A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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Sundon is a parish with an area of 2,150 acres, of which 1,456½ acres are arable land, 517¾ acres permanent grass, and 56 acres woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The parish is situated on high land, sloping from north to south; the highest point reached is 533 ft., the lowest 438 ft. above the ordnance datum. It is wooded in the north-east; in the north are old chalk pits, and in the west cement and lime works. The village, consisting of Sundon and the hamlet of Upper Sundon, is in the centre of the parish. Main roads from Bedford and Luton run through the parish from north to south, and from east to south-west.
The church of St. Mary is at some distance to the west of the vicarage, and between them lies a farm with a picturesque red-brick pigeon-house, rectangular in plan, and a large pond round which the road makes a slight curve, south of the village.
The following place-names have been found in this parish:— Borewellehull, Saleworthemed, Schepecocwyk, in the fourteenth century; (fn. 2) Westbyes in the sixteenth; (fn. 3) Colliers Hill, the Possessioning Acre, Butter Path, Cane Hill Furlong, Deadman's Coome, Haven Coome, Badger's Coome, Joan's Furlong, Catts Knapp, Bullington, in the eighteenth; (fn. 4) and Fern Hill Wood, Holt Wood, Leyhill Lince in the twentieth century. (fn. 5)
There is only one entry in the Domesday Survey concerning Sundon. William d'Eu held SUNDON MANOR, which was assessed at 10 hides, and was held of the king in chief. Until its alienation to the Badlesmeres it was thus held, but afterwards owed certain nominal services to the earls marshal, to whose fee it had formerly belonged. In an inquisition taken in 1328, Bartholomew de Badlesmere was declared to hold it by service of a pair of gilt spurs yearly. (fn. 6) Ten years later his son Giles held of the same fee by service of a halfpenny, (fn. 7) and it was thus held in 1367 and 1372 by John de Tiptot and his son Robert respectively. (fn. 8) An inquisition, bearing date 1498, states that John Scrope of Bolton held this manor of the abbot of St. Albans, but no reason has been found to justify his claim, though the abbot owned a manor in the neighbouring parish of Luton. (fn. 9) The last reference found to the overlordship occurs in 1613, when Sundon manor was held of the king in free common socage by fealty. (fn. 10)
From William d'Eu this manor passed with his other Bedfordshire property (fn. 11) into the possession of the Earl Marshal, and formed part of the marriage portion of Isabel, daughter of William Marshal earl of Pembroke, who on the death of her first husband Gilbert de Clare in 1230, married Richard, brother of Henry III, and king of Germany. The latter held it in right of his wife for upwards of forty years, (fn. 12) during which time the men of Sundon paid toll to Dunstable Priory, but on his death in 1270 the manor passed to Isabel's son by her first marriage, Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and from that time the prior complained that, owing to his own weakness and the strength of the earl, the men of Sundon withdrew from paying toll. (fn. 13)
Richard de Clare died in 1262, and his son Gilbert alienated Sundon manor to his cousin Bartholomew de Badlesmere, who had married Margaret daughter of Thomas Clare, a younger son of Richard de Clare. (fn. 14) This alienation was accomplished without royal licence before 1314, in which year Bartholomew obtained pardon for the omission. (fn. 15) He was concerned in the rebellion of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1322, when Sundon manor escheated to the crown, and was granted by the king in the same year to his niece Eleanor wife of Hugh le Despenser. (fn. 16) Bartholomew de Badlesmere, however, obtained a general pardon in 1327 with a restoration of his lands, (fn. 17) and Sundon manor in consequence reverted to his possession, and was held by him at his death in 1328. (fn. 18)
Giles de Badlesmere, who was under age, succeeded his father, (fn. 19) but died in 1338, leaving three sisters as co-heiresses, (fn. 20) one of whom, Margaret wife of John Tiptot, acquired the manor of Sundon. (fn. 21)
John Tiptot held the manor in right of his wife till 1367, when he was succeeded by their son Robert, (fn. 22) who at his death in 1372 left three daughters, Margaret aged six, Millicent four, and Elizabeth two years. (fn. 23) Richard le Scrope of Bolton obtained the custody of Sundon manor and the wardship of these co-heiresses in 1373, (fn. 24) and in 1385 Margaret Tiptot married his son Roger le Scrope. (fn. 25) The manor thus acquired by the Scropes remained in their family for nearly 200 years, the succession being maintained in an unbroken line from father to son during that time. (fn. 26)
In 1565 Henry Lord Scrope alienated this manor to Richard Tyrrell (fn. 27) in whose family it remained until Edward Tyrrell, probably a son, transferred it to Thomas Cheyne. (fn. 28) He held Sundon till his death in 1613, when he was followed by a son Thomas. (fn. 29) The latter died in 1632 leaving a son Thomas as heir, (fn. 30) and Sundon manor remained in the Cheyne family until 1716, when Thomas Cheyne, a grandson of the last-named Thomas, sold it to William Clayton, (fn. 31) who afterwards became Lord Sundon. He died childless in 1752, and the property was inherited by his four cousins, daughters of John Clayton—Anne Humphrey (who afterwards married as her second husband Tomkinson Cooper), Elizabeth Cole, Francis Hale, and Margaret Clayton (subsequently married to James Smythe).
