A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Colmworth, which is situated 7 miles to the north-east of Bedford, has an extent of 2,223 acres, of which 1,004¾ acres are arable land, 823¾ acres grass and 32½ acres woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil of the parish is clay, formerly worked to the south-west of Nethersted in the old brick-field, which is still to be seen. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats and beans.
The village stands on high ground 231 ft. above the ordnance datum in the north-east district of the parish. It is divided into four parts, namely, Rootham's Green in the south, Chapel End, where there is a Primitive Methodist chapel built in 1866, Church End, and to the north of these the City, a nearly houseless locality. The church of St. Denis is situated in Church End. The old cottages, which are built of brick (in some cases plastered or washed over with a thick yellow-coloured distemper) and roofed with either tiles or thatch, lie chiefly to the north of the church. On a mound to the south-west opposite the church stands the Manor Farm, which, although not old in itself, has traces of a moat round it. In the farmyard is a square half-timbered pigeon-house plastered over on the outside and having a tile roof. As is usually the case, the roof is partly hipped but not carried to an apex, having instead a small ridge, at either end of which is a small triangular gable.
In a dell to the north-east of the old brick-field above-mentioned is a moated ruin called Nethersted. This is on the extreme border of the parish of Roxton; it is likely, therefore, that it is the remains of the manor-house of Netherbury.
The following early place-names have been found in Colmworth (fn. 2):—Alwinesher, Bruneshamestalle, Cutossil, Erchebruge, Guthmundescrochet, Hayil and le Ruding (xiii cent.); Bowelles, le Denlond, Paynesende (fn. 3) (xiv cent.).
In 1086 the COLMWORTH MANOR was held by Hugh de Beauchamp, (fn. 4) and the overlordship remained with the barony of Bedford (q.v.). (fn. 5) In 1265 it passed to Ela de Beauchamp, co-heir of John, the last feudal baron, and followed the same descent as that portion of the barony (q.v.), the last mention of it being found in 1515. (fn. 6)
Colmworth in 1086 was a 10-hide manor, which was divided into two parts: 5 hides were held by Hugh de Beauchamp himself, and were called by the name of Chainhalle, which has been identified with Channel's End. (fn. 7) It was held in the time of King Edward by Aschil, a king's thegn. (fn. 8) No further mention of it is found as distinct from the other part of the manor, which was also 5 hides, and was held in 1086 by Wimund de Taissel, (fn. 9) and in the time of the Confessor by the same Aschil. (fn. 10) Subsequent references to the manor of Colmworth, therefore, refer to both parts of the original manor, which appear to have coalesced early.
The manor which Wimund de Taissel held in 1086 was possibly held by a descendant, for a certain 'Roger son of Wimund' held lands in Bedfordshire in 1167. (fn. 11) Early in the next century Robert de Taisso was witness to a grant of land in Colmworth, (fn. 12) so that it is possible that the Oyldebœufs, who are the next family to hold the property, acquired it from Robert. William Oyldebœuf alienated lands in this parish to Walter, another member of his family, in 1218–19. (fn. 13) Ralf brother of William de Oyldebœuf was in possession in 1261. (fn. 14) In 1275–6 Richard de Oyldebœuf was a large landowner in Colmworth, (fn. 15) who was accused at this date of obstructing a road called Smithewell streete in this vill. About this time the manor again became divided into two parts. One portion of it went to the Braybrookes and the other to the Longuevilles, members of these two families marrying in all probability two daughters of Walter de Oyldebœuf. (fn. 16) Sir John Braybrooke and Joan his wife, 'the heirs of the Weldebœufs,' held a moiety of the Colmworth property in 1283. (fn. 17) Joan, seised of the property