A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Westmele, Westmel (xi and xii cent.); Westmelne, (fn. 1) Westmill, Westmelle (xiii cent.); Westmylne, Westmulle (xiv cent.).
Westmill including Wakeley (which was formerly an extra-parochial liberty of Aspenden (q.v.) and was added to Westmill by Local Government Board Order in 1883) is a parish of 2,663 acres of land, of which about three-quarters at a rough estimation are arable. The River Rib runs through the parish and forms for a little way its eastern boundary, but the land for the most part lies high and the extent of meadow land has always been small; at the time of the Domesday Survey there was enough for six plough-teams only. The commons were inclosed by an award of 1819 under an Act of 1813. (fn. 2) High Field, Hunsdon, Albury and Mill Field were among the common fields. (fn. 3) The chief patch of woodland in the parish is formed by Coles and Knights Hill with Millcroft on the east. Part of Hamells Park also lies in this parish on the south, but the house is in the parish of Braughing. The Buntingford branch of the Great Eastern railway has a station in the village.
Westmill is intersected on the east by Ermine Street. In 13th-century deeds this road is alluded to as Erningstrat, Hernigstrate, the mediaeval forms of Ermine Street, and also as Stanstrate. (fn. 4) In 1729 two Roman amphorae were found in Lemonfield (Lemannsfeld, xiv cent.).
It is not possible now to locate the mill from which the parish took its name. There were three mills in 1086, but there are now none surviving within the bounds of the parish. Millcroft Wood and Upper and Lower Mill Field must, however, have taken their name from a mill in their neighbourhood. (fn. 5) Among the early place-names in the parish were Burgeys, Aldburg, Adthelingo, Staplys, (fn. 6) Mannefeld, (fn. 7) Mannemad, (fn. 8) Tunmannemade (fn. 9) and Tounhallefeld. (fn. 10) Of these the only one that seems to survive is Auldbury or Albury, the name of a field (formerly a common field) to the north-west of Millcroft Wood, near the river. Other names frequently occurring in 13th-century deeds are Admundeslane, Rogeneyehefeld or Ruwenhofeld, Lindley, Dedemannesot, Pandulveswelle, Pekeswellemed, (fn. 11) Purtewellehul, Sudpurtewelle, and a wood called Albertisgrave. None of these names seem to survive. (fn. 12) Lands called Hammondes in 1521 (fn. 13) were so named after a family of Hamond, whose name occurs constantly in wills, deeds, inquisitions, &c., of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 14) This family has died out in Westmill since the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 15) Another local family who have left their name in a field called after them are the Chipereviles or Chiperfields, who can be traced back to the 13th century. (fn. 16) John Chiperfield, by will of 1507, bequeathed 10s. to building a 'church house' in the churchyard. (fn. 17) Among the place-names still surviving in the parish are Great and Little Ridgeway Field to the south of the road leading to Westmill Green, Norwich Grove and Close to the north-east of Coles, Allen's Mead near Westmill Lodge, and Church Field to the north of the church. (fn. 18)
The village of Westmill is situated on low ground near the River Rib, a little under half a mile to the west of Ermine Street, with which it communicates by roads running north-east and south-east. There is one main street in the village, which ends towards the east in a village green. The church of St. Mary is situated on the north side of this street and the old manor-house of Westmillbury (now a farm) on the south. The only inn in the village, the 'Sword in Hand' (probably so called from the crest of the Greg family), is an old house, which by local tradition was for a time the residence of the Scottish family of Bellenden. The second Lord Bellenden was a partisan of James II and was an exile in Holland. His son John, the third baron, was married at Radwe'l in Hertfordshire to Mary Parnell of Baldock, and came to live at Westmill, where eight of his children were born, (fn. 19) and where most of them were buried. Lord Bellenden died in 1741 and was succeeded by his eldest son Ker, of the Royal Navy, who died at the age of twenty-seven. The tombs of the second baron and his wife and of the third baron and his eldest sister, Jane Miller, are in front of the altar in Westmill Church. (fn. 20) At the east end of the street, on the south side, are seven cottages built early in the 18th century by Samuel Pilgrim, who belonged to a family of Pilgrim or Pegram, who are well represented in the parish at the present day. (fn. 21) Kent's Corner, to the back of these cottages (now being pulled down), preserved the name of the Kent family (see charities). Opposite the church is a cottage called the Woolpack. A barn which adjoins the church and forms a prominent feature of the village when viewed from the west may occupy the site of a sheepfold and threshing-floor mentioned in the 13th century. (fn. 22) At right angles to the main street on the west runs the road to Aspenden, in which is the public elementary school built about 1829. (fn. 23)
Wakeley (see under Aspenden) forms a roughly triangular-shaped projection on the west of the parish; the hamlet, which is about 2 miles from Westmill village, consists of a farm and a few cottages and the site of the church of St. Giles.
