THE MANOR OF CANONS OR TETWORTH
Bernard O'Connor 2000
The Victoria County History for Huntingdonshire states that this manor originated in lands in Tetworth and Woodbury held of the manor of Weston in Hertfordshire and by the prior of St John of Jerusalem who had a preceptory at Shingay in Cambridgeshire. Lands in Tetworth were granted in about 1150 to the monastery of Sawtry by Henry de Constentin, his son Geoffrey and grandson Elias. (Harl. Chart. (B.M.) 83 . 2-9, 33-36) The grant was confirmed by Richard de Humet, Constable of England, with the assent of his wife Agnes and son and heir William. (Ibid. 83 B. 34-36) At about the same time John, son of Roger Hori, gave land in Tetworth and Gamlingay to the monastery. The latter grant was witnessed by Gilbert ‘Miles de Tetteworthe’. (Ibid. 83 B. 33; Ibid. 83 A. 45, 51)
Sir Hugh de Babington was Lord of Woodbury Manor in 1279 and he leased his 115 acres to nineteen free tenants. These free tenants were allowed to rent plots of land from other landowners and sublet their plots to others. (Brown, (1989), Gamlingay, p.2)The estate passed via Richard Babington, Hugh, John to William Babington who was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas between 1423 and 1426. It was still part of the manor of Weston when his son, William, died in 1475. It then passed to his wife Elizabeth and son and heir John. It was described as a manor of Canons in Huntingdonshire held by the Duke of Norfolk as part of of his manor of Weston-by-Baldock. (Chan. Inq. p.m. 14 Edw. IV, no. 4) It is thought that a house stood on the site of Old Woodbury (O.S. 213528) which is now a renovated medieval farmhouse. Earthworks and house platforms can be seen on the field immediately below it. When John died childless in 1501 it passed to his sister, Audrey Delves. (Fowler, E.J. (1935), ‘The History of Gamlingay and Neighbourhood’, Fowler Bros. Gamlingay, p. 9)
It passed to her daughter Ellen who married Sir Robert Sheffield, described by James Brown, the Gamlingay historian, as “colourful if ultimately unfortunate.” In 1487 he fought alongside Henry VII at the Battle of Stoke against Lambert Simnel, the pretender to the throne. Very likely a troop of Gamlingay men fought alongside him. It was the custom of the Lord of the Manor to call his tenants to fight when the King called for his barons to raise troops. To show his appreciation for his assistance, the King rewarded him with a knighthood. He became a Member of Parliament and by 1512 was Speaker of the House of Commons.
Three years later, he successfully persuaded the young King Henry VIII that the Roman Catholic Archbishops of Canterbury and York were a threat to his powers. In what was called the Richard Hunne affair, the king took Sheffield’s advice, and affirmed his royal authority over the clergy. It was part of a softening up process that led eventually to Henry breaking the English church’s link with the Vatican in Rome. Cardinal Wolsey saw Sheffield as a threat and found a way to have him arrested and put into the Tower of London. Although the king could have ordered his release, Sir Robert Sheffield died in prison. Brown stated that
In all honesty, I don’t think that many Gamlingay folk gave two hoots what happened to him: Sheffield was not a popular man. He had been in charge of Woodbury for a long time, in fact f not in title, and was responsible for its enclosure in 1492/3, when he threw out a dozen families, caused two ploughs to become redundant and made over the arable land to grass. As usual the reason was money. Grazing a flock of sheep brought in more money than arable land.
(Brown, op.cit. pp.104-5)
Aerial photographs of the southern edge of Woodbury Park, just north of St Mary’s Church in Everton, show the pattern of an ancient trackway and rectangular house platforms. It is very likely that this deserted medieval village was the result of Sheffield’s enclosure.
By 1515 the manor of Canons with the manor of Tetworth had been confirmed to Sir Robert Sheffield by his son and heir Robert. They appointed Thomas Sheffield and others as attorneys to deliver seisin. (Close R. 7 Hen. VIII, no. 7) At the Dissolution of Sawtrey Monastery their rents in Tetworth were £6. 13s. 4d and in Everton 15s. (Valor. Eccles. (Rec. Comm) iv, pp.265-6) In 1534 Sir Robert Sheffield died seised of a messuage of lands in Woodbury called Canons, held of the prior of St John of Jerusalem. He also owned other land in Woodbury held of the manor of Weston granted to him by Henry VIII with the dissolution of Sawtrey. The Canons were in the occupation of Thomas Cooper. (Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii), lvi, 96) Tetworth was not referred to in the inquisition then taken. There were a number of claimants to the estate but eventually it went to Sir Robert’s son, Edmund Sheffield, who was later given the title Lord Sheffield.
