|A little-known monograph by N.F.
Woodward relates a history of Lower Skilts in the parish of Studley. Situated one mile
east of Mappleborough Green, its remaining outbuildings may be seen from the public
footpath which passes between them and a now of battery houses. The manor house has gone;
the family house standing upon its site is but a pale shadow of the former very
beautiful house of brick referred to by Dugdale. But Woodwards sketches (one
of which is reproduced here) enable us to see what it looked like, for in 1934 he was
permitted by its owner, Sir William Jaffrey, to examine and explore the building.
The chief demegne of the Priory founded in Studley by Peter Corbizun in Stephens time (1135 - 1154), Skyllus Grange remained with the Priory until the Dissolution. In the early years of Elizabeths reign it was purchased by William Sheldon of Beoley; two messuages and almost 1,500 acres of meadow, pasture, wood and heath, all of which he emparked for deer, replacing the original house with the brick structure familiar to Woodward.
Sheldon died in 1570 and is buried at Beoley. Described as a farmhouse in 1934 it stood on an elevated spot looking across the Arrow Valley to the Malvern Hills beyond.
The entrance was to the east of the south front; the door shown on the illustration on the north elevation, at the head of some steps, led only to storerooms. On the rear of the house and in the outbuildings were to be seen some of the diamond - patterned brickwork in blue-green headers to be found in other houses of the same period. Indeed, this diaper work is some of the earliest to be found in our area, its old and thin hand-made bricks a worthy example of the bricklayers' craft.
The farm buildings formed three sides of q square at the back of the house and the end on the opposite side of the quadrangle contained Skilts Chapel, a brick stable with a loft above. Woodward tells us that it had a large, stone slab with sundial over the door facing south and in its north wall was a stone doorway, five feet wide with splayed, shaped jambs and shaped Tudor head,walled up in brick. (Still to be seen in 1984, when it was photographed during our Manors Project Ed.) Woodwards sketch of an 1815 illustration in the Aylesford collection appears to support the tradition that this was a chapel, for although it showed stone walls, the windows of plate tracery, pointed arch in receding rings, quoined angles and sundial were the same. The shape, size and site were the same, so that if the drawing was a faithful repro duction, the old chapel must have been drastically altered but not entirely rebuilt for the Tudor doorway remained; Victoria County History for Warwickshire suggests that the stable and loft were originally a gatehouse.
William Sheldon, remembered for his introduction of tapestry weaving into England, was succeeded by his son, Ralph, who married Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton. Ralph died in 1613 and his grandson, another William, was the writer of a quaint passage in The Book of Beoley Manor. Woodward tells us that this was an old estate record, in mss, which his father had access to at Beoley Hall in 1885 but which is now lost. This William, who lived in Olivers Time, relates that in 1643 his house at Weston in Warwickshire was ransacked and his cattle and goods were taken away by souldiers to a great vallow: that in the December following his house at Beoley was burnt to the ground, his goods and cattle plundered and he suffered the incurable loss of his chiefest evidence and court rolls, consumed in the fine.
Skilts was the birthplace of Sir John Smith (1616 - 1644). A member of a Catholic family, raised as a professional soldier, he returned to England from Flanders to serve his King in the Civil War. In a daring and gallant encounter during the Battle of Edgehill on 3 October 1642 Captain Smith recovered the Royal Standard from a party of Roundheads. On hearing of this action the King created him a knight banneret in the field (reputed to have been the last recipient in England).
Woodwards sketches in his book have assumed an
importance he can never have realised and his final words were to become prophetic:
And so stands Lower Skilts .. lonely, dignified, imposing ... a challenge to any vandal hand that may threaten its existence!
It is now gone: the vandal has triumphed.
Spring 1986 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1986