Over two days, 19-20 October 1991, Peter Halliwell, Roger Stirling-Brown, David Spoors and myself excavated two trial trenches on an enigmatic earthwork at Mount Close, Winforton (SO.302.463). The site had been visited by the Woolhope Archaeological Research Section on 17 March 1991 when a preliminary sketch plan was made. The object of the investigations was to ascertain what, if anything, lay below the earthworks. At the southern end of the site was what was thought to have been a semi-circular bank, initially construed to have been half of a damaged ringwork. Leading away to the north of this was an earthen bank which had a circular earthwork, or 'ring' towards its northern extremity, immediately before what is probably a modern pond. From this pond an east-west running drainage ditch may have marked the northern extremity of the site. The depression that marks the western side of the earthwork may be either a defensive ditch, an old river channel of the 'isle of Winforton', or a more modern drainage ditch.
The history of the site, as far as it is known, is quite illuminating, and armed with this information it is possible to conjecture what this structure was. In Domesday, Ralph Tosny of Clifford castle, held Willersley and Winforton and had one Welshman holding one hide in the later vill. It is possible, as the hermitage was dedicated to a Welsh saint, that the Welshman holding one hide at Winforton was in fact a hermit, or the leader of a Welsh 'Clas' here. At some time, probably in the early twelfth century, the Tosnys sub-infeudated the Muscegros family with their holding in Winforton. Consequently in 1265 it was stated that Walter Muscegros had held Monnington on Wye and Winforton from Roger Tosny by the service of one knight. Of the Muscegros family we can trace much of their early history. One Roger Muscegros witnessed a charter of the Tosnys as early as c.1080 and soon afterwards he appeared in Domesday holding two manors in Wolphy Hundred, Upton and Laysters, of the king. By 1143, Miles Muscegros may have held Winforton of the Tosnys, when Miles was sheriff of Herefordshire. He is followed in the remaining records by his son Walter whose mother was one Petronilla. This Walter married Evet (Jveta) and was succeeded by another Miles who married Margery Blenknidon and was succeeded by their son Walter who died childless in 1265.
The history of the thirteenth century hermitage itself is difficult to unravel, not so much due to lack of evidence, but lack of reliable dating. As has been said above, the original religious site at Winforton may have been a Welsh 'Clas'. In the very early thirteenth century (before 1221, when Walter Clifford died), Walter, a Canon Regular of Wormsley priory, 'betook himself to a hermetical life in a little island in the River Wye within the manor' of Winforton. There he built a chapel and dedicated it to St Kenedred. Blount in the seventeenth century mentions that the foundation stones of this chapel had lately been grubbed up, and only a Yew tree remained to mark their position, which, except in times of flood, could scarcely be termed insular. This is undoubtedly the rectangular crop mark at SO.295.456, where the shattered remains of the yew tree still stands, the only tree in the vicinity. If this is the site of the chapel, which seems almost certain, then what are the earthworks at Mount Close? This would suggest that the site at Mount Close is therefore the hermitage and not the chapel of St Cynidr. Indeed this view is confirmed by the surviving charters to the foundation.
Sometime, probably after the death of Walter the hermit from Wormsley, Walter the son of Walter Clifford (1173-1221) and Agnes Cundy his wife (living 1208-16+) granted to St Cynidr and Friar Stephen of the hermitage in the Isle of Winforton, nine acres of land in his manor of Middlewood, whereon ½ acre lay on the upper part of the chapel of St Oswald (Tuswell) and one half towards Galweye, and the remainder towards Lythe, and also common pasture in Middlewood, with lands in Winforton, and a tenement by St Oswald's Chapel and the lands of Rhys ap Philip. Probably after the death of Walter Clifford (dead by February 1221) in the period 1221 to 1234 when Hugh Folliot was bishop of Hereford (1219-34), Walter Muscegros, the son of Miles and Petronilla Muscegros, with the consent of his wife Evet and his son Miles gave to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Blessed Cynidr and to the servants of God in the chapel of St Cynidr in the Isle of Winforton, the land of Brother's Acre (Brotheracre), two acres in his wood next to the land of The Stowe (Steuma) called Exmo, two and a half acres next to Brotheracres, 1½ next to those which Philip Raxley held, all of his moor of Linacre (Lynacres) as far as Assarhem Eynan, another acre under The Stowe, the site of the mill with its appurtenances on the River Wye in the lordship of Winforton, with the grist of the village, the moor that belonged to Aluuredus Knav, some pasture for three cows and a palfrey in the lordship of Winforton, and 'all the croft next the chapel which adjoins the land of the church of Winforton