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An Introduction to the History of Bodenham

Bodenham Village 1851

Bodenham, a pretty village, situated about eight miles N. From Hereford, it contains several good houses, and has a very romantic and pleasant appearance.”
(E.C. Lascelles Directory of Herefordshire. 1851)

We know very little about early human activity in Bodenham, but the first archaeological dig in the area (2006) identified what the archaeologists described as “Herefordshire’s earliest dated monument, the early Neolithic ridge end enclosure at Hill Croft Field, Bodenham”. Radiocarbon dating of samples from the site place construction and use of the site at around 3,500BC - about five and a half thousand years ago. An information board, sited (on the Green near the Surgery) so that the hill can be seen in the distance, summarises the findings of this study. These very early sites are often identified by aerial photography as crop marks and confirmed, as in this case, by subsequent archaeological investigation.

There is little evidence of Roman activity here – the Sites and Monuments Record lists a single Roman find in Bodenham - a coin - and some local historians believe there was a Roman road here, more or less in line with Bowley Lane. In 2004 however, a rare Roman sword was found in the River Lugg at Bodenham by a man walking his dog. Hereford Museum staff were delighted when experts identified the sword as a second or third century spatha – a very rare type of Roman sword of which only eight have been found in Britain. The sword is kept at the Museum Resource and Learning Centre in Hereford.
As far as we know the first written record referring to Bodenham occurs in Domesday Book. We know there are pre-Domesday sites in the Parish (and the Sites and Monuments Record lists those at Bowley, Broadfield and the Deer Park at The Vern), but to date the legacy of the Saxon or Old English presence appears most evident in the name which is variously interpreted as meaning ‘Boda’s land in the river bend’ or possibly Boden meaning a group of homes in the river bend.

The Domesday Book is an amazing compilation giving as it does a comprehensive survey of land use, value and ownership in the England of 1086 and comparing this to pre-conquest ownership and value. Most of the places that make up the modern Parish of Bodenham are readily identifiable in the Hundred of Thornlaw. We don’t know exactly what the boundary of this Hundred was and scholars tell us that it would not have the same boundary as the later medieval Hundred. Nor would the manors described have the same boundaries as the townships (see below) since their boundaries were only fixed in the nineteenth Century.

Bodenham's Townships

Bodenham's Townships

There are manors at Bowley, Bodenham (Devereux), Maund (several manors here), Bodenham (Moor), Venns Green and the Vern.

Whilst some of the manors (Bodenham Moor and Venn) are flourishing economically, others have lost out in the twenty years since the Conquest. Two of these, Bowley and one of the Maund manors are operating at only half their capacity. The wealthiest is Bodenham (Moor), probably because it has extra income from a mill. Some of the manors seem to have more ploughs than on the face of it would be needed to work their land, e.g. Bodenham (Devereux). This could be because the land was especially productive or for some other reason. Surprisingly there is no mention of woodland (essential in medieval life) in any of the entries and only two of them own up to having meadow land (again an essential in medieval times since all transport and draft animals depended upon grass).

The manors are held by great Norman lords, all of whom have large holdings elsewhere. By 1086 there are no English landowners here. Of interest is Nigel the Doctor who holds Bowley and a Maund manor – he was the king’s physician - and Osbern who holds Bodenham (Devereux). He is interesting because his family came to England in Edward the Confessor’s time. His father, Richard Scrope, built Richard’s Castle - the first Norman castle in England - and they had held Bodenham since before the Conquest. His Manor has a priest – which supports the notion that the church was on the same site (or close) as it is now.

The population of Bodenham Parish can only be roughly calculated from the information in Domesday, but applying the often used formula (household head x 5) we get a population of around 400 souls.


The written records during these times give little information about the lives of most people who lived here. The land inheritance and exchange between the great families is recorded and in later times this would result in some very famous (and infamous) landlords.

Church records are yielding interesting facts: for instance we know that in the 12th Century, Bodenham’s Church was dedicated to St Mary (Our Lady) rather than to St Michael as it is today. Around 1148 Gilbert Foliot (the Bishop of Hereford) consecrated four cemeteries as places of sanctuary in times of war at The Maund, Rowberry, The Vern and Broadfield and all but the latter had a chapel. From 1277 we have a complete list of Vicars – a copy of this list hangs in St Michael’s Church.

