An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 7. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1807.
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This town stands on the river Wissey, which divides it from the hundred of Grimshoe, on the London, and post-road, to Lynn, Downham, &c.: in the book of Domesday, it is wrote Stoches, not taking its name (as is thought by some) from stock, that is some wood; but from stow, a dwelling or habitation, and Ches, by the water; thus Chess, or Kess, signifies, as Cheswick, Chesham-Bois, Cheston, &c. all which answer to such a site.
Rainald, son of Ivo, at the survey, had the grant of a lordship which 4 freemen held under protection, and 12 acres, with their customary dues, and one freeman two acres. Roger and Hugh, two socmen, had 74 acres, and eleven acres of meadow, valued in the whole at 20s. (fn. 1) This was measured together with Werham, and joined in the payment of the gelt. Rainald's interest herein came after to the Earls of Clare.
But the principal part of this town was held at the survey by Ralph Lord Bainard, which 13 freemen had held in soccage, and 6 bordarers, a fishery and 2 carucates, valued at 60s. the fourth part of the advowson of a church endowed with 5 acres valued at 5d. and the right of another church endowed with 27 acres, valued at 27d. which he claimed by an exchange. All Stoke was 6 furlongs long, and 4 broad, and paid 6½d. gelt.
The Lord Bainard had also seized on 100 acres, which Ulchetel, a freeman, possessed in King Edward's time, 4 villains belonged to it, with 4 bordarers, and a carucate and 10 acres of meadow, valued at 40s. this he laid claim to by an exchange. (fn. 2)
William Lord Bainard forfeited his lordship by his rebellion in the reign of King Henry I. after this it was in the Earls of Clare, probably by the grant of that King, to Richard Fitz-Gilbert, ancestor of that family.
Out of these 2 fees arose two manors, both held of the honour of Clare.
Of which see at large in Werham. Jeffrey Fitz-Piers Earl of Essex, who held considerable possessions in this town, Werham, Wretton, &c. gave on his foundation of the priory of Shouldham, in King John's time, his interest therein to that convent, to be held (as he did) of the Earls of Clare.
In the 32d year of Henry III. the prior had a grant for a mercate and a fair in this town, (fn. 3) and in the 3d of Edward I. the jury for the hundred present the prior for breaking down the bridge and disturbing the passage, to the great injury and grievance of the neighbourhood, and travellers: it is likely that the bridge was erected here about this time, and the old ferry being set aside belonging to the prior, from whence a certain toll was paid, and so might be to his disadvantage.
The mercate before mentioned, seems to have been neglected, or disused, King Henry VI. in his fifth year, confirmed both that and the fair. (fn. 4) There is now no mercate held but the fair (chiefly for pedling wares and goods) is kept annually on December 6, and belongs to the lord of the manor; which at the Dissolution was granted as in Werham, to Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, and is now in Edward Nightingale, Esq. of Kneesworth, in Cambridgeshire.
Besides the lordship of Cavenham, Robert de Stokes held, in the beginning of Henry the Third's reign, the fifth part of a fee of Thomas de Plumberwe, and he of the Earl of Clare; and John, son of Lambert, the eighth part. Stephen de Stokes, and Basilia his wife, conveyed two pools to Ralph, abbot of Derham. In the 32d of that King, in a fine, Roger de Stokes was querent, and Nicholas de Stokes deforcient; by this, all the lands which Basilia, daughter of Roger de Hulmo, held at her death in Stokes, Wyrham, Wretton, Buketon, &c. were to remain to Roger, and all that she held in Lutcheham, Beeston, and Kemeston, to Nicholas.
Roger de Stokes was lord in the 3d of Edward I. and presented by the jury to have extended the bounds of his warren; and in the 9th of Edward II. the heirs of John de Stokes, and the prior of Shouldham, were returned to be lords. The Stokes were also lords of Wirun Hall, in Wretton, as may be there seen.
Ribald, lord of Midleham in Yorkshire, held under Alan Earl of Richmond, at the survey, the land of four freemen, 7 acres of land, valued at 12d. (fn. 5) who were expelled at the conquest; this belonged to Ribald's manor of Bicham Well.
The tenths of this town, and of Wretton, were 5l. 11s. deducted 11s.
The Church is dedicated to All-Saints, and was a single pile of flint, chalk stone, &c. about 51 feet long, and 24 broad, covered with tile, with a four-square tower, embattled, and 4 pinnacles of stone, and a shaft with a weather-cock; this tower falling unexpectedly in 1758, beat down great part of the church. In this tower were 2 bells. At the west end of the steeple was a decayed little building, probably the station formerly of some hermit.
There was formerly a chancel, but that has been dilapidated many years past. By the grant of Jeffrey Fitz-Piers Earl of Essex, of this church to the priory of Shouldham, it became appropriated to that convent, and was after served by a stipendiary curate. In the 14th of Edward I. John Le Rous, or Red, son of Vincent Le Rous of Wretton, impleaded the prior for the right of patronage, proving that Ulchetel, his ancestor, in the reign of King John, presented one Peter, his clerk, to this church, who died rector; but the prior showing that the said church had been appropriated above 20 years to his priory, his right was confirmed. About the same time it appears that there was a rectory-house, with 30 acres of glebe; the priory of Shouldham was taxed at 10 marks for this rectory, and the Peter-pence was 11d.
At the Dissolution it was granted to Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, and is now held by Edward Nightingale, Esq. who names the curate. In 1603, it was certified that there were 80 communicants.
John Fyshere, of this town, by his will, in 1399, gives a legacy to St. Mary's image in the belfry, (fn. 6) and William Curteys, chaplain, by his will in 1417, desires to be buried in the churchyard of Stoke, All-Saints; gives to the fabrick of the chapel 20d. and to that of the church 2s.; by this it seems that there were at that time both a church and a chapel, and in the account of the Lord Bainard's fee, before mentioned, there appears then to have been 2 churches.