Wolverton’s Grand Houses II

In an earlier post I wrote about the tiny number of large houses that were ever built in Wolverton. Since then I have come across some new information about the manor house at Wolverton built by Sir Henry Longueville in 1586.

In the early part of the 18th Century, Sir Edward Longueville, faced with a mountain of debt, resolved to sell the Wolverton estate. We know that in 1713 he succeeded in this by completing a sale to Dr. John Radcliffe for £40,000. What I did not know was that there was earlier interest from the Duke of Newcastle and there are a number of documents now kept in the Nottinghamshire Archive which show that the Duke’s interest was serious as many details of the estate, the rents, the value of properties, potential taxes were set down together with a number of questions that needed an answer. In the end the Duke decided to offer £30,200 in the year 1710. This was unacceptable to Sr Edward and since the Duke died the following year in 1711, I imagine that negotiations did not continue.

The Wolverton historian can find a great deal of good information in these documents and here I am going to concentrate on what we can learn about the house.

Of the earlier buildings we know next to nothing. It is probable that the Longuevilles improved and enlarged the earlier medieval property during the 15th century. The only reference we have to the building is from the Tudor traveller and writer John Leland, who was passing through around 1540.

The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Streatford).

We can only interpret “bilded fairly” as that the house was of sufficient size for Leland to take notice.

Later in the century Sir Henry Longueville decided to embark on his own building project at a cost of £12,000 – a very significant sum of money. This was in 1586. Once again we are short of any drawing or description until Thomas Hearne, writing in 1711 tells us this much:

It stood near a large mount, thrown up East of the Church, & it was a magnificent Edifice, being 145 Feet in length & built with good Free-stone. It had 9 large transome windows in the Front, of good polished Free-stone which was very regular; it had in the first Range a spacious lofty Kitchen, Buttery, Hall & Great Parlour, in which last room were painted in the large Escucheons (sic), the Arms of the Longueville Family with their matches quartered & impaled. There were also some arms in the windows of painted glass; particularly of Wolverton & Roche: the first of which bore, B. an Eagle displayed A determined by a Bendlet  G. K. the other, viz. Roche, gave G. 3 Roaches A.  This front part, as seems to me, built by Sir Hen Longueville in Queen Elizabeth’s time: and Sir Henry & his lady Elizabeth Cotton’s Arms, being placed there in 2 Shields, with this date, 1586, seems as if they were the builders, and that it was begun to be built then; it cost, as I have been informed, above 12 thousand pounds in those days. At each end were several Rooms of an antient tower structure, which were chiefly made use of, & particularly those on the south wing, by Sir Edward Longueville. I visited him in 1711: & several rooms in the new building were never finished, or properly furnished, as appeared to me.(Theses notes made by William Cole a century later.)

The document in the Nottinghamshire archive is able to offer us supporting detail.

The House is 60 yards in front with two Wings about 15 yards in lenght (sic). Built of Stone is very Strong & in perfect good repair. The Gallary which is a very noble one, the floore was never layed down, all offices that are necessary as Wash houses, Brew house, dary house, larders, Granarys, Wood Barns, Stables for 20 horse, Coach House with 20 Bay of Barning with a Worke House, two Duffcoates & several Houses very necessary for any use in good repair.

We can read from this that the house was stone built with a frontage of 180 feet (Hearne says 145) with two wings at each side of 45 feet. It is not clear which of the “offices” are included in the wings of the great house but it is probable, given the size of the stables and coach house, that this building and almost certainly the dovecotes are separate structures. From Hearne’s description we might infer that the kitchen and buttery (larder) made up one wing of the building. I am guessing that a second floor gallery was designed around either the hall or the “great parlour” but that this floor was never completed, although this phrase never layed down is open to different interpretations.

The photograph below is a survivor from that period of Elizabethan building. It was built in 1572 at Trerice in Cornwall and is considered a small house of its type. I am posting it here to offer some general idea of how the Longueville house may have appeared.

 When Hearne talks of a south wing we might read into that an eastern or south-eastern frontage for the house, possibly parallel with the course of the Old Wolverton Road. The location of the house may have been that piece of level ground opposite the Rectory, in other words between the present Rectory and the old castle mound.

Hearne’s observations are probably accurate but his interpretations can be modified. the window with the date of 1586 is more likely to have been the completion date rather than the date building began; the windows are usually the last part of house building. His observation that the greater part of the building seemed unfurnished may have more to do with Sir Edward’s straitened circumstances than the fact that the building was not completed and that he had been selling off furniture to pay debts and was confining himself to one wing of the building. £12,000 was an enormous sum of money to spend on a house in Elizabethan times, and even if that sum had been exaggerated, there should have been plenty of money to complete the building to the satisfaction of Sir Henry and his wife.

