A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1925.
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The parish of Mursley consists of 2,974 acres, of which 513 acres are arable land, 2,102 permanent grass, and 88 woods and plantations. (fn. 1)
The land is undulating and of an average height of nearly 450 ft., the point of greatest elevation, which is found about the centre of the parish, being 520 ft. above the ordnance datum. A small stream rises in the north of Mursley, and runs in a northeasterly direction into the neighbouring parish. The soil is loam with some gravel and clay, the subsoil clay and gravel.
The village, lying nearly in the middle of the parish, is built on either side of a road running from north to south through Mursley and connecting the towns of Buckingham and Dunstable, and it was probably owing to its position on this road, almost equidistant from these important towns, that Mursley enjoyed in former centuries considerably greater importance than it does at present. Weekly markets and an annual three-day fair were held here as early as the 13th century (fn. 2); another fair was granted in the 15th century. (fn. 3) The prosperity of the town continued until well into the 17th century, being added to at that period by the frequent presence here and at the neighbouring hamlet of Salden (q.v.) of the powerful family of Fortescue, whose great wealth and important position undoubtedly exercised an influence on the neighbourhood.
After this time, however, the town seems to have decayed, and about the middle of the 18th century Mursley is described as having 'dwindled into a neglected village,' being 'small and depopulated,' the parish having about 66 families and 258 souls. (fn. 4) This account says further that neither market nor fairs were any longer held, the site of the marketplace being, indeed, only known by tradition, and that no signs were now remaining of Mursley's 'ancient greatness.'
Mursley Hall is a 17th-century house which, with the exception of the original brick chimney stacks, has been entirely modernized externally. Internally much of the old timber framing still remains. Manor Farm, to the east of the church, is apparently a 16th-century house, which retains a considerable amount of original timber-framing. On the east side is a large projecting chimney stack of stone, the diagonal shafts of which are of 17th-century brickwork. The house was much altered and refronted with brickwork, probably in the 18th century, and the boundary wall is said to have been built of bricks brought from Salden manor-house. Spring Cottage, a 17th-century house which has been almost entirely altered and recently added to, has in the east gable, and not in its original position, a stone panel carved with a design of oak leaves and a rabbit, the initials H.T., and the date 1623. The village contains in addition a number of 16th and 17th-century timber-framed cottages, some of which retain part of the original filling of diagonal brickwork, but all have been considerably altered and added to in later times. There is a Baptist chapel, built in 1838.
The hamlet of Salden, possibly the site of the first settlement, lies to the north-east of Mursley village; like its neighbour, it has no longer any claim to its former importance, when the seat of the lord of both manors stood here. The Fitz Niel family had a capital messuage here from the 13th century onwards, but the most important manor-house was that built by the Fortescues towards the close of the 16th century —Salden House, of which a fragment still remains. An 18th-century account of the building, written not many years after it had been pulled down, describes it as having been built round a courtyard, the width of the principal front being 175 ft., with a balustrade at the top and nine large windows on a range (fn. 5); a list of the coats of arms which formerly decorated the windows is given. (fn. 6) Sir John Fortescue, chancellor of the Exchequer in the reign of Elizabeth, spent more than £33,000 on its erection, a sufficiently large sum at that period.
There are grounds for supposing that the queen may have visited Sir John at Salden, as a letter of 1602 speaks of a royal progress which was then purposed, 'first to Sir John Fortescue's in Buckingham shire,' (fn. 7) and James I and his queen were entertained at Salden House in 1603, when some twenty-two gentlemen were dubbed knights on 28 June. (fn. 8)
In the 17th century much of the correspondence of the Fortescue family is dated from Salden, (fn. 9) where they were frequently in residence, living with considerable splendour. According to local tradition the house maintained sixty servants; a large piece of water near by supplied the household with fish, while a windmill, still standing at a much later date, was used for grinding the corn. In a field called the Beggar's Mead broken victuals were daily served to the poor, its name being probably due to the story that the owners of the great house used to give money to every poor person they met while walking there. (fn. 10)
Part of the house was pulled down in 1738, and a further part in 1743, shortly after the division of the Fortescue property; the small remaining portion being converted into a farm-house. (fn. 11) The only portion of the original house now existing is part of the eastern wing, which is of two stories with attics. The walls are of red brick with a lattice pattern of flare headers, and have dressings of stone, including moulded plinth and eaves courses. Several of the original mullioned and transomed windows remain, but the exterior has been considerably altered. Internally there are no original features.