Half a mile south of the village is Coles, the property and residence of Mr. T. T. Greg, J.P. This includes three separate estates, Knight's Hill, Coles, and Tillers End, which were copyhold of the manor of Westmill. The house was rebuilt about 1847 in the Elizabethan style, and has a park of about 140 acres.
A house called Button Snap at Westmill Green, (fn. 24) about a mile and a half south-west of the village, is of interest as having belonged for three years to Charles Lamb, the only landed property which he ever possessed. The house is thatched with straw and has diamond-paned windows. He relates that as he strode over his 'allotment of three quarters of an acre with its commodious mansion in the midst' he enjoyed for the first time the 'feeling of an English freeholder that all betwixt sky and centre' was his own. The property came to him from his uncle Francis Field of Holborn, the 'most gentlemanly of oilmen,' who bought it in 1779. His widow conveyed it in 1812 to Charles Lamb. The name Button Snap was probably given to it by Lamb, as it is not found before. In 1815 Lamb joined with his aunt in conveying it to Mr. Thomas Greg, (fn. 25) and so it passed 'into more prudent hands.' Cherry Green consists of a few cottages about a mile from the village. The name is evidently derived from a family of Cherry who had land here. (fn. 26)
Nathaniel Salmon (1675–1742), the historian and antiquary, was for some years a curate at Westmill. He resigned on the accession of Anne, to whom he refused to take the oath of allegiance, and practised as a doctor at St. Ives in Huntingdon and afterwards at Bishop's Stortford. Later he took to literature and published his History of Hertfordshire in 1728. He is said to have been buried at St. Dunstan's. A rector of Westmill of some fame was Henry Pepys, who was appointed to the living in 1827 and held it until he became Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1840. He was made Bishop of Worcester in the following year.
The Domesday Survey gives WESTMILL as being held in the time of King Edward the Confessor by Achi, a thegn of Earl Harold, and in 1086 forming part of the lands of Robert Gernon, of whom it was held by Anschitil, probably Anschitil of Ware. It was assessed at 7 hides 1 virgate, and there were fourteen ploughs on it, four of which were on the demesne. Three mills are mentioned on the manor. (fn. 27) With the other estates of Robert Gernon, Westmill was acquired in the reign of Henry I by William de Montfitchet, (fn. 28) of whom it was held as one knight's fee by Ralph Fitz Haselin and Richard Westmill. (fn. 29) William was succeeded by Gilbert de Montfitchet, who paid £10 for the farm of Westmill for several years preceding 1165–6. (fn. 30) After that year until 1176–7 the farm is accounted for by the sheriffs among the purprestures and escheats. (fn. 31) Whether this is due to a forfeiture by Gilbert is not certain, but Richard de Montfitchet, who seems to have succeeded Gilbert in the latter part of the reign of Henry II, appears in possession, (fn. 32) and the Testa de Nevill gives this Richard or his son holding three and one-sixth fees in Westmill and Gatesbury. (fn. 33) The younger Richard died in 1258 (fn. 34); his lands were divided among his three sisters, Westmill apparently falling to the share of Margery wife of Hugh de Bolebec. She left four daughters and heirs, (fn. 35) who probably conveyed Westmill to Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells. (fn. 36) From Robert the fees descended to his nephew Philip, (fn. 37) and after his death were held in dower by his widow Maud. (fn. 38) The overlordship then probably followed the descent of Burnells in Stanstead Montfitchet, which became vested in the Earls of Oxford. (fn. 39)
