Stochan (ix cent.); Stoche (xi cent.); Stoka (xiii
cent.); Stoke Prior (xvi cent.).
Stoke Prior is a large parish lying in mid-Worcestershire to the north-east of the town of Droitwich. It
has an area of 3,835 acres, (fn. 1) of which 994 are arable
land, 2,232 permanent grass and 1½ woods. (fn. 2) The
village of Stoke Prior, in the west of the parish, lies
in the valley of the Salwarpe, at about 200 ft. above
the ordnance datum, but the land rises in the north,
reaching a height of over 400 ft. at Finstall. The
subsoil is Keuper Marl and the upper soil is clay,
growing crops of wheat, barley and turnips.
The village lies on the Bromsgrove and Alcester
high road, which passes through the parish from north
to south, connecting the village with the hamlet of
Sharpway Gate on the southern boundary of the
parish. A branch from this road at Stoke Heath
leads north-east to Aston Fields and Finstall.
The River Salwarpe, which rises in the Lickey
Hills, flows south-west through the parish. On its
course through Stoke Prior it is fed by several tributaries, of which the most important is Sugar Brook.
On the banks of the Salwarpe lies the village of Stoke
Prior, the inhabitants of which are almost exclusively
engaged in the manufacture of salt. A new village
has sprung up in the course of the last century to the
south of the original settlement, clustering round the
Stoke Prior Salt Works. These were built by
Mr. Corbett, and now belong to the Salt Union.
Salt was found here in 1828, (fn. 3) and the works are
now the most complete and compact in the world. (fn. 4)
The Stoke Farm Reformatory for Boys, to the
south of the village, was founded by Joseph Sturge
about the middle of the 19th century, (fn. 5) and is managed
by a committee under Government inspection. It
contains on an average eighty inmates, who are
employed in gardening, tailoring, carpentry, shoemaking, and general work on the farm. Near the
Reformatory is the Colonial Training College, which
has for its object the practical training in domestic
work of ladies desiring to proceed to the colonies.
To the north of the village at Stoke Heath (fn. 6) is the
Grange, the residence of Mr. Arthur James Norton.
To the west are needle-scouring mills, (fn. 7) and to the
south-east is an old pound. To the south of the
village are workshops and a wharf on the Worcester
and Birmingham Canal, which passes through a great
many locks in its passage through the parish of Stoke
Finstall, now a separate ecclesiastical parish, lies in
the north, and practically constitutes a suburb of
Bromsgrove. It includes Finstall Park, of 120 acres,
the property of Mr. Ernest Montague Everitt, J.P.,
and now occupied by Mr. John Boultbee Brooks, J.P.
The village hall was presented to the parish in 1904
by Miss Albright, and is used for religious services on
Sundays and as a men's social club during the week.
The newer portion grouped round Bromsgrove
station is locally known as Aston Fields and lies to
the south of Finstall. It is a populous district,
inhabited by the employees of the Midland Railway's
wagon works, which are in this parish. The Aston
Fields Workmen's Club was opened in 1891.
The Bristol and Birmingham branch of the Midland
railway runs through the parish from south-west to
north-east, with a station called Stoke Works near the
salt works. This is also the terminus of the Stoke
branch of the Great Western railway. Bromsgrove
station lies in this parish, to the west of Aston Fields,
and to the north of Finstall is the beginning of the
Lickey incline on the Midland railway, with a
gradient of 1 in 37.
An Inclosure Act for Stoke Prior was passed in
1772, (fn. 8) and the award is dated 9 December 1772. (fn. 9)
Two armlets have been found, with the remains
of a skeleton, near Stoke Prior. (fn. 10)
The following place-names have been found: La
Syche (fn. 11) (xiii cent.); Casbridge and Kinchfords (fn. 12) (xviii
cent.); and Lower and Upper Gambolds (xix cent.).