And of course there are always records relating to taxation! For instance, in 1340, Edward III (needing money to support his wars) set a wool tax. Bodenham was assessed at £8 or 1920d (old pence). This was one of the larger amounts in the Broxash Hundred: Marden, for instance was assessed at £7 or 1680d. Later in the same Century (1378) Richard II grants Sir Walter Devereux two charters which give him the right to hold at his manor in Bodenham:
- a market every Tuesday
- a Fair on Assumption Day (15th August) ‘vigil, feast & morrow’

By 1300 the population had increased very substantially. In order to feed the growing numbers marginal land was increasingly brought under agriculture. The productivity of such land declines quite quickly and during 1315-22 the summers were disastrously bad which resulted in poor harvests and cattle disease. There was much starvation. In 1348 the Black Death arrived in England. Between one-third and a half of the population died within about two years. We have no direct information as to how Bodenham fared – although Herefordshire suffered greatly. But the result everywhere was that land that had been brought under cultivation was allowed to revert. During the Archaeological Study of the Lugg Valley in 2006, the archaeologists found evidence at Bodenham as well as other parts of the valley which suggest land shortages in the medieval period followed by later reversion, e.g. to woodland or rough pasture.

In the early 16th Century the great estates still dominate land ownership, although the holders change either as fortunes wax and wane or are passed as part of marriage settlements. Land at Bodenham Devereux formed part of the estate of the third Duke of Buckingham; after his execution for treason Queen Elizabeth I granted the land to her favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The Queen’s other favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, held land at Bodenham Devereux until he tried the Queen’s patience too far and was executed. During the 17th Century much land at Bodenham was acquired by Sir Thomas Coningsby who added it to his Hampton Court Estate. His descendents remained at Hampton Court until the estate was bought by the Arkwrights.

It is during the 16th Century that more information about the lives of ordinary people starts to appear. The Parish Registers start in 1584 giving information about births, marriages and deaths – some of which can be linked to where people lived. There are several wills and probate inventories of Bodenham inhabitants from the early 1500’s. These give many interesting details of life in earlier times. For instance the will of ‘Phelyp Bowle(y) of Bodyngham’ dated 1541 leaves to his daughter Anna “my second Coverlet, my best brass pot, a pair of flaxen sheets and a pair of hoorden sheets (a mixture of flax and hemp), 2 pottingers and charger with a candlestick.....’” all rather reminiscent of Shakespeare’s will leaving his ‘second best bed’ to his wife! These wills remind us how valuable quite ordinary possessions were before the introduction of mass manufacture. People handed down their sheets, bolsters and bed hangings as well as their lands.

This period also saw the building of many of the houses that still survive today – although they are often much changed. In recent times, Dr Anthea Brian collected much detailed information about the houses of Bodenham, charting their history and ownership. Her findings can be read in her book on Bodenham Devereux and in her draft manuscripts for the other townships of the Parish of Bodenham, i.e. the Moor, Bowley and the Maunds.

Medieval agriculture was based around open fields. The arable land was divided into strips and an individual might well have strips dotted around the Parish. After the harvest was in the land was communally used for grazing – providing food for animals and fertilising the land for next season. Similarly, after the hay was cut in the meadows animals grazed communally. Old wills are often a source of both lost and persisting field names which give clues to the past extent and nature of agricultural fields. For instance John Boulker’s will (1591) gives one of his sons “an acre of land in the great Bownhill (Bunhill)”, another “an acre of land lying in the Millfylde (Millcroft)” and to his daughter “an acre of meadowgrownde lyinge in the gosacres”. The first two of these are shown on the fieldname map hanging in the church. This type of agriculture persisted throughout the following centuries to 1800, carving out of the landscape many features that still persist today, e.g. lynchets (there are some on Bunhill) and doglegs in field boundaries (see photograph below).

Population estimates at this time are uncertain, but nationally England had returned to pre-Black Death levels by Elizabeth’s time. By 1801 Bodenham’s population was estimated at 887.

Bodenham - aerial photograph. Copyright: Herefordshire Archaeology Aerial Survey 06-CN-0708

Copyright: Herefordshire Archaeology Aerial Survey 06-CN-0708. First published in the Report on The Lugg Valley, Herefordshire: Archaeology, Landscape Change and Conservation.

