A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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The larger of Landbeach's two manors, comprising 6 hides in 1086, was created when Picot the sheriff combined the pre-Conquest holdings of the previous sheriff, Blacwine (23/4 hides), of four king's sokemen (2 hides), and of men of the abbot of Ely (11/4 hides, of which his steward Aethelbeorht held 1 hide). By 1086 Picot had granted the whole estate to his man Mucel. (fn. 1) The tenancy-in-chief over it passed with Picot's barony of Bourn to the Peverels and their coheirs, (fn. 2) being possessed in 1166 by Hugh of Dover (fn. 3) (d. 1172). The manor was held thereafter, as 1 knight's fee, of the Pecches, (fn. 4) until that barony was ceded to the Crown in 1284.
The manor, later CHAMBERLAINS, (fn. 5) had been given after 1135 by William Peverel to his steward Alan, whose son Gilbert's son Alan of Beach held it as a minor in 1166. (fn. 6) Alan died shortly before 1204, leaving as heir his son Robert, then under age. (fn. 7) Robert, lord c. 1235, (fn. 8) died by 1242. His heirs were his sisters, Ellen, wife of Geoffrey le Bere of Ellington (Hunts.), and Isabel, married to William Avenel. Robert's Landbeach manor was assigned by 1242 to Ellen as the elder. She soon, as a widow, gave it to her elder son John le Bere, who returned it to her for life. (fn. 9) By 1247 Ellen had sold the manor, styled 1 carucate, to John de Fercles, (fn. 10) and c. 1250 John le Bere was suing her. (fn. 11) Probably by 1257 his murder was procured by Walter le Chamberlain, (fn. 12) to whom Fercles, probably c. 1253, had conveyed it and Ellen released it. (fn. 13) Ellen and Fercles bought off the claims of her younger son Godwin le Bere with the lands of two villeins. (fn. 14) They had descended to Godwin's son John by 1279 and grandson Stephen le Bere by 1346. (fn. 15) The Beres also had a mesne lordship over Chamberlains manor, (fn. 16) while holding 30 a. of it in 1346. (fn. 17) From Alice le Bere (fn. 18) that estate had passed by 1383 to Sir William Castleacre, (fn. 19) who sold it as a manor in 1392 to Thomas Bradfield. (fn. 20)
The main manor, probably held by its purchaser Walter le Chamberlain of Brent Pelham (Herts.) (fn. 21) in 1279, (fn. 22) descended between 1286 and 1290 to his son Henry. (fn. 23) In 1304 Henry established that he held it of John le Bere in socage. (fn. 24) Henry probably often resided at Landbeach, as in 1307 (fn. 25) and c. 1340. (fn. 26) In 1329 he settled the reversion on his son Thomas, (fn. 27) who was given possession in 1343. (fn. 28) Henry died in 1345. (fn. 29) Sir Thomas, already knighted, (fn. 30) agreed in 1359 to grant the manor to feoffees for the newly founded Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which at once took possession. (fn. 31) After Sir Thomas died, probably in 1361, one Thomas Grey, claiming to be his heir, promised Landbeach to the royal steward, Sir John de la Lee, in return for his support. As soon as Grey had conveyed it to Lee in 1361, (fn. 32) Lee seized the manor, claiming it also under a release from another courtier, Sir Alan Buxhull, also allegedly Chamberlain's heir. (fn. 33) Only in 1366 did the college regain Landbeach on paying Lee 700 marks. (fn. 34) The manor remained with the college's feoffees (fn. 35) until 1390, when a licence in mortmain finally permitted its formal conveyance. (fn. 36) In 1419 the college also acquired from Thomas Bradfield the 49-a. former Bere estate. (fn. 37) It retained the manor thenceforth, (fn. 38) with a demesne farm probably halved from 300 a. c. 1400 to 120 a. by the 17th century. (fn. 39) At inclosure in 1813 it was allotted 270 a., (fn. 40) later called Manor farm, which it still owned in the 1980s. (fn. 41)
The Chamberlains' manor house presumably stood within the moated site, c. 165 by 200 m., north-east of the church. (fn. 42) It was not maintained after the 15th century, the rector who represented the college at Landbeach (fn. 43) inhabiting the adjoining rectory house. The modern Manor Farm slightly to the west is an originally threebay grey-brick house of c. 1800. (fn. 44)
