A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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In this section
SOUTH WITHCHFORD HUNDRED
COVENEY WITH MANEA
Coveney is a secluded village lying near the centre of the administrative county of the Isle of Ely on a small 'island' rising to 43 ft. above sea level. It is only some 3½ miles west of Ely city as the crow flies, but nearly twice that distance by the main road. The village is situated on a by-road which leaves the main Ely- Chatteris road at Wentworth crossroads, about 2 miles south. This by-road, which has a branch to the hamlet of Wardy Hill, a mile west of Coveney village, used to be the only metalled road into the parish. But the droves across Ely West Fen, by Frogs Abbey, to Downham Hythe, and from Wardy Hill to Witcham have recently been made up for wheeled traffic. Coveney approaches the normal type of English village more nearly than most of those surveyed in this volume, since almost throughout its history the lordship of the manor was in the hands of intermittently resident laymen.
Manea, on another and lower fen 'island', had a history very similar to that of Coveney until the villages were effectually separated by the cutting of the Old and New Bedford Rivers in the 17th century. They are consequently now 16 miles apart by road, although the distance is only about 5 miles direct across the fen; in few parts of the county has drainage wrought such startling changes. Nor have the modern parishes of Coveney and Manea even a common boundary, for Welches Dam and Downham intervene. Since its separation from Coveney, Manea has become much the larger and more important village. Its road system is more convenient, linking it with Wimblington and March and with Welney and Christchurch, and more circuitously with Chatteris; its isolation is also lessened by the Ely- Peterborough line of British Railways (Eastern Region), which has a station about a mile north of the village. Manea lies roughly in the centre of the tract of fen land of which the drainage was taken over from the Earl of Bedford and his Adventurers by Charles I. The King is said to have planned a model town or village, to be known as Charlemont, near Manea. (fn. 1) The Civil War put a stop to this scheme, but the name remains as that of a small hill in the parish just south of the village. An area of 1,055 acres in Manea was inclosed in 1810 (fn. 2) under an Act of Parliament of 1804. (fn. 3) Twenty-eight proprietors participated, besides the then lord of the manor, Lord Rokeby, and his two brothers. The chief beneficiaries were the trustees of John Clipson (78 acres), Thomas Martin (75½ acres), and the Revd. Thomas Crowe Munnings, in the right of his wife Margaret (63 acres). A further inclosure at Manea took place in 1830 under an Act of 1826, (fn. 4) when 115¾ acres were dealt with; William Whiting, with 30½ acres, was the chief of 30 allottees. (fn. 5) The trustees of the 'town estate' received 19½ acres under the first inclosure and the rector 10¾ acres under the second.
An attempt by the poor of Coveney in 1819 to take possession of the charity lands and divide them amongst themselves was frustrated by the magistrates arresting nine of the ringleaders. (fn. 6)
Coveney Mansion, a farm north of the church, is a timber framed thatched building of some architectural interest, dating from the 16th century and later. It is probably the successor of the manor house.
Conyers Middleton (1683-1750), Woodwardian Professor of Theology at Cambridge, was Rector of Coveney with Manea 1726-8 on the presentation of his wife Sarah, who had inherited a life interest in the manor and advowson from her former husband Robert Drake of Cambridge; her granddaughter Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu (1720-1800), authoress and leader of society, said to have been the first woman to be termed a 'bluestocking', spent her youth at Coveney. (fn. 7)
Coveney is first mentioned in c. 1060, when it was assigned for life to Elswida, one of the daughters of Oswi and Leofleda, in return for her gift to Ely monastery of her life interest in Stetchworth; she retired here with her maidens to work at embroidery and weaving. (fn. 8) The vill is not mentioned in Domesday Book or the Inquisitio Eliensis, and it is quite possible that this small island 'in the bay' (fn. 9) between the Isle of Ely proper and the Doddington island was temporarily abandoned after Elswida's death as not worth occupying. In the troubles of Stephen's reign it was seized from the monks, but restored through the good offices of Bishop Niel (1133- 69), (fn. 10) who granted it to Ralph his steward (dapifer) to be held of the prior and convent at 5s. yearly for all services. Prior Alexander (c. 1154-63) confirmed the grant. (fn. 11) The prior and convent remained overlords all through the Middle Ages. In 1297 (fn. 12) and 1342 (fn. 13) the manor was stated to be held of them in socage at 5s. yearly. The 5s. rent was still being paid in 1541, when the overlordship was transferred to the dean and chapter of the new foundation. (fn. 14) Owing no doubt to the long tenure of the Lisles and the Scropes (see below), the grant of 1541 gives the impression that Coveney was not regarded as an integral part of the Ely capitular estates in the same way as Sutton and other manors in the Isle proper. In 1563 the manor was stated to be held in socage of the queen; (fn. 15) this may not have been strictly correct, but it would seem that the dean and chapter took no steps to enforce payment of the 5s. rent, and no post-Reformation documents relating to Coveney survive in the capitular muniment room at Ely.
