A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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The parish of Kensworth was transferred to Bedfordshire in 1897, but was originally in the hundred of Dacorum in Hertfordshire. The Watling Street forms its boundary on the north-east, and in the west the parish extends to the Dunstable Downs. The land at the highest point in the north is 764ft. above the ordnance datum, but in the east its height is only about 449 ft.
The parish is divided into three distinct parts, Church End, the Lynch, and Kensworth Common. Church End, comprising Burystead and Church End Farms, and a few cottages, stands in the north; Burystead farm-house, once the manor-house, has been much altered, but a little of the old oak panelling remains. Church End Farm has a large cellar under the house, which is said to have been a hidingplace of Dick Turpin. From this hamlet a long narrow beech-shaded road leads down to the Lynch, in the south-east. In the Lynch are three important houses. A modern one of white stucco called Lynch House is the residence and property of Mr. Benjamin Bennett. The house was built by the previous owner to fit the windows and staircase brought from a house in Ealing, in which the late Queen Victoria when a little girl lived for a time. Mr. Bennett owns also the large red-brick house called The Lynch, now tenanted by Miss Beresford-Hope. In 1798 The Lynch was called the Mansion House of the Howard family. The third house of importance is Lynch Lodge, tenanted by Mr. Palmer, which stands near the point where the Lynch Road branches off to meet the Watling Street. A few smaller houses with the Pack Horse Inn, at which the manor-courts are now held triennially, complete the Lynch. South of the parish is a double line of houses on either side of the Dunstable high road. This hamlet is called Kensworth Common. It lies high, and is divided from the rest of the parish by a valley running east and west. The houses which stand back from the road mark the old edge of the common. Those close to the road began to be built some 100 years ago, when the common was inclosed. (fn. 1)
There is a large farm in the north-west called Downs Farm, where Mr. F. T. Fossey, the owner, lives. He owns also a great part of the old manorial estate. On an iron fire-back here is represented King Charles on horseback. This was taken from a little house called Cantling's, near the old church, which is about 160 years old. Mr. Fossey used to live at Bleak Hall, which was formerly a workhouse. It is now the residence of Mr. W. Hoyland Jackson.
The older houses are of a dull red brick, with tiled roofs, but the more modern are poorly built and slated. The soil is clay with flints and an occasional brick earth. (fn. 2) On the south of the common, where tradition says there was once a Roman camp, are now brick-fields. The subsoil is chiefly chalk, though an outlier of the Reading Beds occurs to the south of Kensworth village. (fn. 3) The whole parish covers an area of some 3,131 acres, of which, in 1905, 1,935 acres were arable land, 408 acres permanent grass, and 45 acres woodland. (fn. 4) The greater number of the population are employed in agriculture, and a little strawhat making is done by the women.
One feature of this village is the great depth of the wells. At three of the farms, two of which are at Church End, donkeys are employed to raise the water. They walk in large wooden wheels in tread-mill fashion. One of the wheels, which is more carefully worked than the others, bears the date 1688.
The following are among the ancient place names: le Styperesdon, Puthamstude, Aveldone or Aldone, Spondene, Felmerlane, Hawbynstresse, Kyxdell, Dradlynche, Antheley Cross, Thefwey, Flexwey, Huckesho Lane, Tittenhanger Close.
The manor of KENSWORTH, like the neighbouring manor of Caddington, was held of King Edward the Confessor by Lewin 'cilt,' and the two estates seem to have passed together to the canons of St. Paul's, London, by whom they were held at the time of the Domesday Survey. (fn. 5) From this time forward their history has been almost identical; the court rolls, surveys, and leases in the possession of the Dean and Chapter of London show that both manors were frequently farmed together, and the same customs and liberties seem to have been claimed on both. With but one short interruption both have been held by the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's from the day when they were presented to the church by Lewin, until the year 1872, (fn. 6) when they were taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The interruption occurred during the Commonwealth, when, under the 'Act for the Sale of Dean and Chapters' Land,' Kensworth manor was sold in 1649 to William Barbour of Redbourn, (fn. 7) only to be restored to the Dean and Chapter in 1660.
