A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Royston lies upon the northern slopes of the Hertfordshire Chalk Downs, which almost surround the town. Royston Heath (in Therfield parish) is noted as the recreation ground of the town. The heath has given its name to the 'Royston Crow.' (fn. 5) It was a favourite hunting-place of James I, (fn. 6) was the site of the Royston races (fn. 7) and prize-fights, (fn. 8) and may have been the spot intended for tournaments at Royston forbidden by the king in 1234 and 1331. (fn. 9)
The town itself, on the north-eastern edge of the heath, is built about the intersection of Ermine Street, which runs northward from London to York, with the Icknield Way running almost due east and west. The town is divided for Parliamentary purposes by the Icknield Way, which here forms the boundary between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. The same division existed for administrative purposes until September 1897, when the whole of Royston was included in the administrative county of Hertford. (fn. 10)
Royston was accounted a distinct 'vill' for the assessment of subsidies in 1307, (fn. 11) but it lay within five ecclesiastical parishes, viz. Barkway, Reed and Therfield, co. Herts., Melbourn and Kneesworth, co. Cambs., (fn. 12) until 1540, when an Act of Parliament constituted it a separate ecclesiastical parish. (fn. 13) For administrative purposes the Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire portions of the town were united under one vestry in 1781. (fn. 14) Under the Local Government Act of 1894 (fn. 15) there were set up within the township separate councils for the two parts of Royston (ecclesiastical) parish and for the several parishes of Therfield, Barkway, Bassingbourn, Kneesworth and Melbourn. (fn. 16) Finally, in 1897, the whole township was converted into a single urban district lying entirely within the county of Hertford. (fn. 17)
The intersection of the roads in the centre of the town is still called 'the Cross.' In the garden of the town hall in Melbourn Street is preserved a large boulder of Red Millstone Grit, weighing approximately two tons, supposed to be the base of a cross removed from the cross roads. It has a square socket on its upper surface, probably for a cross. (fn. 18) Beside it are two fragments of a stone coffin-lid with a cross on the face removed from 'Chapel Field' in Kneesworth Street. Under the old butter market, which stood in the middle of the Icknield Way, now the west end of Melbourn Street, a little south-east of the Cross, a cave hollowed out of the chalk was discovered in 1742. (fn. 19) It was then partly filled with earth. Dr. William Stukeley, Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries, conjectured that the cave was the oratory of the 'Lady Rose,' wife of Geoffrey de Mandeville. (fn. 20) His romance was rudely destroyed by the Rev. Charles Parkin, who maintained that the excavation was of Saxon origin. (fn. 21) A heated argument followed, (fn. 22) but the origin and use of the cave remain uncertain. In mediaeval times it was evidently used for religious purposes, and the fact that a hermit lived at Royston about 1506 has led to the supposition that it became a hermitage. (fn. 23) It may be identical with the 'Hermitage' in the parish of Barkway acquired by Sir Robert Chester after its suppression. (fn. 24) The cave is a large dome-shaped hole, about 28 ft. deep and 17 ft. in diameter at the bottom, cut out of the solid chalk. It is ventilated by a small grating in the pavement above. In 1790 the present passage was cut to the cave through the chalk. The walls of the cave are rudely sculptured with figures in low relief, among which are figures of St. Christopher, St. Katherine, the Cross of St. Helena, the Holy Family, Conversion of St. Paul, and many others. There appears to have been an upper story to the cave at one period, the walls having been cut back to receive the timbers. The figures were probably carved in the 13th or 14th century. It seems probable that the cave was filled in during the 16th century when the lord of the manor 'buylded up in the myddest of Icknell Streate . . . a fayer House or Crosse . . . for a clockhowse and a Pryson Howse.' (fn. 25)
It would seem probable that the market-place, around which the early town would naturally be formed, originally occupied the widened part of Ermine Street to the north and south of the point where the Icknield Way crosses it. As in other towns, this market-place seems to have become at an early date covered by permanent stalls and then by shops till these buildings divided it into two streets and became known as early as the 16th century as Middle Row. The western street in its southern part was called later Dead Street and afterwards Back Street. (fn. 26) The present market-place is on sloping ground east of the High Street and south of the church and site of the priory.
