Sub-Roman/Anglo Saxon Dodderhill
Continuity of the salt industry
Little can be proved from documentary evidence about the area of the later Dodderhill parish during the 5th to the 8th or even 9th centuries, as these were times when it is thought that not much was recorded in writing, and/or that very few documents survive. However the documents which do survive, when taken with the scarce archaeological evidence, allow us to reconstruct tentatively what may have been happening. It is important to remember that up to the 11th century this area almost certainly included the brine spring of Upwich, which was a natural resource that generated great wealth. This spring, together with the others nearby, had been exploited during the preceding Iron Age and Roman periods, and archaeological evidence shows that salt production continued during these undocumented sub-Roman and early Anglo-Saxon times. It is likely that the industry continued after the official ending of the Roman occupation as demand for salt would not have stopped (but may have reduced), and certain that control of the salt industry and its hinterland (providing fuel for the industry and food for its workers) was a major prize for the incoming Anglo-Saxon peoples.
The Anglo-Saxon land unit and royal residence
The land unit which became Dodderhill parish (which may have been larger, see below) goes back well into the Anglo-Saxon period when this area was in the territory of the Hwicce, from when no written evidence survives, and was then part of the increasingly dominant Mercian kingdom, centred on the Lichfield/Tamworth area, which expanded to take over the territory of the Hwicce and many others and also controlled London from about 650 to 880. The first known reference to Wicbald (meaning the ‘great hall near Wic’ = Droitwich, but the great hall was not necessarily located at the later village of Wychbold) is in a charter of 692 written there in which land was granted by king Aethelred of Mercia to the priory of Worcester at the request of his former servant Oslaf, who had become a monk in that priory. The diocese of Worcester had been established in about 679 covering the lands of the Hwicce after their king converted to Christianity, and the priory is assumed to have been set up soon afterwards.
Wicbald itself is a ‘royal vill’, a major estate centre comprising a complex of timber buildings which was used by the Mercian kings (and possibly the Hwiccian kings before them) as a local base where they stayed for days or weeks to collect taxes, dispense justice (decisions related to questions of law or local administration), and use up the accumulated food stores from the surrounding agricultural area which would have been in their ultimate control. No doubt the siting of this royal ‘palace’ was directly related to the brine springs and the wealth they generated. While the location of the royal residence is not known, it seems from the name that this was not in Droitwich itself; this may reflect the industrial squalor of the place, or it may indicate that facilities there were not appropriate. It is likely that the royal ‘palace’ was not in the later Wychbold village, but nearer to the brine springs in what became Droitwich and near or on one of the Roman roads to facilitate travel. So far, archaeological work has not revealed the location of this important Anglo-Saxon site.
Survival of an earlier land unit
The Domesday Book manor of Wicelbold may have been the survivor of an earlier large land unit which goes back to early Saxon times and probably before. The evidence for this is that by recorded times Dodderhill and the surrounding parishes are fragmented so that they have detached parts which are surrounded by other parishes: for example, Westwood was part of Dodderhill but there is a detached part of Witton St Peter’s (Droitwich) between the two. All the parishes interlock, however, and this suggests they were all originally part of a single large land unit made up of the areas of the (later) parishes of Elmbridge, Upton Warren, Hampton Lovett, Thickenappletree, Dodderhill (with Crutch and Westwood), Droitwich St Nicholas, Witton St Peter, Witton St Mary (and in the same parish, St Andrew), Salwarpe, Hadzor and Martin Hussingtree. One theory is that this land unit dates back to early Saxon times, with the ‘royal vill’ of Wicbald as its administrative centre; it is also possible that it goes back to the Roman period (with the villa at Bays Meadow to the west of the Roman fort on Dodderhill as the administrative centre then), survived into the sub-Roman period, and was taken over by the incoming Anglo-Saxons.
The land unit evolved (or was created) comprising the drainage basin of the River Salwarpe; it was the hinterland to the salt industry, supplying large amounts of wood as fuel for the industry and food for its workers. It survives into recorded times (1086) as the southern part of Clent hundred in Domesday Book, although without Martin Hussingtree which was by then one of the many detached parts of Pershore hundred. (Hundreds, in theory a group of manors totalling 100 hides, are districts within a shire/county whose representatives met regularly to carry out administrative functions. The Worcestershire hundreds are obscure in origin but predate the formation of the shire/county in the early 11th century; and the composition of hundreds changed over time.)
The impact of the arrival of Christianity (by AD 679)
From the late 7th century when the king of the Hwicce became Christian, the land unit would have been served ecclesiastically by the newly-built minster church of St Augustine’s, with the land unit as its huge parish. It would have been the base for a ‘college’ of priests who travelled throughout the area converting, preaching to and administering sacraments to the inhabitants, at preaching crosses marking places where the priest would come regularly (and at some of these places, churches were built later on). Through the succeeding centuries new parishes were formed with their own churches, and smaller land units (manors) were created within the original land unit.
Domesday Book information
Domesday Book (written in 1086) records that the areas of Upton Warren, Hampton Lovett, and Witton (probably St Peter) each had a priest, indicating the presence of a church and a separate parish; and Elmbridge, Upton Warren, Hampton Lovett, Thickenappletree, Witton St Peter, Witton St Mary, Salwarpe, Hadzor and Martin Hussingtree are identified as manors, with Droitwich apparently having something like the status of a borough. By 1086 at the latest, therefore, only the central part, the manor of Wicelbold including the parish of Dodderhill with Westwood and the extra-parochial area of Crutch, remains as the survival of the early land unit.
Even without the ‘early land unit’ theory, Domesday Book shows that the area which became Dodderhill parish had a special association with early Droitwich and its salt industry. Domesday Book, although compiled in the later 11th century, reflects the situation at the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. Wicelbold tenants owed customary service as salt makers in Droitwich, as well as being agricultural workers on the manor. The manor itself had some of the largest interests in salt production in Droitwich, in scale second only to those held by the monarchy. This indicates that the manor was important for the industry which by then was largely in royal hands, with Wich (later Droitwich) having been established as a borough with its own boundary. It is likely that the manor’s large entitlement to salt would have been accompanied originally by a large holding of woodland in order that sufficient fuel was available for salt making, and this view is supported by the ‘one league’ of woodland mentioned in Domesday Book [see Domesday Book entry notes, separate click-on entry from previous page]. (This would accord with the theory mentioned above about the manor’s origin as a larger land unit.)
Later Anglo-Saxon and early Norman ownership of Wicbald
The land unit of Wicbald and its church belonged to the priory of Worcester by the early 11th century, but was taken from them in the reign of Canute (1016-1035) by Edwin, brother of Earl Leofric (husband of Lady Godiva) whom Canute had appointed over the middle part of England, the area of Mercia. During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) Wicbald/Wicelbold passed to the ownership of Earl Godwin who dominated the government and married his daughter Edith to King Edward. Godwin’s son Harold succeeded Edward the Confessor as King of England in January 1066 but was killed at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066.
After the Norman Conquest the manor, which would then have included Dodderhill parish and Crutch, was held by Osbern Fitz Richard, that is Osbern the son of Richard Scrope, the Lord of Richard’s Castle.
It seems that there has never been a resident lord of the manor in Wychbold, but it is highly likely that there was a demesne farm (the lord’s own farm, worked by the labour of the people who lived on the manor as their ‘dues’ to their lord) which would have been run by a bailiff or local steward, whose job it was to look after all the local manorial affairs on the lord’s behalf. There would have been a ‘manor house’ for the use of the lord (when visiting) and/or his/her representative, and it is possible that the original manor house was on or near the site now occupied by Wychbold Court.