We are told in the Nottingham Archive document that the building was strongly built, which doen’t quite square with the fate of the building in 1726. It is impossible to say who wrote this document. If it had been prepared by one of Sir Edward’s men as a prospectus then a certain amount of puffery might be expected. In any event, only a few years later, the Radcliffe trustees took a different view. In a letter dated 24th October 1715 William Bromley (one of the Trustees) wrote in a letter that the Great House was:

very ruinous, & since it is now never likes to be used as a Gentleman’s Seat you’l consider whether it may not be advisable that it be taken down, & the materials disposed of.

Many of the buildings on the estate were in poor state of repair and when it came time to rebuild the Rectory this course of action recommended itself to the Trustees. Parts of the old mansion can be found in the Rectory which is still standing today.

The Land Enclosures in Wolverton

Medieval agriculture was undertaken in open fields where each peasant had traditional rights to grow and harvest crops in strips. The fields were “open” in the sense that they were not enclosed by hedgerows, but there was in no sense a free-for-all. Strips of land were passed down through generations, usually on payment of an entry fine. Thereafter the peasant was entitled to make use of the land and everyone knew where the boundaries were. Some peasants had acquired more land rights than other over centuries and some were landless labourers working for day wages. Sheep and cattle were driven out to graze on “waste” (land that was hard to cultivate), sometimes known as common land. Common rights were critical to the peasant economy; without them it was hard to maintain livestock.
The Tudor period witnessed the beginning of land enclosures which continued to the 18th century. What we now see as a familiar pattern of fields and hedgerows in the countryside was developed during these centuries.
In the 16th century common rights were held by all the residents of the manor, that is the inhabitants of the village of Wolverton and outlying cottages and the fifty or so dwellings on the east side of the Watling Street.
The enclosures began in a tentative manner. Sir John Longueville enclosed 10 acres around Bushfield School in 1530 and his son Thomas enclosed 32 acres called the Dickens, but revoked the action on his deathbed. In 1541, Arthur Longueville, then the inheritor promptly re-enclosed the land and in 1554 enclosed another 50 acres in the Stacey Bushes area. However, he also relented and re-opened the field.
His son, Henry, was more determined. In 1566 he enclosed those lands that had formerly been enclosed and in 1579-80 enclosed a 158 acre tract of land known as the Furzes. These combined actions took some 250 acres out of common usage.
The local population at first responded by pulling down the fences. Henry Longueville retaliated by hiring ruffians to beat up the objectors and sometimes to kill their cattle. Local justice was not much use here, as Sir Henry Longueville himself was the Justice of the Peace, so the inhabitants of Wolverton and Stony Stratford petitioned the Lord Chancellor in 1584. Three men had the courage to sign thee petition, Thomas Furtho, John Hinders and Christopher Carne. It appears that their complaint was upheld, although it is not clear how it was enforced.
The final phase of the enclosures occurred around 1654 when Sir Edward Longueville was Lord of the manor, chiefly, it seems, under the instigation of his wife Margaret. We should perhaps bear in mind that the Longuevilles were at the time in somewhat straitened circumstances due to their heavy committment to the royalist cause in the Civil War and may have acted with more ruthlessness than they might have in more affluent times. Not a bit of this mitigation would have impressed the villagers who were uprooted from their homes, and in many cases from their livelihoods. There was probably some compensation, although this is unrecorded, and was probably little enough. Some may have found employment on the manor for low wages, but many would have had to find new ways of making a living in (probably) Stony Stratford. Dame Margaret’s name was infamous in the popular mind.
The location of the ancient settlement can still be seen in the field beside Wolverton Park. I have a post about it here.

Enclosure meant exactly that. Hedgerows were planted to mark off the fields and separate cattle and sheep from arable land. Dr. Francis Hyde published a map of these fields, together with their names, in his A Short History of Wolverton. I have discussed these names (some of which are very old indeed) in these posts.

It has been estimated that there were about 30 families still living in the old medieval village in the middle of the 16th century. However, by 1654, when the Longuevilles completed their objective of enclosing the entire manor, the village had ben totally depopulated.

The Longuevilles at Wolverton

This is a continuation of my post about the de Longueville family in Wolverton.

The de Longuevilles repeated the longevity of the first Wolverton ruling family and survived for over 300 years. Sir Frank Markham expresses the view that “successive generations of de Longuevilles followed two main lines of policy, first the acquisition of estates formerly held by priories, and second the enclosure of the common land of their manors.” I will return to these two points later.

