A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Wilie (xi cent.); Wilya, Wylye (xiii cent.); Wylien (xiv cent.); Wickley (xvii cent.).—The parish of Willian has an area of 1,864 acres, of which 1,372½ acres are arable land, 308¾ acres permanent grass, and 19¾ woodland. (fn. 1) The greater part of the parish stands over 300 ft. above ordnance datum, but slopes down slightly on the north and in the south-west, where the village and manor-house are situated. It is bounded on the north by the Icknield Way, and for some distance on the west by the main north road. The road between Hitchin and Baldock passes through the northern part of the parish, and this and another road parallel to it form the main streets of the village. The village pond is on the north side of the main road, opposite the Fox Inn; a little further along is a 16th-century thatched and timbered cottage, known as the Old Vicarage. It is of two stories, the upper of which projects at the back. The church and rectory stand on a hill rising on the south side of the road, with the schools just below them. Puncharden Hall, the residence of Mr. Ivor Tuckett, M.D., lies at the north end of the village opposite the church. It is a 17th-century house of timber and plaster, the front of which was refaced with brick in the 18th century. It is an L-shaped building with a central chimney stack of brick with octagonal shafts and moulded capitals and bases. On the ground floor there is an original fireplace, the grate of which bears the arms of the Merchant Taylors' Company.
The subsoil is chalk and boulder clay. There is a chalk-pit on the south-east, close to the boundary road, a disused one further south, and a sand-pit just north of the village. There is no railway station in the parish, the nearest being Letchworth, a mile and a half away. Farms in the parish are Norman's Farm and Pixmore. The part of the parish lying north of the road which forms the village street and runs on to Baldock, comprising more than half of the whole, was acquired by the First Garden City Co. in 1903. A portion of the parish was annexed to Baldock for civil purposes in 1881. (fn. 2)
The manor of WILLIAN was held in the time of Edward the Confessor by Lewric, a house-carl of Earl Lewin. Half a hide also was held by a sokeman, Elmar of Benington, and half a hide all but 10 acres of Godwin of Letchworth (Godwin of Souberie) by a certain widow. By 1086 the whole had come into the possession of Geoffrey de Bech, and was assessed at 5½ hides. (fn. 3)
Nothing is known of the descendants of Geoffrey de Bech. At the beginning of the 13th century the manor was held by William Malet de Graville, (fn. 4) who, it is said, was son of Matthew de Graville, son of William de Rue. (fn. 5) William Malet, being a Norman, lost his English lands upon the separation of Normandy, and in 1204 Willian was granted in farm to Matthew de Lilley. (fn. 6) In 1216 King John granted the manor to Pain de Chaworth or Chaurces, (fn. 7) and he was still holding in 1223. (fn. 8) In 1227, however, Pain apparently forfeited, (fn. 9) and the manor was held by Richard de Argentein (fn. 10) until 1232, when it was returned to Pain. (fn. 11) About 1237 it was committed by the king to John Earl of Lincoln 'during pleasure' and granted by him in 1238 to his nephew Thomas de Pavilly. (fn. 12) In 1241, however, the king brought a suit against him and disputed his title to the lands. (fn. 13) Thomas claimed to be great-nephew and heir of William Malet the Norman through his grandmother Theofania, sister of William, who was said to have had the manor granted to her by Geoffrey Malet, younger brother of William. Theofania was said to have sued Pain de Chaworth for the manor, but to have died before the suit was settled. Thomas de Pavilly's claim, however, broke down on the ground that it was William the elder brother of Geoffrey who held the manor, and that he was a Norman and had moreover left children. The king therefore took the manor into his own hands. (fn. 14)