Ralph the steward already held Nedging (Suff.) of the prior and convent for 2 knight's fees. Nedging was probably inadequate for the purpose, and Coveney may have been added to make up a holding capable of supporting 2 fees. Ralph can therefore be considered the ancestor of the Lisle family, which held 2 fees in 'Neding' in 1210-12, (fn. 16) and were the convent's tenants in Coveney for over 200 years. In 1275 Alice Lisle claimed £100 damages from Walter son of Roger and others for breaking into her manor house at Coveney. (fn. 17) In the following year the Bishop of Ely caused two of her men there to be arrested and imprisoned contrary to the king's mandate. (fn. 18) Warin de Lisle, Alice's grandson, died in 1296 holding Coveney and Manea in socage of the Prior of Ely at 5s. a year. (fn. 19) His son Robert, aged 6 on his father's death, was from 1311 summoned to Parliament as Lord Lisle (of Rougemont). Late in life he became a Franciscan. (fn. 20) In 1339 he bequeathed Coveney and his other manors to his daughters Alice (Seymour) and Elizabeth (Peverel) with remainder to his son John, who quitclaimed to his sisters but received the manor from them for life at a yearly rent of £20. (fn. 21) In 1344 John had licence of oratory for three years in his manors of Coveney and Manea. (fn. 22) His sons Robert and William were the last in the male line; in 1379 they quitclaimed Coveney to Richard Lord Scrope of Bolton (Yorks.), (fn. 23) who had licence (1393) to grant £10 from this manor to his chantry in Bolton Castle. (fn. 24) From 1403 his son Roger had licence of oratory during the bishop's pleasure. (fn. 25) Roger's grandson Henry made settlements of the manor between 1438 and 1446, dying seised thereof in 1459. (fn. 26) At his son John's death in 1498 Coveney and Manea were together reckoned to be worth £6, held of the Bishop of Ely by fealty and 7s. 11d. rent. (fn. 27) In 1541 the yearly rent was again 5s. and the manor said to 'belong' to Lord Scrope. (fn. 28) Nine years later a grant was made to Sir Edward North of an annuity of £100 from inter alia the manor of Coveney, as one of those in the Crown's hands owing to the minority of Henry Lord Scrope. (fn. 29) This Lord Scrope passed Coveney in 1562 to his kinsman Ralph Scrope of the Vine (Hants), (fn. 30) who the following year sold it to Symeon Steward, his son Robert, and their heirs. Robert (d. 1571) made a very complicated entail of his manors on about a dozen of his relatives, (fn. 31) of whom his brothers Mark, Thomas, and Nicholas were still alive at the death (1598) of their elder brother Edward, who had had the remainder next after Joan, Symeon's relict. (fn. 32) Each of the manors, including Coveney, seems to have been divided between the three brothers. Mark passed his third to Thomas Jermy and his wife Joan, Edward Steward's daughter and heir, (fn. 33) after a lawsuit regarding the entail and devolution of the manor. (fn. 34) It appears, however, that Coveney manor was afterwards reunited under Sir Simon, Mark's son, who was dealing with it in 1604. (fn. 35) Thomas Steward, Sir Simon's grandson and the last of the line, passed it to Thomas Allen in 1649. (fn. 36) By 1653 it was in the hands of John Childe; (fn. 37) another John Childe, probably his son, with his wife Elizabeth leased it to Joshua Gearing in 1677, (fn. 38) and the latter was dealing with it at the end of the century. (fn. 39) Another John Childe, probably the son of John and Elizabeth, was engaged in a lawsuit over the property with Sir Paul Whitchcote and others in 1703. (fn. 40) The subsequent descent is not very clear, but in the early 18th century Coveney was in the hands of Robert Drake of Cambridge, whose daughter and heir Elizabeth married Matthew Robinson of West Layton (Yorks.) (d. 1778); (fn. 41) their son, another Matthew, succeeded to the barony of Rokeby by special remainder in 1794. In 1810 his nephews Morris, 3rd Baron Rokeby, Matthew (later 4th Baron), and Charles Robinson shared the manor. (fn. 42) The 4th Baron Rokeby and his son were vouchees in a recovery of 1830, (fn. 43) and the lordship was stated to be in this family in 1851. (fn. 44) After the extinction of the barony in 1883 the estates were broken up, Coveney and its manorial rights being acquired by Walter Porter, who was lord in 1900. (fn. 45) Mr. Stanley Street-Porter was lord of the manor in 1933. (fn. 46)
