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The History of Hanley Castle Parish

Building restrictions
Early History

The name Hanley comes from the old English han leah, meaning a high clearing, the first settlement developing along what is now Church End. There is some evidence of a Roman fort by the river at the end of Quay Lane, where there used to be an important wharf, and of a Roman temple on the site of St Mary’s church. But the first direct references to Hanley are found in two charters dated 962 and 972, which refer to the northern and southern boundaries of Hanlee, indicating that there was an Anglo-Saxon estate in this area.

The Saxon chief Brictric, who built a manor that later formed the basis of the castle, came to a sad end. In 1045 he had been sent by Edward the Confessor as ambassador to the Count of Flanders, whose daughter Matilda fell in love with him. But he rejected her. Twenty-one years later, as William the Conqueror’s consort (at 4ft 2in, she was Britain’s smallest queen), she used her authority to confiscate Brictric’s lands and throw him into prison, where he died – some say William personally marched to Hanley after the Battle of Hastings to arrest him.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, the area was so desolate and overrun with wood that the historian William of Malmesbury described it as a wilderness. But within 50 years, Hanley had grown into a thriving community, the Doomsday Book indicating a population of around 200. In medieval times the parish of Hanley Castle extended from the river Severn to the Malvern Hills and from Powick in the north to Upton and Welland in the south, an area of around 6000 acres (2400 hectares).

Since most of the area was a forest, it automatically belonged to the king, who had exclusive hunting rights. When he gave these rights to a subject, the forest became known as a chase. This happened to Malvern in the 12th century, when Henry I gave the hunting rights to his illegitimate son, Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester.


It was at this time that the two main routes through the parish were named: Gilberts End, after Gilbert de Hanley, chief forester in 1147-65, and Roberts End, after his son. An ‘End’ was a linear settlement lined with dwellings and enclosures. Until the late 15th century, the de Hanley family lived at Hanley Hall, which still exists although rebuilt in the 17th century, off Gilberts End.


The prestige of Hanley was strengthened at the beginning of the 13th century when King John built a castle to serve more as a hunting lodge, with a deer park and fishponds, than a fortress. According to Nash’s History of Worcestershire, 1781, it was a large square structure with four towers surrounded by a moat, with a keep located in the northwest corner, but no engraving of it was ever made. The castle survived for 300 years, but by the early 16th century, it had fallen into decay. Much of it became a source of local building material and its last remnants were used to rebuild the bridge at Upton in the late 18th century.


Because of the wide availability of good clay in the area and a plentiful supply of trees for charcoal, Hanley developed a flourishing pottery industry, mainly along Roberts End, from the 12th to the early 17th century. Some 8000 shards of pottery dating from the 15th to the early 17th century have been recovered from just two fields on the north side of Roberts End, including bowls, fish dishes, and jugs.

Building Restrictions

Within the chase, landowners could not use their land in any way that was detrimental to hunting, such as clearing it for farming, without first buying a licence from the crown. Even then, forest law restricted agricultural development by allowing deer-free access. From the Wars of the Roses in 1487 until the 17th century, Malvern chase reverted to the crown.

In 1632 Charles I took one-third of the chase – around 2700 acres – in lieu of hunting rights and sold it to raise money. To discourage paupers from putting up hovels, no new cottage was allowed to be built on this land unless it had at least 20 acres attached. Some two dozen farmhouses and cottages in the parish date from this period.

The disafforestation of part of the chase signalled the gradual enclosure of smallholdings. Over the next 100 years, as well as mixed arable and livestock farming, the planting of apple and pear orchards developed at a rapid rate until by the end of the 18th century most properties included an orchard.


Hanley Castle was one of the first parishes to be enclosed under the Enclosure Act of 1797. The poor received some compensation for losing their rights to graze sheep and cattle on common land, but it was little compared to the benefits gained by the two major landowners in the parish: the Lechmeres, who owned most of the land to the east and south, and the Hornyolds, who dominated the north and west. The Enclosure Act provided the first detailed map of the parish, in which over 1000 plots of land were identified. Between them, the Lechmeres and Hornyolds owned 400 plots covering 3000 acres.

The enclosures dramatically changed the road pattern in the parish, obliterating one main route from Little Malvern to Rhydd Green and creating the straight roads east-west from Hanley Swan to the Malvern Hills and north-south between Blackmore End and Gilberts End. The first detailed map of the parish was drawn in 1812 as part of a preliminary Ordnance Survey map of Worcestershire; others followed in 1832, 1841, 1886, 1904, and 1927.

Growth of the Parish

Although the original settlement of Hanley Castle had grown up around Church End and Quay Lane, little further development was possible along these cul-de-sacs, since the surrounding land largely belonged to the Lechmere estate. Instead, the parish grew along the main route towards Herefordshire, Roberts End, and around the crossroads at Hanley Green. By the mid-19th century, this had become the most populated part of the parish. When the post office was established at the grocer’s shop opposite the pond in the mid-1890s, the area variously known as Roberts End Street, Swan Green, Hanley Green, and on the first Ordnance Survey maps as Hanley Swan became formally recognised as the village of Hanley Swan.


From a population of around 200 in the early 12th century, the parish grew slowly to accommodate 700 by 1540 and 1000 at the time of the first census in 1801. During the 19th century, the increase was more marked, reaching 1653 in 1831 and 2167 in 1871, when Littlebury’s county directory recorded that there were 444 families living in 417 houses and attributed the increase in numbers to “the healthy situation of this parish”.  But in 1894 the parish was split in two and half the population found itself in the new parish of Malvern Wells. As a result, Hanley Castle’s population dropped to 1100, a figure that remained fairly constant for the next 70 years.  From the 1960s onwards the development of small housing schemes began to push the numbers up again. By 1991 there were 1227 people in the parish and by 2021 the total had grown to 1400.

Growth of the parish
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