A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Letchworth, containing about 888 acres of land, lies between Walsworth and Willian; its northern boundary is formed by the Icknield Way, the southern by the main road between Great Wymondley and Baldock. The detached part of the parish surrounding Burleigh Farm, 8 miles south of the town of Letchworth, was transferred to Knebworth by a Local Government Board Order of 1907. By the same order Norton and Willian were amalgamated with Letchworth for civil purposes, but by a further order of 1908 the latter was made a civil parish.
The town of Letchworth stands on the borders of Bedfordshire. It has a station on the Hitchin and Cambridge branch of the Great Northern railway.
The grounds of Letchworth Hall, now an hotel belonging to the Garden City, adjoin the churchyard on the south side. It is said to have been built by Sir William Lytton about the year 1620, on the site of an earlier house, and all the old parts of the existing building are Jacobean in character. In plan it resembles the letter T, the hall and some rooms to the southward forming the vertical portion, while a wing on the west containing the dining room, &c., and another on the east, occupied by the kitchen offices, form the upper part of the T. A large block of buildings was erected on the north side by the Rev. John Alington before 1846. He also built some detached stables to the south of the hall. The old part of the building is of thin 2-in. bricks. Some blocks of clunch and flint in a small disused porch at the extreme south end may be a portion of the former building. The eaves of the central hall are low, but rooms are formed in the roof, lighted by dormer windows at the back, and on the front by a window in a brick gable which seems to be a much later addition or a rebuilding. The principal entrance is by a porch, with a room over, on the east side of the hall. This porch has a low entrance of brick with a flat three-centred arch. Each of the gables has a brick coping, with an octagonal terminal at the apex, but the top of the finial at the apex has disappeared. All the roofs are tiled. At the back or west side of the hall is a boldly projecting chimney, with offsets above the roof, and finished on the top with two square detached shafts set diagonally. All the older windows have oak mullions, but many of the others are more modern in construction. On the south wall of the west wing are three stone panels; the central one, which has been rebuilt into a modern bay window, bears a shield with the following arms: Quarterly of 4: (1) Ermine a chief indented with three crowns therein, for Lytton; (2) Three boars' heads, for Booth; (3) A fesse between six acorns with three oak leaves on the fesse for Ogden; (4) Ermine a cross with five escallops thereon. The shield on the right bears the arms of Lytton impaling St. John. The panel on the right is carved with two birds holding a ring between them, with the inscription above: 'Sic nos junxit amor.' Beyond the porch is a passage running the full width of the hall, under what was, until Alington's time, the musicians' gallery, now built up and thrown into a bedroom. A small modern stair at the end of the passage no doubt occupies the position of the old gallery stair. Some old balusters and newels have been re-used on this stair. The oak screen next the hall is a very fine and highly enriched piece of work of the time of James I. It is in a perfect condition, though one section of it has been moved about 2 ft. forward to give more room for the stair behind, and the upper part has been removed. There are two openings in the centre, each about 4 ft. wide, with flat arches over, the openings being separated by a circular column with Doric capital. The remainder of the screen is filled in with diagonal panelling. The spandrels of the arches and the mouldings are carved. Above is the cornice which formerly supported the front of the gallery. It projects about 2 ft. On the frieze is a row of small squares and circles alternating, with leaves carved in them. There are carved consoles at intervals along the cornice. On the small brackets carrying the outer ends of the arches thistles are carved. The hall is a large apartment 47 ft. by 21 ft. It has windows on each side and is flat ceiled with plaster. There is a large fireplace 6 ft. wide with splayed three-centred arch on the west side near the screen. Over the fireplace a carved stone shield has been