History of Ladbroke

Ladbroke was a flourishing settlement long before the Domesday Book was produced but we have no written record of that time, and only the ridges and furrows in the fields to hint at earlier history.  The Domesday Book is therefore the earliest reliable starting point and it shows the village in 1085 under the name of LODBROC, apparently named after Lot-Brook, the stream which still flows through the centre of the village.  The population then was 252, not very different from today.  From the 11th century until the 20th life in the village was dominated by the four families who held the Manor: the De Lodbrokes, the Catesbys, the Dudleys and the Palmers. We have, however, been given a tantalizing glimpse of an earlier era by the discovery of a small hoard of Roman coins on Weddington Hill.

Originally there were two large manor houses in the village.  One was close to the church in Farmyard Field (of which only the sites of the fish ponds remain) and the other still exists as Deppers Bridge Farm, right on the edge of the village beside the road just south of Deppers Bridge.  One of the most interesting things about this old house is that it belonged for some years to Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset, who had been betrothed to Henry, Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII. Unfortunately the Duke died at the age of 17, before he could be married, but King Henry kindly allowed Mary to live on at Ladbroke Grange until she died.

The site of the present Ladbroke Hall was not chosen until 1598, and the house did not become any more than a large farmhouse until roughly 1680 when the Palmer family came to live in the village.

During the years before the Palmer family took up residence in Warwickshire Ladbroke had many illustrious connections.  For many years the Catesby family of Ashby St. Ledger were the chief landowners in the village.  William Catesby of Ladbroke was beside King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.  This was the event at which the King was reputed to have cried out "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" and it was Catesby who replied "Withdraw, my lord, I'll help you to a horse".  The battle ended disastrously for both since the King was killed fighting and Catesby was beheaded three days later at Leicester.

The Catesby family seem to have had a penchant for meeting untimely ends.  William's descendent Robert Catesby is well known as a leader among the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot and it was through this "indiscretion" that the Manor fell into the hands of the Dudley family of Kenilworth Castle.  Robert Dudley was the son of the Earl of Leicester, famed for being Queen Elisabeth I's favourite man, and also for reputedly pushing his wife Amy Robsart downstairs!

During the Tudor period the Spencer family (ancestors of the late Diana, Princess of Wales) owned a great deal of land in the parish which they later sold for the express purpose of building a new family home at Althorp in Northamptonshire.

Ladbroke is luckier than most villages in that a map still exists which shows in great detail the layout of the village in 1639. It is surprising to see that there were 15 cottages between the end of Bridge Lane and the church since there is now only one, Church Cottage.  Apart from the disappearance of these fourteen dwellings the layout of the village looks remarkably unchanged.

Later maps have also survived.  There is a book of maps, drawn up by the Palmer family in the eighteenth century, recording the layout of their lands under tenancy agreements.  Each page shows the land let out to an individual tenant, but since each tenant usually held a number of scattered fields it has proved impossible so far to reconstruct a complete map of the village from the book.

Other early records include an unusual burial register for the village, which records "the death of a stranger slaine and Buryed" in 1618. Fortunately we are no longer so inhospitable.  At about that time the old chapel of St.Helen's at Chapel Ascote seems to have ceased to be viable as a place of worship (whether through decrepitude or lack of support is unknown) and was dismantled to provide building materials for farm houses nearby.

A century later, local records show that the stoneless lanes were, for the first time ever, being paved with stones to increase the speed of the coaches.  In light of the 1985 Ladbroke By-pass costing over £700,000, it is sobering to learn that the mending and improvement of the section from Watergall lane to Chapel Ascote cost just £36, 2 shillings and 4 pence!

A hundred years later, engineers proposed to drive a railway track right through the middle of the village but because of difficulties raised by a Ladbroke landowner the route was diverted towards Deppers Bridge instead. By the time the decision had been taken to divert the line a length of the route had already been levelled and it is still possible to see the original route near Holmes House (near Chapel Ascote).

Ladbroke innkeepers were regularly mentioned in past records of our village affairs, mainly on the occasions when they broke the regulations by selling their ale in unsealed measure and not at one penny a quart!  Owing to the large number of travellers pouring through the village in the 18th and 19th centuries the village was able to support four different hostelries.  These were The White Horse (later known as The Horse and Jockey) which was approximately where Ladbroke Garage is now; The Swan Inn, which was where Swan Cottage and Rose Cottage are now; The Crown Inn near the junction of Banbury Road and School Lane (which gave its name to the present Crown Cottage) and the Bell Inn, which alone has stood the test of time, and every villager knows where that is!

