A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Yelden is a parish of 1,950 acres, of which 834¾ are arable land, 1,052 permanent grass and 32¼ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil is strong clay; the chief crops are wheat, barley, beans and peas. The village, which is scattered, is in a valley almost surrounded by high ground. The cottages are situated principally on the road to Newton Bromswold, and are with few exceptions old and thatched. The church is well placed on high ground in the west of the village. Opposite is the rectory, an old house with tiled roof, dating partly from the 17th century, and containing some good 18th-century oak panelling.
Brick-making is carried on in the parish. Roman coins and pottery have been found in Yelden, and also building stones, possibly indicating the site of a villa. (fn. 2)
CASTLE, BARONY AND MANOR
Though YELDEN CASTLE is usually assigned as the head of the Trailly barony, Yelden itself was not held in chief. Before tracing the descent of the Trailly family it will be convenient to discuss in what precisely their 'barony' consisted. In the 12th century the Traillys owned property in Bedfordshire which came to them from two different sources; on the one hand as descendants of Geoffrey de Trailly, the Domesday tenant of the Bishop of Coutances in Yelden, and on the other by the marriage of Geoffrey de Trailly with Albreda second sister and co-heir of Walter Espec, baron of Warden. (fn. 3) It is to this inter-marriage that the Trailly claim to a barony is to be ascribed, as an examination of various documents dealing with their property proves.
In 1086, besides Yelden Manor, Geoffrey de Trailly held a nameless 4-hide manor which has been satisfactorily identified with Chellington. (fn. 4) These manors, like other lands belonging to the Bishop of Coutances, were later attached to the honour of Gloucester, and were so held by the mesne lords certainly till the 17th century. (fn. 5) Between the years 1201 and 1212 Walter de Trailly is returned as holding four knights' fees of the honour of Gloucester (fn. 6) (representing the Coutances fee) and two knights' fees of the honour of Warden (fn. 7) (representing Albreda's portion). The next evidence obtainable is that of the Testa de Nevill some forty years later. The entry concerning the 'baronia de Trailly' (here so-called for the first time) is confused and misleading. It is said to include nine fees, (fn. 8) whose names with those of their respective holders then follow. The fees were distributed among the parishes of Yelden (1 fee), Chellington-with-Hinwick (1 fee), Roxton (1½ fees), Turvey (1 fee), Ludgershall (1 fee), Holcote and Biddenham (2 fees), Northill (1 fee), and Southill (½ fee). Of these, the Yelden, Chellington, Turvey and Ludgershall fees (fn. 9) had formed part of the Bishop of Coutances' lands at Domesday, whilst Hinwick, Holcote, Biddenham, Northill, Southill and Roxton had been attached to Walter Espec's lands (fn. 10); that is to say, of the nine fees given under this 'baronia' five and a half can be traced to the honour of Warden. Now all these fees are stated to be held of the honour of Gloucester, which statement is itself a contradiction in terms. The Coutances property did, as shown above, become part of the honour, and with one exception the Warden fees are subsequently found attached to it, the Traillys appearing as intermediary lords between the tenants and the honour. This exception is Northill, the only part of the Warden barony which was held by the Traillys in demesne, and which at the time of the Testa was held by William de la Zouche in right of his wife Maud widow of John de Trailly. Northill is invariably held in chief, (fn. 11) and in 1272 on the death of John de Trailly is expressly stated to be held of the king in chief by barony, whilst Yelden, Chellington and other places following immediately after are said to be attached to the honour of Gloucester. (fn. 12) It is Northill then, formerly part of Warden barony, which gives the clue to the origin of this barony of Trailly, which appears never to have been a barony in the technical sense, for the de Traillys seem neither to have received summons as barons, nor ever to have claimed such summons as their right. Yelden Castle formerly stood on the south bank of the Til in the east of the parish, where considerable earthworks probably dating back to British times are still to be traced. (fn. 13) There is no direct evidence that the castle was of masonry, though the Lysons state that 'beyond the moat appear traces of walls for a considerable space.' (fn. 14) The inquisition of 1361 which they quote makes no mention of the castle as such, but merely says that 'the site of the manor is in ruins' and worth nothing. (fn. 15)
