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Help and advice for Gloucestershire: Tobacco growing in the Cotswolds

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Tobacco Growing in the Vale of Evesham,
Winchcombe and District,
and John Stratford.
By Gerald H. Stratford.


The following Chapter deals with a Bill of Complaint, made by John Stratford, against John Lygon of Beauchamp Court, Worcestershire, in the year 1622.

Arle, originally was a Manor, in it's own right, but together with Redgrove, merged with Cheltenham, as the place expanded. Roger Lygon of Fairford, in Gloucestershire, died in 1584, having married Catherine, the daughter of Sir William Dennis, of Puckleworth, and the widow of Sir William Tame, and Sir Water Buckle. They lie buried inside the Church of Fairford. John Cheltenham died seized of Lands, Near Arle in 1366.

The Manor House at Arle, was built during the sixteenth Century, and was of a typical Elizabethan Architecture. Arle Church was destroyed during the Reformation, and Arle Court also sustained some damage at this period, and it is not certain as to which of the Lygon Family actually rebuilt the house.

The house was approached from the Tewkesbury Road, through an avenue of elm trees, which seemingly had been planted when the house was being built, which was not actually built on the site of the house that suffered damage, but was built on the site of the Old Church and Church Yard.

The house was adorned inside with oak panelling, tapestries, and a wonderful staircase, and appeared to be typical of the Elizabeathan Period for Manor Houses. It was very large and the apartments or rooms, although low were very spacious, and each room opening onto the next. The doors in themselves were different, as instead of handles they were fitted with small holes, into which people put their fingers and lifted the latches. The floors were uneven, and from time to time you would come across steps, and the windows were fairly small with lozenge panes of glass fitted, and as the house aged they became overhung with Ivy.

Arle Court had been built as stated in the Church Yard of the Old Church, but the soil itself was a thick sandy type, which was because of the difficulty with water supplies at the time, the sand and gravel had been preferred to heavier soils.

1887 Ordnance Survey Map showing original location of Arle Court

Arle Court map


Arle Court

The first to reside in the newly rebuilt Arle Court is not recorded, but the Manorial Court Records in 1597, state 'At this Court, the Lord, by his Steward, with the assent and consent of all the Tenants of Arle, and Aiston, hath granted Licence unto Arnold Lygon, Esquire, to enclose and keep in several, that ground called Groves Field, in Arle, and, during all such time of enclosing, he shall forbear to enter Common, with the Tenants of Arle and Alston, otherwise than drive his sheep to the folds.'

A Parchment sealed with the Fleur De Lis, signed by John Lygon, a Deed Poll, and dated the 11th of December 1630, revoking a previous Deed of 1622, between John Lygon of Arle Court and members of his Mother's Family, Charrington Talbot, and the late John Talbot, and relates to some fields at Arle. By the Deed it is verified that he had two daughters, Catherine, and his Heiress Elizabeth. William King, sent by the Privy Council in 1634, to stop the growing of tobacco there said, 'they have at the time great stores of tobacco growing, contrary to His Majesty's Proclamation Although it will be shown that John Stratford was involved in the growing of tobacco and leased Arle Court, he had stopped many years before this date.

The document at this stage is dated in 1622, and has here been summarised.

John Stratford, Gentleman, Citizen, and Salter of London, complains, that on February the 16th, 1619, he Agreed with John Lygon of Beauchamp Court, Worcestershire, Esquire, to rent ten acres of land, and certain housing in the Parish of Cheltenham, for the planting and curing of tobacco, and John Lygon Agreed to demise land for four years, from the Feast of the Annunciation, in 1620, at a yearly rent of eighty pounds per annum, to be paid at the Feast of St. Michael Archangel and Annunciation, by equal portions. There in February and March of the year 1619, he sowed the seed, and in May planted the tobacco, and in June 1619, John Lygon presented him with a writing to sign, it being a Lease for the land for four years, which John Stratford duly signed.

