Ask any archaeologist where our medieval villages are and he will say we need to be looking under our feet. Ask a historian and he will say look in the archives. Of course the best answer is to use both. Landscape archaeology will give you the medieval roads, boundaries and land holdings, while the archives will give you the names and who held them. At Worcester Cathedral Library, we hold several thousand medieval documents which tell the story of our lost medieval villages.
Peachley is one such village. It has now been absorbed into the larger village called Lower Broadheath and doesn’t even show as a village on the latest ordnance survey maps but Peachley as a place had been around a long time and the earliest mention of Peachley is from Hemming, a monk at the Priory of Worcester around the time of the Norman Conquest stating that ‘Peces leage’ was bought by Alfstan, Prior of Worcester, soon after he became Prior. Alfstan was the brother of Bishop Wulfstan and became Prior in 1062[i]. This places the name Peachley as earlier than the Norman Conquest; in other words the origins of the name, if not the village, are Anglo-Saxon.
The translation of the parts of the name – peac/pec meaning peak and leage (ley/leah) meaning either woodland or a clearing in a wood certainly suits the situation of Peachley, which is on the high ground above the valley of the River Severn. Therefore if one accepts that the ‘ley’ ending for Peachley is derived from the Old English ‘leage’, then it is possible for Peachley’s origins to have been a scattered Anglo-Saxon settlement common to woodland England, although at this time not with an established village centre.
It is impossible to be precise as to what the population in and around Peachley was prior to, or even at, the Norman Conquest as the earliest population survey in England is the Domesday Survey, but this is probably the least accurate as only the heads of households are listed. Also, Peachley is not listed individually. The earliest estimate that can be made is from a rental for the manor of Hallow, which includes Peachley, dating to the early 1200s[ii]. which names between 35 and 40 people who can be attributed to living in Peachley. Again, this only lists landholders and does not include their families and the work force who lived in either the main house or properties on their lord’s land, so if one takes an average of five for a household and its workforce, then this is a substantial number for a rural area. It is also fair to assume that the pressure to house these people without impinging on the cultivatable land could give rise to a nucleated village forming, and Peachley is called a ‘vill’[iii], meaning village, in documents throughout the fourteenth century, which implies a settlement that was not too dispersed and could indeed be described as a nucleated village.
The freeholders in the Manor of Hallow in a 1240 rental[iv] that are holding their land in Peachley are ‘Symone de Pechesley’, ‘Ricardo de Strata’ [Strete] and ‘Nicholas David’ and are called Radknights[v]. A fourth Radknight named was Johannis Muriwed, now deceased, who had gifted his land to the Priory and it was now held by ‘Ricardo de Strata’.
The village most likely existed around these four sub-manors and their associated work forces. All were situated to the east of the ‘main road’[vi]
Finally, to be officially called a ‘village’ rather than a ‘hamlet’, a settlement needs a church. The present day church in Lower Broadheath dates from the C20th but earliest recorded origins of a chapel in Peachley are from the C13th, where the site of the chapel in Peachley is established by two documents, both dating to the mid-thirteenth century. A rental in the Register[vii] for 1240 specifies a field called Stoking which is described as “next to the chapel of Peachley” and in an undated charter[viii], (by the witness names it dates to the mid-thirteenth century) a piece of land is described as “next to the road leading from the house of Johnnes Pertrich (Partridge) to the chapel of St Giles with the adjacent hedge to the hedge called Loghegge in the field called Stokkygge”. The name ‘Stocking’ is still extant on a map of 1747[ix] and is shown as alongside the present day Frenchlands Lane. Therefore the chapel was on Frenchlands Lane. The map also shows a plot of glebe land fronting onto Frenchlands with a trackway leading from the present village and it is probable that this was the site of the chapel.
Taking the positions of the main sub-manors in conjunction with the fact that there must have been further smaller dwellings for the workers and that it had its own church, it is reasonable to describe Peachley as a recognisable and distinct village in its own right by the mid-thirteenth century, a village that has now been lost.
[i] Hearne, T., ed. Hemingi Chartularium Ecclesiae Wigorniensis, Oxford 1723, pp.404, 407
[iii] WCM/B638, WCM/B631, WCM/B645 all undated but late 1300s by witnesses.
[v] Radknight comes from the Old English rādcniht, which literally means riding knight.
[vi]Now the B4202/Martley Road
[vii] WCM/A2 fol. 50A – “Stoking juxta capellam de Peches’”
[viii] WCM/B641 
[ix] WRO r009:1 5403/3; 009:1 BA 2636/49 43992: A map, and its accompanying terrier, made by John Doharty for the Bishop of Worcester in 1747.