The Liquid Assets of the Medieval Priory of Worcester


From at least the early C14th, the Priory of Worcester had taken water from a spring in Henwick in its manor of Hallow, but in 1433 the Priory undertook a major building project to bring water also some two and half miles from the Manor of Battenhall to the Priory buildings in Worcester.

The Manor of Battenhall, now perhaps better known for bids to protect this well-preserved medieval manorial landscape, was an important country manor for the Priors of Worcester. It had a manor house to stay in, fish ponds to supply them with fish and a park for hunting deer.  It was used by many of the Priors of Worcester, in particular Prior More, whose accounts contain many references to his manor house, deer park and fish ponds at Battenhall[1].

 

A reference to Battenhall in Prior More’s Journal. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

The earliest record of Battenhall Manor being in the hands of the Priory is a licence in mortmain granted by Edward 1 in 1275[2] for the transfer of most of Battenhall Manor from John le Mercer of Worcester to the Priory of Worcester, the rest of the manor being acquired by the Le Mercer family through the early half of the C14th before then being gifted by the family to the Priory.

 

The 1275 licence in mortmain. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

The conduit for this water was taken from a spring situated in the north of the manor, which is the source for what is now known as Duck Brook. Estate books from the time of the Sebrights, who held the manor from the C17th, list fields called Great Conduit Field, Upper Conduit Field, Middle Conduit Field, Little Conduit Field and Wirly Conduit Field[3].  These estate books are undated but could date from 1614 when Sir Henry Bromley sold the manor of Battenhall to William Sebright[4]. The 1843 Tithe Map only names one field called Conduit Piece, signifying that although the estate books are undated, they must at least predate the tithe.  Urban expansion, the Worcester Canal and a Victorian railway line have removed any evidence of the conduit’s route, but one suggestion is that the route Duck Brook now follows is a trench dug to contain the pipe and when the pipe fractured, or certainly started leaking, due to lack of maintenance after it went out of use, the water continued to follow the same route, becoming  Duck Brook as we know it today and only deviating from the conduit’s original course when it reached the Diglis Lane area, from where it now flows into the River Severn.

 

Taken from John Speed’s Map of Worcestershire – WCM/Maps/193. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

A map by John Speed, dating to 1610[5], shows the route of the conduit along what is now Diglis Lane, then known as Green Lane. That it is still well-defined enough to be seen and depicted on this map demonstrates that it was still in use and clearly recognised as the conduit.  It continued to be maintained and used until the period of the Civil War.  The mention of ‘fustulas’ or wooden supports in a charter of 1433[6] suggest the conduit may have been raised on wooden supports or a bridge over Frog Brook.  Speed’s map shows what could be a small building at this point. This could be the site of a cistern or settling tank or it could simply be a covered bridge through which the pipe ran. The map is not clear enough to define which.  The 1433 charter was issued when the bailiffs and aldermen were granting to the Priory that ‘they may as often as it is necessary, use, enjoy, lay and amend their conveyance of water under ground with their pipes of wood as well as lead in the King’s highway’.  As the Priory is unlikely to have started laying the conduit through the streets of the city without the agreement of the city’s bailiffs and any other parties who may be affected, this dates the installation of this conduit to c1433.

From Diglis Lane the water was carried through Frog Gate where the conduit was certainly underground, as another agreement with the city bailiffs[7] gives permission to ‘mend their underground pipes in the ‘King’s Highway’.  It also goes on to specify in ‘the streets near the Castle Ditch’, which establishes that the pipe followed what is now called Severn Street.

 

WCM/B990. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

In the medieval period Severn Street was known as La Baillie/Bayle[8] as, not unsurprisingly, it followed the line of the ditch surrounding the Castle’s Bailey, then later in the C15th it became Frog Lane[9] [10]. In 1433, the Liber Albus[11] recorded another agreement between the Priory and the bailiffs of Worcester to allow the Priory to take their ‘water underground with their pipes along the streets of Worcester’ and the agreement continues with ‘to the great gate of the Priory’.  Therefore the conduit must have travelled along Severn Street to where it would reach the ‘Magna Porta’ or Edgar Gate.

Also, in 1433 a Richard Oseney and his wife Agnes gave permission for the ‘laying’ of the Priory’s water pipes beneath their land. In return it was agreed that the two of them should be buried in the Cathedral, in a tomb under the stone monument to Oseney’s mother, near St. George’s Chapel[12]/[13].   Were they buried there?  Although we don’t know for sure, there are certainly burials under the nave aisle in that area and as Richard was a considerable benefactor to the Priory and various charters show him granting it rents from his properties in ‘Brode’ Street, ‘Freres’ Street, High Street, a meadow outside Sidbury, a shop ‘named Elgwinsynne’, a garden and ‘the Heeld neere Dydley’,  it is likely that is where he and his wife were buried.

So why did the Priory of Worcester, which already had had a perfectly good supply of water from their springs in Henwick since at least the early C13th, in 1433 undertake a huge building project to bring another supply of water from the Manor of Battenhall to the Priory, just to service their stables, smithy and brewery?  Unfortunately, they don’t tell us why they did it – just that they did.

 

Vanda Bartoszuk

 

[1] Fegan E.S., The Journal of Prior William More, Worcestershire Historical Society, 1914

[2] WCM/B1636 and WCM/B826

[3] WRO 705:32 BA 89/5

[4] WRO 705:32 BA 89/6 & 15

[5] WCM/Maps/193

[6] WCM/B1676

[7] WCM/A5 Fol 439v

[8] WCM/B990

[9] WCM/B1676

[10] WCM/B990

[11] Op. cit.

[12] Noake, John.  The Monastery and Cathedral of Worcester, Longman, London, 1866. p. 112

[13] Habington’s Survey of Worcestershire, ed. John Amphlett,, Worcs. Hist. Soc., Worcester , 1895–99) V.2  p. 402

 

 

 

 

 

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