Holding under the Montfitchets in the time of Henry II was a family named Zoing, Szuyn or Zon. In 1178 Hubert le Zoing paid 100 marks for seisin of Westmill, and his brother Jordan is mentioned in 1183. (fn. 40) In 1226 Geoffrey le Zoing received a grant of a market to be held at Westmill on Friday and a fair on the vigil and day of St. Lawrence. (fn. 41) After his death (fn. 42) his widow Amice granted the third part of lands and a messuage in Westmill, which she held in dower, to the Prior of Holy Trinity, London. (fn. 43) William le Zoing is mentioned as holding a knight's fee in Westmill and Gatesbury in 1274. (fn. 44) In 1284 John, son and heir of William le Zoing, granted the manor to Sir Thomas de Leukenore, kt., apparently in confirmation of a previous grant made by William. (fn. 45) This is probably the Thomas son of Sir Nicholas de Leukenore who appears in a number of deeds concerning lands in Westmill. (fn. 46) After this the history of the manor becomes rather confused. In 1293 Margery and Violet, daughters of William de Say, brought an action against John de Lovetot for the manor, which John claimed to hold for life of the grant of Thomas de Leukenore. (fn. 47) John de Leukenore was assessed for fees in Westmill in 1303, (fn. 48) and in 1311 a fine was levied between Walter de Huntingfield and John de Leukenore of 2 acres of land, an acre of meadow and the advowson of the church. (fn. 49) Possibly John de Leukenore was in debt and gradually parted with his lands, for in 1309 Aymer de Valence Earl of Pembroke had a grant of free warren for lands extending into Westmill, (fn. 50) and the next year Sir Walter de Huntingfield granted him pasturage for three cows in the pasture of Westmill and Braughing before Sir Aymer's gate in Westmill, 'as far as the river between the manors of Sir Aymer and John de Leukenore.' (fn. 51) It may have been the agents of John de Leukenore who in 1315, while the earl was fighting in the marches of Scotland, broke into his houses at Westmill at night and burnt them and his goods, (fn. 52) for, although the earl seems to have acquired the whole manor before 1324, (fn. 53) apparently John de Leukenore tried to retain his hold on it. In 1328 he was in mercy in an action brought against him by Mary widow of Aymer de Valence for two parts of the manor, (fn. 54) but after this he does not appear again except as in receipt of a pension of 40s. paid out of the manor. (fn. 55) The extent of the manor as held by the countess included a capital messuage, 515 acres of land, 22 acres of meadow, 16 acres of pasture, and a water-mill. (fn. 56) The countess at one time formed a plan for settling the reversion of the manors of Westmill, Meesden and Little Hormead on a Carthusian priory to be founded in one of these parishes, (fn. 57) but she afterwards altered her intention and gave the reversion after her death to the Cistercian abbey of St. Mary Graces by the Tower (founded by Edward III in 1349), (fn. 58) obtaining Letters Patent for the purpose in 1376. (fn. 59)
Westmill remained with the abbey until 1538, when it was conveyed by the abbey and convent to Sir Thomas Audley, Chancellor of England, to hold of the king by fealty and a rent of £3 4s. (fn. 60) Audley was the grantee of a great number of monastic lands, inter alia the monastery of Walden, co. Essex. In 1538 he was made Lord Audley of Walden, and died in 1544 at the priory of Holy Trinity, London. He left two daughters Mary and Margaret. (fn. 61) Mary died unmarried, Margaret married first Lord Henry Dudley, who died without issue in 1557, and secondly Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, who survived her and held the manor until his attainder in January 1571–2. (fn. 62) Westmill came to the Crown, but was restored to Thomas Lord Howard de Walden, his son by Margaret, who conveyed it as the manor of Westmill alias Westmill Bury to John Brograve in 1583. (fn. 63) The manor has since descended with Hamells in Braughing (q.v.).
Westmill Bury has been occupied as a farm since the beginning of the 18th century. It is a modern building, but has a large barn of pre-Reformation date. This barn is built of timber-framing on low walls of thin bricks; the sides are weather-boarded and the roof covered with thatch. The total length of the building covered by the long unbroken roof is about 237 ft., but one end of it is partitioned off from the present barn, which is 30 ft. wide internally and about 165 ft. in length, and is divided into ten bays; some of the timbers are carefully wrought and have splayed edges.
