Town Thorns was once part of Newbold Revel. Newbold Revel, originally called Fenny Newbold dates back to pre-Norman times and belonged to Lewin, a rich Saxon nobleman. William the Conqueror bestowed the land upon Geoffrey de Circe, one of his favourites. The subsequent owners are well documented elsewhere. It came to be known as Revel in the C12 when Robert Revel of Swinford married the daughter of the owner at that time. Ownership changed hands many times. In 1619 it belonged to one Sir Simon Clarke of Salford Priors. There was no issue and the property passed to the niece of Lady Clarke, Dorothy Parker. Dorothy married Sir Fulwar Skipwith, himself a landowner. He built the Queen Anne Mansion. Newbold Revel remained the home of the Skipwith Family for more than 150 years.
Pre 1700, half of the arable land in the country was worked by the open field strip system. In the early part of the C18 one third of farmland was enclosed. The Revel Estate was surveyed and mapped for Sir Fulwar in 1703. It was made up of 364 acres of Freehold lands, 889 acres of ‘Easenell’ lands and 29 acres of ‘Easenell’ town homesteads and yards, a total of 1282 acres. It stretched from Stretton-under-Fosse in the north to Cathiron Lane in the south; from Ell Lane in the west to the edge of Harborough Magna. The countryside was made up of small grazing paddocks, meadows, orchards, woodlands garden and larger arable plots. Tenants paid tithes to the Skipwiths.
In the 1760s and 1770s the pace of enclosure quickened. The plots were recorded by a number on the Estate map, and were also identified by name, probably given by the locals because of some identifiable feature or by the name of the person occupying it at the time. Ley was a term used for arable land under grass; mead, another word for meadow. Marl is a fine-grained sedimentary rock. Davies Lower Twinvetches is also listed as ‘Twinfitches’. A fitch was a polecat. A plantation consisted of cultivated trees.
It is unclear why these tracts of land were of such a variety of shape and size. They were not fields with hedges like chequer boards. It could be that there were some natural features used as boundaries already in place. Hedgerows were planted, but other means of less permanent fencing were also used.
In 1836, the Government of the day ordered a survey of the whole country. Those maps were the forerunners of the Ordnance Survey in use today. At the same time another Act was passed, whereby rents were paid to the landowners. The Tithe-Apportionments for Newbold Revel 1838-1853 lists 234 such enclosures. Detail includes the area in acres, roods and poles; the name of the landowner; the name of the occupier and the state of each plot, eg wood, meadow, pasture or arable. The area of the present day Town Thorns was then owned by Sir Grey Skipwith, the occupier of the plot Crab Tree Leys was Elizabeth Walter and it was arable land.
The last Skipwith to reside at Newbold Hall was Sir Thomas George, who inherited in 1852. Due to financial problems he sold much of the family land including the Mansion before he died in 1863. Charles Ramsden from Middlesex bought the house and part of the estate between 1857 and 1859.
The Act for the building of the Oxford Canal was passed in 1769. The canal was completed in 1877.The Act for the Trent Valley railway line from Rugby to Stafford was passed in 1845. Robert Stephenson and Prime Minister Robert Peel rode the first train to Tamworth when the line was opened in June 1847. The line, later taken over by the London and North Western Railway Company cut through the Revel holdings. The railway and the canal met at Cathiron Lane, diverged and met again near Brinklow Station. Most, but not all, of this roughly shaped triangle became the Town Thorns Estate.
As early as 1703, a wide track for vehicles is shown. Coming from Easenhall it ran straight and level, then up the hill and down the hill. This was Mill Lane. Mill Lane continued, making a 90º turn left at Upper Town Thorns and down the hill to make another 90º turn right to go on to Brinklow. Today that track is the paved road from Easenhall up to the railway bridge. The old track is still in existence and joins the paved drive by the duck pond. In effect, once in the early days, the public highway would have run right past the front door of the Mansion. When the house was built where it now stands, the road was diverted to the location where it is today.
The Bates Family from Easenhall had been renting several enclosures from the Skipwiths. It appears that Edward Bates bought up these plots. Some of them lay in an area bounded by the Canal and Cathiron Lane as far as the bridle path which was once a footway from Kings Newnham to Easenhall. A farmhouse was situated on one side of the canal. Near by is a bridge over the canal. The farmyard and a couple of closes on one side of the bridge and the lands on the other side comprised 179 acres. William Henry Bates aged 39 is listed at Hungerfield Farm in the 1871 Census as a farmer of 179 acres employing three labourers and two boys. This is the farm now known as Town Thorns Farm. The bridge is still known as Hungerfield Bridge No 35 on the Oxford Canal.
A tract of land in the southeast corner bordered by the railway, bridle path and canal became the property of an unknown buyer. The rest of the triangle outlined in red on the map is most likely to have been sold as one parcel, approximately 300 acres, which became the Town Thorns Estate. A Mr Edmund Cropper who was acquainted with Alfred Waterhouse, seemed to be interested in purchasing it. He commissioned Waterhouse to undertake a preliminary survey. At that time it was quite common for an architect to offer this service. Waterhouse examined the area and made a report:
Some of the land in the neighbourhood is on gravel and sand, but nearly all the property in question is clay land. It stands, however, so high that I do not think there would be difficulty in building a dry house anywhere along the ridge….the views to the E N and NW are very pretty, particularly the latter which has the railway far enough away from the house and backed in this case by the woods of Newbold Park. Over the woodlands to the West may be seen Coventry spires 9 miles distant….The land is well adapted for pasturage or for wheat and beans. Some of the finest timber has been cut down. But there is still enough in my opinion to assist greatly in the formation of pleasure grounds. There is a drive thr’ the wood in the centre of which grows an immense Scotch fir. Bates thinks there will be no difficulty in obtaining a good supply of water. I started a covey of partridge and a fine hare. The stream at the lower extremity of the property is only small. Easenhall consists of about a dozen buildings and cottages, and is a neat well kept little place. Captain Ramsden of Newbold Hall is the nearest gentleman resident, his estate being only separated by the railway from Town Thorns Wood. Then Lord Denbigh, Sir George Clarke and Lord Craven of Coombe Abbey are all in the neighbourhood.
MS Letter, AW to Edmund Cropper (Oct 1857) OLB . Private collection
Reproduced by kind permission of Dr CJK Cunningham.
Cropper did not proceed with the purchase. The person who did buy it in the late 1850s was a Henry Spencer from Coventry. He was likely to have been the owner of a weaving mill. Certainly a house called Easenhall Hall was in existence in 1860 and is designated as ‘The Seat of Henry Spencer’.
Silk ribbons were much in demand for decorations and for hats in the early part of the C18. The weaving of silk ribbons grew rapidly and the process continued for more than half of the C19. The Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution in France had brought their skills to Coventry expanding a weaving tradition with roots in mediaeval times. The industry was thriving. However, in 1860, dictated by the vagaries of fashion, feathers as trimmings became the new vogue. In that year the spring was cold and wet. In March the tariff on European imported ribbon was abolished. The unrestricted competition from cheap French and Swiss made ribbons that flooded the country caused a swift decline in the English product. Weavers were laid off. By June 1860 many factories had closed down, none were in full work. It is probable that Henry Spencer was no longer in a position to maintain his countryseat. It was put up for sale.
In 1862 Newbold Revel, its acreage reduced by more than 90%, changed hands. The new owner was Edward Wood of Ports Hill, Staffordshire. In March of the same year, Washington Jackson took over Town Thorns.
OS Map (1880): Courtesy of Warwickshire County Record Office