In 1538 Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, held other lands on lease in Canons, part of the Sawtery possessions, when he received licence to alienate his manors and lands in Tetworth and Everton and elsewhere to John Burgoyne of Sutton and his son and heir, Thomas Cromwell. (L. And P. Hen. VIII, xiii, (i) g. 384 (9).) Other land in Tetworth was held with the preceptory of Shringay, both of which were granted in 1540 to Sir Richard Longe. (L. And P. Hen. VIII, xv. g. 613 (1)) The estate passed to Edmund’s son in 1549 and then to his grandson, who sold it in 1591 to John Manchell of Hackney. (Complete Peerage; C.P. 25(2)/94/855; Brown, op.cit. pp.37, 104-5)
In 1591, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Edmund, Lord Sheffield, sold the Woodbury estate to John Machell, a Justice of the Peace in Middlesex. Machell came from a wealthy London cloth merchant family that lived at Sutton House, Hackney. John's purchase of this extensive and expensive estate of 1,800-acre Woodbury Manor estate stretched him financially. He couldn't raise the money to pay for it. In his attempt to raise the capital he had to mortgage Sutton House and another estate that he owned at Hinxton, near Duxford, to Sir James Deane. (C3/318/37; C3/368/3) Deane was an East India Company man and a money lender. As he was not able to repay the loan with its interest by the agreed time Deane was deprived of access to Woodbury and had to go into hiding. However, it was claimed by Deane that a party of Machell's followers, led by his second wife, Ursula, and their son John, armed with swords and halberds, returned to Woodbury. They entered the property from the rear and seized it from Deane's men.
Deane took Machel to court. In the Quarter Sessions there is an account of a fight in the fields of Woodbury between the headstrong William Machell and others of his father's party and some of Deane's supporters involving the use of pikestaffs and poles. One of the group also had a rapier but he claimed not to have used it. Witnesses corroborated Machel's claim that, in 1599, in the company of the under-sheriff of Cambridgeshire and armed with a writ of liberate, Deane seized the manor house. He forcibly ejected Ursula and her servants who had taken refuge in some of the upper rooms. Although the precise outcome of the case is not known Deane seems to have prevailed and Ursula moved down to their other property, Sutton House. (PRO Kew, STAC8/1/127/11 (Star Chamber) Gray, M. (1998), 'Sutton House, - The Cambridge Connection' draft in author's possession. Correspondence with Mike Gray, Anglesey Abbey)
In 1606 Machel was committed for six years to the King's Bench prison in Southwark, as a debtor. After his release in 1612, he returned to Woodbury where he lived until his eighties. When he died in 1625 he was “worn out with care and grief for his losses”. Documents show that he was lord of ‘The manor or Grange of Cannones in Huntingdonshire’ of Weston next Baldock. (Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii) ccccxlv, 15) Following his death in 1628, his grandson and heir, also called John Machell, sold the estate sometime before 1640 to Sir John Jacob of Bromley, Middlesex, who already had interests in Gamlingay. (C142/445/15; B.M. Add. MS. 5823, f.154; C5/54/126) He was one of the farmers of the Customs and founded the (Gamlingay) Almshouses. It is said that he was responsible for the construction of Old Woodbury on the site of the old manor house. In 1635 it was said to be “lately built as a very pretty gentleman-like house”. (PRO Kew, STAC8/1/127/11 (Star Chamber) Gray, M. (1998), 'Sutton House, - The Cambridge Connection' draft in author's possession. Correspondence with Mike Gray, Anglesey Abbey, 1998)
Maybe Sir John sold land to Richard Cooper as he was recorded in 1625 purchasing tenements in Tetworth farmed by Henry Foster. Richard, a yeoman of Tetworth, died in 1631 in Huntingdon seised of messuages in Tetworth held of Onslow Winch as of his manor of Everton late Tanfields, of closes in Tetworth held of the manor of Weston and of a cottage etc. in Tetworth. The latter were held by the King after the Priory of St Neots had been dissolved and sold to William Wollascott. Richard left a grandson and heir, Robert. (Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii) ccccxlv, 92; dccxxxvi, 126)
Valley Farm, a medieval farmhouse at the foot of the hill below Tetworth Hall is said to have been built about 1650 on the site of huge stone circles in part of Canon's Manor. (O.S. 216534) A significant moat system lies around it, fed by nearby springs. There used to be a medieval village there but the cottages were burnt down. Nearby Low Farm was also an ancient site. There were three groves of oak trees behind it and the present oaks are their descendants. (Author’s conversation with Dickie Dodds, St. Neots)
At the time of the Civil War, King Charles I needed large sums of money to finance his war effort. He called on his courtiers to help and Sir John Jacob, a royalist supporter, lent him very large sums. To do so he mortgaged Woodbury to Robert Jacob. (C5/54/126) After Charles' defeat at Newbury the king was unable to repay his loans. His son, Charles II, when he came to the throne, did not repay them either which may well explain why Sir Jacob deserted his house at Woodbury. Yet, surprisingly, he still had enough funds to build ten almshouses and a chapel in Gamlingay in 1665 (Fowler, E.J., op.cit.p.3)
“Sir John Jacob was described by those who saw him as a good-looking man of medium size, with a deep chest and thick beard. Large sums of money were advanced to Charles the I by the landed gentry, whose loyalty caused several estates to be sold, amongst the broad acres so sacrificed being Woodbury Hall.”
