A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Essendon is bounded on the north for some distance by the River Lea, which crosses its north-west and north-east corners. Near the southern border of the parish the land reaches a height of 400 ft., from which it slopes down towards the north, where the lower-lying land near the river is liable to floods. The parish contains 2,331 acres, of which nearly a half consists of permanent grass, arable land forming about one-third. (fn. 1) The soil is clay and gravel, the subsoil clay and chalk. Grass and corn are the chief crops. The greater part of the parish is farm land with a few scattered farms and gravel or chalkpits. The woodland does not form any great continuous extent, the woods consisting for the most part of narrow belts and small plantations. An extent of the manor of Essendon made in 1332 states that there were 8 acres of wood, worth 2s. an acre, which might be felled every eighth year for faggots, (fn. 2) but in 1439 there was no fuel that year from the king's woods at Essendon. (fn. 3) One of the privileges of the rectors of Essendon, granted or confirmed by Edward III, was the right to have a log from the wood at Essendon for their hearth every year at Christmas. (fn. 4)
The village stands on a hill overlooking the valley of the River Lea. The church, rectory and part of the village lie west of the Hertford road near the point at which it is joined by a road leading from Hatfield. The church is situated on the east side of a triangular green. Essendon Bury, the old manorhouse, now a farm, lies about half a mile to the north of the church. East of the Hertford road are the school and a reading room and working men's club which was opened in 1896. A water-mill stands by the river, due north of the village. The present building comprises a 17th-century house now encased with brick but originally of timber and plaster. It stands probably on the site of the king's mill which was granted with the manor of Essendon, and to which reference is made in the extent of 1332 and in other mediaeval records. (fn. 5) In 1279, when a jury presented that men of Essendon were accustomed to fish in the waters of Essendon 'with boterell and other small engines' until William de Valence prevented them, a verdict was given against the lord of the manor. (fn. 6)
Essendon Place, a little to the south of the village, was until lately the seat of the Barons Dimsdale. Thomas, first Baron Dimsdale, was the son of John Dimsdale of Theydon Garnon, co. Essex, and came of a family of medical men. In 1766 he published a tract on the treatment of small-pox by inoculation, and in 1768 he was invited to Russia to inoculate the Empress Catherine. For his services there he was made a baron of the Russian Empire. (fn. 7) After his return to England he served as M.P. for Hertford from 1780 to 1790. (fn. 8) He died in 1800 and was succeeded by his son John, second Baron Dimsdale. Robert, third Baron Dimsdale, brother and heir of John, was succeeded by his son Thomas Robert, the fourth baron, who bought Camfield Place (q.v.). He died there in 1865. A little later Essendon Place was acquired by the family, and Charles John, the fifth baron, died there in 1872. The property is owned by the present baron, but is now occupied by Mrs. Edgar Lubbock. The house is a stuccoed building of the early 19th century.
Near Essendon Place was an old house called Bird's Place, pulled down in 1833, (fn. 9) which at the beginning of the 17th century belonged to Henry Darnall, who died in 1607. (fn. 10) His wife was Marie daughter of William Tooke (second son of William Tooke, lord of the manor of Essendon), one of a Hertfordshire family of whom several members are buried in Essendon Church. Early in the 19th century Bird's Place was the seat of the Clitherow family. Christopher Clitherow died in 1807, (fn. 11) and Bird's Place came soon after to Robert Parnther, who lived there and who died in 1822. His daughter Isabella married John Currie of Bedwell Park. (fn. 12)
In the south-west of the parish is Camfield Place, which took its name from a family of Camvile or Canvile, who were holding lands in Essendon from the 13th to the 15th century (see below under Bedwell Lowthes). (fn. 13) In 1601 the estate was sold by Sir Edward Denny to William Brockett, (fn. 14) who in 1611 died seised of a messuage, mansion-house and farm called Camfield which he held by knight service of the king in chief 'by gift and grant of Edward now Lord Denny and Lady Mary his wife.' (fn. 15) In 1618 William Brockett, his son, sold Camfield to William Priestley, who died seised of it in 1622, (fn. 16) and whose son William acquired the manor of Bedwell Lowthes in 1627. Camfield Place was then held with Bedwell Lowthes, and was the seat of the Browne family, and was bought in 1832 by Thomas Robert fourth Baron Dimsdale (see above). It is at present the property and residence of Mr. F. V. McConnell.