in 1302, (fn. 18) left it to her son Gerard de Braybrooke, (fn. 19) who held Colmworth vill in 1316, together with Peter de Saltmers, (fn. 20) who represented the Longueville moiety. By 1324 Gerard's son and namesake had inherited the property (fn. 21) and was holding the manor in 1330–1, (fn. 22) and received a grant of free warren in 1333. (fn. 23) This Gerard ('son of Gerard') was still holding in 1346 (fn. 24) and 1350, (fn. 25) but in the same year Sir Gerard de Braybrooke, his son, had inherited the moiety of the manor. (fn. 26) The lastnamed Sir Gerard died in 1359, (fn. 27) when his wife Mabel received the issues from the family property. (fn. 28) It was at his death that the other portion of the Oyldebœufs' manor became joined again to the Braybrooke property by the marriage of Margaret daughter and heir of John de Longueville and Margaret, the other daughter of Walter de Oyldeœuf, with his son and heir Gerard de Braybrooke. (fn. 29) The latter's son inherited Colmworth Manor, (fn. 30) but died in 1389. The Braybrookes continued to hold this property until the death of Gerard Braybrooke in 1422, (fn. 31) when it passed to Elizabeth, his daughter and co-heir, who had married Sir William Beauchamp some time previous to 1426. (fn. 32) Sir William was created Lord St. Amand in 1448 in right of his wife, who was granddaughter of Almaric Lord St. Amand, and both were seised of the manor in 1429 (fn. 33) and 1437–8. (fn. 34) He died in 1457, (fn. 35) and his wife Elizabeth married for her second husband Sir Roger Tocotes, (fn. 36) who died seised of the manor in 1492. The manor with the advowson at this time was valued at 40 marks. Elizabeth died in 1491, when the manor passed to her son Richard Beauchamp Lord St. Amand, (fn. 37) who held it till his death in 1508. (fn. 38) His heir was then declared to be Thomas Brooke, son and heir of his cousin John Lord Cobham, and he held the manor in 1528. (fn. 39) Thomas Brooke died in 1529, and was succeeded by his son George Lord Cobham, (fn. 40) who held the manor till 1541. (fn. 41) His son William Lord Cobham in 1565 alienated the manor to William Tocke or Tooke, (fn. 42) who transferred it in 1567 to Sir James Dyer, (fn. 43) Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. (fn. 44) By 1603 the latter's grandnephew, (fn. 45) Sir Richard Dyer, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber to James I, had inherited the property, (fn. 46) and upon his death two years later (fn. 47) his son, Sir William, became seised of the manor. He made a settlement by fine in 1609 (fn. 48) and died in 1621. (fn. 49) His heir was his eldest son Lodowick, (fn. 50) who was created baronet 8 June 1627 (fn. 51) and made various settlements in 1653 (fn. 52) and 1659. (fn. 53) By 1667 he had left the county, having sold his estates to Richard Hillersdon, (fn. 54) from whom Colmworth passed to Thomas Hillersdon, who in 1678 was seised of the manor, (fn. 55) and died in the following year, (fn. 56) when his son William, who was sheriff for Bedfordshire in 1700, (fn. 57) succeeded him. In 1725 the manor passed by the marriage of Elizabeth Hillersdon to Dennis Farrer (fn. 58) to the latter's family. Dennis Farrer, son of Dennis and Elizabeth Farrer, in 1741 alienated Colmworth Manor by fine to Francis Astry, D.D. (fn. 59) The family of Astry came into Bedfordshire in the early 16th century, Dr. Francis Astry being the last male representative of his line. (fn. 60) He was in possession in 1743, (fn. 61) and in 1758, together with Richard Ray, senior, and Richard Ray, junior, he made a settlement of the Colmworth Manor. According to Lysons the Rays held the manor till 1797, when it was purchased by the Rev. Leonard Towne. (fn. 62) In 1834 the trustees of Sarah Eliza Norris, widow, who was possibly a daughter of Mr. Towne, were lords of the manor under the latter's will. (fn. 63) By 1847 Mrs. Norris was lady of the manor in her own right, and still held it in 1854. The lordship of the manor remains in her family to the present day.
