History of Hanbury...


Entering Hanbury
Hanbury lies in a pocket of unspoilt Worcestershire to the east of Droitwich. It is one of the largest parishes in the county with an area of nearly 8,000 acres and a small population of about 750 living in about 300 dwellings and, remarkably, 100 of these are listed buildings. Its population has remained very constant in the twentieth century, beginning with 816 people in the census of 1901 with a slow decline to 723 people in the last census of 1991. At the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, it has been estimated that there were about 260 people living in Hanbury in fewer than sixty households, stretched over twelve square miles, making a density of twenty-two people per square mile. This was near the low average density in wooded north Worcestershire at the time of Domesday. Despite being only seventeen miles from Birmingham, as James Lees-Milan so well put it: “Hanbury still survives, a dream island of the past, on the brink of absorption into subtopia!".

John Habington, Worcestershire’s first county historian, gave the best description of Hanbury’s special place in the county’s landscape in 1637:
“Although our county is graced with so many pleasant prospects, as scarce any share the like, in so much as almost any little hill largely affords the same, yet aspiring Hanbury overlooketh them all. A stately seat meet for a King’s Palace … But Hanbury’s Church, which invironed with highe and mighty trees, is able to terrifye a far off any ignorant enimy with a deceytful showe of an invincible castell, may ryghtly be called the Lanthorne of our County”.

Cereal Crop and View of Church Hill
The beauty of Church Hill is still the most striking feature of Hanbury, standing above the remnants of the Forest of Feckenham. It is the site of a pre-historic hillfort, far older than the church, and it looks out on a magnificent view of nearby little hills and woodland across the Severn Valley to the Malvern Hills, round to Bredon, to the Cotswolds, The Clees and away to distant views of the Welsh mountains. The scattered village of Hanbury stretches from the foot of Church Hill southwards towards Himbleton, Feckenham and Droitwich. St. Mary’s church stands more than one mile away from the twentieth century centre of the village around the Vernon Arms public house and the village hall at the intersection of its two main roads, the old saltway and Roman road from Droitwich to Alcester and the ancient north-south road, which crossed the Avon near Fladbury and led on to the Cotswolds. The Rector of Hanbury in 1916, Rev. Canon Colman, described the puzzling position of the church “standing alone on a wooded hill on the extreme northern edge of the parish, in a position of singular beauty. … This curiously isolated situation, an eminence in the spreading forest lands …”.

Hanbury still has in some degree the appearance and size which would have delighted Mary Mitford who provided a classic description of her village, Three-Mile Cross in Berkshire, in five volumes between 1824 and 1832. Her general description of Three-Mile Cross fits Hanbury at the present day: “a small neighbourhood, not of fine mansions finely peopled, but of cottages and cottage-like houses".

Hanbury Hall
On the surface little seems to have changed in Hanbury with its population of about 750 being almost as it was at the end of the thirteenth century. Yet the changes to Hanbury have been dramatic in the twentieth century and particularly since the Second World War, with the break-up of the great estates of the Bearcroft and Vernon families, of Mere Hall and Hanbury Hall respectively. The Bearcroft family had owned land in the parish for 638 years and the Vernons for about 400 years, but their fine houses and estates now belong to other people. Sir George Vernon ended more than he knew in 1940 when he shot himself; he was the last of the long line of Vernon squires and parsons. Wealthy industrialists, builders, merchants, entrepreneurs, managers, doctors and dentists have bought many of the old farmhouses and cottages. Few people can now be seen actually farming in Hanbury and many of its ancient buildings have been so extended and restored during the last forty years, that it is difficult to recognise them in old photographs of the same properties.

Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Richards.