The house called Wild Hill is just within the parish of Hatfield, but the estate is generally spoken of as lying within the parish of Essendon. In the 15th century the 'hamlet of Wyldehelle' in the parish of Essendon is mentioned, (fn. 17) and the names 'Wyldegrene' and 'Wildefeld' also occur, both lying in Essendon. (fn. 18) The Priestleys, lords of the manor of Bedwell Lowthes, lived here in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 19) There is a homestead moat near Coldharbour Farm.
There is no railway station in the parish; the nearest stations are Cole Green, 2 miles to the north on the Hertford and Hatfield branch line, and Hatfield, lying 4 miles west on the main line of the Great Northern railway.
Wulsin, 'a great and wealthy man,' is said to have given ESSENDON to the monks of St. Albans, (fn. 20) probably during the 10th century, but there is no evidence of the date. There is, however, no further trace of the monastery holding land there. No mention is made of Essendon in the Domesday Survey, but from its subsequent history it was probably then included in the royal manor of Bayford. It was probably included with the manor of Bayford in the grant to Peter de Valognes, (fn. 21) as the Empress Maud confirmed it to Roger son of Peter. (fn. 22) It appears, however, to have reverted to the Crown (see Bayford). In 1214, 1218, and succeeding years Essendon was tallaged as part of the king's demesnes, (fn. 23) and in 1228 the men of Essendon and Bayford successfully asserted their claim to pay no share of a fine which had been assessed on the county as a whole. (fn. 24) The manor appears to have been, as a general rule, held at farm by the warden of the castle of Hertford. For these grants at farm see Bayford, with whose history that of Essendon is identical for about the next three centuries.
In 1489 Henry VII leased the site of the manor, with the fishery and water-mill, to Sir William Say for ten years. (fn. 25) Henry VIII granted Essendon in 1545 to Giles Bridges, citizen and wool merchant of London, and Thomas Harris in fee simple, with all the manorial rights, (fn. 26) but it again reverted to the Crown, for in the same year the king granted it to Sir Robert Southwell, Master of the Rolls, and his wife Margaret. (fn. 27) In the same year Sir Robert and Margaret Southwell exchanged it with the Crown for other manors. (fn. 28) In 1547 Edward VI granted Essendon with its appurtenances to Sir William Paulet Lord St. John to hold in chief for onetenth of a knight's fee, (fn. 29) and a few months later Sir William Paulet received licence to alienate it to William Tooke, Auditor of the Court of Wards, and his heirs. (fn. 30) William Tooke died in 1588, having settled the manor of Essendon on his son William in consideration of the marriage of the latter with Mary Tichborne. (fn. 31) Until the middle of the 17th century the manor remained with the descendants of William Tooke. (fn. 32) It was probably sold by Ralph Tooke to John Middleton, serjeantat-arms, who in 1666 petitioned for the restoration of his 'setting dog taken from him with affronting language' by Viscount Cranborne, and who is described in the petition as being seised of the manor of Essendon. (fn. 33) He was probably the 'John Middleton of Essendon, esq.,' who in 1665 was presented with others at quarter sessions for 'riotous assembly and entry into the close of Richard Pooley at Essendon and stealing firewood the property of Lancelot Stavesley, esq.' (fn. 34) In 1682 the manor was acquired from the Middleton family by T. Lechmere and J. Stanley, who the next year conveyed it to the Earl of Salisbury. (fn. 35) It remained in the hands of the Cecil family, (fn. 36) and the Marquess of Salisbury is lord of the manor at the present day.
