A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1927.
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Betesdene, Bechesdene (xi cent.); Bethlesdene, Betlesden (xii cent.).
The area of Biddlesden parish, which was formerly 1,630 acres, (fn. 1) increased to 2,052 acres between 1871 and 1881, (fn. 2) probably under the Divided Parishes Acts of 1876 or 1879. (fn. 3) A further extension, which gave the parish its present area, 3,201 acres, was made before 1891, doubtless under the Local Government Act of 1888. (fn. 4) A 16th-century account of the bounds of the manor shows that the extensions have been made in the east of the parish; it contains many field-names still to be found. The bounds ran by Homewood, Earlswood, Briary Coppice, Newridinge, Whitfield Wood, Evershaw, Westbury Corner, Smallye mead, Walkemeade, Evershaw Bridge, and along the banks of the Ouse. (fn. 5)
The River Ouse forms part of the western boundary, separating Biddlesden from Northamptonshire. The land is lowest in this part, under 400 ft. Towards the middle it rises slightly and reaches a height of a little over 500 ft. in the north-east. There are 560 acres of arable land with 2,215 acres laid down in grass (fn. 6) on a soil of gravel with a subsoil of limestone, and agriculture forms the main employment of the population. The numerous woods and coppices still existing, about 337 acres in extent, are evidence of the time when the woodland in the parish was probably far more extensive than at present, since the royal forest of Whittlewood in the next county lay on its northern borders. Certain woods in the manor belonged to the king as part of the forest, and he had the right of fowling and hunting throughout the manor. (fn. 7) In 1536 Sir Francis Brian, anticipating the suppression of the foundation, desired to have the abbey of Biddlesden for himself, 'as it adjoins the forest and the king's game might be injured by another man.' (fn. 8)
The chief historical interest of the parish attaches to the abbey founded here in 1147, which owned nearly all the land and held its markets and fairs within the manor. The neighbourhood seems to have been less prosperous after the Dissolution. The abbey site is now occupied by an 18th-century house standing in a well-wooded estate, Biddlesden Park, which covers about 150 acres in the west of the west of the parish. It is the property of the lord of the manor and the residence of General F. J. and Mrs. Heyworth. A pond in the grounds, fed by a small stream which the road crosses at Beggar's Bridge, probably marks the site of the old fish-ponds.
Some 16th and early 17th-century accounts of the manor-house, which must have incorporated at least part of the old abbey, state that it contained sixteen bays, a brew-house, stable, 'colehouse,' dovecots, orchard, hop-yard, and three fisheries. (fn. 9) The abbey church was destroyed by Sir Robert Peckham about the middle of the 16th century; its five large bells are supposed to have been given to Denham parish, where in 1683 they were melted down and run into eight. (fn. 10) Browne Willis, when he visited Biddlesden in 1712, found the ruins of both church and Abbey House in good part standing; there were then to be seen the walls of the east side of the cloister and a part of the tower, together with a small chapel and the chapter-house, which was a handsome arched room about 40 ft. square supported by four pillars. In the chapel lay a broken alabaster effigy of a figure in armour, from the tomb of one of the Lords Zouche. (fn. 11) The remains of other tombs were also to be seen. Another figure, of Christ, had been destroyed about 1704 by the lord of the manor, John Sayer. His successor, Henry Sayer, was still more destructive. Willis coming to the parish again in 1737 found that Sayer had so 'totally demolished the footsteps of the Abbey that not the least appearance remains of the site of any ancient building.' (fn. 12) Sheahan speaks of a doorway in the garden to the west of Biddlesden House and a bit of wall still existing in 1862 (fn. 13); nothing, however, now remains above ground but some stones belonging probably to a 13th-century arch. Sayer built the present house about 1731. (fn. 14) Having also destroyed the old chapel of St. Margaret, 'a little tiled fabric with a bell in a turret,' (fn. 15) which stood, according to an early document, 'at the gate of the Abbey, ' (fn. 16) and which, since the demolition of the abbey church, had probably served as a parish church, he fitted up a chapel on the left with of the house as a place of worship for the parish. (fn. 17) Sheahan, writing c. 1862, speaks of it as then forming part of the stable, though detached from the house, and as yet unconsecrated. (fn. 18) It continues to be the parish church. The Churchyard of St. Margaret's Chapel was likewise desecrated by the same Sayer, who told Willis he had had the coffins dug up, 'and several thousand human bones removed and thrown away, as he gloried in, to level ground, together with the rubbish, with great indecency.' (fn. 19) Finally, however, He caused a low arch to be turned over some of the graves. (fn. 20)
Biddlesden Farm, now called the Abbey Farm, is a 17th-century stone house, to which belongs a stone barn of the same date.