It now remains to trace the descent of the family of Trailly with which runs that of YELDEN MANOR. Geoffrey de Trailly, the first of his name, was probably a native of Trelly, a few miles south of Coutances, and came over to England in the bishop's train after the Conquest. His predecessor in the manor, which he held at the time of the Survey in 1086, was Borred. (fn. 16) Geoffrey de Trailly was succeeded by one of the same name. He or a later Geoffrey married Albreda sister of Walter Espec, (fn. 17) and in 1157–8 paid 100 marks into the Exchequer for livery of his wife's lands. (fn. 18) He is returned for four knights' fees held of the honour of Gloucester in 1166, (fn. 19) and in 1175–6 paid 50 marks into the Exchequer, part of a fine of 100 marks for infringement of the forest laws. (fn. 20) In 1185 Mary de Trailly, described as the widow of Geoffrey, together with her son Walter, a minor, was in the guardianship of the king for the manor of Northill. (fn. 21) In 1210 Walter de Trailly paid 2 marks as a knight of Flanders (fn. 22) and died before 1220, in which year Gilbert Earl of Gloucester paid 100 marks to have the custody of his heir John. (fn. 23) John de Trailly's name occurs in a suit with the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem in 1225. (fn. 24) His death occurred about the year 1251; his son John was then a minor, (fn. 25) but in 1257, when an inquisition was made of his father's lands, John's age is given as twenty-three. (fn. 26) Walter son of John de Trailly succeeded his father in 1272, when within a few months of attaining his majority. (fn. 27) Though Yelden was attached to the honour of Gloucester, an attempt was nevertheless made to get the wardship of Walter for his lands in Yelden into the hands of the king. (fn. 28)
Walter de Trailly with three 'servientes' performed knight service for Northill and Southill in the expeditions of 1277 and 1282 against Llewellyn. (fn. 29) In 1289 Eleanor de Trailly, described as his widow, was allowed peaceful seisin of Yelden Manor as part of her dower, (fn. 30) and owed knight service for it in 1302. (fn. 31) John son of Walter and Eleanor de Trailly died seised of the manor in 1304, leaving an infant son and heir Walter, (fn. 32) who was still a minor in 1319. (fn. 33) In 1325 a settlement of the manor was made probably on the attainment of his majority, (fn. 34) and, together with his wife Maud, he claimed view of frankpledge and other manorial customs as of right immemorial. (fn. 35) John de Trailly, who was probably son of Walter, was holding in 1346. (fn. 36) He died in 1360, when an extent is given of Yelden Manor, which then included the site (which was in ruins), a dovecot, an orchard, 660 acres of arable land varying in value, meadow, pasture, pleas and profits of courts bringing in 40s., rents of free tenant 30s., rents and customs of fourteen bond tenants worth £10, and a windmill worth 6s. 8d. (fn. 37) His son John, who succeeded him, appears as member for the county in 1377, (fn. 38) and he is mentioned at various times as commissioner of array. (fn. 39) Some time before his death, which took place in 1400, he alienated the manor to Edmund Hampden, (fn. 40) and with this alienation the connexion of the de Traillys with Yelden ceased. The name of Edmund Hampden is returned for Yelden in the Feudal Aid of 1428. (fn. 41) He was a member of the well-known Buckinghamshire family, and was succeeded some time before 1446 by his son John Hampden, (fn. 42) who died in 1458. (fn. 43) Thomas Hampden his son held Yelden till 1486–7, leaving Yelden Manor to his son John, who survived his father ten years. (fn. 44) His son John Hampden had two daughters and co-heirs, and Yelden eventually passed to Barbara, the younger. In 1519–20 a marriage was arranged between her and William son of Robert Dormer, but never took place, (fn. 45) and she later married Edmund Smith. They had one daughter Anne, who in 1556 married William Paulet, bringing Yelden Manor in dower to her husband. (fn. 46) William Paulet died seised of the manor in 1577 (fn. 47) and was succeeded by his son William. He