In 1189 Richard 1 granted to the priory the right to hold a market at Royston and to have a fair there throughout Whitsun week and a market on the fourth day of each week with court of pie-powder and all the customs of the fair of Dunstable. (fn. 27) Another fair to be held on the eve and day of the translation of St. Nicholas (May 8–9) was granted to the hospital of St. Nicholas on 2 January 1212–13, (fn. 28) and was probably held in the Cambridgeshire portion of the town, where the hospital was situated. (fn. 29) In 1236 it was converted into a three days' fair on the eve, day and morrow of the same feast. (fn. 30) It probably became extinct with the hospital, which had ceased to exist before 1359. (fn. 31) In 1242 Henry III granted to the Prior of Royston another fair to be held on the vigil and feast of St. Thomas the Martyr (July 6–7), the patron saint of his house. (fn. 32)
From the first the situation of the town on the crossroads in the midst of the barley-growing country must have caused the markets and fairs to prosper. In 1291 they were valued at £9 13s. 4d (fn. 33) In 1223 and 1226 the maximum price of wine was fixed at a higher rate in Royston than elsewhere, owing to the distance of the town from the coast. (fn. 34) The prior made good his right to the market and to the fairs at Whitsuntide and the feast of St. Thomas in 1278. (fn. 35) The prior had been involved in disputes with the Abbot of Westminster and the Master of the Knights Templars, who claimed exemption from toll in all English markets. In 1247–8 the abbot pleaded the charters of Edward the Confessor and William I against the claims of the prior. (fn. 36) The dispute with the Templars, who owned property in Royston, (fn. 37) began in 1199 and was still continuing in 1200. (fn. 38) In 1254 the Master of the Templars impleaded the prior for imprisoning and beating certain of his men who had come to the market on the Templars' business. (fn. 39) The markets and fairs were frequently disturbed during the 13th and 14th centuries. (fn. 40) In May 1537, shortly after the dissolution of the priory, the market, fairs, court of pie-powder with the stallage and piccage and the profits of the windmill of the late priory were leased to Richard Cromwell (afterwards knighted) for twentyone years. (fn. 41) Much of the market-place was, however, occupied by about fifty shops held on lease by various owners. (fn. 42) Sir Richard Cromwell transferred his interest in the market to Edward Annesby. (fn. 43) Nevertheless in 1540 a grant was made to Robert Chester of all the possessions of the priory 'with two fairs, one lasting throughout Whitsun week, the other on 7 July and the two days following, and a market on every Wednesday at Royston.' (fn. 44) The claims of Annesby and Chester were considered by the Court of Augmentations between 1540 and 1544, and apparently the decision was in favour of the lord of the manor. The profits of the fair and market have since remained with the successive lords.
The great corn market of Royston is frequently noticed in the writings of 17th-century travellers, one of whom describes Royston as a 'dry town good for the utterance of cattell barley and malt.' (fn. 45) The Corn Exchange was built by the lord of the manor in 1829. (fn. 46) The present market-house on the hill was built about 1836. A 'tolbooth' had existed in 1341 and contained the stocks. (fn. 47) It may have been at the cross-ways near the site of the Clock House, where the stocks stood until they were removed to the Market Hill. (fn. 48) Before 1792 fairs on Ash Wednesday, Wednesday in Easter week and the first Wednesday after 10 October had been added to those granted to the priory, (fn. 49) and these still existed in 1888, (fn. 50) but the Whitsun fair is now extinct, the July fair, sometimes called Becket's fair, has almost disappeared, and the October fair alone is of any importance. (fn. 51)
At the apex of the present triangular market is Fish Hill, facing the county court erected in 1849. (fn. 52) On this hill a schoolhouse was built by contributions from gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood about 1716. (fn. 53) It was afterwards given to the use of the parish. (fn. 54) Henry Andrews, astronomer, calculator to the Board of Longitude and to Moore's Almanack, taught in this school in 1767. (fn. 55) The infants' schools date from 1827; Board and National schools were established about 1840. (fn. 56)
In High Street are a few 17th-century cottages built of timber and plaster with modern fronts, and opposite the Bull Hotel is a 15th-century timber and plaster house on brick foundations with a projecting upper story supported on brackets and bow windows on the ground floor. A way called John Street was opened into the High Street from Fish Hill after a disastrous fire which occurred in 1841. (fn. 57) At the north-east corner of John Street the present Congregational chapel was built soon after the fire (fn. 58) to replace the old Meeting House which had existed in Middle Row, Kneesworth Street, since 1706. (fn. 59) The Congregationalists had met in the house of John Wheeler in 1672, (fn. 60) and their meetings possibly originated in the lectures given on market days by Nathaniel Ball, the ejected minister of Barley (1660–2). (fn. 61) The Baptist chapel near Barkway Street was built in 1896. (fn. 62)
