A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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Before the Conquest ABBESS RODING (later known as ABBESS HALL) was held by Leuild (probably a woman) as a manor and 3 virgates. In 1086 it was held by Geoffrey Martel as tenant of Geoffrey de Mandeville. It was then stated that the manor had previously been in the possession of Barking Abbey 'and he who held this land was only the man of Geoffrey's predecessor, and had no power to put this land in possession of anyone but the abbey'. (fn. 1)
Barking subsequently regained possession of the manor, perhaps as a result of the Domesday survey, and retained it until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539. (fn. 2) In 1291 the manor was valued at £8 17s. (fn. 3)
In April 1540 Abbess Roding was granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Cromwell. (fn. 4) In November of the same year, after Cromwell's disgrace and execution, the stewardship of the manor was given to Sir Richard Rich and in January 1541 the manor itself was settled upon Anne of Cleves, the king's divorced wife. (fn. 5) The manor was soon in the king's hands again, for in 1544 it was granted by the Crown to Robert Chartsey and nineteen others. (fn. 6) In 1546 Chartsey conveyed his interest in the manor to Robert Meredith, one of the grantees of 1544, whereupon Meredith and three other of those grantees transferred their interest to Robert Long. (fn. 7) In 1549 Long, in whom by this time the manor seems to have been solely vested, conveyed it to William Glascock. (fn. 8) An annual rent of 24s. 6½d. from the manor was reserved from the grant of 1544 and was granted by the king in 1553 to Oliver St. John and Robert Thorneton. (fn. 9)
William Glascock died in 1579 and was succeeded by his son Richard. (fn. 10) In 1592 Abbess Roding was granted by the queen to William Tipper and Robert Daw, 'the two greedy hunters after concealed lands'. (fn. 11) In 1599, however, the manor was restored to Richard Glascock, (fn. 12) who sold it in the same year to Gamaliel Capel of Rookwood (see below), younger brother of Arthur Capel (d. 1632), lord of Much Hadham (Herts.) and of Berwick Berners. (fn. 13) Gamaliel was later knighted, and died in 1613. (fn. 14)
The manor passed successively to Sir Gamaliel's son, grandson, and great-grandson, each of whom was also named Gamaliel Capel. (fn. 15) About 1700 the last Gamaliel Capel sold or mortgaged Abbess Roding to John Howland of Streatham. (fn. 16) Howland's daughter and heir Elizabeth carried the estate in marriage to Wriothesley Russell, Duke of Bedford. (fn. 17) In 1739 their son John, Duke of Bedford, sold it to Stephen Skinner of Walthamstow. (fn. 18) Skinner's daughter Emma eventually inherited the estate. She married (1750) William Harvey of Barringtons (Rolls) in Chigwell (q.v.), and the manor of Abbess Roding subsequently followed the same descent as Barringtons. (fn. 19) In 1830 'Abbots Hall farm' comprised 212 acres. Parker's farm, which was part of the same estate, was 224 acres and there were 67 acres of woodland. (fn. 20) There was then no mention of manorial rights and it seems probable that these had been alienated at the beginning of the 18th century. (fn. 21) In the partition of the estates of Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey, who died in 1830, Abbess Roding passed to the share of Thomas W. Bramston of Skreens in Roxwell, who had married the admiral's daughter Elizabeth. (fn. 22) T. W. Bramston held the property in 1868. (fn. 23) It was bought soon after that date by the Revd. L. Capel Cure but Thomas H. Bramston owned a rent-charge in the parish as late as 1888. (fn. 24) In 1895 Abbess Hall farm was being farmed along with Rookwood Farm. (fn. 25)
Abbess Hall farm-house is timber-framed and plastered and was probably rebuilt or much altered in the late 17th or early 18th century. The sash windows were added about 100 years later. South of the house is a large barn with seven bays and two porches. The older parts, which have plastered panels between the studs, may date from the 17th century. The panels of red brick are probably not more than 150 years old. There is a granary of similar construction to the northeast of the house.
