A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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In 1066 BOBBINGWORTH was held by 2 freemen as 1 hide and 30 acres and was worth 40s. (fn. 1) In 1086 it was held of Ranulf brother of Ilger by Richard and was worth 60s. (fn. 2) In the early 13th century it seems to have been held in chief by Hamon de Marcy. (fn. 3) Hamon apparently left as his heir Serlo de Marcy, lord of Stondon Massey (q.v.), who was dead by 1244. (fn. 4) In that year Serlo's sisters and heirs, Alice wife of John de Merk and Agnes wife of Nicholas Spigurnel agreed to divide between them the tenements in Bobbingworth and elsewhere which Denise, widow of Hamon, and Agnes, widow of Serlo, then held in dower. (fn. 5) Afterwards it was evidently agreed that the Spigurnels should hold the Bobbingworth tenements of the Merks, for in 1311- 12 William son and heir of Ralph de Merk granted the overlordship of these tenements to Humphrey, Earl of Hereford and Essex (d. 1322) who in 1312-13 granted it in fee tail to his youngest son William de Bohun, later Earl of Northampton. (fn. 6) In 1328 the manor of Bobbingworth was held of William by the service of ½ knight's fee. (fn. 7) He died in 1360 and was succeeded by his son Humphrey, later Earl of Hereford and of Essex. (fn. 8) After Humphrey's death in 1373 the overlordship passed through his daughter Eleanor to Anne wife of Edmund Earl of March. (fn. 9) After the deaths of Edmund (1425) and Anne (1432) the overlordship passed to Anne's brother Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham (d. 1460). (fn. 10) In 1475 the manor was held of Humphrey's widow Anne. (fn. 11) In 1485 and 1493 it was held of Jasper, Duke of Bedford (d. 1495) and his wife Katherine whose first husband had been Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (d. 1483). (fn. 12)
Nicholas Spigurnel died before 1275. (fn. 13) Sir Edmund Spigurnel, son of Nicholas, died in 1295-6 leaving his widow Clarice to hold for her life 1 messuage, 1 carucate of land, and 50s. rent in Bobbingworth. (fn. 14) In 1297 his brother and heir John granted the reversion of this estate after the death of Clarice to Henry Spigurnel, probably his younger brother, and to the heirs of Henry. (fn. 15) In 1328 Henry Spigurnel died in possession of this estate, which was then described as a manor. (fn. 16) He was succeeded by his son Thomas who in 1332 quitclaimed all his rights in the manor to Robert de Hakeney, citizen of London, and his wife Katherine. (fn. 17) In 1361 Thomas son of Robert de Hakeney granted an annuity of £10 from the manor to James de Lacy and his heirs. (fn. 18) Thomas de Hakeney left at least one sister, Katherine, as his heir. (fn. 19) In 1389 Maud de Enfield, who was perhaps the widow of John de Enfield and perhaps also the sister of Thomas de Hakeney, granted the reversion of the manor, then held for life by Joan wife of Luke Morell, to Ralph de Tyle and his wife Alice, daughter of John de Enfield, to John their son and to the heirs of Alice. (fn. 20) In 1403 Thomas Horsman and his wife Margaret and John Abberbury and his wife Alice granted the reversion of the manor, after the death of Joan Morell, to Sir John Ashley and his heirs. (fn. 21) The conveyances of 1389 and 1403 led, after the death of Joan Morell, to a contest for possession of the estate.
