Austrey, A History

By Celia Parton

Austrey is a small village in the very north of the county, 7 miles from Tamworth in Staffordshire and 8 miles from Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. The nearest town in Warwickshire is Atherstone, 6 miles away. Originally known as Alcestre, Austrey is a pretty, mainly rural, village surrounded by other villages such as Newton Regis and No Man's Heath.

Austrey still has many ancient buildings. The church of St Nicholas has a tower which dates from the 13 century and is ornately decorated with carved heads and surmounted by a graceful spire.  The remainder of the church was rebuilt and enlarged c1330 and is a good example of the architecture of the period.  In 1844 the chancel was refaced externally and with new stonework and the windows restored.  The south porch is of that date but there was an earlier porch.  There are many slate gravestones which can be seen around the car park dating from 1747. 

A Baptist chapel was built in 1808 and in 1672 the Presbyterians were licensed to meet in the house of John Kendall who was probably an ancestor of George Edward Kendall of Austrey, one of whose daughters married (in 1845) John Sobieski Stuart, descendant of the Young Pretender.  There is also the black and white Bishops Farm House bearing the date 1521 and, over the road, a three storey manor House.

Austrey, St Nicholas Austrey, The Bird in Hand Pub and Market Cross Austrey, The Bird in Hand Pub and Market Cross

Close by the church, and probably the most famous building in Austrey, is the Bird in Hand Inn which was built in the15th century and has a thatched roof. In front of the inn there stands a medieval plinth. On top of the plinth there is a cross which was erected in the 19th century to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.  However, this was not the original cross on the site.  It is not known exactly when the first cross was put there but from Norman times Austrey belonged to the monks of Burton Abbey and it was always held that they had put up the cross where the old market was held.  This place was then used right up until the end of the 19th century as a general meeting place where people came to sell their produce and where men seeking employment gathered.  The original cross was destroyed by roundheads in the 17th century.  The Roundhead troopers accused the landlord of the inn of displaying a forbidden cross, symbol of a Royal religion, outside his house and it was consequently destroyed.

Life in Austrey changed little until the beginning of the 20th century.  They were entirely self sufficient, with their own bakery and butcher's shop, two saddlers, two carpenters and a blacksmith.  There was a windmill at the top of Mill Lane which ground the corn and the milk was driven in horse drawn float to Polesworth a village about 4 miles away with a railway station. Work and play fell in with the seasons of the year, and Austrey had its own football team, cricket team and tennis club, and the first working men's club was converted out of old farm buildings.

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