A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Hockliffe is a parish at the foot of the Chilterns, long and narrow in form, with an area of 1,028 acres, of which 191 are arable land, 626 permanent grass and 2¼ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The slope of the ground is irregular, and varies from 322 ft. to 445 ft. above ordnance datum. The parish is watered by two tributaries of the Clipstone Brook, one entering from Eaton Bray and passing north-east to Battlesden, the second in the south of the parish. The soil is rich loam, the subsoil clay. There are old gravelpits in the north-east of the parish.
Watling Street, the Roman road from London to Chester, forms the eastern boundary of Hockliffe, entering from Fenny Stratford in the north and passing south to Dunstable. Before leaving the parish it is joined by two other roads, one coming west from Leighton Buzzard, the other from Woburn in the east. Hockliffe at one time enjoyed an unenviable reputation for the bad condition of its roads. In 1633 Sir Edward Duncombe, as the result of a complaint of the justices of the county, writes to Secretary Windebank that there is no truth in the complaint, and that he has always kept the road between Hockliffe and Woburn in good repair, and intends to lay yearly on the same 400 loads of gravel and stone. (fn. 2) Lysons, though mentioning their reputation, says the roads were greatly improved in his time. (fn. 3) Various Private Acts have since been passed to improve the roads leading from Hockliffe to Aylesbury, Stratford and Woburn. (fn. 4)
The village, which is situated in the south-west of the parish, straggles on either side of Watling Street for more than a mile, those buildings on the west side of the road being technically in Chalgrave. The church stands north of the village, about a quarter of a mile to the west of the main road. North of the church is the entrance to Hockliffe Grange, an old house much modernized, the residence of Mr. Edward Gordon Williams, beautifully situated on rising ground in a park of 40 acres.
The Manor House, the residence of Major Haynes, in the main road, appears to be partly of 18th-century date, the older portions being half-timbered. Hockliffe House, occupied by Mrs. Mann, at the southern extremity of the village, is a pleasant-looking late Georgian building. Here are some 15th-century remains, which may have formed part of the Hospital of St. John. They are now incorporated into the walls of the rear portion of the house. The head of a doorway with a drop arch and no label and segmental rear arch is in a fair state of preservation. The wall is about 2 ft. in thickness, and extends about 20 ft. from east to west, and about the same distance round the angle from south to north, to the height of about 15 ft.
The White Horse Inn, on the Chalgrave side of the main road, is an ancient hostelry containing some fine wood carving said to come from Toddington Manor. (fn. 5) Two coats of arms can be distinguished. Upon one is a cheveron charged with a crescent between three lions' faces; upon the other three bulls' heads. Inside, attached to a bressummer, is a carved plank with the date 1566 upon it.
Two well-known names are included in the list of Hockliffe rectors: John Warner (1736–1800), the classical scholar and admirer of John Howard the philanthropist, who was succeeded in 1772 by William Dodd, the famous forger, who was hanged in 1777. (fn. 8)
It is very probable that the 'Hocgganclife' given to Stolferth by Æthelstan son of Ethelred II in his will may be identified with Hockliffe. There is no absolute proof, but Æthelstan certainly disposed of other lands not remote, and the form is consistent with the modern name. (fn. 9) In 1066 the estate belonged to a certain Anschil, and in 1086 HOCKLIFFE MANOR, assessed at 10 hides, was held by Azelina widow of Ralph Tallebosc. (fn. 10) This manor, like Ralph's other property, (fn. 11) later became attached to the barony of Bedford, (fn. 12) being held of that moiety of the barony which passed through Beatrice de Beauchamp to the Nevills and Latimers.