Joan Morell died on 16 May 1409. (fn. 22) At that time Alice and Ralph de Tyle and their son John were dead and the next of kin of Alice was her cousin Thomas, a minor, son of her father's brother Thomas de Enfield. (fn. 23) On 22 May 1409 William Wodeward and his wife Agnes, a kinswoman of Thomas, were granted custody of the manor. (fn. 24) Shortly afterwards, by letters patent which apparently were antedated to 20 May 1409 the custody of the manor was given to Helming Legat, who was closely connected with Sir John Ashley, and William Loveney. (fn. 25) The grant to the Wodewards was annulled and they were removed from possession of the estate. (fn. 26) They then proceeded to complain by petition in Parliament and in June 1410 the case was examined by the king's council. (fn. 27) In the course of the hearing Helming Legat stated that at the instance of Sir John Ashley he had released all his claim in the estate to John Habhale, a servant of Ashley. (fn. 28) At the close of the hearing the council declared that the grant to Legat and Loveney should be revoked on the ground that when it was made the grantees did not fulfil their legal obligation of revealing other gifts which they had received from the king. (fn. 29) At the same time the council secured an acknowledgement by Loveney that the letters patent dated 20 May were sealed after the letters dated 22 May. (fn. 30) In accordance with the council's judgement the Wodewards were restored as custodians of the estate in October 1410. (fn. 31)
It is not clear whether Sir John Ashley took any further steps to obtain possession of the manor after his attempt in 1409. An inquisition taken in 1412 declared that Thomas de Enfield was the heir to the estate in virtue of the fine of 1389. (fn. 32) By 1420, however, a lawsuit was begun to contest Thomas's claim. (fn. 33) In 1420 William Ashley, brother and heir of Sir John, came to an agreement with Nicholas Thorley whereby Nicholas was to pay the costs of the action and a further 70 marks to William in return for which William was to enfeoff him with the manor or with half of it, if only half was recovered. (fn. 34) It is not clear how far the action was pursued. In January 1424 an inquisition declared that in virtue of the fine of 1389 Thomas de Enfield, who had come of age in October 1423, was entitled to the estate. (fn. 35) In March 1424 Thomas conveyed what he described as 'all my manor of Bobbingworth' to Sir Lewis Robessart and others who granted it to Nicholas Thorley. (fn. 36) In August 1424 William Ashley conveyed what he also described as 'my manor of Bobbingworth' to Nicholas Thorley and the heirs of Nicholas. (fn. 37)
In 1442 Sir Nicholas Thorley died leaving as his heir Walter Estoft, son of his sister Katherine. (fn. 38) Alice, Countess of Oxford and widow of Nicholas, apparently held a life interest in the manor of Bobbingworth. (fn. 39) In 1445 she granted this life interest to her son John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, and to Sir Reynold West and Richard Wentworth who immediately sold it to Sir Thomas Tyrell. (fn. 40) At the same time Sir Thomas purchased the reversion from Walter Estoft. (fn. 41) In January 1464 Sir Thomas Tyrell conveyed the manor to Sir Peter Arderne and others who in December 1466 granted it to Walter Wrytell. (fn. 42) After Walter's death in 1475 the manor of Bobbingworth followed the same descent as that of High Laver (q.v.) until 1510. (fn. 43)
In 1510, when they made a partition of the rest of their inheritance, James and Eleanor Walsingham and Edward and Gresilda Waldegrave agreed that they, and the heirs of Eleanor and Gresilda, should hold Bobbingworth manor in common. (fn. 44) In 1575, however, the owners of the manor, Sir Thomas Walsingham, grandson of James and Eleanor, and John Rochester of Terling, son of William, son of Gresilda by her first husband John Rochester, made a physical division of it. (fn. 45) It was agreed that John Rochester's share of the estate should be the manor house which, with its appurtenant 6 acres, was then in the occupation of John Poole who was a freeholder and copyholder of the manor; 175 acres of demesne land of which 117 acres lay together, 56 acres which were in the occupation of four copyholders at rents totalling £2 13s. a year; and the rents, amounting to £2 19s. 5d. a year, and services of all the twelve freeholders. (fn. 46) The share of Sir Thomas Walsingham was to be 218 acres of demesne land which lay in two parcels of 122 acres and 71 acres and several smaller ones, and 44 acres which were in the occupation of four copyholders at rents totalling £4 4s. a year. (fn. 47)
