A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Great Amwell lies on the right bank of the River Lea to the south of Ware and the southeast of Hertford. A detached part surrounded by the civil parishes of Little Amwell and St. John's Rural lies to the north-west of Little Amwell. It includes Gallows Plain, and its boundary passes through a tumulus of unknown origin on the western side of 'Barrow Field.' (fn. 1)
The parish contains 2,264 acres, but was formerly of greater extent. A considerable portion of the hamlet of Hoddesdon lay within the ecclesiastical parish of Great Amwell (fn. 2) until 1844, when Hoddesdon itself was consolidated into a separate parish. (fn. 3) This part of Hoddesdon was known as 'Amwell hamlet in Hoddesdon.' (fn. 4) The 'vill' of 1086 apparently included a part of Hoddesdon (fn. 5) and the lands of Ralf de Limesy in Hertford. (fn. 6) The hamlet of Amwell End, notorious for a disorderly fair established without licence in 1768, (fn. 7) was transferred to the civil parish of Ware in 1858. (fn. 8)
About one-quarter of the parish is arable land. The woods at Amwell Bury, Hertford Heath and Hailey cover some 500 acres. Richard of Hailey gave 5 acres of woodland in Amwell to the friars of Easton, co. Wilts., (fn. 9) in 1301. Characteristic features of the parish are the meadows or 'holmes' of the Lea Valley. Several of these were attached to houses in 'Nethenhostret' in the 14th century. (fn. 10) Star Holme belonged to the house called 'the Star' in Ware. (fn. 11) Hedenhoo Marsh and Amwell Marsh also provided considerable pasturage. (fn. 12)
The parish lies at the junction of the Chalk with the Reading Bed of clay and pebble. (fn. 13) The surface soil is clay, chalk and gravel. The village is situated on the western slope of the valley of the Lea, a little to the east of the main road to London from Ware, where Izaak Walton promised to meet 'Venator' for an otter-hunt. (fn. 14) The village is on an 'outlier' of the Reading Bed. On the hill-side above is the church with the stocks now much repaired, and close by are the vicarage, Home Lodge, the residence of Rev. R. S. Mylne, F.S.A., and the school built in 1875. The Quaker poet John Scott built a grotto near his father's house at Amwell End and entertained among others Dr. Johnson. (fn. 15) The grotto is in the grounds of a house called the Grotto, now the residence of Mr. Sidney Harrington. In writing of Great Amwell Scott describes how the 'Roofs of russet thatch Rise mix'd with trees, above whose swelling tops Ascends the tall church tow'r and loftier still The hill's extended ridge.' (fn. 16)
Another poet connected with Amwell is William Warner, author of Albions England, who died suddenly in the parish 1 March 1608–9. (fn. 17)
At Amwell Magna Cottage there is let into the wall a triangular panel bearing the date 1606 and surmounted by a crown and thistle and the letters I. R. 6. A. R., the initials of James I and his queen, Anne of Denmark, and the king's favourite motto Beati pacifici. This stone was formerly above the central arch of Netherbow Port, Edinburgh, (fn. 18) and was placed in its present position by Mr. Robert William Mylne, F.R.S., of the Home Lodge, architect and antiquary. The latter's grandfather, Robert Mylne, F.R.S., architect to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral (where he is buried), and designer of the bridge at Blackfriars opened in 1769, settled in Amwell about 1770. He was engineer to the New River Company for forty years, and was succeeded by his son, William Chadwell Mylne of Amwell, who also was engineer to the company, and effected the alterations in the works of the New River Company after the Metropolis Waterworks Act, 1852. (fn. 19)
Immediately below the village is 'Emma's Well,' a spring utilized by Sir Hugh Myddelton as one of the sources of the New River. It is said to have been named after Emma wife of Cnut. (fn. 20) It seems to have been called 'Amwell Well' in the 14th century. (fn. 21) On an island in the New River is a stone bearing a legend to this spring. On another island is a monument to Sir Hugh Myddelton. Beyond the river the Hertford branch of the Great Eastern railway traverses the parish. The River Lea, which forms the eastern boundary, was doubtless the mediaeval route from Amwell to London. There is record of the swamping of a boat on the way to Westminster about 1289. (fn. 22) The Lea evidently served also to turn the manorial mill which existed in 1086. (fn. 23) It was damaged by the erection of a new sluice by the Abbot of Waltham in 1281, (fn. 24), and was still in need of repair in 1289. (fn. 25)
Amwell Bury lies to the north-west of the village. Between Amwell Bury and Ware is Presdales, (fn. 26) a modern house, the residence of Mr. A. G. Sandeman, J.P.