The early history of the manor of BERWICK BERNERS is not entirely clear and is made even more difficult to trace by the existence of the manor of Berwick in High Easter and that of Berners Roding, both held by the Berners family which also held Berwick Berners.
In 1086 Eudo dapifer held a manor in Roding in demesne. Before the Conquest it had been held by Ulmar as a manor and 3 hides. (fn. 26) At the time of Domesday there was a sokeman holding ½ virgate and 8½ acres who could sell his land although the soke remained attached to the manor. It is probable that Eudo's manor was that which later became known as Berwick Berners. When Eudo founded the abbey of St. John, Colchester, about 1096 he gave the monks the tithes of Roding. (fn. 27) The same tithes are probably referred to in a later confirmation of the abbey's property by the Bishop of London, in which they are described as the tithes of Fulk dapifer in Roding Abbess. (fn. 28) Fulk dapifer does not occur in Domesday but is found as a tenant of Eudo in the reign of Henry 1. (fn. 29)
Eudo dapifer died without heirs in 1120. The king later restored to Eudo's widow Rose the lands which her husband had given her in dower. (fn. 30) These included 'the two Rodings'. In 1142 the lands of Eudo were granted by the Empress Maud to the notorious Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex. (fn. 31) This grant did not become completely effective, for many of Eudo's manors never seem to have belonged to Geoffrey or his heirs. (fn. 32) Berwick Berners, however, probably did pass to the Mandevilles. In 1166 Geoffrey's son of the same name, also Earl of Essex, was tenant in chief of lands in Essex which were held of him by Adam son of Fulk for 1½ knight's fee. (fn. 33) Early in the 13th century William son of Geoffrey de Roinges (Roding) son of Adam son of Fulk made a grant of an acre of land in a field called Merefeld to St. John's, Colchester. (fn. 34) A William son of Geoffrey was holding land in Roding in 1240, (fn. 35) but before this, in 1220, the manor of Berwick was in the hands of the Berners family, from which it took the second part of its name. In that year Beatrice widow of William de Berners was granted dower by Ralph de Berners in Berwick and elsewhere. (fn. 36) In 1166 an earlier Ralph de Berners had held 4 knights' fees of the Earl of Essex, and also ½ fee of Henry Fitz Gerold as of the fees of Eudo dapifer. The successor of the first Ralph was apparently William de Berners. (fn. 37) The tenancy in demesne is thus doubtful up to 1220. It may have passed from Fulk dapifer to Adam son of Fulk, to Geoffrey son of Adam, and William son of Geoffrey or it may have been acquired by Ralph de Berners in the middle of the 12th century. The tenancy in chief is not so obscure. In 1297 the manor was held of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Essex, the descendant and heir of the Mandeville earls. (fn. 38) It subsequently descended with the earldom of Essex until the death in 1397 of Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Essex, and Duke of Gloucester. (fn. 39) In 1400 Berwick Berners and other manors were assigned by the king to Edmund, Earl of Stafford and his wife Anne, eldest daughter and coheir of Thomas of Woodstock and of Eleanor his wife, eldest daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Essex (d. 1373). (fn. 40) In 1421, however, a new partition was made of the Bohun inheritance, by which the king received the fee of the earldom of Essex. (fn. 41) Berwick Berners was thus merged in the Crown. In 1623-4 it was annexed to the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 42)
The tenancy in demesne of the manor descended in the Berners family like Barnston and Berners Roding (Essex) and West Horsley (Surr.). (fn. 43) In 1336 Berwick Berners was conveyed by John son of Edmund de Berners to John son of Ralph de Berners. (fn. 44) In 1381-2 it was being administered by the bailiff of Sir John de Gildesburgh. (fn. 45) The net value of the manor was then £1 10s. 11d. It had been granted to Gildesburgh for life by Sir John de Berners. (fn. 46) Sir John's son Sir James de Berners, a knight of the king's chamber, was executed in 1388 as an evil counsellor of Richard II. (fn. 47) In 1389 Anne widow of James was granted the