Everton Manor, Humphrey Winch and Witches

Bernard O'Connor 2000

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In 1615 Everton Manor was held by William Tanfield who conveyed it by fine to Sir Humphrey Winch, one of the Justices of the King’s Bench in the reign of James I. (Feet of F. Div. Cos. Hil. 13 Jas. I) He was an important figure in the 16th century. His effigy, a marble carving of him, stands in St Mary’s Church above the pulpit. During the 16th and 17th centuries, new styles of church ornaments appeared. These included pillars, busts or kneeling figures and were often painted or covered in gold foil.


Humphrey Winch was born in 1555 at Northill, a small village between Everton and Bedford, and entered Lincoln's Inn in 1573. He was Member of Parliament for Bedford Borough from 1593 to 1606 and was knighted by James I. In 1596 he became a bencher and an Ashburnham Reader in 1598.  He married Cicely, one of the daughters of Richard Onslowe, alias Ondesloe, Queen Elizabeth I's Solicitor General.  They lived in Everton Manor from 1615 after he acquired it from William Tanfield. They had two sons, Onslowe and Humphrey and three daughters, Margaret, Heile and Dorothy. Humphrey, Margaret and Heile died in their infancy. From Sergeant-at-Law he became Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland and in 1608 Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland. According to the inscription in the church "In ye 4th year of King James anno domini 1606 was sent by him to serve in Ireland, first as chief Baron, later as Chief Justice and Counsellor of State for ye Kingdom." He was recalled to England and in 1613 was appointed as one of the Justices at King James' Court of Common Pleas at Westminster and made Counsellor of State for Ireland. Lord Francis Bacon commented that he showed ”quickness, industry and despatch.“ in his legal judgements.


On the 18th July 1616 he had nine women and girls, servants at Husbands Bosworth Hall in Leicestershire, were hanged for alleged witchcraft. The owner of the Hall, Erasmus Smith, had just died and his estate was left to his son Roger. By his first marriage Roger's first son, Edward, was reported to be "mad". The cause was said to be the female servants who were accused of bewitching him. They were said to use "familiar" spirits or "imps" in the form of a horse, dog, cat, fullemer (stoat or weasel), fish and code (toad?). When these "tormented" the 16-year old Edward he used to make the noise of the animal concerned. The nine servants were arrested and brought before Sir Humphrey Winch at Leicester Assizes. When Edward appeared he started having fits and making animal noises which startled the onlookers. On his evidence the women were found guilty, taken out and hung. Burning witches was only when they had committed the two crimes reserved in medieval times for burning - the killing of one's spouse of an act of heresy.


It is likely that they were first subjected to tests common in days of witchcraft. These included searching their bodies for marks or "teats" where their "imps" would suck. They were pricked with pins to see if they bled as witches supposedly did not. Local gossip has it that they were "swum" first in the pond which stood between Mowsley Lane and the High Street. This meant having their toes and thumbs tied together and then being tied across the back and thrown into the water. As James I wrote, "Witches float on the water by special appointment of God". There was the idea that water was pure and would not allow anything impure to sink into it. Those who sank were innocent, even though they died. Those that floated were taken away to be hung! One story has it that one of the women whilst being "swum" put a curse on those present. They ran off leaving her to drown. Victims were almost always women who people did not like. They tended to be ugly, old or deformed and it was quite common that they were convicted on fabricated evidence and false confessions.


When the King got to hear of this incident he came to Leicestershire to see Edward Smith. He found it to be a complete fabrication, odd when there was such a mania for witch-hunting and he had such a strong sense of justice and loathing of fabricated evidence. Six other women still held in prison on charges of witchcraft were ordered to be released. Justice Humphrey Winch and Sergeant Crow were reprimanded by the King for their involvement. Crow was later reported by his friend, Sir John Croke, to be "a learned and religious judge" who was somewhat "discountenanced" by the case. It was suggested that it was this reason why Roger Smith and his family left Bosworth Hall in 1617 and moved to Edmondthorpe. Edward, after his apparent illness, married and fathered two sons.


Alaister Salter, who investigated the story for his book 'Ghostly Tales and Legends of South Leicestershire', provided useful background to the case.