Hailey is a hamlet in the south of the parish separated from Amwell village by Goldings Wood and the parish of Stanstead St. Margaret's. Hailey Hall, on the main road from Hoddesdon to Ware, is a modernized house with a homestead moat. Near it are brick-works, and the clay on the opposite side of the road is still worked. The hamlet includes Haileybury College, which stands on high ground near the beautiful woodland of Hertford Heath. The heath is crossed by Ermine Street. The college was opened in 1809 for the training of civil servants of the East India Company. (fn. 27) After the abolition of the company the building was temporarily used as a barracks for its army. In 1862 the college was converted into a public school. (fn. 28) It is built in the classical style after the designs of Mr. William Wilkins, architect of the National Gallery. The buildings, which are of brick with stone dressings, surround a large quadrangle, having the chapel, library and head master's house on the south. The chapel, which was completed in 1877, occupies the centre of this range. The chancel is on the north, projecting into the quadrangle, and is surmounted by a lofty octagonal dome. The southern portion of the chapel is contained within the walls of the older buildings. To the east is the library, a plain, well-proportioned room, which formed the original chapel. The south front of this range, facing on the terrace, forms the principal elevation of the college, and, seen from Hailey Lane, presents an imposing appearance. The centre is marked by a hexastyle portico of the Ionic order, above which rises the chapel dome, and near either end of the elevation are tetrastyle porticoes of the same order. The original perspective drawings for the terrace front, both as first proposed and as actually erected, are preserved in the library, having recently come into the possession of the school authorities. Among the many alterations and additions made to the buildings since 1862 the Bradby Hall, to the east of the great quadrangle, designed by Mr. Reginald Blomfield and erected in 1887, is the most important from an architectural point of view. It is a building of brick in the quasi-Jacobean style of that period. In 1907 additional class rooms were built on the west side of the quadrangle. Hailey House, an 18th-century building of brick, is now incorporated into the premises of the school.
Before the Conquest AMWELL, AMWELLBURY or GREAT AMWELL was a 'berewick' or outlying estate attached with two others at Hertford and Hoddesdon to Earl Harold's manor of Hatfield Broadoak. (fn. 29) All three berewicks were evidently included in the 14½ hides at Amwell which constituted the holding of Ralf de Limesy in 1086. (fn. 30) This holding probably extended over what is now Little Amwell, part of which with Ralf's lands in Hertford formed the endowment of his priory at Hertford. (fn. 31) Ralf's holding at Hoddesdon was probably identical with the manor of Geddings and other lands held of the manor of Great Amwell. (fn. 32)
About 1130 Ralf de Limesy was succeeded in his Hertfordshire lands by his son Alan. (fn. 33) Gerard son of Alan owed scutage for lands in Hertfordshire in 1161. (fn. 34) His widow Amice had two sons living in 1185. (fn. 35) The elder was John de Limesy. (fn. 36) Either this John or one of his predecessors seems to have made a sub-enfeoffment of Amwell Manor to a younger branch of the family, the descendants of Geoffrey, who was evidently a younger son of the Ralf de Limesy of the Domesday Book. (fn. 37) Ralph de Limesy, grandson of this Geoffrey, left a daughter Felise, who apparently married Robert the son of her guardian Ralph son of Nicholas. (fn. 38) Robert son of Ralph son of Nicholas with his wife 'lady Felicia' had licence, (fn. 39) and made an agreement in 1252 with the Prior of Hertford to build a free chapel in their 'court' at Amwell. (fn. 40) Felise died without issue, (fn. 41) and her cousin Ralph, the son of Alan her father's brother, sold Amwell Manor in or shortly before 1270 to Richard of Ware, Abbot of Westminster, (fn. 42) reserving a rent of a clove gillyflower. (fn. 43) His nephew and heir Peter de Limesy (fn. 44) released all right in the manor as mesne lord to the abbey in 1317. (fn. 45) The abbot owed knight's service of one fee to the chief lord, (fn. 46) which in 1303 was due to Hugh de Oddingselles, (fn. 47) grandson of Basile, one of the co-heirs of John de Limesy. (fn. 48) Hugh afterwards sold to the abbey all his rights in Amwell as chief lord. (fn. 49) A rental of the late 14th century shows that the abbey exacted the service of a half-fee from Robert son of Robert de Gedding, who was then holding onequarter of the vill, (fn. 50) and of another half-fee from the seven tenants of land which had been held by Nicholas Usshel and John Percival, and also of a quarter-fee from the nine tenants of the holding formerly of Stephen de Aldingbourne. (fn. 51)