inserted, bearing the arms of Alington, which are Sable a bend engrailed between six billets argent. On the other side there is a brick seat along part of the wall, which, however, appears to be modern. The floor is paved with modern bricks. At the north end of the hall is the modern entrance to the additions of last century. The dining room, about 37 ft. by 16 ft., extends to the west of the hall. The old doorway, now built up, still remains. A modern doorway has been opened into the dining room, which contains a good stone fireplace and carved oak chimneypiece. The fireplace is of the usual early 17th-century type with four-centred arch with the outer moulding carried square above it. The overmantel is carried up to the ceiling, and is divided into two panelled compartments flanked by human demi-figures and crowned by a cornice. All the work is elaborately carved. The upper floor of the main building, including over the hall, is subdivided into a number of rooms, most of them small, and containing little of interest. There is a fine fireplace, however, over that in the dining room, but owing to the formation of new rooms it is now in a passage. The lower part is of clunch, having a four-centred arch with mouldings similar to that in the dining room; on either side are half female figures undraped, on carved pedestals, supporting the projecting portion of the entablature, which has a moulded cornice, with dentil enrichment, moulded architrave, and carved frieze with consoles at intervals. All this work appears to be Jacobean, but above it is a large panel reaching to the ceiling containing four figures in high relief, representing the Judgment of Paris, which is probably of late 17th-century date. It is executed in plaster and the figures are only slightly draped. Paris stands in the centre offering the apple to Venus, who has a Cupid clinging to her knees; beside her are Juno with a peacock at her feet and Minerva with a helmet.
North of the church is a timber-framed house now divided into cottages; it is of early 17th-century date with a projecting porch. The post-office is a house of the same age and style of construction, now L-shaped, a south wing having apparently been removed.
Little Rustling End Farm, a mile and a half west of Knebworth Church and now in that parish, is a rectangular two-storied timber-framed house of the 17th century. The construction, with brick filling below and plaster above, is only seen at the back of the house, the front being cemented. The kitchen has an open timber roof supported by a beam. At the back of the house is a small staircase wing.
The Garden City Pioneer Company are now the sole landowners in Letchworth parish, which is being laid out by them for residential and business purposes; it is said that over 9 miles of new roads have been made.
The soil is sandy loam, in some parts clay with beds of sand and gravel; the subsoil is chalk.
LETCHWORTH (HANCHETS or MONTFITCHETS).
—Before the Norman Conquest Letchworth was held by Godwin of Souberie (Soulbury), a thegn of King Edward the Confessor. In 1086 it formed part of the domain of Robert Gernon, and was assessed at 10 hides. (fn. 1) Robert Gernon's estates were acquired early in the reign of Henry I by William de Montfitchet, (fn. 2) who with his wife Rohais seems to have been holding Letchworth at the beginning of the 12th century. (fn. 3) His son William (fn. 4) succeeded him before 1135 and married Margaret (fn. 5) the daughter of Gilbert Fitz Richard de Clare. (fn. 6) His wife outlived him and was still holding some of the Montfitchet lands in 1185. (fn. 7) The rest of William's lands seem to have passed about 1167 to his son Gilbert, (fn. 8) whose wife's name was Avelina. (fn. 9) Gilbert was succeeded by his son Richard about 1190, (fn. 10) whose son, also named Richard, (fn. 11) was one of the confederate barons of 1215 who demanded the Charter of Liberties from King John. (fn. 12) He was among those excommunicated by Pope Innocent III in 1216, (fn. 13) and was taken prisoner by Henry III at Lincoln in 1217. (fn. 14) In 1244 he was one of the barons' deputies chosen to consider the king's demand for a subsidy. (fn. 15) He appears in connexion with Letchworth in 1240. (fn. 16) He died without issue about 1258, (fn. 17) his heirs being his three sisters: Margery wife of Hugh de Bolbek, Aveline wife of William de Fortibus Earl of Albemarle, and Philippa wife of Hugh de Pleyz. (fn. 18) The third of his inheritance, including