John Rochester was dead by 1584. (fn. 48) He was succeeded by his second son Edward who in 1586 sold his half of Bobbingworth manor to the above mentioned John Poole. (fn. 49) This estate afterwards became known as the manor of BOBBINGWORTH HALL. (fn. 50)
The demesne land acquired by Sir Thomas Walsingham in 1575 was sold by his son Sir Thomas Walsingham in 1598 to Robert Bourne, owner of Blake Hall (see below). (fn. 51) The greater part, if not all, of this land afterwards remained as a permanent part of Blake Hall estate, some of it being attached to the manor of Blake Hall and some of it to the manor of Bilsdens (see below). (fn. 52)
John Poole died ir. 1602 having devised Bobbingworth Hall to his son John with the stipulation that his widow Lora was to have 'her dwelling and house room in the new parlour belonging to Bobbingworth hall and the two upper rooms over the same parlour'. (fn. 53) John Poole the son, a London alderman, died in 1633. (fn. 54) His considerable estate consisted largely of claims on foreigners and these had to be recovered before legacies totalling about £10,000 could be paid. (fn. 55) He devised the manor of Bobbingworth to his wife Anne for life and then to his brother Richard after whose death John son of Richard was to inherit the estate. (fn. 56) Richard Poole died in about 1642. (fn. 57) In 1674 John Poole, son of Richard, made a settlement on his own son John when the latter married Mary Powel. (fn. 58) By this the manorial rights, the capital messuage with its appurtenances, and 93½ acres passed immediately to John the son who was also to receive a further 71 acres on the death of his father. (fn. 59) The elder John retained the free disposition of about 12 acres. (fn. 60) Immediately after the settlement he leased to the younger John 39½ acres of the 71 acres in which he retained a life interest, at a rent of £20 a year. (fn. 61) The elder John died in about 1676. (fn. 62) The younger John died before 1701, leaving his widow Mary to enjoy a life interest in the manorial royalties, the manor house, and 93½ acres under the terms of the settlement of 1674. (fn. 63) He left the 71 acres which he had inherited on his father's death to his son John who was also to have the reversion of Mary's estate. (fn. 64) In 1701 John Poole mortgaged his reversionary interest to Charles Houblon for £600. (fn. 65) In 1704 he sold to Houblon for £1,080 the 71 acres he had in hand. (fn. 66) In 1708 Houblon also bought the manor house and the lands mortgaged to him by John Poole in 1701, Mary Poole selling her life interest for £498 and John Poole his reversionary interest for £1,000. (fn. 67)
The estate which John and Mary Poole sold to Houblon in 1704-8 consisted of a large part of the estate acquired by John Rochester in 1575. Houblon also bought other property in Bobbingworth. (fn. 68) He may have bought a small part of the lands sold by Walsingham to Bourne in 1598. (fn. 69)
Houblon never made his home in Bobbingworth. (fn. 70) He died in 1711. (fn. 71) From this time the manor descended in the direct male line of the Houblon family until 1834. (fn. 72) From 1729, when Jacob Houblon took up residence at Great Hallingbury, until 1834 the owners of Bobbingworth manor did not live on their Bobbingworth estate. (fn. 73) In 1833 this estate consisted of 6 acres of woodland in hand; 231 acres of arable and pasture in the occupation of John and Thomas Speed at a rent of £205 a year; 6 copyhold messuages and 26 acres of copyhold land, rents for which totalled £1 6s. 1d. a year; and freehold lands, rents for which totalled £1 7s. 9d. a year. (fn. 74) In 1834 John Archer Houblon sold this estate, and his share of the advowson of Bobbingworth (see below) to Capel Cure of Blake Hall for £8,077 of which £577 was paid for the timber on the estate. (fn. 75) The manor of Bobbingworth has subsequently remained in the family of Capel Cure. It had copyhold tenants as late as 1919. (fn. 76)
In the 12th century the manor of BLAKE HALL was held of the honor of Boulogne by Pharamus of Boulogne, great-grandson of Count Eustace of Boulogne. (fn. 77) It is not clear whether Pharamus held the manor in demesne. He died in 1183-4 and was succeeded by his only daughter and heir Sibyl de Fiennes. (fn. 78) Sibyl was holding the manor of the honor of Boulogne in 1221-2. (fn. 79) By the early 14th century, however, the manor was, apparently, no longer considered part of that honor. (fn. 80)