married Elizabeth daughter of Henry Coddenham in 1579 and died in 1584. (fn. 48) Yelden next passed to his daughter Elizabeth, who was posthumous, (fn. 49) and who in 1602, together with her husband Oliver St. John of Bletsoe, acquired seisin of the manor. (fn. 50) The St. Johns, whose family has been traced elsewhere, (fn. 51) held this manor till the beginning of the 18th century. (fn. 52) In 1706 Paulet Lord St. John, the last Earl of Bolingbroke, suffered a recovery of the manor, (fn. 53) and in 1722 the advowson (which followed the descent of the manor at this date) was still in the hands of the St. John family. (fn. 54) Between the latter date and 1728 it had been alienated to Sir Jeremiah Vanacker Sambrook, bart. (fn. 55) He was member for the borough of Bedford from 1730 until his death in 1740. (fn. 56) He was unmarried and his Yelden property passed to his three sisters: Elizabeth wife of Sir Humphrey Monoux, Judith a spinster and Susannah wife of John Crawley. (fn. 57) Part of the land was sold with the advowson in 1745, and in 1801 the greater portion of the estate belonged to John Crawley, (fn. 58) whose descendant Mr. Francis Crawley of Stockwood Park is at the present day described as lord of Yelden Manor.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a chancel 28 ft. 3 in. by 14 ft. 10 in., with north vestry, a nave 48 ft. 2 in. by 18 ft. 7 in., with modern north-east organ chamber, a south aisle 11 ft. 10 in. wide and the same length as the nave, and west tower 9 ft. 6 in. by 10 ft.
The main walls of chancel and nave date from the early part of the 13th century, a south aisle having been added to the nave later in the century. The chancel was entirely remodelled about 1340, and the south aisle was rebuilt and widened about the same time. The west tower belongs to the middle of the 14th century, and the clearstory and south porch are 15th-century additions. The north vestry is perhaps of the 14th century, but is so plain in detail that its date is hard to fix.
All the chancel windows are of 14th-century date, the east window being of three wide trefoiled lights with net tracery; the arch has spread and is distorted, and on either side of it are traces of the 15th-century lights which it has replaced; there were probably three in the wall.
The walling over the head of the present window has been rebuilt, and at each of the east angles of the chancel are 14th-century diagonal buttresses. The north-east and south-east windows are square-headed, of two trefoiled lights, with segmental rear arches, having an edge roll on the jambs and head; the north-east window has an internal moulded label, which is lacking in the other.
Beneath it is a locker, rebated for a frame, and with a groove for a wooden shelf; it is partly destroyed by a stone tablet framing a brass plate to Thomas Barker, rector, 1617. West of it is a 14th-century recess with a trefoiled arch, probably for the Easter sepulchre; there are two pin-holes in the cusps, and in the sill a larger hole, which is probably not original. The vestry door joins it on the west, a small chamfered opening with a pointed head; the vestry has a small square-headed north window of two uncusped lights, of doubtful date. Its roof is almost flat, and at the apex of the low parapet is a broken gable cross.
West of the vestry is a two-light window with flowing tracery in a two-centred head, with an internal label and edge rolls to the head and jambs, the window opposite to it on the south being of the same design but plainer, with square inner jambs and a moulded rear arch; the jambs and head are perhaps 13th-century work re-used, the same moulding occurring on the head of the south doorway.
At the south-east of the chancel is a trefoiled ogee-headed piscina under a gabled crocketed canopy and two sedilia, also with trefoiled ogee heads set beneath a moulded string at the window-sill level, and having trefoiled spandrels.
The south doorway is close to the sedilia, and of 13th-century date, with a sharply-pointed head of two chamfered orders with a rounded label, which is continued as a string westwards at the level of the sill of the two-light window already noticed. There is a second string at a higher level here and on the north wall of the chancel, and to the east of the doorway, behind the present sedilia, are the sill and part of the jambs of a small light, probably of the 13th century, with a small sundial scratched on its sill.