Evershaw (Eversel, xi cent.; Euersache, xii cent.; Evereshag, Eversschawe, Evirsaw, xiii-xiv cent.; Hevershay, xv cent.), now the name only of a farm and adjoining lands, was described as a village of three or four houses in 1755, (fn. 21) and seems to have ranked as a separate parish as late as the 15th century. (fn. 22) A church or chapel, dedicated to the honour of St. Nicholas, formerly stood here, but no traces of it remained in the 18th century. (fn. 23) Sheahan, however, speaks of the Upper and Lower Chapel Fields (still so called) near Evershaw Farm, where signs of a moat and foundations of buildings had been discovered. (fn. 24) An early 17th-century record of Evershaw Close of 110 acres and of Evershaw Bridge, which apparently crossed the Ouse at what is now the south-west corner of Biddlesden, (fn. 25) suggests the extent and locality of the former parish. Browne Willis also speaks of Gorral or Gorhall or Gorrell, now a farm, as a 'decayed hamlet' in this parish. (fn. 26)
Before the Conquest Azor son of Tored, a thegn of King Edward, held this manor, but the Conqueror afterwards gave it to Earl Aubrey. (fn. 27) It was, however, held by King William in 1086 as 4 hides and 1 virgate. (fn. 28) In the reign of Henry I Robert son of William de Meppershall was lord of BIDDLESDEN. (fn. 29) According to a 16th-century story he was threatened with disgrace at court for having stolen a hound, and gave the land to Osbert or Geoffrey de Clinton, chamberlain of the king and a royal favourite, in order to obtain his protection. (fn. 30) Robert afterwards married a kinswoman of Osbert de Clinton, and so obtained the land again, (fn. 31) but in the reign of Stephen he forfeited it for default of service due. It was thereupon given to the Earl of Leicester, whose steward, Arnold de Bois, (fn. 32) being subinfeudated, (fn. 33) founded the abbey here, as has been already related, (fn. 34) endowing it with all his land in the parish. Confirmations of this grant were made to the abbey by Arnold's son, grandson and great-grandson, all bearing the same name, by John de Bois, son of the last, and in the 14th century by Stephen de Bois. (fn. 35) The abbey continued to hold the manor until its dissolution in 1538. (fn. 36) A little before this the site of the abbey and its lands here had been leased for ninety-nine years by the abbot to Edmund Clerke, (fn. 37) who in December 1538 transferred his interest to Sir Thomas Wriothesley, kt., by whom it was conveyed in 1539 to Robert, afterwards Sir Robert, Peckham. (fn. 38) In October 1540 Wriothesley obtained from the king the reversion in fee of the site, (fn. 39) which he conveyed in the following month for £700 to Edmund Peckham, cofferer, afterwards knighted and father of Sir Robert. (fn. 40) Sir Edmund died in 1564. (fn. 41) and his son Robert in 1569. (fn. 42) He was succeeded by his brother, Sir George Peckham, (fn. 43) who in 1577 conveyed Biddlesden to Arthur Lord Grey de Wilton, (fn. 44) lord of Giffards Manor in Whaddon (q.v.), with which it afterwards passed to the Duke of Buckingham. In 1651, when the duke's estates were held by the Commonwealth, Biddlesden Manor was granted to John Thurloe and Nathaniel Waterhouse in trust for the widow and children of Henry Ireton, late Lord Deputy of Ireland. Hugh Royell was authorized to receive the rents, and disputes arose with the tenants. (fn. 45) About 1681, when the second Duke of Buckingham had regained his estates, (fn. 46) he sold Biddlesden to Henry Sayer, (fn. 47) who died soon after. His son, John Sayer, was murdered in 1712 by John Notle, an attorney who had intrigued with his wife. (fn. 48) Henry Sayer succeeded to Biddlesden, and held until about 1755, (fn. 49) when he conveyed it to Ralph, second Earl Verney. (fn. 50) His niece and successor, Mary, created Baroness Fermanagh, (fn. 51) sold it about 1791 to the Rev. George Morgan, (fn. 52) in whose family the manor has since remained. (fn. 53) Major Luis F. H. C. Morgan, son of Lieut.-Col. George Manners Morgan, married Lady Kinloss in 1884, and in 1890 they assumed her family name of Grenville. (fn. 54) Their son, the Hon. Richard G. Morgan-Grenville, was killed in action in 1914, and was succeeded by his brother Robert.
