A medieval woodland manor: Hanley Castle, Worcestershire
By James Patrick Toomey
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham (1997)
Abstract: A woodland manor in the west of Worcestershire, Hanley was held by the Crown from 1075, and then by wealthy magnates from 1217. The Anglo-Saxon landscape, in spite of considerable woodland, gave scope for the farming communities described in the region in Domesday Book. Hanley not only supported a robust agricultural economy in its prime, supplemented by woodland industries such as pottery manufacture, but it was also, with its castle built by king John, the headquarters of the royal forest and chase of Malvern. The forest covered about one hundred square miles of the Malvem plain from Worcester to Gloucester, although Corse was detached in theory in the early thirteenth century. Hanley’s agriculture was based on open fields, along with smaller irregular fields, and crofts held in severalty. Demesne and tenant land was expanded by assarting in the twelfth century, followed by some retrenchment and a gradual decline from the early fourteenth. The assarting led to a new demesne and the growth of settlement in the west of the manor, reinforcing and adding to the pattern of dispersed hamlets, but there was an old nucleus and focal settlement in the east, near the Severn. Here lay the early demesne, the open fields, the markets, the quay, the castle, and the pre-Conquest church. A vigorous land market demonstrated by surviving deeds suggests many confident peasants, some of whom can be seen progressing towards gentry status.