A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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Upper and Lower Gravenhurst, which were formerly two parishes, were united in 1888. Together they cover an area of 1,695 acres, of which 665 are arable land, 477½ permanent grass, and 136¼ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil is strong clay, with a subsoil of gault, and the chief crops are wheat, oats, barley, peas, and beans. The ground falls from the north to the south; in the north-west it reaches 272 ft. above ordnance datum, while the lowest part of the parish, 155 ft., is situated outside Lower Gravenhurst village.
The upper village is built upon irregular ground on a prominent piece of land about 200 ft. above ordnance datum, with a steep fall to the south. The church is in the middle of the village close to the point where a road running north-west from Shillington meets the village street.
With the exception of Wrest Park the country is of open character, and mostly occupied by fields of large area. There are many springs, more or less chalybeate, in the parish. The village is equidistant from the Bedford and Luton main road to the south-west, and from Shefford town to the north-east, each being about three miles away.
The manor of GREAT OR UPPER GRAVENHURST, otherwise TEWELSBURY, originated in the land held by the family of Tivill under Ramsey Abbey in Upper Gravenhurst. The overlordship continued vested in the abbey until 1266, when the abbot purchased the ownership in fee of Ralph Tivill, by which act the over- and under-lordships became merged. It so continued till the Dissolution, when the crown took the place of the abbey. (fn. 2)
Ralph de Tivill was holding land in the parish as early as 1212, when he acquired several acres from Joscelin de Stivecle. (fn. 3) He was also a tenant of the abbey of Ramsey, holding one-third of a hide from the abbey in the early part of the thirteenth century, and again in 1255; (fn. 4) this land the abbey took into its own keeping in 1264. (fn. 5) These lands were augmented by a virgate acquired by Ralph from Miles de Mentmore in 1232 at a yearly rent of a load of wheat and a load of barley. (fn. 6) In 1234 Ralph was granted a tenement in Gravenhurst by his uncle Hugh de Tivill. (fn. 7) These various lands were apparently sold under the name of the manor of Gravenhurst to the abbey of Ramsey in 1266 for 250 marks, (fn. 8) while lands held formerly by Walter de Holecot, parson, and Elena widow of Hugh de Tivill, were leased to the abbey by Ralph for ten years, or until the abbey should have received ten crops. (fn. 9)
The manor remained in the possession of the abbey until the Dissolution, when it was taken into the hands of the king. (fn. 10) The hamlet of Gravenhurst was leased out in 1318 by the abbey to Sir William de Herle and others, (fn. 11) and in 1452 the whole manor was let for £24 5s. 3½d. (fn. 12)
At the court held at the manor in the following year it was deemed that 'the water running under the Waterend from the Redie by the Mone to the Millway was the Lord's, and no one was to fish in it.' (fn. 13) In 1535 the abbey's possessions in Gravenhurst were worth £12, (fn. 14) and in 1540 the rent of the manor was £8 5s. 4d. (fn. 15) In 1542 the manor of Gravenhurst was granted by the crown to Sir Henry Grey of Wrest and his wife Ann, together with tenements called the Copyland in Gravenhurst about 18 acres in extent, in the tenure of William Maister, and the tenement called the Shrine, about 40 acres, also in the tenure of William Maister, both of which had formerly belonged to Ramsey Abbey. (fn. 16) The manor remained in the Grey family, whose descendant, Lord Lucas, holds it at the present day. (fn. 17) It followed from 1542 the same descent as that of the manor of Wrest in Silsoe in the parish of Flitton (q.v.).