upon Wye'. This was given for the performing of divine service in the chapel. The Clifford grant was augmented, probably earlier rather than later in the period 1230 to 1264, by Robert Whitney, lord of Whitney, who granted to Friar Walter the hermit in the Isle upon Wye, all the land with the wood standing on it which lay between the land of 'Domini Eustachii de Stowe' and the wood of Lord Walter Muscegros, to be held by the said Walter (the hermit) and his successors for ever. Although it is not certain which Walter Muscegros is meant, the inference must be that it is the older Walter, who was married to Evet as this grant complements that of the elder Walter's. Therefore both grants would appear to date to the period 1230 to 1234. This grant of Robert's may have been a confirmation, or expansion of an earlier one dated to the wide period 1230 to 1300 whereby Robert Whitney, gave to St Cynidr and Friar Stephen, and his successors in the hermitage, nine acres of land in the old 'Hay, which lay near the land of his brother Eustace 'parson of Pencombe' and the wood of the lord of Winforton, and the Lord Llywelyn ap Llywelyn ab Einion. This grant was afterwards confirmed by Sir Eustace Whitney, Robert's successor. When the grandson of Walter Muscegros, Walter (d.1265), the son of Miles Muscegros and Margery Blenknidon, held Winforton he confirmed the grant of his grandfather Walter to the hermitage and chapel of St Cynidr; and to Stephen the hermit there he also gave an increase of his land between the said chapel and the Wye (cum tota vina Haya), with all the quick hedge which by his consent Friar Stephen had planted about the said hermitage. He also ordained that it would not be lawful for anyone to take anything out of the enclosure that he had hedged.
Walter Muscegros took the Baronial side in the wars of the early 1260's and was one of the custodians who defended Hereford from the attacks of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (1246-82) on 10-11 November 1264. This undoubtedly led to the loss of Winforton to the family. Walter, the son of Miles Muscegros, in a lost charter seen by Blount and Silas Taylor, is said to have granted lands in Winforton to Alexander the son of Roger Monnington (Monyton, allegedly a name used by the Lestrange family). This land was granted to Alexander subject to homage and service owed him, and for twenty shillings, with leave to give it or sell it to whom he would except for clerics or Jews. Interestingly he was also given licence to brew alcohol in his own boiler or kettle whenever he should be able. It would seem that Alexander's elder brother John took advantage to convert this grant into firm occupation during the disturbances. When Walter Muscegros died before 2 December 1265 an inquest was held on his estates. This found that his heirs to the manor of Blechesdon in Gloucestershire were Walter Blakeneye and John Dudmerton. It also found that Walter Muscegros, the grandfather of the deceased Walter had nine daughters. The son of the eldest(?) daughter, Petronilla, was Walter Huntly knight; Margery Mabauncku/Maubanc, was another daughter, now dead, who had three daughters, Lucy, Alice and Jueta; the other children of Walter were Juliana, Agnes, Alice, Joan, Matilda, Elizabeth and Amable/Mable. All these are now jointly the next heirs to Lessendon and Bulleye in Gloucestershire. In Herefordshire, Ryttyr manor was held in chief by service of finding three footmen for the king's army for fifteen days at Walter's own cost. Monnington on Wye (Moniton) and Winforton (Wynfreton) vills were held of Roger Tosny by the service of one knight, while Bodenham (Bodeham) and a mill there was held of the honour of Brecon and another of William Furches. The heirs to all this were the same as for Lessendon and Bulleye, but the king has no seisin in these lands because John Lestrange the younger (the nephew of Alexander?) holds the lands by force, and does not permit anyone to have seisin in the king's name. It was probably around this time that John Lestrange (probably the elder), calling himself lord of Monnington (Monyton) and Winforton, granted the hermitage of Winforton (Wynfreton), with the consent of Stephen the Hermit to Wormesley priory (the church of St Leonard), in return for them celebrating divine service for the souls of Walter Muscegros (d. before 2 December 1264) and his own. Sometime later, before Matilda's death in 1284, John the son of John Lestrange with Friar Stephen quitclaimed a field held of the lady Matilda Longspey. This grant was probably made after 1262 when Matilda was a widow and in charge of the barony of Clifford. In 1270 she was abducted by John Giffard, and later married him. It was in this period 1271 to 1284, before she died in October 1284, that she, and her husband, John Giffard (died 1299), confirmed to the prior and convent of Wormsley the grants made to Friar Stephen by Walter Clifford, Matilda's father. Probably around the same time, and certainly before 1283, a grant was made to the chapel of St Cynidr on the island of Winforton (capellanus de Insula de Wilfreton), where the chaplain was brother Stephen.