the portion held by his widow Joyce in dower until 1274, was assigned to the children of Margery de Bolbek, the eldest sister, and was divided between her daughters Philippa de Lancaster, Margery Corbett and Maud de la Val, (fn. 19) Letchworth being apportioned to the second daughter Margery and her husband Nicholas Corbett. (fn. 20) Margery afterwards married Ralph Fitz William. (fn. 21) She is known to have conveyed her lands in Ayot St. Peter to Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and chancellor of Edward I, and as Philip Burnell, Robert's nephew and heir, (fn. 22) died seised of Letchworth in 1294, (fn. 23) it seems probable that Margery conveyed Letchworth also to Philip's uncle. In 1295 Letchworth was assigned to Philip's widow Maud in dower, (fn. 24) and passed after her death to her son Edward, who died childless in 1315, and subsequently to his sister Maud, the wife of John Handlo. (fn. 25) Nicholas son of Maud and John assumed the surname of Burnell; he was holding Letchworth in 1346 (fn. 26) and died in 1382, when he was succeeded by his son Hugh. (fn. 27) Hugh Burnell died in 1420 seised of the Montfitchet lands on the Essex border, (fn. 28) which may have included Letchworth, though it is not mentioned by name. His heirs were his three granddaughters Joyce Erdington (who died childless), Katherine Ratcliffe and Margaret Hungerford. (fn. 29) Edmund Hungerford, husband of Margaret, was seised of the Montfitchet lands in Essex, but the overlordship of Letchworth cannot be definitely traced any further.
Very little is known of the early sub-tenants of Letchworth. In 1086 William of Letchworth, a Norman and one of the Domesday jurors for Broadwater Hundred, (fn. 30) held the manor of Robert Gernon. (fn. 31) Later the sub-tenancy seems to have been acquired by a younger branch of the Montfitchet family. In 1274, when Margery and Nicholas Corbett acquired the manor, the sub-tenant was a John Muschet, (fn. 32) whose name is probably a corrupt form of Montfitchet. (fn. 33) In 1295 Letchworth is said to have been held of Maud Burnell by 'the heirs of Richard de Montfitchet,' (fn. 34) and a Richard de Montfitchet claimed the advowson in 1302. (fn. 35) In 1303 Custancia Montfitchet was assessed for the fee, (fn. 36) and seems to have been holding it as late as 1314 (fn. 37); in 1346 it was held by another Richard Montfitchet. (fn. 38) Edmund Barrington was assessed for it in 1428, (fn. 39) but it is not clear whether he acquired it from the Montfitchets. About the middle of the 15th century it came into the possession of Thomas Hanchet of Bedford, who was holding it in 1474. (fn. 40) He was succeeded by William Hanchet, who died seised of it in 1515, leaving a son Andrew. (fn. 41) Andrew, however, died in the following year and his lands passed to his brother John, an infant of two. (fn. 42) Letchworth had been settled to the use of John's mother Margery for her life. (fn. 43) John attained his majority in 1535, (fn. 44) and together with Bridget his wife sold Letchworth in 1547 to Thomas Snagge. (fn. 45) Thomas was succeeded at Letchworth by his second son Robert Snagge, (fn. 46) who was lord of the manor in 1574. (fn. 47) His brother and successor William Snagge (fn. 48) died before 1596, leaving a widow Margaret, who by that time had married William Walford, and a son William. (fn. 49) William Snagge, jun., soon after conveyed the manor to Sir Rowland Lytton of Knebworth, (fn. 50) who died seised of it in 1615. (fn. 51) Letchworth then followed the descent of Knebworth Manor (fn. 52) until 1811, (fn. 53) but a few years later it was sold to John Williamson of Baldock, who possessed it in 1821. (fn. 54) He died in 1830 and left Letchworth to his grandson the Rev. John Alington, son of his daughter Sarah, who died in 1863. (fn. 55) The manor then passed successively to John Alington's second but eldest surviving son William, who died childless in 1874, and to his youngest son the Rev. Julius Alington of Little Barford. (fn. 56) The latter possessed Letchworth until 1903, when the First Garden City Pioneer Company acquired the whole parish by purchase. (fn. 57)
William Lytton was granted court leet and free warren in Letchworth in 1616. (fn. 58)
Half a fee in Letchworth was held by the Knights Templars in the 13th century, and 120 acres in addition were granted to them by Richard de Montfitchet for a term of fifty years. (fn. 59) Nothing more is known of the descent of this half fee.
