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A Brief History


The Origins of Upton

Upton upon Severn is, as its name suggests a town on a river and therein its history lies. Visualise, if you can, the melting of the prehistoric ice cap. A basalt block swept down from the Welsh mountains is still embedded in the Tarmac in School Lane. Among the glacial outwash the infant Severn, immensely wide, serpentine, a wilderness of bogs and rapids, slowly took the shape we know.

With the shift from prehistory to history the river became a natural barrier, both military as the advancing Romans contested with the ancient Britons, and ideological; Christian to the west where the Celtic Church held sway, and pagan to the east; both to be united soon against the Danes.

The first peg of documentary evidence is the grant of Upton by the Mercian King Coenwulf in 897 to Winchcombe Abbey. It then passed to Worcester and in 962 by Bishop Oswalt to "his thegn Cynelm six hides", about the extent of the present parish, Upton's earliest extant charter.

The Domesday Book, 1086, rates Upton as part of Ripple down river. With that monastic settlement Upton served as a "port" for Hereford and Monmouth. In fact there was no bridge here until Tudor times, only a ferry. Hanley nearby, by virtue of its castle built by John for the administration of Malvern Chase and its pottery industry, was more important. The Earls of Gloucester were the feudal chiefs in the 13th Century.

Upton at least had visible evidence of mediaeval beneficence. The tower of the original church still stands. The building was founded by de Boteler, a crusader knight. The tower and the adjacent market cross are the last links with the Plantagenet period.

Meanwhile, while "men may come and men may go" the Severn goes on for ever. Traffic so increased that it was decreed by Henry VII "a free river".

Lord of the Manor

We come to the Elizabethan era and names of national importance. Dr. John Dee, 1527-1608, astrologer, alchemist, geographer and England's first great scientist and mathematician, held the lay rectorship from 1553. He was imprisoned under Queen Mary at the instigation of Bishop Bonner, a native of Hanley Castle.

The famous scholar, Dr. Miles Smith, Rector of Upton and Hartlebury, was the most prominent translator of the Authorised Version of the Bible. He was rewarded with the See of Gloucester. We come to a family connection extending into our own time. Sir Thomas Bromley, who as Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chancellor presided over the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, acquired Upton and bought Ham Court for his son Henry on marriage. Remnants of the Tudor domestic buildings remain; the house, replaced in Georgian times, was demolished in the 1920s.

Henry Bromley, as a magistrate, rounded up the Jesuits Henry Garnet and Edward Oldcorne, the last wanted men in the Gunpowder Plot, at Hindlip on the outskirts of Worcester in 1606.

The Battle of Upton

The Civil War was a time of divided loyalties. Acting under orders, Thomas Bound, Churchwarden and Puritan, deprived William Woodforde of his living. He returned to complete an incumbency of forty years.

The stone bridge of 1605 was the only one over the Severn between Worcester and Gloucester. In 1643 Prince Maurice galloped across with his troop to beat Sir William Waller at Ripple Field. On August 29th, 1651 Upton was the scene of the bravest action of the Civil War in Worcestershire.

A Royalist brigade under Major General Massey, quartered in Judge Lechmere's house "Severn End" at Hanley Castle, was protecting the river crossing. The bridge was partly broken down and a division of Parliamentary troops under Colonel Lambert was on the other side. Eighteen soldiers stole across after dark and rushed into the church, which they held until reinforcements came over by bridge and ford. In all some 12,000 men came over and after a few days advanced to fight King Charles II and his Scots at Worcester on September 3rd. It was the last battle of the Civil War; Cromwell called it his "crowning mercy".

History relates that he came to Upton to congratulate survivors and plan the advance. Moreover, the Bromleys were Parliamentary supporters and Cromwell's godfather and uncle, after whom he was named, had married a Bromley daughter.

Domestic Matters

The Bromleys would have held court in the Manor House in Church Street. Here they would implement the rulings that "unringed pigs should not roam the town", "slaughterers should empty cows' bellies in the streets" and "mixons (dung heaps) should not lie more than 16 days before the doors".

Public health was a precarious thing. A death soon followed a birth as the parish registers testify. The insalubrious low areas of the town provided focal points for regular outbreaks of disease. Dunn's Lane, the waterfront and the lower end of New Street were areas of high water table where effluent and drinking water were virtually the same thing.

The 18th century saw a marked extension of Upton's prosperity as evidenced by the predominantly Georgian architecture. But the town was still dirty and untidy, Churchwardens reported in 1743 that "swines root among the graves". While the pigs rooted, dissent flourished; Methodism and the Baptist belief gained many converts. But a spirit of conciliation was abroad; dissenting services were held early and late not to clash with established Anglican ritual.

England in the 18th century with "Farmer George" on the throne was largely rural, self-supporting and, with a surprisingly small population, prosperous. Upton was no exception; it was a microcosm of national life. Social conscience was an infant thing; there was poor relief but in general parishes looked after their own. Visitors in poor health and above all pregnant women from outside were greeted with dismay; they could well become "a charge on the parish". Poor relief carried with a certain stigma; a large P was sewn on the recipient's clothing, meaning that they had to swallow not only their victuals but their pride also. On the whole, however, charity was administered fairly and cheaply. Among the tablets transferred from the old church to the new 1879 church is a Table of Charities.

Health and Education

In 1832 Upton was ravaged by the nation-wide cholera epidemic. Where death had struck, tents and huts for survivors were erected in the fresh air on the Hook Common.

