A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Benington has an area of 3,060 acres, of which 1,769 acres are arable land, 838½ acres permanent grass, and 129½ acres wood. (fn. 1) The greater part of the parish is over 300 ft. above the ordnance datum, and rises at two points in the north at the upper end of the village, and in the east where Benington Lodge is situated, to over 400 ft. The River Beane forms the western boundary of the parish and the road from Walkern to Watton runs parallel to it. The road from Aston to Benington crosses this, and in the centre of the latter village divides, turning north to meet another branch from the Walkern road, and south towards Hebing End and Whempstead. No railway passes through the parish, the nearest station being Knebworth, 4½ miles south-west. The subsoil is chalk and clay.
There are many chalk-pits in the parish, six of which are still in use, and two gravel-pits in the southwest. The village stands upon a hill, with St. Peter's Church, the manor-house called the Lordship, and the remains of the castle surrounded by a moat standing in a park on the western side of the road. On the south side of the village green is a row of 16th-century timber and plaster and tiled cottages. One of them, known as the Priest's House, has the timber work exposed. The rectory, which stands to the north of the church, is an interesting brick house of two stories with attics. Over the main entrance is the date 1637, which probably indicates the date of building. Towards the end of the 17th century a wing was added at the back and further additions have been made in more recent years. It contains original staircases with square newels and turned balusters and some good 18th-century panelling. Attached to the rooms on the first floor are 'powder closets.'
Beyond the village to the north the road rises to Box Hall, with Cabbage Green a short distance to the east. Along the road turning south-east from the centre of the village is Benington Place, surrounded by a large park, the residence of Mr. Richard Hargreaves, J.P., and south of it the hamlet of Hebing End, in which is Benington House, the residence of Mrs. Parker, widow of the late Rev. James Dunne Parker, LL.D., D.C.L. To the west of Hebing End is Burn's Green, and to the south Cutting Hill. Great Brookfield Common, Lamsden Common, and Leatherfield Common lie in the south of the parish, with Small Hopes Wood and Stocking Spring to the north of the last. Moon Leys Spring is on the south-eastern border. Slipes Farm is situated a little to the west of the Lordship Park.
The inclosure award made in 1858 is in the custody of the rector. (fn. 2)
Field-names mentioned in 1638 are Dane Field, Peate Croft, Puckellshedge Field, Great and Little Brooke Field, Lether Field, Popp-hill Field, Baddmeads, Paddocks Penn, Ox Shott Hill, Stocking Corner Shott, Chisill Hill, Beaddales Bush, Langdale Shott, Stowdale and Rowdale Shott. (fn. 3)
Nothing is known of the history of BENINGTON CASTLE. The earthworks may have been thrown up by Peter de Valognes, when Benington became the head of the Valognes barony. (fn. 4) They were in all probability defended in the usual way by a timber tower on top of the mound or 'motte,' which was surrounded by a moat. There was a bailey to the east and within an outer ward on the south the church may have been included. (fn. 5) Roger de Valognes, son of Peter, was a partisan of Geoffrey de Mandeville during the period of anarchy in Stephen's reign. He was present with Mandeville at Stephen's celebrated Easter court in 1136, and died in 1141 or 1142. It was this Roger who probably built the masonry works of the castle, upon the earthworks possibly thrown up by his father, for had the earthworks been made in his time they would not have settled sufficiently to carry the masonry walls in Stephen's reign. The keep (turris) of the castle was destroyed by Henry II as an adulterine or unlicensed castle in 1177, the charge for the 100 picks used in its demolition being rendered in the Exchequer accounts. (fn. 6) The castle, which as a masonry building can only have had an existence for some forty years, was never rebuilt. (fn. 7) The ruins, which yet remain above the ground, consist of the bottom courses of the 12th-century keep, destroyed in 1177, rising only to a height of about 2 ft. 6 in. above the ground. It measures about 44 ft. by 41 ft. externally, the walls, which are of flint rubble with ashlar dressings, being from 7 ft. to 8 ft. in thickness with two pilaster buttresses about 4 ft. wide projecting 2 ft. at each angle and one in the middle of each wall. The bailey was surrounded by a curtain wall, fragments of which have been found.
