Abbots Bromley

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Date:1004 - 2015 (c.)

Description:Abbots Bromley is an ancient parish which lies six miles south of Uttoxeter. It originally belonged to Burton Abbey when it was granted to the Abbey by Wulfric Spot in 1004. After the dissolution of the monasteries it was granted to Sir William Paget (sometimes known as Paget’s Bromley). Bromley comes from the Old English ‘broom leah’ meaning ‘the clearing where the broom grows’.

In the Domesday Survey of 1086 Abbots Bromley is recorded as part of the lands of Burton Abbey and is described as ‘Brunlege’. There was land for one plough held within the demesne. The population was described as the priest and one villein (tenants who held land in return for labour services) and one bordar (smallholders who had brought land into cultivation on the edges of the village) which is relatively small. There were also two leagues of woodland and the manor was worth 20 shillings annually.

In 1532 there were 42 families listed just in Abbots Bromley and not including Bromley Hurst or Bagots Bromley. By 1666, 98 households were recorded Pagetts Bromley in the Hearth Tax Returns as paying tax. A further 41 households were considered too poor to pay the tax. The largest property belonged to Thomas Norres, gentleman with five hearths. Richard Clarke, the benefactor for the first village school, appears paying for four hearths.

There are several interesting historic buildings in Abbots Bromley including the Butter Cross which is thought to date from the 17th century although it is possible there was an earlier structure on the same site. The building is hexagonal in shape and would originally have been used to sell butter from underneath it. It has been restored most recently in 2002 and is still used by the community as a bus shelter for children joining the morning school bus. Another interesting building is Church House an attractive timber framed house which is again early 17th century. The building is used by the church and other local organisations acting as a focal point for the village.

The major landowners in the area were the Marquis of Anglesey (as alluded to with reference to the Paget’s obtaining it after the dissolution) and Lord Bagot who was lord of the manors of Bagot’s Bromley and Bromley Hurst. The Bagot family lived at Bagots Bromley House until they moved to Blithfield Hall in Admaston in the fourteenth century. During the nineteenth century the Marquis of Anglesey sold most of the Staffodrshire estates and the village became know as Abbots Bromley once more.

The parish church is dedicated to St Nicholas and is a large gothic building almost in the centre of the village. Parts of the church date back to around 1300 but there have been several changes and alterations since then. During the seventeenth century the church became quite dilapidated so much so that the parish register records on 23 November 1698 that spire collapsed and the west end of the church was damaged at the same time. Over the next nine years the spire was replaced by a tower. During the nineteenth century further work was carried out by G E Street to bring back some of the Gothic elements to the church. The church is also known as the resting place for the horns of the famous Abbots Bromley Horn Dance during the year when they are not being used. The other surviving church in the village is the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart which was built some time between 1831 and 1846 by Edward Pyatt in the garden next to his house in Church Lane. It fell into disuse and was closed in 1891 and sold shortly afterwards. Eventually efforts were made to re-establish a church and the original building was bought back together with six adjoining cottages. It was rebuilt and formally opened in 1915.

The first school in the village (for boys) was built in 1699 in Schoolhouse Lane thanks to a bequest of £300 from Robert Clarke. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that education changed in the village with the advent of the Church of England National Schools. In 1830 the Richard Clarke School became a National School. In 1870 the National School was handed over to the local School Board and became a Girls and Infants School. The Clarke School struggled on but closed in 1893. A new Boys School was built right in front of the old Clarke School. In 1933 things changed again and the boys school closed and the old National School for Girls and Infants became the Abbots Bromley Primary School to then become Richard Clarke First School following the introduction of the three tier system of education in the county.

Abbots Bromley is also known for its connection to Mary Queen of Scots. Mary spent part of her time in captivity in North Staffordshire. During her final journey to Fotheringhay to be executed it is said that she paused in Abbots Bromley on 21 September 1586 at Hall Hill (possibly staying overnight). A pane of glass taken from a window in Hall Hill is in the William Salt Library in Stafford and has the inscription scratched onto the pane, Maria Regina Scotiae quondam transibat istam villam 21 Septembris 1585 usque Burton roughly translated as Mary Queen of Scots once stayed at this house, 21 September 1586 on the way to Burton.

Abbots Bromley held a weekly market on Tuesdays and an annual fair around St Bartholomew’s Day. The Fair still survives in the form of Wakes Monday or Horn Dance Day as it is now known.

The Horn Dance takes place on the Monday following the first Sunday after the fourth of September. The dance starts with the collection of the horns from the parish church and a dance in front of the church. It then continues throughout the village at various locations including Blithfield Hall, the Market Place and the ancient Butter Cross before returning to the church. The dancers are twelve men (always male) six of whom carry the reindeer antlers while the others take the roles of: Maid Marian, the Hobby Horse, the Jester or Fool, a boy carrying a bow and arrow, another carrying a triangle, and a musician usually playing and accordion. The origins of the dance are unknown although it is thought to date back to the medieval period and there are various theories about its meaning. Reference is made to the dance in Dr Plot’s Natural History of Staffordshire (1686) saying that it was within memory of people of Abbots Bromley possibly indicating the dance had ceased to be held at that time. The Horns themselves have been identified as reindeer and radio carbon dated to 1065-1080. The Horn Dance continues today as a link between the present and the past for Abbots Bromley and attracts many visitors to the village in September. For more information about Abbots Bromley’s history, see A History of Abbots Bromley by E R Shipman.