Sibyl's heir was her son William de Fiennes. (fn. 81) William's grandson, Sir William de Fiennes (d. 1302), was second cousin of Eleanor of Castile, to whom he pledged part of his estate in 1275 when, at his request, she engaged to pay £1,000 to Humphrey de Bohun on the latter's marriage with William's sister Maud. (fn. 82) It is likely that William granted the overlordship of Blake Hall to Eleanor of Castile, for her grandson, Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, was holding it when he died in 1314. (fn. 83) Gilbert was succeeded by his sister and coheir Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare, of whom the manor was held by the service of ½ knight's fee. (fn. 84) Afterwards the tenancy in chief followed the same descent as that of Magdalen Laver manor (q.v.). (fn. 85)
In 1314 the tenant in demesne was Robert de Hastings who sold the manor to Adam Atforth. (fn. 86) It was subsequently held by Sir John de Loundres. (fn. 87) In 1421 Sir Robert Brent died in possession of the manor leaving as his heir his sister Joan wife of John Trethek. (fn. 88) In 1424 John and Joan Trethek conveyed the manor to William Trethek. (fn. 89) William immediately granted it to Sir Reynold West, Richard Wentworth, and Richard Arderne in exchange for the manor of Poldu (Cornw.) which they had acquired from Nicholas Thorley and his wife Alice, Countess of Oxford. (fn. 90) West, Arderne, and Wentworth were probably acting as trustees for Nicholas Thorley in the purchase of Blake Hall as they certainly were in the purchase of Bobbingworth manor (see above) in the same year. Sir Nicholas Thorley died in 1442, leaving as his heir Walter Estoft, son of his sister Katherine. (fn. 91) In about 1504 William Thomson became lord of the manor. (fn. 92) At the same time he purchased 217 acres of land from Robert Brent. (fn. 93) William and his wife Agnes, who may have been a daughter of Walter Estoft, were still in possession of the manor in 1511, but by September 1512 Sir William Capel was lord. (fn. 94) At that time John Glascock farmed the manor at a rent of £8 a year. (fn. 95) Capel died in 1516, leaving as his heir his son Giles who, with his sons Henry and Edward, conveyed it in 1539 to Sir Richard Rich, later 1st Baron Rich. (fn. 96) In 1563 Rich conveyed the manor to John Waylett. (fn. 97) In 1564 Waylett granted it to John Glascock who in 1562 had been described as 'of Blake Hall'. (fn. 98) In 1598 John Glascock, perhaps the son of the purchaser of 1564, sold the manor to Robert Bourne but retained 56 acres of its demesne land for his own son George. (fn. 99) In the same year Bourne purchased from Sir Thomas Walsingham the demesne lands which Walsingham's father had acquired in 1575 as his share of Bobbingworth manor (see above). (fn. 100) In 1628 Bourne purchased some land from John son of George Glascock. (fn. 101) In 1639 Robert Bourne died, having settled Blake Hall manor on his wife Katherine for life with remainder to his son Robert. (fn. 102) The younger Robert had only one child, a daughter Alice who in 1656 married John, 3rd Baron Digby, and afterwards 3rd Earl of Bristol. (fn. 103) She died without issue in 1658. (fn. 104) Robert Bourne made a settlement whereby Digby was to hold the manor for life with remainder to John Cooper, nephew of Bourne. (fn. 105) Bourne died in 1666. (fn. 106) In about 1675 Cooper tried unsuccessfully to sell his reversion. (fn. 107) At that time he rented the manors of Blake Hall and Bilsdens (see below) from Digby for £462 a year. (fn. 108) He succeeded to the estate on Digby's death in 1698 and died in 1701. (fn. 109) His heirs were his sisters Dorothy, wife of Richard Thompson, and Anne, wife of Charles Fowler. (fn. 110) In 1709 they sold the estate to John Clarke for £8,000. (fn. 111) Clarke died in 1726 having devised the manor to his eldest son Richard. (fn. 112) In 1735 the manor house was in the occupation of Richard Clarke and the manor farm in that of Robert Crabb. (fn. 113) Richard died in 1770, apparently leaving considerable debts. He had devised the manor to his brother Dennis who by his will of 1770 devised it to his sisters Ann, wife of Sir Narbrough D'Aeth, and Catherine, wife of Barnabas Eveleigh Leigh, for their lives with remainder to his nephew Narbrough D'Aeth. (fn. 114) Catherine Leigh died before 1780. (fn. 115) In 1780 Sir Narbrough D'Aeth, nephew of Clarke, mortgaged his reversion of the manors of Blake Hall and Bilsdens (see below) and the advowson of