The English Parish as an administrative unit probably dates back to the period of Saxon settlement and conversion; its boundaries often coincided with those of an earlier pagan land grant. The Parish, ecclesiastically speaking, ‘is that circuit of ground which is committed to the charge of one person or vicar’. Civilly, a parish was in olden times ‘that place for which a separate poor rate could be raised’. Sometimes but not always, the civil and ecclesiastical parish covered the same ground. Some historians believe that the boundaries of the parish were originally determined by those of the manor or manors. With the spread of Christianity the Lords of the Manor began to build churches on their own desmesne (land), but when these parishes began it is difficult to say, as it seems in England at any rate, the parochial system was developed in its essentials before the Norman Conquest.
The Parish was developed as a unit of local secular government by the Crown in the sixteenth century; its most important role was that of relief of the poor, before the welfare state. The parish was a conveniently autonomous, self governing community.
At the centre of parochial administration was the vestry - the ‘parish parliament’. The vestries audited the accounts of the parish officials including the churchwardens and the overseers of the highway, sanctioned rates of various kinds, granted charity to those they thought deserving and many other matters. The civil successors of the parish vestries were the parish councils originating in an Act of 1894, obligatory for every parish of 300 or more inhabitants.
FECKENHAM was already organised as a parochial unit at the time of the Domesday Survey, which lists Feckenham as having a Reeve and a Beadle as well as a Miller and a Smith. The tithes of the manor and the church with the priest were given by Earl William to the Abbey of Lyra. The Reeve was strictly speaking a deputy, who was elected by his fellow villeins to organise the daily business of the manor. The Beadle was a parish officer with various duties, such as town crier, messenger or even a constable, although not necessarily the same in each locality. In 1591 there were still a Reeve and a Beadle, who with the constable and other officers were elected by the tenants of the manor, and a bailiff, chosen by the lord from among the tenants and freeholders.
At some time -after the manor was sold by the crown in 1629 and subsequently bought by Thomas Lord Coventry in 1632 - the churchwardens looked after the day to day running of the parish, while the manorial courts continued, the last one being held in 1935 at the Rose and Crown, although by this time the manor courts were only ceremonial.
In 1894 as a result of the Local Government Act, Feckenham was divided into Feckenham Rural and Feckenham Urban; Feckenham Urban (Headless Cross, Crabbs Cross) became part of Redditch Urban District Council. Although originally the same, the boundaries of the civil and ecclesiastical parishes changed over time. As a result of the growth in population in the nineteenth century, other churches were built, which changed the boundaries of the ecclesiastical parish, while in the civil parish, the parish council duties were increasingly taken over by the state.
The modern parish council is given powers by central government and it is up to the local council what they implement. Parish Councils are the only councils which are not capped. They are responsible for maintaining the grass verges and appoint their own Footpaths Officers. Although they do not have the power to reject or accept planning applications they do have the opportunity to make comment on the advisability or otherwise of plans. They are the first line of reference for the local community over any local issues.
Feckenham was once a significant site situated on the ancient Saltway between Alcester and Droitwich (now the B4090). Listed in the Domesday Book as 'fecceham', (Old English meaning Fecca's Ham - a clearing by a stream, or an enclosure or homestead), Feckenham was the centre for lawsuits connected with forests south of the Trent, during the early part of the history of the forest. The courthouse has now disappeared but the site still exists as a moated site near the church.
Feckenham stood in the middle of the forest that bears its name. Around the middle of the twelfth century the forest covered most of Worcestershire -including Bromsgrove, Redditch, Evesham and Pershore. In one direction the forest spread all the way to the city gate (the fore gate) in Worcester and to the north as far as The Lickeys.
After 1300 the forest was reduced in size, until by the sixteenth century it had become little more than a park about thirty four square miles in extent. Around 1608 the crown surveyed all its royal forests and decided to 'disafforest' the Forest of Feckenham. Twenty one years after this decision, Feckenham ceased to be a royal forest and reverted to common land. The crown sold the manor (land) in 1632 to Lord Coventry and the people living in the forest were to be compensated for the loss of their rights under forest law.
Copyright Elizabeth Atkins 2006