The loss of Winforton to the Muscegros family, however, was not initially accepted and in the winter of 1281-82 the heirs of Walter Muscegros (d.1265), viz Walter Huntly, Petronilla, Agnes, Matilda, Alice, Joanna and Anabella Muscegros jointly claimed their hereditary rights by the edict of Kenilworth (1266) in Walter's lands of Winforton (Wulferton), Keythur and Bodenham (Bodehan) which King Henry III was said to have given to John Lestrange. They obviously lost their claim for in the Quo Warranto proceedings of 1291-92 the claim was again restated, but this time against the new holders who had apparently acquired the lands from John Lestrange. Thus in 1292 at Tretire, Walter Huntly, Nicholas Monmouth, Walter Maryns, Thomas Pappeworth, John Dundewell, Juliana the daughter of Geoffrey Malebrauntes and Anabella Muscegros claimed, as the heirs of Walter Muscegros, the manors of Ryther against John Tregoz, the lord of Ewias Harold, and Winforton against Roger Mortimer (of Chirk). John and Roger came to answer the claim against them. John claimed he held the manor in right of his wife Mabel and was therefore not answerable. Roger Mortimer claimed that it was his mother Matilda who held Winforton and similarly he was not answerable to the plea against him. Consequently once more the claim failed and, on the death of Matilda Mortimer, the manor passed to her son Roger Mortimer of Chirk (d.1326). In 1304 he was granted free warren for Winforton (and Hampton Wafer and Bredwardine), and in 1318 a fair and market there. This suggests that prior to the black death there was quite an economy at the village, no doubt servicing the hermitage. At some time during his life, when he was at Chirk, Roger, as lord of Winforton, 'for the welfare of his soul, considering the priors whereby they might pass and re-pass into the ground belonging to the hermitage, gave and ordained a competent and sufficient way for all their use necessary at all times of the year, ad carros & carrettas servientibus & ad animalia frapaganda through the north gate. The said way was to be ten feet in breadth directly to Holowe medewe to the passage (ford?) of Middlewood, a Heremite way to remayne there for the future'. This 'Heremite' has been suggested as the narrow lane which still leads towards the hermitage from the village. However it may be the current path which runs from the site of the hermitage - the mound thought to be the 'ringwork' is the 'north gate'? - past the chapel and to the suggested ford over the Wye at SO.287.456. The only problem with such a scenario is that the 'north gate' is at the south end of the 'hermitage' site.
The first excavation was made roughly E-W through the raised northern 'ring' on its western side. This feature consisted of a circular embankment about 1' high and approximately 30' in diameter. The cut made was 20' long and 3' wide and stretched from the centre of the ring to a small lip some 2' down the side of the scarp to the ditch/old river channel. At a depth of six inches a considerable amount of rubble was encountered at the external lip of the ring. Removing this fall revealed what may have been a facing of a rubble filled wall. Three courses of clay-laid (or mortar that had lost all of its lime) masonry was found. Eight feet east of this was found a similar (slightly less convincing) face. Both faces had a slight curve and would appear to be best interpreted as the remains of a round tower. Such a tower would therefore have had foundations 8' thick, and an internal diameter of approximately 25'. Where the bank running from the 'half ringwork' feature joins this 'tower' a small tump is present in the ground. This would appear to be the best place for a second trench to see if this covers anything, such as a stair turret. As time was pressing it was decided to put another trench through the 'half ringwork' feature at the southern end of the site. At a depth of two to three inches much rubble fall was discovered. However time precluded its removal to see if a wall face underlay it as at the other cut.
The preliminary excavation produced the following results. The 'ring' towards the NW corner of the site was probably a (defensive??) round tower set in a curtain wall, the bank along the ridge marking the site of this. The 'half ringwork' to the south appears to have been a stone building of irregular, or perhaps rectangular shape, and probably is the same as the rectangular building shown on the 1778 Estate Map at 'Mount Close'. An examination of the Chapel Mead Site at SO.275463 showed a rectangular yellow crop mark that is almost certainly the chapel of St Cynidr in the 'Isle of Winforton'. Consequently with the limited knowledge available from the trial excavation it would appear to make the site at Mount Close a masonry hermitage site, distinct from the chapel linked to the site by the path to the west.
Paul Remfry 29 January 1995
Paul Martin Remfry