In 1243 Willian was granted to Paul Peyvre and heirs 'until the land of England and Normandy be one,' in which event Paul was to have a reasonable exchange. £10 from lands in Willian, which the king had given to Hugh de Botyun his yeoman for life, were excepted from the grant. (fn. 15) Probably this portion was identical with the 10 librates of land granted to Paul in 1249–50. (fn. 16) In 1272 the manor was held by John Peyvre, grandson of Paul, a minor in the custody of Queen Eleanor. (fn. 17) John died in 1316 and was succeeded by his son Paul, (fn. 18) who granted Willian in 1321 to his brother John and Margaret his wife for their lives. (fn. 19) Margaret outlived her husband and married secondly John Mallore, who was holding the manor in right of his wife in 1346. (fn. 20) At Margaret's death in 1348 it passed to her nephew Nicholas Peyvre, son of Paul. (fn. 21) Nicholas died in 1361 and was succeeded by his son Thomas, (fn. 22) his widow Avice, who married secondly William de Clopton, keeping a third of the manor in dower. (fn. 23) Thomas settled Willian on himself and his wife Margaret in tail in 1375–80 (fn. 24) and died in 1429, when the manor passed to his grandson John Broughton, son of his only daughter Mary. (fn. 25) Robert Broughton, grandson of John, inherited it in 1489 (fn. 26) and was succeeded by his son John in 1506, (fn. 27) who granted the manor to Edward Cornwall and Elizabeth his wife for their lives, with reversion to the heirs of John Broughton. The latter died in 1518, leaving a son (fn. 28) and two daughters. The son John, who was aged six at his father's death, died about 1529. Willian was then divided between his two sisters Anne and Katherine. (fn. 29) Katherine, who was the first wife of Thomas Lord Howard of Effingham, died without male issue in 1535, (fn. 30) when her moiety of the manor apparently reverted to her sister Anne, who had married Sir Thomas Cheney, K.G., Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, (fn. 31) for the whole manor came to their son Henry Cheney, afterwards Lord Cheney of Toddington. (fn. 32) Henry Cheney and his wife Joan conveyed Willian in 1563 to William Totnam, (fn. 33) who in the following year received a pardon for acquiring it without licence. (fn. 34) Towards the end of 1564 he sold it to Edward Wilson, (fn. 35) who granted it to his son Edward in 1574. (fn. 36) Edward Wilson, junior, settled the manor upon his second wife Joan Grey, who afterwards married Edward Lacon, (fn. 37) and after whose death in 1624 (fn. 38) it passed to Edward Wilson, son of Edward Wilson, junior, by his first wife. (fn. 39) Ralph Wilson, son of the third Edward, died in 1637 during his father's lifetime, leaving two young sons, (fn. 40) Edward, who died in 1639, (fn. 41) and Thomas, who died in 1656. (fn. 42) After the death of the latter the manor seems to have been divided, for another Thomas Wilson appears in possession of a moiety of Willian in 1672. (fn. 43) After this the manor is said to have been divided between three sisters, Frances, Elizabeth and Mary Adams, daughters and co-heiresses of Mary Adams, widow, one of whom must have died soon after, for Mary was holding a moiety in 1728. The second sister is said to have sold her moiety to Richard Way, who sold it to Sir John Dimsdale, from whom it passed to his nephew John Dimsdale, the possessor in 1728. (fn. 44) John left it to his cousin Thomas, who acquired the other half of the manor by purchase in 1767 from Elizabeth Marshall, to whom Mary Adams had left it by will. (fn. 45) Thomas Dimsdale inoculated the Empress Catherine and various Russian princes for the smallpox and was created a Baron of the Russian Empire in 1769. He died in 1800. (fn. 46) Willian continued in the Dimsdale family until 1867, when it was sold to Charles Frederick Hancock, (fn. 47) from whom it passed to his son Col. Mortimer Hancock. In 1901 the manor came to Capt. Mortimer Pawson Hancock, (fn. 48) who in 1903 sold a large part of his estate to the Garden City Pioneer Company Limited. (fn. 49) Captain Hancock holds the remainder of the property.