The land of ten tributaries at STOKE
PRIOR was given to the monks of Worcester by Huthrid (Uhtred), subregulus of
the Hwiccas, in 770. (fn. 13) Bishop Oswald leased 6 cassates
at Stoke (fn. 14) to the thegn Eadmaer for three lives in
967, (fn. 15) and at the date of the Domesday Survey the
monks of Worcester held Stoke Prior, which, with its
berewicks of Eston (fn. 16) and Bedindone, (fn. 17) contained
10 hides. (fn. 18)
In 1207 King John acquitted the manor from
suits at shire and hundred and from aids of sheriff,
reeve and bailiff, and granted the monks sac and soc,
thol and theam, infangentheof and other liberties. (fn. 19)
In the time of Henry III the prior appropriated
about 5 acres in the common of forest (communa
foreste) at Stoke, (fn. 20) and about the same time he assarted
about half a virgate in Woderewe at Stoke in Feckenham Forest. (fn. 21) It was probably the latter land (called
half an acre) which was released by Henry III in
1248 from all rents usually levied on assarted land in
the forest, on condition that the prior should appropriate no more land without licence. (fn. 22)
The chamberlain of the monastery, to whom this
manor belonged, (fn. 23) leased it from time to time. (fn. 24) In
1225 it returned to his hands on the death of
Reginald de Shortgrave, the farmer. (fn. 25) There were
over fifty villeins on the manor, (fn. 26) and two free
tenants, who paid 10s. a year rent. (fn. 27)
The manor remained in the possession of the priory (fn. 28)
until the dissolution of the house in 1540, (fn. 29) and was
granted to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester in
1542. (fn. 30) This grant was confirmed by James I in
1609, (fn. 31) and the manor remained with the dean and
chapter until 21 March 1650, when it was sold by
the Parliamentary Commissioners to John Fownes for
£685. (fn. 32) At the Restoration it was recovered by the
dean and chapter, and was confirmed to them in
1692. (fn. 33) They continued to hold it until 1859, (fn. 34)
when it was taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who still own it. (fn. 35)
In 1780 both courts leet and courts baron were
still held for this manor, (fn. 36) but they have lately fallen
into disuse. Some court rolls and rentals of this
manor are preserved in the muniment room of the
Dean and Chapter of Worcester. (fn. 37)
At the date of the Domesday Survey the Prior of
Worcester had two mills on his manor of Stoke Prior,
rendering 2 ounces of silver yearly. (fn. 38) In 1240
Robert the chaplain held these mills for the term of
his life, and paid an annual rent of 32s. (fn. 39) There was
also a fulling-mill, which brought in 40s. a year. (fn. 40)
A corn-mill called Baddington Mill on 'Salop' Brook
was included in the sale of the manor to John Fownes
in 1650. (fn. 41) The present Stoke Prior Mills are on the
River Salwarpe, to the south-west of the village.
Bant Mill on Spadesbourne Brook is on the eastern
boundary, Sugarbrook Mill is at the junction of
Sugar Brook with the Salwarpe, and Fish House
Mill is a corn-mill on the Salwarpe to the north-east
of the village. The needle-scouring mill in the
village has been mentioned above.
The church of ST. MICHAEL
consists of a chancel 40 ft. by 13½ ft.,
north vestry 8½ ft. by 9½ ft., north
chapel (St. Catherine's) 18 ft. by 10 ft., tower (south
of the chancel) 16¼ ft. by 15½ ft., with a small Lady
chapel east of it 7 ft. wide by 8½ ft., nave 56 ft. by
18½ ft., north aisle of the whole length of the nave
and 8½ ft. wide, with a modern vestry to the north of
it, south aisle to the eastern half of the nave 29 ft.
long and 9 ft. wide, and a south porch. These
measurements are all internal.
The earliest church of which there are any remains
dates from the first half of the 12th century, at
which time it consisted of a chancel and nave with a
About 1180 a small chapel was added at the east
end of the north aisle with an archway opening into
the chancel. At the same time the building of the
tower was begun, the north and west arches being
the first work; whether the latter really opened into
an existing aisle is doubtful. More probably it was
inserted preparatory to the addition of an aisle at a
later date. The building of the tower seems to have
lingered for some time, and the greater part of the
superstructure is work of about 1200. The small
chapel to our Lady east of it is a peculiar feature,
but seems to have been part of the original plan.
About thirty years later the chancel was lengthened
eastwards and the north vestry built, and this was
followed by the addition of the south aisle with its
arcade of two bays about 1250, which is one of the
most beautiful portions of the church. In the 14th
century the east window was enlarged, a new window
inserted in the south wall of the chancel, and the
space between the 13th-century vestry and the north
chapel was closed in and roofed over, the east wall of
the latter being removed and the archway from the
chancel considerably widened. The outer walls of
the south aisle were rebuilt in the 15th century, and
the former wood porch in the angle of the nave and
aisle was, perhaps, of the same period.
At various times in the 19th century the church
underwent much rebuilding and repair, the north and
west walls being rebuilt, the nave reroofed, a new
vestry added, and a new south porch being erected in
place of the ancient porch, the woodwork of which
now serves as a lych-gate.
The 14th-century east window is of five lights
under a pointed head filled with net tracery, and has
been considerably restored. The north-east window
is a 13th-century lancet with widely splayed internal
jambs. The pointed segmental rear arch has apparently been lowered.