Bobbingworth for £1,000. (fn. 116) Between 1781 and 1788 Sir Narbrough and his mother Lady Ann D'Aeth borrowed further sums on the security of their Bobbingworth estate, making the total mortgage £7,700 in March 1788. (fn. 117) Before this they had mortgaged their other properties for sums totalling at least £14,500. (fn. 118) It may have been this load of debt which made Sir Narbrough sell his Bobbingworth estate to Capel Cure in 1789. (fn. 119) Since that time Blake Hall has remained in the family of Capel Cure. By Morant's time it no longer had manorial tenants. (fn. 120) In 1840 Blake Hall farm consisted of nearly 220 acres and was in the occupation of Capel Cure. (fn. 121) At about that time Blake Hall was the centre of an estate of some 3,800 acres, mainly in Bobbingworth and neighbouring parishes. (fn. 122) It included the manors of Blake Hall, Bobbingworth Hall, Bilsdens, and Ongar Park (in High Ongar, q.v.) and a total of some 20 farms. (fn. 123) Capel Cure was the impropriator of Norton Mandeville (q.v.) and Compton Abdale (Glouc.) as well as patron of Bobbingworth. (fn. 124)
In about 1700 Blake Hall was a typical timberframed Essex building with two gables to the front. (fn. 125) This house appears to have been completely demolished early in the 18th century. The central rooms at the front of the present house are part of the Georgian mansion which superseded it. In 1804 the house was of two stories with seven windows across the front, a colonnaded porch, and a central pediment. (fn. 126) By 1804 the straight avenue of trees, which in the late 18th century had led direct from the doorway to the road, had been abandoned in favour of curved approaches to north and south. (fn. 127) In 1822 the house was remodelled by George Basevi, (fn. 128) but it is not clear how much work was done at this time. The rooms facing the garden with their two semicircular bays may be of this date or a little earlier. A service wing to the north was also built by 1822. About the middle of the 19th century the house was greatly extended. (fn. 129) A third story was added to the central block and a new wing was built on the south side. Early in the 20th century a fine late17th-century staircase, which came originally from a house on the south side of Pall Mall, was inserted in the hall. (fn. 130) Between 1940 and 1948 Blake Hall was requisitioned by the R.A.F. and during this time the library and drawing room with the bedrooms above were thrown together to form an operations room. This wing has not yet been restored. (fn. 131)
The manor of BILSDENS derived its name from the family of Billesdon. In 1496 Joan, widow of Sir Robert Billesdon and daughter and heir of John Williams, died in possession of a messuage, 280 acres of land and 20 acres of meadow in Bobbingworth and other parishes. (fn. 132) This estate, which was then called 'Monkis alias Bobynford', was worth 100s. and was held of one Brent. (fn. 133) Joan's heir was her son Thomas Billesdon. (fn. 134)
After Joan's death her Bobbingworth estate may have passed, with her Marshalls estate in North Weald (q.v.), to Sir William Fitzwilliam. In 1581 William Bourne died in possession of the Bobbingworth estate which he apparently purchased from Richard, 1st Baron Rich, in 1566. (fn. 135) William bequeathed to his wife Margaret 'household stuff, corn and cattle at Gippes alias Billesdons'. (fn. 136) In his will he also mentioned his house there. (fn. 137)
Bourne's son Robert purchased the manor of Blake Hall (see above) in 1598 and the Billesdon estate, which was described as a manor in 1675 and later, afterwards descended with Blake Hall. (fn. 138) It was occupied by a tenant until 1828, after which it was farmed by the owner himself. (fn. 139) In 1840 Bilsdens farm consisted of 237 acres of which 136 were arable. (fn. 140)
The back part of Bilsdens house is timber-framed and probably dates from the 15th or early 16th century. It apparently consisted of a central hall with two crosswings. The hall has been much altered but in both cross-wings the lower part of arch-braced roof trusses are visible on the first floor. In the roof space at least one king-post with four-way struts remains. This was evidently the manor house of which William Bourne died possessed in 1581. An estate map of Bilsdens dated 1761 (fn. 141) has a rough drawing of the house from which it appears to have been L-shaped and gabled. The present front rooms were added late in the 18th century and these were faced with brickwork probably about 100 years later.