Brays or Braies
BRAYS or BRAIES Manor, of which no trace now remains, belonged to Bigging Priory at Hitchin, and was leased by that house to Richard Yerdeley in 1521, together with a messuage called le Poundehouse. (fn. 50) After the Dissolution it was granted with Me Poundhouse' to John Cock in 1545. (fn. 51) By 1564 Brayes had come into the possession of James Needham of Wymondley Priory and was conveyed by him in that year to Thomas Rivett (fn. 52) of Baldock, from whom it descended about 1583 to his daughter and co-heiress Anne Lady Windsor, (fn. 53) who held it in 1606. (fn. 54) For almost a century there is no further record of the manor, but before 1692 it was acquired by Richard Way, patron of Willian rectory. In that year he conveyed it to Knightley Holled, clerk, (fn. 55) who held it in 1730. (fn. 56) In 1746 it was the subject of a fine between various members of the Priest family, (fn. 57) after which no more is heard of it.
Two and a half hides in 'Wilga' were held before the Conquest by Alestan of Boscumbe, and in 1086 by William de Ow. They belonged to the neighbouring manor of Weston. (fn. 58) In the time of Edward the Confessor 1 hide of this land was held of Alestan de Boscumbe by Alviet, and in 1086 this hide and another were held of William de Ow by William de Mare. Later the tithes of 'Wilia' were given to the monastery of St. Albans by Thurstan, brother of William de Mare, and 'Robert de Mare gave his tithe likewise.' (fn. 59) In 1086 (as Mr. Round points out) there were also 1½ hides in 'Welga' held by Robert de Pontcardon (Puncharden) of Robert Gernon. (fn. 60) It seems possible that there has been some confusion between 'Wilga' and 'Wilei' (Welwyn and Willian) here, and that both these holdings lay in Willian. Certainly the estate afterwards known as PUNCHARDEN was in this parish. The Punchardon family appear to have been tenants of some importance in Willian in the 13th century. Gilbert de Tany gave a virgate and a half in Willian to St. Albans (fn. 61) about the time of Stephen or Henry II; this grant was confirmed by Gilbert's son Walter, (fn. 62) and by Ralph de Punchardon, (fn. 63) probably his overlord. Roger de Punchardon was holding land in Willian in 1202. (fn. 64) In 1247–8 Richard de Punchardon called himself 'lord of Wylye,' (fn. 65) and a Wygan Delamere appears as owing him homage. During the abbacy of Roger de Norton, who was Abbot of St. Albans from 1263 to 1301, (fn. 66) William son of Geoffrey Punchardon quitclaimed his right in a tenement in Willian to St. Albans. (fn. 67) After this the history of the estate is lost until a 'capital messuage called Puncherdownes,'with lands belonging, appears in 1625 in the possession of Edward Wilson, lord of the manor of Willian. (fn. 68) He settled it on his son Ralph Wilson, who held it during the lifetime of his father. Ralph died in 1637 and Punchardens passed to his son Edward (fn. 69) who died in 1639. His brother and heir Thomas (fn. 70) succeeded his grandfather as lord of the manor of Willian, and Puncharden presumably continued with that manor.
The parish church of ALL SAINTS, (fn. 71) standing to the south of the village, is built of flint, mixed in places with freestone, and consists of a chancel, nave, west tower and south porch. The chancel and nave date from the earlier part of the 12th century. About 1430 the west tower was added, outside the west wall of the nave; this wall was then taken down and the nave lengthened about 4 ft. to join the tower, the east diagonal buttresses of the tower being built against the quoins of the nave. A south porch was added in the 15th century, and the chancel was remodelled and probably lengthened in the early part of the 19th century.
In the east wall of the chancel is reset a 15th-century window of three lights containing 17th-century glass with heraldic panels. In the south wall are a doorway with a 12th-century rear-arch and modern external stonework and a late 14th-century two-light window with a square head. The chancel arch is of about 1430 and is of two moulded orders with shafted jambs. On the outside of the south wall of the chancel is a 14th-century tomb recess, very much repaired with cement.