In 1086 two mills valued at 28d. belonged to the manor. (fn. 55) They are mentioned in 1278–9 as standing one within and one without the abbey. (fn. 56) By the 13th or 14th century there was also a windmill here, (fn. 57) later apparently called 'Walkermyll.'
Among the 17th-century appurtenances is included a rabbit warren. (fn. 58) A grant of a weekly Monday market and of an annual eight-day fair to be held at the feast of St. Margaret the Virgin in their manor of Biddlesden was made to the abbot and monks in 1315, (fn. 59) but there is no later reference to them. The first Sunday in August, as next but one after St. Margaret, is still called Feast Sunday.
A second entry in the Survey concerning Biddlesden shows that 3 virgates there, held before the Conquest by Alric, a man of Alwin son of Goding, formed part of the lands of the Count of Mortain; the land, sufficient for one plough, had been laid waste. (fn. 60) It does not appear to have any further separate history. Nicholas de Stuntevile held half a fee in 'Briddischame' in this county in the time of Henry III. (fn. 61)
In the time of Edward the Confessor 'a certain bandy-leg' held EVERSHAWas I hide, and in 1086 the same man still retained it holding 'in almoin of the king,' although the land was reckoned as part of Lewin of Nuneham's holding. (fn. 62) In the 12th century it belonged to the fee of the Beauchamps of Bedford, being held by Pain de Beauchamp, (fn. 63) and the overlordship was still in this family at the end of the 13th century. (fn. 64)
The family who held under the Beauchamps took its name from the place. William de Evershaw, called lord of Evershaw, flourished in the 12th century, and gave half a hide here to the priory of Luffield. (fn. 65) Pain de Beauchamp confirmed this gift, (fn. 66) which must thus have been made before 1155–6. (fn. 67) In 1200 the prior claimed against Simon de Beauchamp the service of Hugh de Evershaw for a whole hide of land, but his right to only half this amount—4s. 8d.—was allowed. (fn. 68) The priory continued to hold this part of Evershaw until it was annexed with its possessions to Westminster Abbey in 1504. (fn. 69) In 1535 the abbey received £3 16s. 8d. per annum for its demesne lands in Evershaw from Biddlesden Abbey. (fn. 70) This part of Evershaw apparently descended in part with the site of Luffield Priory and its manor of Thornborough to the Temple family, who held land here in the 18th century, (fn. 71) and in part with the priory's manor in Whitfield, Northamptonshire, with which it was purchased in 1720 by Worcester College, Oxford, who still hold. (fn. 72)
Pain de Beauchamp is recorded to have given his other half hide to Biddlesden Abbey. (fn. 73) In this case the original total of land in Evershaw—1 hide—must have been considerably added to, for William de Evershaw, called lord of Evershaw, son of Hugh, (fn. 74) held half a fee of William de Beauchamp in the reign of Henry III. (fn. 75) The Evershaw family made extensive grants of lands to Biddlesden Abbey during this time. Hugh de Evershaw and his sons William, Ralph, Osbert, Philip, Henry and Walter gave lands amounting to over 100 acres to the abbey. (fn. 76) William de Evershaw also granted the monks his 'free park' and his 'free court to receive fines from malefactors and to do justice.' (fn. 77) Henry, his brother and heir, a chaplain, granted them his capital messuage with the rents of all his free tenants, ward, reliefs, escheats, &c., saving only foreign service to the king and 4s. 8d. annually to the priory of Luffield. (fn. 78)
Biddlesden continued to hold its portion of Evershaw, which included a mill, (fn. 79) until the Dissolution, (fn. 80) after which date it apparently became merged in the manor of Biddlesden. (fn. 81) According to the conveyance of 1540 the Biddlesden estate comprised Evershaw Park. (fn. 82)
GORRAL was apparently among the lands granted to Biddlesden by the Evershaw family. (fn. 83) In 1232 the abbot was granted twenty oaks in Whittlewood Forest to repair his grange of Gorral which was burnt. (fn. 84) It appears to have lain partly in Dadford Manor in Stowe parish, (fn. 85) with which it was assessed in the 13th century. (fn. 86) In 1540 it was granted to Sir George Giffard, kt., (fn. 87) whose son Thomas (fn. 88) conveyed it to John Temple in 1570. (fn. 89) He died in 1603 seised of Gorral and also of the manors of Dadford and Stowe, (fn. 90) with which it was held as late as 1819. (fn. 91) Lands called Gorral woods, however, remained appurtenant to Biddlesden Manor. (fn. 92)
The church of ST. MARGARET was built by Henry Sayer about 1730. It is a plain brick building with stone dressings, having a turret with one bell. In the churchyard is a gravestone of 14th-century date, from Biddlesden Abbey.
