Between the last lock at Marston Doles and the Wharf at Fenny Compton, the Oxford Canal wiggles its way along the 400 foot contour for several miles; when a few miles would have done! Opened between Banbury and Coventry in 1778, Earl Spencer, whose family has owned Wormleighton since 1506, refused to have any locks built on his land. He had no intention of giving any boatman or navvy a reason to set even one foot on his land when passing through it.
Before 1506, this quiet little hamlet had nestled undisturbed on the Warwickshire border near Southam, its 12 homesteads and church suffering much from quiet neglect. The Manor House had long fallen into decline, indeed at its purchase; John Spencer called it a “sorry thatched house” and built a fine new brick Manor higher up the hill. Until his new house was ready, he continued to live nearby at Hodnell just outside Ladbroke.
Although blamed for its depopulation, Spencer had in fact bought the village from his cousin’s husband, when it was already depopulated. He merely took advantage of the enclosed pasture and bred sheep and cattle mainly for the London meat market.
What little remains today of the original Manor House can only hint at the stout embattled walls and gatehouse that was once a beautiful Tudor house. Its major destruction occurred during the Civil War, when it served as the Royalist headquarters of Prince Rupert. When the Royalists retreated south, it was burnt down to prevent it falling into the hands of the Parliamentarians.
Five-hundred years on and Spencers still own Wormleighton.
From twelve houses in 1730 to twenty-eight houses in 1801, little has altered since 1848 when an orderly row of ten houses, locally called the “Ten Commandments”, were built.
Until recent years, a school was established, now a private house, but there still isn’t and never has been – a public house! Wormleighton Hall is set in beautiful grounds and gardens with extensive views over unspoilt Warwickshire countryside and is a working farm.
There is a beautiful walk from the church through the deserted village site and along the Oxford Canal.