Ramsey Abbey also owned in Upper Gravenhurst a capital messuage which was known after the Dissolution as the manor of SCHEPEHOO. It is first mentioned in 1212 as lying near land which belonged to Joscelin de Stivecle. (fn. 18) This family evidently held this capital messuage from the abbey, for a few years later, Walter, Joscelin's son, was holding one-third of a hide from the abbey. (fn. 19) Joscelin's widow Aline married James Wake, and on her death in 1254 her dower in Gravenhurst was inherited by Barnabas, son of Walter, who was then seventeen years old. (fn. 20) Barnabas died without leaving children, and the messuage passed to his sister Alice, who had married William le Coynte. William and Alice in 1260 bestowed 36 acres of land, 4 acres of meadow, and 26d. of rent upon the abbey of Ramsey, for which gift William and Alice and her heirs were to receive the prayers of the church. One acre of this land lay in the great culture called Schepehoobrade and pasture was also granted in the land which extended to the door of the capital messuage of Schephoo belonging to William and Alice and their heirs. (fn. 21)
Alice's mother Joan, after the death of Walter de Stivecle, had married as her second husband William le Waleis, and in 1262 William le Coynte and Alice granted to Joan, her husband, and their issue, together with other lands, one third of the messuage of Schepehoo, (fn. 22) and between 1262 and 1267 the abbey of Ramsey leased to William le Waleis and Joan those lands which it had of the gift of William le Coynte and Alice. (fn. 23) Soon after this Joan granted 6 acres of land to the abbey, (fn. 24) and there is no further mention of Schepehoo until the Dissolution, when it was granted under the name of the manor of Schepehoo to Sir Henry Grey of Wrest, when he received the manor of Upper Gravenhurst. It was held by the Greys jointly with the Manor of Upper Gravenhurst until 1613, when Henry, earl of Kent, alienated the manor to William Whitbread and William Milward as trustees for the parish of Upper Gravenhurst. (fn. 25) Since then the estate has belonged to the parish, and it is now comprised in the Town Farm Charity.
There is mention of another manor in Upper Gravenhurst, but its legal status is very problematical. In 1375 William de Risceby the elder was granted for his life a rent issuing from lands, demised in feefarm by Ramsey Abbey to William le Waleis and Joan in Great Gravenhurst, (fn. 26) and in 1377 this same William de Risceby was stated to be holding for life the manor of LAHYDE in Great Gravenhurst, which belonged to Agatha, the wife of Henry Barker of Hitchin. After the death of William this manor was to pass, according to agreement, to Gerard Braybrook and his heirs. (fn. 27) The manor, however, apparently continued in the possession of the Risceby family, for in the reign of Henry VI, John Risceby, probably a son of William, left it to his wife Alice, who had married as her second husband John Cavendish. John Cavendish bought the reversion of the manor, but notwithstanding this, the feoffees, John Meppershall, William Snowe, and others, granted the reversion of the manor to Lord Grey de Ruthyn. (fn. 28) There is no further trace of the manor, but it is likely that the Greys retained it, holding it in conjunction with their other manors, into which it was probably absorbed.
The Inclosure Act for the parishes of Upper and Lower Gravenhurst, passed in 1820, has not been printed. (fn. 29)
The church of ST. GILES has a modern chancel and north vestry with organ chamber, nave 33 ft. 10 in. by 18 ft. 2 in. with modern south porch and a west tower 10 ft. square inside. Before the late repairs there was a brick chancel and south porch of no interest. The oldest part of the church is the nave, the walls of which, together with the north doorway and voussoirs of the chancel arch, belong to the second quarter of the twelfth century. The tower is a late fifteenth-century addition, and for the rest the architectural history of the church has been obliterated, though it is probable that the walls of the nave were heightened when the present low-pitched fifteenth-century roof was put on. The modern chancel is embattled, and has tracery windows of fifteenth century design. The chancel arch is a round-headed twelfth-century arch of two orders with a single line of zigzag on the outer order, the springers being modern additions giving it a slightly stilted form. It rests on pairs of modern circular shafts with scalloped capitals replacing wooden pillars of Jacobean date, and flanked by small modern round-headed arches of two orders which throw the chancel almost entirely open to the nave. These latter take the place of squareheaded openings probably of the same date as the oaken pillars. The present arrangement is, of course, structurally sounder than the former, whose disappearance must, however, be regretted for other reasons.
The nave is lighted by windows of two cinquefoiled lights, one on the north and one on the south, of fifteenth-century style. The north doorway of the nave is blocked and is round-headed, of two square orders. The south doorway has a plain four-centred head of the fifteenth century, and opens to a modern porch.