Abbot Richard promised to assign Amwell Manor to the convent, from the goods of which he had paid Ralph de Limesy 700 marks of silver (fn. 52); but it was not until 1288 that Abbot Walter de Wenlak definitely assigned it to the cellarer of the abbey. (fn. 53) In 1535 the treasurer of outlying estates received the profits. (fn. 54)
In 1289 the reeve accounted for the manor including the courts, and Brother Richard de Waltham visited Amwell four times yearly to receive the profits. (fn. 55) Early in the 14th century Sir William de Goldington, kt., lord of the neighbouring manor of Goldingtons, (fn. 56) had a lease of the manor for life. (fn. 57) The courts were usually reserved in leases of the demesne lands, (fn. 58) and in 1398 the profits of the courts were farmed separately by a collector of rents. (fn. 59) In 1537 a reversionary lease of the demesne lands, contingent upon the death of Gilbert Rooks, was made to Thomas Leigh, Master of the Hospital of Burton St. Lazars, and to his nephew William Leigh, a mercer of London, in survivorship. (fn. 60)
The abbey surrendered to the Crown in January 1539–40, (fn. 61) and in the following August Sir Anthony Denny, kt., of Cheshunt, the favourite of Henry VIII and an ardent supporter of the Reformation, (fn. 62) had a grant in tail-male of all the estate of the late abbey at Amwell. (fn. 63) Dame Joan, Sir Anthony's beautiful and accomplished widow, purchased from William Leigh his interest in the manor in March 1552–3, (fn. 64) and after her death her executor John Tamworth transferred to Henry Denny of Dalonce, co. Essex, the remaining years of Leigh's lease. (fn. 65)
Under the terms of the grant to Sir Anthony the manor descended in tail-male to his son Henry Denny of Cheshunt (fn. 66) and his grandson Robert, a minor at his father's death. (fn. 67) The latter was succeeded in 1576 by his brother, Sir Edward Denny, kt., who was created Lord Denny of Waltham in 1604 and Earl of Norwich in 1636. (fn. 68) In 1600, desiring to build in a place with good air, Sir Edward wished to cut off the entail and purchase the reversionary rights of the Crown in the manor. (fn. 69) Having met with opposition from his uncle, he apparently changed his plans. (fn. 70) Sir James Hay, kt., his extravagant son-in-law, (fn. 71) obtained a grant of the Crown rights in the manor 11 February 1605–6, (fn. 72) and in 1607 joined with Sir Edward in a sale to Thomas Hobbes the elder of Gray's Inn. (fn. 73) Thomas Hobbes, possibly the son of the last-named Thomas, settled the remainder of the manor, failing his own children, on those of his sister Martha Peyton. (fn. 74) He left an only daughter Susan, who was aged ten at his death in February 1631–2. (fn. 75) She married John Fiennes, second son of William first Viscount Saye and Sele. (fn. 76) Upon his death in 1696 Amwell Manor passed to his son-in-law Thomas Filmer of the Inner Temple, who had purchased the reversion of it. (fn. 77) He died in 1701 and was succeeded by his two daughters, Susan wife of Robert Eddowes and Mary afterwards married to Edward Trotman. (fn. 78) They sold the Amwell estate to Thomas Burford, (fn. 79) and it descended to his brother John Burford of King's College, Cambridge. (fn. 80) Upon his death it was purchased by Bibye Lake of Edmonton, whose only daughter and heir Anna Maria took it in marriage to Colonel Charles Brown. (fn. 81) At his death in 1836 it descended to his son Captain Henry Brown, who had distinguished himself in the Peninsular War. (fn. 82) His widow, Mrs. Mary Anne Brown, held it after his death, which took place in November 1873. (fn. 83) It was inherited by Captain Brown's only child, Mrs. Charrington, from whom the lordship of the manor was purchased by the governors of Haileybury College. (fn. 84)
A hall existed at Amwell in 1289. (fn. 85) It may have been the 'capital messuage' with lands in 'Hallefeld' held by Andrew de Godesfeld, one of the successors of Stephen de Aldingbourne, in the latter half of the 14th century. (fn. 86) In 1398 the 'house' had to be repaired after a strong wind. (fn. 87) Sir Edward Denny's desire to build at Amwell implies that there was probably no considerable house there in 1600. The present Amwell Bury lies among woods about half a mile to the north-west of the village. It has a modern pigeon-house, the walls of which evidently encase a late 17th-century building. The house is now the property of Mr. E. S. Hanbury of Poles.