An industrial settlement seems to have sprung up on the main road at Mursley by the middle of the 13th century, (fn. 14) and since a portmanmote (fn. 15) is mentioned in the reign of Edward I in connexion with the manor it seems likely that a small borough had been created here; but if so it achieved no independence and became merged in the main manor.
Three 'manentes' at Salden (Scelfdune) were bestowed on St. Albans Abbey by Offa of Mercia in 795. (fn. 16)
The manor of SALDEN, assessed at 2 hides and 3½ virgates, was held in the time of Edward the Confessor by Lewin of Nuneham, and was still in his possession in 1086. (fn. 17) The overlordship remained in the Crown and is last mentioned in 1525. (fn. 18)
By the middle of the 12th century the manor was probably held, as was Mursley (q.v.), by Richard Fitz Niel, who in 1157–8 rendered account of 27½ marks for lands in Bucks., (fn. 19) and was still alive in 1165–6, when he was certified to hold a knight's fee and a half in the county. (fn. 20) He had a son, also called Richard, who came of age apparently before 1170 (fn. 21) and succeeded to his father's lands. This son's granddaughter and heir, Agnes, (fn. 22) married Reginald Bassett, with whom she held Salden in 1220–1. (fn. 23) She afterwards married Warin Fitz Gerald, (fn. 24) and died about 1252, when her possessions at Salden passed to Robert Fitz Niel, then aged about thirty, whose relationship is not stated. (fn. 25) He was killed at the battle of Evesham, (fn. 26) and was succeeded by another Robert Fitz Niel, (fn. 27) who held Salden Manor until 1331, (fn. 28) when it passed to his daughter Grace, widow of John de Nowers, (fn. 29) in accordance with a settlement made in 1328. (fn. 30) At her death in 1349 (fn. 31) it was found that her second son Robert, who had been struck on the head by a lance at certain jousts and had thereby lost his memory, was unfit to have charge of his lands; custody of the manor was therefore granted by the Crown to two of his kinsmen, subject to their finding proper maintenance for Robert and his household and restoring all profits beyond necessary expenses when he should recover. (fn. 32) Aumary de Nowers, brother of Robert, (fn. 33) released the manor to the Crown in 1351, (fn. 34) having, perhaps, made some attempt to claim it owing to his brother's condition. Robert was still insane in 1354–5, when the Crown made a regrant of the custody of the lands. (fn. 35) In 1358 the manor was in the possession of Isabel daughter of Edward III, (fn. 36) who with her husband, Sir Ingelram de Couci, Earl of Bedford, obtained in 1369 a renunciation of his claim from John son of John de Nowers. (fn. 37) From this time until the accession of Edward IV the manor of Salden was held with Fenelsgrove in Great Kimble. (fn. 38) An annuity of 40 marks to be paid out of Salden was granted in 1432 to Robert Whitingham, (fn. 39) who eventually obtained possession of both estates. (fn. 40) His son Sir Robert Whitingham, kt., obtained Whitingham's manor of Dinton in this county, (fn. 41) with which Salden descended until 1525, (fn. 42) when it was settled on Ralph Verney's second son Francis in tail-male. (fn. 43) Francis Verney was attainted for high treason before 1559, (fn. 44) being apparently concerned in the Dudley plot, in which other members of his family were implicated.