Just to the west of the doorway is a modern buttress in two stages. The chancel arch, of the 14th century, is in two orders, the outer with a wave mould and the inner chamfered, and springing from semi-octagonal responds with moulded capitals but no bases; the marks of the timbers of the rood loft are to be seen on its soffit.
The north wall of the nave leans outward considerably and has been largely rebuilt, the roof having been blown off and a large part destroyed within recent years. It has a clearstory of four two-light windows, trefoiled under square heads. The north doorway, of plain and early 13th-century work, is blocked; to the west of it is a fine 14th-century window with shafted jambs, and unusual tracery of two quatrefoiled lights, with an irregular quatrefoiled opening in the head. East of the doorway is a two-light 14th-century window of normal type, like that at the south-west of the chancel, with plain internal jambs and a head moulded like the other, perhaps of 13th-century date. Below it is a 14th-century tomb recess, its back projecting beyond the outer face of the wall; it contains the effigy of a man in civil dress, on a raised tomb with quatrefoiled sides, now nearly hidden by the floor; in the spandrels are blank shields. The wall is supported by two buttresses, and at the north-east a modern organ chamber has been built out.
The south arcade is of four bays, with arches of two chamfered orders having plain keeled labels stopped on heads, moulded half-octagonal corbels at east and west, and one circular and two octagonal columns, each with simply moulded capitals. The corbels are of considerable projection, resting upon grotesque figures. The western corbel has been cut back and its moulding altered. The south clearstory is like that on the north.
In the east end of the south aisle is a square-headed window of three trefoiled lights of early 14th-century date. To the north of it is the jamb and springing of a 13th-century window and in the blocking a small image bracket. The sill of the window is stepped, probably for the reredos of an altar formerly here, and on either side are traces of wall-painting, that on the south having a well-preserved figure of St. James, contemporary with the window. Below it is a second image bracket, carved with foliage and a fleur de lis and resting on a human head.
In the south wall is a plain piscina with pointed head, and near it in the thickness of the wall, which is increased in a similar way to that on the north side, is a splendid 14th-century tomb-canopy, with a tall cinquefoiled arch with feathered cusps and carved spandrels, under a crocketed gable flanked by pinnacles. Two of the cusps end in mailed heads, and the tomb itself has a marble front with quatrefoiled panels and shields in the spandrels, very much defaced. A small 15th-century window has been inserted to the east of the tomb to light the altar.
The south doorway is of the 13th century, of two chamfered orders, the outer resting upon an attached shaft and having a plain label. It has been moved to its present position. At the west end of the aisle is a 14th-century window of two trefoiled lights, with a quatrefoil over.
The tower is in three stages, with a short octagonal broach spire, in the cardinal faces of which are two rows of spire lights: the lower of two trefoiled lights, with a quatrefoil over, the upper a single chamfered light. Under the eaves of the spire is a running band of carved foliage, animals and grotesque heads. There are pairs of buttresses in two stages at the western angles, their heads rising only to the lower part of the second stage, and the tower stair is at the south-west. The belfry windows are large, of two cinquefoiled lights with flowing tracery, and the west window of the ground stage is of two lights in 14th-century style, the tracery being modern. The east arch of the tower is of three chamfered orders.
The chancel roof is modern, but that of the nave retains some of its 15th-century timbers, having replaced a steep-pitched 14th-century roof, whose weathering remains on the tower. On the tie-beams are several roughly carved shields: one with the arms of Trailly, another with two bars and in chief three roundels, and a third with a ragged bend. On another is a very pretty traceried boss, like those on the 14th-century roof at Wymington, and at the junction of the purlins with the tie-beams are carved human heads.
The pulpit dates in part from c. 1500, having traceried heads to its panels, and some of the pewing is of about the same time, the rest being copied from it. The communion table is a very good example, with heavy baluster legs, dated 1629, with the initials 'C. S.' The font, at the west of the middle column of the south arcade, is octagonal and quite plain, probably 15th-century work, but has a crocketed conical wooden cover, which is probably coeval with it.