Henry III granted to the Abbot of Westminster in Amwell all the extensive liberties which he possessed in his other lands. (fn. 88) By virtue of this charter, and a confirmation of it by Edward I, (fn. 89) the abbey had return of writs, exemption from the sheriff's tourn, view of frankpledge, amends of assize of bread and ale and other royalties (fn. 90) within the 'liberty' of Amwell. (fn. 91) A striking result of the abbot's privileges was the difficulty experienced by the tenants of the manor in bringing pleas of land against their lord. Hence a plea between Peter de Limesy and the abbot in 1313 became a test case as to the right of the sheriff to enter a liberty in the case of default upon the part of the officers of its lord. (fn. 92)
There was a fishery in the mill-pond in 1289–90. (fn. 93) This was probably the fishery farmed by Ellen de Limesy in 1398. (fn. 94) At the present day the subscription waters of Amwell Magna Fishery, which have been sold to the Metropolitan Water Board, are among the best in the River Lea.
In 1086 Geoffrey de Bech held 2 hides at HAILEY (Hailet, xi cent.; Heilet, xii cent.; Heyle, xiv cent.; Heyleghe, xv cent.). They had formerly been held by Wlwin, a man of Earl Harold, (fn. 95) and with the rest of Geoffrey's fief had subsequently been in the hands of Ilbert, the first Norman sheriff of the county. (fn. 96) In 1086 the lord of the manor of Great Amwell claimed woodland which Ilbert had attached to this manor, and the canons of Waltham, probably as lords of Brickendon, (fn. 97) also laid claim to woodland in Hailey. (fn. 98)
Ralf the Butler ('Pincerna') (fn. 99) appears to have succeeded Geoffrey de Bech in Hailey, Cockenhatch and Bengeo. In the time of Henry I, Ralf sub-enfeoffed Aubrey de Vere, possibly the father of the first Earl of Oxford, who died in 1141, (fn. 100) of all the land which had been held of him by Roger de Burun in Hailey, Cockenhatch and Bengeo. (fn. 101) Robert de Burun, possibly the son of Roger, was to recover the tenancy under Aubrey de Vere upon payment of £32. (fn. 102) The 2 hides of Geoffrey de Bech and the land held under Ralf the Butler in Hailey apparently included the manor known later as Goldingtons in Thele. (fn. 103) Of the interest of Ralf the Butler nothing further is known, (fn. 104) but the successive Earls of Oxford retained the overlordship of the manors of Revells Hall in Bengeo and Goldingtons in Thele. (fn. 105) There was in 1700 no distinct manor of Hailey, (fn. 106) but a reputed 'manor' of Hailey was held with Goldingtons by Sir Andrew Ogard, kt., in the 15th century (fn. 107) and was acquired with that manor by William Frankland in 1560. (fn. 108) It probably became absorbed in the neighbouring' manor of Goldingtons.
A part of Hailey lay within the lordship of Great Amwell. (fn. 109)
The church of ST. JOHN BAPTIST stands in the village and consists of a round apsidal chancel 25 ft. by 16 ft., nave 39 ft. by 22 ft. 6 in., west tower 12 ft. by 10 ft. 6 in., and vestry; all internal dimensions.
The chancel and nave date from the close of the 11th century, (fn. 110) the west tower was built about 1420–30, the vestry is modern. The church was restored in 1866. The walls are of flint rubble with stone dressings; the roofs are tiled.
In the north wall of the chancel is a narrow window of the 11th century, with deeply splayed jambs both inside and outside; it is round-arched, but a slight point has been given to the outer arch at some later period. The other windows of the chancel are all modern lancets. The doorway to the vestry in the north wall has a massive 15th-century oak frame with four-centred head. Two recesses, one on either side of the east window, now used as sedilia, are of modern stonework. There is a modern piscina in the south wall with an old basin, part of which has been cut away. The chancel arch is round, of two plain square orders towards the west, square jambs and grooved and splayed abaci not returned on east or west faces; it is probably of late 11th-century date. On either side of the chancel arch is a round-arched squint, recently enlarged, set diagonally in the wall. The roof retains one tie-beam of the 15th century; the eastern part of the apse roof is domical and above it is a gabled roof.
A sloping recess in the north wall of the nave at the east end marks the position of the stair to the rood-loft. In the north wall are two windows, one of three lights with traceried head and the other a single traceried light. In the south wall are a 13th-century lancet with splayed jambs and a window of three lights of 15th-century character. All these windows are of modern stonework externally, but their inner jambs are old. In the south wall is a 14th-century piscina with trefoiled head and moulded edges; part only of the basin is original. The roof is modern.
