A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Whipsnade is a small parish on the borders of Hertfordshire containing 928 acres, about two-thirds of which are arable land, about a sixth permanent grass and the rest woods and plantations. (fn. 1)
The land lies high, reaching 800 ft. in the north, where the parish borders Dunstable Downs. The village lies at a height of 700 ft., and from here the ground falls away rapidly to the south-east to 500 ft. From the village fine views can be obtained of the surrounding country, extending over nine counties on a clear day. Whipsnade Wood lies west of the village, and to the south-east are Whipsnade Heath and Heath Wood, while the lower-lying ground beyond is well wooded.
The village is grouped round a large green, through which the road runs east and west, the church standing in a churchyard surrounded by a hedge and a ring of yew trees. Adjoining the churchyard on the east are the grounds of the rectory, a brick building having a tile roof, part of which dates from the 17th century. Two enriched wooden Doric pilasters carry a hood over the entrance doorway, but besides this there is nothing of interest about the house.
The parish was inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1798, when William Beckford acquired the right of inclosing the common lands in return for a rentcharge of £30 yearly, to be applied to the poor rates as compensation for the loss of such common rights. (fn. 2)
The following place-names occur in documents relating to this parish:—Ilgaresfeld, Hayateslane (xiv cent.); Wanewyk, Halehull, Brokus Shepcote (xv cent.); Inner and Outer Clappers (xvii cent.); Dudmanse (xvii cent.).
There is no reference to WHIPSNADE MANOR in Domesday, but the whole parish was probably included in that of Eaton Bray (then assessed at the excessive rate of 12½ hides), to which it is subsequently found attached. The first mention which has been found of Whipsnade in this connexion occurs in the Testa de Nevill, when William de Cantlowe held it as a member of Eaton Bray. (fn. 3) The manor has since followed the same descent as that of Eaton Bray (q.v.), and it is at present the property of Mr. John Macnamara. (fn. 4)
A second property in this parish, later known as WHIPSNADE MANOR, was held from the early 13th century by a family who assumed Whipsnade as a surname. In 1228 one Adam de Whipsnade conveyed land in this parish to the parson of the church, (fn. 5) and in the same year was disputing with William de Eltedon concerning land in Studham. (fn. 6) Richard 'dominus' of Whipsnade, possibly a member of the same family, occurs as a witness in a transfer of land in 1305. (fn. 7) He appears to have been followed by William de Whipsnade, possibly the person of that name who in 1321 received pardon for giving land in mortmain to St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield, without a licence. (fn. 8) His son Nicholas had succeeded him in 1340, in which year he granted a piece of land in the parish with hedge and ditch to Walter de Woburn. (fn. 9) Nicholas had a son Gilbert, who some years earlier in 1323 had made a grant of land in Whipsnade and Eaton. (fn. 10) From him the Whipsnadc property, which about this time begins to be called a manor, passed to Philip de Whipsnade, who died some time before 1350. (fn. 11) He left four daughters as co-heirs—Margery wife of Richard Raven, Christina wife of Henry de Walton, Alice and Joan. In 1350 the three first-named sisters were engaged in a suit with John de Swynnerton regarding their respective shares in the manor. (fn. 12) They placed their shares in the trusteeship of John de Linley, who released his right in 'a messuage with curtilage and land' in Whipsnade to Margery and Christina in 1356. (fn. 13) In addition to his wife's share, Richard Raven acquired that of Christina in 1361 (fn. 14) and that of Joan in 1369. (fn. 15) The portion of Joan may possibly be sought in the lands right in which Matilda daughter of Nicholas yielded to John Raven in 1391. (fn. 16) Whipsnade Manor passed from the Ravens to Nicholas Tettesworth some time previous to 1412, at which date John son of Nicholas conveyed his right there to John Haldenby and Margery his wife. (fn. 17) In 1443 John Haldenby settled the manor in trust on Laurence Pigot, (fn. 18) and ten years later he alienated this property permanently to William Cantlowe, (fn. 19) already a landowner in Whipsnade, (fn. 20) whose family remained in possession for the next sixty years. Henry Cantlowe died seised of Whipsnade in 1490, leaving as heir a son Richard, (fn. 21) who died in 1517, and was succeeded by a son John, aged fifteen. (fn. 22) The manor at this date is described as worth yearly £10, and held of Edmund Bray as of his manor of Eaton Bray.