By 1573 the manor was in the possession of Sir John Fortescue, (fn. 45) in whose family it remained for over 150 years. Sir John, chancellor of the Exchequer from 1589 to 1603, and afterwards chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, enjoyed the favour both of Elizabeth and of James I. He built Salden House, and both he and his descendants spent much of their time there. He was succeeded in 1607 by his son Sir Francis, (fn. 46) who married Grace daughter of Sir John Manners of Haddon Hall, (fn. 47) and died in 1624. (fn. 48) His son John Fortescue, who inherited Salden, was created a baronet in 1636. He fought in the Royalist cause in the Civil War and was taken prisoner in 1644. (fn. 49) He became a Roman Catholic, and in 1647 his estates in Mursley and Drayton Parslow were stated to have been worth £898 before the war. (fn. 50) At his death in 1656, John was succeeded by his son, another John, (fn. 51) who acquired Mursley Manor, into which Salden appears by degrees to have become merged. Mention of Salden as a separate manor occurs as late as 1774, (fn. 52) but it does not exist as such at present. By about the middle of the 18th century the estate here was described as 'Salden House, antiently a vill.' (fn. 53)
A grant of free warren was made to Robert Fitz Niel in 1299, (fn. 54) and the family also held view of frankpledge there in the 14th century. (fn. 55) In 1351 the custodians of the manor made a detailed inventory, not only of the stock belonging to it, but also of the dwelling-place there of Robert Fitz Niel, who was lord at that time. (fn. 56) Amongst the items were: in the great hall, a piece of green tapestry hung against the wall with divers coats of arms on it, a bench-covering, a washing-basin, three trestle tables and three fixed ones; and in the lord's own chamber were a bed with a coverlet, a mattress, a 'canevas' and one blanket. An inventory of the goods in the chapel belonging to the house is also given.
After the manor came to the Crown on Francis Verney's attainder a grant of the site appears to have been made to Sir Thomas Parry, kt., as he, in 1559, received licence to alienate it to Sir John Fortescue, (fn. 57) who obtained the manor also, and after that time it remained in the Fortescue family.
Before the Conquest Lewin of Nuneham held 4 hides in MURSLEY as a manor, and in 1086 he still retained possession of this land. (fn. 61) The manor was held by Richard Fitz Niel before 1166, (fn. 62) probably some years before (fn. 63); it was a member of the adjoining manor of Salden (fn. 64) (q.v.), which was also held by the Fitz Niel family, and followed the same descent for many centuries. In 1254–5 the extent of both manors together was 6½ hides. (fn. 65) The two manors remained, however, entirely distinct, Mursley deriving its importance from a weekly market held on Wednesdays and an annual three-day fair in September, both granted in 1242. (fn. 66) Confirmation of these, and of a second three-day fair, held 14–16 August, was made in 1416. (fn. 67)
The divergence in the descent of the manors dates from 1525, when Mursley remained in the elder branch of the Verney family. It descended with Middle Claydon (fn. 68) (q.v.) until 1663, when Sir Ralph Verney sold it to Sir John Fortescue, bart., of Salden, (fn. 69) and the two manors, Mursley and Salden, thus became re-united.