The High Street and Back Street contain numerous inns, some of which date from posting days. The 'Red Lion' on the east side of the High Street, now no longer an inn, was the chief of these. In rooms at the back of it was held the famous Royston Club, partly political, partly convivial, which was in existence before 1689 and broke up about the middle of the 18th century. (fn. 63) The ' Bull' at the top of the High Street has existed since 1520. (fn. 64) Petty sessions were held there, and it was under protest that the magistrates moved to the new county court in 1850. (fn. 65) The end house of Middle Row on the west side of the High Street near the Cross was the Tabard Inn, (fn. 66) where in 1539 a servant of the Bishop of Durham spoke openly against the dissolution of monasteries before the 'good man ' of the inn. (fn. 67) At least eleven such inns in the town then gave accommodation to the travellers who passed through on the way from London to the north. (fn. 68) For the spiritual 'relief of poor people coming and going through the town ' Richard Argentine, Sheriff of Cambridgeshire in 1224, founded the chapel of St. John and St. James on the south side of Baldock Street. (fn. 69) It was evidently identical with the hospital of St. James existing in 1251, (fn. 70) and there was added to it the chantry of St. Nicholas, once a separate chapel in the Cambridgeshire portion of the town. (fn. 71) The chapel of St. John and St. James was suppressed in 1547, (fn. 72) and the site let in succession to Edward Chester in January 1565–6, to John Hall and to John Moore. (fn. 73) Hall, acting in trust for Edward Chester, who was serving in the Netherlands, obtained a confirmation of title against Sir Giles Alington, kt., heir to the patrons and founders, who asserted his right to the 'chapel lands.' (fn. 74) In 1607 a grant in fee simple of the late chapel or hospital and its possessions was made to Sir Roger Aston, kt., one of the gentlemen of the Bedchamber, and to John Grymesditch. (fn. 75) The chapel was 'new made into a fair dwelling house' shortly before 1610, and was then in the occupation of Francis Hall. (fn. 76) On the opposite (north) side of Baldock Street a house and yard formed part of the endowment of the chapel. (fn. 77) West of it the 'Gables' represents the 'Cardynall's Hat' of 1610, and east of it was another inn, the 'Half Moon,' next the corner house of Back Street. (fn. 78)
For a short distance north of the Cross, Back Street and Kneesworth Street are still divided by 'Middle Row.' The whole of this neighbourhood is associated with the house and lodgings occupied by James I and Charles I and their court. A building in Kneesworth Street is all that remains of the eastern part of the 'King's Lodgings,' the rest having been demolished probably early in the 18th century. The building is rectangular and measures, roughly, about 53 ft. by 19 ft.; the front is on the east side facing the garden, the back facing the street. It consists of two stories with attics and a cellar under the south part. At either end on each story is an apartment, and between them is a square staircase with a newel stair, the old octagonal oak post of which still remains but without its finial at the top. The south room on the ground story has an old fireplace with a wooden lintel, partly built up, above which are remains of a 17th-century painted ornament; in the south wall is a wide niche with blocked hatchway to the adjoining buttery, now demolished. Some chamfered beams still remain in some of the rooms. The south room on the upper story has an old brick fireplace with four-centred arch with splayed edge and stops, all cemented; it is surrounded with 18th-century wooden jambs and lintel, bolection moulded. In the north room are remains of a coloured stencilled pattern, about 6 in. wide, under the small plaster cornice, and as vertical bands dividing the walls into panels; it is of 17th-century work. Externally the street front has two large plain projecting chimneys, mostly rebuilt, only the lower parts being of the old thin bricks. The entrance doorway and windows are modern. The east or garden front was entirely rebuilt early in the 18th century, and has moulded brick cornice and plain flanking pilasters. The whole building was repaired in 1910 and a wing added on the north. The roof is tiled. A timber-built house with projecting upper story and tiled roof in Kneesworth Street, to the south of the palace, evidently formed part of the palace out-buildings. (fn. 79) It belongs to the 16th century, and retains its old wooden door frame and open roof with moulded trusses. The interior has been considerably altered. To the north of the palace are some remains of the brick walls of the old stables.