Nevells or Nevills
NEVELLS or NEVILLS was a small manor which was held of the manor of Letchworth. (fn. 60) It is not called a manor until 1324. In 1198 John de Nevill claimed 4 virgates of land in Letchworth as his inheritance from Alban his grandfather, who was seised of it. (fn. 61) A John de Nevill appears again in 1247–8, (fn. 62) and in 1324 Walter de Nevill, son of this or another John, conveyed the reversion of the manor, which another Walter de Nevill held for life, to John de Blomvile, (fn. 63) lord of the manor of Chesfield in Graveley. Following the descent of this manor (fn. 64) (q.v.) it passed to the Barringtons, (fn. 65) and remained in that family until it came to John son of Nicholas Barrington (fn. 66) in 1515. In 1524 the wardship of John Barrington was granted to Henry Earl of Essex, (fn. 67) but John seems to have attained his majority in the following year. (fn. 68) Soon after this the Barringtons must have conveyed Nevells to the Snagge family, who acquired Letchworth in 1547, for in 1596 William Snagge and his mother conveyed Nevells to Sir Rowland Lytton. (fn. 69) Sir Rowland died in 1615 seised of the reversion of the 'capital messuage called Nevill' after the death of Margaret Walford (William Snagge's mother), and was possessed of the residue of the manor. (fn. 70) He already held Letchworth, and from that date Nevells and Letchworth followed the same descent and were presumably amalgamated.
Burleigh or Burley
BURLEIGH or BURLEY (Borneleye, Boureleghe, xiii cent.; Borleye, xiv cent.; Burlee, xv cent.) is now represented by Burleigh Farm in a detached portion of Letchworth parish between Stevenage and Knebworth, situated about 8 miles south of Letchworth. In the 14th century it appears held with Wollenwich as a quarter of a knight's fee, so it is possible that in 1086 it was included in the half hide and half virgate in Wollenwich (Wlwenewiche) held of Robert Gernon by the William who held Letchworth. (fn. 71) The overlordship of Burleigh appears in the same hands as that of Letchworth (q.v.), passing from the Montfitchets (the successors of Robert Gernon) to the Burnells. Philip Burnell died seised of a quarter fee in Burleigh in 1294, (fn. 72) and in 1303 a quarter fee in Burleigh and Wollenwich was held of the heirs of Philip Burnell by Laurence de Brok. (fn. 73)
The family of Brok had probably been holding the fee in sub-tenancy for some time previous to this, for a Laurence de Brok, who died about 1275, appears as grantee in conveyances of land in Wollenwich. (fn. 74) He had a son Hugh, who was the father of the Laurence of 1303. (fn. 75) This Laurence (fn. 76) was holding Burleigh in 1294, (fn. 77) and died before 1330, leaving a widow Ellen, (fn. 78) after whose death his lands passed to their son Ralph. (fn. 79) Ralph's heirs, who were holding Burleigh in 1346, (fn. 80) were his three daughters, Joan, who died childless, Ellen and Agnes. (fn. 81) There is no evidence to show which of the two latter inherited Burleigh, but Agnes is known to have had a daughter Joan and a granddaughter Katrine, whose daughter was named Cecily. (fn. 82) Possibly the Thomas Vinter who was holding the property in 1428 (fn. 83) was the husband of Katrine or Cecily, in which case Burleigh would have descended to one of Cecily's granddaughters, Joan Alington, Elizabeth Taillard and Margaret Langley, who claimed some of the Brok lands in 1468. (fn. 84) Early in the 16th century Burleigh came into the hands of Ralph Fraunces, son of William Fraunces, from whom he perhaps inherited it. Ralph died seised of it in 1533, leaving an infant son William, who was placed in the wardship of Sir Henry Sacheverell. (fn. 85) In 1557 William Fraunces and Elizabeth his wife conveyed the property to John Godfrey or Cowper. (fn. 86) The latter died in 1565, leaving Burleigh to his younger son Francis, then under age. (fn. 87) The latter died in 1631, leaving 'Burley Ground and the Hault' to be divided between his three sons Edward, William and John, (fn. 88) after which all records of the estate cease, but it seems to have subsequently come into the possession of the Lyttons of Knebworth, (fn. 89) whose estates it adjoined.
