Royal links and gentlemen farmers in Lincolnshire

A short time ago I was asked to research the history of this striking 17th century house in Lincolnshire. Despite being tucked away in a quiet village in rural Lincolnshire, this house has a number of connections to prominent historic figures and events, including two wives of King Henry VIII and the Putney Debates during the Civil War.

St Benedicts Priory
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk by Hans Holbein, 1539

The house is situated on the historic site of the former 12th century Benedictine priory, established in 1139, as part of Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire. However, in 1539, it suffered the same fate as the Abbey and was reclaimed under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1540, the lands and buildings were given to Tudor politician, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was also the uncle of two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

However, by the early 17th century, the manor of Deeping St James was in the hands of the Wymondsold family and it was at this time that a new house, first known as Priory farmhouse, was constructed using original stonework from the demolished 12th century priory buildings. The Wymonsold family, also of Putney (now south west London) and Berkshire, are believed to have been responsible for building the priory farmhouse. Several 17th century deeds confirm the Wymondsold ownership of the manor of Deeping St James, ‘late called the cell of Thorney otherwise called the late priory of Deeping St James’, which included the priory farmhouse.

General Thomas Fairfax by Robert Walker

William Wymondsold was High Sheriff of Putney at a pivotal moment in history, during the Civil War, and at the time of the Putney Debates, held at St Mary’s Church in Putney in 1647. The Debates were held between members of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, including Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and Sir Thomas Fairfax, and other politicians and soldiers to discuss the future of England and pivotal constitutional questions, including the rights of men and freedom of speech. At this time, it has been recorded that the Parliamentary Commander Sir Thomas Fairfax, was billeted at the home of William Wymondsold (the largest house in Putney – formerly located on the site of Putney train station).

After the Restoration of the Monarchy, several members of the Wymondsold family were noted Royalists and were favoured by a succession of monarchs. Charles II was said to have favoured Sir Dawes Wymondsold, and during the 1660s and 1670s William Wymondsold was recorded as a ‘Royal Ayd unto the King’ (‘Ayd’ being in the form of finance), and in 1684, King James II knighted Robert Wymondsold.

Meanwhile, life was continuing at the Priory Farmhouse in Deeping St James. By the early 18th century, the manor of Deeping St James had passed to the Whichcote family. They were a prominent local family, who were later based in Aswarby Hall near Sleaford (now demolished). By 1776, the manor was held by Sir Christopher Whichcote, and a surviving rent receipt reveals the occupant of the priory farmhouse was Mr John Pawlett.

Rent receipt for Priory Farm – 1776

Rent books and further records reveal John Pawlett was living at Priory Farmhouse, while farming over 400 acres of surrounding land. John Pawlett was also actively involved in the local community and was recorded as an acting vestryman (early council member) and was an overseer of the poor, responsible for distributing poor relief to those in need within the parish. John’s son, also named John, followed his father at Priory Farmhouse, and also in his involvement in community affairs and later, during the 1840s, he became chief constable of Deeping St James.

The Pawlett family continued at the Priory Farmhouse throughout the 19th century, when it was recorded with several names, including ‘Priory House’ and ‘The Priory’. The 1851 census reveals John Pawlett, junior, with his wife Elizabeth, living at ‘Priory House’ and John was farming ‘250 acres and employing 6 labourers outdoors’ and in addition, their son, Edmund, was also farming ‘400 acres and employing 15 labourers outdoors’. The family also had three live-in servants.

1851 census – Priory House

Edmund Pawlett followed his father at Priory House and by the time of the 1871 census he was farming 800 acres and employing 20 men and seven boys. Edmund Pawlett did not marry and the 1881 census shows he was still living at ‘The Priory’, 66 years old, and by this time he was farming and enormous area of ‘2900 acres and employing 40 men and boys’.

1881 census – The Priory

Like his father and grandfather before him, Edmund Pawlett played a key role in the life of the local community and, along with providing employment for many local men, he was involved in the formation of the school board in 1876, on which he continued to serve into the 1880s. Edmund passed away in 1885 and for the first time in over 100 years the house became the home of a different family and it passed to farmer, Richard Ward.

Ordnance Survey map – 1886

Richard Ward and his son, Albert, continued to farm at ‘The Priory’ through to the early 20th century, but by the 1920s the impact of the First World War, along with changes in the ownership of the farm and house, brought about several changes. By the 1950s it had passed through several owners and, in 1959, it  was sold again and became the home of Mrs Doris Hall. Mrs Hall continued at the Priory Farmhouse for almost 30 years and in 1987 she sold it to the Rickard family. By this time, the 17th century house was in much need of care and attention. The Rickard family set about restoring and renovating the house and its many historic features.

Now known as St Benedicts Priory, the Grade II* listed house has seen many alterations and changes, but it still retains a number of original features, including a dogleg staircase with turned balusters, as well as an original studded door, and moulded stone mullion windows. It also has a few features that give a glimpse of the former history and the association with the Benedictine priory.