In the chancel is the brass of John Heyne, rector, 1433, in mass vestments, and another to Christopher Strickland, 1628, the donor of the plate and communion table. In the tower is a piece of lead taken from the old roof, on which is scratched a quaint set of verses:—
Heare Thomas Williamson I do Right
Which is my name in all mens sight
Tharfore Dear frinds When This you See
Pray Reead it ore And Think One Me
And When you Hear that I am Dead
Think One My Name Thats One the led
Whearfore to you this Verse I do Relate
Declaring I rest The Very Day and Date
May The 19 Day Ano Dom. 1700.
There are four bells: the treble by Taylor, 1886; the second by J. & J. Eayre, date on waist, October 1717; the third, of 1617, is inscribed 'Praise the Lord'; the tenor is by Hugh Watts, 1619, an alphabet bell A to T, with the three-bell shield.
Yelden Church was given by Geoffrey de Trailly to Abbot Gunter and the monks of Thorney (fn. 59) early in the 12th century. (fn. 60) The church was confirmed to them by a charter of Pope Alexander III in 1162. (fn. 61) By the second half of the 13th century the advowson seems to have passed from Thorney Abbey to the lord of Yelden Manor, as in 1273 the king, as custodian of the lands of John Trailly, presented to the living (fn. 62); while in 1289 Walter de Trailly died seised of the advowson. (fn. 63) Henceforward the advowson descended with the manor until the heirs of Sir Jeremiah Sambrook in 1745 sold it to Robert Clavering, Bishop of Peterborough, (fn. 64) whose son Robert sold it to the Bunting family. (fn. 65) The present rector, the Rev. C. H. Smith, has the right of presentation.
In the 17th century two remarkable men held the living of Yelden: John Pocklington, D.D., the High Churchman, and William Dell, the Antinomian. John Pocklington, Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, was presented to the living of Yelden in 1621 by Lady Say and Sele. (fn. 66) He later became chaplain to Charles I. (fn. 67) In 1639 he petitioned against Oliver Earl of Bolingbroke, the lord of the manor, 'for that "he hath wronged the church by enclosing and decaying the greater part of the best tillage" in Yelden,' and also sold a lease to one of his servants of a close worth £40 per annum, parcel of the glebe of the church. (fn. 68) In 1640 John Pocklington appeared before the House of Lords on a charge of 'idolatry, superstition, and publishing pamphlets, wherein he defends all those innovations unhappily introduced into the church.' (fn. 69) He was deprived of his preferments, and his pamphlets, Altare Christianum and Sunday no Sabbath, burnt by the public hangman. (fn. 70) William Dell was a man of a very different type. After going down from Cambridge he became secretary to Laud; but later he abandoned the orthodox tenets of the Church. (fn. 71) He became chaplain to the Parliamentary army, and in 1649 was appointed to the mastership of Caius College, Cambridge, which he held together with the rectory of Yelden. (fn. 72) His unorthodox views endeared him to the Parliament, but not to his parishioners, who in 1659 petitioned against him for having allowed a 'tinker from Bedford' named John Bunyan to preach in the church on Christmas Day. (fn. 73) Dell was ejected from Yelden in 1662. Dying soon afterwards, he was buried in unconsecrated ground in the parish of Westoning, according to his own wish. (fn. 74)
The poor's money consists of £59 15s. 2d. consols, held by the official trustees, representing the investment in 1872 of a sum of £55 10s., comprising the sums of £20 given by a person unknown, £18 by Thomas Wylde in 1792, and £17 10s. by Mrs. Wylde in 1811. The dividends, amounting to £1 9s. 8d., are applied in the distribution of bread at Christmas. In 1909 there were fifty-two recipients.
The parish has been in possession since 1628 of certain lands known as the Constable Lands, or Stricklands, containing 10 a. 12 p., let in allotments, producing £11 18s. 4d. a year, which, in pursuance of a declaration of trust dated 17 November 1803, is distributed in coals.
In or about 1845 the Rev. Edward Swanston, Bunting, a former rector, set aside £500 consols, the income of which, under a deed of 15 March 1873, is applied towards the expenses of the National school. (fn. 75) The stock is held by the official trustees, producing £12 10s. a year.