MANEA is sometimes mentioned separately from Coveney, (fn. 47) but the descent has always followed the main manor. In the 16th century some of Lord Scrope's tenants here were paying their rent to the bishop as lord of Doddington, as is mentioned in Bishop Heton's alienation of that manor to the Crown in 1600. (fn. 48) A pamphlet issued by Thomas Neale, a former rector, in 1748, (fn. 49) gives some interesting information. He reckoned the parish to contain nearly 400 acres of high land and over 4,000 of fen and marsh. (fn. 50) In 1619 Sir William Ayloff and Anthony Thomas proposed to drain the neighbouring fens. They would thereby have received a third of those in Manea. Under the scheme, however, which Vermuyden actually executed for the Earl of Bedford, 700 acres in Manea, north of the Old Bedford River, were allotted to the Earl of Portland. This property in the early 18th century grew good crops of oats, coleseed, and wheat, and the store wethers raised there fetched £18 a score (ewes £15 a score). Rents at that time ran at 7s. an acre; in other parts of Manea fens they varied from 7s. 6d. to 4s. an acre. Drainage tolls of 2s. an acre were levied. Within the past generation, however, a great change for the worse had taken place. The average rental was reduced by a half, a third of the farms were in hand, tenants not being prepared to take them even if they had only the drainage tolls to pay, and there was much emigration from the parish. The number of sheep kept was not much more than a tenth of what it had been, and the less fertile parts of the parish, which had formerly produced 15 or 16 coombs of oats an acre, now lay uncultivated. (fn. 51) The tithes, which had produced £100 a year from Manea alone, were now scarcely worth collecting when allowance had been made for the curate's stipend, dilapidations, and taxes. Neale attributed all this to several causes. First, pumping-mills, of which there were over a hundred in Whittlesey and Doddington alone, discharged their waters into Manea. Secondly, a tunnel had been dug in 1712 under the Forty Foot Bank and Drain 'to defend the lower parts of the level from the waters of the upper parts'. This, however, only resulted in the overflow from 10,000 acres pouring into the Twenty Foot Drain at Manea, which was too small to contain it. The third cause was the decay of Denver Sluice. Manea had thus become 'the sink and receptacle for the waters of a great part of the level'. Neale considered that fresh embanking and the erection of drainage mills was the only remedy, though he admitted that it would be difficult to get the many landowners to agree to concerted action. Haddenham, Ely, and Stretham, however, where this course of action had been successfully followed, furnished precedents.
A great breach in the north-west bank of the Old Bedford River between Manea and Welney occurred in November 1823. (fn. 52) In 1842 the drainage mills were replaced by a steam engine costing £8,000. In the same decade Manea was selected as the site of an Owenite experiment, 100 to 200 colonists cultivating 150 acres in common, and publishing a periodical called the Working Bee. 'But alas! for the mutability of human institutions!-the socialists have fled', (fn. 53) after a stay of only twelve months. The memory of the scheme, however, survives in the 'Colony' farm at Manea Fifties on the north-east edge of the parish by the Old Bedford River.
The patronage of Coveney descended with the manor (fn. 54) until the break-up of the Rokeby estates in 1883, after which it was purchased by Athelstan Riley. He held it until his death (1945), latterly in conjunction with Lt.-Col. C. Riley, M.C., the present patron. (fn. 55) The church was valued at £4 in 1254, (fn. 56) and at £5 in 1291 and 1535. (fn. 57) In 1844 the tithes of Coveney were commuted for a rent-charge of £231 12s. 3d. and 31 acres of glebe and those of Manea for a rent charge of £850. (fn. 58)
In 1553, 2 acres of land in Coveney, held by Thomas Funden, which had been given for anniversaries in the church, were granted to John Butler and Thomas Chaworthe. (fn. 59)
The chapel of Manea is not mentioned in the Valor Ecclesiasticus. (fn. 60) The chapelry may date from 1646, (fn. 61) by which time the cutting of the Bedford Rivers had effectually separated Manea from its parent village and made separate spiritual provision necessary. Institutions of its curates are recorded from 1728 (fn. 62) but it was still stated to be unconsecrated in 1763. (fn. 63) It did not become parochial until 1883 when a change occurred in the patronage of the mother church at Coveney (see above). The advowson of Manea was given to the Bishop of Ely. (fn. 64)
The church of ST. PETER AD VINCULA, COVENEY, (fn. 65) consists of chancel, north vestry, nave, south porch, and west tower. The material is rubble with stone dressings. The roofs are now tiled, but until 1896 the chancel and nave were thatched. (fn. 66) The nave and chancel belong to the first half of the 13th century. Early in the 14th century the chancel was extended, and the porch and the first two stages of the tower were added. In the 15th century another stage was added to the tower. The front of the porch was rebuilt in brick in the 18th century. In 1896 there was a thorough but careful restoration, when the front of the porch was reset and the vestry added. The interior was then, or subsequently, embellished with some handsome furniture of foreign origin.