A court leet was held at Essendon once a year on the Thursday in Easter week (fn. 37) by the lord of the manor, who also had the right to view of frank-pledge, free warren and the goods and chattels of felons, fugitives and outlaws. In the reign of Edward IV suit of court was paid to the manor of Essendon for the manors of Bedwell and Bedwell Lowthes, (fn. 38) but in 1652 it was asserted that the tenants of Bedwell were in the jurisdiction of the sheriff's tourn and of no other court leet. (fn. 39) As early as 1332 the demesne lands appear to have been granted out, the tenants paying rent and claiming to be bound to no other service except suit of court every third week. (fn. 40)
BEDWELL is not mentioned in Domesday Book, and the fact that in the reign of Edward IV it was held of Essendon (fn. 41) suggests that at the time of the Survey it was included, with Essendon, in Bayford. It does not appear to be described as a manor until 1388, when it was released, with lands and tenements in Essendon and Little Berkhampstead, to John Norbury and others by Peter Wisebech and William Hedyndon, (fn. 42) who were probably feoffees of Norbury. The latter in 1406 received a licence to inclose 800 acres of land and wood 'of his own soil' adjoining his manors of Bedwell and Little Berkhampstead, to make a park which was to be held to him and his heirs for ever. (fn. 43) This John Norbury married Elizabeth daughter of Sir Thomas Boteler of Sudeley, the widow and second wife of Sir William Heron, and he is known to have died before 1433. (fn. 44) Elizabeth de Say, Baroness Say in her own right, who had married Sir William Heron as her second husband, being his first wife, had died without issue in 1399, and after her death Sir William Heron continued to be summoned to Parliament till his death. (fn. 45) He died in 1404, having married secondly Elizabeth Boteler aforesaid. (fn. 46) After his death Elizabeth his widow married, as above mentioned, John Norbury, but she retained the title of Lady Say till her death in 1464. (fn. 47) She was married again to Sir John Montgomery at some date unknown before 1433, (fn. 48) and after 1412, when she is named as the wife of John (not Henry) Norbury (fn. 49) and widow of Sir William Heron. (fn. 50) Her heir was her grandson John Norbury, who in 1465 received licence to enter into all possessions that came into the hands of Henry VI or Edward IV by the death of John Norbury the elder, or of Elizabeth Lady Say his wife. (fn. 51) In Hilary Term 1465–6 John Norbury the younger conveyed the manor to Sir John Say, (fn. 52) who died in 1478 seised of the manors of Bedwell and Little Berkhampstead, and was succeeded by his son William Say. (fn. 53) During the ownership of the latter in 1522 Mary Tudor appears to have stayed at Bedwell. (fn. 54)
Sir William Say had two daughters, Elizabeth, who married William Blount Lord Mountjoy, (fn. 55) and Mary, who married Henry Bourchier second Earl of Essex. On the death of Sir William Say in 1529 the manor of Bedwell, in accordance with a settlement made in 1506, passed to Lord Mountjoy, who was to hold it for life and to be succeeded by his daughter Gertrude wife of Henry Courtenay Marquess of Exeter. On the attainder of Gertrude Marchioness of Exeter in 1539 the manor came into the hands of the Crown. (fn. 56) In the same year the stewardship of the manor, the keepership of Bedwell Park, of the hunt of deer and of the 'King's mansion of Bedwell with a little garden thereto annexed or adjoining' were granted to Sir Anthony Denny, 'a gentleman of the King's Privy Chamber,' (fn. 57) to whom in 1547 Edward VI granted the manor itself 'in support of his dignity' as Chief Groom of the Chamber. (fn. 58) Sir Anthony died in 1549, having settled the manor on his third son Charles. (fn. 59) On the latter's death without issue it passed to his elder brother Henry, who died in 1574, leaving a son Robert. (fn. 60) Robert Denny died in 1576 and was succeeded by his younger brother Sir Edward Denny, (fn. 61) who, being in debt to the queen, (fn. 62) sold the manor of Bedwell, with Bedwell Lowthes, in Hilary Term 1600–1, to William Potter, (fn. 63) to whose family it seems to have been already leased. (fn. 64) Bedwell Park and part of the demesnes were sold by William Potter to Sir Henry Atkins, (fn. 65) after whose death in 1638 (fn. 66) they passed to his wife and then to one of his younger sons, Thomas Atkins, who was the owner of Bedwell in 1700. (fn. 67) On the death of Thomas Atkins in 1701 (fn. 68) Bedwell Park was sold to Richard Wynne, (fn. 69) who was M.P. for Boston in 1698 and 1705 and who died in 1719. (fn. 70) From the descendants of Richard Wynne Bedwell passed by sale to Samuel Whitbread, who sold it in 1807 to Sir Culling Smith, bart., (fn. 71) to whose son, Sir Culling Smith, and grandson, Sir Culling Eardley Smith, the estate passed in succession. The latter assumed the name of Eardley. On his death in 1863 Bedwell was left to his eldest daughter, Frances Selena Eardley, who in 1865 married Mr. Robert Hanbury, M.P. for Middlesex, the latter adding the name of Culling to his surname. (fn. 72) Mrs. Culling-Hanbury is the present owner of Bedwell Park, which is now occupied by Mr. Charles George Arbuthnot.
