Brilley is in northwest Herefordshire, in the region called The Scarplands, because it rises above the Central Plain at the core of the county. The Scarplands are remote and thinly populated: border country, sharing much of the character of Welsh Radnorshire, which it bounds.
During the period of The Marcher Lords (Norman leaders sent by William The Conqueror to enter upon the conquest of Wales), the formative period for our area, the border was more or less where brute force could establish it. It was certainly not a line on a map, nor even a mark on the ground, like Offa’s Dyke, yet it is safe to say that Brilley was always on the ‘English’ side. Kington Castle, and its successor at Huntington, was always in the hands of Norman tenants-in-chief. The Welsh princes, who initially held some land in the western part of Brilley, did so as tenants of the English Crown.
In 1535, Henry VIII abolished the Marcher Lordships. As far as Brilley was concerned, the English border was established this side of the Wye. It ran, then, from the junction of Bettwys Dingle in a, more or less, straight line up to Gladestry; Michaelchurch was included in England. This boundary was altered in the 19th century, and Michaelchurch moved to Wales.
The boundaries are still rather muddled. The parochial parishes of Brilley and Michaelchurch-On-Arrow are linked across the English-Welsh border, but the civil parish of Brilley lies wholly on the English side, in Herefordshire, and only this part of our community falls within the scope of the County Plan, of which our Village Plan may form a part.
This civil parish has an area of about 1,550 hectares, bounded on the north by the so-called Roman Road that crosses Brilley Mountain at 270 metres above sea level. The land slopes southwards 200metres down to the River Wye, between The Rhydspence and Whitney Wood, at 70 metres, and the boundary climbs up again beside the wood, to Little Merthyr. The southern boundary runs along the Brilley Green Dingle, north of Kiln Ground Wood, and then crosses open country to Woods Eaves. The boundary line then turns north and runs up Pentre Coed Dingle, through Cwmma Moors, round Fernhall, and back along Apostles Lane to Brilley Mountain.
The Roman road along the top that runs towards the fort on Little Mountain, just beyond the western tip of the parish, although used by the Romans, is probably much older; it is on the natural route from Ludlow to Builth Wells.
Although not itself of much importance, Brilley was not isolated in its early years; it was on the way to many places. The Wye route (now the A438) was an important and much used highway, with several ferry crossings nearby.
The road from Hereford to Huntington Castle climbed up the eastern slopes of Brilley. In 1288 the Sheriff Of Herefordshire was ordered ‘to cause a good breach to be made through the woods of Erdisley, Brunlegh and Wittney, so that there may be a safe passage’ to Huntington Castle.
Brilley’s landscape consists of fields and woods, intersected by brooks and dingles, paths and lanes; it is a managed, rather than a wild countryside. Farmsteads and houses are quite evenly distributed, some loosely grouped in small hamlets. The oldest evidence of settlement we see now must be the Iron Age Camp at Pen-twyn, crowned by a clump of trees on the skyline, visible as a landmark from all over the valley.
Brilley is given in the Oxford Dictionary Of Place Names as ‘probably woodland clearing where Broom grows’.
The disposition of the scattered farmsteads, and their ancient names, might indicate that they stem from the Celtic pattern of agriculture, of small fields cleared from the enveloping woodland; but this is not strictly true of Brilley. The area was not properly settled or cultivated until nearly 200 years after The Conquest. The eastern side was farmed by Norman tenants; the western part was, in the main, opened up for sheep grazing by the monks of Abbey Cwm Hir, who owned the western side of Brilley. However, when tenants did take over from the lay brothers, they do seem to have been predominantly Welshmen, and the terrain is best suited to the upland methods of small fields to which they were accustomed. A mixture of arable and pasture husbandry emerged, and generated the need for a labour force and its attendant housing.
Scattered throughout Brilley, and especially around Brilley Mountain, now outside the parish boundary, there may still be cottages whose origin was the so-called ‘one night house’ of folk history (actually, the popular belief that to have smoke issuing from the chimney by morning established a right to possession is a myth uncorroborated by any legal statute). It was quite usual throughout Herefordshire, as well as in Wales, for these humble dwellings to be built, by their occupants, encroaching on the commons and highway verges, and Brilley would have been no different. Of course, though villagers had certain rights of cultivation over it, all ‘common’ land belonged to someone, and had value. The toleration of squatters’ cottages was useful, while it suited landowners to have cheap labour available, but there was no security of tenure and, should the land be wanted for something else – bad luck! Records of this kind of settlement in Brilley are hard to discover, but, as late as the 1840’s, encroachments on Brilley Green Common numbered 22 dwellings. It would be interesting to learn what the extent of our major common was; who owned it, who used it, who lived on it, and what became of them. By the middle of the 19th century, most of Brilley was fully enclosed, and the now undefined and unidentifiable Brilley Green Common had been entirely parcelled up, though the Herefordshire Nature Trust ensures that at least part of it (4½ hectares) remains open to us.