BENINGTON was the head of a Saxon lordship of some importance, which extended apparently into Sacombe, Layston, Ashwell, Hinxworth and Radwell. (fn. 8) It was held in the time of Edward the Confessor by Ælmar or Æthelmar, and before him possibly by Æfric of Benington. (fn. 9) William the Conqueror granted the lands of Ælmar to Peter de Valognes, who was sheriff of the county in 1086. (fn. 10) Peter de Valognes, as successor to Ælmar, made Benington the head of the Valognes barony, which was sometimes styled later the honour of Benington. Here we find he had 6½ hides in demesne and a park for beasts of the chase, and here either Peter or his son Roger (fn. 11) built the castle. (fn. 12)
Roger, who probably died in 1141 or 1142, (fn. 13) had two sons, Peter, who died about 1158, (fn. 14) and whose wife's name was Gundrea, (fn. 15) and Robert, who held the barony of Valognes during the reign of Henry II, (fn. 16) and who died about 1194. (fn. 17) Robert de Valognes was succeeded by Gunnora, his daughter. She married Robert Fitz Walter, but kept the name of Valognes, (fn. 18) and died before 1238. The estates next came to Christiana de Valognes, Gunnora's daughter, (fn. 19) who married William de Mandeville. Christiana died without issue in 1233, (fn. 20) when her estates were divided between three heiresses—Lora, who married Henry de Balliol, Christiana the wife of Peter de Maugne, (fn. 21) and Isabel, who married David Comyn. (fn. 22) Benington was apportioned to Lora and her husband, (fn. 23) who died some time before 1272, (fn. 24) and whose son Alexander de Balliol held it in 1278. (fn. 25)
In 1303 Alexander de Balliol conveyed the manor to John de Benstede and his heirs. (fn. 26) This John was king's clerk at the time of the grant, and in 1307 keeper of the wardrobe. (fn. 27) In 1309 he was appointed one of the six justices for the Common Bench, and held this appointment until 1320. (fn. 28) In 1311 he received leave of absence to go to Rome on the king's business. (fn. 29) In 1315 he was again sent abroad with Thomas de Cantebrugge to carry the king's instructions to Almaric de Craon, Seneschal of Gascony, Amaneus Lord of Lebret, and other officials in Gascony and Aquitaine. (fn. 30) In 1317 he was appointed one of the two commissioners of array for Hertfordshire. (fn. 31) In 1319 he was again sent ' beyond seas,' (fn. 32) and died in 1323. (fn. 33) His widow Parnel held Benington in dower during her life, (fn. 34) outliving their son Edmund, who apparently died about 1338, (fn. 35) her own death occurring before April 1342. (fn. 36) The custody of John, her grandson, Edmund's son and heir, aged ten, was granted to Walter de Mauny. (fn. 37) John died in 1359, (fn. 38) his widow Parnel retaining a third of the manor in dower until her death in 1378. (fn. 39) The remainder of the manor passed meanwhile from John's eldest son John, who died in 1376, to his brother Edward, (fn. 40) to whom Parnel's portion reverted after her death in 1378. (fn. 41) The manor was held at this time as a third of two knights' fees. (fn. 42) Edward died in 1432, (fn. 43) and Benington was held by his widow Joan during her life, the reversion being settled on their son Edmund. (fn. 44) Edmund died in 1439, his heir being his grandson John, (fn. 45) to whom the whole manor reverted on the death of Joan in 1449. (fn. 46) John's son William, who succeeded his father in 1471, being then a minor, (fn. 47) evidently fought on the Yorkist side against Henry VII, for he received a pardon 'for all offences' in 1485. (fn. 48) Before this he had sold the reversion of the manor, provided that he died without issue, to Edward IV; but after the change of dynasty he conveyed it to trustees to uses unspecified in his inquisition. In 1485 he died childless and his aunt and heir Ellen succeeded. (fn. 49) One Edmund or Edward Benstede, presumably the nearest male heir, claimed the manor, having seized the deed of entail, which was locked in a chest at the time of William's death. (fn. 50) Joyce daughter of Sir Edmund Dudley also put in a claim, stating that William Benstede had left the manor to her for life by will, with remainder to Edward Benstede, but the trustees of William Benstede refused to surrender the manor to her. (fn. 51) In 1486 Edward Benstede released all his right in the manor to Sir William Say. (fn. 52) Next year Ellen Benstede, who was actually in possession, conveyed the manor to Sir William Say, (fn. 53) who, on account of William Benstede's sale of the reversion, had to obtain a pardon for acquiring the manor in 1488. (fn. 54) In 1486, the year previous to the actual conveyance of the manor, Ellen Benstede and Sir William Say seem to have held alternate courts there, (fn. 55) probably because the transaction was in progress.