In 1543 the king's park at Waltham was supplied with deer from Bedwell Park, (fn. 73) and amongst the privileges granted with the manor of Bedwell were the herbage and pannage of the park and free warren, both within the park and without, in the parishes of Essendon and Little Berkhampstead. (fn. 74) Within the park were inclosed lands called Ponsbourne Mead, which belonged to the manor of Ponsbourne in Hatfield, and were bought from Lord Wenlock (grantee of Sir John Fortescue's forfeited lands) by Sir John Say. (fn. 75)
BEDWELL LOWTHES appears to have been originally a separate manor from Bedwell. (fn. 76) Roger de Louth or Luda (who founded the chantry in the church at Bishop's Hatfield) held four messuages and 3 carucates of land in Essendon and Bishop's Hatfield in 1333. (fn. 77) In 1351 William de Louth and Agnes his wife held lands in Essendon which formerly belonged to John de Walden. (fn. 78) John son and heir of Roger son of Roger de Louth (who held Hornbeamgate in Hatfield) also held lands in Essendon, (fn. 79) and these descended with that manor to Robert de Louth, who in 1409 granted a field of land called 'le Wildefeld,' with the moor belonging to it, to Peter Cheyne and Alice his wife. (fn. 80) Alice was the daughter of John Camville, who also held lands in Essendon. (fn. 81) Her sister Joan married William Basset, who seems to have acquired most of the lands formerly belonging to John Camville, (fn. 82) as well as the land owned by Peter Cheyne. (fn. 83) In 1466 Sir John Say acquired the manors of Hornbeamgate and Blounts (see Bishop's Hatfield) and lands in Essendon and Hatfield from Robert Louth, (fn. 84) and in 1474 William Basset released lands in Essendon to Sir John Say. (fn. 85) In the same year the latter was fined for suit of court at Essendon for 'lands and tenements called Lowthes.' (fn. 86) The estate followed the descent of Bedwell, (fn. 87) from which it is not generally separately mentioned, until 1627, when William Potter sold Bedwell Lowthes to William Priestley, (fn. 88) who already held the house known as Camfield Place, (fn. 89) and whose son Thomas Priestley held it in 1668. (fn. 90) From the latter it appears to have passed to his son William Priestley, (fn. 91) who died without issue in 1744. (fn. 92) In 1759 the manor was held by Thomas Methwold, (fn. 93) nephew of William Priestley, (fn. 94) and was sold by him in 1760 to Thomas Browne. (fn. 95) whose son (fn. 96) William Browne held it in 1815. (fn. 97) On the death of the latter's widow in 1832 (fn. 98) the manor was sold to Thomas Robert fourth Baron Dimsdale. (fn. 99) In 1866 the executors of the fourth Baron Dimsdale sold the manor, with Camfield Place, to Edmund Potter, eldest son of the late James Potter of Manchester. (fn. 100)
In 1614 Robert Earl of Salisbury died seised in fee simple of lands in the parish of Hatfield which are described as being 'once parcel of the manor of Bedwell Lowthes' and which he purchased in 1610 from William Potter and Dorothy his wife. (fn. 101) These lands, which descended with the manor of Essendon, are also called Bedwell Lowthes in later deeds.