The 1841 Tithe Map Of Brilley reveals many field names indicating their early origins, such as ‘Broomy Piece’, ‘The Rough’, ‘Common Orchard’, ‘The Green’, ‘Pound Piece’, ‘Rough Close’, ‘Common Piece’, etc.
At the end of the 18th century, turnpike roads and toll bridges had been introduced to help keep some routes passable for through traffic; one was from Kington to Brilley Mountain. Although the tollhouse still stands at the Hergest end, there is no sign of a turnpike at the Brilley end.
Brilley lay on the route between the cattle rearing areas of Wales, and the English markets. The drovers brought their animals through, getting pasture for them, and cider for themselves, on the way - possibly at The New Inn (with its cider press still standing behind it), and certainly at The Rhydspence. The latter was a focal point for drovers – a main drove road came over the hill from Painscastle, down the Rhydspence pitch, because the river could be forded there, avoiding the toll bridge at Whitney
As the 19th century turned to the 20th century, the roads were re-laid with tarmacadam, mains water was piped to everyone without a spring, and, eventually the parish was criss-crossed with telephone and electricity supply lines. Only piped gas has not yet reached us. Otherwise, the village looked much the same as it had for centuries. It had grown organically, and largely planned itself to meet slowly evolving circumstances; that is until the rapid changes that came after the Second World War. The Church, the Old School, and the Old Forge are at the centre of a very low-density, dispersed population. The only fairly densely built-up area is modern; where the Council has built relatively close-packed houses, and an up-to-date replacement for the Village School, in the grounds of which the new Village Hall has recently been inserted. The rest of the village is widespread: not many more than 100 sets of various kinds of buildings in all.
The overall proportions of land used for present purposes, very approximately scaled off the map, are 89% farming (arable and grazing), 7½% woodland, 1½% roads and lanes, ½% other public space (mainly Brilley Green Dingle Nature Reserve), and a very approximate remainder, 1½%, for the curtilages of domestic dwellings.
The well surfaced roads and the growth of motorcar ownership has rendered Brilley less remote, and people have come to live here from elsewhere; relatively few of them to engage in agriculture – itself needing fewer people since mechanisation. There is a greater variety of occupations than before, and there is some pressure on other land uses besides agriculture, which still predominates.
In 1947 the Town And Country Planning Act came into force and, from that time on, instead of planning itself, Brilley, its residents and would be incomers have had to conform to plans laid down by powers outside the village: county, regional and nationwide.
We are now being asked to contribute our local knowledge and aspirations to help with the formulation of a Village Plan that might lead to a more sensitive county planning outcome.
By Rosemary Bashford
It has been suggested, I believe, that Brilley Parochial School, for which the earliest known date is 1808, was the oldest school in Herefordshire but records show that there was schooling in Eardisley as early as 1554. Nevertheless, our school would have celebrated its 200th birthday in 2008.
The first recorded “schoolroom” was in the pre-Victorian house now known as Old Hall because when the new school was built in 1968 the old school became the Village Hall. Part of the original tiled floor is still there and over the lintel which would originally have been the entrance there is a commemorative stone carved by R. Davis, Brilley, which reads: This building was erected for a Schoolroom at the Expense of JOHN HARRIS Esq In the year of our Lord 1808. The house has been extended, of course, since then.
John Harris lived at the Comma (cf relevant document). He died in 1819 and left a house by the churchyard, which he had built as a school, "for the use of the Parish to be used for that purpose". He gave too an annual sum of £5 to pay a schoolmaster (provided that the Parish of Brilley contributed an equal sum) payable out of the Kintley Estate. He gave the management of the school-house to the churchwardens and overseers of the Parish. The school-house consisted of a substantial brick schoolroom over which another schoolroom was added in 1884 after John Harris's death. This cost £170 and was paid for partly by the Parish and partly with a grant of £15 from an unknown Society in London. After John Harris died the Parish paid the schoolmaster's salary and the schoolmaster taught "all the poor of the Parish in reading and writing, free of expense". There were 60 children at the school at that time and two teachers although the average attendance was 40. This was probably due to the bad state of roads and children being kept at home to work. The first known schoolmaster in Brilley was John Jones, who received £15 a year between 1816-1821.