In December 1619, Prohibition was issued by the Crown, and John Stratford could no longer plant any more tobacco than that year and crop. But next year following he sowed Barley, a mean crop, relying on John Lygon to get dispensation to grow tobacco. But John Lygon failed, so John Stratford told him he could no longer plant the land. He had paid one hundred and sixty pounds, for two years rent, and John Lygon had been a great gainer by the Bargain. The land would not be worth above fifteen pounds per acre for any other crop. John Stratford asked to be released in Equity, from the Agreement, and for John Lygon to take back the land,

John Lygon answered, that he has never put any obstacle in John Stratford's way, nor did he try to persuade him to make the Contract. John Stratford made it freely, and of his own free will. He is advised by his Council, that in such cases, the Court does not interfere, believing that men best know their own Bargains. John Stratford can blame no one but himself. It would be dangerous precedent, for all the farmers could then surrender their Leases upon a bad year. John Lygon's promise to get dispensation was made long after the original Lease, and was not a binding part of it. John Lygon has never threatened to sue for the rent due.

There follows another Answer of John Lygon in the Bill of Complaint.

He was approached by Ralph Wood, a tenant of the house, and land, to let John Stratford grow tobacco on the land, and Ralph Wood kept on asking, and John Lygon was reluctant to say yes, therefore, the land lay near his house, and John Lygon had but little pasture ground near the house, and did not want it to be ploughed, except for some good benefit or advantage.

But, a meeting was arranged between John Stratford and John Lygon, in John Lygon's house, and John Lygon asked to become a Partner with John Stratford, in making and curing the tobacco, and offered to bear his part of the expenses, but John Stratford would not agree, but, in regard to the goodness of the land, and the ploughing up that was necessary, John Stratford, would pay eighty pounds per annum in rent. So, in March, seed was grown in parts of the ground, by John Stratford, or his Servants, and in the May, the tobacco plants were planted out. John Lygon did then ask John Stratford to take the land for a longer term, but John Stratford declined, not knowing how long his Dispensation would continue. The first years yield of tobacco, produced for the Complainant, over all charges for Servants, labour, and rent, sixty six or seventy pounds. The next year he grew Barley, but does not know how the crop was. But, he does know, that after the Proclamation by the Crown, that John Stratford did engross, and bring into his hands, a great store of tobacco, as he would not have done, if he had foreseen that the said restraint would not hinder the increase of tobacco, but would also augment the price of that which he had in hand, being about forty or fifty thousand pounds in weight, and the tobacco from John Lygon's ground, was as good as that grown at Winchcombe, which John Stratford the year before had sold for ten twelve, sixteen, and eighteen shillings per pound. But, by the second years planting, which was the year before the Royal Proclamation, the store and increase of tobacco was grown so great, as may appear by the abundance and increase thereof, which the Complainant had ten acres of John Lygon's ground, that John Stratford could not sell it at the same price, and yet, John Lygon had been credibly informed, that the Complainant did sell, or may, or meant to have sold, the same at, for higher and greater prices in the pound, and did, or may, or might have greater gain of tobacco than other wise.

Therefore, the Royal Proclamation creating a shortage. These last two or three years have fallen out so insecure for tobacco, that if any had been planted, the same therefore, if the cold, wet, and unkind summer, which do much hinder the ripening thereof, could not have fully ripened, whereby John Stratford, might have had any reasonable crop.

John Stratford, took up on his own free will, ploughed up an Ancient Pasture Ground, he also destroyed a fair Orchard of fruit trees, and cut down forty or fifty trees, which had damaged John Lygon's land, which he would not have allowed, had it not been for the high rent paid.

The Pasture and Orchard, formerly were very deep, and good grass, which was sometimes mowed in the summertime, but now therefore of ploughing, it is much over grown with weeds and grass, impeded and decayed, so the yearly profit of the grass will not be half what it had been, without great labour, on soiling and dressing the ground. John Lygon, wonders that he has very good reason for keeping John Stratford to his Bargain. When he suggested being a Partner with John Stratford, he did say that if the Royal Proclamation happened, and others got Licence to grow tobacco, he would try to get one for them, but John Stratford did slight his offer. He admits that here before he had Leased Land to Ralph Wood, for thirteen pounds per annum, but therefore of the spoil and waste on the land, Ralph Wood will take it now for half the Rent. John Stratford was so greedy to have the land, that he offered Ralph Wood whose Lease only had two or three years to run, forty pounds in money if he would persuade John Lygon, or forty pounds worth of tobacco of Ralph Wood's own choice.

