Rowington - A Brief History

Early history

It is believed that Rowington was originally established by Anglo Saxon settlers, some time after the sixth century, when it was called `Hrocingatum', meaning 'the village or homestead of Hroca's people'. At that time the area was covered by dense deciduous woodland of oak, ash and hazel and the early settlements were located in natural woodland clearings in lowland areas. The woodland formed part of what was later known as the Forest of Arden, which covered almost the whole of Warwickshire north of the River Avon.

The first written record of Rowington is found much later, in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086 at the instigation of William the Conqueror. The name of the village had by then become 'Rochintone' and it had a population of one priest and 51 male peasants and their families, making it the largest inhabited place in the area. 

From the Middle Ages to the Tudors

It is thought that the present stone Church of St Laurence was begun early in the 12th century, although a simple wooden church may have existed before this. The photograph below shows the church as it is today.

St laurence Church, Rowington from the east

Around 1133, the manor of Rowington was acquired by the Abbey of Reading in Berkshire. As a consequence, the Abbott of Reading became Lord of the Manor and Rector of the Parish and a manor house (subsequently replaced by Rowington Hall) and vicarage were built near to the church. Later, a large area of land to the south of the manor house was transformed into a game park for the use of the Abbey and Abbott and was known as Rowington Park.

In 1538 Reading Abbey was surpressed and ownership of Rowington manor passed to the Crown, where it remained for several centuries (although the manor house and land were mostly leased out). Many of the people of Rowington refused to conform to the new Protestant ways introduced during the 16th century and remained loyal to the church of Rome. 

By the mid 16th century the vicarage had become quite a large timber framed building with luxuries such as panelling and glass usually reserved for the wealthy. At that time a medieval timber framed building stood just inside the churchyard to the west of the church.  This was originally used as the church hall and later, from 1576 until its demolition in 1858, as the village school. Also within the churchyard, perched on the edge of the bank above the road, were two cottages, one of which was the parish clerk's house. Neither of these remain.

From time to time the title of Lord of the Manor and all receipts from the manor were granted by the Sovereign to friends and relations as a gift. The first such gift was made by Henry VIII to Catherine Howard in January 1540 shortly after their marriage, although the manor reverted to the Crown when she was beheaded in 1542. In 1543 Rowington manor was given to Henry's new queen, Catherine Parr, who outlived the king and held it for the rest of her life. In 1553 Edward VI gave the manor to the Duke of Northumberland and by 1564 it was held by his son, the Earl of Warwick. In 1625 the manor was given by Charles 1 to his bride who held it (save for a short period during the Commonwealth) until her death in 1669.

Shakespearian connections

Being a short distance from Stratford-upon-Avon it is hardly surprising that Rowington claims Shakespearian connections. A branch of the Shakespeare family is believed to have lived at Shakespeare Hall in Rowington Green in Shakespeare's time and William Shakespeare is reputed to have written 'As You Like It' there, although no evidence has ever been found to prove this.  However, it is known that William's grandfather was born in neighbouring Wroxall and, in his will, Shakespeare left land in Rowington manor to his eldest daughter, Susanna.

Farms, quarries and windmills

Over the centuries most of Rowington's inhabitants have earned their living from the land. During Tudor times the farmers reared dairy cattle and made butter and cheese and some also raised beef cattle.

Between the 14th and 17th centuries farming practices in Rowington changed, new timber framed houses were erected by the most successful farmers, the growing of crops increased in importance and a patc
The windmill at Rowington Green
hwork of fields enclosed by hedges, ditches and fences developed, much of which can still be seen in the landscape today. 

Parts of Rowington are on sandstone and at one time the Rowington quarries (none of which remain) supplied the stone for several important buildings including St Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham in 1710, Baddesley Clinton (a medieval manor house in a neighbouring parish, now owned by the National Trust) and the Church of St Laurence in the village.

Rowington is built on high ground and a number of windmills, all of which had unusual names, are known to have been in operation in the village. 'Grinning Jenny' is believed to have been a wooden post mill located close to Windmill House on Finwood Road and 'Tom O' The Wood' was apparently located near to the Tom O' The Wood pub (which was named after the windmill in the 1970's). The only surviving mill is the three storey 'Bouncing Bess' in Rowington Green (the photograph above was taken in the 1950's) which was built prior to 1789 and remained in action until about 1916. Derelict for some years, it was converted into a house in 1978.

The 19th century

The industrial revolution resulted in the building of two canals through the parish in the early 19th century, both of which transported raw materials and goods to and from Birmingham. Later in the century, the railway arrived and stations were built in the neighbouring villages of Lapworth and Hatton. 

During the Victorian era a number of significant buildings were erected including a new red brick vicarage to replace the original timber framed one in 1830, an independent chapel in Lowsonford (now converted to a house) in 1841, a new school opposite St Laurence church (also now converted) in 1861 and St Luke's Church in Lowsonford in 1877.

In 1871 an extensive restoration programme took place at St Laurence Church but, sadly, some of its older architectural features were removed or lost as a result.

Rowington Cricket Club was established in 1887 and cricket has been played on the cricket field ever since.

The last 100 years

Rowington has been a popular residential area for well over 100 years. In the early part of the 20th century, as travel became a little easier, several larger houses were built in the parish to accommodate people moving into the area from elsewhere. In addition, eight almshouses were built on The Avenue in 1907 to provide accommodation for the parish's elderly.

The number of residents working outside the parish, in the nearby towns and cities such as Birmingham and Coventry, has increased further since the 1950's. However, the green belt has, so far, protected the village from large scale post-war development, although some new local authority houses were built in the 1960's, nine new almshouses were built in 1973 and two more in 2006, and the village school, which closed in 1984, has been converted into a row of cottages. 

In recent times, some of the farms have ceased to operate, their land has been sold off and the farmhouses are now lived in by commuters and their families. Th
Opening day at Rowington Village Hall
e vicarage was sold by the church in 1978.

The 20th century saw a number of local benefactors place land and buildings on trust for the benefit of the local community, examples being the cricket field, the Men's Club and the land on which Rowington Village Hall stands. The photograph on the right shows Rowington Village Hall on the day it opened - 30 July 1949.

Notwithstanding these changes, many parts of Rowington remain today very much as they have been for centuries. In fact, there are nearly 50 listed buildings in the parish, many of which are heavily timbered and some of which date back to the middle ages. Photographs of all these buildings can be found on English Heritage's Images of England website. A detailed description of the most significant buildings in the parish (as well as some other information about Rowington) is available on the British History Online website.

Further reading

From Hroca to Anne by Joy Woodall

Records of Rowington by J W Ryland (now available online here)

Both out of print but available for loan from Warwickshire Libraries.

Photographs on this page (save for photograph of St Laurence Church) courtesy of Warwickshire County Record Office Ref PH734; PH(N)600/241/1.
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