In a codicil to his Will dated 28 December 1831 John Morris of Kington gave £100 for a house to be built adjoining the churchyard as a residence for the schoolmaster. John Morris charged the Court of Brilley Estate with an annual payment of £50 to be paid quarterly to the schoolmaster, provided that schoolmasters be appointed "by the parishioners of Brilley, assembled at a Parish Meeting convened by due notice for that purpose". A substantial stone dwelling house, containing four rooms, was built by John Morris's executors. (It probably cost less than £100 but there are no records of what might have happened to the surplus in any of the documents I have seen.) The schoolmaster living in the schoolmaster's house until 1851 was John Brown.
In the 1871 Census Records, Jenny Harrison (Lower Bridge Court) found a snippet that might have fuelled a little passing speculation: "Thomas Morgan aged 43, Vicar of Brilley and Rector of Michaelchurch, Widower. Esther 9, Edith 5, Ralph 4 and Mary 2, two maids, and on the night of the Census a Visitor, Sarah Brookes, aged 32 unmarried, schoolmistress of Brilley School."
During the 1880's at least, the Vicar of Brilley was the Reverend I.W. Lee. He was closely associated with the school and his name appears on various invoices for school affairs. He was probably the school's Treasurer. There are a number of old copies of invoices among which are the following:
Dated 5 January 1875 for a clock costing £1.10.0d bought for the school from A.W. Bezant, Goldsmith, Watchmaker and Optician in Hereford. Sadly nothing seems to be known about what happened to this original clock.
Dated 31 December 1877 from R. Morgan of Kington for masons repairing the school-house roof. They used 27 lbs of sheet lead and 175 stone tiles. The masons were paid 5 shillings a day, their labourer 3 shillings and the roofing labourer 2/6d. The total bill came to £4.9.1d.
Dated February 1879, building repairs carried out by Thomas Vaughan costing £2.9.6d. Thomas Vaughan carried out more repair work listed on an invoice dated 7 July 1884. One day's work was charged at 3s.6d and one item was "Repaird the Chir and put new Bottom".
Dated 3 September 1884 is a receipt written and signed by the then schoolmaster, H.B. Child. "Received of the Treasurer of Brilley School the sum of Thirteen Pounds Fifteen Shillings being the amount due to me as Master's Salary for the Quarter ending 31st August 1884."
In the early 1880's some books and educational materials were ordered from London and have would come by rail to Whitney-on-Wye station via the Midland Railway Company.
I have seen copies of two "Annual Report of the Inspector" for March 1880 and April 1884, which make amusing reading. These, too, were addressed to Reverend Lee from the Inspector, F.R. Sandford.
The 1880 Report read: I am glad to find a substantial increase in the average attendance for the past year. The results of Examination in Elementary subjects are improved since last year though Arithmetic is still very weak in the fourth, fifth and sixth Standards. The children do not pass in either extra subject. Needlework shows that much pains have been bestowed on it. The earth should be excavated at the end of the School to prevent damp."
The 1884 Report was fuller: The Staff is insufficient for an average of 61, but notwithstanding this disadvantage Mr Child has materially improved the condition of his School since last year. There is a serious amount of failure in Arithmetic in the fourth, fifth and sixth Standards, otherwise the Children passed well in Reading in the third, fifth and sixth Standards in Spelling in the first, second and third Standards and generally wrote very fairly well. Discipline was well maintained. English is so weak in the fourth, fifth and sixth Standards that it only secures fair. More time should be given in the week to Needlework and the Infants should be more advanced, especially in Arithmetic. I have some hesitation in recommending a Merit Grant of Good for them. Mr Child will shortly receive his Certificate."
Nothing changes, does it! Poor Mr Child. He would have had a second teacher to assist him but he does seem to have struggled.
There was no water supply at the School and water was fetched from the pump at the Forge, next door. Susi and Chris Rice live at The Old Forge now and the original pump is in their garden.
Jerry Burslem of Pentrejack was on the Committee organising a School Reunion on 21 June 2008 and he had contacted some ex-pupils who attended the original School. Bert Hobby, who lived at The Whittern as a boy, recalls that sometime in the mid-1930's a flight of RAF Hawkers performed an aerobatic display over the School. This stunt was reputedly led by the boyfriend of the then Infant Teacher, Miss Jones.
By Rosemary Bashford
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am indebted to Pam and Alan Mytton for giving me access to documents researched by Rosemary Bradshaw (late of The New Inn, Brilley) and to Jenny Harrison and Susi Rice for information they have so readily shared with me.