History of the Hundred House.
The Hundred was an ancient administrative subdivision of the shire or county, their origin being now lost in the mists of time. They are mentioned in the Laws of Edgar in 1000. They are usually taken to have been formed from a hundred hides of land, each of which furnished a "warrior to the host". Whatever their origin they had their own court, the Hundred Moot (the Anglo-Saxon word for court), the business of which was both administrative as well as judicial. It met every few weeks and each local township sent its reeve and four men. Established before the Norman Conquest these courts continued to function after it, unconcerned at the vagaries of national politics, deciding questions of minor offences such as tresspass, obstruction of the highway, etc. The president of the moot was the "hundred man", but twice a year (normally the courts held after Easter and Michaelmas) the sheriff of the county would appear to act as president. He would hold a "view of Frankpledge", cross-examining the representatives of each township about offences committed there. The population was divided into tithings, or groups of neighbours (original comprised of ten householders), and if no perpetrator could be identified, the entire tithing in which the offence was committed would be fined. This "sheriff's tourn" was an important event and the sheriff would arrest those accused of major crimes and fine petty offenders. The hundred courts gradually lost their powers after the 15th century and lost most of their functions after the County Court Act of 1867. They had been disbanded altogether by 1886.
Great Witley, together with Tenbury, lay in the Hundred of Doddingtree, which took its name from the place of the same name in the parish of Great Witley. This probably lay close to the spot where the Hundred House Hotel now stands. It is listed in Domesday Book as "Duddantreo" and at that time belonged to several land-holders, the most important being Ralph de Toeni, Ralph de Mortimer and Osbern Fitz Richard. It only underwent a few minor changes in the centuries that followed, mainly as land changed hands. Towards the end of the 18th century the hundred was divided into Upper and Lower Divisions. It had always belonged to the Crown and at that time Hundred silver was still being paid.
In 1697 the "Hundred House of Dodyntre" was described as "the Dwelling House of William Leatherland, known by the sign of the Crowne". This was replaced by the present building, a pleasant Georgian one, by Lord Foley who owned that nearby Witley Court. As one of the Justices of the Peace for the area he would have often heard cases here. As the Hundred Courts decayed so the powers of the magistrates, or Justices of the (Queen's) Peace, increased. In 1828 Quarter Sessions were empowered to create Petty Sessions. These were courts of summary jurisdiction held by two or more JPs for trying lesser offences, or as a preliminary enquiry into more serious ones. Littlebury's Worcester Directory of 1873, under the entry for the Hundred House Hotel, states that the Petty Sessions for the Hundred House Division were held on the last Thursday in each month at 12 o'clock, and a similar entry appears in the Kelly's Directory for 1850. The entry in Billing's Directory for 1855 reads: "ARTHUR, John, victualler, farmer, malster and hop merchant, Hundred House, family and commercial hotel and posting house, licensed to let flies, phaetons and post horses". In 1924 the Victoria County History of Worcestershire describes it as a "famous old inn, of great importance in coaching days. It lies at the junction of the principal roads..." One of these ran from Worcester to Tenbury along the line of an ancient trackway. Today although the roads are still classified as A roads, they are not so busy as the motorway, which runs some miles to the east linking Worcester with Birmingham to the north and Bristol to the south. Finally the VCH noted that Stock sales were still being held there in April, August and October. Today the area that was used for these sales forms a spacious car park to one side of the Hotel.
Mention of hops in the above entry reminds us that this area was, and still is, an important area of hop production. The acreages grown increased by up to 50% in the 19th century and the harvest required a large amount of labour, which could no longer be met by local sources. So each year vast numbers of women, together with their children would travel by train from the Black Country to spend a month or so "hop-picking". It made a pleasant break from the grimy industrial towns where they lived and gave the children a much-needed holiday. Each family would bring its possessions in a large tin trunk or hamper, and the trains would be met at local stations by horse-drawn wagons. On their return the wagons would again convey them to the station. This picture taken in 1896 outside the Hundred House Hotel shows just a few of them (another picture shows the other side of the road also lined with further wagons). By the late 1960s mechanical picking, accompanied by a decline in the acreage grown, had completely done away with the need for hand-pickers.
It can be seen that the Hundred House has very important links with the history of the area and thus of the ROWBERRY families which lived there. As such it is a very fitting venue for our Family Gatherings.
Looking forward to seeing you there in 2008!
Last revised: 4th September 2007
© Polly Rubery 1998-2007