A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Graveley has an area of 1,837 acres, of which 58l¾ are arable land, 297¾ acres permanent grass and 85¼ acres wood. (fn. 1) The elevation of the parish is greatest in the east, where it attains a height of over 460 ft. It slopes down towards the west, but the level of the entire parish is over 300 ft., with the exception of a small portion in the extreme south-west.
The village of Graveley is on the west side of the parish and is situated between Stevenage and Baldock on the Great North Road, which forms a part of the western boundary of the parish. The church of St. Mary lies a little way off the high road on the east side, and just to the west of it is Graveley Hall, a 17th-century house refaced with brick, but having its original chimney stacks. A little to the south of the church is Graveley Bury, a 17th-century farm-house with pargeted walls and tiled roof. The village has at some time migrated to the main road. About a mile east is the hamlet of Chesfield with its ruined church or chapel of St. Etheldreda, adjoining which is Chesfield Manor House, now a farm-house. The existing building is only a portion of the old house which has been considerably modernized. What is left dates from the beginning of the 17th century. The house consists of what was apparently the old hall, having a projection at the back or north side containing the staircase and a long wing, in which are the kitchen offices, projecting northwards and connected now to the main block at one corner only. The hall has been subdivided into a drawing room and dining room, each having a modern fireplace, the old fireplace on the north side of the hall having been built up, though the original chimney still exists. The dining room contains some old moulded panelling. The old entrance door has disappeared, but it was probably on the south side, as the old boundary walls and gate piers still remain on that side of the house. On the north side of the old hall a modern passage has been formed giving access to the staircase and to the present entrance door. The stair is the original one and is of the type known as 'dog-legged,' having two straight flights without a wall between them. The stair is all of oak, with square newels finished with moulded tops, the balusters are of the usual pattern, 3 in. square at top and bottom, the centre part being turned and moulded. The main block consists of two stories and attics, but there is very little of interest internally. Externally, the chief feature is the brick chimney stack at the back, which consists of a row of three square chimney shafts set diagonally on a heavy mass of brickwork, all of a plain character. The bricks are 2¼ in. thick, rising about 11 in. to four courses, but much of the work has been refaced. The south and west of the kitchen wing are of brick, but the other two sides are timber-framed and plastered. In the west wall is a long low window of five lights, with moulded mullions and frame of oak, the casements being glazed with the old diamond panes in lead. It is the only original window left in the building.
Chesfield Park, the seat of Mr. Charles Poyntz Stewart, J.P., was erected towards the end of the 17th century. It is a plain building, with very little architectural pretension. The front is of brickwork, with painted stone or cement moulded architraves round the windows. The house has recently been considerably added to at the back. The park lies partly in this parish and partly in that of Stevenage.
The subsoil, like that of the surrounding country, is chalk, with a surface soil of gravel and clay. There are some old chalk-pits in the neighbourhood of Chesfield Church, and others, still in use, to the west of that village. There is a gravel-pit beside the road in the south of the parish and a disused one to the north of Graveley village. No railway passes through the parish; the nearest station is Stevenage, a mile and a half south.
Place-names mentioned in the early 17th century are 'la Holt,' Rainchill and Annicks. (fn. 2)
The manor of GRAVELEY was held in the time of King Edward by Swen, one of Earl Harold's men, and was granted by William the Conqueror to Goisbert of Beauvais. At this time it was assessed at 2 hides. Half a hide, formerly held by two men of Godwin of Bendfield, was held in 1086 by William of Robert Gernon. (fn. 3)
The manor of Goisbert of Beauvais seems to have been granted with Great Wymondley (q.v.) to Reginald de Argentein early in the 12th century. The estate of Robert Gernon in Little Wymondley was held in the 13th century by the Argenteins, so it is probable that here the two estates of 1086 became amalgamated. The overlordship of this manor, therefore, follows the descent of Great Wymondley. (fn. 4)