The manor was conveyed for purposes of trusteeship by these four co-heiresses to William Bateson in 1753, and again in 1768 to James Dansie, preliminary to a sale which took place in the same year, when Archibald Buchanan acquired the Sundon estates for £26,000. (fn. 32) Archibald Buchanan, who died about 1772, left a sister Jane, wife of Sir John Riddell, as heiress to the Sundon estates. Her son Sir John Buchanan Riddell in 1803 sold Sundon to Mr. Cuthbert, from whom it was purchased in 1813 by the executors of the late Sir Gregory Osborn Page-Turner. (fn. 33) Sir Edward Page-Turner, grandson of the above, by his will dated 21 June, 1873, settled this estate upon the eldest son of his eldest sister Fanny Maria Blaydes. Mr. Blaydes, who assumed the name of Page-Turner by royal licence, holds the manor at the present day. (fn. 34)
Notley Priory, Buckinghamshire, which was founded by Walter Giffard, earl of Buckingham, about 1162, appears to have acquired land in Sundon, for at the Dissolution their rents there were estimated at 40s. (fn. 35) This property known as NOTLEY GRANGE was granted in 1547 to Henry Lee, (fn. 36) and by 1639 had passed to William, who in that year died seised of a capital messuage or farm called Notley Grange, in Sundon, held of Sir Thomas Cheyne (at that time lord of Sundon manor) by fealty, suit of court, and a yearly rent, (fn. 37) and in 1655 John Ordway conveyed it by fine to John King. (fn. 38) Further reference has been found to this grange in an abstract of deeds in the possession of Mr. F. A Page-Turner. The farmhouse or manor, as it is there called, then comprised one close of meadow of two acres, and two plots of land of 140 acres in all. In 1688 John King enfeoffed his grandson Abraham Saunders of this property, and the same year Abraham, on the occasion of his marriage with Jane Pigott, granted her an annuity from the revenues of Notley Grange. Abraham Saunders sold the grange in 1700 to Obadiah Lord, who, ten years later, again sold it for £600 to George Urlin. In 1719 it was purchased from George Urlin by Thomas Pierson for £800. In his will dated 1744 the latter left all his messuages, tenements, and hereditaments in Upper Sundon to Hugh Cook, and, he having died previously, one Richard Ashwell became entitled to the premises. (fn. 39) No further mention has been found of the estate.
In 1315 Bartholomew de Badlesmere received a charter of free warren in the manor of Sundon, (fn. 40) to which also belonged the right to hold a view of frankpledge, a court leet, and a court baron. (fn. 41)
There is no early mention of a mill in Sundon, but in 1712 the manor included a windmill amongst its appurtenances. (fn. 42) Sundon was a market town in the fourteenth century, for Bartholomew de Badlesmere obtained a grant in 1315 of a market every Friday at Sundon manor, and also a three-days' fair on the feast of the Annunciation, (fn. 43) but beyond the grant no further mention has been found of these privileges, which appear to have fallen early into disuse.
The church of OUR LADY is, with the exception of its chancel, a very perfect and well-designed example of the second quarter of the fourteenth century. It has a nave with aisles of four bays with a western tower standing on three open arches over the western bay, a south transept equal in width to the first bay of the nave, a modern south porch, and an octagonal stairturret at the south-west angle of the tower, and within the west end of the south aisle. The chancel dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, and is slightly wider than the nave, having probably been built round a narrow chancel that was older than the nave. An external weathering which runs along the east face of the north aisle is continued to within a short distance of the north respond of the chancel arch, appearing inside the chancel. If this marks the line of the wall of the older chancel, it would show that the nave was set out without regard to its width, and in the expectation that it would eventually be rebuilt on a larger scale. Its north and south walls must have been cut away to allow the responds of the arch to complete themselves, and so remained till their destruction to make room for the present chancel.
