then a place of great strength, and held for the king by Lord Windsor and Colonel Sandys, with a garrison of 120 foot and 20 horse, was assailed by a detachment of the parliamentarian army under Colonel Morgan, who summoned it to surrender. The garrison capitulated after two days, without making any defence; and the castle was soon afterwards dismantled, and taken down with the exception of the keep, which remained entire till the year 1781, when it was removed by Bishop Hurd, in his improvements. The present palace, which was erected after the Restoration, but still retains the appellation of Hartlebury Castle, is situated in a park of moderate extent, in a beautifully sequestered part of the county; it is a substantial and handsome castellated mansion of stone, and, without any ostentatious pretension to grandeur or magnificence, has an air of dignified retirement characteristic of an episcopal residence. The building contains a noble hall; a chapel, which was elegantly fitted up, and decorated with windows of stained glass, in 1750, by Bishop Maddox, at a cost of £1200; and a spacious library 90 feet in length, erected by Bishop Hurd, who stored it with a choice collection of works, including the libraries of Warburton and Pope. The approach to the palace is by a fine avenue, chiefly of lime-trees planted in 1700 by Bishop Stillingfleet; the grounds are tastefully laid out, and embellished with timber of venerable growth, and with thriving plantations.

The parish is bounded on the west and south-west by the rivers Stour and Severn, and comprises nearly 6000 acres, of which 4647 are in the manor of Hartlebury, and the remainder in the manors of Waresley and Upper Mitton, the former belonging to the Rev. Thomas Harward, of Winterfold, and the latter manor to Henry Talbot, Esq., of Kidderminster. The surface is in many parts pleasingly undulated; and is intersected from north to south by two ranges of terraces, between which is a beautiful and fertile valley terminating in the luxuriant vale of Severn. From the eastern terrace are extensive views of the Malvern and Cotswold hills, Hagley, and Westwood, with the tower of the cathedral, and the spires of the churches, in the city of Worcester. The western terrace also commands a wide extent of scenery, embracing the romantic windings of the Severn, the Abberley and Woodberry hills, and the woods of Areley, Ribbesford, and Wassall, with the Shropshire hills in the distance. The river Stour has its source in the grounds of the Leasowes, in the parish of Hales-Owen, and after a course of nearly twenty miles, falls into the Severn near Stourport; the Titton brook flows through the valley in the centre of the parish, into the Severn, about a mile below the mouth of the Stour. The soil is fertile, and, with the exception of about 220 acres of common and waste, is in a high state of cultivation, producing abundant crops of all kinds. The principal substratum is red sandstone, of good quality for building; and from the quarries was taken the stone for the erection of the present church: on the upper part of the common is a bed of rich marl. There are many good houses, occupied by the various landholders; Waresley House, erected by the late John Baker, Esq., is now the residence of the Rev. John Peel. At Wildon, in the parish, are some extensive tin-works. Facility of communication is afforded by the road from Worcester to Stourport, by the river Severn, and the Worcestershire and Staffordshire canal.

The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £30, and in the patronage of the Bishop; the tithes have been commuted for £1765, and the glebe comprises 126 acres. The ancient church, built by Bishop Gifford in 1269, and to which a tower was added by Bishop Sandys in 1575, was, with the exception of the tower, which was repaired and raised, and the chancel, which was rebuilt by the late rector, the Rev. Samuel Picart, taken down in 1836, and replaced by a new church, towards the erection of which £1000 were bequeathed by the late rector, £500 contributed by the bishop, £200 by the present rector, the Rev. Thomas Baker, and £150 by the Rev. John Peel. It is an elegant structure in the decorated English style, after a design by the late Mr. Rickman, of Birmingham, and contains 1000 sittings; on the north side of the tower is a plain tomb to the memory of Bishop Hurd, who died at Hartlebury in 1808. The free grammar school, the origin of which is unknown, existed in the year 1400, and in the first of Elizabeth's reign was made a royal foundation; it is now under the management of seven trustees. A school for girls was endowed by Mrs. Hannah Eyre, in 1728, with £200, which were invested in the purchase of land in the parish of Elmbridge; and in 1842 a house for the mistress, with two large schoolrooms, which are also used as Sunday schools for boys and girls, was built on land given by the rector of Hartlebury, who, and the churchwardens, are trustees. Richard Bentley, the celebrated critic, was rector of the parish in the year 1695.

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