The Hamlet of Bradcroft
What happened to our gardens after the Romans left and Ermine Street fell into disrepair?
The next reference we find comes from the Saxon chronicler Aethelweard (probable nephew of Alfred the Great), who records that in 894 the Danes were ravaging large territories in Mercia ‘on the western side of a place called Staneford’, so our gardens probably witnessed the bloodshed of Viking raids.
By the 950s the Saxons and Danes were co-existing on both banks of the Welland, the Saxons predominantly to the west of the town, the Danes to the east. When the Normans arrived they erected a fortified castle on the site of what is now the bus station and by the time the Domesday survey was conducted in 1086 Stamford had a population of between 2,000 and 3,000 residents, making it one of the ten largest urban centres in Britain. It was famous throughout Europe initially for its glazed earthenware and later for its fine woollen 'haberget' cloth.
Some time between Domesday and 1180 the hamlet of Bradcroft emerged, probably as a result of Stamford’s rapid population growth. Historian Alan Rogers tells us it was situated on the very edge of the town, at the point where the Roman road crossed the two branches of the Welland and the Meadows.(1) This reinforces the claim by 18th century antiquarian Francis Peck that the site of the former village and chapel of 'Bredcroft' lay about a quarter of a mile west of the Austin Friary ruins.(2)
This settlement has never been thoroughly researched and its size and boundaries are uncertain, but it seems to have covered at least some of the gardens on the south and west of what is now Waterfurlong.
Bradcroft or Bredcroft?
Today's authorities on medieval Stamford are agreed the hamlet was called Bradcroft, from the old English ‘brad', meaning 'broad'. The coincidental fact the
settlement housed a number of ovens seems to have misled early historians into assuming its main function was a bakery for the town - hence their corruption of
Bradcroft to Bredcroft, Bredecroft,Breedcroft and Bread Croft.
Although Bradcroft was coupled with Stamford for taxation purposes, it fell in Rutland. Indeed, whilst most of medieval Stamford formed part of Lincolnshire, some parts did remain in the ancient, royal, Saxon shire of Roteland (Rutland) and these probably included St Peter’s Church(3)(which may have been the town’s original mother-church), and the Austin Friary. Bradcroft and its neighbouring West Field were described as ‘sundersoken’(separate estate - as in separate from Stamford), both bounded on the east by Ermine Street, sometimes recorded as forming part of St Peter's parish, occasionally as part of Tinwell.
Bradcroft's Ovens, Bakers and Mills
In 1304 the Abbot of Peterborough received one hundred shillings' rent from Bradcroft’s public oven. This was a considerable sum and is possibly what led the 16th century chronicler John Leland to comment ‘All the town bread was then baked in a public oven there, ovens being formerly appointed without all great towns to prevent fires, as the
houses were made of wood.’(4) Whilst it is true that bakeries were commonly situated outside town walls and that some professional bakers had their ovens at Bradcroft, Leland's conclusion was overly simplistic. We now know there were other bakers working within the
town itself, especially by St John's Church, and that some of Bradcroft's 'furna' were used by the villagers for cooking meat and poultry rather than bread.
Nonetheless, Bradcroft does seem to have played a role in supplying bread for the townspeople of Stamford and this is an intriguing thought wandering down nearby King’s Mill Lane some 900 years later, with the aroma of baking drifting from Asker’s.
There are several references to mills at Bradcroft and a mill had certainly existed on the west side of Stamford, beneath the castle walls (on the site of the present day King's Mill), since at least the time of King John. In 1304 Hugh Pett of Bradecroft sold to Beatricia, widow of Joseph le Ferrour, his houses in the hamlet ‘as they extend themselves from the king’s highway north, and the milldam of Bradecroft south.’ That same year, Hugh son of Matilda, widow of Aylrich of Bradecroft, sold his share in a furno in Bradecroft to his neighbour, William Scot.
In 1441, Elizabeth Elmes of Henley-upon-Thames, daughter of the famous Stamford merchant and benefactor, William Browne, listed ‘the mill at Bredcroft’ in a bequest.
The Court House
Bread was the staple medieval food and the type you ate was largely dictated by your social status and the grain grown in the locality. Wheat, rye and barley were all commonplace and after a poor harvest ground peas, beans and acorns were added to make the grain go further. Pandemain was made from wheat and mainly enjoyed by the rich, whilst the common man was left with a choice of tourte, horse breador clapbread. Learn more
about medieval bread and recipes from the era. (5)
Bradcroft had another important function, as it was the site of Rutland county court. Leland notes ‘The sessions for Rutland were kept at Bredcroft. Those malefactors who were condemned there were executed at Tinwell Gallows, for Bredcroft is in Rutland, and the Gallows stood between Tinwell and Empingham. The Hall, or Sessions House, stood about a quarter of a mile on this side of the wash, on the northern bank of the mill river; the foundations may still be traced.'(3)
This might tie in with the rumoured origins of nearby Melancholy Walk, which is said to be the route the condemned were forced to follow to the gallows.
In 1403 the Bradcroft court tried John Cole and Thomas atte Brigg of Assewell (Ashwell) for stealing 11 bullocks at Whissendine. The defendants argued their case should be heard in the church court as they were clergy, after which John Cole appears to have escaped from prison and been pardoned by the king.