In the wake of the disaster came the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and Upton found itself the proud possessor of a Union, or Workhouse.

To tackle disease a temporary infectious diseases' hospital was set up at Milestone Farm. By 1903 arrangements for sewerage and sewage disposal services were finalised and the contract sealed for the building of a new Infectious Diseases' Hospital at West Bank.

We have mentioned the soul and the body, what of the mind? In 1801 a charity school existed in Upton for girls aged six to ten, but, as was emphasised, they were not to learn writing until the last year. In 1847 school gates were locked to keep out complaining parents; no nonsense about parent power then! School holidays were pragmatically arranged; three weeks at harvest put money in the farmer's pocket, in the parent's pocket and taught the child virtue in labour. School buildings were used to the hilt. In 1875 the local school accommodated 103 children in a room measuring forty feet by twenty.

A feature of bygone days important to Upton as a trading town was the difficulty of transport owing to the appalling state of the roads. The Turnpike Trust set up for Upton in 1752 was a step in the right direction. Some of Upton's inns still bear the traces of the old coaching days.

At the end of the last century there were eleven taverns, four inns, five blacksmiths, six bakers, nine bootmakers, five straw-hat makers, two braziers, seven carpenters, nine gardeners, nine maltsters and two vinegar factories. The figures depict a self-contained society, largely dependent upon cottage industries as well as agriculture and the liquor business.

The River Rules

Let us end where we began, with the Severn. It provides the continuity that makes advance of technology. Before 1812 teams of men towed the barges upstream and horses followed; our picturesque wooded banks are certainly a feature of recent times.

The mid 19th century saw the river level raised by weirs, instigated no doubt by "traffic jams" below the town bridge where there was a shoal. An 1849 Admiralty report referred to "200 to 300 vessels aground at one time at Upton". These were probably twin masted Severn trows and large barges. As for the bridges we have had wood, stone, draw, swing and finally, off centre, the present engineering 'monument'. Described by one motorist as a "blinkered funnel", it was bombed and missed in World War II; Upton would be a sorry place without it.

Floods which caused the removal of the stone bridge in 1872, are now less frequent and severe, thanks partly to the Severn-Trent Water Authority. The function of Upton is changed. We are much more a commuting society with a leisure industry and a high proportion of the retired. The town is large enough to embrace a wide range of activities and societies that appeal to many, but small enough to retain that sense of community, which we hope will appeal to you. A carnival in aid of charity has been a successful summer feature since 1975.

Notable Names in our History

In Upton's long history a few persons stand out. Besides John Dee, Miles Smith and the Bromleys, recalled in The Story of Upton, there was Seth Holland, Rector of Upton 1555. He was appointed Warden of All Souls' College, Oxford in the same year and Dean of Worcester in 1557. Of strong religious convictions and courage he was deprived of the Wardenship in 1558, when Elizabeth I, a Protestant sovereign, came to the throne, and of his deanery in 1553, dying in the Marshalsea Prison in 1560.

Samuel Skey, ?-1800, was born in Upton and apprenticed to a grocer. He set up as a grocer and drysalter in Bewdley. He invented the lead chamber process for the commercial making of sulphuric acid, erecting a large chemical works in Dowles and became very rich. In 1790 he built Spring Grove House at Wribbenhall in whose grounds is the West Midlands Safari Park.

Frederic Carpenter Skey, 1798-1872. Born in Upton he became Surgeon at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London; Professor of Anatomy and Surgery; Fellow of the Royal Society. He was appointed by Disraeli, his friend and patient, chairman of the first parliamentary committee to enquire into the best mode of treating venereal disease in the Army and Navy.

Mrs. Emily Lawson, wife of the Rev., later Canon, Robert Lawson who, with Mr. G. E. Martin, was instrumental in building the new church, was author of the local history 'The Nation in the Parish', 1884 a mine of information to others.

Admiral Sir William George Tennant

Upton's Ghost

Thomas Bound, who came of an old Upton family, a puritan in religion and politics, was churchwarden in 1640 and 1641. He became Captain of an Upton volunteer corps in the Civil War and helped to turn out the popular rector, William Woodforde. He probably devised the scheme by which the bridge and the church were captured in 1651.

Bound, a grim and covetous man, is said to have disposed of two of his three wives, forging the will of his last wife on her deathbed. He took his own life by drowning in the Causeway pool between his homes at Soley's Orchard in Rectory Road and Southend Farm. There are many legends of his haunting the neighbourhood, sometimes on horseback, and frequent fancied sightings; so, eventually his ghost had to be exorcised.

His bones were later removed from the parish church; his skull was taken by a tradesman and became a drinking cup. Even now, when a pony gets out on the road, there are people who shut their doors exclaiming "Here he comes again!"

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The Ghost of Thomas Bound's Cat lurks around every corner. The one eyed cat who travelled extensively around England, at the time of Oliver Cromwell, was a fiddler of the first order. He reached notes other fiddlers could not reach, he jugged and reeled in a manner unaccustomed to his feline breed, and he danced his way from tavern to tavern following the sound of music, song and laughter. Thomas Bound may still be seen riding on his horse in Rectory Road by Soley's Orchard, but the cat is only seen these days on the occasion of Upton's Folk Frolics on May Day Bank Holiday. His wooden leg is heard thumping the boards in time to his jigs and reels. His tail flaps wildly at the feet of a Morris Man (whose dancing steadily diminishes with the passing of time and beer).

Losing his leg in a Worcester fight, his present leg was a gift of oak from a tall dark cavalier who hid in an old tree.