|Stanmore: Pre-Roman - Domesday 1086||The
following chapter is an extract taken from a booklet produced by the Stanmore
Historical Society on the history of Stanmore in the Middle Ages by C.
F. Baylis. It was written almost entirely from historical notes and transcriptions
of documents and chronicles from the researches of the late Trelawny Roberts.
The manor of Stanmore was described as belonging to Robert, Earl of Mortain, who was a half-brother of William the Conqueror, a son of William's mother, Herleva, the daughter of Fulk the tanner of Falaise, by her marriage, after the death of Duke Robert, William's father, with Herlwin de Couteville. The Earl Montain was the largest landowner in England, having received nearly eight hundred manors in twenty counties. He had a large holding in Cornwall which was known as the Earldom and afterwards the Duchy of Cornwall and the appendage of the eldest son of the reigning monarch of Britain.
It is clear that, at the time of Domesday, Stanmore did not belong to St. Albans Abbey but to Robert, Earl of Mortain. This fact has proved an obstacle to some writers about Stanmore who knew the gift by King Offa, and finding that the Abbey subsequently had some interest in it they assumed that Robert of Montain was a usurper who had appropriated the manor. The Earl had no scruples about despoiling the Church but in this case he was not guilty. He was included in the list of benefactors of the Abbey, among those whose souls prayers were offered. This would not be so if he had plundered it. Another explanation has been advanced; that the then Abbot Fritheric (1064-1077) opposed the march of the Conqueror and because of this the estates of the Abbey between Barnet and London Stone were confiscated . Unfortunately for this explanation Stanmore does not lie between these places and in addition the story as told by writers is wrong. Thomas Walsingham, writing in the 14th Century, tells how the Conqueror deprived the Abbey of some of its possessions. William had expressed suprise that England had submitted so tamely to his rule and the Abbot Fritheric, seeking to make a name for himself, answered for all present. His explanation was that the former Kings of England had bestowed a great of the island on the monasteries which, if it had remained in the hands of the lay lords, would have provided the military strength necessary for resistance. The reply of the Conqueror was If the possessions taken away from the soldiers and given to you is the reason why the English have been unable to resist me it seems that in future the Danish King or anyone else will be able to wage war on me and there will be none to defend me or my realm. Therefore out of your mouth I judge you, and I begin first with you, taking back those possessions with which you so freely abound from which knights may be produced for the defence of the kingdom. On this occasion the King is said to have deprived the house of St. Alban of all domain which it had from Barnet to London, to the place commonly called London Stone.
But there is no need to resort to such a story to account for the Abbey's loss of Stanmore. Domesday gives one particular which was overlooked by these writers, that is, the name of the owner when Edward the Confessor died. It was a layman, Edmer Atule, and so St. Albans obviously lost Stanmore before the Conquest. Moreover there is a charter by William l, granted some time after 1070, which assured to the Abbey all the lands it had on the day he became King. If it had owned Stanmore in 1066 it would have owned it at Domesday.
It is not possible to state how and when the Abbey lost Stanmore. From a Saxon deed of A.D. 957 it would seem that it owned it at that time as this charter describes the boundary where Kingsbury abuts on Stanmore as a boundary of St. Albans. It is probable that in the Danish incursion that followed the massacre on St. Brice'sday, A.D. 1002, Stanmore found a new owner, for according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, under the year A.D. 1011, the Danes had overrun Middlesex and Herfordshire. Edmer Atule who was the owner when King Edward died also owned Berkhamstead.
Thomas Walsingham records that under Richard, the fifteenth Abbot (1097-1119) the vill called Stanmore with the Church was restored, which the Abbey lost unjustly by force William Earl of Mortain, Robert's son, gave Stanmore to the Abbey, the gift was formally confirmed by King Henry l. The date must have been between 1097 and 1105 because estates of William were confiscated about that time, when he took up arms with Roger de Belleme on behalf of Robert Duke of Normandy against the King. William was captured at the Battle of Tenchebrae, he was blinded and kept in prison until 1118.