Sir John was succeeded in 1683 by his son John, who died in 1717, the next heir to the property and the fourth baronet being a cousin, Sir Francis Fortescue, who died without issue in 1729. (fn. 70) Under the terms of Sir John's will of 1683, his estate then reverted to the heirs of his two daughters. Margaret, one daughter, had married Henry Benedict Hall of High Meadow, Gloucester; their son Benedict Hall, by will in 1719, devised his reversion, when it should become due, to trustees, who were to sell it in the interest of his daughter and heir Benedicta Maria Theresa, wife of Thomas Viscount Gage. (fn. 71) She was thus one of the co-heirs in 1729, the other being Thomas Whorwood, son and heir of Elizabeth, Sir John Fortescue's other daughter. (fn. 72)
As a result of the division of the Fortescue lands between these co-heirs, the manor of Mursley and the greater part of Salden became the sole property of Viscountess Gage, whose trustees, in 1736, in accordance with her father's will, sold it to Hugh Barker, merchant of London and Bengal. (fn. 73) Barker's son sold the property about the middle of the 18th century to Sampson Gideon, a Jewish capitalist and financier. (fn. 74) Sampson, his son, inherited the estates, (fn. 75) and was in 1789 created Lord Eardley, having already assumed the surname of Eardley. (fn. 76) On his death in 1824 he was succeeded by his three daughters and co-heirs, Selina wife of John Walbanke Childers, Maria wife of Lord Saye and Sele, and Charlotte wife of Sir Culling Smith, bart. (fn. 77) The property was sold soon after this date. (fn. 78)
There was formerly a second manor of MURSLEY, of which the origin is to be found in the 5 hides which Walter Giffard held here as a manor in 1086. (fn. 79) It was afterwards attached to the honour of Giffard. (fn. 80) In the reign of Henry II it was held by Giffard de Lucerna, (fn. 81) and afterwards by Odierna or Hodierna, probably his widow, who about 1197 disputed the land with Hugh Malet, (fn. 82) who seems to have made a claim in the right of his wife Margaret Passelewe. (fn. 83) Odierna afterwards married Hugh de Chaucumbe, and her daughters married Ralph de Grafton and Hamo de Passelewe respectively, who put forward a claim to Mursley in 1199. (fn. 84) It seems eventually to have become the property of Hugh Malet, as in 1202 he, with the assent of his wife Margaret Passelewe, gave the manor of Mursley to the Abbot and monks of Woburn, who were to hold of him and his heirs in free alms, save for the payment of one mark yearly to the sick nuns of Maiden Bradley. (fn. 85) Woburn Abbey afterwards subinfeudated the manor to the Passelewes, who had a claim upon it. The rent due to Maiden Bradley was paid at first direct, (fn. 86) and afterwards through the medium of Woburn Abbey, (fn. 87) in which the mesne lordship remained until the Dissolution. (fn. 88)
The Passelewes already held Drayton Parslow (q.v.), with which Mursley descended until about 1561. (fn. 89) It was then doubtless alienated by the Lacon family to the Fortescues of Salden, who were in possession in 1606. (fn. 90) The last mention of the manor occurs in 1638, (fn. 91) when it was still held by the Fortescues; it probably became absorbed in the main manor of Mursley, which they obtained not long after.
Three hides and half a virgate of land in SALDEN, which had been held before the Conquest by four thegns, formed a manor of the Count of Mortain in 1086. (fn. 92) The estate remained attached to his fee, known in this county as the honour of Berkhampstead, (fn. 93) until after 1346. (fn. 94)
The tenant in 1086 was Ralf, who appears to have been later succeeded here, as elsewhere, by the Chenduits. Alice wife of Ralf Chenduit bestowed 2 hides in Salden before 1215 on St. Oswald's Priory at Pontefract. (fn. 95) The priory subinfeudated I hide to the Fitz Niels, held by Robert Fitz Niel in 1278–9, (fn. 96) but by 1302 the Fitz Niels had acquired the whole of this manor, (fn. 97) and the priory's overlordship had lapsed. After 1346 the manor is not mentioned separately, and doubtless became merged in the main manor of Salden, held by the Fitz Niels.
In the reign of Edward the Confessor Edwin, a man of Azor, held a hide of land in Mursley which he could sell, and at the time of the Survey it was held by the Count of Mortain, whose tenant was Alverad. (fn. 98)
The further history of the holding is quite uncertain, but it may have been the hide held here in the 13th century by Ralph le Poer and Robert le Hyde. (fn. 99) In 1254–5 3 virgates were held by Ralph le Poer and Richard le Poer, (fn. 100) and in 1278–9 Ralph le Poer held 1½ virgates and an acre of wood. (fn. 101)
Edmund Earl of Cornwall, at his death in 1300, held a tenement called la Hyde in Mursley as member of the castle of Berkhampstead. (fn. 102) This land still existed as a distinct tenement in the 17th century, but all traces of it afterwards disappeared, and by the middle of the 19th century even its site was unknown, although it was commonly supposed to have included the field known as Hyde Meadow. (fn. 103)
The Prior of Snelshall held land in Mursley from the 13th century onward. (fn. 104) In 1230 he received a grant of a weekly market to be held there on Thursday, (fn. 105) but this market was soon put down, as the Prior of Leighton (Grovebury) complained that it intercepted the usual attendants at the market at Leighton. (fn. 106)
In 1278–9 the land of Snelshall Priory here amounted to 2 virgates, (fn. 107) and in 1535 the value of it in rent was 61s. 4d. (fn. 108) The grant of the priory possessions after the Dissolution to Francis Pigott included the lands in Mursley called Oxwicks and Stephenhill. (fn. 109)
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a chancel 33 ft. by 16 ft., nave 43 ft. 3 in. by 17 ft. 3 in., north and south aisles, each 7 ft. 6 in. wide, west tower 10 ft. 6 in. square, and a south porch.