"The seventeenth century saw the most vicious persecution of "witches" than any other period in our history. There are many and complex reasons, but foremost is the earlier Reformation and ensuing hatred and fear of "Popery" associated with magic and superstition. (The new English church frowned upon the service of exorcism which in previous times was possibly a better way to dispel the evil spirits which existed in the imaginations of the persecutors.) We should also note the rise of the Puritans and the accession of King James I who, having had bad experiences of witchcraft, in his earlier years in Scotland wrote 'Daemonologie', almost a guide to the persecution of witches. Later, during the Civil War, the breakdown in law and order was also used by people, such as the self-styled "Witchfinder" General Matthew Hopkins, who stated that he had convicted 200 witches in Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.

Edward Smith undoubtedly suffered from epilepsy or a similar medical condition. It is surprising that his father, an educated man, did not realise this, as epilepsy was first classified by Hippocrates. So why the accusations. I would venture the following explanation.

Undeniably the Smith family was very religious and supposedly had strong Puritan leanings. Roger Smith's brother, Henry, was a prominent preacher in Elizabethan times and became rector of Husbands Bosworth when already in ill-health, dying in 1591. Erasmus Smith was also married to Margaret Cave, sister of Lord Burghley  (a member of the Cecil family, famous Elizabethan politicians) whose father was responsible for writing a defence of the persecution and execution of Catholics. In 1616 the rector of Bosworth was the Reverend Duport who was also of Puritan stock and may have had connections with Hugenot refugees who fled Catholic persecution ion France at the close of the sixteenth century. Is it then surprising that Roger Smith should be recorded on his memorial as a "Grave and Religious Man"?

For all the outward appearance of Puritan sympathies however, it seems a possibility that one of the Smith family (although in dangerous company for such beliefs) secretly supported the Catholics. To support this there are stories of priests' holes at the Hall, of Mass being celebrated during the Reformation and of the Smith family having secret Catholic connections. There is, however, no specific proof. If it were true, maybe the witchcraft accusations were made from suspicion of "magic" or "Popery" at the Hall, which Roger Smith could not refute without revealing his own beliefs and putting his family in danger. This was a period of great intrigues, such as the Gunpowder Plot - chiefly contrived in nearby Northamptonshire. Were there any other intrigues surrounding the Smith family at the time? Were any allegations or rumours kept quiet until the death of Erasmus Smith that year?


(Salter, Alaister, (1993), 'Witchcraft at Husbands Bosworth', The Harborough Historian, No. 11, pp.13-15) 1993)


 Sir Humphrey recovered from this disgrace and continued to practice "until an apoplexy siezed on him in his robes ye 4th day of February 1624 in ye 71 year of his age whereof he about 24 hours after died in Chancery Lane, London, whose corps imbalmed was brought down and buried here below." (Inscription in St. Mary's Church).


There is a masonry projection at the rear of the memorial but it is not known whether his remains are interred here. Foss's Biographical Dictionary of Judges and O’Byrne’s Representative History state that he is buried in Pembroke College cloisters. The memorial is ”of alabaster and coloured marbles, a well-designed and effective composition, having in the middle a recess containing a half-effigy in judges robes, the face keen and life-like.” (VCH Beds.vol.ii, p.228)


Before his death at Seargent’s Inn in Chancery Lane Sir Humphrey bequeathed the manor to his wife Cicely to hold as long as she remained unmarried. (P.C.C. 29 Clarke; Chan. Inq. p.m. (ser.ii),dclxxiii, 28) Dame Cicely, lived in the country home of Everton House. Whether this was the manor n Story Moats or a new house by St Mary'’ is not certain. His daughter Dorothy married George Scott of Hawkhurst, Kent. Cicely died without remarrying three years later when it passed to their son, Onslow. (P.C.C. 38 Ridley)


The last mention of the overlordship of Everton Manor was in 1626 when Sir Thomas Puckeridge held both this manor and the one in Weston. (Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser,ii) dclxxiii, p.28; VCH.Hunts. i. p.370; VCH.Beds.i. p.226) It was subsequently known as Everton Netherbury. This refers to it being on low ground when Everton Overbury refers to land on top of the ridge.