John Stratford, Gentleman, Citizen and Salter, of London, explains, that on or about in February 1618, he entered into conference with John Lygon, of Beauchamp Court, in Worcestershire, Esquire, for the taking of part of certain housing, and twelve acres of land at Arle Court, in Gloucestershire, for the planting and curing of tobacco, for which housing and land John Lygon demanded eighty pounds Rent, paid annually, that was twelve acres acres at eighty pounds, meant six pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence per acre, which for any other purpose, than for planting tobacco, would not be worth thirty shillings per acre, for Ralph Wood, being Tenant at Will, at a Rack Rent, unto the said John Lygon, for the same land, and much more housing, paid fifteen pounds Rent per acre, or less.

John Stratford could not complete the Bargain with John Lygon, with out the consent also of Ralph Wood, who very willingly agreed therefore of the great rent. John Stratford, considering the greatness of the rent, took it for one year only, or for four years, if he was permitted to grow tobacco. John Lygon would not let it for less than four years, and to encourage John Stratford he promised by means, some great persons, to provide a Licence for John Stratford, to grow tobacco, if any such restraint should happen. So, John Stratford took the land and planted it with tobacco.

Mr John Lygon, to secure his rent, in June next, tendered to John Stratford. a Lease for four years, from Lady Day, before the date here of, for the rent of eighty pounds per annum. Following Michaelmas, John Stratford, paid forty pounds to John Lygon, for half a year. But, by now, by Royal Proclamation of the 30th of December 1620, the growing of tobacco was prohibited. So, at Candlemas, next following, John Stratford, demanded John Lygon, to get the Licence, or take the land back, or let him Lease it at the old rent. But, John Lygon held him to his word, and did not get the Licence and the time for the planting of the tobacco passed, so in the second year, he ploughed and sowed with Barley.

Then, John Lygon, said he could not get a Licence, but still expected the old rent, and John Lygon threatened to have John Stratford arrested for debt. So, John Stratford being tender to his Credit, and unwilling to be troubled or disgraced, paid one hundred and twenty pounds, being the whole remainder for two year's rent, although the crop of tobacco, and eight acres of the said ground, because the frost had happened, before the gathering, was destroyed, and was not worth the Charges. Also, the Barley failed, because of the over rankness of the ground, and it was not worth the seed and ploughing, John Stratford asks the Court to stop John Lygon proceeding in any Court of Common Law, against him.

On the 17th of November, John Lygon, asks the Court, whether he needs to Answer the Complaint at all.

There is another Copy of John Stratford's Complaint against John Lygon. In addition he states that he sowed the seed in February and March in the year 1619, and planted out the plants in the May of that year. In June John Lygon presented him with the Lease.

The land for growing other than tobacco, would not be worth fifteen pounds, that is twelve acres at fifteen pounds, is on pound five shillings per acre.

The Defendant John Lygon, on the 13th of May, against claims that the Complainant needs no answer, and therefore the matter does not concern this Court, and that John Lygon, intends to have John Stratford arrested for debt.

Interrogations took place regarding the Bill of Complaint.

  • Do you know Arle Court, which the Plaintiff took to the Defendant for the planting of tobacco, the rent, and acreage.?
  • How many years was the land taken for, and were there any promises by John Lygon, if the growing of tobacco was prevented.?
  • What Noblemen did he promise to influence.?
  • Did not the Plaintiff have of the crop, and what price for the tobacco.?

The Answers, were given on the 19th of May 1623.

Edward Attwood, of Teddington, of the County of Worcestershire, a Yeoman, aged 44 years.