Another tenant holding under the Montfitchets in Westmill was a certain Nicholas le Mestere or Maystre, from whom the manor of MAISTERS took its name. Various deeds of his of the time of Henry III remain: one, by which he grants to Thomas de Leukenore, son and heir of Sir Nicholas, a sheepfold with threshing-floor and land by the churchyard of Westmill; another by which with Amabilia his wife he granted the same Thomas a rent of 10s.; and another by which he gave rent from land in 'Nethersuhtfeld,' 'Mannefeld' and Benham to the Prior of Holy Trinity, London. (fn. 64) Before 1303 his fee had passed to Richard de Gatesbury (fn. 65) of Gatesbury in Braughing. In 1317 Richard son of Richard de Gatesbury released to his lord Aymer de Valence Earl of Pembroke his right in a moiety of a mill, land and 4s. rent in Westmill. (fn. 66) This is, perhaps, the mill mentioned in the extent given above of Westmill Manor. The manor descended with Gatesbury (q.v.), and with that manor was divided between Joskyn and Elveden.
Joskyn's part came with one half of Gatesbury to Thomas Hanchett, who in 1584 conveyed it to John Brograve. (fn. 67) The other half came to Thomas Fitz Herbert, who conveyed it in 1588 to John Brograve, (fn. 68) after which the whole manor followed the descent of Hamells in Braughing (q.v.). The estate became amalgamated with Hamells, which in later documents is called Hamell-cum-Masters. (fn. 69)
The manor of BARKESDEN, which belonged to the Priory of Holy Trinity, London, lay partly in Aspenden and partly in Westmill. (fn. 70) The early history of this manor is treated under Aspenden (q.v.). In 1578 that part of the manor which lay in Westmill was separated from the rest of the manor and was sold by Edward Halfhyde and his wife Anne to John Brograve. (fn. 71) He soon afterwards acquired Westmill alias Westmillbury, and the two manors have since become incorporated under the name of Westmill-cum-Barkesden.
Besides Robert Gernon's estate at Westmill in 1086 there were also 4 hides and 3 virgates there held by Ralph de Tany, and under him by 'Roger.' These had been held before the Conquest by Sexi, a house-carl of King Edward. In 1086 there was attached to them a virgate of land which a sokeman of Anschitil of Ware had held in the time of King Edward, and which formerly had not belonged to the manor. There were nine ploughs on the land, two of which were on the demesne, meadow for two plough-teams only, sufficient pasture, and woodland for sixty swine. (fn. 72) This estate descended with the Tany family. Luke de Tany in the reign of Henry III granted all the land in Westmill which he held from his granddaughter Amphelisa, daughter of Hugh de Marines, except an acre of meadow in Tunmannemade, to the convent of Holy Trinity. (fn. 73) The family of Marines held under the Tanys in Westmill, and many deeds of theirs are extant. The grantors include Gwerric de Marines and Hugh de Marines his brother, Hugh son of Gwerric, John and Theobald, brothers of Hugh, and Theobald son of Hugh. (fn. 74) Hugh de Marines, son of Gwerric, fell into debt, and mortgaged 15 acres of his demesne land in Westmill to Thomas de Nevill, Chancellor of Lichfield, for ten years, (fn. 75) and other lands there he mortgaged to certain Jews. (fn. 76) In 1275 he was presented for making a purpresture on the high road of half an acre. (fn. 77) About 1264 John de Marines, presumably John brother of Hugh, granted the manor of Westmill, together with common of pasture in the demesne lands of Hugh de Marines, to Sir John le Moine, son of Sir Nicholas le Moine, (fn. 78) and by a later agreement John le Moine undertook to find food and clothing and all necessaries for John de Marines and his wife Amabilia in Moine's own house as long as Marines lived, Marines giving up his life interest in the estate. (fn. 79) Shortly afterwards John le Moine, called of Selford, granted his tenement and capital messuage in Westmill, with the rents of his tenants and two parts of the tithes from the demesne of the late Sir Hugh de Marines, to Holy Trinity, London, (fn. 80) and later it appears that Holy Trinity held these lands by the service of finding 'I saccum cum una broch' for Ralph de Tany, and that Ralph held the serjeanty of the king by providing one sergeant as often as the king should go with his army into Wales. (fn. 81) This estate probably became united with the rest of the lands of Holy Trinity in the parishes of Westmill and Aspenden.