Onslow married Judith Burgoyne, the only daughter of Roger Burgoyne of Sutton. Through this marriage he obtained the leases of the hundreds of Biggleswade, Wixamtree and Willey. Like his father, he too received a knighthood and became High Sheriff of Bedfordshire. He had two children, Humphrey and Richard. They married  two sisters of the Browne family from Arlesey. Sir Samuel Browne acquired Little Barford manor when he married Mary, daughter of Francis St John. (Feet of F. Beds. Trin. 5. Geo. III; Hil. 25 Geo. III; Acts. Priv. And local, 18 Geo. III, cap. 65)


Humphrey followed the family's legal tradition. In 1660 he was given a baronetcy by Charles II and between 1661 - 79 was MP for Bedford. He was a member of the Commission of the Admiralty and in Evelyn's diary for 1668 he stated “I returned home where I found Sir Humphrey Winch who spent the day with me.“ In 1673 he was in the Commission of Trades and Plantations and Evelyn reported “I was on the Committee with Sir Humphrey Winch the chairman, to examine the laws of his Majesty's several plantations and colonies in the West Indies.“ When the new Commission of the Admiralty was formed both he and Evelyn were included. Following his acquisition of Harleyford Manor, he moved to Buckinghamshire where, between 1679 - 1681 and 1685 - 87 he was MP for Great Marlow.


When Onslow Winch died in 1652 (Feet of F. Hunts. Trin. 1652; Comm. Pleas Recov. R. Mich. 1652) the manor went to his grandson Humphrey, one of the commissioners of the Admiralty. He married Rebecca, daughter of Martin Browne, a London alderman. (G.E.C. Baronetage, iii, p.33) Humphrey already owned property in Little Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire and so, with his wife Rebecca and John Browne of Twickenham, in 1659 they sold the manor of Everton and other property in Huntingdon, Bedford and Cambridge to Philip Story for £6,000. (Close R. 1659, pt. 13, no. 38; Feet of F. Div. Cos. 1659) It was from this man that the name Story Moats and Story Farm derived. (VCH. ‘Beds.’ vol.i. pp.210, 214, 259b, 266a)


The Restoration of the monarchy saw much land change hands. There were transfers and exchanges within the manor and in 1662 what was termed Everton Netherbury seems to have had the tenancy leased to Sir John Jacob. It was still held by Philip Story in 1693. (Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), dxv, No. 28; Com. Pleas Recov. R. East. Will. and Mary; V.C.H. ‘Beds.’ vol.i. pp. 210, 214, 259b, 266a)


Sir Humphrey died without a male child in 1703. His brother Richard, also a lawyer, having entered Lincoln's Inn in 1655 aged 26, claimed his estate and, illegally, the baronetcy. He must still have been living at Everton House. When he died in 1710 his son, also called Humphrey Winch, claimed the unofficial baronetcy but when he died without an heir in 1716 the Winch family link with Everton came to an end. (Kuhlicke, F.W. 'A Bedfordshire Memorial', Bedfordshire Magazine, 19--, pp.231-2)


In the 18th century the old manor house at Story Moats, after about 500 years, must have been in a serious state of disrepair. It was abandoned a new, much more impressive residence was constructed on the hilltop beside St Mary’s Church. It was known as Everton House and is said to have been constructed in 1712.


Winch, Sir Humphrey (1554/5–1625), judge, was the second son of John Winch (d. 1582), a gentleman who owned lands at Cardington, Northill, and Everton, Bedfordshire; his mother may have been named Elizabeth. Winch matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1570, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1573 as ‘of London’, and was called to the bar in 1581. By 1589 he had married Cicely Onslow (d. by 1629), whose late father had been solicitor-general and speaker of the House of Commons. Oliver St John, later third Lord St John (d. 1618) secured Winch's appointment as deputy recorder of Bedford from about 1593, and also his return to parliament for the borough in 1593, 1597, 1601, and 1604. Winch escaped punishment following the meeting in 1593 of Peter Wentworth and other MPs in his Lincoln's Inn chamber to discuss the succession issue, an episode that doubtless taught him discretion.