The parish church, the dedication of which is unknown, stands to the north of Letchworth Hall and about half a mile to the south of the village. It is built of flint rubble with freestone dressings, and the roof is tiled. It consists of a chancel and nave, with a south porch, and has a bellcote at the west end. (fn. 90) The original church of the 12th century is represented by the nave, while the chancel of the 13th century appears to have been rebuilt, as it leans to the south. In the 15th century the south porch was added and the church was re-roofed. About 1500 windows were inserted in the nave, and the bellcote appears to date from about the same time, though it has been altered externally. The church was repaired in the 19th century.
The east wall of the chancel appears to have been rebuilt in the 16th or early in the 17th century, and the east window of three lights under a square head is of that date. In the north wall is a 13th-century lancet window, and there is a low-side window of about 1350 in the west end of the north wall. In the south wall are similar windows and a 14th-century doorway, which has been blocked and can only be seen on the outside. The chancel arch has very coarse mouldings, and appears to have been rebuilt in the 16th century. The roof is plastered, but the 15th-century trusses and wind-braces are visible. The nave has two single-light windows in the north wall, of about 1500, with tracery in fourcentred heads. The easternmost of these contains 15th-century glass, with a shield of Montfitchet: Gules three cheverons or and a label azure. There is also in this wall a blocked doorway, apparently of 14th-century date. At the north-east angle a thickening of the wall probably indicates the position of the rood-loft stair, of which the foundations have recently been discovered. At the same angle is an early 15th-century niche for an image. The head is partly buried in the north wall, and the south jamb has been cut back. The windows in the south wall are modern, of two lights, in 13th-century style. The west window, of two cinquefoiled lights, is of about 1500, and contains some fragments of mediaeval glass. The ceiling of the nave is plastered, but the beams and wall cornices of the 15th-century roof are still in position. The south doorway, of two moulded orders, with a four-centred head, is of the same date, and on the door is some ironwork of the 13th century. The south porch has a two-centred entrance arch of two moulded orders, with shields in the spandrels; the western shield is carved with lozenges, the other is illegible. There is the base of a stoup in the north-east corner. The bellcote, which is cemented externally, has north and south windows with two-centred heads, and is supported on a fourcentred wooden arch, now painted, which spans the nave at the west end. Its roof is pyramidal and tiled. It contains a bell, probably of the 14th century, by an unknown founder, with the inscription 'Ave Maria Dracia (sic) Plena.'
The bowl of the font is probably of the 14th century, and there are some 15th-century benches with broken ends in the nave. A remarkable monument on the sill of the north-east window of the nave is a miniature recumbent effigy (2 ft. 2 in. long by 1 ft. wide) in chain armour and a long surcoat, holding a heart in his hands. The figure is of about 1300 and is much defaced. In the chancel is a brass of a priest in eucharistic vestments, with an inscription and the date 1475. In the nave is a brass with the half-length figures of a man and his wife, with a fragmentary inscription which records the name of the wife, Isabelle; the man is said to be William Overbury, and the date is about 1470.
The plate includes a cup and cover paten of late 16th-century style, but without hall-marks.
