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Quite a Long History

Location and Early settlement
The Parish of Martley is situated in the county of Worcestershire. It is approximately seven miles west of the city of Worcester, from which it can be reached via the B4204. Part of its western boundary runs along the river Teme.
Martley’s name is thought to have been derived from the old English word for a Pine Martin, Although many different references to the name have been found over the centuries including Martin, Martelai, Marteley, or just Martel.
The parish has acreage of 4,421 and the soil is varied. in the past stone was quarried for building and road making.

There was a settlement in Martley before Domesday, and there are still traces of earthworks on nearby Berrow Hill, which rises over 600 feet (183 meters) above the River Teme.

In 1881, according to the general census carried out that year, the population of the parish was 1,093. In 1901 it was 1,050, though by 1960 this had dropped to 950 residents. Today some 1200 people live in Martley. The parish consists mainly of scattered farms, around ten hamlets, and the central part of the village where there is an estate of private and social housing, with accommodation for senior citizens. In the surrounding countryside there are many well-signposted footpaths. The Rodge Hill walk, an old packhorse track, has spectacular views over the Teme valley. The flora and fauna are many and varied, rare Orchids growing in places and kingfishers living on the Laugherne brook. Farm crops are mainly corn, roots, and grassland. It is only in the early poart of this centry that many fruit trees have been replaced with arable crops. The hop yards, of which there were many, have now gone, though nearby micro-breweries retain some hop fields. Pedigree Hereford cattle graze in the Horsham fields and Red Devon’s were bred at Hope House Farm in the last century.

The Village Today

Today, the village has a Post Office, general store, a garage and The Crown Inn. On the opposite side of this commercial centre are an old weighbridge and a few yards up from the junction of the road towards Worcester, a depot for a local coach transport business. There is a Memorial Hall and playing fields used for cricket, football and social events such as the annual horticultural show and fete which was started in 1894. A small industrial trading estate was for a long time the base of local haulage firm, Taylor’s of Martley. Set up by Edgar Taylor in the late 1930s, the company has grown from a small haulage operation transporting sand and gravel in the Teme Valley to become one of the UK’s largest and most successful independently-owned logistics specialists,Taylors of Martley Holdings Group. Now the company manages contracts for some of the world’s leading brands and have established a number of niche markets including packaging, construction and automotive. Buildings which used to house the old Lusty’s (Lloyd Loom) factory, still remain on the estate. <link to lustys images>

The other public house in the parish, the Admiral Rodney, is situated at Berrow Green. Going out of the village towards Great Witley, a busy sawmill can be found.

The Red House Workhouse

In Victorian times, the workhouse known as house Red House, run by a Board of Guardians, stood on land now occupied by part of the modern estate. It had its own chapel where part of the premises was later used by the old Martley Rural District Council as a store. The 1881 general census lists the ‘Union Workhouse’ as having 24 occupants, with ages ranging from 11 to 88 years. Three were described as ‘Idiots’ and one as ‘dumb and imbecile’!. Residents of the estate built on the area where the morgue used to stand, report seeing ghosts (benign ones!) passing through their houses and gardens. The parish had other chapels situated in the Newtown and Hillside hamlets.

St Peter’s Church

The Parish Church of St Peter (link to Church page) is of Norman origin with several later additions. Built mainly of local red sandstone, it has a square tower which houses the six 1673 bells –the oldest complete ring of six in the country. Medieval wall paintings and the tomb of Sir Hugh Mortimer are amongst many interesting features inside the building. The interior was restored in 1909 with the original clock of 1680 now housed in the Science Museum, London. Basil Haines wound the present clock for 23 years and the Basil Haines Memorial Sun Dial has now replaced the original mass dial on the South East buttress. For the Millennium, a new stained glass window was installed in the church by the parishioners.

Near to the church, on Martley Court land, is a spring known as St Peters Well, where baptisms took place in the early centuries of Christianity. Below the church were small Almshouses, a couple of ancient ponds and a Worcestershire Black Pear tree. A Black Pear stands in what has now become the Millennium Green to this day, not far from the ponds.

Near the top of the churchyard, on the B4204, stood an old building, which had various uses, including a school. The headmaster in the late seventeenth century was the Rev Anthony Mogridge. In 1846 it was replaced by a new stone building, opened by Queen Adelaide, then living at nearby Witley Court, home of the Earl of Dudley.

The then Prince of Wales shot in Martley woods when staying with the Earl. In times gone by, the Earls of Dudley owned most of Martley parish. Queen Edith held the manor in 1055, and the long list of Lords of the Manor comes down to the present day with James Hyslop of Brook Court, Martley.