The church of ST. MARY, standing in the middle of the village, consists of chancel 25 ft. by 19 ft., north chapel. south organ chamber and vestry, nave 50 ft. by 21 ft. 6 in., north and south aisles, and west tower 14 ft. by 12 ft., all internal dimensions. The walls are built of flint with stone dressings.
The west tower is of 15th-century date with work of the 17th century and renewed stonework of 1883; it is of two stages with an embattled parapet and a small leaded spire. The tower arch has been much restored; in the west doorway are two of the original moulded jamb stones.
The font, made by Wedgwood in 1780, is interesting and somewhat uncommon. It consists of a circular bowl of basalt ware—a kind of black porcelain—about 21 in. in diameter, the exterior ornamented with festoons of drapery. The base is moulded; it stands on a square wooden pedestal which tapers downwards. The sides are fluted and the upper part is decorated with painted masks and festoons in the Adam style. A small round cylinder of porcelain, about 8 in. high, with moulded capital and base, stands inside the bowl to support a smaller basin for the water.
On the south aisle wall is a large monument to William Priestley, 1664, with twisted pilasters supporting the cornice, on which are his arms. There are also several 17th-century floor slabs. On the south aisle wall is a brass to William Tooke, 1588, and his wife Ales. The figures are kneeling at a table. Behind the man are figures of nine sons, and behind the woman three daughters. Above are three shields of arms; in the middle (1) the arms of Tooke with their crest, a griffon's head party cheveronwise razed and holding in its beak a sword erect; (2) Tooke impaling Barlee; (3) Barlee quartering Bibbesworth. On a floor slab with shield of arms, with the crest and arms of Tooke with quarterings, the inscription is missing. On the south wall are three brasses of shields, all similar; quarterly: (1) France quartering England, all within a border quarterly of England and France; (2) Courtenay; (3) Say; (4) Redvers. According to a modern inscription underneath these brasses were taken from a gravestone below in 1778. The arms are perhaps intended to represent those of Henry Courtenay Marquess of Exeter, beheaded in 1539.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms, burials and marriages from 1653 to 1731; (ii) baptisms and burials from 1729 to 1761, marriages 1729 to 1751; (iii) baptisms and burials from 1762 to 1812; (iv) marriages from 1754 to 1789; (v) marriages from 1789 to 1795; (vi) marriages from 1795 to 1812.
The advowson of the rectory has always followed the descent of the manor. (fn. 102) In 1650 Essendon was described as a sequestered living worth £90 with the living of Bayford. (fn. 103) In 1725 the lord of the manor, James Cecil Earl of Salisbury, presented. (fn. 104) The advowson remained with his descendants, and the rectory of Essendon is in the gift of the Marquess of Salisbury at the present day.
There is evidence of Nonconformity in Essendon during the 17th century. In 1646 George Stallybrasse, who was rector of Essendon, signed the Hertfordshire ministers' petition to Parliament in favour of the Covenant. In 1674 the churchwardens were summoned before the archdeacon for neglect of duty, and in 1682 it was reported that at Essendon they lacked both surplice and prayer book. (fn. 105) In 1817 the chapel of James Pond was certified as a place of worship for Protestant Dissenters, and a Baptist chapel was built in 1885.
In 1761 Meliora Priestley, by a codicil to her will proved in the P.C.C. 27 June, left £100, now £133 6s. 8d. consols, with the official trustees, the annual dividends, amounting to £3 6s 8d., to be distributed to the poor in bread each month.
In 1795 Samuel Whitbread, by a codicil to his will, bequeathed £533 6s. 8d. 3 per cent. reduced annuities, now represented by a like amount of consols, with the official trustees, producing £14 10s. 10d. a year, of which £5 a year is payable to the rector for administering the sacrament at least eight times during the year, and the residue in the distribution of bread. A sum of £200 consols has been set aside as the ecclesiastical charity and £333 6s. 8d. consols as the eleemosynary charity.