Further expansions of the Spencer family fortunes

 Following the death John Spencer in 1522, the fortunes of the family continued to expand with further acquisitions of grazing land in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire aided to some degree by the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the period of 1536 to 1539 although it seems in no case did the Spencers actually purchase an ecclesiastical estate directly from the Crown. Thus, the Manor of Byfield was purchased in 1557 which had belonged to Sheen Priory and the Manor of Wicken (1588) which belonged to Snellshall and those of Priors Marston (1602) and Priors Hardwick (1633) which belonged to Coventry were also purchased. The wealth of the Spencers also enabled them to make good marriages among important families and in due course the estate was wisely entailed so that successive father and elder son of the mainline had only a life-tenancy. In consequence, the estate remained a remarkably stable entity for long periods of time. Although a great deal of the wealth of the early Spencers was vested in land, a very large proportion was also held in stock on their pastures and indeed the holdings constituted an enormous, closely-integrated stock farm organised around two main centres at Wormleighton and Althorp. Wormleighton with its great enclosed pastures and many small pens and folds was the main centre for livestock, whereas Althorp with its great park soon to be added became the principal residence though still functioning as a secondary stock centre. An interesting innovation at Wormleighton was a new and unique type of hedging set up by John Spencer to form cattle runs. These hedges were massive with double ditches, double hedges and a tree-belt in the middle and ending up some 20ft wide. The lines of some of these hedges are still visible today. Later hedges planted by tenants for mixed farming are much narrower. The next 120 years or so saw the heyday of Wormleighton Manor. In 1554 the enclosed land owned by the Spencers around Wormleighton was some 4960 acres. Wormleighton manor /parish was much larger than it is today and included Stoneton and part of Fenny Compton, which was not enclosed until 1778/9 and Watergall and Wills Pastures, comprising 21 messuages, 21 tofts, a dovecote, 21 gardens.1,100 acres of arable land , 560 acres of meadow, 2500 acres of pasture, 240 acres of woodland, 20 acres covered in water and 540 acres of heath. A quarter mile to the north of the village there was also a windmill in what is named the Upper Windmill Field. There is a noticeable movement of air around this hill even on the calmest day. Importantly towards the end of this period and during the Civil War, the Spencer family acquired the Earldom of Sunderland as one of their titles. By the time of Lord Robert Spencer (1570 – 1627) - of whom more later - the family was amongst the richest in the land. Robert Spencer reportedly owned 20,000 sheep on his various estates and his income was about £8000 per annum - an enormous sum in those days. The Spencers it is said could at one time drive cattle or sheep to markets in London from Warwickshire and Northants without leaving their own land or land leased by them. Again, this tale is probably an exaggeration as there were several large estates between Althorp, Wormleighton and London, which would have acted as a barrier. To drive of stock to London historically took about seven days along drovers' roads