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Alcester in 1833

ALCESTER, written also Aulcester, Alencester, Alnacester, Alceter, Awseter, not to mention several other variations, - and commonly pronounced Aulster or Auster, and by some of the inhabitants, in Camden’s time, Ouldcester, a parish and market town in the western part of the county of Warwick, situated at the confluence of the Arrow and the Alne, from which last it takes its name. It is 103 miles N.W. from London, and 16 miles W.S.W. from Warwick. Alcester is a place of great antiquity, and the name would indicate that it had been a Roman station ; a supposition which is confirmed by the great numbers of Roman coins and other remains which have been found on the spot. It has been held by some to be the ancient Mandnessedum but this is more probably Manceter on the Anker, in the north-east of the same county. Alcester has been generally supposed to be the Alauna of Richard of Cirencester. It stands on the old Roman way, formerly called Ykemild Street, and still popularly known as Ickle Street.

An abbey was founded here in 1140 by Ralph Boteler of Oversley, on a piece of ground about half a mile to the north of the town surrounded by the Arrow on the north and east, and by a moat on the other two sides. It was hence called the Church of our Lady of the Isle. Dugdale, in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, (published 1656,) says that, by that time, the ruins of this abbey had been dug up and the ground sown with corn. Nevertheless, traces of this very ancient abbey of the Benedictines are still visible there. The abbey, although at one time possessed of a considerable revenue, had, by means of alienations, become so poor about the middle of the fifteenth century, that it was found necessary in 1465 to unite it to the neighbouring abbey of Evesham. The letters-patent issued by Edward IV for this purpose, state that ‘there then was not, nor of a long time had been, any monks to bear the abbot company.’ The spot on which the abbey stood is still called the Priory Cross (or, according to Britton, the Priory Close). Leland in his Itinerary says : ‘The town hath been a great thing. Some say there hath been three parish churches in it.’ He remarks that, although it stands now chiefly on the Arrow, it must, as its name denotes, have anciently extended eastward to the Alne.

It was formerly very famous for its wheat-fair. The manufacture of needles was also formerly very extensively carried on ; in 1814, 600 persons were employed in it ; this trade has much declined. Alcester is not noticed in Domesday Book, nor is there any written record of its existence before the reign of Henry I. It contains many old houses.

The church was rebuilt in 1732, with the exception of the tower, which is much older, and has tombs of Sir Fulke Greville and his lady, and of the Beauchamps. Near the church, on the western bank of the River Arrow, stood Beauchamp Court, the residence of the Beauchamps and the Grevilles. Ragley Hall, the seat of the Marquis of Hertford, is about two miles from Alcester on the south-west.

Alcester has a handsome town-house, in which courts are held by the Marquis of Hertford, the lord of the manor. A free-school was founded here in 1594 by Walter Newport, in a field south from the town. The population of the town in 1831 was 2,027 ; of the parish, 2,378. Alcester is the seat of a Poor-law Union which contains 22 parishes, with an aggregate area of over 52,000 acres, and a population in 1831 of 17,482.

The Alcester Union Workhouse, situate in Oversley, contained 55 persons in 1821, and 112 in 1831. Alcester is in the hundred of Barlichway, and the living is a rectory in the diocese of Worcester; patron, the Marquis of Hertford.