In 1652 the whole of the Lodgings, which then projected westwards into the street, so commanding a view of the road north and south, is described as 'all of brick well-tiled double-built, in length 78 ft., breadth 43 ft., height from eaves to ground 24 ft., thickness of walls 24 inches.' Below stairs were six lodgingchambers well-floored and well-matted; above stairs six rooms, including the presence and privy chambers, with wainscot shuttings to all windows. (fn. 80) James I passed through Royston on Friday, 29 April 1603, on his way to London in the month following his accession and was entertained by Robert Chester at the Priory. (fn. 81) Attracted by the opportunities afforded by Royston for his favourite sport of hunting, James I hired Chester's house for one year, (fn. 82) probably the first of his reign, and began in 1604 to convert the 'Cock' and the 'Greyhound' into a house for himself. (fn. 83) Simon Basill was responsible for the 'finishing' of the King's Lodgings in 1607. During this year partitions were set up ' in the pages' chamber at the presence door,' many new doors were put in and the king's garden was made. Many repairs, including the rebuilding of a fallen chimney, the replacing of a timber chimney, setting up a stone mantel in the chamber of the Duke of Lennox and the repair of the wine-cellar door, ' being broken all to pieces,' are evidence of the decayed state of the buildings purchased by the king. (fn. 84)
Apparently the King's Lodgings described above were on the site of the 'Cock.' (fn. 85) The tiled-timber buildings called the 'Greyhound' were not rebuilt, but were converted as they stood into a guardchamber and other officers' lodgings. (fn. 86) Between these and the King's House stood the Prince's Buttery, an old building partly tiled, partly thatched. (fn. 87) The 'Greyhound' was a freehold tenement of Royston Manor occupied by John Newport in 1539. (fn. 88) In its stables in 1537 Robert Dalyvell, saddler, prophesied the death of Henry VIII and the extinction of English nobles before Midsummer's Day, 1538. (fn. 89) James purchased the inn from the Earl of Lincoln, (fn. 90) who may have acted for him in acquiring it. South of the 'Greyhound' was the house of Judith Wilson in 1610 (fn. 91) with a malt-house attached. (fn. 92) In 1628 Thomas Wilson let a part of this house to the king as a privy kitchen. (fn. 93) Beyond this were the pantry and waiting offices of Prince Charles. The corner house at the Cross was called the 'Howletts' and was held by the occupier of the 'Greyhound' in 1539. (fn. 94) Under James I it was converted into the Prince's Lodgings, described in 1652 as a brick and timber building 117 ft. by 18 ft., three stories high with three rooms below stairs and four above. (fn. 95) At the rear of the 'Greyhound' or guard-house were the king's butteries. (fn. 96) The King's Privy Garden lay behind his lodgings and to the north of it was the Great Garden with the porter's lodge facing on Kneesworth Street. (fn. 97) This lodge was built on land formerly demesne of the manor let to John Gott and abutted on Gray's Close. (fn. 98) In the course of time the royal buildings were extended. Larders, pantries, bake-houses, the wardrobe and the lodgings for the keeper of the house were established in the 'Swan,' a double row of two-storied timber buildings at the rear of the Prince's Lodgings, (fn. 99) with a gateway at each end, the southern one opening into Melbourn Street. (fn. 100) The grounds of the 'Swan,' at the back of the king's buildings, contained his cock-pit, 'with substantial tile-covered roof,' and a large close between the gardens and the lane formerly called Field Lane, now Dog-Kennel Lane. Buildings were added for visitors, partly in the gardens, partly in the close, and a garden for them was inclosed from the latter. At the north end of the king's property, where Dog-Kennel Lane bends round into Kneesworth Street, was the dog-house, and next it lodgings for servants were built on a garden formerly belonging to the 'Talbot.' Between these and the Great Garden were the Duke of Hamilton's stables for hunting-horses. (fn. 101) The dog-house and the stables, with 'Little Meadow Plotts,' had been known as 'John Almonde's Barnyard,' which James purchased from Edward Smith, one of the yeomen of the chamber. (fn. 102) East of the royal buildings and beyond DogKennel Lane lay the old pasture paled in. A portion of this is still called the Park.