manor for 500 marks. (fn. 48) Like West Horsley it passed with Anne to her second husband John Bryan and subsequently to her son Richard de Berners. (fn. 49) Richard died in 1417 and was succeeded by his daughter Margery, who married as her first husband John Fereby. (fn. 50) John and Margery were holding manor courts at Berwick Berners in 1427-40. (fn. 51) After John's death Margery married John Bourchier, who was later summoned to Parliament as a peer and is thus held to have become Lord Berners. (fn. 52) Berwick Berners passed to Bourchier's grandson and heir John, Lord Berners, who was holding it in 1508. (fn. 53) Soon after this the manor apparently passed to Sir William Capel who by his will dated 1515 left it to his son Sir Giles Capel. (fn. 54) Courts were held in 1520 for the manor of 'Berwick Capel'. (fn. 55) The manor descended in the direct male line to Arthur Capel, created Baron Capel of Hadham in 1641, who was one of the royalist garrison of Colchester which surrendered on 27 August 1648. He was beheaded in the following year. (fn. 56) In 1653 his son Arthur, Lord Capel, conveyed Berwick Berners to Robert Abdy, (fn. 57) who was later created a baronet and died in 1670. He was succeeded as 2nd baronet by his son John. (fn. 58) In 1690 Abdy conveyed the manor to John Brand, mercer of London. (fn. 59) Brand was lord of the manor in 1698. (fn. 60) By 1708 he had been succeeded by Thomas Brand, who held courts at Berwick Berners in 1708-12. (fn. 61) Thomas was dead by 1720, when Margaret Brand, widow, held the court as guardian of her son Thomas Brand. (fn. 62)
Thomas Brand the younger was holding the manor court in 1741. (fn. 63) He died in 1770 and was succeeded by his son Thomas who in 1771 married Gertrude Trevor Roper, suo jure Baroness Dacre. (fn. 64) According to his biographer this last Thomas Brand was 'a very celebrated and expensive commoner whose hospitality exceeded his means'. (fn. 65) His seat was at Hoo in St. Paul's Walden (Herts.) and Berwick Berners subsequently descended along with the manor of Hoo. (fn. 66) In 1870 Berwick Berners Hall farm, containing 285 acres, was put up to auction by Thomas Lord Dacre. (fn. 67) It was then let to Joseph Barker on a yearly tenancy at £310, the tenant paying tithe rent charges. The 'manor of Berwick', i.e. the manorial rights, was not included in the sale. The present owner of the farm is Mr. N. Stacey, who bought it in 1937 from Mr. Robert Soper. (fn. 68)
A note attached to the court roll of Berwick Berners for 1390 states that Oger Fitz Michael gave to Ralph Berners his garden and curtilage in Roding Abbess 'and all his man Gervase, with 6 acres land and William Green with 3 acres land . . . and Geoffrey Finch with 1½ acres land and the relict of Richard le Fynch with 1½ acres land'. (fn. 69) This Oger Fitz Michael was probably the man of that name who in 1233 or 1234 granted 100 acres of land in Roding to Alice daughter of William Purle, (fn. 70) and he was probably son of Michael Fitz Oger. If so, it appears that there was an estate in Abbess Roding which in the 12th century was held by William de Selflege, lord of Shelley (q.v.), as tenant of the Mandevilles and which descended in 1182 to Michael Fitz Oger as the purparty of his wife Sarah, daughter and coheir of William de Selflege. (fn. 71) This estate would then seem to have been acquired, in whole or in part, by Ralph de Berners from Oger Fitz Michael during the first half of the 13th century. In 1374 the fees of the Countess of Essex included one in Abbess Roding formerly held by Oger Fitz Michael. (fn. 72) Early in the 15th century a knight's fee in Abbess Roding and in the hundred of Dunmow formerly held by Oger Fitz Michael was said to be held by the Abbess of Barking of the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 73) It is possible that the abbey's claim to land formerly belonging to Oger Fitz Michael was derived from a grant made in 1235 by Stephen de Caldecote, (fn. 74) for Hugh de Caldecote had been a tenant of Michael Fitz Oger in 1182. (fn. 75) The connexion with the hundred of Dunmow was maintained by the later custom by which the inhabitants of Berwick Berners hamlet elected their own constable and sent him to attend the Dunmow hundred court (see below, Parish Government).
