Under the title ‘The Lord and the Landscape’ an article published a half century ago expressed the then current view that aristocratic families had a decisive effect on the landscape and society of their estates. This study examines the extent to which the assumption is justified. The 1962 article investigated Wormleighton, a parish in the Feldon in south-east Warwickshire, which contained a single large nucleated village with extensive open fields for growing corn. Around 1500 the villagers were expelled, and the enclosed fields were exploited as a sheep pasture by the Spencer family, who marked their arrival by building a large brick mansion. A contrasting type of landscape is examined here, in the woodlands of north Worcestershire, where in the parish of Northfield the castle of Weoley had been founded in the twelfth century (Map 1). Here the houses of the inhabitants were scattered, and they held land in small enclosures (often called crofts) together with strips in a number of relatively small open fields. They practised mixed farming, having access to much meadow, pasture and wood as well as arable. A succession of lords, many of them assertive and powerful aristocrats of baronial rank, drew their revenues from Northfield, including William fitz Ansculf after the Norman Conquest, followed by the Paynels in the twelfth century, the Somerys in the thirteenth, and the Botetourts for much of the fourteenth.
Northfield and Weoley were acquired in the early fifteenth century by the Berkeleys of Uley in Gloucestershire: Sir Maurice Berkeley III (1401–64) and his son Sir William Berkeley (1436–1501). These wealthy knights derived most of their landed income of £250–£300 p.a. from the south Gloucestershire manors of Aylburton, Bradley, Kings Weston, Rockhampton, Stoke Gifford and Uley (Map 1). In addition they held manors in Somerset and Wiltshire.3 Their ancestor in the fourteenth century, Sir Maurice I, had been an active soldier on Edward III's campaigns, a truly strenuous knight. Did these lords direct, control, mould or influence the landscape and society of their estates?
Northfield, a large parish containing 6,000 acres (Map 1), lies on the Birmingham plateau, mostly between 500 and 650 ft above sea level.