No sub-tenant of this manor is mentioned in the Survey, but the Malherbes were settled here in the early 13th century. First mention of them has been found in 1227, when William Eversend quitclaimed 2½ hides in Hockliffe to John Malherbe. (fn. 13) His heir, who was under age and in the custody of Roger de Scaccario, c. 1240, (fn. 14) appears to have been one Robert Malherbe, whose nephew John Malherbe had by 1251 inherited the manor, in which he then held a three-weekly court. (fn. 15) In 1255 Richard Earl of Cornwall, represented by Abraham the Jew of Norwich, attempted to deprive William Beauchamp, the overlord, of his rights in Hockliffe Manor, saying that Robert Malherbe had alienated all his lands to the Jews. (fn. 16) The attempt was unsuccessful, however, and the Malherbes remained in possession, the next mention being found in 1283, when a wrestling match, attended by many from Dunstable, took place before the hospital. John, the Dunstable smith, and Simon Mustard, a man of William de Monchensey, 'guardian of the heir of John Malherbe,' were both killed whilst wrestling, and the Annals of Dunstable give a very full account of the coroner's inquest which followed. (fn. 17)
Between this date and 1302 the Malherbe property passed to co-heirs, of whom Lucy became the wife of Sir Robert Chetwood, and together with William Pont held the vill in 1302–3. (fn. 18) John de Amaury, who appears to represent a second co-heir, died seised in 1344 of a messuage and 2 carucates of land in Hockliffe, which John Chetwood, son of Lucy, held at a yearly rent of 9 marks. (fn. 19) Edmund de Amaury, his son, was under age, and the same year the king granted this yearly rent to John Herlyng, one of his yeomen, together with the guardianship of Edmund. (fn. 20) John de Amaury and John Chetwood's name both appear in the feudal assessment of this parish in 1346. (fn. 21)
Edmund de Amaury died seised of a toft and land in Hockliffe in 1350, when the jurors were not able to discover his heir. (fn. 22) The dual connexion of the Amaurys and Chetwoods with this manor had hitherto continued, but was ended in 1351, when Sir John Amaury, kt., made a settlement of the manor, which Nicholas Chetwood and Elizabeth his wife and Guy their son held for life. (fn. 23) This settlement appears to have been preliminary to the complete alienation of his rights, for the Chetwoods are henceforward found in sole possession. John Chetwood son of Nicholas held the manor in 1391. (fn. 24) He died in 1412, leaving two sons and a daughter. Of these John died in 1420 without issue, his property passing to his brother Thomas, whose heir at his death, c. 1458, was his sister Agnes. (fn. 25) She married Thomas Wodhull, bringing Hockliffe Manor into the possession of this family, of whom details will be found under Odell. Elizabeth Wodhull died seised in 1475, (fn. 26) and the manor then follows the same descent as Odell (q.v.) until 1584, when it was held by Sir George Calverly, second husband of Agnes Wodhull, (fn. 27) direct descendant of Elizabeth. Between this date and 1589 Hockliffe Manor passed to William Jervis, who at the latter date, together with his wife Elizabeth, conveyed it to Thomas Hillersdon. (fn. 28) In 1614 he received a confirmation by Letters Patent of his right to hold a court leet and view of frankpledge in this manor. (fn. 29) Thomas Hillersdon, who died in 1623, (fn. 30) owned property in Elstow, with which this manor descends until 1712, when it was sold by the Hillersdon family to Alan Lord Bathurst. (fn. 31) He only retained Hockliffe a few years, selling it in 1719 to John Reynal. (fn. 32) In 1770 John Sayer Neale Reynal, his descendant, held the manor, (fn. 33) which was held by Francis Moore in 1820 in right of his wife, widow of John Neale Reynal. (fn. 34) It afterwards passed to Mr. J. Reynal Adams, and is now held by Mrs. Mann.