The north wall of the nave has two windows, the easternmost being of the 15th century, of two lights with tracery over, in a dropped two-centred head. The westernmost is modern, and cuts into the arch of the blocked north doorway. There is only one window in the south wall, of the 15th century, and of similar type to that in the north wall, but of three lights. The south doorway, which is of 14th century character, has been almost wholly restored in cement.
The tower arch is of similar character to the chancel arch and is also of about 1430. The west tower, into which it opens, is of two stages, with diagonal buttresses, and has a stair turret on the north-east and an embattled parapet. The west doorway has a pointed arch inclosed in a square head, with shields in the spandrels, one bearing the instruments of the Passion and the other a bend in an engrailed border. There is an oak lintel which is possibly old. Above the door is a window of three cinquefoiled lights with tracery in a two-centred head. In each face of the belfry stage is a two-light window, with cinquefoiled lights and a quatrefoil over in a two-centred head and a label with grotesque stops. Below the parapet is a string with grotesques at the angles and in the centre of each face of the tower. The stair-turret rises above the parapet and is also embattled. The south porch is old, probably of the 15th century, and has a dropped two-centred entrance archway of two orders.
The walls of the nave externally show the uncut small flints, in wide-jointed courses, of 12th-century work. Some of the courses are set in herring-bone pattern, and mixed with the flint are some large blocks of freestone, one of them being a piece of 12th-century moulding re-used in the 15th century when the walls were raised. The masonry of the tower is also small, and has been much faced with cement.
There are the remains, in the chancel archway, of a rood screen of the 15th century, which has been restored with plaster. It is of three bays, the centre being the entrance way, with a four-centred arch, and the side bays similar but traceried. The central doors have been removed to the porch. Set against the south chancel wall are the remains of another similar screen restored with plaster. The stalls in the chancel are good work of the late 15th century, with carved standards, one being an elephant's head, and one the head of St. John the Baptist in a charger.
On the north wall of the chancel is a brass of Richard Golden, 1446, with the figure of a priest in eucharistic vestments; the inscription is broken. On the same wall is a mural monument of Edward Lacon of Willey in Shropshire, 1625, and Joan his wife, 1624, with kneeling figures of the man in armour, his wife and three children. Below is a Latin inscription and above is the shield of Lacon, Quarterly (1) and (6): Quarterly fessewise indented ermine and [azure], for Lacon; (2) Three cheverons in a border engrailed; (3) A ragged cross; (4) A bend cotised, for Harley; (5) Three buckles, for Remevill.
On the south wall of the chancel is a large murai monument, with busts and inscription below, of Thomas Wilson, 1656, and Lucia his wife. Above is a shield of the arms: Sable a leaping wolf or and in the chief three stars or; with the crest of a demi-wolf or. On the same wall are monuments to John Chapman, vicar of the parish, 1624, and his wife Anne, 1633, and to Matthew Thorley, 1634; the former having small kneeling figures in a circular head niche and the latter being simply a tablet.
In the east window are three pieces of heraldic glass which are said to be 17th-century work. These are shields of the arms of Chester impaling Berry of Toddington, Cheney of Sherland quartered with Shottesbroke, and Engayne impaling an unknown coat. The shield of Cheney is surrounded by a garter and appears to refer to John Lord Cheney, who died in 1496.
On the chancel floor are slabs to Richard Way, vicar, 1673, and to Alice his wife, 1662.
There are three bells; the treble by Joseph Eayre, 1760, and the second and third by Miles Graye, 1662.
The plate consists of a cup and cover paten of 1718 and a pewter flagon.
The registers begin in 1558 and are contained in three books: (i) all entries 1687 to 1738; (ii) baptisms 1739 to 1812, burials 1739 to 1812, marriages 1739 to 1751; (iii) marriages 1754 to 1812.