The chancel has a three-light east window between two canopied nichos for images, a two-light window at the south-east, and a single trefoiled low side window at the north-west. At the south-west is another single-light window whose jambs have been carried down to the floor level, probably to allow for a low side window here also. East of this window is a plain south doorway, and at the south-east of the chancel is a piscina with a shelf, and at the north-east a locker. The chancel arch is of the same detail as the nave arcades, with engaged shafts in the responds, moulded capitals and bases, and an arch of two wave-moulded orders. The proportions of the nave arcade are unusually fine and lofty, and the piers in the western bay are made of larger diameter and have an extra order in the arch to carry the tower walls. Each pier of the arcade is steadied by a flying buttress to the aisle wall, which, however, does not in every case coincide with the external buttress, and the piers are in consequence somewhat out of the perpendicular. The north wall of the north aisle is an interesting example of mediaeval methods in this respect. Its buttresses are accurately spaced with regard to its external elevation, and take no account of the points where the flying arches from the north arcade abut, although their obvious function should be to take the thrusts at these points.
The three north windows in the north aisle are of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in the head, and the single window on the south side of the south aisle is of a similar type but wider. In the transept are three-light windows with net tracery on the east and south, but the east window of the north aisle is altogether of a different kind. Its jambs are of the same simple section as those of the other nave windows, but its head is filled with a very beautiful piece of geometrical tracery much more carefully moulded and having a quatrefoiled circle in the head with foliate cusps and in the main lights pierced trefoils over trefoiled arches. It is probably one of those rather rare examples of a ready-made window bought, perhaps, in London, where workmen more skilful than those to be had locally were employed, and sent down to the country to be fitted to locally-made jambs. The style of the 'ready-made' tracery is some thirty years earlier than that of the other windows, which would be very likely to be the case if the manufacturer had a considerable stock of such things at his workshop. It is interesting to note that many of the dripstones to the labels in the nave are unfinished or left in the rough as if the work had never been brought to completion, and the upper story of the tower is also of a later date than the lower parts, a fact which strengthens the inference. The north and south doorways of the nave are plain fourteenthcentury work with continuous mouldings, and above the arcades are small square clearstory windows inclosing quatrefoils, also of fourteenthcentury date. There are three on each side of the nave, but two of the six are blocked up. At the west end of the nave under the tower is a large three-light window with net tracery of rather coarse detail, and beneath it is a wide blocked fifteenth-century doorway. There are stone benches along the north wall of the north aisle and along part of the south wall of the south aisle.
In the south transept is a contemporary trefoiled piscina, and on either side of its east window canopied niches of the same date and design as those in the chancel. In the second stage of the tower, which is reached by the circular stair at the south-west, are arched openings on the north and west which have never been filled with stone tracery, but are more adapted to wooden doors or hinged shutters. That on the north is now blocked with masonry. There are no definite signs here, as at Barton in the Clay, that this part of the tower has been used as a dwelling-room, but it is not improbable that such has been the case.
The woodwork in the church is of several dates, the nave roof being modern while that of the south transept is apparently mediaeval. At the chancel arch is a fifteenth-century screen with solid lower panels in which eyeholes have been cut, and in the nave are half a dozen seventeenth-century pews and a good many of the eighteenth. In the chancel is an exceedingly fine fourteenth-century oak chest, its front carved with a pattern of flowing quatrefoils while its rails and the uprights at cither end have bands of shallow diaper ornament. The work may possibly be English, but it is more likely that this is one of the Flanders chests often referred to in mediaeval documents. The font stands in the third bay of the north arcade and has an octagonal Purbeck marble bowl on a central and flanking column, the latter being modern. On each face of the bowl are two pointed arches in low relief, and the font belongs to a common late twelfthcentury type. On the west jamb of the low side window on the north of the chancel is what appears to be a sun-dial, but the position is an impossible one, and the stone must either have been moved from the south side of the church or the dial has some other purpose.
In the tower is a single bell by a fifteenth-century London founder. It is inscribed 'Ave Maria' in gothic capitals and as a stop between the words has one of the royal heads common on a certain class of bell, in this case the head is that usually called Eleanor of Castile.
There is no mention of Sundon Church in the Survey, but the Lincoln Episcopal Registers show that from its foundation, in 1145, Markyate Priory owned the rectory and advowson. (fn. 44) The priory owned lands and rents here of the value of 16s. in 1291, (fn. 45) and in 1402 received a confirmation of their right of presentation. (fn. 46) At the Dissolution the advowson and rectory (which was worth £16 13s. 4d. (fn. 47)) became crown property, and were granted in 1546 to William Byrche, (fn. 48) a groom of the chamber and clerk of the exchequer of gentlemen pensioners.
The Byrches held both until 1590, when Henry Byrche sold them for £1,000 to Thomas Cheyne, lord of Sundon manor, and they have since followed the same descent as the manor (q.v.), (fn. 49) Mr. PageTurner being the patron at the present day. Sundon has a Wesleyan and a Baptist chapel.
Poor and church lands. The parish formerly received the rents of two parcels of land lying contiguous to each other at the north end of a close called the Stocking Close, containing respectively 1½ acres and 1 acre, which apparently became merged in the adjoining property, and nothing has been received for many years.