Monday, December 06, 2021

The extra-parochial area of Crutch

Just north of Droitwich there rises the distinctive ‘barrow’-shaped outline of Crutch Hill. A little further on is Crutch Farm which, apart from a cottage (formerly two cottages) called Crutch Cottage, is all that remains of a settlement dating back at least to Roman times.

Although Crutch appears to lie in Dodderhill parish, until the 20th century it was outside any parish (extra in Latin means outside, hence extra-parochial) and paid no tithes to any of the adjoining parishes. This makes its history difficult to investigate, but it lies on either side of a Roman road leading north from Droitwich (fragments of Roman pottery have been found in the fields), and more ancient trackways cross the area. The name of the settlement derives from the ancient British (Celtic/Iron Age) term meaning ‘small, barrow-shaped hill’, and the area is bounded by tributaries of the River Salwarpe: to the east there is Capel Ditch which becomes Salty Brook, and to the west Elmbridge Brook.

There is no documentary evidence relating to Crutch until the Domesday Book of 1086, which records Osbern FitzRichard holding Wychbold, the chief manor in the area, together with Impney, Purshill, Sagebury and Obden, Astwood, Piper’s Hill, and Crutch. In the 14th century the manor of Crutch was given to Westwood Priory in settlement of a disagreement between Westwood and the Priory of Worcester over Dodderhill’s parish church, St Augustine’s. From this time Crutch became extra-parochial, but it had a chapel dedicated to St James, with altars to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St Katherine. The location of this chapel is unknown, but the name Capel Ditch may indicate the site. Some pottery sherds and tile fragments dating to the 13th and 14th centuries have been found in the area between Crutch Lane and Capel Ditch, which may indicate that there was a building in that area.

After Westwood Priory disappeared in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, Crutch became the property of the Acton family (Joyce Acton was the last Prioress of Westwood). Later Elizabeth Acton became the first wife of Henry Townsend of Elmley Lovett, and Henry’s diary, written during the Civil War, yields much information about the area. At this time Crutch was seen by some as attached to Hampton Lovett and by others as attached to Elmbridge; and it comprised two holdings, one in the occupation of Henry Fisher and the other occupied by the Widow Tolley.

This dual occupation continues, with the Tolleys continuing to farm one part and the Wall family taking over the other from 1700 at the latest. There is a schedule of fields belonging to Crutch Farm ‘in occupation of George Wall owned by Allen Cliffe’ dating to 1700. Unfortunately the field names do not continue in use, and so are no help in determining the exact position of George Wall’s home. On his death the inventory values his possessions at £189/13s/0d, a not inconsiderable sum for the time. By the early 1800s the Walls have left Crutch. As for the Tolleys, a will of 1704 gives a good description of ‘the several rooms part of the house wherein I now inhabit … the parlour, the hall and the (Kilne?) house, with the chambers over the four rooms …’ and also mentions closes [enclosed fields] belonging to the ‘said messuage’, but as with George Wall’s land it has been impossible to identify where these fields were.

The next definite documentary evidence for there being two farms is a marriage settlement dated 1737 between Henry Cliffe and Mary Newdick which refers to ‘ … all that Manor and capital messuage or farm place of Croitch, commonly called Crutch or Crutch Farm … all now in the tenure or occupation of George Wall at a yearly rent of £100. And also all that messuage and farm wherein Thomas Tolley, yeoman, formerly dwelt in Crutch aforesaid … ‘. By 1765 Letitia Francis, a widow, had taken over as occupier of Thomas Tolley’s farm.

The 1804 will of Ralph Ireland describes him as ‘of Crutch, Farmer’; he leaves his son Ralph his ‘bureau and bookcase in the parlour’ but another son, Joseph, took over the farm and in turn is listed in 1844 as ‘occupying the Manor of Crouch … containing 309 acres 24 perches’, bounded by Dodderhill on the east, north and south, and by Hampton Lovett on the west. This appears to be a larger holding than the only earlier schedule in 1700 and together with the boundaries mentioned would indicate that at last Crutch is one single holding.

In the 19th century the whole of Crutch passed into the ownership of the Gresley family, from whom John Corbett purchased it in 1885. After the break-up of the Corbett Estate in the early 20th century most of the area was purchased by Edward Partington, who had taken over the Westwood Estate after the death of Baron Hampton in 1880, and from then until the 1980s it was part of ‘Westwood Estates’. One of the ironies of history is that Crutch should return in the 20th century to the ownership of Westwood as it had been from the 14th to the 16th centuries.

With the exception of fragmentary archaeological fieldwalking finds there is no tangible evidence today for any buildings until the present farmhouse and outbuildings, which appear to date from the end of the 18th century, but it has been impossible to ascertain which section of the manor these represent. The farmhouse was altered, mainly by the addition of a north-facing wing, which probably took place in the late 19th century when John Corbett purchased this and most of the farms in the area. This common ownership may account for some similarity of appearance between these farms; many have features in common from earlier rebuildings too.

The present owners of Crutch Farm have made considerable alterations and improvements to the farmhouse, in the course of which various features were uncovered, but nothing has shed any further light on the history of the building. The farm as it stands now faces north with an extensive view and presents a fine, if asymmetrical, frontage to those travelling towards Droitwich along Crutch Lane.

Crutch Hill

Crutch Hill

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