Wychnor (Wichnor) in 1817
Description from A Topographical History of Staffordshire by William Pitt (1817)
This small village is situated about half way between Burton and Lichfield. It stands on an eminence on the northern bank of the Trent, about a mile above the confluence of that river with the Tame.
The manor was held by Sir Philip de Somerville, in the 10th year of the reign of Edward the Third, under John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, lord of the honour of Tutbury. During the Duke's residence at Tutbury Castle, to please the people and gain their affection, he established several curious customs, and none more singular than the conditions on which Sir Philip held this manor, Sciercot Ridware, Netherton, and Cowlee. The most remarkable condition of the tenure was to keep a flitch of bacon hanging in his hall at Whichnor, at all times in the year, except in Lent, that it might be delivered to any man or woman who should come and demand it, and at the same time swear that he or she had been married a year and a day without repenting; and that, if they were single, and to be married again, the demandant would take the same party again, before any other in the universe; as appears by the following extract from an ancient roll of parchment, translated from the original copy of the grant which was written in French:
"Here ye, Sir Philippe de Somervile, Lord of Whichnoore, mayntener and gyver of this baconne, that 1 A. sithe I wedded B. my wyfe, and sythe I hadd hyr in my kepyng, and at my wylle, by a yere and a day after our marryage, I wod not have chaunged for none other, farer ne fowler, rycher ne pourer, ne for none other descended of greater lynage, slepyng ne wakyng, at noo tyme. And yf the said B. were sole, and I sole, I wolde take hyr to be my wyfe, before all the wymen in the worlde, of what condicions soever they be, good or evylle, so help me God and hys seyntis, and thys fleshe, and all fleshes."
Two neighbours were required to testify the truth of this deposition; and if the claimant was a freeman, there was to be given to him half a quarter of wheat and a cheese; and if a villan, half a quarter of rye, without cheese. These things, with the bacon, were to be carried before him, with trumpets, tabernets, and min- strels, etc. past the lordship of Whichnor, and then without music to his abode.
In the year 1661, the manor of Whichnor was sold to the Offley family. William Offley, an ancestor of this family, mercer, and twice bailiff of Stafford, was uncommonly fortunate in his children, having seven sons, all prosperous, and five daughters, all well married. His eldest son, Thomas, was Lord Mayor of London in 1556, and afterwards knighted. His great grandson, John Offley, Esq. was High Sheriff of the county of Stafford in 1680. John Offley, Esq. who resided at Whichnor, sold the manor in 1765 to John Levett, Esq. from whom it has descended to his nephew, the present possessor.
Leland, who wrote in the time of Henry VIII says that Whichnor was the site of a very ancient mansion, which was then in ruins, and that the spot on which it stood was subject to inundations from the Trent. Traces of this mansion are still visible in the meadows at a small distance south-west of the church. The moat is square, encompassing about an acre of ground.
The present house, called the Lodge, was built by Mr. Offley. It is a neat brick building, faced with stone, and commands a beautifully picturesque prospect across the park to the Forest of Needwood. In memory of the singular tenure by which the manor is held, a piece of painted wood, in the form of a flitch of bacon, hangs over the hall-chimney. But it appears that the married people are as averse to the flitch itself as if they were all Jews; not a single individual having carried off the prize from the first day of the institution to the present time.
The church dedicated to St. Leonard, is a small gothic structure of stone, situated on an eminence near the river Trent. Whichnor parish is but small, and contains few inhabitants. At the contested election for the county in 1747, Mr. John Offley was the only freeholder belonging to it who voted on that occasion.
King James the First, in the course of his tour through this part of the kingdom, visited Whichnor on the 21st of August, 1621, and held his Court at the Hall. On the 19th of August, 1624, the King re-visited the Lord of the Manor at Whichnor, and dined with him.
On the 3d of July, 1255, a very remarkable storm of hail fell along the vale of Trent, from the bridge at Wychenofere down to Reprindon, such as had not happened before in the memory of those who saw it. This hail-storm was succeeded by a very great vorage, which swallowed up the earth, together with trees, houses, and corn, and carried them away. There was such an universal destruction of hay in the valley of Trent by the inundation, as had not happened a long time before. On Good Friday, March 25, 1596, the mills of Whichnor were burned by a fire, which consumed a large quantity of corn, and destroyed the mill-stones.
A handsome stone bridge, of three large arches, has been erected over the Trent at Whichnor; and a corn-mill, situated between the bridge and the church, is supplied with water by a branch of the river. On the same stream, in the meadow below the bridge, a large forge and slitting-mill has been established by a company at Lichfield.
The Justice's meetings for the northern division of the Hundred of Offlow, are held at a large inn on the turnpike-road, near the bridge. Opposite to the inn, and parallel with the road, the Grand Trunk Canal passes, and communicates with the Trent by a lock a little below Alrewas.