Berwick Berners Hall stands on the ancient site but the house does not appear to be earlier than the 17th century. It is timber-framed and there is zigzag pargeting to the panels. The front of the house has widely spaced sash windows and a modern porch. At the back are two small wings, one containing the staircase. A third wing dates from the 19th century. North of the house are the remains of a moat and at the north-west corner of the site is a railed-in enclosure which was formerly a pound. (fn. 76) A fine timbered barn of nine bays was destroyed by German incendiary bombs in 1940. (fn. 77)
The manor of ROOKWOOD HALL alias BROWNES was first so styled in 1488, when it was held of the Earl of Oxford as of his honor of Hedingham. (fn. 78) The same tenure was apparently still acknowledged in 1632. (fn. 79) It is not unlikely that this part of Abbess Roding was included in the manor of Roding held in 1086 by Aubrey de Vere, ancestor of the earls of Oxford, of Alan, Count of Brittany. (fn. 80) The main part of that Domesday manor was undoubtedly in Beauchamp Roding (q.v.). (fn. 81)
In 1359 it was stated that the heirs of William Fitz Richard held ½ knight's fee and William Welde 1 fee, both in Abbess Roding, as tenants of the Earl of Oxford. (fn. 82) It is possible that the ½ fee was that which in 1166 was held by Walter Fitz Richard of Aubrey de Vere. (fn. 83) According to Morant, who quotes no sources for the statements, John Fitz Richard held Rookwood in 1250 and was succeeded by Richard Fitz William, who was the tenant in 1268. (fn. 84) William Welde became lord of the manor of Beauchamp Roding (q.v.) in 1360. This suggests that Rookwood was then part of the manor of Beauchamp Roding and it seems possible that it had been so continuously since Domesday. (fn. 85)
In 1467 John Browne died seised of the manor of Abbess Roding (i.e. Rookwood). He had inherited it from his brother Baldwin, who had died without issue; his own heir was another brother Thomas. (fn. 86) Thomas Browne died in 1488 leaving Rookwood Hall alias Browne's manor to his son (Sir) Wistan. The manor then comprised 300 acres of land, 200 acres of pasture, 26 acres of meadow, 10 acres of wood, and also a toft, garden, and ½ acre of land, in Abbess Roding and neighbouring parishes. (fn. 87)
Rookwood descended in the direct male line of the Brownes until 1580 when Wistan Browne, son of George, died leaving as his heir his son Anthony. (fn. 88) Anthony died without issue in 1583. (fn. 89) Rookwood was then divided between his sisters Jane, wife of (Sir) Gamaliel Capel, and Katherine, wife of Nicholas Waldegrave of Borley. (fn. 90) Capel apparently acquired Waldegrave's share in addition to his own. He certainly lived at Rookwood Hall, (fn. 91) and there is no evidence of a continued Waldegrave connexion with the manor. After 1599, when Capel bought the manor of Abbess Roding, Rookwood formed part of a larger estate in the parish and does not seem to have been named as a separate manor. Rookwood Hall, however, continued to be the residence of the Capels throughout their connexion with the parish. In their time it was a house of considerable size. Mrs. Sarah Capel, who was buried at Abbess Roding in 1698, was probably the last of the family to live there. (fn. 92) Rookwood descended as part of the Abbess Roding estate until the 18th century. It still formed part of the estate in 1739 but appears to have been separated from the manor of Abbess Roding by 1770, when the owner of Rookwood was a Mr. Pratt of St. Ives (Hunts.). (fn. 93)
William Mills owned Rookwood in 1780. He con- tinued to hold it until about 1814, when it became the property of William Perry, who had for many years been Mills's tenant. (fn. 94) In 1817 or 1818 Charles Selwin became the owner. (fn. 95) Rookwood Hall farm, as it was now styled, descended subsequently to Henry Selwin-Ibbetson, Baron Rookwood of Down Hall (d. 1902). (fn. 96) He was succeeded by his nephew Capt. Horace W. Calverly. (fn. 97) After the purchase by Charles Selwyn Rookwood became part of a large estate which was administered from Down Hall in Hatfield Broad Oak and which in 1873 contained 1,564 acres in Essex. (fn. 98) In 1843 Rookwood Hall farm comprised 279 acres. (fn. 99)
Only part of old Rookwood Hall remains and this is in a ruinous condition. It stands on a site of more than 3¼ acres, enclosed by a very fine moat. A spur of the moat extends inwards on the west side and there are indications of a second moated enclosure immediately to the south.