The early sub-tenants of the manor under the lords of Great Wymondley are obscure. Early in the reign of Richard I and in 1198 there is mention of William de Graveley, (fn. 5) and in the latter year of John de Graveley and Beatrice his wife, (fn. 6) who were ultimately succeeded (if they held the manor) by Robert de Graveley, who died about 1311. (fn. 7) Robert's wife Beatrice outlived him by many years, (fn. 8) and also survived their son John, who was seised of the manor and died without issue before 1321. (fn. 9) In that year Pagana de Merdele sued Beatrice for the manor on the ground that John's heir was his aunt Alice, the mother of Pagana. Beatrice stated in defence that John had quitclaimed all his right in the manor to her and her husband and her heirs. (fn. 10) The result of the suit is not recorded. Beatrice died about 1337. (fn. 11) In the same year Thomas Fitz Eustace conveyed the manor to John de Blomvile, (fn. 12) lord of the manor of Chesfield. He died in the same year, (fn. 13) and was succeeded by his son John, and he after 1351 by his son, also John de Blomvile, (fn. 14) after whose death the manor came into the possession of John Barrington (fn. 15) and Margaret his wife, who is said to have been the daughter and heir of John de Blomvile the third. (fn. 16) After the death of her husband Margaret granted Graveley to Edmund Barrington, (fn. 17) who held it in 1428. (fn. 18) He was succeeded by Thomas Barrington, who died in 1472, when the manor passed to his son Humphrey, (fn. 19) as Edmund, his eldest son, had died without issue. Nicholas Barrington, the next holder, died in 1505 and was succeeded by his son of the same name. (fn. 20) Nicholas the younger died in 1515, and the manor passed to his son John, (fn. 21) who was succeeded by Thomas Barrington. Thomas alienated the manor in 1565–6 to Thomas Bedell, who conveyed it a few months later to William Clarke. (fn. 22) He was succeeded by his son William, (fn. 23) whose daughter Elizabeth married George Throckmorton, who held the manor in right of his wife and died in 1696. (fn. 24) His son John succeeded him, (fn. 25) and sold the manor in 1704 to Edward Lawndy of Baldock. (fn. 26) The latter is said to have bequeathed it to his grandson, Edward Sparhawke, who held it in 1728, (fn. 27) and died without issue in 1741. (fn. 28) The manor passed to his nephews Lawndy and Edward Sparhawke, (fn. 29) who, however, both died without issue, and their lands passed in 1778 (fn. 30) to William Parkins, son of their sister Katherine, who held Graveley in 1821. (fn. 31) Both William and his brother and heir Edward Parkins died without issue, and the manor was divided between Captain Obert, son of their sister Margaret, and Richard Lack, son of their younger sister Catherine. In 1858 Richard Lack sold his moiety to Lieut.-Col. Robert Hindley Wilkinson, who married Caroline sister of Captain Obert. (fn. 32) Lieut.-Col. Wilkinson died in 1888, and his widow continued to hold the manor until December 1894, the other moiety also having come to her. She was succeeded by her daughter Caroline Elizabeth, wife of Mr. Charles Poyntz-Stewart, M.A., J.P., who is the present lord of the manor in right of his wife. (fn. 33)
Chesfield or Chisfield
This manor may be identified by its subsequent history with the holdings of Peter de Valognes in 1086. Two hides and 1½ virgates in Graveley which formed a manor before the Conquest had been held by Ælmar or Æthelmar of Benington. Another virgate had been held by Alestan of Boscombe, and belonged to Weston; half a virgate had been held by Lepsi, a sokeman of King Edward, and 8 acres and a toft lying in Stevenage by the Abbot of Westminster, by gift of King Edward. In 1086 the 'manorial' portion was held by Godfrey of Peter de Valognes the sheriff. (fn. 34) The virgate and a half was held by Peter de Valognes of William de Ow, and the 8 acres and a toft, apparently reclaimed from Westminster, were in the hands of Roger, Peter's bailiff. (fn. 35) Probably Peter de Valognes also acquired the 1½ hides 10 acres which Adam Fitz Hubert held of the Bishop of Bayeux in 1086, (fn. 36) through his marriage with Albreda, sister of Eudo Dapifer, brother and heir of Adam Fitz Hubert. The manor thus formed was held of Benington Manor as of the barony of Valognes, (fn. 37) and the overlordship follows the descent of Benington.
In the 13th century the manor of Chesfield was held of the barony of Valognes by the family of La Haye. The first of them mentioned in connexion with Graveley are Ralph and Robert de la Haye, who held one fee there early in the 13th century. (fn. 38) Robert de la Haye is again mentioned in 1232 and 1248, (fn. 39) but some time between the latter date and 1255 the manor seems to have been acquired by John de Blomvile and Joan his wife. (fn. 40) John de Blomvile, apparently their son, held it in 1303, (fn. 41) and died in 1337. (fn. 42) Immediately before his death he became lord of the manor of Graveley, (fn. 43) which passed to his son, and Chesfield has descended with that manor until the present day. (fn. 44)
A windmill in Chesfield was leased to the lord of the manor of Great Wymondley in 1318. (fn. 45) In 1328 the site is described as land where there was lately a mill. (fn. 46) There is now a windmill on Jack's Hill in the north of the parish.