The pointed doorway into the vestry of a single
chamfered order has been recut, and a straight joint
in the walling between it and the lancet window
possibly marks the length of the former chancel. The
south window is of two lights under a traceried head
of the 14th century. Below it are the 13th-century
piscina and sedilia; the former has a rough trefoiled
head, a circular basin and a modern shelf. The three
sedilia are divided by detached octagonal shafts supporting pointed and moulded heads; above the shafts,
in the spandrels, are small grotesque crouching figures.
A moulded string-course runs along the wall face on
either side of the sanctuary, and to the east of the
14th-century window in the south wall are signs of a
blocked 13th-century lancet window. Square clasping
buttresses support the angles of the east wall; their
upper halves with the gable end have been renewed.
The archway into the north chapel has jambs with
bowtels and a half-round shaft on the inner face; the
west jamb appears to be the original transitional one,
the capital of the half-shaft being carved with a pointed
leaf decoration and the other capitals with bold projecting flowers. In the east jamb the bases differ
slightly and may be later, and the capital of the half-shaft here is plain. The two-centred drop arch has
been widened and is obviously later. The jambs of
the tower arch, though of greater thickness, are similar
to those opposite. The capitals are, however, quite
different, some being scalloped and others foliated.
The arch is pointed and of three orders with a
moulded label. The chancel arch is probably a
14th-century alteration of an earlier one and has
been much repaired with modern stonework.
Plan of Stoke Prior Church
The 13th-century vestry is lighted in its east wall
by an old lancet with a triangular pointed head;
another lancet on its west side has been filled in,
probably when the north chapel was enlarged in the
14th century. The chamber is vaulted in stone with
chamfered diagonal ribs springing from angle corbels
moulded with some elaboration. There is a chamber
above, which is lighted on its east side by a lancet with
old jambs and a new head. It was probably entered
by an outer doorway on the north side, but its traces
have been concealed by the modern stonework in the
upper part of the wall. The north-eastern corner
is strengthened by a clasping buttress, but that to the
other angle has been displaced by a 14th-century
buttress greatly repaired.
The north chapel or chapel of St. Catherine has a
two-light 14th-century window resembling the southeast window of the chancel, but differently moulded;
the window is set above the eaves course in a gabled head.
To the west of it is a small round-headed light with
a square external order; the jambs are old, and probably belonged to the original transitional light of
the chapel. The arch from the aisle has been much
modernized and a rood stair which stood here early
in the 19th century (fn. 42) has been cleared away, but the
upper door can still be seen above the north jamb of
the chancel arch.
The western arch of the tower has jambs similar to
those of the north arch, but with an extra chamfered
outer order. The northern capital to the half-round
shaft is scalloped, but that to the south jamb is moulded.
The arch is pointed and of three orders. The building
east of the tower probably served only as an altar
recess to the chapel formed by the base of the tower.
It has a pointed barrel vault and a moulded pointed
arch opening into it. In the east wall are two lancets,
all modern outside,
and a third, original,
in the south wall.
To the west of the
last is a trefoiled
piscina. Over the
chantry or altar recess is a large lancet
window which has a
later and lower rear
arch below the wood
ceiling, the upper
part of the window,
which is visible in
the chamber above,
being filled in. The
external jambs have
detached shafts with
moulded bases and
carved capitals; the
arches are moulded
and have labels carved
with square flowers.
Externally on either
side of this window
are blind recesses with a continuous edge roll to the
jambs and arches and moulded labels. In the south
wall of the tower is a small doorway, the jambs of
which contain detached shafts on the outer face with
bases and carved capitals. The head has a moulded
outer arch forming a sort of tympanum. The deeply
splayed plinth around the tower is cut through
square by this doorway, which appears to be an
insertion of slightly later date. Above it are a
moulded string and two lancet windows with banded
jamb shafts like that in the east wall; they are,
however, at a lower level and of greater length.
These windows are also flanked by two recesses
(resembling those in the east wall) carried down to
the level of the bands of the window shafts. Higher
up another string-course marks the second stage outside, and the shallow clasping buttresses at the angles
stop below it. The stair turret rises in the southwest corner, projecting slightly both ways, and is
lighted by narrow slits. The third stage of the tower
was till recently a blind story, but two modern lancets
now admit the light from the north side. The fourth
stage or bell-chamber is lighted by a triplet of lancets
on each side with jambs of two orders, the outer having
engaged shafts with moulded bases and bell capitals.