The Chantry – over 500 years in Devonshire

I am often asked – what is the oldest house you’ve ever researched? – and along with some amazing cottages in Somerset, I think back to this extraordinary 15th century Grade I listed home in Devonshire. The Chantry, built c.1490, is situated in the quiet village of Combe Raleigh, but has former links to royal physicians, as well as the family of Lady Jane Grey, and the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector during the reign of young Edward VI.

The Chantry (image courtesy of Humberts)
The Chantry (image courtesy of Humberts)

Tracing the history of a house back 500 years is always going to have its challenges, but it has been established that a chantry was first founded at Combe Raleigh during the mid 15th century. A chantry was an endowment established for a priest or priests to celebrate specific masses or ‘chants’ for the soul of the founder to ease the founders journey to heaven (paying your way for a shortcut to heaven). It was a little later, in 1498, that a perpetual chantry was established at Combe Raleigh by the lord of the manor, John Bonville (connected to the Grey family and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for 9 days) and it was at this time that this house was provided for the chanter priest.

Combe Raleigh and the Chantry House, Ordnance Survey map, 1905
Combe Raleigh and the Chantry House, Ordnance Survey map, 1905
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset

Records reveal that during the 1520s and 30s The Chantry was the home of priest, John Adams, but a few years later everything was about to change. The Chantry survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, but a short time later, in 1547, during the reign of the young King Edward VI, The Chantry Act dissolved the chantries and all their associated practices.

After the dissolution of the chantries, the lands and property attached to The Chantry in Combe Raleigh were granted to someone rather close to the young king – his uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. He was the elder brother of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, and in 1547-49 he served as Lord Protector during King Edward VI’s minority. However, soon afterwards Seymour was granted the property he passed it to Sir Thomas Pomeroy.

Scan from book_edited-1Meanwhile, after the change from a religious house, The Chantry had become a gentleman’s residence. Later in the 16th century it was purchased by John Peter Esq., who, in 1603, sold it to Hugh Crossinge, a merchant of Exeter. But, by the late 17th century it was in the hands of Benedictus Marwood, a grocer of Exeter, whose ancestors had been royal physicians to Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, and also King Charles I.

The property in Combe Raleigh, along with The Chantry, passed through generations of the Marwood family through the 18th century until it was in the hands of James Thomas Benedictus Marwood in the 1780s. A map of ‘The Estates of the parishes of Beer & Seaton, Honiton & Combrawley [sic]…belonging to James Thomas Benedictus Marwood, 1783″ is retained in the Devonshire County Record Office and shows an extensive estate, including The Chantry.

By the late 18th century the occupiers of The Chantry had become local farmers, with tax records revealing it was the home of Joan Saunders who was paying an annual land tax of 12 shillings. Joan continued in the house through to the early 1800s, but by 1806 it was the home of another woman, Susan Sydenham, and by 1808 it was the home of Samuel Dimond.

Plan of Combrawley, 1783
Plan of Combrawley, 1783

Later in life James Thomas Benedictus Marwood was recorded as a ‘lunatic’ and after his death (without children) in 1811 his estates passed to his sisters, with Mary Marwood inheriting the Combe Raleigh property. Mary married Reverend George Notley and the estate later passed to their son, James Thomas Benedictus Notley. By this time, in the 1830s, The Chantry was the home of the Pring family, and by the time of the 1841 census it was the home of 30 year old Daniel Pring, an agricultural labourer, along with 70 year old, Mary Pring.

The Chantry (source English Heritage)
The Chantry (source English Heritage)

Throughout the 19th century the former priest house was the home of farming and labouring families. The image to the right shows The Chantry during the 1890s by which time it appeared as a rather run-down farmhouse.

In the early 1900s the house was home to the Carnell family, with Richard Carnell and his son Jesse working as bricklayers, along with Richard’s wife, Emma, and their three daughters, all laundresses.

However, the 20th century brought about some significant changes as by the 1930s new owners added a new wing, which included new bathrooms, as well as replacing the thatch with tiles, and it was the beginning of a new life for the house as a comfortable family home.

One of the most significant elements of The Chantry is the survival of so many historic features. With very few changes or renovations made to the house  over the centuries it retains extraordinary historic features, contributing to its status as Grade I listed. This includes a newell staircase, described as a ‘remarkable staircase of heart of oak’, along with a garderobe at the rear and original door frames, timbers, and fireplaces. The hall features intersecting moulded beams with carved bosses, as well as ‘plank and muntin’ screen. The roof has been described as ‘an outstanding survival’ featuring three arch braced trusses along with many other details, including moulded braces and purlins. The house also features a traditional bread oven, and although more recent the 1930s bathroom fittings are also a notable feature.

The hall (image courtesy of Humberts)
The hall (image courtesy of Humberts)

This sweeping history of The Chantry only gives a glimpse of this extraordinary home and I’m sure there are many more stories to discover by delving into the history of a house that has stood in this quiet village for over 500 years!