The prioress of Markyate was a tenant of Kensworth, as of Caddington. She owed suit twice yearly at the manorial court, and was bound to do fealty to the farmer of the manor for the time being. In 1297 it was presented that she might not dig in the wood without leave or take away trees that were blown down there. (fn. 8)
The monks of Dunstable had right of common of pasture in Kensworth, (fn. 9) as well as in Caddington, and in 1242 a quarrel seems to have arisen between them and the dean of London with regard to this right. The monks complained that the dean had taken their cattle and detained them for eight days. They delivered them by writ of the king, and so the common remained to them, and the dean then seized their cattle at Caddington. The monks again delivered them, but then William de St. Mere l'Eglise, dean of London, died suddenly, and the suit was stopped. (fn. 10) The bishop of Salisbury gave sentence against the priory, both in Kensworth and Caddington in 1248. (fn. 11)
The inhabitants of Kensworth complained in 1621 that, notwithstanding five verdicts against Henry Cony and Philip Pherrers, they were still obstructed in their rights of common. (fn. 12) Twenty years later they again complained that the Dean and Chapter had leased a waste called Kensworth Wood, over which they had right of common. (fn. 13)
The Inge family seems also to have held land here at an early date. In 1310–11 Edmund Inge received a grant of free warren in Kensworth, (fn. 14) and if his property in the parish was anything more than appurtenant to one of his other estates, it may probably be identified with the sub-manor subsequently held by the Zouches, and variously called KEYNESWORTH, DAMSARIES, DAMSERS or DAMESAYERS. It was held in the sixteenth century freely by charter, for fealty, suit of court, and an annual rent of 48s. due to the Dean and Chapter of London. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it appears to have followed the same descent as the manor of Zouches in Caddington parish (q.v.), but in 1544 Richard Zouche, son and heir-apparent of John Zouche, knt., Lord St. Maur and Cantelow, conveyed it to Reginald Conygrave and Joan his wife, (fn. 15) from whom it passed in the following year to Robert Ameryke or Meryke of Dunstable, (fn. 16) who appears to have died almost immediately after having made the purchase, and was succeeded by his son Robert. In 1560 the jurors of the court baron presented that Robert Meryke held the manor in socage, at a rent of 48s. a year, and that he sold it to one 'Trofton' of Stony Stratford. (fn. 17) Ten years later Richard 'Trowghton' sold the property to Edward Wingate. (fn. 18)
In 1578 John Alway, who was probably the second husband of Mary, formerly wife of Edmund, brother of Edward Wingate, died seised of the manor of 'Dame Seres,' leaving a son and heir, John, under age, (fn. 19) but the manor seems to have passed to a younger son Richard, who died in 1611. (fn. 20) By his will he left it to a kinswoman, Mary Burrell, for life, with remainder to the heirs male of Ralph Alway, brother of Richard, if any should survive her. Mary was holding the estate in 1618, (fn. 21) and probably married Thomas Sheafe, S.T.P. Mary Sheafe devised this manor to a kinsman, William Burrell or Burwell, who sold it in 1642 to Robert Napier of Luton Hoo. (fn. 22) His son, Sir John Napier, was apparently holding the estate in 1669, when he appears in the manorial rent roll as paying £2 8s., and in 1677 he and his son owed suit of court. (fn. 23)
In 1796–7 the manor was conveyed by fine from Thomas Cooke to George Maddison, (fn. 24) who in 1809 with his wife, Mary daughter of Henry Alington, (fn. 25) conveyed it to Henry Alington, who may have been a trustee for Mordaunt Lawson Chennell. (fn. 26) From this point the history of Damesayers is lost, and its existence as a manor seems to have ceased. At the present day there is a little copse known as Dame Sayers Hill Wood in the Lynch. The site of Dame Sayers manor-house is not known, but it seems not improbable it may have been where Lynch Lodge now stands.