The tower is of three stages with an embattled parapet; the octagonal timber spire is modern. The tower arch is of the 15th century; the arch is moulded, the outer mouldings being continuous, the inner resting on engaged shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The west doorway has a moulded arch with a square head and traceried spandrels; in the inner jambs are the holes for the old wooden bar. The door, which is of 15th-century date, has tracery in the head. The west window is of three cinquefoiled lights under a four-centred arch; the mullions are of modern stonework. A newel stair is carried up in the south-west corner of the tower. The second stage has loop lights on each face but the east; on each face of the belfry stage is a two-light window with traceried head under a four-centred arch, the mullions of which have been repaired.
The font is modern. The oak communion table is of early 17th-century date. The octagonal pulpit is of oak with lozenge-shaped panels flanked by herms; the cornice bears the date 1696, but the rest of the work appears to be earlier in the century. It is said to have originally belonged to the chapel of the archiepiscopal palace at Croydon. (fn. 111) In the tower is a modern screen in which are incorporated 15th-century traceried doors from a former screen.
On the north wall of the nave is a brass with the figure of a civilian with his two wives and seven children; the head of the male figure is missing and there is no inscription. On the east wall of the nave is the figure of a priest of 15th-century date, in alb and hood, without inscription.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) all entries 1559 to 1657; (ii) baptisms and burials 1683 to 1791, marriages 1683 to 1753; (iii) baptisms and burials 1792 to 1812; (iv) marriages 1754 to 1793; (v) marriages 1793 to 1812.
A priest was among the tenants of Ralf de Limesy at Amwell in 1086. (fn. 112) The church of Amwell with all its tithes was apparently given to Hertford Priory by Ralf. It was confirmed to the priory by Alan son of Ralf as the gift of his father, (fn. 113) but was not definitely mentioned in the foundation charter of the priory. (fn. 114) A vicarage was ordained between 1291 and 1349. (fn. 115) In 1399 a new agreement was made between the priory and John Bodlet, then vicar. (fn. 116) This was possibly the result of a recent agreement between the Prior of Hertford and the Bishop of London, impropriator of Broxbourne, as to the exact limits of the two parishes. (fn. 117) Henry Johnson, vicar of Amwell, in 1539 successfully asserted the right of the vicar to certain tithes under the composition of 1399. (fn. 118)
In February 1537–8, shortly after the dissolution of Hertford Priory, Anthony Denny and his prospective wife, Joan Champernown, obtained a grant of the advowson and rectory of Amwell (fn. 119); they descended with the manor of Great Amwell to Sir Anthony's grandson Edward, who sold them in 1577 to John and Thomas Skinner. (fn. 120) They alienated them to Isaac Woder of Gray's Inn, gentleman, in 1599. (fn. 121) In the same year he transferred the presentation for one turn to William Hutchinson, S.T.D., (fn. 122) and apparently parted with the advowson and rectory shortly afterwards, as in 1616 they were bequeathed by Geoffrey Elwes, alderman of London, to his son Silvius, (fn. 123) who died in 1638. (fn. 124) The advowson and rectory evidently passed to his executor, who was his brother Jeremy. (fn. 125) The latter's grandson Jeremy Elwes of Throcking was presented to the living in 1683, and was succeeded by his brother Robert. (fn. 126) The advowson descended in the direct line of this family until 1833, (fn. 127) when Robert Cary Elwes of Great Billing, great-grandson of the last-named Robert, (fn. 128) sold it to the Rev. Mordaunt Barnard, from whom it was purchased by William McNab. (fn. 129) His only daughter married the Rev. R. Parrott, who became vicar in 1864. The advowson descended to their daughter, Mrs. W. J. Harvey, wife of the present vicar. The rectorial tithe was not included in the sale to William McNab, and is at present vested in trustees. (fn. 130)
On the parish borders near the heath is a chapel belonging to the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, built in 1900 in memory of Dr. Reynolds of Cheshunt College. There were certificates for a Quaker meeting-house in 1691, a meeting-place for Anabaptists in 1692, and for Primitive Methodists in 1850. (fn. 131)
2. William Hill, will (date unknown) referred to in Parliamentary Returns of 1786 as a rent-charge of 20s. A sum of £1 6s., supposed to represent the endowment, is paid in respect of two cottages in Ware Valley in this parish.
The sums of stock are held by the official trustees, producing £27 13s. 8d. yearly, the total income of the charities amounting to £32 3s., which under the scheme is applied for the benefit of the poor of the ancient parish, mainly in the distribution of money and coal.