The equerries were lodged in Middle Row, opposite Wilson's house. The coach-houses formed a large block on the west side of Kneesworth Street opposite the King's Lodgings. North of them fames had his bowling-green or 'Paradise.' (fn. 103)
James spent nearly £4,000 on his house at Royston between 1603 and 1611 (fn. 104); and in 1610 the Hertfordshire magistrates complained of the inconvenience of carting 500 loads of building material to Royston in the harvest season. (fn. 105) The king was frequently at Royston. In 1617 he was so 'exceedingly well pleased with the air of these parts' that his courtiers suspected he would 'have a more Royston life than ever he had.' (fn. 106) He caused the game to be preserved within a radius of 16 miles, (fn. 107) appointing numerous keepers to guard against poachers and 'persons of base condition' (fn. 108) and also against the scholars of Cambridge. (fn. 109) He appointed also a master of the harriers, three principal huntsmen and four huntsmen in liveries, issued proclamations against the 'audacious and irregular persons' who failed in 'forbearance of their own delight for our desport,' (fn. 110) and even called upon the farmers to take down the high bounds between their lands (fn. 111) and upon neighbouring gentry to diswarren their preserves. (fn. 112) Regular posts were organized from London. (fn. 113) The postmaster, Thomas Haggar, seems to have abused his office by taking more horses than was necessary from poor countrymen. (fn. 114) Another effect of the king's residence at Royston was the extraordinary care bestowed upon the roads, which were cut up by great malt-waggons drawn by teams of horses. (fn. 115) At a later date the roads were endangered by highway robbers. (fn. 116)
Matters of state were occasionally forced upon the king at Royston. The people of the neighbouring parishes petitioned James, when in the hunting-field on 6 November 1604, to encourage faithful pastors. (fn. 117) Shortly before this the country people made use of the king's special hound 'Jowler' to bear a petition that he would leave Royston, as their provision was spent and they were unable to entertain him any longer. (fn. 118) With a 'small train of forty persons' James set out in January 1612–13 for Royston, where he was joined by Prince Charles and the Elector Palatine, and there he signed the agreement for the dower of the Princess Elizabeth. (fn. 119) It was at Royston that the king parted with his favourite, Somerset, (fn. 120) in 1615, and while staying there in October 1618 he caused Raleigh to be executed under the sentence passed against him in 1603. (fn. 121) In March 1619 he lay there dangerously ill (fn. 122) and left the town in a 'Neapolitan portative chair' 24 April. (fn. 123) In October 1623, after the return of Prince Charles and Buckingham from their fruitless journey to Spain, James received them on the stairs at Royston, 'when they fell on their knees and all wept together.' (fn. 124) James dubbed his last knight, Sir Richard Bettenson, at Royston 28 February 1624–5, a month before his death. (fn. 125)
Charles I visited the Court House less frequently than his father, but occasionally stayed there on the way to or from Newmarket. (fn. 126) On his journey to York in 1642 he stayed at Royston from 5 to 7 March, while continuing negotiations with Parliament respecting the militia. (fn. 127) In April 1646 M. Montreuil met the Chancellor of Scotland and others here, and made definite arrangements for the king's reception by the Scottish army. (fn. 128) Apparently the king himself passed through Royston on his way to Newark a few weeks later. (fn. 129) He returned thither as a prisoner of the Parliamentary army in June 1647. (fn. 130) The main body of the army, under the command of Fairfax, Ireton and Cromwell, had preceded the king and was at Royston 10 June, advancing thence to St. Albans. (fn. 131) The townspeople do not appear to have been enthusiastic supporters of the royal cause, (fn. 132) but the 'murthering of their king' roused them to assault a recruiting party from General Ireton's foot which visited Royston fair in 1649, (fn. 133) and in 1651 Thomas Coke confessed that he employed one Major Hall there to urge the people to join with the king if there were occasion. He was aided by Charles Baxton, an innkeeper, and Thomas Turner, both of Royston. (fn. 134) In 1649 the Court House was seized by the Parliament with the other possessions of the Crown, but Philip (Herbert) Earl of Pembroke put in a claim to the lands and buildings formerly belonging to the 'Swan,' with the east part of the new lodgings for visitors, the cock-pit and the dog-house, and also 'that part of the king's lodgings that jutteth out on the east part thereof, being three bays of brick building 50 ft. by 22 ft., containing the king's bedchamber, drawing-room,' &c, with the king's privy garden. (fn. 135) The earl had purchased the 'Swan' in 1621 (fn. 136) from Sir William Russell, kt., treasurer of the Royal Navy, and John Bedell, a merchant of London.