The building, which is of stone with a tiled roof, dates apparently from about the middle of the 14th century, the tower being added rather later. There was a complete restoration in 1867, the chancel being practically rebuilt, but much of the old material was re-used. The south porch is modern.
The chancel is lighted from the east end by a modern window of three cinquefoiled lights with tracery under a pointed head, and from either side by two windows of two trefoiled lights with tracery in pointed heads, which were originally of the 14th century, but are now much restored or entirely renewed. Between the windows on the north side is a modern tomb recess, and between those on the south, but hidden internally by the organ, is a much-restored doorway with a continuously moulded pointed head and jambs. At the east end of the wall is a 14th-century piscina with a cinquefoiled ogee head and a shelf. The chancel arch is originally of the 14th century, but restored. It is pointed, and its two orders spring from semi-octagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases.
The nave arcades are each of four bays with octagonal piers and other details of the same period and character as the chancel arch. The clearstory has four quatrefoiled circular lights on each side with two-centred drop rear arches, and is apparently entirely restored.
The east windows in both aisles, the three windows in the south wall of the south aisle, and the first two windows in the north wall of the north aisle are each of two trefoiled ogee lights with tracery in pointed heads; the third window in the north wall is of two cinquefoiled lights with tracery in a pointed head. They all have moulded rear arches, and, though originally of the 14th century, have been largely renewed. The north doorway, which has been restored, has a continuously moulded pointed head and jambs, but the south doorway is modern. Outside the north doorway the outline of the former porch can be traced. Towards the east end of each aisle is a 14th-century piscina having a cinquefoiled ogee head with a shelf.
The tower is of three stages with an embattled parapet and diagonal buttresses. The pointed tower arch is of three hollow-chamfered orders dying into square jambs. The north and south walls of the ground stage each contain a small blocked trefoiled lancet. The west window is modern. In the west wall of the second stage is a single trefoiled light. The topmost stage has in each face a window of two lights in a pointed head, the upper part of which has been filled in and plastered. That on the east side now contains the clock dial.
On the north side of the chancel, in a recess, is a high tomb of Purbeck marble, the front and ends of which have sunk traceried panels with shields in the centres. The moulded top slab has a Latin inscription on brass round the edge to Cecily daughter of Sir Edmund Ashfield, kt., and wife of John Fortescue, who died in 1570. Let into the top of the slab is a small brass figure of a lady in a richly embroidered gown, and a plate with a long Latin inscription setting forth the virtues of the lady, the date of her death, and the names of her children, viz., Robert, Francis, William, Thomas, Elizabeth, and Eleanor. On the shield, in the end panel, is a brass inscription recording that the three monuments of the Fortescue family were restored by Thomas Fortescue, Lord Clermont, in 1866. Above the tomb, in a semicircular-headed recess, are the figures of the knight in armour and his lady in a long gown and ruff kneeling on cushions on either side of a prayer-desk. Beneath the figures is a Latin inscription to John Fortescue, kt., privy councillor to Queen Elizabeth and King James I, chancellor of the Exchequer and of the duchy of Lancaster, and master of the wardrobe, who died in 1607. Above is a shield of Fortescue impaling Argent a trefoil sable between three molets pierced gules, for Ashfield. On the south side of the chancel is a marble monument with figures of a knight in armour and of a lady in the costume of a widow with a ruff kneeling at a prayer desk. Above is an inscription to Sir Francis Fortescue of Salden, Knight of the Bath, eldest son of the Right Honourable Sir John Fortescue and 'Sicilie' his wife (see tomb opposite), and to Grace his wife, daughter of Sir John Manners of Haddon, second son of Thomas Earl of Rutland, and of Dorothy daughter and co-heir of Sir George Vernon, kt. Below is a panel with the kneeling figures of six sons, two of whom bear skulls, and of four daughters, two of whom also hold skulls. Above is an achievement of arms with a shield with the arms of Fortescue impaling Manners. There are two helms crested with the Fortescue tiger and the peacock of Manners.
