As you travel out of Polesworth towards Warton, on the right is a large promontory above the river Anker. On old maps this is called the Stiper’s Hill Plantation with the farm below and to the east, now in ruins, bearing the same name. Most travellers along the road pass it by without a glance, but it has a long history and was a place of prominence in the landscape in the past.
The significance of this as a site of ritual significance can be traced back to the pagan Anglo-Saxon times or even before. These ritual areas had a standing-post and a square enclosure and elsewhere in the country contained shrines. The name is most likely derived from the Old English word for post – Stipere. Dugdale the 17th century antiquarian visited Polesworth and the surrounding areas and mentions them in his books on Warwickshire. He found an ‘old entrenchment’ on the site which he called ‘a little fortification’.
This was a meeting place for tribes in the area during what is often referred to as the dark ages and possibly before the Roman conquest; and later when the Anglo Saxons and then Normans settled here; where proclamations were made, musters declared and courts were held. It certainly survived the Norman Conquest as an important secular meeting-place up until the later Middle Ages when it ceased due to the increase in more formal court arrangements.
These courts from the time of the Anglo Saxon settlers, until the later middle ages, involved dealing with accusations of crime, disputes of land and property, and the paying of rents. In the Bodleian Library documents show that tenants in the honor – the name for land held by the lord of the manor – of Tamworth met at a court on Stipershill and paid their rents or sought redress for wrongs. In the 1350s for instance it is recorded that a tenant attended the court there and paid over a pair of golden spurs on St. Edith’s day as rent for his lands, most payments were in goods not money.
These courts were held twice a year on days in the religious calendar out in the open, in the same way as some courts meet today, such as the one on the Isle of Man. There are many records of these courts held in parchments both in private estate papers and in national archives which give rich insights into their dealings.
A few years ago lidar equipment was deployed and it showed the intact outline of the enclosure but recently these earthworks appear to have been breached and damaged.
There are other earthworks along the eastern side of the promontory and these are the remains of the entrenchments dug by the Polesworth Home Guard during World War II whilst practicing defence should there be an invasion.
By Margaret Henley
Chair, Polesworth History Project Group