A Little History of Cherington and Stourton, Warwickshire
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Weston and the Sheldon tapestries

Detail from a Sheldon tapestry cushion cover "Susannah and the Elders", c. 1603-11.

Barcheston, Weston and the tapestries

The story begins in the hamlet of Barcheston, a couple of miles or so north of Weston, with William Willington. The Willingtons had lived for many generations in nearby Todenham and were a family of substance, having thrived on the medieval wool trade, for which the Cotswolds were noted. He bought the manor of Barcheston from Henry Durrant in 1507, when Henry VII, the victor of Bosworth Field and the first of the Tudors, was on the throne.

William, like his forebears, was a wool producer, but also a woolstapler, an official responsible for the exportation and taxing of wool through what was known as the foreign staple, based in Calais. In fact he owned property in Calais as well as a 'counting house' in London and numerous properties throughout Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. He must have been a ruthless man, for he depopulated the hamlet of Barcheston and left 24 souls destitute. He was compelled to answer to the Court of Chancery, but the action apparently came to nothing. In his defence he stated that he had repaired the damaged houses and that the church was in good repair. As a blind old man, (when hell's mouth gaped?) he had a change of heart, making many bequests to support the poor of no less than 23 villages.

Alabaster tomb of Wm. & Ann Willington at Barcheston

St Martin's, Barcheston, with its leaning tower

William and Ann had seven daughters, the third of whom, Mary, married c. 1535 William Sheldon from Beoley in Worcestershire. He had acquired in 1534 the nearby Weston Estate, on the edge of the village of Cherington, which in 1545 became known as Weston Park. As can be seen, the daughters are carved on the side of the Willington tomb; Mary with the shield on which is carved the Sheldon heraldic emblem of three shelducks. It was this marriage that was to be responsible in due course for the tapestry weaving established in Willington's old house in Barcheston.

William Sheldon was a wealthy and influential figure in the Midlands of Tudor England. Apart from the estates he inherited, as the King's Receiver of the monastic lands throughout Warwickshire, he managed to add to his property holdings and, together with his father-in-law William Willington, dealt in property throughout the Midland counties. In 1537 Mary Sheldon bore William a son, Ralph. Until recently, it had been held for many years that he was educated at Oxford, then sent abroad by his father with a certain Richard Hyckes, supposedly a local South Warwickshire man, to learn the art of tapestry weaving, and that Richard Hyckes was possibly apprenticed to a Dutch arras or tapestry weaver. There is however no documentary evidence for any of this, just references to Oxford and travel in foreign parts in his epitaph, composed by his son. Modern research suggests that Hyckes, or Heekes, was himself a Flemish immigrant weaver.

Be that as it may, it is clear from William Sheldon's will that he had set up a tapestry-weaving industry at Barcheston, near to his house at Weston, and put Richard Hyckes in charge. He had also founded works at Bordesley, possibly in the ruins of the old monastery, near to his house at Beoley, where a Thomas Chance was responsible for the looms. Both Richard and Thomas were assisted by a William Dowler, a family name still to be found in the area around the small town of Shipston-on-Stour (a mile from Barcheston).

Various records from the late 16th century make reference to the tapestry weaving at Barcheston, including the delivery of tapestries to Grafton Manor, near Bromsgrove, in 1568 and Bess of Hardwick's building account book of 1592 refers to paying Mr Sheldon's man in respect of tapestries for Hardwick Hall. Tapestry maps, probably based on Christopher Saxton's series of maps of the English counties, published between 1574-9, were woven in the 1580s and adorned three walls of the dining room of Weston Park, the grand Elizabethan house built by Ralph Sheldon in 1588 but demolished in the early 19th century. It has traditionally been held that these maps came out of the Barcheston works, and this seems logical in view of their destination, although no documentary proof exists.

For a description and more

 detailed view of this engraving of Sheldon’s house and park,

 click here

Part of the Sheldon tapestry map of Warwickshire. Of some of the original series, of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire with Berkshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire, only fragments remain. Happily, William Sheldon's great-great-grandson Ralph had the maps copied in the mid-17th century.

Recent research suggests that this Warwickshire map is 16th-century with later repairs. To explore the map in more detail, click here.

It is interesting to surmise as to why William should have had this interest in tapestries. It has been suggested that the monks at Bordesley Abbey had been involved in the repair of tapestries. There is no doubt that William Sheldon was an entrepreneur, certainly dealing in land, doubtless therefore interested in profitable enterprises, but it has also been suggested that he was motivated by a genuine desire to improve the lot of his fellow countrymen. The codicil to his will states 'and for that his trade will be greatly beneficial to this commonwealth to trade youth in and a means to secure great sums of money within this realm and considering that I do think my said well-beloved son Ralph will have the same consideration to the commonwealth as I now have, or more'.

Susannah and the Elders, the tapestry at the top of this page, is reproduced from the cover of A Tapestry in Time, a 24-page booklet by Peter Britton et al, produced to accompany an exhibition held in September 2001 at the Parish Church of Barcheston. The full title of this work, not commercially published, is A Tapestry in Time: A Brief History of the Church of St Martin and the Manor of Barcheston. Much of the text on the web page accompanying the image is taken from pages 8 to 13 of this interesting booklet.


The Manor of Weston, adjoining Cherington to the west, was once the site of a great house owned by the Sheldon family, who were instrumental in the production of some of the earliest tapestries produced in England. It now forms part of the parish of Long Compton.