The plate consists of a silver-gilt cup inscribed 'The guift of Mrs. Philadelphia Sayer to ye Church of Bidlesden 1702'; a small paten (also silver-gilt, as is the rest of the church plate), probably part of the same gift, inscribed 'P.S. 1702'; a large paten bearing the inscription 'This and the guilding the cup and cover the gift of Henry Sayer, esq. to the Church of Bidlesden 1735'; and a flagon and almsdish presented in 1880.
The registers begin in 1686.
The church of St. Mary at Biddlesden was confirmed to the monastery there by the Archbishop of Canterbury between the years 1147 and 1160, (fn. 93) and it seems to have become the conventual church of that foundation. (fn. 94) After the Dissolution the patronage followed the descent of the manor, and is now vested in the Hon. Robert Morgan-Grenville. The benefice is a perpetual curacy. (fn. 95) The lord of the manor in the 16th century had to pay an annual stipend of £6 to the curate. (fn. 96) This was reduced to £4 in the early part of the 17th century, (fn. 97) but the incumbent was then said to have a little house of one bay adjoining the church, with tithes and oblations amounting to 20s. per annum. (fn. 98) Willis, however, states that in 1631 the stipend amounted to £20 per annum, with 40s. from lands, &c. (fn. 99) In 1720 the living was augmented by William Freind, a divine, and Alexander Denton, who gave £200 to enable it to obtain a grant from Queen Anne's Bounty. (fn. 100)
The chapel of St. Margaret, which served as the parish church in the 17th century after the destruction of the abbey building, existed as early as the 13th century, when Robert son of Osbert Carpenter granted a messuage and half an acre for the support of the said chapel. (fn. 103)
William lord of Evershaw in the 12th century gave the church of Evershaw to the priory of Luffield. (fn. 104) The name of 'Oliver, priest of Euersache' occurs as witness to a charter of the reign of Henry II. (fn. 105) In a later charter the names of Ralf, vicar of Evershaw, and Richard, chaplain of Evershaw, occur. (fn. 106) The church is mentioned as belonging to Luffield in 1291, when it was taxed at 13s. 4d. (fn. 107) In 1341–2 the value of the ninth in the 'parish of Evershaw' was again I mark only, as there was very little land in the parish. (fn. 108) A suit occurred towards the end of the 15th century between the prior and others concerning tithes due to Evershaw parsonage, which the prior farmed out; this document again mentions Evershaw as being a parish. (fn. 109) After Luffield Priory passed to Westminster its possessions were leased in 1513 to William Tyler and included the advowson of the chapel of St. Nicholas in Evershaw, with a cottage, 10½ acres of land and a rood of pasture in Evershaw. (fn. 110) In the grant of these Luffield possessions to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton in 1551 the chapel is not specifically mentioned, although 'Evershaw' is included among the long list of advowsons. (fn. 111) There is no later reference to this chapel, and it probably fell into disuse with the general decay of the parish.
There do not appear to be any endowed charities subsisting in this parish.