(Fowler,E.J. op.cit. p.9)
In appreciation of his contribution to the royalists, he was made a baronet the same year but died in 1666. His son John inherited the title and the estate. Two years later he made an exchange of lands in the manor with Walter Cary of Everton
“by which lands in Everton and Gamlinghay in the occupation of Walter Cary were conveyed to Sir John Jacob, with lands belonging to the manor of Everton Biggin which had lately been taken by Walter Cary with the consent of Sir John Jacob in lieu of pasture rights in the manors of Everton Netherbury and Everton Biggin; Walter Cary evidently holding Everton Biggin and Sir John Jacob Everton Netherbury.”
(VCH. ‘Hunts.’ p.371; Pat. R. 27 Chas. II, pt. 6, no. 1)
The financial arrangements were complicated. In Brown’s Gamlingay, he details a document dated 1672 which states that the ‘mantion house’, farms, and land were all leased for £506 10s. 0d. a year, with a further £124 coming from ‘several houses & land in and about Gamlingay towne, lett to severall townes men, I thinke… There is a parke, well stored with deare, whereof the land and timber is worth about £3,300, but is seazed uppon by one Hancock, a Creditor of Sir John Jacobs, & I know not who hath power to sell it, but it lyes within two or three fliteshots of the mantion house…’ (C.U.L. Doc.1437; Quoted in Brown, op.cit. pp.157-8) It was said that ‘if troubles were not upon the land’ the manor could be let for £600 a year. ‘A little before Christmas last year Sir John Jacob was offered for it £10,000… but the stoppage in the Exchequer [state bankruptcy] hindered the purchasers proceedings.‘
Shortly after being rented out, Sir John managed to sell the estate to William Mainstone, a merchant in the East India Company (MSS. Of H.L. N.S. xix, p.346; Lysons, Cambs. p.200). It then passed to his nephew, John Mainstone, who, because of the estate’s heavy debts, sold part of it in 1696 to Ralph Lane, a Turkey merchant, whose wife also benefited the Gamlingay Almshouses.. (C.R.O. R56/5/38-400) Woodbury was purchased by Sir Thomas Wolstenholme and other trustees, who, in 1674, conveyed the property to Mr. M. Mainstone. He married the daughter of Sir Thomas Jones, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. When he died in 1683 an epitaph to his memory was erected in Gamlingay Church. It is said that the estate was divided by the end of the century. Ralph Lane died without a male heir so it passed into his eldest daughter’s possession and through her to her husband, George, the Earl of Macclesfield, in 1746. (see Woodbury Hall)
In 1675, unable to pay the proportion of the sum owed by his father for the lease of the Customs, Sir John had the rest of the manor seised by the Crown. It was purchased by William Manston and William Wogan, a sergeant–at-law. In 1688 Wogan married Sir John Jacob’s widow, the daughter and co-heir of Sir John Ashburnham. (G.E.C. Baronetage, iv, 3) The manor was conveyed in trust for them under their directions of 1675 to Sir Denny Ashburnham, of Broomham, in Sussex. There was “a view of frankpledge, court baron and all other rights in the occupation of Sir John Jacob, the chief messuage and divers closes being in the occupation of John Bury”. (VCH. ‘Hunts.’ p. 371; Pat. R. 27 Chas. II, pt. 6, no. 1)
The manor was then returned to the Storys as Philip and Allen Story were dealing with it in 1693. (Recov. R. East. 5 Will. & Mary, ro.164) From then on it seems that Everton Netherbury was absorbed into the sub-manors of Everton Mosbury and Everton Biggin. These manors were held together by Walter Cary and his wife Annabella in 1690. (Ibid. 2 Will & Mary ro. 38, 40 (Everton Biggin); and ro. 39 (Everton Mosbury) In 1713 Cary and his son, also called Walter, sold them with common of pasture and free warren in Everton to William Astell, a director of the South Sea Company of London. (Close R. 12 Anne, pt. 9, no. 8; Recov. R. Trin. Anne, 10. 164; Feet of F. Div. Cos. Hil. 13 Anne; Visit. Beds. (Harl. Soc.), pp.204, 212) William also obtained a lease of the rectory from Clare Hall that was conveyed by the Carys. (VCH. ‘Hunts, i. p.268)
The exact location of the manor house is uncertain. It most likely was on the moated site by Valley Farm (O.S. 218533). It may have been on the site of Green Man Farm (O.S. 225530) at the northern end of the parish of Tetworth. In the mid-17th century it consisted of two tenements and 200 years later was described as “in an almost ruinous condition.” It consisted of a main block with wings at each end and had additions in the 18th century. The lower storey is brick and the upper is timber frame with plaster. Like Tetworth Hall it has a tiled roof. (VCH, Hunts. p.370)