There have been ten schools in the parish over the centuries. The present Chantry High School, which has about 700 pupils, most takes its name from the Chantry, originally connected to the church. The former school, situated opposite a new, large, community Sports Hall built recently in present school grounds, has been converted to private apartments.

Principle Houses

Principle houses in the parish are Laugerne House, Barbers, The Jewry, The Noak and The Tee. One of the oldest houses is the Old Hall, a former rectory. A list of incumbents can be seen in the church, beginning in 1290. Many rectors originated from the same families, the Vernons providing three and the Hastings five (from 1795-1958). From this family came Sir Charles Hastings, founder of the British Medical Association (BMA), Admiral Sir Thomas Hastings, who escorted Napoleon to Elba and Admiral Francis Decimus Hastings. Other Martley men who achieved fame were John Doughtie, who held a Prebendary at Worcester Cathedral, buried in Westminster Abbey, Francis Jukes the Engraver, the poet Charles Stuart Calverley and Thomas W, Sanders, who became editor of Amateur Gardening and wrote many books on the subject.

Early History of Martley

The Stone Ages

We do not know when the first person settled in the valley of Martley. It was probably after the end of the last Ice-Age, when hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic (“Old Stone”) Age moved through the area, either fishing along the Teme or hunting through the woodland. It’s usually assumed that this Age began in about 30,000 BC. They used simple stone tools, some examples of which have been found near Worcester. This was followed by the Mesolithic (“Middle Stone”) Age between about 8,000 BC and 3,000 BC. As the land improved and mixed deciduous woods became established, our ancestors in turn showed a higher order of organisation, making arrows tipped with small sharp-edged flints. Our closest remains of this time come from Hartlebury Common (approximately 12 miles). From 3,000 BC to 2,000 BC the Neolithic (“New Stone”) Age showed the use of wood and bone, as well as stone, for making weapons and implements. They also made clay pottery. From the remains of polished stone axes we know that there was a rudimentary trading system down the Severn to the Devon-Cornwall peninsula, and also into the north west of England. But again little local evidence remains. There is evidence of settlements, and that tracts of land were cleared to make pastures and fields around small village communities. Probably this could be called the first Agricultural Revolution. We also know their dead were buried in long barrows.

Bronze and Iron Ages

Encampments like Berrow Hill are usually assumed to have been constructed in the Iron Age, but some may have been in use before that as Bronze Age settlements. The Bronze Age lasted from 2,000 BC to 600 BC. Very little remains to give us a clear picture, but bronze axes, swords, and spear parts have been discovered along the Severn. Cremation sites for the dead were found at Holt. The bronze arrow tip shown dates from circa 800 BC. It indicates not only craftsmanship but also times which were far more threatening.

By the time of the Iron Age, much had changed. Now a tribal group, The Dobunni, controlled an area that stretched from Wenlock Edge in the north to Parrett River on the borders of Somerset, and from the River Wye in the west to the River Thames at Oxford in the east. The Dubonni flourished with differing degrees of success from circa 500 BC to 50 AD, at which point England came under Roman control and influence.From about 80 BC to 50 AD the Dubonni had a coinage system to trade with, based on the following: gold stater, gold quarter stater, silver unit, silver minim, and bronze unit. The gold stater was the principal currency unit. From the few coins found we know that Boduoc was tribal “king” from circa 25 BC to 5 BC, and that Eisu “reigned” from circa 40 AD to 45 AD. Other tribal leaders include Anted, Catti, Comux, Cono, and Inam (or man) but we are less certain about their dates and their status. The tribal territory seems to have been split into north and south power bases, one centred near Cirencester, the other near Bath.

Some Celtic artefacts have been found, including brooches in a variety of designs. The brooches are in a style called “La Tene” (named from the first site at which they were identified). They come in various stages, called I, II, and III all indicators of their style and age. The one shown is La Tene I dating from 400 BC and on its bow it has a stylised thistle as ornamentation. Some brooches just have incised patterns. The following II and III styles have a whole range of different designs reflecting the skill of the local artisan making them. Later brooches in the Roman period show a stylised dove, or often a stylised dolphin. It is interesting that these are mainly peaceful domestic objects, rather than military. The most fascinating mark of the Dobunni is their tribal emblem which is either a gruesome skull and ribcage, or more likely a representation of a fruit tree (possibly a medlar tree or crab-apple), five-branched from a main stem with a stylised fruit on the end of each branch. The other symbol used on their coins was a prancing three-tailed horse. All the coins were very small, and consequently were easily lost, but not easily found today. They are very rare, but probably out there somewhere!