This manor of GRAVELEY HALL was formed from the lands in Graveley which belonged to Sopwell Nunnery, St. Albans. It is unfortunately impossible to ascertain from what donor the nunnery received them, and hence the overlordship is unknown. In 1528 the Prioress of Sopwell leased them to Agnes Gascoigne for a term of twenty years, (fn. 47) and in 1538 the king renewed the lease for twenty-one years to Agnes Gascoigne, widow, and John Graveley. The reversion and rent were granted later in the same year to James Needham of Wymondley Priory, (fn. 48) who in 1541 obtained a licence to alienate them to John Graveley and his heirs. (fn. 49) John Graveley was succeeded by his son Thomas, who bought up other lands in Graveley from John Brockett and John Graveley of Hitchin, (fn. 50) and thus consolidated his estate. He died in 1583 and bequeathed his lands in Graveley to his wife for the education of his four children, with remainder to Francis, his eldest son. (fn. 51) Francis became lord of the manor, but died in 1584, and was followed successively by his brothers Thomas, (fn. 52) who died unmarried in 1587, (fn. 53) and Rowland, his youngest brother, who lived until 1610. Rowland Graveley's eldest son John died on the day after his father, so that the reversion of the manor after the death of Rowland Graveley's widow, the life-tenant, passed to the second son Thomas, a minor in wardship of his mother Anne. (fn. 54) Thomas Graveley and Winifred his wife sold the manor in 1627 to Richard Nixon, (fn. 55) and he in 1637 to Eustace Needham. (fn. 56) Graveley Hall thus returned to the family of its early owners and seems to have remained in that family. Almost a hundred years later the Needham co-heirs were holding the manor, (fn. 57) after which it seems to have followed the descent of Wymondley Priory Manor. (fn. 58)
The parish church of ST. MARY is built of flint rubble with stone dressings; the chancel is roofed with tiles and the nave with lead. The church consists of a chancel, nave, north aisle, north vestry, west tower and south porch. (fn. 61)
The nave is the oldest part of the present structure and probably dates from the 12th century. In the 13th century the chancel was either enlarged or wholly rebuilt. The west tower was added about 1480, and the south porch probably in the 18th century. The north aisle and north vestry date from 1887, when the church was restored throughout.
The original 13th-century roll-moulded east windows of the chancel are replaced by a window of about 1500 of three cinquefoiled lights; but the interior jambs with part of the arch are still visible on either side of the existing window. In the north wall are two windows, probably of the 13th century, with a modern window between them. The doorway in the north wall is of the 12th century, moved to its present position from the north wall when the north aisle was built. In the south wall the easternmost window is a plain single light of the 13th century, and the westernmost is of about 1500 of three cinquefoiled lights in a low twocentred head. Between them a doorway and window above it, both blocked and only visible internally, are of the 13th century. The piscina in the southeast corner is of the 13th century; it is double and has two detached shafts and a central pillar with moulded bases and capitals supporting two richly moulded half-arches and an intersecting arch, all semicircular. It is surrounded by a square moulded setting. The drains are very deep; the eastern is eight-foiled and the western a quatrefoil. All the work is original and in excellent condition.
The chancel arch is of the late 15th century, of two orders, the inner order supported on halfoctagonal pilasters with moulded capitals extending round the three complete faces only. A 15th-century oak rood screen stands in the archway with plain lower panels and three open bays of two cinquefoiled lights with tracery above on either side of the four-centred entrance, which has open tracery in the spandrels and no doors. The cornice has an embattled cresting, and the foot of the cross remains over the doorway.
The nave has a window of about 1330 in the south wall with two cinquefoiled lights and a quatrefoil in a two-centred head, and a 15th-century twolight window, with similar tracery in a four-centred head. Between them is the south doorway leading to the south porch. The roof of the nave is lowpitched, of 15th-century date, but most of the carving is modern. At the north-east, beside the chancel arch, is a tall shallow niche of the 15th century, with a two-centred arch in a moulded rectangular frame. The north arcade with the north aisle is modern, but a 14th-century window has been reset in the north wall.
The west tower, of two stages with an embattled parapet, has a late 15th-century arch towards the nave. The west doorway is of the same date. The west window has modern stonework, and the twolight windows of the bell chamber are repaired with cement.
In the nave is a floor slab with an incised marginal inscription, '. . . . . Elienora conjux virgo simulata (Xpus meus?) ora quod sit beatis sociata,' which probably refers to a vow of celibacy in wedlock. (fn. 62) In the slab are also the indents of brass shields and an inscription plate.