Mention occurs of a COLMWORTH MANOR held of the Beauchamps of St. Amand in the 15th century. It was held in 1487 by Agnes Paston, (fn. 64) and passed to George the son of John Harvey, her first husband. (fn. 65) The only other mention that we have of this 'manor' is in 1554, when it was in the possession of Gerard Harvey. (fn. 66)
A messuage, held by the family of Cham, who were related to the Oyldebœufs, (fn. 67) has a clear descent for nearly 100 years in the early history of Colmworth. In 1218–19 Robert le Cham quitclaimed to Simon le Cham lands in this parish. (fn. 68) This grant may have been a portion of the family lands in Colmworth. Simon le Cham granted land to St. Neots for the upkeep of a light before the body of St. Neot—a grant which was made also by Odo, another member of the family, and his daughter Sabina. (fn. 69) In 1240 we find Simon's lands to be the property of Reginald le Cham, (fn. 70) and fifty years later they were in the hands of John Cham. (fn. 71) Between 1290 and 1301 Richard Cham held it, (fn. 72) in which year it was the property of Simon his son. (fn. 73) The history of this property is lost after this date.
Bushmead Priory held lands in Colmworth from the 13th century. In 1240–1 the prior acquired lands by fine in this parish, (fn. 74) which were granted to Sir William Gascoigne in 1537–8. (fn. 75) Previous to its dissolution the priory owed 5d. rent to Lord Cobham for land in Colmworth (fn. 76) and 20d. to the Abbot of Thorney. The latter sum must have been for 120 acres of land and 2 acres of meadow which appear in 1330 as belonging to Nicholas de Eton, held partly of Gerard de Braybrooke and partly of the Abbot of Thorney by service of 5s. a year. (fn. 77)
It is all of one date and design, the only variation being that the chancel is built of cobble stones, while the nave, tower and south porch are faced with freestone. The date is c. 1430, and, though small, it is of a scale and dignity rarely to be seen in a country church. The details are very simple. The east window has a depressed two-centred arch, under which are five cinquefoiled lights with tracery, and on each side of it are buttresses. The other windows in the church are all of one type, of three cinquefoiled lights with tracery, and a label with a deep double chamfered reveal; there are three in the chancel, one in the north wall and two in the south. In the north wall is a doorway to the vestry with a four-centred head and label and in the south wall a priest's doorway; the piscina has a restored cinquefoiled head, under which are two drains, a quite exceptional number for the date, and perhaps older work re-used. The sill of the south-east window is carried down to serve as a seat.
In the north-east angle of the nave is the roodloft staircase, of which both doors remain, and higher still is a third doorway, partly blocked by the roof. On the south of the chancel arch is a trefoiled squint, whilst near it in the south wall is a trefoiled piscina.
The roof, which is modern, retains the foliate bosses, carved braces and figures of the 15th-century roof. The figures under the braces, ten in all, are generally difficult to identify, having lost their emblems, and on the middle of each bay are figures of angels wearing mantles over their folded wings, and holding shields with emblems of the Passion.
The porch is embattled, and was intended to be vaulted, but only the northern springers were ever built, the idea being given up, and the porch finished with a wooden roof only. It is high, but there is no sign of the existence of a parvise; in the east and west walls are two-light pointed windows with tracery in the heads.
The tower, which opens into the nave by a tall, narrow arch of three chamfered orders, is in four stages, with a stair at the north-east, and has a plinth and an embattled parapet with a cornice and shields. On these are several simple charges: a bend, a cheveron, a cross, a saltire engrailed and a fret, or perhaps six voided lozenges; above the tower rises an octagonal spire, divided by bands into three stages, lighted by spire lights. The west doorway is like those in the nave, and the west window is also similar to those of the chancel and nave, but with differently moulded jambs; the third stage of the tower is lighted on each side by a pointed window containing a single trefoiled ogee-headed light. On each side of the belfry stage are two windows of two trefoiled lights with tracery under a pointed head and label. At the angles are diagonal buttresses, which terminate a little way below the parapet.