Sir John de Longueville, who had married Joan Hunt, the heiress of Wolverton lived to 1439. He was Sherrif of Buckingham in 1394 and no doubt took the opportunity (as did all holders of this office) to enrich himself and his family. His son and heir, Sir George lived to 1457. He had two sons – Richard, the eldest, and a younger son, George. It is not clear if Richard died before his father or later, but Sir George made the younger George heir before he died, even though Richard had a son, also called Richard.

Matters did not rest here, because in about 1485 the younger Richard’s son, John, made a forcible entry to the Manor and asserted his rights as he perceived them. He was obviously successful because on George’s death in 1499 John had in his hands a document renouncing any claims by George and his heirs on the manor.

This John, who was knighted, lived to the good age of 83 (although in one place he is accorded the great age of 103) and took the family into the 16th century. He had only one legitimate child, a daughter Anne. She married John Cheyne of the Chenies manor in Chalfont St Giles and the prospect of uniting the two manors, which were once part of the Wolverton barony must have been considered; however, Sir John de Longueville decided to will the Wolverton Manor to his illegitimate son Arthur, and accordingly inherited in 1541 and in the following year secured himself from any claim by his half sister.

The genealogy of the de Longuevilles can be rather murky. One genealogy gives him a first wife, Joan Tresham and no issue from this marriage, and then Anne Saunders, with whom he had four sons _ Thomas, Arthur, John and Richard. Other sources assign him one legitimate child, Anne. Probably, the marriage to Joan Tresham produced the daughter, Anne, but it seems that he did not marry Anne Saunders. Thomas died before his father without issue and the inheritance fell to Arthur. John Leland, a contemporary writer, is in no doubt about Arthur’s illegitimacy:

The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Stareatford).

Langeville an 103 yeres old made his landes from his heires general to his bastard sunne Arture. The yonger bastard is now heir. 

Arthur Longueville was the one who acquired Bradwell Priory, which had been originally endowed by the Baron Meinfelin in the 12th Century. It had never really propsered and by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries was not worth a great deal.  It had latterly been the property of Cardinal Wolsey but after his downfall it reverted to the crown. From here it was sold to Arthur Longueville. A detailed description can be found here.

The “younger bastard” died in 1557 leaving his widow Anne to manage the estate until his son Henry came of age. Henry died in 1618. The period was a momentous one for the Manor because land enclosures were largely effected during this century – a policy pursued by Arthur and more assiduously by his son Henry. I will write about this in a separate post.

The 17th century witnessed a rise in the Longueville fortunes and a tragic collapse. Most of Sir Henry’s seven children made well-connected marriages and his heir, also Henry, died three years after his father, but his son and heir, Edward, was a great supporter of Charles I and the royalist cause and was rewarded with the baronetcy of Nova Scotia. However, his committment during the Civil War was costly, not only in the expense of raising arms for the King, but in the fines and penalties he paid for being on the losing side. In 1643 he was captured and imprisoned at Grafton House and assessed a fine of £330. In 1646 he was fined £800, a large sum for those times. In 1650 he sold Bradwell Manor to pay the fine.

Sir Edward died in 1661 and his son Thomas succeeded to the reduced estate. He had married an heiress, Mary Silvester of Iver in Buckinghamshire, which must have helped. Unfortunately, he was killed upon a fall from a horse in 1685.

The young Sir Edward, who was his only son, proved himself to be a man who preferred to spend rather than earn and he gradually dissipated the wealth of the Longuevilles. In 1712 he was forced to sell the entire manor, which was purchased by Dr. John Radcliffe for £40,000. Sir Edward, unluckily, met the same fate as his father. He was thrown from his horse during a race at Bicester and thus met his end. the date was 28th August 1718.

Sir Edward did not marry and had no issue. The baronetcy, and whatever money was left, passed to a cadet branch of the family in Wales.

The Murder of George Longueville

One piece of excitement in the 14th century was the murder of  Sir George de Longueville in 1357. The precise connection between this de Longueville and the other Little Billing de Longuevilles, while not obscure, is not exactly clear; however, we do know about his murder.
On November 9th 1357 king Edward III issued a

Commission of oyer and terminer to William de Shareshull, William de  Notton, William de Warenna and Robert de Wighthull, in the county of  Northampton, touching all persons concerned in the death of George de Longevill, “chivaler”, killed at Little Billyng.