Edge rolls are cut on the external angles in this
stage. The upper part of the parapet is modern and
plain, but the ancient corbel tabling still remains; each
space is trefoiled and the corbels are carved as billet
moulds with human heads and rams' heads arranged in
irregular sequence. On the face of the stair turret
is a sundial, apparently of cement, dated 1663. A
tall timber spire covered with oak shingles crowns
the tower; it is square at the base and splayed back
to octagonal form from the parapet.
The nave has an early 12th-century north arcade
of five bays with circular columns and half-round
arches of two square orders. There are indications
in the last pier to the west that the end bay is slightly
later in date and the mouldings of the western respond
base differ from the others. There is, however,
nothing else left to verify this extension of the nave.
The capitals are all of plain section with grooved and
chamfered abaci and follow the forms of the piers.
The 13th-century south arcade consists of two
bays of graceful proportions and rich detail. The
middle column is circular with four engaged shafts,
and the responds are similar to half the column.
The bases are of the water-table type, and the
capitals have moulded bells with overhanging abaci.
Part of the eastern respond, which had been cut
away to let light into the pulpit, was restored in
1848. The arches are pointed and of two elaborately
moulded orders, with a moulded label on the nave
face, stopping on a bunch of foliage above the central
column. The 12th-century south doorway of the
nave has jambs of two orders, the outer with detached
shafts in the angles, partly restored, and with capitals
carved with stiff-leaf foliage. The arch is of two
semicircular orders, and on the face of the wall to the
west is cut or scratched an interlacing pattern. The
south-west window to the west of the south doorway
is a small 12th-century round-headed lancet, chamfered
outside, and with splayed jambs and semicircular rear
arch inside. The modern west doorway is said to have
replaced a late 15th-century one. The window
over, also modern, has three lights under a traceried
The south aisle is lighted by two 15th-century
windows, each of three lights beneath a four-centred
arch. A buttress of one stage between these windows
has a niche upon its face with a trefoiled head. The
parapet of the aisle is embattled, with pinnacles above
the two buttresses, both set diagonally, that over the
middle buttress being alone original. The three side
windows of the north aisle are modern, and have each
three lights in a square head. Below the middle
window are the jambs of a 12th-century doorway,
which were discovered and left in position at the
rebuilding of the wall. The west window is a modern
round-headed single light. The deep raking plinth to
the west walls of the aisle and nave appears to be old,
but the upper walling is nearly all new. The walling
throughout is of ashlar stonework, and the south-west
portion of the nave has been picked to receive plaster.
All the roofs appear to be modern except the flat roof of
the south aisle, which retains its original moulded
principal timbers. The chancel is gabled and open
timbered below and the nave is barrel-vaulted.
The octagonal font is of the 15th century. The
sides of the bowl are panelled, and carved with two
censing angels and four bearing shields. On the
north the subject represented appears to be a baptism,
in which a figure stands before a small font with
angels in the top corners holding up his robe. The
south face is quite blank, suggesting that the font
originally stood against the wall. The under edge
of the bowl is carved with Tudor roses, with a row
of ornamental cresting above, and in the middle of
the stem is a projecting band with carved flowers on
its face. The other fittings are modern. In the
vestry off the chancel is an old chest cut from a
solid tree trunk.
In the south aisle lies an ancient stone coffin lid
or slab, on which is the recumbent effigy of a priest;
he appears to be holding a chalice, but the whole is
much mutilated. On the east wall of St. Catherine's
chapel, and hidden by the organ, is a brass with figures
of Robert Smith, citizen and draper of London and
'free of the famous company of Marchant Adventurers,'
who died in 1609, and his two wives (fn. 43) and children.
The brass is set in a panelled stone slab. In the
south aisle is another brass commemorating Henry
Smith, also citizen and draper of London, who died
in 1606; this brass must also have been set in a
stone slab, which has now gone.
In the east lancet of the tower is some ancient
glass, brought from the Priory Church, Great Malvern,
including the inscription 'letabor in misericordia.'
Of the eight bells the first two are of 1897, the
third and fourth 1886, the fifth was cast by Henry
Bagley, 1676, the sixth is dated 1663, the seventh has
the motto 'Honi soit qui mal y pensi (sic) 1620'
and the tenor was a 1663 bell recast in 1886.
The communion plate consists of a silver-gilt cup
and paten of 1848 and a pewter flagon and almsdish.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms from 1564, burials from 1557, marriages from
1574, all to 1710; (ii) baptisms and burials 1710
to 1812, marriages 1712 to 1754; (iii) marriages
1755 to 1812.