A substantial estate was held of the manor as 1/2 knight's fee by the Knight family, probably descended from Bartholomew le Chivaler (fl. 1235). (fn. 45) From Gilbert le Knight (fl. 1255-79) (fn. 46) it passed probably in successive generations to John le Knight (fl. 1286), (fn. 47) another John (fl. 1317, (fn. 48) d. ? 1359), his son William (d. c. 1369), and Thomas (fn. 49) (d. c. 1400). (fn. 50) John Knight, who held 64 a. in demesne in 1404, (fn. 51) probably still owned it in 1434. (fn. 52) KNIGHTS by 1547 held in free socage of the Crown, belonged with 36 a. from the 1540s to 1592 to the Gotobeds, (fn. 53) and, probably by 1615, was acquired (fn. 54) with 100 a. by Robert Storey. A house called Knights with 110 a. in Landbeach and Milton belonged to Thomas Storey of Chesterton (d. 1634). His son Thomas sold it in 1653 to Dr. Benjamin Whichcote, (fn. 55) who owned 60 a. of Knights in Milton in 1665. (fn. 56)
By 1279 Barnwell priory had been given 30 a. held freely of Chamberlains manor by Reynold Cheyney. (fn. 57) That land, at farm by 1386, remained with the priory until the Dissolution, being sold in 1553. (fn. 58)
The other large manor, which combined 31/2 hides held in 1066 by the abbot of Ely's man Oswi and 11/2 hides held by a man of Earl Waltheof, had by 1086 been assigned to two king's carpenters. (fn. 59) The tenancy-in-chief was restored to the see of Ely before 1166, when Luke de Bray held 1 knight's fee granted by Bishop Niel before 1135. (fn. 60) The bishops, whose lordship over BRAYS manor was occasionally recorded in the 13th century, (fn. 61) still received reliefs from its tenants c. 1480. (fn. 62) By 1212, and perhaps between 1135 and 1166, a mesne lordship over the manor was acquired by the Vere earls of Oxford, (fn. 63) whose rights were mentioned in 1279, 1316, (fn. 64) the 1360s, (fn. 65) 1471, (fn. 66) and as late as 1560. (fn. 67)
Brays manor was perhaps held in demesne in 1216 by Gilbert de Bray, (fn. 68) certainly in the 1230s by Hugh de Bray. (fn. 69) He died after 1256. (fn. 70) His daughter Agnes, tenant in 1279, (fn. 71) married William of Baldock, with whom she demised the manor in 1291 to Archdeacon Ralph of Baldock, (fn. 72) bishop of London 1304-13. (fn. 73) William was still lord in 1302, (fn. 74) but probably died between 1311 (fn. 75) and 1316, Agnes de Bray holding it as a widow then (fn. 76) and until 1327. (fn. 77) Her heir, Hugh de Bray, perhaps her son, tenant of 1/2 fee under the Veres in 1346 and 1360, (fn. 78) was regularly recorded at Landbeach between 1335 and 1370. (fn. 79) He was succeeded by 1372 by John Bray (fn. 80) (fl. to 1383). (fn. 81) John Bray, lord in 1407 and 1412, (fn. 82) was perhaps identical with John Bray, son and heir of Hugh Bray (d. 1361), a vassal of the Veres at Tilbury (Essex). (fn. 83) John Bray of Tilbury settled or sold Brays manor at Landbeach in 1415. (fn. 84)
By 1423, perhaps by 1417, it belonged to William Ketteridge, of an Essex family, possibly in right of his wife Denise. (fn. 85) William remained lord until his death in 1471, although by 1466 Brays was perhaps occupied by his son and namesake (fn. 86) (d. 1479). (fn. 87) His son Richard, then under age, (fn. 88) died without issue c. 1488, (fn. 89) when his heir was Elizabeth, probably his sister. She was married to William Radcliffe, owner of Brays in 1489, (fn. 90) who probably died in 1499. When his widow Elizabeth died in 1506, she devised it to Robert, her son by her earlier marriage to Thomas Kirkby. (fn. 91) Robert Kirkby (d. 1521) was succeeded by his son Richard, (fn. 92) who had 420 a. of arable in demesne in 1549. (fn. 93)