The west tower is an addition of the fifteenth century, and the chancel has been lengthened some 10 ft. in the same century, but with these exceptions and certain alterations to the windows, &c., the main structure remains as it was first built, somewhere about the year 1100, a small but spacious and dignified building, with small windows set high in the walls, a lofty west doorway, a less important south doorway, and a wide chancel arch, 11 ft. 6 in. in span. The east end of the original chancel having been destroyed, there is nothing to show its form, but it seems probable that it was square and not apsidal. The west wall of the nave is 3 ft. 9 in. thick, and the east wall an inch less, while the north and south walls are 3 ft. 3 in. The walls are covered with rough-cast, but a drawing of the north wall of the nave when partly uncovered shows it to be built of flint rubble alternating with single courses of stone, like the walling of the nave of Norton church, near Baldock. The stone used in the details of doorways and windows is not of the local clunch formation, but a coarse polite, resembling Barnack rag, and possibly coming from Northamptonshire.
The chancel has an east window of three cinquefoiled lights with tracery of fifteenth-century design, the stonework having been renewed in 1869; on each side of it is a cinquefoiled niche for an image, that on the south, contrary to the usual custom, being the larger. At the south-east angle is a trefoiled piscina with a modern bowl. In the north wall are two original narrow round-headed windows, the outer heads in one stone worked with a sunk roll, and the jambs having ashlar dressings of small stones with wide mortar joints. Beneath the western of these windows is a square-headed fifteenth-century window of two trefoiled lights, with a flat sill, set low in the wall.
In the south wall is a modern copy of this window, in a corresponding position, and to the east of it a small fifteenth-century doorway, (fn. 27) with a moulded arch. East of the doorway is a thirteenth-century lancet, with ugly modern stonework, and towards the east end of the wall a square-headed window of two trefoiled lights, the tracery being modern, with its sill carried down to serve as sedilia.
The chancel arch is semicircular, of two orders, with a torus on the soffit of the inner order and a roll on the outer order. The jambs have half-round shafts to the inner order, with simple scalloped capitals and moulded bases of early type, and nook-shafts with cushion capitals to the outer order on the west face. In the east gable above the arch is a two-light window inserted in 1854. The fifteenth-century rood-loft stair remains in the north-east angle of the nave, its upper doorway being still open, while the lower is blocked and plastered over.
The nave retains its three original north windows, which are like those in the chancel, except that two sunk rolls are cut in the heads instead of one, the outer roll being in one case ornamented with a zigzag line. Between the second and third windows is a blocked doorway, which seems to be fifteenth-century work, and it is not clear whether it replaces an older doorway in this position. The original windows in the south wall have given place to three fifteenth-century windows, each of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in the head, but the twelfth-century south doorway remains, with a round arch of two orders, the outer having a roll between two hollows, while the inner is square, each voussoir being carved with shallow diaper patterns, and on the keystone is a cross. The jambs have nook-shafts in the outer order, with carved capitals, that on the east showing interlacing patterns, chiefly Stafford knots, while the other has subjects which have been explained as representations of two fables, those of the wolf and the crane, and the kite and the snake. The abaci are square, with interlacing patterns on the chamfer. The porch over this doorway is modern.