The chancel has a three-light east window with flowing tracery having trefoil-headed main lights, and there is a contemporary hood-mould. There are diagonal buttresses with one set-off. The north-east and south-east windows have two cinquefoiled lights with a quatrefoil above and a hood-mould. To the west of these windows is a lancet of early 13th-century date. Finally, on the south is a large low-side window with two trefoiled lights and a hood-moulding of the 14th century, the tracery of which has been renewed though the mullion is original. There is no chancel arch. At the east end of the south wall is a double trefoil-headed piscina of the 14th century and next to it a lowered sill for the sedilia. West of the latter is another double piscina of 13th-century date. The chancel opens to the vestry by a plain modern doorway. The nave has varied fenestration. The south-east window has two trefoil-headed lights with a quatrefoil above and an external hood-moulding; it belongs to the 14thcentury reconstruction. The next window on this side is a 15th-century insertion consisting of two cinquefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in the head. The westernmost window is a single light of 13th-century origin, but enlarged in the 15th century and provided with a cinquefoiled head. In the north wall are two unaltered 13th-century lancets. The plain north doorway is 13thcentury work and has an arch of two orders with continuous chamfer; on the east side internally is a stoup recess. The south doorway of early 14th-century date is recessed, and originally had jamb shafts, but only the moulded caps and bases remain. The plain double door is probably contemporary. There is a plain west door way with an arch of two orders and continuous chamfer. Above is a partially blocked lancet. Both these features are of early 13th-century date. There is an angle buttress with one set-off at the north-west corner. The porch has a plain brick outer doorway reset in 1896, but of 18th-century origin. In the east and west walls are plain rectangular openings of 14thcentury date. The tower is built against the west end of the nave. It is of three stages, the two lower of the early 14th century and the third an addition of the 15th century. There is a passage through the base from north to south, a feature found in other churches of the district, e.g. March and Littleport. The north and south arches are two-centred and of two orders. In the second stage there is a recessed lancet on the south. The belfry windows have two cinquefoilheaded lights with a quatrefoil above. The tower is finished with an embattled parapet, which has been much renewed. There are diagonal buttresses on the west with three set-offs.
The nave and chancel have a continuous singleframed roof with collar beams and wind braces and three inserted tie-beams; the portion over the chancel has been much renewed and the section over the altar has modern panelling decorated in colour. The porch has a plastered ceiling. There are some old timbers in the tower.
The font has a plain octagonal bowl and is probably of the 14th century. There are three returned stalls in the chancel of 15th-century date but much renewed, with carved elbow-rests; the misericords are missing. The nave has much early 16th-century seating with quaintly carved poupée heads displaying the emblems of the Passion and other devices, including crossed keys. There is a good 16th-century carved reredos of German origin with the Crucifixion in the centre. The pulpit, dated 1706, is of Danish workmanship; on its panels are painted representations of Christ and the Evangelists with St. Peter and Moses; the base is modern, and there is an inscription in Danish. On the splays of the two lancets in the chancel are masonry patterns in red, and there is a portion of a consecration cross in a circle on the north wall of the nave; all these remains of mural paintings belong to the 13th century. There is a fine brass chandelier, probably of 18thcentury date and Dutch origin.
The plate includes a communion cup of silver, 1570, inscribed 'FOR THE TOWN OF CHO-NE'.
The tower contains one bell by C. and G. Mears, 1847.
The registers begin in 1676 and are complete except for the marriage entries between 1812 and 1835.
The church of ST. NICHOLAS, MANEA, consists of chancel, north vestry, nave, north transept, and aisle. There is a bell-cote of timber covered with slates on the east end of the nave roof. The material is stone, faced with brick inside, and the roofs are covered with slates. The church was entirely rebuilt in 13thcentury style in 1875. Its predecessor, which replaced an earlier structure in 1791, consisted of chancel and nave of brick with round-headed windows. The only visible relic of the old church is a 17th-century communion table of oak. In the churchyard are some good 18th-century headstones.