The violent and grasping Richard Kirkby proved a great trouble both to his neighbours (fn. 94) and to his family. He had three daughters: Margaret, who married Ralph Hall of Horningsea, Elizabeth, wife of George Hasell of March, and Margery, married first to William Betts, then to Edward Steward of Teversham. Retiring from farming c. 1550, Kirkby leased the manor for 20 years to Betts (d. by 1558) and Hall. Having by 1558 quarrelled with Hall over Margaret's marriage portion, he not only entailed a third of the manor upon Steward and Margery, but tried to settle Margaret's expected third on Steward absolutely. Arbitrations in 1561-2 obliged him to settle that third on Margaret and her son Michael Hall, with remainder to Steward, but in 1561 Kirkby leased the manor to Hasell and Steward for 60 years from 1570 at the old £30 rent. (fn. 95) When Kirkby died in 1567, although nominally the Halls and Stewards each inherited four ninths of the manor, and Hasell and Elizabeth only a third of the unentailed third, in practice the Halls would have from 1570 only a fraction of the rent. (fn. 96) Possession of the manor was immediately and violently disputed between Hasell and Hall. (fn. 97)
The descent of the divided Brays manor long remained fragmented. Michael Hall sold the reversion of his third in 1571 to Thomas Cook of Milton, whose brother Henry inherited it in 1577. (fn. 98) It was not recorded in that family later. The Hasells sold their ninth in 1574 to John Martin (fn. 99) (d. 1593), later of Barton, whose son Matthias (d. 1613) and grandson Thomas inherited that reversion. (fn. 100) George Hasell retained possession of his leased half share of the manor under a lease from John Martin, which he alienated in 1580. That lease was shortly acquired by the judge Robert Shute (d. 1590), whose widow Thomasine still possessed half Brays manor on lease at her death in 1595, after which her trustees sold the lease to Christopher Hodson of Shenley (Herts.). (fn. 101) Meanwhile Edward Steward had settled the fee simple of two thirds of Brays in 1579 on his son Thomas, (fn. 102) although his leased half was actually occupied by 1595 by John Batisford of Chesterton. (fn. 103) When Edward Steward died in 1596, his fee simple descended to his daughter Joan, wife of Thomas Jermy, (fn. 104) named as lord c. 1604, (fn. 105) and probably passed with the Jermy estate at Chesterton until Joan's death in 1649. (fn. 106) About 1656 Brays manor sheepwalk supposedly belonged to a Thomas Jermy. (fn. 107)
By 1659 the whole of Brays had apparently been acquired by Sir John Barker, Bt. (fn. 108) 41 (d. 1664), of Grimston Hall (Suff.). (fn. 109) In 1682 his sons Sir John and Robert executed a conveyance of that manor, to which one Edward Jermy was a party, (fn. 110) Robert being probably the beneficiary. He sold Brays in or after 1691 to William Worts, esquire bedell of Cambridge university, who had also bought the former Knights estate by his death in 1704. Worts left his Landbeach property for life to his widow Mary, then to his son William. (fn. 111) The latter died in 1709, having devised all those lands to heads of certain Cambridge colleges in trust for various charitable and academic purposes, the surplus to go to the university library. (fn. 112) The Brays estate, 511 a. until inclosure in 1813, thereafter 693 a., (fn. 113) remained with the Worts trustees (fn. 114) until 1915, when Worts farm was sold to the county council. The council had already acquired two estates in 1910: one was Limes farm, 114 a. near the village, part of a 186-a. estate allotted at inclosure to the Hemingtons of Denny Abbey; the other, bought from S. K. Rowley, was the 153-a. Beach farm, probably derived from the 160-a. allotment of the Taylors. In 1919 the council also bought the 296-a. Rectory farm, so becoming the largest landowner in the parish, of which it still possessed 1,213 a. in 1985. (fn. 115)
Brays manor house probably stood in the moat, c. 30 m. (100 ft.) square, in a 10-a. close in the village's south-west corner, which with the adjacent 19-a. Great Close still belonged to the Worts estate in 1808. (fn. 116) The present Worts farmhouse stands by the street east of the moat. Its early 19th-century front of three bays in grey brick conceals an earlier, possibly 16th-century, timber-framed house. (fn. 117)