Lapworth, Warwickshire

PUBLISHED: 23:41 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013

Baddesley Clinton

Baddesley Clinton

The village of Lapworth, is the perfect starting point for a day that takes in some splendid canalside walks and two of Warwickshire's most beautiful houses.

The village of Lapworth, is the perfect starting point for a day that takes in some splendid canalside walks and two of Warwickshire's most beautiful houses.

Words: Richard Shurey

Photographs: Stuart Purfield

How things change! Lapworth, a few miles from Henley-in-Arden, was described a century and a half ago (in 1868) as having 'inhabitants that were chiefly engaged in agriculture.' Nowadays the village is in an area of wonderful and exclusive homes with, one rightly assumes, very few working on the land except perhaps caring for their hunters and ponies! The place developed from a large clearing in the vast Forest of Arden. The forest was once so thickly wooded that it was said a squirrel could cover the whole vast length by leaping from tree to tree without touching the ground. Perhaps Caesar on invading our lands thought of Arden when he described the interior as 'one great horrid forest'!

Lapworth was first mentioned in documents in AD816 then was recorded as Lapeforde in the Domesday Survey of 1086 - the name came from the Anglo-Saxon chief Hiappa plus the word meaning homestead or enclosure - when the place had 'one ploughland, arable and a wood, two miles long and one broad'. It grew rapidly once a canal came in 1804 and then the main line railway to Birmingham in 1854. Today this is a very pretty region which belies the fact that it is not far from the Birmingham conurbation. Lapworth is a widely scattered village with, one would think, the old core around the church and former school. The more recent development is a mile away near the station and the new school built a decade or so ago.

This is obviously a village that takes great pride. I was told that they won two prizes in the county's Best Kept Village Competition which cannot have been helped by the lack of a centre point - this is said by one villager to be 'elusive'. (They are also now putting together a Parish Plan to seek the right way forward for the future and there is a Lapworth Local History Group.) Certainly the village church dedicated to Saint Mary and described by Pevsner as 'splendid - looking' cannot be the centre as it rests in splendid isolation at the eastern end of the parish. It is on a gentle rise and overlooks pastures and woods.

Some of the water from the tiny springs on the upland end up in the North Sea; others go westwards to the Bristol Channel. The place of worship also overlooks the valley of the little Tapster Brook. A couple of decades ago there was some anger that this fine landscape would be scarred by the construction of the M40. Older residents still talk of the protests that came to nothing - and we all race though our land without thought of the permanent damage done to the peace of the countryside!

The church has a history going back eight hundred years with evidence of Norman work from the 12th century. Originally the tower and steeple were originally detached from nave explained by the fact that the street ran so close to the church. Look in the church for the tomb of Robert Catesby who was the leading conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and, of course, next month we have Bonfire Night. The Catesby family lived at Bushwood Hall. There is an interregnam with no vicar at the present. I met two ladies at the church who were preparing the flowers for the Sunday service. They had been doing this duty for 30 years and were a mine of information. The biggest change during this time was the removal of the school to the other end of the village. A love of the beautifully kept church was obvious. There is a thriving church choir with around twenty members and a very informative Parish Magazine.

This magazine showed the depth of activities in Lapworth. There were groups for young and not so young with the Brownie Pack and Guides and the lovely-sounding Elderberries!

And for some of the in-betweens there is MOLES - the Men of Lapworth Evening Society or the Ladies Supper Club. The Lapworth Players are already thinking of the coming festive season with the preparations and cast selection in June for the pantomime - this year Sinbad the Sailor. The cricketers think of the summer at their fine ground on the Warwick Road. They scored a glorious not out century last year - they were formed in 1908! I was intrigued by The Scarecrow Festival with 'Pop' this year's theme. It is on the 19th and 20th of September but the boards said...said "over 40 scarecrows and three bands are already booked" when I called! Sounds great fun!

But what is the other connection between Lapworth church, fireworks and Bonfire Night? A chapel rebuilt by those Catesbys in the 15th century was dedicated to St. Catherine of Antioch. She was tortured on a spiked wheel which gave its name to the Catherine Wheel. There are fine footpaths around the parish but another good way of walking the length of the parish is along canal towpaths. The Stratford Canal is joined to the Grand Union by the little section - the Lapworth Link. The two sections of the Stratford Canal were completed in 1816 with a total length of 25 miles; the waterway was rescued from obscurity by the National Trust. In 1958 attempts were made to officially abandon the canal. In 1960 it was taken over and restoration work started at Kingswood. It was undertaken by servicemen and volunteers and many prisoners and gave us a wonderful entrance door into the peaceful countryside when it was opened by the Queen Mother in 1964.

The footpaths and canals lead us to two wonderful National Trust properties. One, Packwood House, is renowned for the host of topiary characters. Is it my imagination but are more characters depicting the Sermon on the Mount joining the throng?! It's getting pretty crowded since it was started by John Featherston in 1660. Jean Tovey, the House Manager, told me that it takes two gardeners three months to trim the topiary each year. If you are a sciagrapher, too, this is the place for you. Sciagrapher you are asking? He is a maker of instruments for measuring time by the heavenly bodies - using Packwood's three sundials!

The other NT property is the moated Baddesley Clinton Hall, said to be 'the perfect late medieval manor house'. The place came to the Clintons in 1250. Originally they were humble tanners in Warwick but John Brome became a worthy country gentleman and Lord of Baddesley Clinton. He was stabbed to death. But John's son found the murderer and duly bumped him off. He went further and killed a priest who was 'chucking his wife under the chin'. How did he in about 1500 make amends with his maker? The answer lies in the churches of Baddesley Clinton and Packwood churches where he constructed rather noble towers.

At the heart of the village is the Kingswood Canal Junction with its large pool that was once a busy commercial centre. There is a car park and picnic area off Brome Hall Lane and this is the starting place of a pleasant short walk. Go along the Stratford Canal with the water on your left side. At the bridge by a distinctive barrel-roof cottage after about a mile, turn left along a vehicle way and lane to a road. Turn left to the towing path of the Grand Union Canal (opposite is the waterside inn). Resume the canalside walk with the water on your right. We reach a feeder canal; go along this to the place where we joined the Stratford Canal two miles previously. Perhaps there will be an October Indian summer - just the place here for a picnic!

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