General Meetings of Ladbroke villagers have been held for many hundreds of years.  There was a meeting before the creation of the Domesday Manor where the local court met, and this tradition was so strong that the villagers still met "at the usual place" in the 19th Century, before moving off to one of the local hostelries.  It has been impossible to discover where this "usual place" was in the village.  There was a standing stone somewhere near Radbourne Lane, which could have been a possible site.  There is also an ancient grassy mound at the edge of the field opposite Withytree Farm, which is another possibility.  This mound is perhaps a relic from the unsettled Cromwellian times.  Ladbroke is not far from Edge Hill and rumour has it that the mound was a possible look out site or even a cannon ball store.  It certainly would be interesting to excavate it and see.

Ladbroke's formal Parish Council was created by Act of Parliament in 1894, when Councils were to be elected in rural areas with a population of between 200 and 300, provided a Parish Meeting decided in favour of the idea.  The first Ladbroke Parish meeting was held in 1896 and this was the origin of our present Annual Parish Meeting.  The present elected Parish Council consists of five residents who are obliged to hold meetings ten times a year and decide issues of a local nature.

The court records of past years show that many of the problems faced by our current Parish Council have been with us a long time.  In the 17th Century, William Butler was fined 6d. for cutting down certain willows growing near his house and certain  thorns growing on Banbury High Waye, without permission.  Thomas Chebsey was fined 12d. for stopping a footway and hedging and ditching up the stiles so that no passengers could pass.  John Smith must have been an antisocial type, for he was fined for throwing old thatch and straw into the roadway!

20th and 21st Centuries

The pattern and pace of life in Ladbroke have changed considerably.  The Hall has changed hands many times, perhaps due to visitations by the ghost of the "Lady in Black".  At one time it belonged to the Rootes family, the famous local car manufacturing family, and for several years it was a girls' school which seems to have livened up the village considerably.  In 1972 it was subdivided into many units and is now owned by the residents as Ladbroke Hall Management Ltd.

The "Ladbroke Club" was a feature of the village for many years. Members paid a fee to join and were then cared for in the event of sickness or other difficulty.  Once a year a marquee was erected in "Butchers Close" (near Ladbroke Farm) and a brass band from Southam was engaged for a dance at which a jolly time was had by all.  It seems that on the first day the ladies served refreshments to all the men of the village, then on the following day the men set to and waited hand and foot on the ladies and children; a good example even half a century later.

One of the major changes in the pattern of life in the village was the setting up of a Prisoner of War Camp in Radbourne Lane at the beginning of the second World War, initially as an open prison for captured Italians.  It is an indication of the relaxed regime (and of the primitive conditions) that one of the prisoners was allowed to visit Sarah's Cottage in Bridge Lane daily for two large buckets of water since there was no water supply at the camp.  The Italians helped in various local farming and drainage projects and became a familiar part of village life; local children found the camp an ideal place to while away their spare time.  The inmates were naturally Roman Catholic and it was a familiar sight on Sundays to see them all marching into the Convent in Southam, wearing their uniforms of plain brown material with a large red cross on their backs, as a target for marksmen if they should try to escape into the open countryside.

Towards the end of the war the site was converted to a German Prisoner of War Camp and the whole atmosphere changed.  High fences were erected, local people were discouraged from going near and the village had little contact with the prisoners.  At the end of the war the camp was changed again and  became a centre for displaced persons, mainly from Estonia and Latvia.  Over the years it became known as the "Polish Camp", and was maintained under the able supervision of "Ted" (Tadeusz Arczitowski). Gradually the numbers dwindled and the camp was finally disbanded altogether in 1984.  The buildings have mostly been demolished and modern bungalows have been built on the site.

Ladbroke has been the birthplace of two well-known ventures. In the 1960's Mr Graham Hudson started the firm Ladbroke Bodies at the site which is even now a garage.  This firm expanded rapidly into the Ladbroke Continental car group.  But perhaps the best known of Ladbroke's commercial successes is the huge chain of Ladbroke betting shops and hotels which have spread throughout the land.  The founder of that company was Arthur Bender, who worked as a groom at Ladbroke House 100 years ago.  Obviously his experience with Ladbroke horses stood him in good stead!

In 1996-97 The population of the village was boosted by the addition of new housing in Hedges Close and Chebsey Court between the Southam Road and Windmill Lane.

The book "Ladbroke and its Owners", by S H A Hervey (1914), is a good source of further information. It is available to read online on the archive.org website.