The plate consists of a chalice, 2 patens, 2 flagons, and an alms-dish.
The bell-cote contains one bell, unknown, probably modern.
The registers begin in 1646.
Licence was granted in 1748 to Abraham Biggs for a Dissenters' meeting house at Coveney. (fn. 67) Its denomination is unknown, and it seems to have been abandoned by the end of the century. Methodism took an early hold in Manea, where the Primitive and Wesleyan chapels both date originally from 1814. (fn. 68) There is a Primitive Methodist chapel at Coveney village founded in 1845 (fn. 69) and rebuilt towards the end of the 19th century, and a Wesleyan chapel, at Wardy Hill, founded 1837 (fn. 70) and rebuilt 1903. (fn. 71) All these are still in existence. A Baptist congregation was founded in Coveney in 1833; (fn. 72) in 1851 it used a chapel which was the property of Waddelow Chambers, one of the principal landowners at that date; (fn. 73) it ceased to exist c. 1906. (fn. 74) Another congregation of this sect was started at Manea slightly later (1839). (fn. 75) It had died out by the late 1870's.
At the end of the 18th century Mary Biggs, an Independent Baptist living at Wardy Hill, was teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic on undenominational lines. (fn. 76)
It was stated in 1831 that there were 85 children in the parish requiring free education, besides some 30 born of parents living in Coveney but without settlement there. In that year a school was established in Coveney on a site given by Lord Rokeby. The cost of building and maintenance was defrayed by subscription, including £10 yearly from the rector. The school was in association with the National Society from an early date. The general inquiry made by this society in 1846-7 showed that there was a master with a salary of £25 a year with house. There were only 2 boys and 3 girls who attended on both weekdays and Sundays, but 28 more boys and 34 more girls attended on Sundays only. (fn. 77) The school was enlarged in 1872 to accommodate 112 children. The accommodation was reduced in 1910 to 90 (64 boys and girls, 26 infants). The numbers, however, have never reached even the lower figure; they were 75 in 1901, 60 in 1919, and 48 in 1938 and 1948. The children aged 13 and over were transferred in 1948-9 to the Cromwell School, Chatteris, pending the building of a secondary modern school for Ely Rural District. (fn. 78)
In 1753 Matthew Robinson, then lord of the manor, gave by copy of court roll, a commonable messuage and close, to the use of the poor of Manea. In 1796 a new trust was created, and the messuage converted into a schoolhouse at which 6 poor children were to be taught free. The rents of the lands were applied also to the apprenticing of the children and were allowed to accumulate. In 1804 an extra 22 acres were allotted under the Manea Inclosure Act. As a result of these augmentations and the increased value of land in the district, a very ambitious scheme was launched in 1816; this provided for a new school to take 200 children. (fn. 79) To finance this scheme the land was let at the high rent of £80. Even so, however, it was not possible to pay off the debt incurred, and in July 1834 the school (at which the average attendance had been only 30) was temporarily closed. (fn. 80) In 1851, by which time it had been reopened, the endowments amounted to £57 7s. 6d. a year and more than 50 children were being taught free. (fn. 81) In 1867 the endowments had increased to £71, of which £63 were applied to education and £8 to 'other benefit of scholars'. (fn. 82) No other information, however, was furnished about the school, and it may be inferred that it did not then flourish. In 1875 the trustees, stimulated no doubt by the 1870 Education Act and the fear that their activities might be superseded by a School Board, built a new school at a cost of £2,400. This provided 225 places. A School Board for Manea was established in 1876, (fn. 83) which took over the trustees' school. This had an average attendance of 195 in 1899, (fn. 84) and was enlarged in 1901-2 and in 1906 to accommodate 326; central heating was installed in 1930 for £318. The average attendance in 1938 was 165. The following year the school became one for junior mixed and infants, though its 'all ages' status was temporarily restored during the Second World War. (fn. 85)
No charities were reported to the Commissioners in 1837 in respect of Coveney. At Manea, in addition to the charity originated by Matthew Robinson and used for education (see above-Schools), there were six mudand-stud houses, in tenantable repair, inhabited rent free by poor families. At an unknown date Thomas Neale placed a rent charge of 10s. on land in Manea for the poor of the parish. This had been paid within living memory, but the then owner of the land disclaimed any knowledge, though he was prepared to pay if the existence of the obligation could be legally proved. (fn. 86)