The registers are in four volumes: (i) 1695 to 1748; (ii) baptisms 1749 to 1806, marriages 1749 to 1754, burials 1749 to 1804; (iii) baptisms and burials 1807 to 1812; (iv) marriages 1754 to 1805.
There is mention of a priest at Letchworth in 1086. (fn. 91) The church of Letchworth was granted, with all appurtenances and 12 acres of land in the parish, to the monastery of St. Albans by William de Montfitchet and Rohais his wife and William their son at the beginning of the 12th century. (fn. 92) The living was not appropriated and is still a rectory. About 1297 John de Ulseby, rector of Letchworth, was deprived of his living for his connexion with Cardinal James Colonna, who was excommunicated by Boniface VIII for his opposition to that pope's election. (fn. 93) The Abbot of St. Albans then presented Robert de Donnebrugge, but the Bishop of Lincoln refused to institute him; in 1301, however, Pope Boniface VIII sent a mandate to his successor commanding the institution. (fn. 94) In 1302 and in 1320 the king presented by reason of the voidance of St. Albans (fn. 95); on the first occasion Richard Montfitchet claimed the right, but his claim was not allowed. (fn. 96) The advowson remained to the monastery of St. Albans until its surrender at the end of 1539, (fn. 97) after which it was presumably held for a while by the Crown. Some time before 1610 it was granted to Sir Henry Cock, who died possessed of it in that year, and was succeeded by his grandson Henry Lucy, son of his elder daughter Frances and Edmund Lucy. (fn. 98) Soon after this the advowson was acquired by the Lytton family, William Lytton presenting in 1676, (fn. 99) and after this it followed the descent of the manor until 1903, when it was sold to Mr. Walter Plimpton, Mr. Henry William Hill and Major Gilbert E. W. Malet, who form a syndicate. (fn. 100)
In 1544, after the dissolution of St. Albans Abbey, a pension of 13s. from Letchworth rectory was granted to George Nodes (fn. 101) of Shephall, and apparently remained in his family, for in 1643 a George Nodes died possessed of 'rent from the rectory of Letchworth,' leaving a son Charles. (fn. 102)
In 1638 the parsonage contained 'one hall, one pallor, one kichin, two buttries, one milkhouse, one larder, five chambers with a study.' The glebe lands then consisted of about 45 acres. (fn. 103)
The mission church of ST. MICHAEL in Norton Way was built before 1910.
A Roman Catholic church dedicated in honour of St. Hugh was built in Pixmore Way in 1908; the Presbytery adjoins it. There is a meeting of the Society of Friends at Howgills, Sollershott; the Wesleyan Methodists hold services in the Pixmore Institute, and the Salvation Army in the Co-operative Hall. There is also a Free Church in Norton Way, which was built in 1905 and enlarged in 1907.
A chapel existed at Burleigh at the beginning of the 13th century, and is mentioned in 1218 as attached to the church of Letchworth, and therefore as belonging to St. Alban's Abbey. (fn. 104) In 1311 licence was given to the Broks, lords of Burleigh, for a chantry in the chapel of Burleigh, (fn. 105) and the whole seems to have been subsequently known as Brook's Chapel or Burleigh's Chapel. It seems to have soon decayed, for in 1548 it possessed no plate, ornaments, goods or chattels beyond the tithes of the land attached. The incumbent was then William ap Rise. (fn. 106) Upon its dissolution the site and lands pertaining were granted in 1553 to John and William Dodington and their heirs, (fn. 107) but seem to have come not long after into the possession of John Godfrey or Cowper, who held the manor of Burleigh (q.v.) and died in 1565. He held the 'tithe called Brokes Chappell or Burleyes Chappell' of the queen as of her manor of East Greenwich in socage, (fn. 108) and left it to his younger son Francis, who died in 1631 seised of ' Burley Ground, le Hault, and Brooks Chappell,' which he had settled on his younger sons William and John. (fn. 109)
There are no endowed charities. The children attend the school at Willian.