In 1506 Sir William Say settled Benington on William Blount Lord Mountjoy, (fn. 56) the husband of his daughter Elizabeth, but Sir William outlived them, and upon his death in 1530 (fn. 57) the manor passed to Henry Earl of Essex, the husband of his second daughter Mary. In 1539 it was delivered to their daughter Anne and her husband, Sir William Parr, (fn. 58) from whom she was divorced in 1543. (fn. 59) In 1553 Sir William Parr Marquess of Northampton was attainted for doing homage to Lady Jane Grey and his lands were forfeited to the Crown (fn. 60); however, as the manor had been settled on him with remainder to his wife, Anne's interests (fn. 61) were safeguarded by a grant made to Robert Rochester and Edward Walgrave for a term of forty years. (fn. 62) After her death in January 1570–1 (fn. 63) Benington was granted to Walter Viscount Hereford, (fn. 64) who became Earl of Essex in 1572, and was her cousin and nearest heir. (fn. 65) Walter died in 1576, bequeathing the manor as a jointure to his wife Lettice, (fn. 66) who afterwards married Sir Christopher Blount. She outlived Robert, her son, whose widow Frances married Richard Earl of Clanricarde (fn. 67) and seems to have held the manor in dower. (fn. 68) She joined with her son Robert Earl of Essex in conveying it to Sir Charles Adelmare or Caesar in 1614. (fn. 69) Charles was the third son of Sir Julius Caesar, who took the surname of Caesar from his father Caesare Adelmare, an Italian physician of Treviso, near Venice, who settled in England about 1550. (fn. 70) Sir Charles Caesar and his eldest son Julius both died of smallpox in 1642, and the manor passed to the second son Henry, (fn. 71) who was succeeded by his son Charles. (fn. 72) Charles died in 1694, (fn. 73) and his son Charles in 1741, (fn. 74) after whose death the manor was sold by trustees to Sir John Chesshyre in 1744. From him it passed to his nephew John Chesshyre, (fn. 75) who held it in 1774 (fn. 76) and was succeeded by his son, (fn. 77) also named John, before 1786. (fn. 78) In 1826 the last John Chesshyre sold Benington to George Proctor, who was succeeded by his son Leonard in 1840. (fn. 79) Leonard was still holding it in 1894, but before 1899 was succeeded by Arthur Procter Pickering, who died in 1902. In 1905 Mr. Arthur F. Bott, the present lord of the manor, acquired it by purchase from Mr. Pickering's successor. (fn. 80)
In 1278 Alexander de Balliol claimed in his manor of Benington sac and soc, toll, team and infangentheof, gallows, tumbrel, view of frankpledge, free warren, and amendment of the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 81) View of frankpledge in the 15th century was held on the Monday in Pentecost week. (fn. 82)
In 1304 John de Benstede was granted a weekly market on Wednesday and a yearly fair on the vigil, feast and morrow of St. Peter and St. Paul. (fn. 83) This grant was confirmed by Richard II in 1380, (fn. 84) and again by Henry VIII in 1531, the original grant having been lost. (fn. 85) The market has long been discontinued. The fair is still held on 10 July, the festival of St. Peter before the alteration of the calendar. (fn. 86)
The parish church (fn. 87) of ST. PETER, which stands to the west of the village, is built of flint with stone dressings. The nave, which is covered with ivy, is plastered externally.
The present church, which dates from the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century, originally consisted of a chancel and nave only, built, it would appear from the shields of arms that decorate them, by Sir John de Benstede (ob. 1323). The north chapel and the south porch were added about 1330, apparently by his widow, Parnel Moyne, and early in the 15th century the west tower was built by Edward Benstede (ob. 1432), and an additional arch was inserted with his monument below it between the chancel and the north chapel. The raising of the clearstory dates from somewhat later in the 15th century. The modern work upon the fabric consists of the rebuilding in 1889 of the south and east walls of the chancel and the recent restoration of the tower.