Where the earliest Church was situated we do not know but there was a Church in Old Church Road which was abandoned early in the 17th Century when the Laudian brick Church, now a ruin, was first consecrated. The footings of the old Church were uncovered when the railway was being constructed in 1889 and a rough plan was made of them, the proportions show it was not a Saxon work. It had angle buttresses which suggest that it was not earlier than the 14th Century. Probably there was an earlier Church on or near the same site but it would, most likely, have been largely built of wood. In 1188, under the authority of Pope Clement lll, the Church was appropriated to provide vessels for the monks' refectory. The advowson remained with the Abbey until the Reformation.
Abbot Richard, to whom the manor was restored, granted to Serlo, the brother of Thurtin the dapifer, and his heirs the vill of Stanmore in fee farm for 60s. per annum. By failure to understand a very usual feature in mediaeval practice regarding transfer of land people have been led to believe that St Albans owned Stanmore from the beginning of the 12th Century until the Reformation. This was not so. During this period the Abbey, owned the manor for, at the most, twenty two years. Generally speaking they had regarded the transaction with Serlo as a lease. The words and his heirs prove it to be an estate of inheritance, what is popularly known as freehold. This grant in fee farm made two free hold interests in Stanmore; one a freehold rent of 1723 per annum payable in perpetuity, the other a beneficial interest in possession again a freehold belonging to Serlo. The only interest which the Abbey had in the manor was the important one of the right of escheat, that is to assume possession in the event of failure of heirs to Serlo the grantee. It could not do this because of default in payment of the rent. The only means of enforcing payment was by the ordinary procedure for collecting a dept. This happened respecting Stanmore at a later date.
Serlo had two sons, Robert and William; Robert, the elder, succeeded to the manor at some date between 1166 and 1183 which was the period of the abbacy of Simon, the nineteenth Abbot.
Simon entered into Covenant with Robert, who was known as Robert of Stanmore, concerning land and half a grove in the vill of Stanmore which held in fee farm at a rent of 60s. per annum, the same rent at which was granted to Serlo. This Covenant also contained a quit claim by the Abbot of one hide of land in Grenesburg (Buckinghamshire). The convenant was placed on record by a fine in the King's Court at Westminster. Evidently it was an exchange of land in Stanmore for land in Grenesburg.
I think we can fix the position of the land and the half a grove which the Abbot obtained by the exchange. Originally the lands of both Great Stanmore and Little Stanmore extended as far North as the trackway between Elstree and Bushey and the Great Stanmore boundary on the North-West was another trackway, now known as Heathbourne Road. The Abbot acquired that piece of land between the present boundary and the Elstree and Heathbourne Roads which, with the forty acres at the North of Little Stanmore, which he obtained by grant from Adam Bocointe, he incorporated with the land of Aldenham. The County boundary, which was not then clearly defined, eventually took the same line as the Abbey lands.
Soon after Abbot Simon had acquired the Stanmore land from Robert he granted a moiety of the grove to Gilbert of Hendon and his heirs, for a rent of 40s. per annum. This man was Gilbert fitz Gunter who, in 1150, obtained the manor of Hendon from Gervase, Abbot of Westminster.
Robert of Stanmore, Serlo's son, left an only daughter and heiress, Marzillia, who married one Robert, who also became known as Robert of Stanmore. This Robert owed 23 marks to the King and borrowed £210 from a certain converted jew named Bonevie on security of his wives manor of Stanmore and Bonevie took sesin or possession of the property as his pledge for the loan.
Robert and Marzillia had three sons, Symon, John and Ralph of whom the two elder died without issue. Ralph died leaving a son, William, who was a minor, and three daughters - Lucy, Matilda and Felicia. William's guardian, Henry Bocointe of Little Stanmore,claimed Stanmore on his ward's behalf and then the trouble began. A Richard de la Grave, apparently a descendant of Serlo through William, his younger son, claimed the property on the ground that Ralph was not legally married and that William and his sisters were therefore illegitimate. This was denied but St. Alban's Abbey put in their claim because a failure of heirs would mean an escheat. The Abbey took up the position that while you are fighting as to who is the legal heir we hold the stakes, that is the manor. This they were entitled to do as lords paramount. It would seem that the contest started during the Abbacy of William, the 22nd Abbot who died in 1235. He appears to have entered into an agreement on the subject with Robert of Watford, Dean of St. Paul's and as this man was not dean until 1227 the Abbey's seizure of Stanmore must have been between 1227 and 1235. William claimed to be grandson and heir of Robert and Marzillia died before any trial, leaving a widow Alice but apparently no children.
