The “Manor” of Chicksand Priory

The Chicksand Priory at Dunstable was founded around 1150 during that high energy period when there was a rush to establish monastic settlements by the second and thrid generation families of the Norman conquerors. Chicksand was the project of Roais, wife of Payn de Beauchamp, Baron of Bedford and former wife of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex. Thus there was plenty of money behind Chicksand and it was well endowed from the first, unlike Bradwell Priory, founded at about the same time, which started and continued with meagre resources. It is reckoned that Chicksand may have supported as many as 100 monks and nuns in the early years of the 13th century.

Its connection with Wolverton was that at some time in the 12th or 13th century it acquired some land in Wolverton, which it subsequently referred to as its manor of Wolverton. There are no records in the Wolverton documents aout its purchase or subsequent sale, nor do we know how much land it acquired  or its precise location. There are some deeds from the late 13th century which make reference to parcels of land next to the land of the Prior of Chekesande or abutting the land of the Prior of Chekesong and both of these are de le Est, meaning in the east of the manor. One might guess that this was in the region of Stonebridge House Farm, but we would not get any more precise than that. It could equally be in the Bancroft area.

The Priory of Chicksands overreached itself. They acquired too much property and too many debts and in 1325 they had to forfeit the Wolverton land to a “merchant of Genoa” as part payment of their debts – which were huge. It is not known what the merchant of Genoa did withthe land. He must have sold it quickly because had he kept it for some time it might well have acquired a name associated with him. It is likely that it was sold back to the de Wolvertons. Later 14th century documents were still referring to it as the land of thePrior of Chekesond.

Further information about Chicksand Priory can be found here.

The suicidal demonstration of John Harries

Henry VI was arguably England’s most incompetent king, although he was not alone in that category. He was born in 1421 and succeeded to the throne as an infant after his father’s untimely death in 1422. During his minority the kingdom was competently governed by his uncle John, Duke of bedford and his great uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester. Once he attained his majority the government of the country began to slip away from the centre. Foreign policy was a disaster and the legacy of his father was entirely undone. At home, there were serious grumblings about the men around the king who were unfairly enriching themselves at the expense of others; in many instances the law was being subverted.

Henry seems to have been incapable of making consistent decisions and it later became apparent that he did not have the mental capacity to grapple with complex issues. Eventually his mind went altogether, but by the time people around him realised this the damage had been done and the country was in a state of civil war. 15th century men and women had difficulty in imagining that their king could be questioned, so even when he made decisions which were plainly barmy, the men around him, by and large, shrugged their shoulders and tried to make the best of it. Even after he had plainly lost his mind there were people who chose to believe that he had become a holy man. This was a myth that persisted until the 20th century.

By 1450 the people of England had become fed up. The French dominions had been lost, taxation was arbitrary, and the economy was in a poor state. Rebellion erupted in Kent and Essex in a mirror of the Peasants’ revolt of 1381, except that these rebels were largely landowners and merchants. It was, in the end, the respectability of these rebels that made them desist from attacking the king and the rebellion was quieted with assurances that new advisors would be appointed to key posts in the king’s household. Henry had failed to show much leadership during this revolt. While the rebellion was at its peak he scampered off to the safety of Kenilworth castle and left his lieutenants to handle the problem. When it appeared safe he returned to London on the 28th July. However, indications of further unrest prompted him to make his way north again in September. This brought him on the road through Stony Stratford and to the event I will describe, but first a brief word about Richard, Duke of York.

Richard of York could claim descent from Lionel Duke of Clarence, the older brother of John, Duke of Lancaster, whose eldest son Henry became Henry IV. It was this connection which gave rise to the later Yorkist claim that their line of descent held precedence. In 1450 this was not argued, but it was increasingly apparent to many that Richard, who had proved himself a competent general and leader, would make a better king than his cousin.

John Harries certainly believed this and while the king was processing down the street of Stony Stratford he jumped out in front of the king waving a flail and enacted a charade to show the king how Richard of York would get rid of all the evil counsellors surrounding the king. Harries was either out of his mind or so consumed with rage at the thought of the constant misgovernance of England that he could not control himself. Possibly a mixture of both. He was quickly arrested and hanged as a traitor.

Curiously, Harries is described as a sailor and it is somewhat odd to find him this far inland. With a name like Harries he could have been a Wolverton or Stony Stratford native, but also he could have come from anywhere.

The incident at Stony Stratford was a demonstration of the huge problems that Henry’s government should have been facing up to. John Harries was a lonely demonstrator but he most likely expressed the rage and exasperation that many people felt. The aftermath was Civil War, known to history as The Wars of the Roses.

Origins of the Cock Inn

I came upon this in a Stony Stratford website referring to possible origins of the Cock Hotel.

Around that same time, (14th century) the Cok or Coccus family was strong in the town and it is thought that the Cock Hotel may have its origins with the family name.

Or, if there is an association, the family name may have its origins in the Cock Inn. It is true that there are men and women with this name who appear in 13th and 14th century deeds. They variously bear the name Cocus, Coccus, Cok, le Cok and le Cooc. Could there be a connection? Is this a basis to date the Cock Inn earlier than the 16th century?