The chancel has a modern east window of five lights with tracery in a high two-centred head. In the south wall are three windows. The easternmost has three cinquefoiled lights in a square external head of the 15th century, but mostly of new stonework, only a few old stones remaining. The middle window in the south wall, also of the 15th century, has a four-centred head, and is of three cinquefoiled lights with tracery above. The stonework is all modern. The westernmost window is modern, of three trefoiled lights with 'geometric' tracery. Between the two easternmost windows is a small doorway of the late 13th century, having a slightly ogee-shaped, straight-sided arch moulded externally. The jambs are renewed, but there are a few of the original arch stones remaining.
The north wall of the chancel is pierced by three arches, the two westernmost dating from the erection of the north chapel and the easternmost from about 1430. This last is four-centred, under a square head, with tracery and shields in the spandrels. The soffit and the inner faces of the jambs are panelled, and in the apex of the soffit is carved an angel holding small figures of a knight and a lady, of whose altartomb the arch forms the canopy.
The middle and western arches on the north side are of extremely rich 14th-century detail. The middle pier and the responds have engaged shafts with rolls between, and moulded bases and capitals. The arches are of a single order, slightly ogee-shaped and very richly moulded. Both have labels with mask or grotesque stops on the chancel side, that in the centre being the bust of a knight wearing ailettes. The eastern of these two arches has the added enrichment of very closely set and luxuriant crockets on the label, a heavy finial at the apex, and flanking pinnacles, panelled, crocketed and furnished with finials. The gables of the pinnacles are supported by minute mask stops, and that at the east side descends to an independent mask side by side with that at the termination of the label. The twocentred chancel arch was widened and rebuilt early in the 15th century. The responds are cut back to admit a screen. The present screen is modern.
Under the easternmost window of the south wall of the chancel are three sedilia with detached shafts in the jambs. They are of the 13th century, but the two-centred heads and labels date from about 1330. To the east of them is a piscina of the 14th century, with a head similar to, but at a slightly higher level than, those of the sedilia; the sill is modern.
The north chapel has a 15th-century east window of three cinquefoiled lights in a depressed two-centred head. The stonework is original. There are two single-light 14th-century windows, trefoiled, with tracery above in a two-centred head, with labels and mask stops. One is in the north and one in the west wall. There is also a small 15th-century doorway in the north wall, with a four-centred head. It is moulded externally, and has a much mutilated external label with stops.
Behind the organ in this chapel is a communion table of the late 17th century. A piscina of the 14th century in the south end of the east wall has an ogee cinquefoiled head, with a crocketed label, much broken. The sill is also broken and decayed.
The nave is lighted by two two-light windows on either side, of early 14th-century date. They have two-centred heads with tracery, and internal and external labels with carved stops. The clearstory windows, three on each side, are large, of two cinquefoiled lights in a four-centred head. They are of the 15th century, and the stonework is much decayed.
In the north-east corner of the nave, where the window recess is brought down to the ground for half its width, is a doorway to the rood-loft stair, with a four-centred head. At the head of the stair is a similar door facing diagonally to the south-west and opening to the former rood-loft at a high level. The 14th-century north doorway of the nave is blocked and the outer stonework is defaced. The south doorway leading to the south porch is of the late 14th century, and has a pointed arch in a square head. The oak door is of the 15th century. The porch has a similar entrance archway, with shafted jambs and foliated capitals, and in a canopied niche over the archway is a mutilated figure of St. George and the Dragon. On the east and west sides of the porch are windows of two cinquefoiled lights under a square dripstone, and to the east of the inner doorway is a broken stoup. The tower arch opening to the nave is of the 15th century, and has been restored. It is two-centred with chamfered jambs. The windows and doorway of the tower are modern. In the north-west buttress of the tower is a niche with a shield bearing the arms of Benstede and Moyne. The truss roof of the nave is of the 15th century, and rests upon carved mask corbels of that date. At the intersection of some of the beams are bosses bearing the arms of Benstede and Moyne.