Romano-Celts and Saxons

After the Roman Invasion what is now Martley was in a very fortunate position. It was fertile and productive, and it was marginally outside and off the main Roman trading routes along the Severn and along the road which passed through Vertis (Worcester) and Salinae (Droitwich). The outpost camp near Clifton shows that the Romans saw the area as an important Supply of food and materials. Rather than subjugation, they would have chosen to develop their own estate close to the original area cleared and farmed during the Iron Age.

In the 1930’s a Roman coin was found near the centre of Martley. It was identified as a “First Brass”, or Sestertius, its value being a fourth part of a Denarius (a silver coin). The obverse represents Lucilla, who was the wife of the Emperor, Lucius Verus (AD.161-169), and was the daughter of a previous Emperor, Marcus Aurelius and the younger Faustina. Lucilla was styled on all her coins LVCILLAE AVG. ANTONINI AVG.F. – “Lucilla, Empress, daughter of Antoninus (Marcus Aurelius) Emperor”. The reverse represents the goddess Diana holding a torch in both hands as DIANA LVCIFERA “Goddess of Light”, that is, moonlight. Finding a coin in Martley indicates that in AD.170 there was some form of rural trading going on.

The Celtic tribal Dobunni did not just successfully co­exist with the Romans, but became part of a civilised Romano-Celtic community. Through marriage an ordered provincial and rural economy was established across what is now Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. As the Romans retreated from the furthest edges of their empire (such as Britain) this Romano-Celtic culture continued to flourish until the arrival of the more war-like Saxons. The domestic and civilised Romano-Celts were no match for the violence of the Saxons, so defeat was inevitable.

Fortunately, it was the south and east of England that bore the brunt of their attacks. By the time it was obvious that the Saxons had won there was little option but to accept Saxon control. Unusually, from the remains of the Romano­-Celtic tribe arose another mixed Celtic-Saxon co-existence. Hipplecote may be one last vestige of an age which distinguished Celt from Saxon.

By 600 AD a new kingdom was controlled by the somewhat shadowy “Hwicce”, who seem to have been both Celtic and Saxon, ruled by an Anglian set of tribal kings – most definitely a well-blended stock! If Martley was a rich and productive area then these new rulers would have wanted to continue to benefit from what was produced off the land.Whatever the ruling hierarchy it gained the “Hwicce” strength and permanence from the social structures and tax system (“tributani”) which had survived from the Roman period; it was a structure and system based on Roman estates and manors which had survived when all around was beginning to become less organised and more chaotic. The “Hwicce” were able to maintain an ordered continuity by retaining the key estates and the revenues which the Romans had created – a kind of early “poll tax” on households.

Other evidence for the survival of a Roman estate through the Saxon period and beyond comes from the shape of the fields around the centre of Martley, showing little strip system, but instead a continuous series of rough rectangles. There is tantalising evidence that when the bishopric of Worcester was established in 679AD to serve the Hwicce, the Christian Church was already well founded – there are at least half a dozen Severn valley churches built on Roman foundations. We also know that a Hwicce king – Osric – founded churches at key sites up and down his kingdom, including Bath and Gloucester, where both churches were dedicated to – St. Peter! – and in 731 AD Bede describes the bishop’s church at Worcester also being dedicated to St. Peter. The churches were endowed with the lands of former Romano-Celtic estates to establish their viability. Could this have been how the original Church was established in Martley?

Yet again, Martley (and north-west Worcestershire) had managed the transition from one control to the next without major disruption. The West Saxons eventually came under the control of the kingdom of Mercia, and also the bishopric of Worcester (for centuries after known as “episcopi Hwicciorum”).

As the Vikings made inroads from 870 AD in the north-east our border area was fortunately far from their destructive surges along the River Trent and the River Humber. The Saxon fortifications at Warwick and Tamworth showed how neatly Mercia served as a buffer zone, along which the eventual line of “Dane law”

The Norman Invasion

What might be called the final transition occurred at the time of the Norman invasion in 1066 when the shock of defeat was tempered by Wulfstan, who became Bishop of Worcester in 1062. He was a pious and well-loved Saxon. As a result he was one of only two Saxon bishops to retain their position post-conquest, and his death in 1095 was mourned by both Saxons and Normans in Worcestershire. His legacy was to maintain the Church as a powerful influence in Worcester. The rest of the south of the County was handed over and shared out between William’s barons and knights. Domesday Book records the Church holding nearly two-thirds of the County, and in this way the transfer of power was softened.

From then on Martley’s permanence and position was assured. For centuries its rich land had been cleared and farmed, and its value was now without question. In time it passed through the great family names of the early English medieval period, notably the Despencers and Mortimers – families with impeccable royal connections in their lineage.

Adapted from “Martley at the Millennium” by David Cropp

Last updated July 2011