The College in Elmley Castle
There has been a school here in Elmley since 1869. Just think of all the girls and boys who have studied here.
Did you know there was a school here many years before that?
In 1308, William Beauchamp who was Lord of the Manor was worried about what would happen to him when he died and felt that he should turn the church here in Elmley into a ‘Collegiate’ church. It would have eight priests and four clerks and they would pray for the souls of his family together with the souls of his ancestors and his family who came after him. This was the only collegiate church in the whole of Worcestershire.
When they prayed they chanted; it was a form of singing, but they had a problem. All their voices were deep men’s voices. They really wanted some higher pitched voices as well to make it sound better. They decided to use boys to achieve this. They went in search of boys aged seven who had good voices. The boy’s parents would be delighted if they were chosen because it meant they would have regular meals, an education and when they left a better job than working on the land.They lived with the priests in buildings opposite the present Queen Elizabeth Inn. The buildings you see there now were built much later, but you can still see the old foundations at the base of the walls.
Of course seven year old boys couldn’t sing or read or write so they had to be taught. They learned how to sing, how to read and write in English and in Latin and then, seven times a day (the first session started at 6am and the last session was at midnight) they would process into church with the adults and chant the prayers. The place where they were taught was called a college, which is where we got the word from.
When the boys were about fourteen or so, their voices ‘broke’, that is they became deep men’s voices, but by then they were educated and would be able to train as priests or find other work. This continued until 1536 when King Henry VIII decided to close all the collegiate churches in the country. So for over 200 years we had a college here in Elmley. Just think of all the boys who studied there.
The Village Stream
A special feature of Elmley Castle is that it has a stream running down the village street. This has been here for a very long time. We have a record of it as long ago as 1391 and it most likely goes back much further*. Nowadays it just adds a picturesque touch to the village, but in olden times it was felt to be very important. In those days people didn’t have taps for water, they mostly got their water from wells, but here in Elmley they had fresh water in the stream running through the village.
Every year two wardens were appointed and their job was to see that the stream was properly cared for. They might find dead animals in it or other nasty things and they would have to see that they were removed. Part of the banks might cave in and they would have to clear this or any other obstruction away.
Some of the problems were caused by the people who lived here. Many of them kept ducks for food and eggs and sometimes they would escape and of course ducks love water. They had to be chased off and their owners fined. Another thing that happened was that when housewives were doing the washing they were supposed to take their bucket and fill it from the stream and do their washing at home. Sometimes, if they thought nobody was looking they would carry their washing to the stream and wash it here. If they were caught they would be fined.
So, it’s not just any old stream; it’s part of our history.
*From the Court Rolls of Elmley Castle