Author: Rick Sproat
The Parish of Little Witley is one of the smallest in the County of Worcestershire with a total area of 1018 acres. The main centre of the village is clustered about the chapel of Little Witley, in Church Lane and Bank Road, with offshoots at Bank Farm and Ockeridge. Its remoteness away from the main road, the A 443, is a common feature of many parishes in this area where the village and its church were hidden away from the main highway. Little Witley has always had a rural economy and in the 19th century there were eight farms: Bank/Upper House Farm, Butts Farm, Chapel Farm, Little Witley/White House Farm, Rose Cottage/Farm, Thomas’s Farm, Walls Farm, and Well Farm.
The early history of Little Witley is centred on the Chapel, which, at that time had a circular graveyard suggesting that it was once an Iron Age barrow. With the proximity of the Iron Age Hill fort at Woodbury Hill this would have once been the site of an Iron Age village. From the Roman period two bronze brooches were found near to the Chapel, and quantities of pottery and other artefacts were found to the east of Bank Farm suggesting that this was once a Romano-British farmstead.
In the early Saxon times Little Witley was the focus of the Saxon estate of Witley, which was then called Buttingcwick, or the farm of a family or clan called Butt. This steading was bounded in the north by the Hillhampton Ridge, west by the Abberley Hills, Woodbury Hill and Martley Hillside, and in the south by the parish of Wichenford. To the east was the great-forested area of Holt, which stretched down to the River Severn. In Middle Saxon times the estate came to be called Wittlaeg, meaning a wooded estate on the bend of a stream or river. It was part of the Hundred of Oswaldslow owned by the Benedictine Monastery of St Mary, (now Worcester Cathedral). Its parish church was St Helens in Worcester that once had a vast diocese that covered most of northwest Worcestershire. With the ecclesiastic patronage, Little Witley absorbed the estates of Bentley and Holt, and covered a vast area to the River Severn and was granted a charter in 964 A.D. to define the parish boundaries. In the late Saxon times, before the Norman Conquest, two of King Cnut’s Danish followers Wulfmer and Ulfketel controlled Little Witley and other manors such as Redmarley, Shelsley, Abberley, and Halac. Little Witley was important enough to support its own priest called Arnwin. At the time of Domesday the Norman sheriff of Worcester Urso de Abetot held Little Witley and through marriage to his daughter the estate passed to the Beauchamps. In c.1280 Sir Walter de Cooksey of Upton Warren bought the manor, and after passing through the ownership of various cousins passed to the Russells of Strensham. Sir William Russell was a staunch royalist during the English Civil War and sold the estate to Thomas Foley in 1665. The Earl of Dudley acquired the estate in 1835 and spent lavish amounts of money renovating Witley Court. In the 1920s, after various sales, the estate was sold but with the Great Depression and threat of war few tenant farmers took up their option to buy their farms.
Studies of the Censuses for Little Witley, show that the average population over the years 1801-1991 is 206.84. The average number of households is 49.19, and the average number of persons per household is 4.13. The year 1881 had the highest persons per household with a figure of 5.49, which drops steadily to 2.69 in 1981. The population was at its peak in 1821 with 302 souls in Little Witley. The numbers declined steadily to 1901 when the count was 130, during the time of agricultural depression and the Dudleys expanding their parkland. The figures since have grown steadily to 258 in 1991.
The main industries in Little Witley now are, H. Owen & Son, who grow asparagus and soft fruits, Haven Nurseries who grow cherry & vine tomatoes, and Bulmers Cider who have extensive apple orchards in the west of the parish. Most farm buildings and farm outhouses have now been converted to residential properties.