The advowson belonged to the lord of the manor, and is first mentioned in 1239, when Thomas and Roger de Pavilly established their claim to it against the Prior of Envermeu, (fn. 72) on the ground that their grandfather Matthew de Graville presented to the church. The prior stated that William de Rue, father of Matthew, gave the church of Willian to Envermeu, but the claim was not allowed. (fn. 73) Paul Peyvre held it in 1247–8, (fn. 74) and in the time of his grandson John the king presented owing to his minority. On this occasion the Prior of Bec Hellouin, to which Envermeu was a cell, is mentioned as having contested the king's claim to the advowson. (fn. 75)
At the Taxation by Pope Nicholas in 1291 the church was valued at £13 6s. 8d., in addition to a portion of 26s. 8d. belonging to the Prior of St. Neots (fn. 76); this payment was evidently long retained by that priory, for as late as 1428 the same sum was paid to it. (fn. 77) The advowson continued in the Peyvre family until about 1384, (fn. 78) in which year Nigel Loring received a pardon for acquiring it from Thomas Peyvre, (fn. 79) his son-in-law. In the year following, Nigel Loring granted it to Robert Braybrook, Bishop of London, and others, (fn. 80) who in 1394, or a little before, conveyed it to the king. (fn. 81) In that year Richard II gave it to the Prioress and convent of Dartford, on condition that they should appropriate it to the use and profit of the Friars Preachers at Langley. (fn. 82) The grant was confirmed in 1399, (fn. 83) 1424 (fn. 84) and 1466, (fn. 85) and the advowson remained in the possession of the Friars until the Dissolution. The rectory was appropriated by the nuns of Dartford and a vicarage ordained between 1399 and 1405. (fn. 86) In 1544 the rectory and advowson of the vicarage of Willian were granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Calton, a goldsmith of London, and Margaret his wife. (fn. 87) Margaret survived her husband, and she and William their eldest son settled them in 1570 on George and Henry the younger sons, with the remainder to William and his son Thomas. Margaret died in 1571 . (fn. 88)
Henry Calton was in possession of his moiety in 1583, (fn. 89) and by 1589 had apparently become sole heir, for in that year he conveyed the whole rectory and advowson to John Phillips. (fn. 90) Elizabeth widow of John Phillips held them until her death in 1614, when they came to her granddaughter Elizabeth Johnson. (fn. 91) At this date the rectory consisted only of an annual rent of 20 marks issuing from the vicarage. After this there is some obscurity in the descent. Richard Way presented in 1673 (fn. 92) and died in that year, (fn. 93) so that the Richard Way who presented in 1676 (fn. 94) must have been his heir. In 1725 presentation was made by Stephen Ashby, and in 1739 by Anne Rooke, (fn. 95) widow of John Rooke, who died in 1755. (fn. 96) According to Clutterbuck the advowson had been sold previous to this to Henry Kingsley, whose granddaughter Elizabeth married William Pym. (fn. 97) Their son Francis Pym presented to the vicarage in 1792, 1804 and 1816, (fn. 98) and the rectory and advowson continued in the Pym family until 1893, when they were acquired by Mr. Joseph Chalmers-Hunt. They are now in the possession of the Rev. Leonard Chalmers Chalmers-Hunt, M.A.
A dwelling-house was certified as a meeting-place of Protestant Dissenters in Willian in 1714. (fn. 99)
In a terrier, dated in 1788, it is stated that 'there are two acres of inclosed pasture given by the late Rev. Mr. Ward, vicar, and by John Izard, to be fed by cows of the poor people of Willian.' The land is let at £2 2s. a year, which is distributed in money.
In 1880 James Smyth, by his will, proved at London 28 February, left £400, now represented by £413 8s. 3d. India 3 per cent. stock, the annual dividends, amounting to £12 8s., to be distributed in meat and coal at Christmas. The stock is held by the official trustees.