The history of this property during the next century is obscure. It was held in 1532 by William Hawte, kt., and Margaret his wife (fn. 23) of the king in chief, (fn. 24) in right of Margaret. (fn. 25) She was a daughter of Oliver Wood, (fn. 26) and had previously married Walter Mantell, by whom she had two sons Walter and Thomas. (fn. 27) She and her third husband James Hales, kt., settled the manor in reversion on these two sons in 1551, (fn. 28) but after the conviction for high treason and consequent execution of Walter in 1554 James and Margaret obtained a relaxation of this settlement (fn. 29) in order to complete the sale of Whipsnade to William Dobson. (fn. 30)
William Dobson died in 1562, leaving the estate to his brother Miles, but an annuity out of the same to Thomas Clarke for life. (fn. 31) By his will of 1573 Miles left two-thirds of the manor profits to his daughter Frances and younger son John during the minority of his son and heir William, (fn. 32) who obtained livery of his father's lands in 1589, (fn. 33) and in 1598 quitclaimed his manor in Whipsnade to Gamaliel Cruys. (fn. 34) He sold it for £1,500 to Robert Vaux in 1606, (fn. 35) and an interesting extent of the manor made at this time describes it (fn. 36) as 'a house containing 16 rooms, barns and stables, 21 bays, with a fair brick dovehouse, all tiled, and the demesne lands as particularly followeth: 3 orchards with other necessary yards, 6 acres, the Backside, 4 acres; Inner and Outer Clapps, II acres, Studham field 23 acres, with other closes—268 acres.' There was also common for four sheep, and in a ' mast ' year the feeding of 60 hogs in Dudmanse (now Deadmancey) Wood and Buckswood. Certain quit-rents were worth 16s. yearly, and the grounds could also keep I 2 kine, and in summer yielded 30 loads of hay. The total annual value was £100, and the value of the timber on the estate £300.
A spurious manor called WOODMANLEY is found mentioned in early 17th-century documents. It was released by Thomas Wells and Ellen his wife to Thomas Smyth in 1606, (fn. 39) and the latter in 1629 sold the estate, then described as the manor of Woodmanley, with 18 acres of arable land and I pightle called Blackwell, in tenure of Thomas Wells, to Thomas Saunders, Sir Samuel Luke and Sir William Fleetwood. (fn. 40) No further mention of such a property in Whipsnade has been found.
In 1228 4 acres of land in Whipsnade were granted to Dunstable Priory by Juliana de Landas, (fn. 41) and in 1252 the priory received a further grant of a carucate of land from William Russell and Hawise his wife in return for the inclusion of their names in the prayers of the church. (fn. 42) At the Dissolution the total value of lands held by Dunstable Priory in Westoning and Whipsnade was 3s. (fn. 43) It is probable, however, that the carucate of land granted to it in 1252 is not there accounted for, but became merged in the manor of Shortgrave, which extended into Whipsnade parish and was also held by the monks.
The church of ST. MARY MAGDALENE is a small building of brick consisting of chancel, nave and west tower. The tower is 16th-century work, with a west door way of c. 1480 re-used; the east window of the belfry stage is of the 16th century, but the others are round-headed 18th-century insertions. The rest of the church is modern, and the only old fittings are a 17th-century pulpit and altar rails.
The right of presentation to Whipsnade rectory has always been in the gift of the Crown. (fn. 44) The earliest mention of the church occurs in 1228, when Adam de Whipsnade and John Juvene conveyed 4 acres of land to the parson (fn. 45); its value in 1291 was £3 6s. 8d. (fn. 46) and at the Dissolution £7 13s. 4d. (fn. 47)