There are two things to say first: spelling was by no means as precise as it became in the age of print, and at the time that some names were written down surnames were only just beginning to emerge, and even there you could not find the hereditary consistency you might find today. William the Miller, for example, might have a son named John, who was later known as John of Cosgrove because he was born there.

The other problem is that these documents were written in a mixture of Latin, French and English, and it was really only in the 14th century that English words began to appear on official documents. Hitherto they had been mostly Latin with a mixture of French. The first uses of Cocus or Coccus are attempts to Latinize the name; later, French intrudes. We can put two interpretations on these surnames: they could either mean Cook or Cock.

Let’s look at some transcripts of the surviving deeds:

The first group come from the lordship of William, son of Hamon, and can only be dated between 1214 and 1247 (the period that William was the lord) since the deeds themselves carry no dates. I have only included those parts which relate to those named Cocus or le Cok.

Deed 50 1214-47

William son of Hamon grants and confirms to Robert son of Hugh Cocus of Wluerinton, and after him to Matilda, & Emma, one 1/2 virgate of land which Hugh. father of Robert held, with a messuage which Hugh held at the same time.

Rent, 18 pence p.a. paid in 2 installments, at Lady Day and Michelmas.

Saving foreign service to the king.

If Matilda or Emma should die without lawful heirs the 1/2 virgate is to revert to William.

Deed 47 1214-47

Also 6 half acres of land in Wlrenton abutting on Watlingstrate between the land of Dom William son of Hamo and the land of Adam Coc

Deed 477 1214-47

Witness Richard Cocus of Wolverthon

Deed 655 1252

John son of Alan of Wolverton agrees with Richard son of John of Wolverton and his wfe Agnes, John grants (and here follows a list of properties with rents due – among them 3s on John Cocus’s)

Deed 66 1245-65

Richard Cocus witness

Deed 68 1255-68

Richard Cocus witness

Deed 60 c 1300

Richard Cocus witness 

One deed identifies a 1/2 virgate (about 15 acres) used by Hugh Cocus and granted by William to his son Robert for customary use. Some payment would be made to the lord, although this is not mentioned here. Payment would be understood as by this date most of these land transactions had moved beyond direct military service to the lord; however, foreign service to the king is still a liability for the tenant. A later deed, describing another transaction, does incidentally mention that the land of Adam Cocus is on Watling Street. The relationship between Adam and Robert is not known. At the time of the first deed Robert has two daughters only. Did he have a son at a later date? Or is Adam a brother or cousin? Or indeed, was Adam a son of either Emma or Matilda who took the surname Coc? (If so this might be an argument for associating the name with the property, but we have no way of knowing.) Somewhat later Richard Cocus appears as a witness on some other deeds. The only thing we can infer from this is that Richard was an important enough figure to be a part of the courts where these transactions took place.

From this very slender evidence we can make the following inferences. The Cocus family was important enough in the 13th century for their land transactions to be documented. Some part of their land abutted Watling Street. That’s about all we can say with certainty. There is a clear relationship between Hugh and Robert, but not between those two and Adam, Richard and John.

Henry Cok, witnessing the deed below and another of the same period, was possibly a serving priest at a chapel that pre-dated St Mary Magdalen, although there is no way of corroborating this. This does support the idea that the family were well connected in the district.

Deed 242  c1270-97

Witness Henry Cok, clerk

Another set of deeds survive from the early 14th century. The Latinised version of the name has gone, and if it is the same family, it is now Cok or le Cok or some variant.

Deed 78 1304

Quitclaim with warranty

Nicholas Cok, son and heir of William Cok of Stonistratford releases to Robert de Hyntes of the same his claim on one acre of the meadow due Est of Wolverton above Heeforlong which is called Fourtyrodes. Of this, Robert has 2 parts by release from Nicholas and a third part Robert had by release from Agnes, widow of William Cok as dower.

Services due to chief lords of fee

Deed 130 c 1320 

Grant with Warranty

Richard de Houghton of Stonistratford grants and confirms to Biclas de Ardena and Dionysia his wife, 8 acres land in Wolverton; 2 acres are together at Depedene next land of Andrew le Cooc  (and) of Geoffrey Hasteng; 2 acres abutt against Richard’s headland next (unreadable); 1 acre called le Heydacre against which the aforesaid 2 acres abutt.

This set of documents does show us that the Cok family had land in Stony Stratford. This is also a period when Stony Stratford is beginning to emerge as a place separate from Wolverton; hence William Cok is identified as “of Stony Stratford.” Although this deed refers to an acre in the east of Wolverton, the Coks clearly have their roots on the west side of the manor.

Deed 93 21st March 1331

Witness John le Cok

Deed 481 24th December 1331


Isable le Cok, widow of Thomas le Megre of Wolverton releases to Henry son of Anketil of Stoni Stratford junior all claims in 2 1/2 acres in Le Est field of Wolverton, which she obtained from her husnband as in the deed of feoffment of 5 Edward II

Deed 90 Tuesday after Michelmas

Grant with warranty

John Auncell of Wolvertone grants and confirms to Thomas Oxe of the same and Agnes his wife 1 messuage with curtilage in Wolvertone and 2 selions adjoining next those of John le Cok. The messuage is between that of the grantors and that of John le Cok in le Est ende of Wolverton.