In the east jamb of the south-east window of the nave is a bracket carved with angels, roses, a shield with horseshoes impaling a bell. To the west of the same window is another bracket carved with a grotesque figure. There is a plain piscina with a trefoiled head under the window. In the south-east corner of the nave behind the pulpit are the remains of a niche. The canopied head has been broken away, but the carved bracket remains.
The monuments in the chancel include two fine altar tombs under the two eastern arches of the north arcade. That under the middle 14th-century arch is evidently to John de Benstede (d. 1323) and Parnel Moyne, his second wife. It represents the recumbent effigies of a knight and a lady, their heads resting on cushions and their feet upon lions. The knight wears armour of the time of Edward I, and has a long surcoat with a narrow girdle. His legs are crossed below the knee. The lady wears a long head veil and close-fitting dress. The hands of both are broken off at the wrist. In the gable-headed cusped panels, which have shields between them with the arms of Benstede and Moyne, are small figures of 'weepers' all defaced. A much mutilated battlement runs round the edge of the tomb.
The altar tomb under the 15th-century easternmost arch also has recumbent figures of a knight and a lady, possibly Edward de Benstede (d. 1432) and Joan Thornbury his wife, who survived him. The knight, whose feet rest on a lion facing outwards, is clad in plate armour with a finely enriched basinet. The elbow and knee-cops are fluted. He wears plate gauntlets and has a misericorde attached to an enriched baldric on the right side. His head rests on a helm crested with a wolf's head. The sides of the tomb have a series of niches with ogee-shaped crocketed heads with foliated finials and a small battlement around the edge. The niches are all empty.
The font has a mid-14th-century octagonal bowl of Barnack stone, the alternate sides having engaged shafts resting on carved heads, which have been defaced. The stem is of the 15th century and has panelled sides and base.
There are a few fragments of ancient glass. In the window over the sedilia are three shields: the first is Benstede impaling Or a lion azure with two bends gules over all, for Thornbury; the second is now plain glass; the third is Benstede. In the nave windows are shields of Benstede and Moyne. Part of the seating of the nave consists of 16th-century benches, and there is a chair in the sanctuary of about 1600.
There are eight bells: (1), (2) and (4) by Mears, 1853; (3) by John Briant of Hertford, 1792; (5) by Miles Graye, 1630; (6) by Pack & Chapman, 1777; (7) by an unknown founder, dated 1626; (8) by John Waylett, 1724.
A priest is mentioned at Benington in the Domesday Survey, (fn. 88) so there was probably a church there before the Conquest. The advowson of the church follows the descent of the manor until the time of Charles Caesar, junior. (fn. 89) In 1718 the king presented, (fn. 90) in 1719 Charles Caesar, in 1736 Rebecca Knight, widow, and in 1755 Edward Page for one turn, (fn. 91) though he still held the advowson in 1817. (fn. 92) J. Clarke and others presented in 1822, but the advowson apparently continued to belong to the lord of the manor (fn. 93) until John Chesshyre sold it to George Proctor some time before 1836. (fn. 94) The latter presented until 1850, after which it was held by the Rev. F. B. Pryor (fn. 95) until 1864, after which it passed to the Rev. John Eade Pryor, who continued patron until 1881. Since then it has been in the gift of the trustees of the Rev. William Mills, the present rector. (fn. 96)
In 1638 the following closes belonged to and adjoined the rectory: Barne Close, Stable Croft, Washers' Close, Dockcroft, 'the Woode' and 'the litle Spring.' (fn. 97)
Various places of meeting for Protestant Dissenters were certified in Benington between 1810 and 1851. (fn. 98) There is now a Primitive Methodist chapel in the parish.
2. Hugh Dodd and others, consisting of two closes called Moor's Closes, containing 10 acres, let at £12 a year, purchased with £140 previous to 1681; and £41 16s. 2d. consols, with the official trustees, producing £1 0s. 8d. arising from sale of timber in 1814.
Henry Dixon, by his will dated in 1693, devised certain lands and hereditaments in Benington and Munden in the county of Hertford, and at Enfield in Middlesex and in St. Mildred's, London, to the Drapers' Company, the rents and profits to be applied in apprenticing (among others) poor boys of Benington. A sum of £20 is given annually by the Drapers' Company for an apprenticeship under the terms of his will.