There is a fine monument in the chancel to the memory of Sir William Dyer, kt., who died in 1621, at the age of thirty-six, and his wife Catharine, daughter and co-heir of John Doyley of Merton, Oxfordshire. It was put up in 1641 by his widow and is of alabaster and black marble, with a canopy having a central arched panel, containing heraldry flanked by scrolls carried by three Corinthian columns. Under it lie, at two levels, the alabaster effigies of Sir William and his wife, both excellent pieces of sculpture, and below on the panelled base, between figures of Faith, Hope and Charity, are four sons and three daughters, standing, their attitudes very effectively varied, their treatment and that of the three symbolic figures being very far removed from the dull, mechanical journeyman's work so often found at the time. At Lady Dyer's feet is a figure of Henry, her grandson, only son of Sir Lodowick Dyer, who died in infancy 22 September 1637. At the back are two large shields: Dyer quarterly impaling Doyley of twenty-three quarterings, and the Doyley coat. Over the columns are three shields showing marriages of the children: Dyer impaling Lozengy argent and gules, Gery impaling Dyer, and on a lozenge Dyer impaling Doyley.
In the south wall is inserted a Purbeck slab with the indent of a shield and a copper plate inscribed: 'Hic sub pede jacet Alianora Braybrook quond[am] ux' Gerardi Braybrook militis et filia ac heres Almarici de Sancto Amando que obiit in vigilia nat' d[omini] anno domini M°CCC°LXXX°IX° cuj' a[nimae] [pro]piciet' deus Amen.'
In the chancel floor is also a slab to the Rev. Wilfrid Sharpe, rector, 1675. The original wrought-iron scutcheons and drop-handles remain in the vestry door and the south door of the nave, and in the north-west window of the chancel is a little original glass with an archangel and part of a canopy. There is also part of a canopy in the north-east window of the nave.
The registers previous to 1812 are in three books, of which the first contains baptisms and burials 1735 to 1807, marriages 1735 to 1754; the second marriages only, 1754 to 1806; and the third all entries in a printed book up to 1812.
From 1276, in which year Isabella de Longueville quitclaimed it to Gerard Braybrooke, the advowson of Colmworth follows the descent of the Braybrooke moiety of Colmworth Manor (q.v.). (fn. 78) In 1290 the church was valued at £8 13s. 4d., (fn. 79) and the rectory in 1537 was worth £18 10s. 6d. (fn. 80) In 1605 it was valued at £18. (fn. 81)
In 1667, however, when Sir Lewis Dyer sold the manor to Richard Hillersdon, (fn. 82) the advowson still remained in the Dyer family for another life, William Dyer, probably a nephew of Sir Lewis, (fn. 83) holding it in 1675. (fn. 84) Three years later it was again following the descent of the manor till 1741 (fn. 85) (q.v.), when it remained in the Hillersdon family, it being the property of Dennis Farrer Hillersdon till 1786. (fn. 86) In 1790 the advowson was sold by the Hillersdons to John Hele (fn. 87); but, though Lysons says that he still held in 1811, (fn. 88) in 1804 William Bruert presented, (fn. 89) and in 1810 Willmer Mackett Willett and others. By 1834 the patronage was in the hands of the Rev. Robert Wade-Gery, (fn. 90) in whose family it remained till 1868, when it became the possession of the Rev. Hunter Bird Allen, whose executors hold the advowson at the present day.
It is of interest to note that the rector of Colmworth in 1412 was Robert Braybrooke, who held the unusual degree at that period of B.C.L. (fn. 91)
The Poor and Church Land, the origin of which is unknown, consists of 2 a. 2 r. of land and four cottages, producing £16 a year. The net income, after payment of £3 for church expenses, is applied in the distribution of coal.
In 1840 the Rev. Robert Hele Selby Hele, by will proved in the P.C.C. 10 April, bequeathed £304 1s. 8d. consols, the dividends being applicable in the maintenance of Sunday school and towards a day or evening school for poor children. In 1906 the income, amounting to £7 12s., was carried to the general account of the school. The stock is held by the official trustees.