The registers are in four books: (i) baptisms from 1555 to 1748, burials from 1551 to 1751 and marriages from 1555 to 1750; (ii) baptisms from 1749 to 1812, burials from 1751 to 1812 and marriages from 1751 to 1753; (iii) and (iv) marriages from 1754 to 1812 and from 1792 to 1812 respectively.
The ruined church of ST. ETHELDREDA (fn. 63) at Chesfield stands on rising ground about a mile to the east of the village. It consists of a chancel, nave and south-east chapel, and is built of flint roughly plastered, with stone dressings. The whole building dates from the middle of the 14th century. The side walls are about 14 ft. high, and the west walls of the nave and chapel are gabled. There are no roofs, and the east end of the south wall has entirely disappeared, while the east wall can only be traced by the foundations. The condition of the remains is very bad, the walls being heavily covered with ivy, the buttresses defaced, and the floor overgrown with grass and weeds.
The chancel and nave form a continuous rectangular building. At the west end of the north wall is a doorway with chamfered jambs and a two-centred head. A scroll moulded label with return ends is partly broken away, and the rear arch is missing. To the east of the doorway is a two-light window opening, of which only the sill and the west jamb remain. Near the east end a large break in the wall probably indicates the position of a third window. In the south wall is a doorway with a two-centred chamfered arch of two orders, with only one piece of label remaining; and to the east of it, at the angle formed by the south wall and the west wall of the chapel, is a two-light window, of which only the west jamb and the sill, much thrust out of position, remain.
In the west wall is a traceried window of two trefoiled lights, of which only the jambs and head remain at all complete; the sill is partly broken away, and the mullion and most of the tracery are gone.
Only the west wall and part of the south wall of the chapel remain. In the former is a doorway of the same detail as those in the nave, with its north jamb broken away. In the south wall is a single cinquefoiled light of the 14th century very much defaced. In the chancel is a hole containing a stone coffin. There are traces of colour on the internal plaster of the walls.
In 1225 the advowson of Graveley was the subject of a dispute between John, Ralph and Adam, the sons of William Fitz Simon, (fn. 64) formerly patron. Adam Fitz Simon appears to have obtained it. (fn. 65) This family were lords of the manor of Symondshyde in Hatfield (q.v.), with which the advowson of Graveley descended (fn. 66) until 1818, when Sir Thomas Salusbury sold it to John Green of Great Amwell. (fn. 67) From John Green it descended to his grandson the Rev. George Dewe Green, after whose death in 1871 (fn. 68) it passed to the Rev. G. Dunn, (fn. 69) who held it until 1880. (fn. 70) From this date until 1899 it was in the hands of the trustees of the Rev. J. Pardoe. (fn. 71) In that year it came into the possession of the Rev. George Clennell Rivett-Carnac, from whom it passed in 1900 to Mrs. M. F. Chesshyre-Walker, (fn. 72) and in 1902 to the Rev. Roland E. Chesshyre-Walker, (fn. 73) who is the present patron and incumbent.
The church or chapel of Chesfield is first mentioned in 1232, when the advowson belonged to the patron of the church of Graveley. (fn. 74) It seems to have usually had a separate incumbent from Graveley, though occasionally the same parson served both. (fn. 75) Early in the 13th century a certain Thomas, who held both livings, seems to have alienated the advowson collusively to the lord of the manor of Chesfield, (fn. 76) and in consequence of this the lords claimed half of it throughout that century. This first occurred in 1232, when Robert de la Haye claimed it against Adam Fitz William. (fn. 77) In 1248 he again claimed it against Simon Fitz Adam, and was worsted. (fn. 78) John de Blomvile did the same in 1255, (fn. 79) but finally in 1331 Parnel widow of John de Benstede, lady of the manor of Benington, of which Chesfield was held, confirmed the advowson to Hugh Fitz Simon. (fn. 80) From this time it continued to be held with the manors of Symondshyde in Hatfield and Almshoe in Ippollitts in the same manner as Graveley advowson. There was evidently considerable rivalry between the two incumbents, and on one occasion it attained such proportions that John Smyth, the parson of Graveley, killed Robert Schorthale, the parson of Chesfield, for which offence he obtained a pardon in 1384. (fn. 81) The two churches were united in the 15th century; Salmon gives the date as 1445. (fn. 82) That of Chesfield was dismantled in 1750, under a licence from the Bishop of Lincoln. The two churchyards were still in use in 1686. The glebe lands then consisted of about 68 acres. (fn. 83)
A dwelling-house in Graveley was registered in 1799 as a meeting-place for Protestant Dissenters. (fn. 84) There is a Wesleyan chapel in the parish.