At the death of Charles the buildings, except only the king's and prince's lodgings, were much out of repair, but the commissioners who surveyed them recommended that they should be turned into tenements rather than demolished, and their suggestion seems to have been carried out. (fn. 137) The whole of the Court House seems to have come into the possession of Lewis and William Awdley during the Protectorate. (fn. 138) After the Restoration Edward Chester, lord of the manor, and others laid claim to some part of the buildings. (fn. 139) The King's House, however, was occupied by lessees of the Crown for about a century and a-half. In 1731 it was occupied by John Buxton, attorney. The lessee in 1753 was John Minchin. In 1812 it was purchased by John Stamford, carpenter, whose son John bequeathed it in succession to his nephews John Whyatt and Samuel Luke of New Zealand. (fn. 140) The Crown rights had all been sold by 1866. (fn. 141)
Just north of the site of the king's Dog House is Chapel Field, (fn. 142) recently proved to be the site of an ancient burial-ground. (fn. 143) Here apparently stood the hospital and chantry chapel of St. Nicholas, which was founded for lepers early in the 13th century (fn. 144) on land held of Wendy Manor, co. Cambs., by the service of maintaining a lamp in Wendy Church. It consisted of a chapel and lodgings for the lepers. (fn. 145) Its founder, Ralph son of Ralph son of Fulk, (fn. 146) gave the advowson of the hospital to Giles Argentine, lord of Melbourn Manor, (fn. 147) in which parish the chapel was apparently situated.
The Congregational chapel in Kneesworth Street originated in the secession of the 'New Meeting' from the 'Old Meeting' in 1791. (fn. 148) The building, erected in 1792, has since been altered and enlarged. (fn. 149) There was a considerable Quaker community in Royston from 1655 onwards. (fn. 150) Tombstones still mark the site of their meeting-place at the back of the houses on the east side of Kneesworth Street. (fn. 151)
The town has spread northwards in the direction of the station on the Cambridge branch of the Great Northern railway, opened in 1850. (fn. 152) In this neighbourhood is the Wesleyan chapel, erected in 1887. (fn. 153) Here are also the nurseries of Mr. J. C. Pigg, a corn mill and large makings. Eastwards at some distance from the Cross along Melbourn Street is the town hall built in 1855 as a Mechanics' Institute. (fn. 154) Westwards the town extends to the union workhouse, built in 1835. The poorhouse for Royston formerly stood near the Warren, south of the marketplace.
The position of the town on the borders of two counties made it the scene of much crime and disorder, which the Prior of Royston, who had considerable jurisdiction within the town, failed to check Robert of Bures and others carried off the goods of the prior himself in 1314. (fn. 155) Cases of assault at Royston were frequent during the 13th and 14th centuries. (fn. 156) Breaches of the Statute of Northampton were daily committed, and the offenders escaped arrest by the king's officers by fleeing from one county to another, while their number and confederacy made them too strong for the bailiffs of the prior, (fn. 157) whose liberty extended into both counties. (fn. 158) The ringleaders of the 'Murdrisours de Croysroys' (fn. 159) were Richard 'Howessone' the Marshal, of Royston, and John his son. (fn. 160) In 1337 a separate commission of the peace was formed for the town of Royston. (fn. 161) Three years later Warin of Bassingbourn, the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, entering the town armed, seized and carried off Simon Bakoun 'sitting in the stocks in the Tolbothe.' An affray followed in which the sheriff's bailiff wounded 'Simon le Irenmonger' of Royston. The prior seems to have tried to preserve his liberties by buying off the sheriff, (fn. 162) who was, nevertheless, included in a new commission of the peace for Royston in 1341, (fn. 163) and appointed to attach Richard the Marshal in 1342. (fn. 164) The commission was renewed from time to time. (fn. 165) In 1437 the Crown released to the priory the goods of felons and fugitives in Royston and the prior at the same time received the royal pardon for the escape of prisoners. (fn. 166)
The town has suffered much by fire. It is said to have been burnt in 1324. (fn. 167) A great fire broke out in 1405 on the feast of the Translation of St. Martin. (fn. 168) Another serious fire occurred 22 March 1734. (fn. 169)
