A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Linlei (xi cent.); Linlea, Linlega, Linlegh, Linlee (xiii cent.); Lynleye, Lyngeleye (xiv cent.); Lylly, Lynley (xv cent.); Lyndley alias Lylle (xvi cent.); Lilley (xvii cent.).
Lilley is a small parish of 1,795 acres on the western border of Hertfordshire, adjoining the county of Bedford. The parish lies on the Chilterns on a slightly inclined plane rising from about 400 ft. above the ordnance datum in the south to 602 ft. at Telegraph Hill in the north. There is a small detached portion of Lilley to the south of the main part of the parish and entirely surrounded by the parish of Offley. The land is now, as at the time of the Domesday Survey, chiefly arable, the soil being chalk. (fn. 1) In 1905 there were 1,062 acres of arable land, 201 acres of permanent grass, and no woodland, (fn. 2) but there are a good many trees scattered about the parish.
The village lies in the south of the parish, and, including a few outlying cottages in the north, extends about a mile along a branch road here called Lilley Street running north-west from the Luton and Hitchin highway to the Icknield Way, which forms part of the parish boundary in the north. The church of St. Peter lies on the west side of the road, and Lilley Park is on the west side of the village. The parish was inclosed by an Act of 1768, (fn. 3) but there is still a large open common called Lilley Hoo (fn. 4) to the east of the village.
In the time of Edward the Confessor the manor of LILLEY was held of Earl Harold by Leueva, and a sokeman, a man of Harold's, held 3½ virgates of land in it for which he rendered a carrying service (avera) in Hitchin or 3½d. By 1086 Lilley was in the possession of Geoffrey de Bech. We learn also from the Survey that Ilbert as sheriff attached to this manor the manor of Wellbury in Offley. (fn. 5) At the beginning of the 13th century the manor was in the tenure of William Malet of Gerardville, who held it until the separation of England and Normandy, when he remained in Normandy. (fn. 6) It then escheated to King John, and was granted in 1204 to Matthew de Lilley. (fn. 7) A few years later it was in the possession of Pain de Chaworth, (fn. 8) having been granted to him to hold at the king's pleasure by the service of one knight. (fn. 9) He was still holding it in 1223, (fn. 10) but forfeited before 1227, when the manor with all liberties and customs was granted to Richard de Argentein, to be held by him until the king should restore the lands to the heir of William Malet 'of his free will or by a peace,' with the proviso that in that event the king should make to Richard a reasonable exchange in wards or escheats. (fn. 11) In 1233 the manor was restored to Pain de Chaworth, with all goods and chattels found by inquisition to have been on the property when Richard entered it. (fn. 12)
In or before 1238 the custody of the manor was granted to John Earl of Lincoln, who committed it with the king's consent to his nephews Roger and Geoffrey de Pavilly (fn. 13); but in 1241 Roger, being called upon to prove his claim, instead of evidencing the earl's grant as title, claimed it by hereditary right through his grandmother Theofania, William Malet's sister. She was said to have held the manor by gift from Geoffrey, her brother, (fn. 14) and to have been disseised by Pain de Chaworth, whom she had impleaded, the action however having been stopped by her death. On the king's side it was stated that William Malet had been in seisin of the manor after Geoffrey's death, and had forfeited as a Norman, and that Theofania was not his heir because William had left children. The king therefore took the manor as escheat. (fn. 15) In 1243 an extent of the manor was taken, (fn. 16) and it was granted to Paul de Peyvre, (fn. 17) who held it by the service of half a knight's fee. (fn. 18) In his time the manor is said to have been withdrawn from the sheriff's tourn and the hundred court. (fn. 19)
The manor descended to Paul de Peyvre's son John, and to John son of John, who died in 1316. (fn. 20) The manor was held for life by his widow Mary, on whose death in 1333 Nicholas, her grandson (son of Paul son of John), was the heir. (fn. 21) Nicholas conveyed it in 1359, two years before his death, to Henry Green, (fn. 22) Anne, apparently wife of Nicholas, retaining a third part as dower. (fn. 23) Henry Green, chivaler, died in 1369. The manor descended in the family of Green (fn. 24) to Sir Thomas Green of Boughton and Wood's Norton, co. Northants, who died in l506, leaving two daughters and co-heirs, Anne, who married Nicholas Lord Vaux of Harrowden, and Matilda wife of Sir Thomas Parr. (fn. 25) In 1512 the manor was settled to the use of Lord Vaux and Anne. (fn. 26) In 1523, on the death of Lord Vaux, (fn. 27) it passed to their son Thomas Lord Vaux, who conveyed it in 1556 to Thomas Docwra of Temple Dinsley in Hitchin. (fn. 28) In 1602 Thomas died, leaving the property to his son Thomas, on whom it had been previously settled. (fn. 29) He received a grant of free warren in Lilley, Putteridge, Hockwell and Pirton in 1616. (fn. 30) Periam, his son, succeeded him in 1620, (fn. 31) and held the manor till his death in 1642. (fn. 32) The manor passed to Periam's son Thomas, (fn. 33) who settled it in 1710 on his grandson and heir-apparent Sir George Warburton, bart., of Arley, co. Chester (son of his daughter Martha, who married Sir Peter Warburton), on his marriage with Diana daughter of William Lord Alington. (fn. 34) Sir George Warburton sold it in February 1729–30 to the Right Hon. Charles Cavendish. (fn. 35) In 1738 Lord Charles Cavendish sold it to Sir Benjamin Rawling, kt. (fn. 36) Since he left no children, the property was divided at his death in 1775 between his relatives and co-heirs, descendants of his father's sisters Rebecca Nicholson and Sarah Corney. (fn. 37) Thirteen years later these co-heirs sold the whole manor to John Sowerby of Hatton Garden, (fn. 38) from whom it has descended to the present owner Captain Thomas George Sowerby, (fn. 39) who resides at Putteridge Park.
The parish church of ST. PETER, which stands in the village, was originally built in the 12th century. It was, however, wholly rebuilt in 1871, a few portions of the old church and some fittings being retained in the new building.
The chancel arch, of tufa, of the 12th century, has been reset in the north wall of the chancel, and there are some 15th-century stones in the south doorway. There is a piscina in the chancel, possibly of the 15th century, with a four-centred head and an octagonal bowl and shelf. It is covered with modern paint. The font, of the 15th century, is octagonal and of clunch. There are mural tablets in the porch to Thomas Docwra, 1602, and to Daniel Houghton, 1672. The pulpit is made up of old oak, with linen panels having traceried heads, brought from St. John's College, Cambridge.
There is a ring of three bells; the treble may be by William Knight of Reading, and is of 1580; the second is by George Chandler, 1703; and the tenor by T. Mears, 1821.
The plate includes a cup of 1689, paten of 1776–7, a pair of cruets and brass almsdish.
The registers are in two books, of which the first contains burials and baptisms from 1711 to 1812 and marriages from 1711 to 1752, and the second marriages from 1754 to 1812.
The earliest record of the advowson of the church of Lilley is in the year 1213, at which date it was in the king's hands, with other property of the Normans, (fn. 40) so that it had probably belonged to the Malets. Soon afterwards it was granted to Paul de Peyvre, (fn. 41) and descended with the manor (q.v.) until 1730, when Sir George Warburton conveyed it to Lord Charles Cavendish, (fn. 42) who sold it the following year to the Master and Fellows of St. John's College, Cambridge, who are the present patrons. (fn. 43)
Dwelling-houses were certified for worship for Protestant Dissenters from early in the 17th century. (fn. 44) There is now a Wesleyan chapel in Lilley.
There are no endowed charities in this parish.