We know no further details. The commission of “oyer and terminer” meant that the named men were authorized to investigate, arrest and try whomever might be responsible. From the King’s perspective the matter had been delegated and would be dealt with in an appropriate manner. There would be no further written report on the outcome; any local court records have not survived. We can only speculate. This may have been a quarrel, probably about money. Tempers boiled and Sir George was killed. It is possible that Sir George was the first to draw his sword or dagger and the commissioners may have decided that the accused was not guilty of the charge of murder. These things happen.

The Longuevilles come to Wolverton

While the de Wolverton family were in decline, the de Longueville family were on the way up. Maigno le Breton, founder of the de Wolverton line, had acquired large estates after the Conquest and was assessed at 15 knights’ fees in service: that is he had fifteen knights under his patronage, each of whom would have had a manor or part of a manor to support himself and his family and indeed his ability to arm himself for potential combat – no mean expense.
The de Longuevilles by contrast appear to have started their life in England as knights but initially without any grant of land. They emerge on the record in the 12th century, a century after the Conquest in the Manor of Overton in Huntingdonshire, part way between Oundle and Peterborough.  The manor only has one entry in the Domesday Book of 1086  but the holdings are shared between Eustace the Sheriff and the Bishop of Lincoln, Eustace having the larger share.
This quite large manor was divided into two which later assumed the names of Orton Longueville and Orton Waterville after the dominant families of the 13th century.  was subinfeudated, possibly by 1135, to Roger and John, both “men of Eustace”.  One or the other may be the ancestor of the de Longuevilles but there is no documentary evidence to make that connection All we know is that the de Longuevilles hold this manor as one knight’s fee to the Lovetoft barony. The Lovetoft Barony appears to have comprised the holdings of Eustace the Sheriff although in the murky world of 12th century records any lineage with Eustace is unclear.
This information does at least help us to place the de Longuevilles. Their heritage was modest but over a period of centuries they appear to have established themselves as a middling rank family with some landed resources. The Orton Longueville family emerges with Henry who held the fee in 1166. Henry had at least three sons of record but his heir was Reginald who died before 1219. His son John became the tenant and he died before 1265 leaving one son Henry as a minor. In the practice of the day Henry became a ward until he became of age, under the protection of his overlord Roger de Lovetoft, who was then able to enjoy the revenue from the manor.  However, Henry was able to advance himself through marriage to Roger’s daughter Petronilla.
Some genealogists have tried to connect these Longuevilles with the great magnate, Walter Giffard de Longueville. In the first place there is no actual evidence for this and in the second it is highly improbable that any descendants of the great man would languish in the lower ranks of knighthood. This connection appears to have originated with a book published in 1741 and may indeed have originated from the family itself in an attempt to burnish their lineage. Unfortunately more than a few amateur genealogists have repeated this error.
Exactly how and why part of the family moved from Orton to Little Billing is unknown. What we do know is that a John de Longueville acquired the Manor in 1301. He may have had land there prior to this because he gives some land in Little Billing to St John’s Hospital in Northampton. Later in 1323 he founded the Austin Friars in Northampton. He is not the John de Longueville who inherited Orton Longueville from his parents, Henry and Petronilla and who died in 1316 and he is not directly descended from Henry and Petronilla.
It is possible, and even likely, that he descended from a younger brother of Henry and therefore both Johns share a common grandparent.
In the 14th century there were three, possibly four, ways to acquire land – through inheritance, though marriage and through service. The fourth possibility, through direct purchase, cannot be totally ignored, but in this case is less likely. The Longuevilles of Orton do not at this time appear to be that wealthy. The facts that we do know is that the title to  the manor was transferred (alienated to use the terms of the time) to Sir John Longeville in 1301 and there was a so-called foot of fine to put this on record. The rather odd name comes about because these transactions were usually recorded on a single sheet of parchment, on which three copies of the deed were made – one on the left, one on the right and one at the foot. Each part of the document was cut with wavy lines so that the originals could be matched without forgery. The two parties to the agreement kept the right and left hand copy and the court retained the foot.. They are called fines because the agreement was a final concord – fine for short. Thus the court records, which are in most cases the only surviving records, became known as feet of fines.
The Manor of Billing was part of the barony of Winemar the Fleming, the same man who held Hanslope.  The descendants of Winemar, who took the name Preston, after Preston (Deanery) which they also held, appear to have run out of male heirs and in 1284 it is was in the hands of the widow Alice de Preston. What happens after that is unclear but Longueville may have come into the Manor through marriage to one in the female line of the de Prestons.
We know from record that Henry was put into wardship as a minor. He was the heir and there were estates to manage. A younger son with nothing to inherit may well have been given over to the custody of a related family and it may have been this that brought the young John to Little Billing. There will have been no need for any record, which is why we have none, but he must have acquired some wealth somehow, possibly through a will from his relative but if no feudal holdings were involved there would be no need for royal intervention and a local deed would have been sufficient. We must assume that this was lost.
The 18th century genealogy traces the later Wolverton Longuevilles from a Thomas Longueville of Little Billing. The precise relationship with the John mentioned above is not a matter of record. He could have been a son or grandson He married Beatrix Hastings and they had at least one son, Thomas. This Thomas married Isobel. And he died in 1361. They had a son John and his son, also John was the one who married Joan Hunt and thereby came into the Wolverton inheritance.
The de Wolverton line, as we have seen, produced no male heirs after the death of Ralph de Wolverton, then only a boy, in 1351. At this point the great Barony of Mainou is broken up. Chalfont St Giles and Padbury were settled on the four sisters of John de Wolverton’s first marriage and Wolverton and Wyke Hamon (Wicken) divided between Ralph’s elder sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth.
Margery married John de Hunte of Fenny Stratford, and gave birth to a daughter, Joan, who becomes important later. In the meantime, Elizabeth had married Willima de Cogenhoe
Margery outlived her first husband, then a second, Roger de Louth and a third, Richard Imworth, but not the fourth, John Hewes, who after 1393 granted his interest to John de Longueville and his wife Joan.
This is the beginning of the Longueville story in Wolverton which was to last until 1712.