The church of ST. MARY consists of chancel 25 ft. by 15 ft., north vestry, nave 41 ft. 6 in. by 21 ft., north aisle 42 ft, 6 in. by 12 ft., south porch, west tower 14 ft. square ; all the dimensions are internal. The church is built of flint rubble with stone dressings, and at the south-east angle of the nave is some long-and-short work; the roofs are tiled.
The plans of nave and chancel are probably pre-Conquest; the walls may be of the 13th century, as there are details of that period, and the north aisle was erected earlier in that century; the chancel arch has details of the middle of the 14th century, and the west tower is of late 15th-century work. The church was thoroughly repaired in 1875, the stonework of most of the windows renewed, a south porch and north vestry were added, the chancel and aisle were reroofed, and all the walls but those of the tower refaced with flint.
The three-light traceried window in the east wall of the chancel is modern; a single lancet in the north wall and two in the south are of modern stonework. The south doorway is mainly modern, but the internal jambs are probably part of the original 14th-century work; above it is a narrow blocked single light with a square head of the 13th century, it shows as a recess externally. The 14th-century chancel arch is of two moulded orders, with a label on both sides of the wall; the jambs consist of three large engaged shafts with rolls between, and have moulded capitals and bases.
The south-east external angle of the nave is built of pre-Conquest long-and-short work, but the splayed plinth on which it stands is of later date; other longand-short stones have been re-used in a buttress to the north aisle. The north arcade consists of two early 13th-century pointed arches with chamfered edges and having labels on both sides; between the arches is a wide rectangular pier with moulded abaci which vary slightly in the two arches, and which are cut flush with the face of the wall; beneath the abacus on the east respond is a small plain niche. A modern opening has been cut through the east end of the wall, and above it is the blocked doorway to the roodloft. The three-light window and the doorway in the south wall are modern. The roof is probably of 15 th-century date and is plain.
In the north wall of the aisle are two modern windows; in the west wall is a two-light window with modern mullions and tracery; the outer fourcentred arch is of brick of the early 16th century with hollow-chamfered edge and label over.
The west tower is of three stages with embattled parapet; the roof is pyramidal and slated and is crowned with a small octagonal leaded spire. The tower arch is very lofty and consists of three splayed continuous orders which are stopped on a splay at the base. The west doorway has a two-centred arch, with moulded label forming a square head over it; the arch and jamb are continuously moulded and on each side is a niche for an image, with crocketed canopy, and at the apex are carved figures of two angels; in the spandrels are carved figures of angels holding censers; the doorway is much decayed and has been repaired with cement. The west window is of three cinquefoiled lights with traceried head, and has been repaired with cement; the belfry windows are also much decayed; they are of two cinquefoiled lights with traceried heads. Their moulded labels are returned round the tower as a string-course. The angle buttresses of the tower terminate at the belfry stage.
There are five bells: the treble by Thomas Mears, 1838; the second by Lester & Pack, 1757; the third is inscribed 'Sancta Margareta Ora Pro Nobis'; the fourth by William Rofford, undated, but probably c. 1350; the fifth by Miles Graye, 1616.
The registers are in four books as follows: (i) baptisms 1580 to 1730, burials 1565 to 1736, marriages 1562 to 1730; (ii) baptisms and burials 1731 to 1775, marriages 1750 to 1753; (iii) baptisms and burials 1776 to 1812; (iv) marriages 1755 to 1812.
The advowson of the church was appurtenant to the manor of Westmill held by the Leukenores. In 1311 John de Leukenore conveyed it to Walter de Huntingfield, (fn. 82) from whom it was evidently acquired by Aymer de Valence Earl of Pembroke. (fn. 83) It descended with the manor of Westmillbury until 1796, when it was reserved in the conveyance of the manor by Philip Earl of Hardwicke to John Mellish. (fn. 84) The living is now in the gift of Mr. T. T. Greg of Coles.
A meeting-place for Quakers was certified in Westmill in 1693, and one for Protestants in 1820. (fn. 85) There is now no Nonconformist place of worship in the parish.