Called to the bench in 1595, Winch delivered his reading on 39 Eliz. I c. 1 three years later, when he favoured William Hakewill with the reader's perquisite of a special admission. An active ruler of Lincoln's Inn, he was named as one of four moral and religious censors, or visitors, in a short-lived administrative experiment of 1600 and served as treasurer in 1605–6. Winch also played a busy role on the national stage during the first two sessions of the parliament of 1604, speaking on church reform, privileges, purveyance, and popish recusants, while reporting from and named to numerous committees. But his energies were redirected after November 1606, once his appointment as chief baron of the Irish exchequer was ruled incompatible with continued membership of the Commons.

In the abbreviated ceremony that marked his private call as serjeant shortly before leaving to join a bevy of Lincoln's Inn colleagues in Ireland, Winch named the earls of Dorset, Suffolk, and Northampton, Lord Keeper Egerton, and Chief Justice Popham as patrons. But it is not known who facilitated his preferment, which attracted little contemporary comment, other than an allusion to the knighting of ‘litle Winch’ (Letters of John Chamberlain, 1.238). In Dublin characteristic industry and zeal won him Lord Deputy Chichester's backing when he sought appointment to the chief justiceship, which became vacant in late 1608. But shortly after securing this prize Winch asked leave to return to England, where in November 1611 he was appointed a justice of common pleas.

Apart from some involvement in Irish policy issues and a brief return to Dublin with the commission that brushed off the complaints of Old English Catholics in 1613, Winch's subsequent career was routinely inconspicuous, perhaps in part because the ill health that had hastened his return to England was more than a convenient fiction. He and his circuit partner Randolph Crew, on the midland and northern assize circuits, were also ‘somewhat discountenanced’ (Letters of John Chamberlain, 2.26) when the king himself exposed as fraudulent the main evidence on which they had overseen the trial and execution of a coven of Lancashire witches in 1616, while Egerton's death later that year may have left him relatively friendless at court.

Winch's brief will, composed a year before his death, notably lacks religious wording, seeks a speedy private burial without heralds, escutcheons, or ‘many’ mourning blacks, and characterizes his estate as ‘poore’, even though it included several manors, with other lands and leases that he had bought. Richard Hutton's graphic account of the stroke that led to Winch's death at Serjeants' Inn on 4 February 1625, ‘in the 71 yeare of his age’, records him as stating that death was to his advantage. He was buried at either Pembroke College, Cambridge, or at Everton, Bedfordshire, where there is an alabaster effigy and inscription. In Hutton's own judgement his former colleague was ‘a very honest, religious and sincere man, and of great learning, and long experience’ (Diary, 55). The attribution of the reports of cases in common pleas between 1621 and 1625, published in 1657 as The Reports of Sir Humphrey Winch, has been questioned.

Wilfrid Prest


S. Healey, ‘Winch, Humphrey’, HoP, Commons [draft] · DNB · W. P. Baildon, ed., The records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn: admissions, 1 (1896) · W. P. Baildon, ed., The records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn: the black books, 1 (1897) · Baker, Serjeants · The letters of John Chamberlain, ed. N. E. McClure, 2 vols. (1939) · The diary of Sir Richard Hutton, 1614–1639, ed. W. R. Prest, SeldS, suppl. ser., 9 (1991) · C. Kenny, King's Inns and the kingdom of Ireland (1992) · will, PRO, PROB 11/145, fols. 230v–231r · CSP Ire., 1603–25 · ‘A testimonial for Mr Eaton’, c.1595, LPL, MS CM/VI/90 · VCH Bedfordshire


bust on monument, St Mary's Church, Everton, Bedfordshire

Wealth at death  

modest; cash bequests total £60 and some plate; no charitable gifts; reference to ‘poore estate’: will, PRO, PROB 11/145, fols. 230v–231r

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Oxford University Press


Wilfrid Prest, ‘Winch, Sir Humphrey (1554/5–1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29709, accessed 19 Nov 2005]

Sir Humphrey Winch (1554/5–1625): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29709




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