He has known John Stratford for twenty years, and John Lygon for thirty years, for John Lygon, was his school fellow at Cheltenham. John Stratford took Arle Court, about four years ago, containing between eleven and twelve acres, and worth to be let at between thirteen and fourteen pounds per annum. For six to seven years, it had been let to Ralph Wood, this Deponent's brother, for thirteen pounds per annum.

About four years ago, John Stratford, being then at Winchcombe, sent for Attwood, to come to him, and asked him to go to John Lygon, and ask if he would let John Stratford, have the ground, and housing, then in the occupancy of Ralph Wood, to plant tobacco there, and at what Rates, and for what Term.

Edward Attwood, went to Beauchamp Court in County Worcestershire, to see John Lygon, who said he would let Arle Court for four years, if he would pay ten pounds per acre on the main ground, and also twenty pounds for the others, which was an orchard, and poor ground, which came to a total of eighty pounds, and, John Lygon asked Edward Attwood, to tell John Stratford, that Mr. Sherrington Talbot, who had other lands in Wiltshire, was a friend of his, and would be also willing to let land for the cultivation of tobacco, if he was asked.

Also, John Lygon, suggested that he, and Sherrington Talbot, should become Partners with John Stratford in Gloucestershire, and Wiltshire, tobacco growing, and said, that if any Ban, on the tobacco growing should occur, he, John Lygon, would be able to get a Licence through Sherrington Talbot's friendship with the Earl of Shrewsbury's friendship with the Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Pembroke's friendship with the Earl of Arundel, and through all these would make means unto the Marquise of Buckingham, to get a Licence from the King.

John Stratford, therefore agreed to Lease Arle Court, and the Wiltshire Lands, on the condition that John Lygon, would if necessary, get the Licence.

About a year after the Lease was taken up, John Stratford, wrote to Edward Attwood from London, asking him again to visit John Lygon, and inform him of the Royal Proclamation, restraining the growing of tobacco, and asking him to obtain the Licence. John Stratford at this time also offered Partnership in the following year in Arle Court, and the Wiltshire planting's. John Lygon said that he would do the best he could to get a Licence, for all of the time of the Lease. He confidently expected to obtain a Licence. Edward Attwood, informed John Stratford of this in London, and John Stratford wrote back to Edward Attwood, and Robert Parre, his Bailiff, ordering, Arle Court's grounds to be ploughed, and prepared again for the second year of tobacco growing. The land was then prepared. There was about six acres of the eleven acres taken with frost, and so the tobacco was spoiled, it is worth eight pence per pound. He knows therefore, he had one eighth part with John Stratford in the tobacco so planted, and has about three hundredweight still in his hands, which was taken with frost. He would presently take six pence per pound for it.

When John Stratford saw that he would not get the Licence, he decided to grow Barley, but it was rank, and course, and sown late, and did not in the end repay the labour, Edward Attwood believes that John Stratford got no profit at all from the Barley. The Barley was sold for about eight or ten pence the Bushel. He also explains in the same way as Carpenter, how and why the fruit trees were cut down. He had promised John Stratford, to have sufficient wood for setting and repairing fences, and he, John Lygon, preferred this wood to be used rather than any other.

John Stratford was in London, at the time, and when he came down to Arle Court, and saw the fruit trees cut down, he was displeased, and found great fault with the cutting down. He was a man who would more likely have planted trees, he had lately planted a large and fruitful orchard, at his house Near Winchcombe.

Edward Attwood thinks that one hundred and sixty pounds in Rent, is as much as the ground is worth, in Fee Simple, at fourteen years purchase, within a matter of twenty pounds (sic). Also, John Lygon, reserved to himself thirteen pounds of land etc, which he would not let the Plaintiff have, a Dovehouse, and Conventional Housing, and a fair Orchard, which yielded John Lygon five pounds per annum, and more. So, John Lygon profited far more than John Stratford.
Edward Attwood signed his name.

George Clarke, of Arle Court, a Yeoman, aged 30 years.