The oak pulpit is apparently of early 17th-century date, and is hexagonal, one side being open. The faces are panelled in two heights and carved, and the cornice is dentilled. The pulpit is carried on the original turned shaft, which has carved scrolls and base.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) all entries mixed from 1578 to 1638 and classified from 1638 to 1721; (ii) mixed entries from 1721 to 1751; (iii) all entries mixed from 1752 to 1768 and classified from 1769 to 1778, the marriages stopping at 1753; (iv) marriages from 1754 to 1778; (v) baptisms and burials from 1779 to 1812; (vi) marriages from 1779 to 1812.
The church of Mursley was granted by Richard Fitz Niel to the Prioress of Nuneaton before the year 1166. (fn. 110) Confirmation of the grant was made afterwards by Warin Fitz Gerald and Agnes his wife, (fn. 111) and the priory continued to hold the church, although not apparently without hindrance from the lords of the manor. In 1312 Robert Fitz Niel, after divers contentions between himself and the prioress, finally renounced all claim in the advowson of the 'Church of the Blessed Mary' of Mursley, declaring himself satisfied as to her right by the charters which she had produced. (fn. 112) Henceforth and until the Dissolution the church was held by Nuneaton Priory without interruption.
In 1560 the advowson was granted by the Crown to Robert Davy and Henry Dynne, (fn. 113) from whom it passed by sale to Sir Edmund Ashfield. (fn. 114) Cecilia Ashfield, his daughter and heir, married Sir John Fortescue, and the advowson thus coming into the family which eventually held both manors (fn. 115) has since been held with the main property here, the living being now in the gift of Mr. W. Selby-Lowndes.
Presentations to the living were made in the 17th and 18th centuries by the trustees of the Fortescues, (fn. 116) once by the Crown, and twice by the University of Oxford, (fn. 117) owing doubtless to the fact that the family had adopted the Roman Catholic faith. A vicarage was never ordained here; the rector in 1278–9 was declared to be a free tenant of the manor, holding 1 virgate of land. (fn. 118) In 1291 a pension was paid by this church to the priory of Luffield. (fn. 119)
A chapel existed at Salden as early as 1251, in which year Warin Fitz Gerald and Agnes granted to John de Chandon, chaplain, a messuage and 80 acres of land on condition that the souls of Warin and Agnes and of Agnes's heirs should be prayed for daily in the chapel. (fn. 120) It was consecrated by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1327. (fn. 121) In 1329 Robert Fitz Niel granted it to the priory of Luffield. (fn. 122) The chapel is referred to in 1355, (fn. 123) but probably fell into disuse when the manor passed from the Fitz Niel heirs to the Crown.
The church lands formerly consisted of 7 a. 3 r., awarded under an inclosure in lieu of lands lying in the open field, of which 3 a. 2 r. were sold in 1899, and the proceeds invested in £359 London and North Western Railway 3 per cent. debenture stock, with the official trustees, producing £10 15s. 4d. yearly. The remainder of the land, 4 a. 1 r., is let at £8 a year. The income is applied towards the upkeep of the church.
The charity of Nicholas Godwin, founded by will 14 March 1712, is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 15 July 1890. This parish is entitled to £5 a year, to be applied in prizes to children attending a public elementary school. (See under article on Schools.)