Royston appears to have been visited by Henry III, (fn. 170) Edward I, (fn. 171) Edward III (fn. 172) and Richard II. (fn. 173) Richard Duke of York and the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury sent from here, 20 May 1455, their manifesto demanding the dismissal of Somerset. (fn. 174)
In the summer of 1553 John Cooke, carpenter, and other Royston men made 'commocion at Royston' and were bidden as well 'to leave of their assemblies as having just occasion against any man to come up and give information to the Council.' (fn. 175)
The priory to the south of Melhourn Street was founded within the manor of Newsells in Barkway parish. (fn. 176) Eustace de Merk, kt., lord of Newsells, built a chapel for three chaplains on the site of the present priory. (fn. 177) His nephew Ralph of Rochester established a house of Austin canons on the same spot. (fn. 178) It was dedicated in honour of St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas the Martyr. Ralph of Rochester erected the buildings and gave the land on which they stood, the soil of the inclosed precinct, the green space (probably heathland) extending from the priory gate to 'Holewey' and 'Cawden,' 140 acres of arable land in 'Eldefeld,' rights of pasture over all the rest of Eldefeld and the homage and service of his men and tenants there and in Royston. (fn. 179) The endowment took place within the lifetime of Eustace, between 1163 and 1184. (fn. 180) William of Rochester, the founder's son, added 40 acres more in 'Eldefield,' extending from the path from Barley to Royston, next the canons' mill. (fn. 181) The Popes Lucius III and Celestine III confirmed their possessions to the canons. (fn. 182) Richard I granted them extensive liberties within their lands. (fn. 183) Successive priors obtained confirmatory charters from Henry III, (fn. 184) Edward III, (fn. 185) Richard II, (fn. 186) Henry IV, (fn. 187) Henry V, (fn. 188) Henry VI (fn. 189) and Edward IV. (fn. 190) The house now known as the Priory was possibly part of the house erected on the site of the priory after the Dissolution. There is some 17th-century brickwork on the south-west side.
The charter of Ralph of Rochester proves that the greater part of Royston originally lay within the manor of Newsells in Barkway. The latter was held in 1086 by Eudo Fitz Hubert. (fn. 191) It was attached later to the honour of Boulogne, (fn. 192) of which it was held by Eustace de Merk and subsequently by his nephew Ralph of Rochester. (fn. 193) Ralph endowed the Priors of Royston with manorial rights over the lands which he granted to them. (fn. 194)
The manor of ROYSTON thus formed was retained by the priors until the dissolution of their house, (fn. 195) which took place in 1536. (fn. 196) The priory buildings, the demesne lands and the scattered lands in 'Elfeld Clepitsholte Redfeld Tharfeld Milbournefeld and Newsells' were leased to Robert Chester before Michaelmas 1537. The market rights were let for twenty-one years to Richard Cromwell, who acted also as steward of the manor, (fn. 197) and was probably the person by whose 'importunate labours' Dr. Wendy, physician to the Earl of Northumberland, was prevented from obtaining a lease of the demesnes and market rights. (fn. 198)
Robert Chester had a new lease of the priory 20 May 1539, (fn. 199) and in 1540 he received a grant in fee of the house and site of the priory, the lordship and manor of Royston and all the lands of the late prior in the counties of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. (fn. 200) He was gentleman usher of the chamber to Henry VIII and in July 1544 left Royston with twenty-five archers, who formed the king's bodyguard when he left Calais for the siege of Boulogne. (fn. 201)
In 1551 Chester (who was knighted about this date) (fn. 202) entertained Mary of Guise at Royston on her return to Scotland from France. (fn. 203) In 1565 he served as Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire. (fn. 204) In November 1564 there took place at Royston a double marriage between Sir Robert Chester, then a widower, and Lady Magdalene, widow of Sir Jaques Granada, kt., and between Sir Robert's son and heir Edward and Katherine daughter of the Lady Magdalene by her former husband. (fn. 205) At the same time Royston was settled upon Edward and Katherine in tail-male. (fn. 206) Sir Robert Chester died 2 5 November 1574. (fn. 207) Shortly afterwards Edward Chester, 'getting greate credytt in respect