He has known John Stratford for ten years, and John Lygon for four years. He also knows of ground of twelve acres, let to Ralph Wood, for thirteen pounds per annum. What it is worth now, he does not know, therefore, it has for two years layed untilled, and is over grown with weeds and thistles. But, he has heard John Stratford say, he would give John Lygon, fourteen pounds per annum for it, for a twenty one year Lease. He knows that the Barley grown brought no profit, it only paid the seed and labour, plus five pounds towards the Rent of eighty pounds.

George Clarke sold the Barley for John Stratford, and it fetched ten pence a Bushel, therefore of it's lightness and badness. The charges in growing tobacco in the first year were three hundred and twenty pounds, including Rent, and were incurred by John Stratford, and his Partners. He knows therefore as he kept the accounts for John Stratford. Whether John Stratford took up all the money at interest, at the Rate of ten pounds per annum, he knows not, but he thinks that part of the money was taken up at ten percent, but not all the money came out of John Stratford's purse, for he had Partners, which had a half part, and bore all the Charges, and paid half the rent in the first year.

He does not know at what Rate John Stratford sold the tobacco, he thinks that he has sold it all, and at the Rate of four shillings to the pound, and if so, he is no loser thereby. George Clarke signs his name.

On May the 5th 1623, William Carpenter, of Winchcombe, a Gentleman aged 35 years, gave evidence.

He says that he has known John Stratford a dozen years, for he married John Stratford's sister, (she was his second wife, his first wife was the daughter of the Earl of Worcester), and has known John Lygon for four to five years. He guesses that Arle Court to be eleven acres, and worth about fifteen pounds per annum, and thinks that it was let to Ralph Wood, at that sum approximately. He knows John Stratford took a Lease for four years, and he knows that about two parts of the crop was taken in the frost, whilst the tobacco was growing thereof, and was spoiled. He also knows therefore, he William Carpenter, had about one eighth part of the tobacco with his brother John Stratford. So he knows that part of the tobacco that William Carpenter sold was at seven pence per pound, and the rest lies on his hands, and he would willingly have taken pour pence per pound for it, if people would give so much. He does not know what John Stratford sold his tobacco for, but he thinks that it still lies on his hands, and not worth above what he got for his, as the tobacco of the same goodness.

In a better sort of time, the tobacco was not frosted, which was about one eighth part worth two shillings and six pence per pound. He thinks that the Barley grown on the ground where the tobacco had been planted before, was not worth his labour, costs, and charges, besides the Rent.

William Carpenter, knows that John Stratford sustained growing tobacco by the Barley that he had sowed in the second year after the Lease, therefore, he heard his servant, who sold it at Markets, say that he got eight pence per bushel. It was very rank an light, and fit for few uses. He thinks that John Stratford lost the whole Rent that year.

About a week after John Stratford made his Agreement with him, Carpenter, came to Arle Court, and saw all of the most part, the fruit trees had been cut down, which grew on the land, in John Stratford's absence, where upon William Carpenter asked Ralph Wood, who cut down the fruit trees, and was told it was done by John Lygon's orders, and what John Lygon did not cut down, Ralph Wood cut, therefore the fruit was often stolen by boys, and the poor people of Cheltenham, a Market Town adjacent, and also the hedges and fences of the ground were broken down and spoiled with their coming in. John Stratford was very displeased that the fruit trees had been cut down, therefore the Plaintiff is a man that is more likely to plant fruit trees than to cut them down, or destroy them, for he hath planted a very fine orchard at his house at Winchcombe, afore said.

William Carpenter believes that John Lygon, is a far greater gainer, by letting the land for tobacco growing for the Rent of eighty pounds per annum, not withstanding the breaking up of the ground, than the Plaintiff, by planting the ground, in tobacco. Therefore, John Lygon received eighty pounds for two years running, in place of fifteen pounds before. He thinks the Inheritance or Fee Simple of the ground is not worth two hundred pounds if sold.

William Carpenter signs his Testimony.

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Data transcribed by Colin Hinson from:
A document written by
Gerald H. Stratford in 1988.
Reproduced here by permission
© Gerald H. Stratford.