The de Wolverton family

I outlined the first 6 generations from the Breton Baron who established Wolverton as the centre of his power here. This post continues the story.

The third Hamon, who probably died around 1198, had three sons who inherited the estates and the title: Hamon, d. 1211, William d. 1246, and Alan d. 1248. Alan was the first to style himself de Wolverton and he was the only one with a male heir, John, who lived to 1274.
His son, Sir John de Wolverton, succeeded to the title as a minor. He appears to have been an uncooperative character, at least as far as the crown was concerned, and from the standpoint of history his accession marks the beginning of a slow decline in the de Wolverton fortunes.
In 1284, as he was a minor and a ward of the crown, Queen Eleanor chose a bride for him. He refused to marry her. In 1297 he was required to undertake military service overseas. He declined and paid a fine. In 1328 he argued for exemption from the Assize and in 1342 it is suggested that he had not been fulfilling his service duties at Northampton Castle. He was the last of the de Wolvertons to be summoned to Parliament and it seems that the Barony died with him. He died in 1342 and his son John succeeded to the estates but not the dignity of Baron.
This John had four daughters by his first marriage and two daughters and a son, Ralph, by his second marriage. When John died in 1349 (the date would suggest death from the Bubonic Plague) Ralph was only two years old.
Ralph did not last long and died in 1351 and at this point it becomes complicated.
The Chalfont portion of the Barony appears to have been divided between the daughters of the first marriage. The lands in North Bucks, including Wolverton Manor, were divided, after the death of Ralph, between the two daughters of the second marriage, Margery and Elizabeth. Margery and married John de Hunte of Fenny Stratford and the had one daughter, Joan, who became the heir. She married John de Longueville of Little Billing and when the dust settled after the early deaths of other possible male heirs, it was John de Longueville who ended up with the Wolverton Manor in 1427. Thus the male de Wolverton line came to an end.

The Common Lands

As I have already mentioned the great part of the manor to the south was not considered suitable arable land in earlier centuries. The Greenleys area, the Ardwell Fields (from OE aeord – meaning rough), the Furzes and the Bushy Fields were given over to pasture for the cattle and pigs. After enclosure these fields were used for sheep grazing, which was highly profitable when wool was about the only substance used for textiles. 
While the open field system was still in operation this land would not have been enclosed and may have resembled a heath. 
The land enclosure took a number of years as the Longuevilles exercised their seigneurial prerogatives but it was certainly complete by 1654. At this time the Parson was given a plot of land just beyond the present cemetary, appropriately named “Parson’s piece”.
I wonder now if the development of Wolverton might not have been different if the original Engine Shed and houses had been built in Three Bush Field. The Railway Company would still have had access to the canal and Green Lane could have been improved as a good road from the Newport Road to Stony Stratford. What difference would this have made? Well, Wolverton could have been built on the less productive land and it is possible that the Radcliffe Trustees may have had less objection than they did have when Wolverton grew on its most productive land.
In 1837 however, no-one was thinking that far ahead.