A second HOCKLIFFE MANOR appears in this parish in the 14th century, of which the origin is doubtful, though a document of 1346 implies that it owed its origin to the division of the Malherbe property among female heirs. (fn. 35) The first mention of it has been found in 1314, when Henry de Adingrave and Ellen his wife conveyed 90 acres of arable land, 8 of meadow, 5 of pasture and 40s. rent to John de Adingrave. (fn. 36) Henry was part holder of the vill in 1316, (fn. 37) and in 1342 Thomas de Adingrave, his son, transferred the moiety of a manor in Hockliffe to Thomas Fermbaud, Alice his wife, and the heirs of Alice, who was probably a de Adingrave. (fn. 38) Thomas Fermbaud was assessed for feudal aid here in 1346, (fn. 39) but no further mention has been found of this family in connexion with Hockliffe, Thomas Strange holding the property in 1428. (fn. 40) A gap here occurs in continuity of descent, the manor reappearing in 1489 as the property of John Broughton, (fn. 41) by whose family it was retained till 1519. It is difficult, save by process of elimination, to identify it with any certainty with Hockliffe Manor, which appears nine years later belonging to William Staysmore, who is described as holding it of Dunstable Priory. (fn. 42) John Staysmore, son of William, made a settlement of it in 1532 on William Sheppard and Simon Fitz. (fn. 43) In 1549 Hockliffe Manor, then the property of Sir William Powlett and Agnes his wife, was alienated by them without licence to Christopher Estwick, (fn. 44) which omission was remedied in 1572. (fn. 45) Christopher Estwick still held the manor in 1591, (fn. 46) and died c. 1599, when his son Christopher Estwick was granted the freedom of his father's lands, which included Hockliffe Manor, of which subsequent trace is lost. (fn. 47)
Reference has been found to the Hospital of St. John in this parish as early as 1227, when Turold was instituted priest. (fn. 48) In 1251 the master of the hospital owned 2 virgates of land and a free tenement in Hockliffe, for which he owed suit at the court of the lord of the manor. (fn. 49) His estate in this parish in 1471 was declared to be 60 acres of arable and 3 of meadow land. (fn. 50) At the Dissolution the site of the hospital was granted in 1545 to George Acworth and Edward Butler, (fn. 51) from whom it passed almost immediately to William Groome, (fn. 52) whose son William was engaged in litigation with his nephew John Groome about the property in 1567. (fn. 53) William Groome enfeoffed Thomas Dolt, whose representative, Richard Dolt, held the hospital in 1570. (fn. 54) In 1590 William Tipper and Robert Dawe, the well-known 'fishing grantees,' received grant from the Crown at the request of Edward Dier. (fn. 55) This property had again changed hands by 1639, when Thomas Impey died seised, leaving this 'capital messuage' to his son Samuel. (fn. 56) Lysons states that by the close of the 18th century all trace of the old building had disappeared.
In 1251–2 the Prioress of St. Giles Hamstead owned two messuages and a virgate of land in Hockliffe of the gift of Robert Malherbe, at whose manorial court she owed service. (fn. 57) This land was granted at the dissolution of the priory in 1539 to Sir Richard Page. (fn. 58)
Woburn Abbey also owned a small property in Hockliffe and elsewhere, valued at the Dissolution at 13s. 4d. (fn. 59)
The family of Gilpin, though no longer resident in this parish, has been connected with it from the 17th century. Robert Gilpin was rector here at his death in 1641, and monumental brasses in the parish church give a descent from him from father to son for four generations, the list terminating with Richard Gilpin, who died in 1841. (fn. 60) Mr. Peter Gilpin of Kilcullen (co. Kildare), the representative of the family, still owns Hockliffe Grange.
The church of ST. NICHOLAS consists of a chancel 26 ft. by 17½ ft., a nave 39 ft. 4 in. by 21 ft. 2 in. with a south porch, a west tower 9 ft. 6 in. by 9 ft., and a vestry north of the chancel which continues westward to form a north chapel to the nave. The chancel dates from the middle of the 14th century, and if the walls of the nave are of earlier date there is now nothing to show it. The tower is a 15th-century addition, and the porch is of the end of the same century. The north vestry and chapel are modern, and the north wall of the nave has been rebuilt.