The house has been thought to be the work of John Browne, who was lord of the manor in the second quarter of the 16th century. (fn. 100) It has several features in common with Colville Hall at White Roding which was also the property of the Brownes at that time. In 1578 Elizabeth I stayed a night at Rookwood Hall and held a Privy Council there. (fn. 101)
The existing building is of two stories and is Lshaped in plan with wings extending to the north and west. A second wing on the west side has been demolished (fn. 102) and it is possible that at one time the house was of even greater extent. The south wing is of three bays and is mostly of timber-framed construction. The south wall has been rebuilt in 17th- or 18th-century brickwork. The roof has cambered collar-beams. The structure is independent of the north block and there is some evidence that it is of earlier date. The north block consists of one large room to each floor. The lower room has moulded timbers and the remains of a brick fireplace. Above it is a fine upper chamber or solar. The roof, which is of three bays, has arch-braced collar-beams and curved wind-braces. The wall-posts have elaborate mouldings which are returned along the wall-plates to form a cornice. There was formerly a wide stone fireplace in this room and beside it a stopmoulded door-frame with a four-centred head and carved spandrels. (fn. 103) This door led to the demolished north-west wing. In the east wall there were originally two six-light mullioned windows which were later blocked and are still largely concealed by plaster. The mullions are richly moulded and there are moulded sills externally. Below the windows the wall has closeset oak studs with original 'nogging', one brick wide, between them. The sides of the studs have splayed grooves to receive the brickwork and the bricks themselves are laid horizontally and diagonally in alternate panels. This form of construction is rare in Essex but is found in a small group of buildings in the immediate neighbourhood, all apparently dating from the early 16th century. (fn. 104) The north wall is of solid brickwork, probably later, and has diaper decoration in darker brick. The house originally had a fine brick chimney consisting of two slender shafts joined at the top with octagonal moulded caps. The shafts were enriched with zigzag flutings of moulded brick.
The decline of Rookwood Hall probably began early in the 18th century after the departure of the Capels. By about 1770 it had ceased to be an important house and was described as 'a venerable mansion to which there formerly belonged an extensive park'. (fn. 105) It was probably about that time that the walls were plastered over and sash windows were inserted. Rookwood continued to be used as a farm-house until about 1886 when a new red brick house was built south of the moated site. (fn. 106) The north-west wing of the old house was demolished late in the 19th century. Between 1904 and 1914 the chimney was taken down and rebuilt at a cottage in the grounds of Down Hall, now Downham School (in Hatfield Broad Oak). The house is now partly in use as an outhouse but is rapidly falling into decay.
Inside the moated enclosure are two very fine timbered barns, also probably of the early 16th century. Each is of eight bays and the roofs have arch-braced tie-beams with king-posts and four-way struts. Below the purlins are curved wind-braces. In the smaller barn are window openings with diagonally set mullions. Part of this barn is said by local tradition to have been the original meeting place of the Presbyterians who later built the church that formerly stood beside Anchor House.