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Woodbury manor is a roughly rectangular estate stretching from the Roman Road on the clay soils of the Ivel valley, up the scarp slope of the Greensand Ridge to the sandy heath lands on top of the ridge. The manor of Canons or Tetworth lay to the north, Everton manor to the south and Gamlingay manor to the east. The Victoria County History for Cambridgeshire provided information on the origin of the manor of Woodbury or Westhorpe. It originated in a grant made by King Stephen’s wife, Queen Maud, between 1136 and 1147 to Gervase of Cornhill. It was security for a loan that was unredeemed. (D.L. 10/22; Round, J. H. Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp.120-1) Gervase’s son, Henry, married Alice de Courcy, and following his death by 1193, the property descended to Joan, his granddaughter who was married to Hugh de Neville of Essex.  It remained in the Neville family’s posession until 1358 when, before he died, John de Neville granted the estate in to a group of ‘feoffes’, the medieval term for trustees. It was described as worth three knight’s fees. In other words, the King expected three knights to provide him with military service whenever he called for their help in times of war. (C.P. 25(1)/288/46 no. 570; Essex Feet of Fines, 1327-1433, pp.126-7; Morant, Hist. Essex, ii. p.515; Sanders, I. J. Eng. Baronies, pp.143-4; Complete Peerage, ix. pp.479-86)


The descent was then obscure. The VCH suggests John Neville’s feoffes gave the estate to an unnamed woman, the granddaughter of William de Bohun, the earl of Northampton (d.1360). She married Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk, after his first wife died and, when he died in 1399, it remained part of his manor of Weston in Hertfordshire until John Mowbray’s death in 1474. (C140/48/4; Morant, Hist. Essex, ii. p.515) Woodbury manor continued to be held by the lords of Weston until at least 1628. (C142/445/15; V.C.H. Herts. iii, p.515)


The Nevilles were absentee landlords, renting out Woodbury manor to tenants from the nobility. By 1236 it was occupied by Gilbert, son of Thomas, the grandson of Sir Gilbert of Ilketshall in Suffolk. (Bk of Fees, i, p.485; Blomefield, Hist of Norfolk, ix. pp.403-4, x. p.141) Gilbert was still holding the manor in 1248 when he was granted free warren, the right to all the rabbits on his demesne. (Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 329) By 1265, his son James had inherited the tenancy. He supported Simon de Montfort’s opposition to Henry III taking away the barons’ privileges they had gained through the Magna Carta. After the King’s forces were defeated at Lewes in 1264 Simon de Montfort summoned a parliament which included not only barons but knights, clergymen and two citizens of every borough of England. Maybe James or his father were there as in 1265 the King’s forces defeated de Montfort’s supporters at Evesham and Woodbury manor was briefly confiscated. (Cal. Inq. Misc. i. P.194; Rot. Selecti. i. (Rec. Com.) 247) James got it back but, in 1279 sold the 275 acre ( 112.24 ha.) estate to Sir High Babington. (Rot. Hund. (rec.Com), ii. pp.534-4) Hugh died in 1296, the estate passing to his son Richard who held it in about 1302 and 1316 at half a knight’s fee.  (Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, pp.375-6; Feud. Aids, i. pp.149,157) Following Richard’s death in 1326 it passed to his son Hugh Babington, but, possibly as he was too young, it was occupied in 1352 by Sir John Morice, the lord of Everton Manor. (Cal. Close, 1323-7, 449; Caius Coll. Libr. MS. 498/267; Feud. Aids, i.169; E.D.R. (1893), p.136; V.C.H.Hunts. ii. p.372) By 1377 it had come to John Babington, said in 1421 to have been the son of William, the son of Hugh Babington. (Cal. Close, 1377-81, pp.39-40; Wrottesley, Pedigrees from Pleas Rolls, p.310 The Babington pedigree in Visit. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. V.), pp.145-7, gives John a different ancestry.) The tenancy then passed to his son, Sir William Babington, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas between 1423 and 1436. He died in 1454 leaving Woodbury to his second son, William. (Cal.Inq. Misc. v. p.96; E.D.R. (1897), 117;Feud. Aids. i. 174, 188; vi. 408; Foss, Judges of Eng .iv. pp.283-5)


The younger William’s son and heir Sir John Babington, died without children in 1501, leaving his sister Audrey Delves as his heir. When she died, the Babington estates which then included the manor of Canons in Tetworth, passed to their daughter Ellen. She married Sir Robert Sheffield, speaker of the House of Lords in 1512. (Cal. Fine R. 1485-1509, p.305; Cal. Inq. p.m. Henry VII, ii, p.573; D.N.B. s.s. Sheffield: Sheffield was apparently dealing with land in the manor as early as 1492-3: Trans. R.H.S. N.S. viii, p.303 ) When he died in 1518, Sheffield’s son, also Sir Robert, added to the estate by acquiring a 99-year lease of 240 acres of Woodbury belonging to Sawtry Abbey. This is thought to be Shakledon Manor, the land between White Wood and Gamlingay. (C 142/56/108) When he died intestate, without leaving a will, in 1531, Woodbury passed to his widow, Margaret, who married John Caundish. In 1534 it passed to Sir Robert’s heir, Edmund, who died two years after being created Lord Sheffield in 1549. (Complete Peerage) At the Dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII granted the Sawtry property to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell.


By 1672 the Woodbury estate had been divided into fourteen units. The two largest were Great Farm held by Thomas Luke for £45 and Great Dairy held by John Thornley for £100 but not all units could be let. It included houses and closes in Gamlingay as well as a well-stocked and timbered deer park. The park was valued at £3,300 and the underwood at £50. (C.U.L. Doc. 1437)



For further information see the Manor of Canons or Tetworth


Also see Woodbury Hall


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