The chancel has a modern east window of 15th-century style; on either side of it are 14th-century image niches, in the north wall is a 14th-century tomb recess under a low cinquefoiled arch, and west of it a contemporary window of two trefoiled lights. In the south wall is a large trefoiled piscina recess under a gabled head, with two plain sedilia to the west of it, and over them a three-light window, all being part of the 14th-century work. The rest of the chancel is modern, except the half-octagonal jambs and moulded capitals of the chancel arch, which are original; the arch itself is new. The south doorway of the nave, of 14th-century date, is now the only ancient feature, but the south porch has a four-centred archway with traceried spandrels, c. 1500, and side windows of two uncusped lights.
The tower is covered with Roman cement; in the south-west angle is a projecting stair turret. The tower arch is in two pointed chamfered orders, the inner of which has moulded capitals, and the west window and those of the belfry are of two cinquefoiled lights.
The font is octagonal, re-worked or modern. There are several monuments to the Gilpin family, the oldest being below the east window of the chancel, to Robert Gilpin and Esther Neale his wife, set up in 1740 by their son Thomas, goldsmith of London.
There are four bells: the first, of 1883, by Taylor; the second, a pre-Reformation bell, probably by John Daniel of London, c. 1450, inscribed 'Vox Augustini sonet in aure dei'; the third has the same marks, with 'Sancte Thoma ora pro nobis'; and the fourth also the same marks, with 'Sancta Margareta ora pro nobis.'
The registers are in five books: (1) births and burials 1650 to 1661; (2) all entries 1620 to 1695, with a gap from 1642 to 1663; (3) all entries 1696 to 1755; (4) marriages only 1754 to 1812; (5) baptisms and burials 1755 to 1812.
The advowson of Hockliffe parish church was attached to the hospital of St. John the Baptist, (fn. 61) whose master received a licence to impropriate the church in 1303–4. (fn. 62) In 1291 the church was worth £8, (fn. 63) and in 1363, on the occasion of the presentation of John Annestey, 'a good grammarian,' was worth 12 marks. (fn. 64) At the Dissolution valued at £16 9s. 6d., (fn. 65) it became Crown property. By 1566 it had been granted out to Kendrick Davis and others, who at this date alienated the advowson to Roger Guise. (fn. 66) From him it passed to Thomas Sheppard, who presented in 1605, (fn. 67) alienating to Edward Duncombe in 1611, (fn. 68) The advowson is next found in the possession of Robert Gilpin, who was also rector. He died in 1641, and by his will left the patronage of Hockliffe Church to his wife Margery, directing that it should be sold, and out of the proceeds his daughters Katherine and Agnes were to have £300 each. (fn. 69) It was purchased by Hezekiah Slingsby, his son-in-law, (fn. 70) who died in 1663, and whose widow Katherine Slingsby presented in 1666. (fn. 71) Her daughter Rebecca, wife of Adam Haughton, exercised the right of presentation in 1687 and in 1743. (fn. 72) By 1777 it had again become the property of the Gilpin family, who continued to hold till the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 73) Since then it has passed through various hands, Mrs. Robinson presenting in 1822–9, Mr. W. Prescott in 1841, Mr. F. H. Gray in 1870. The right was exercised by the trustees of H. J. Spence Gray, late Archdeacon of Lahore, (fn. 74) and now by Mrs. Gray.
At the dissolution of the chantries lights were endowed in the parish church with 4d. rent of half an acre in Hockliffe, and 2s. free rent of a messuage held by Richard Hobbes. (fn. 75)
In 1625 Sir Thomas Hillersdon, kt., by his will dated 3 June in that year, after reciting that as lord of the manor of Hockliffe he was entitled to a quit-rent of 7d. yearly out of certain land which had been from ancient time employed for the repair of the church of Hockliffe and other charitable uses, devised the said land to Thomas Hillersdon, his son and heir, and others to the intent that the said land might be employed as theretofore it had been.
The trust estate consists of 6 a. 3 r. 17 p. let at £9 10s. a year, and 4 acres let in allotments, producing in 1907–8 £10 18s. 8d., under the management of the vicar and churchwardens. The net income is applied in the repairs of the church and in payment of the sexton's salary.