And these documents from 1331 again refer to some land in the east end of Wolverton.

On the basis of these scraps of evidence we can reasonably conclude that there was a family of this name of some prominence in Wolverton and most probably at the Stony Stratford end. Since they held land with some service attached it is also reasonable to say that the men were from a class of people who could, if pressed, do military service, or, better still, buy their way out of it. So it is likely that they enjoyed higher status than the average peasant.

There is an Alric the Cook who was granted Steeple Claydon by William I, then assessed at 20 hides, equivalent to Wolverton. There was also a Gilbert the Cook who held land from William in Northamptonshire. These were men of status, not men who stirred the broth in cauldrons, but men who organized and oversaw the kitchens. So the name Cook, often written as Cok, is one of the older surnames and not necessarily ascribed to mean kitchen workers.

This is not to say that the name was passed on from generation to generation. Sometimes they were – Butler and Chamberlain are good examples of this, but the practice was not universal. It is really not until the 13th century that some surnames begin to take root and not until the 14th century that they were required.

It is quite possible that the name originated locally. Hugh Cocus, or even his father, may have been the cook, that is the man who supervised the kitchens for the Baron of Wolverton. In return for this service he was granted some land to support himself and his family. The Coks or Cooks may have sprung from these origins.

The suggestion that the name derives from the Cock Inn is plausible but equally difficult to substantiate. There is a man called Bules and le Bole (Bull) around in the 13th century and there is no evidence one way or another that he took his surname from the Bull Inn – if indeed it existed. It may be that the Cok family, with land abutting Watling Street, were in a position to exploit their location by building an inn or tavern and since they were a family of some status it is possible that their prosperity came from such income. It may well be that they called their inn the Cock and took their name from that, although I would be more convinced if the name were de Cok rather than le Cok.

The problem with both words is that they were both rendered in Middle English in the same way. Cock is latinized as coccus in most  documents. Equally Cook is rendered in popular latin as cocus. So there is really no way for us to distinguish between the two after seven or eight centuries.

Another observation to make is that Cook is a very common surname and that Cock is extremely rare. There were only 729 people with the surname Cock in he last census – an imperceptible number. Not that this proves anything much but even if there were only this one Stony Stratford family bearing the name in 1300, one would expect many more after 30 generations. But there again, names do die out, or they get changed or modified. For example, the family who became the first earls of Southampton, changed their name from Writh to the rather more complex Wriothesley. Neither name today has survived as a surname.

The conclusion is that there is some linguistic evidence to make the connection between the Cock Inn and the family Cok, but no solid documentary evidence. We have two facts: there has been a Cock Inn in Stony Stratford for several centuries and there was a family named Cock or Cook living in the area in the 13th and 14th centuries. They may or may not have owned a hostelry, but it could have easily been called the Horseshoe or the Three Swans as The Cock. The apparent similarity of the names is not evidence of association.

Documentary evidence of the existence of the Cock Inn start to make their appearance in Chancery documents from 1500 to 1515, according to William Page in the VCH. I have not looked at these documents, but they would probably relate to taxes, which Henry VII was addicted to raising by any means.

The next piece of early documentary evidence is frankly controversial, and seems to stem from a footnote in George Lipscomb’s History of Buckinghamshire, published in 1847.  He wrote: “Mr. Serjeant Piggott willed in 1529, the the Town of Stoney Stratford should have his Inn there, called The Cock, towards the sustenation and reparation of the Bridges.” (p.367)  This information is re-presented and expanded upon by Sir Frank Markham in his History of Stony Stratford, but without any caveats. William Page, however, in the Victoria County History, does point out that there is no mention of The Cock or any bequest in Thomas Piggott’s actual will, and concludes that there may have been a separate deed, now perhaps lost.
All of these conclusions may be correct, but these historians have arrived at these conclusions by inference rather than by evidence. Thomas Piggott did marry into the Edy family, who owned The Malletts and a fair amount of land abutting the Watling Street. It is a fair assumption that this included The Cock Inn, but their ownership is not documented.

Once again we have some scraps of factual evidence that may or may not be related and a lot of inferences that have been drawn from this to create a picture, which may or may not be reasonably accurate. Such are the pitfalls of history.

Archaeology will probably help us, when and if the work can be done. Dendrochronological analysis on timbers in the building can give us an earlier date, and deeper excavations across Stony Stratford may unearth some medieval foundations

A Medieval Break

I am working on the medieval history of Wolverton Manor and had planned to publish a series of posts based upon what little information we have. However I have to check at least one fact from an original document and this will mean a trip to Oxford. So for the present this work is on hold. This may not matter very much. When I publish a post on ancient times I notice a large cyberyawn as viewing figures plummet.
The next series will race ahead some centuries to the purchase of the manor by Dr John Radcliffe.