Typical dog leg enclosure pattern of former open field strips at Bodenham

This Century saw many changes. The remaining unenclosed land in the Parish (some 1300 acres) was enclosed as a result of the Inclosure Award of 1802, significantly altering traditional farming practices.
Early in the Century (1809) Richard Arkwright bought the Hampton Court Estate from the Coningsby family and acquired the Lordship of Bodenham. The Arkwrights acquired most of the houses in Bodenham (Devereux) and later in the Century bought many in other parts of the Parish. The estate kept good records (which are invaluable for local historians) and kept the houses in good repair – hence the survival of so many. The Arkwright family remained in the area until 1912 when the estate was sold. They donated the land on which the present school stands (opened in 1864) and also that for the short lived school/chapel at Maund. An Arkwright became Vicar and the alms houses (Cottage Homes) were built in his memory and endowed by his daughters. As late as 1911 John Arkwright presented the Village with a Reading Room.

Communication with the outside world became easier as roads were built, including the Toll Road which follows the A417 from Hope to Cornett Bridge - the old toll house can still be seen near Saffron’s Cross. In 1853 Dinmore railway station opened to passengers, although many parts of the Parish were a significant distance away from the station.

With the development of the Census much more detailed information about people begins to appear. In the 1861 Census the major occupations listed are agricultural worker followed by domestic servants and then farmers, but further down the list appear all sorts of people offering trade services such as carpentry, dressmaking and so on. Surprisingly there are 7 shoemakers listed. But perhaps one of the most interesting facts in the census returns is the change in population numbers. By 1851 the number of people living in the Parish had risen to around 1100. After 1871 the population declined sharply and remained around 700 until 1981 when it rose to 1067 (see graph). This was at a time when the population of England and Wales as a whole was increasing rapidly. The late 1800’s was a time when there was much hardship in agricultural communities and this fuelled to some extent the population drift towards towns where work was easier to obtain.

Population of Bodenham 1801 - 1911 cf 1991

In 1891 the then Vicar of Bodenham (Mr Sturges) started a Parish Magazine. Whilst this was mainly concerned with recording church affairs, there are fascinating glimpses into life in the Village. Although the Anglican Church was the main focus of religious life and indeed of much of the social life of the time, Bodenham had a significant Methodist community started by Joseph Watkins. The first timber framed chapel was replaced by the present brick chapel in 1874.

The development of photography in the latter part of the Century meant that for the first time there are photographic records of parts of the Village and of the people who lived in

As this Century progresses the written and photographic records multiply, and interest in collecting oral accounts of past life results in a better understanding of day-to-day life in past decades. Indeed there is far too much information to include in a short history such as this and the following are just a few points of interest.

Bodenham was an important centre for breeding the red and white Hereford cattle and the herd at The Vern was world famous. This aspect of our past is remembered in the sculpture of Hereford calves on Bodenham Moor Green.

The Medlicot Brothers whose premises were based at the Post Office developed a large and thriving business in the early part of the Century supplying goods over a wide area. At one time they were corn merchants, grocers, butchers and bakers trading over an area which included Ullingswick, Marden, Felton, Risbury and Hope under Dinmore as well as Bodenham. The business declined sharply as travel to Hereford and Leominster became easier and people had a wider choice as to from whom and where to buy their goods.

In the 1920’s there was considerable growth in social activities for people from all walks of life - Scouts and Brownies, of course, but also drama, country dancing, reading, gardening clubs and societies. Sports such as tennis, football and cricket were popular, as was air gun shooting. The picture emerges of a village that is self-contained but not at all limited in its interests.

But life was still hard. During the early part of the Century agriculture was still the main employer. The children who lived at Maund Common walked every day to school at Bodenham and twice a day on Sundays. This would be from a very young age and in all kinds of weathers except when the floods - which happened at regular intervals- cut off parts of the Village. Families grew all their own vegetables and many kept poultry or a pig which would be butchered by a travelling butcher. On Maund Common many families grazed geese. The Village was in many respects still self-sufficient and boots and shoes were still made locally until the war: boots costing 27/6 a pair and taking two days to make.

Bodenham in the early 20th Century


Further information:

The Anthea Brian Archive – Dr Brian assiduously collected general historical information about Bodenham over a long period, as well as the information about Bodenham houses which formed the subject of her published book. Interested people are welcome to consult this archive which includes a draft of her second volume which covers the history of the houses in the rest of the Village (contact Margaret Andrews ).

The Lugg Valley, Herefordshire – Archaeology, Landscape Change and Conservation. 2007
Herefordshire Studies in Archaeology: Series 4

Anthea Brian - A Brief History of the Houses in the Parish of Bodenham, Herefordshire. The Township of Bodenham Devereux.


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