Whilst Bradcroft’s primary religious connection was probably to the church of St Peter within the Stamford town walls, the village had further important loyalties, particularly to the Priory of St Michael. This was a Benedictine nunnery founded in about 1155 by William de Waterville, Abbot of Peterborough, across the river from Bradcroft on the south bank of the Welland. Compared with the nearby Sack and later Austin Friary, St Michael’s was a large establishment housing 40 nuns, but it was not wealthy. As the historian Dr Henry Summerson observes ‘Life there was probably rather spartan, which helps explain a number of grants which were specifically aimed at making it more comfortable – they might be, in modern parlance, hypothecated to the refectory or to the infirmary, for the nuns’ veils or even to buy them bedclothes.’(6)
In the time of King John, Lucy de Hommet, the wife of William Hommet, Lord of Stamford, granted the nuns rent from some of her properties in Stamford and Bradcroft, partly to finance prayers for her own and her family’s souls and partly for the serving of an extra portion of food on the anniversary of her death, whenever that might occur. In 1304 we find a more lowly Bradcroft benefactor, Alfricus pistor (Aelfric Fisher), granting the nuns rent from a property he owned in the village.
Our Early Gardening Predecessors
Other than the very wealthy, of whom there were likely to be few in a hamlet such as Bradcroft, almost everyone in medieval England had some day-to-day involvement in tending the land, growing produce and caring for livestock. 14th century deeds reveal Bradcroft had a number of dovecotes, doves being an important source of meat over the winter months. In addition to grain, villagers were likely to have grown the staple medieval crops of cabbages, onions, broad beans, turnips, carrots, leeks, parsnips, celery, chard, garlic, lettuces and soup peas in the same soil we use to cultivate our vegetable plots today.
Although we know almost nothing about them as individuals, we can glean the names of some of these early gardening forebears from various records and deeds. 13th and 14th century landowners and tenants included Thomas de Bradecroft and his wife Alice, Roger Micheloune, Richard Tastard or Testard, Walter de Tynewell, William Palmer, Henry Bek, Hugh Pert, William Edelm, Thomas de Bylisthorp, Hugh moleninarius (Hugh the Miller), Henry Trille and his daughter Agnes, and Hugh Aylrych. The 1334 lay subsidy listed the wonderfully-named Everard le Wikked, and moving into the fifteenth century, we know that in 1446
John Drayton, the youngest son of widowed Margery, daughter of William de Bradecroft, owned a meadow by the settlement. There are references to chaplains, cooks, clerks, sergeants and fishermen, to neighbouring land owners and to fields and parcels of land.(7)
What Became of Bradcroft?
In the 18th century we find references to Sir John Smith, Bart, owning two roods in ‘Breadcroft Meadow’, with a Mrs Butcher also holding a small parcel of land there. And in 1806 the town coroner delivered a verdict of ‘suicide by drowning in the Welland near Breadcroft’ following the death of poor 18 year old Mary Sumpter, a local ‘lunatic’.
In 1890 Rev H P Wright made an intriguing comment 'The father of the compiler of the Chronology of Stamford [George Burton, published 1846] was in the early part of this century the tenant of 44 Bredcroft Close — a small enclosure now thrown into the Freemen's common, and the site of which abutted on the mill stream and was west of the Roman Ermyn Street.'(8) Whilst we have been unable to find any other references to a Bredcroft Close, Bredcroft House, a substantial property with 'eleven bedrooms and extensive grounds' is still standing on the north side of Tinwell Road. Bredcroft House may possibly have had ecclesiastical connections, being the home at the end of the 19th century of Canon Matthew, and in 1918 of Dennis J J Barnard, Chaplain of Browne’s Hospital.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
With particular thanks to Professor Alan Rogers for his advice and guidance.
(1) Bradcroft - A Hidden Place in Rutland © Professor Alan Rogers, Rutland Local History and Record Society, April 2011
(2) Academia Tertia Anglicana or the Antiquarian Annals of Stamford by Francis Peck, 1727
(3) Stamford in Domesday Book © Dr David Roffe, Stamford and District Local History Society, 2018
(4) Leland's Topographical Notes c.1538-43, Bodleian Library Collection
(5) Grateful thanks to medieval-recipes.com for information in their article 'Medieval Bread'
(6) Stamford and Magna Carta © Dr Henry Summerson, Stamford and District Local History Society, 2015
(7) People and Property in Medieval Stamford © Stamford Survey Group, Abramis Academic Publishing, 2012
(8) The Story of the Domus Dei of Stamford by H P Wright. 1890
We know the hamlet was not one of those abandoned following the Black Death, as property transactions continued well into the 15th century, and the fact Leland writes about it in the past tense by the early 1540s suggests it was probably abandoned in step with Stamford’s general economic downturn in the face of a stagnating wool trade.
Although Bradcroft disappeared as a settlement,
there seem to have been some remnants and its name certainly lived on in the fields and landmarks.
Professor Alan Rogers, a renowned authority on medieval Stamford, has been kind enough to offer to help us research Bradcroft's history and we will add to this page as we learn more.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018