Priors Hardwick’s most recent and perhaps most dubious claim to fame was for one Edward Handcock, the local pig butcher, who on the dark night of November 13th 1872 stabbed his wife Betsy to death.
Edward has the distinction, if it can be called such, of being the last man to be hung in Warwick Jail!
Today this tranquil village, tucked away near the Northamptonshire border hides more than a heyday of turbulent and hectic trading. Recorded in the Domesday Book, Priors Hardwick was one of the villages that Earl Leofric gave to the Prior of Coventry in the 11th Century. The original village and fishponds lie behind St Mary’s Church and it was probably due to the monks grazing their vast flocks of sheep and cattle instead of allowing the villagers to grow corn that caused its depopulation.
It was not until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Monasteries, that the village began to rebuild itself. So that by the end of the 16th Century, under the Knightley family, the open fields again started to support more families.
Once, the ancient Salt Road brought salt and travellers from Droitwich to Northampton through the village and the Welsh Drovers passed through from the west heading towards London with herds of cattle and flocks of geese. The livestock were penned along the wide verges of the old Welsh Road and the Drovers drank and told their tales at the public houses, a medieval form of verbal newspaper!
In the 18th century the Oxford Canal brought more movement and trade through the village, but eventually, as with the Drovers and the coaching trade, it all fell away with the railway and the car, to leave very few still earning their livelihood from the village.
In 2001 the parish consisted of only 79 households, mainly owner-occupier.
Today, the nearest anyone gets to a butcher in Priors Hardwick, is to eat in the restaurant at the local pub, the Butcher’s Arms, which is one of the oldest houses in the village dated 1562 and centred on the village green.