The new church of ST. GODWALD at Finstall,
built in 1883, consists of a chancel, south transept
(containing the organ and vestry), nave and south
porch. The style is of the early 14th century, and
the materials are red sandstone with tiled roofs, the
interior being faced with white bricks. A south
vestry and north transept are included in the design,
but not yet completed. The disused church of
St. Godwald, which stands a short distance to the
eastward, close to the railway, is a small rectangular
building of red brick with stone dressings, lighted by
plain pointed windows, and having a gallery at the
west end. The roof is slated, and over the west
door is a stone tablet recording the rebuilding of the
church in 1773. The 18th-century fittings still
remain, and the whole building is in the last stage of
disrepair. It is now used as a mortuary chapel.
At the date of the Domesday
Survey the Prior of Worcester had a
priest on his manor of Stoke Prior. (fn. 44)
A church there is mentioned in 1240, and to it
belonged a curia and half a hide of land and the tithes
of Crufting, as a composition for the tithes of the
demesne. (fn. 45) The advowson belonged to the prior and
convent, (fn. 46) and remained in their possession until the
Dissolution. (fn. 47) In 1389 the prior and convent received
a licence from the Crown to appropriate the church
for the use of the chamberlain. (fn. 48)
The advowson and rectory (fn. 49) were granted to the
dean and chapter in 1542, (fn. 50) and the advowson has
remained with them ever since. (fn. 51)
John Toy, who was vicar in 1641, was the author
of a poem describing the Plague in Worcester. (fn. 52) In
July 1656 the council ordered that the sum of £40
a year should be settled on Richard Dowly, the
minister, to augment the very small value of the
vicarage. (fn. 53)
The chapel dedicated to St. Godwald at Finstall in
this parish is mentioned in 1390, when all oblations
received there were assigned to the vicar as part of his
stipend. (fn. 54) These oblations amounted to 23s. 4d. in
1535. (fn. 55) The chapel and chapel yard formerly called
St. Godwald's Chapel in Stoke Prior were granted in
1575–6 to John Mershe and others. (fn. 56) Under the
Stoke Prior Inclosure Act of 1772 5 acres of the
common were allotted to the chapel of St. Godwald,
and the allotment was to be held by the vicar of Stoke
Prior or his nominee. (fn. 57) A district was assigned to the
chapel in 1868, (fn. 58) and it was endowed with £50 out
of the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1869, (fn. 59) and with a further sum of £150 in
1879. (fn. 60) The living is a vicarage in the gift of the
vicar of Stoke Prior.
In Stoke Prior Works there is a Wesleyan
Methodist chapel. At Aston Fields there is a
Primitive Methodist Sunday school, built in 1891,
and a council school.
Henry Smith, citizen and draper of
London, who died in 1606, as recorded on a brass plate in the parish
church, gave by will to Stoke Prior, where he was
born, £100 to be laid out in land, the rent whereof
should be employed in the payment of 40s. a year
for four or six sermons a year to be preached by
strangers, 'the rest of the rent to be employed for the
freeing the poorer sort of boys' schooling, to be
elected as therein mentioned.'
The legacy was laid out in the purchase of a close
called Mott's Furlong, containing 7 a. or thereabouts.
The land is let at £15 a year, which, subject to the
payment of 40s. for sermons, is applicable for educational purposes.
Charity of John Saunders for apprenticing.
the table of benefactions it is stated that Mr. John
Saunders, grocer, of London, gave by his will £10 a
year for the placing of a boy of Upton Warren, Stoke
Prior, or Chaddesley Corbett at May Day. An
annual payment of £10 is made by the Grocers'
Company, and is applied in the first-named parish.
(See under Upton Warren, Halfshire Hundred.)
It is further stated in the same table that Joseph
Fownes by his will left for the poor £20, and that
the Rev. James Johnson, a former vicar, left £5.
A cottage and land at Stoke Heath were purchased
therewith, and are now represented by two plots containing together 1 a. 3 r. 36 p., producing yearly £6,
which is distributed in bread to about fifty recipients.
In 1874 Joseph Page, by his will proved at
Worcester 22 August, bequeathed £300, the interest
to be applied for the benefit of agricultural labourers,
their wives and children on St. Thomas's Day.
The legacy was invested in £316 12s. 6d. consols
with the official trustees, the annual dividends,
amounting to £7 18s. 4d., being duly applied.
The official trustees also hold a sum of £194 14s.
consols, arising from the sale of the old National
school buildings at Finstall comprised in a deed of
9 September 1848. The annual dividends, amounting
to £4 17s. 4d., are, under a scheme of 15 November
1898, applied in prizes and rewards to school