Whether Ralph was legally married or not the Abbey decided to acquire the various interests.
Willam having left no children his sisters became his heirs or coparcenors. Lucy died before the trial of the law-suit. William's widow Alice who was entitled to a dower of a third interest in his estate for her life married a man named John Ros. She and her husband conveyed their interest in Stanmore to St. Albans in 1246. William's two surviving sisters similarly conveyed their interest to the Abbey; this is evidenced by fines levied in 1245. The Abbey also obtained a release from Alisius, the son of the second Robert of Stanmore, though what interest he could have had is obscure as he must have been the son of a wife other than Marzillia; his father, had he been alive, would have been entitled to half the estate for life by what was known as the curtesy of England. Possibly the Abbey asked for this release to prevent Alisius saying later that he was the son of Robert and Marzillia and invoking another law-suit.
The Abbot, having obtained these releases, put the deeds away safely to be brought forward in the future if required.
John, the 23rd Abbot, having recovered Stanmore, built a manor house and a windmill in the manor. The manor house was in Old Church Lane near the site of the former Church, and even now it is possible to trace the remains of the moat. Richard, a succeeding Abbot, let the manor on lease to Master John Clarel who later became Rector of Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire, and was dead before 1300. The lease did not last until his death. During the time of Abbot Richard, Alisius who had released all his claims on the manor during earlier litigation revived proceedings against the Abbey and as the Abbot could not find the various releases and deeds obtained during the previous litigation judgment went against the Abbey and they lost the manor of Stanmore. Although these documents were found after the trial it was then too late. Thomas Walsingham, quite frankly, accuses the Abbot of negligence.
Richard de la Grave now reasserted his claim to be the heir but did not press it very strongly and finally by a quit-claim released all his rights in the manor to the Abbey. Now a certain Robert Alis comes on the scene as a claimant to the manor. His name suggests that he was the son of Alisius and his heir to the manor which he had secured in the King's Court owing to the loss of the documents by the Abbot. In 1279 the interest of Robert Alis, whatever it may have been, was disposed of by an agreement that Edward the goldsmith and his heirs were to hold the manor, paying to the Abbey 15 marks per annum during Clarel's life and afterwards 10 marks per annum, the difference being probably a form of comenstion for Clarel.
The Abbey now reverted to the old position of owning merely a freehold rent while Edward the goldsmith held the freehold of the manor. The Abbey had been in legal possession, at the longest, from 1245 to 1279, from which the time that Clarel had been in possession must be deducted; so a maximum time that St. Alban's Abbey could have had possession after the Norman Conquest was 22 years, at most in the 12th Century and a possible 34 years in the 13th Century but it is most improbable that they held it for the whole of this 56 years.
Edward the goldsmith, who was also known as Edward of Westminster, only kept the manor for about 12 years and in 1292 transferred it to Walter of St. Edmunds.
In 1307 there was further trouble; the Abbot could not get his rent, which was four years in arrear. At that time John de Shorne and his wife Isabella, had become the owners. The Abbot seized their cattle and the ultimate result was that the Abbot got his money and John was committed to prison. The value of the manor was found to be at this time £212 18s 4d. per annum. In 1349 we find that Walter de Shorne, the son of John and Isabella, was in possession, he was also known as Walter of Stanmore.
After a succession of different owners, in January, 1362, Royal Licence in Mortain was granted to the Prior and Convent of St. Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, to acquire from the King's Clerk, David de Walloure, the reversion of the manor of Stanmore, sixty seven acres of land, 6 acres 1r. of meadow and 4 shillings 1 and 3 quarters pennys of rent in Harrow, expectant on the demise of Maud, the widow of Simon Franceys.
Three years earlier
the Prior had obtained a similar licence to acquire 200 acres of land,
15 acres of meadow, 4 acres of pasture, 61 acres of wood, 18 acres of heath
and 11s. 4d. rent in Hendon and Great Stanmore. This was the Stanmore granted
to Gilbert of Hendon in the 12th Century and the land in Hendon was the
manor of Renters. The manor of Great Stanmore remained in the possession
of St. Batholomew's Priory until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by
King Henry Vlll in 1536.