The west doorway is of very similar design, but much taller, its rear arch being no less than 12 ft. 4 in. high to the crown, and it is possible that this is a survival of pre-Conquest tradition. The doorway is 5 ft. 2 in. wide between the jambs of the inner order, but has been further widened towards the nave by cutting back the jambs of the rear arch. Its west face, originally external, is of the same design as the south doorway, except that there is more variety in the diaper patterns, two being like degenerate human figures, while one consists of a cross between four birds, like the type on one of Edward the Confessor's pennies, in later days assigned to him as an armorial bearing, and another shows a dragon, while the keystone, as in the south doorway, bears a cross. The capitals are plainer, that on the south having a sunk stair in a circle, while the north capital, which is a modern copy, has a fret in a circle, and both have small human heads filling up the angles, and interlacing patterns on the chamfers of the abaci. The west tower, which was built before 1458, being mentioned in the visitation (fn. 28) of that year by the dean of St. Paul's, has a four-centred west doorway under a square head, and over it a west window of three cinquefoiled lights. It has a vice in a projecting turret at the south-east angle, and in the belfry stage windows of two trefoiled lights. It was covered with rough-cast in 1747, as recorded on its south wall, and is built mainly of blocks of clunch, which are at least to some extent old material re-used, as a stone with remains of two incised sun-dials is to be seen on the north face of the north-west buttress. (fn. 29)
The font stands at the north-west of the nave, having formerly stood in the middle in front of the west doorway. It has a round bowl on a round stem with a central ring and a plain base, and though ancient is hard to date, perhaps belonging to the fifteenth century. It has a turned wooden cover with a finial, of no great age.
The registers begin in 1615, the first book containing baptisms and burials to 1781, and marriages to 1753. The second book has baptisms and burials to 1812, the third marriages to 1805, and the fourth the same to 1810.
The church of Kensworth was granted to the dean and canons of London by Walter bishop of Lincoln in 1183–4, (fn. 30) and in 1266 the church and vicarage were ordained by Bishop Richard Gravesend. (fn. 31) By this ordination the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's were to have the great tithes and to appoint 'a literate and honest man' in priest's orders to serve the church and receive the lesser tithes. At the time of a visitation of the church in 1297 it was presented that the building and furniture were in good repair, that the vicar had a messuage, formerly the rectory, assigned to him by Master Thomas Inglethorp, late dean. (fn. 32)
A rent from two acres of land in Kensworth, late Anderleys, was given for the maintenance of a lamp. The rent was in 1548–9 in the hands of Anthony Stubing. (fn. 33)
A tenement called the Church House in Kensworth was granted in 1588–9 to William Tipper and Robert Dawe. It had formerly belonged to the inhabitants of Kensworth. (fn. 34)
Kensworth, previous to the Toleration Act, was the head quarters of Hertfordshire Baptists, and thither resorted many who resided in upwards of thirty villages and towns of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Edward Harrison, vicar of Kensworth in 1645, was a well-known champion of Baptist views, and John Bunyan was a member of the Baptist church at Kensworth. The first registration for Anabaptists occurs in 1690, and a Wesleyan chapel was certified in 1830.
In 1675 some extracts were made from the volumes relating to the Baptist church of Kensworth. This book now belongs to the Baptist church in Dagnal Street, St. Albans, a branch or, perhaps, the remains of the Kensworth church, for a tablet in the vestry states that the church was erected in 1720, having been removed from the village of Kensworth. (fn. 35)
In 1754 Richard Burgis and Mary his wife by deed conveyed to trustees 2 acres in the parish of Caddington, the rents and profits to be divided among poor widows and other poor people on St. Thomas's Day, and also 4 acres in the same parish for educational purposes. The lands by admeasurement contain 6 acres, 3 roods, 18 poles, which are now let at £11 a year.
By a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, dated 6 December, 1892, one-third of the income is made applicable for the benefit of the poor of Kensworth in such manner as may seem to the trustees most conducive to the formation of provident habits, and two-thirds in the advancement of education of children attending public elementary schools in the parish at which religious instruction in accordance with the principles of the Church of England is given.
In 1866 Abraham Fossey bequeathed a legacy for the benefit of the sexton, now represented by £105 4 per cent. preference stock of the Great Northern Railway Company and £9 3s. 2d. consols (both held by the official trustees). By a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 3 March, 1893, the income is to be given to the sexton for the time being upon condition of his keeping the churchyard and the walks approaching thereto free from weeds.