The tower is of three stages, its embattled parapet having been rebuilt, and has belfry windows of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil over and a west window on the ground story of three trefoiled lights with tracery. At the south-east is a stair turret which projects as a half octagon from the wall and dies into it below the belfry stage, being finished with a pyramidal capping, at the base of which is an embattled moulding. The font is plain and twelve-sided, and has a twelve-sided shaft with a base of fifteenthcentury date. The roof of the nave is of low pitch with curved braces to the tie-beams resting on stone corbels, the intermediates springing from the figures of angels with outspread wings holding musical instruments. There are carved bosses at the intersections of the timbers, and traces of colour decoration are to be seen on the principals. The pews are modern imitations of former fifteenth-century seats, a little old work being used up in them, and under the tower are two ancient wooden chests. All the other wooden fittings are modern.
At the north-east angle of the nave, on the outside of the wall, is a masonry projection some 3 ft. in height, which may have been the base of the turret containing the rood stair, but there is no evidence of this within the church.
There are five bells, the treble, second and fourth bearing only the initials M.G. roughly scratched in. These may denote Miles Graye of Colchester, but are more probably the work of some lesser founder, as it is unlikely that so practised a man as 'Colchester Graye' would have produced such rough work. Each bell bears the impress of three coins. The third bell is by Richard Chandler, 1693, and the tenor by William Emerton of Wootton, 1772.
Upper Gravenhurst had no parish church, and to supply the need of the inhabitants a chantry was founded before 1189 for a priest to administer sacraments and bury the dead. Licence was granted by the archbishop of Canterbury and was confirmed by the king 'for the easement of the parishioners because they were wont to go to the parish church of Shytlington which is a mile from the said church of Gravenhirste.' (fn. 30) The first mention of the existence of the chantry occurs some time between the years 1189 and 1195 when Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, granted the tithes belonging to the chapel of Gravenhurst to Ramsey Abbey. (fn. 31) In 1369 licence was given to the inhabitants of Gravenhurst to hear mass in the chapel there, (fn. 32) and in 1535 the salary of William Smith the chaplain was 106s. 8d. (fn. 33) When the chantries were dissolved by Edward VI, it was stated that the value of the chantry of Upper Gravenhurst was 106s. 8d., all of which was expended on the priest for his salary. The ornaments and goods were worth 37s. 4d. There were two chalices, one of which, partly gilt, was worth 40s., and the other, silver white, 20s., which were then in the keeping of John Fawcett and Thomas Barker, the wardens. (fn. 34) Elsewhere it is said that the net annual value of the parochial chapel was 108s. 4d., and that the chaplain, Jerome Johnson, who was resident there, was thirty-six years old, but 'meanly learned and had no other living.' (fn. 35) There were also lands in Silsoe and Gravenhurst devoted to the use of the chantry worth 69s. 4d., and Henry Grey and Edward Daniell were the patrons and presented the incumbent. (fn. 36) The chantry, tithes and lands attached were granted by Queen Elizabeth to Theophilus and Robert Adams and to the heirs of Theophilus in 1583, (fn. 37) but a vicarage was instituted, apparently shortly after the dissolution of the chantry, as in 1605 it is stated that Trinity College, Cambridge, was the patron of this benefice, (fn. 38) to which a curate ministered. By 1786 the presentation was in the gift of the parishioners, while the great tithes still belonged to Trinity College, Cambridge. (fn. 39) At the present day the rector of Lower Gravenhurst also performs the duties of vicar of Upper Gravenhurst, and he is elected to the latter living by the parishioners.
The Town Farm is comprised in a decree made at Bedford on 9 August, 11 James I by the Commissioners appointed pursuant to the Act, 43 Elizabeth, cap. 4. The real estate consists of the manor of Schepehoo and 55 acres let at £72 16s.
Under the provisions of a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, dated 10 March, 1896, the charity was divided into the ecclesiastical branch and the general branch; two-thirds of the net rents to be appropriated exclusively to the ecclesiastical branch, and one-third of the net rents to the general branch.
The income of the general branch to be applied in repairing or maintaining any public bridge not maintainable out of the rates, or towards maintaining a public library or reading-room, or any public purpose for the benefit of the inhabitants, or (as varied by a further scheme of 22 November, 1898) in the payment of a yearly sum not exceeding £10 for the benefit of the poor generally in such manner as might be considered most conducive to the formation of provident habits.