of his good service' in the Low Countries, received an annuity from the Estates of 400 marks to himself and his eldest son for life. He died 25 November 1577 beyond the seas, having transported a band of volunteers to the Netherlands at his own cost. (fn. 208) His son and heir Robert was then aged twelve. (fn. 209) He had livery of Royston Manor about 1586, (fn. 210) and was engaged in continual litigation in respect of the annuity due to his grandmother Lady Magdalene, the extent of the possessions of the late priory and the market rights of Royston. (fn. 211) He was knighted in 1603 by James I, (fn. 212) whom he had entertained upon his first journey to London from Edinburgh. (fn. 213)
Sir Robert Chester resided at Cockenhatch in Barkway, (fn. 214) and died in 1640, having settled Royston Manor upon his son Edward, who married Katherine daughter of John Stone of London. (fn. 215) The manor evidently passed to their second son John. (fn. 216) His son Edward was Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1675 and died in his year of office. (fn. 217) He was succeeded by his son Robert, (fn. 218) whose son Edward Chester (fn. 219) sold the manor in 1759 to Thomas Plumer Byde of Ware Park. (fn. 220)
Royston was purchased in 1770 by Thomas Brand and bequeathed by him to his grandson Thomas (Brand) Lord Dacre. (fn. 221) His heir was his brother Henry Otway (Trevor) Lord Dacre, whose second son Sir Henry-Bouverie-William Brand was created Viscount Hampden. His grandson Thomas Walter, Viscount Hampden, is the present lord of the manor. (fn. 222)
The Priors of Royston claimed by prescription view of frankpledge, gallows, tumbril and amendment of the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 223) Under the charter of Richard I they had within their manor of Royston soc, sac, tol, tern, infangthef, utfangthef, hamsac, grithbriche, bloodwite, murder, forestall, flemaniswite, ordeal and orest. (fn. 224) They and their men were quit of scot, geld and aids, shires, hundreds, &c. (fn. 225) Their jurisdiction was therefore very extensive; but their failure to enforce order in the 13th and 14th centuries has been seen. Confirmation of their liberties was made in February 1271–2, (fn. 226) and in 1278 their claims were again acknowledged. (fn. 227)
A court leet for certain of the tenants of the honour of Clare in Cambridgeshire was held at Royston, (fn. 228) but Richard de Clare Earl of Gloucester and patron of Royston Priory had only one tenant in the town at his death in 1262. (fn. 229) The courts were held throughout the 15th century (fn. 230) and descended to Edward IV as grandson of Anne wife of the Earl of Cambridge and direct descendant of Elizabeth de Burgh, one of the three sisters and co-heirs of Gilbert de Clare Earl of Gloucester, slain at Bannockburn in 1314. (fn. 231) Edward assigned the court at Royston to his mother Cicely in dower. (fn. 232) It was apparently extinct by the beginning of the 17th century. (fn. 233)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST (fn. 234) consists of chancel 34 ft. 6 in. by 22 ft., north vestry and organ chamber, nave 70 ft. 6 in. by 22 ft., north aisle 58 ft. by 14 ft. 6 in., south aisle 86 ft. by 13 ft. 6 in., west tower 20 ft. 6 in. from north to south and 14 ft. from east to west; all internal dimensions. The walls are of clunch and rubble, with modern flint facing and stone dressings. The present church consists mainly of the chancel and quire of the monastic church, with later additions. In 1600 the justices of the peace certified that the church was 'utterly ruinated and fallen downe to the ground,' whereupon the Privy Council gave licence for collections to be made for its rebuilding. (fn. 235)
The history of the church is a little difficult to trace owing to the alterations and re-use of old materials after the dissolution of the monastery, but the original church appears to have consisted of a chancel which was lighted by the triple lancets, parts of which remain in the north and south walls, the chancel arch being at the second pier west of the modern chancel arch, (fn. 236) and a quire of probably two bays, of which those on the south side still remain. The quire screen may have stood at the west of these two bays, the remains of a turret stair (fn. 237) having been discovered in the south wall opposite that point. Another bay, perhaps similar to the others, or of solid walling, was interposed between the quire screen and the central tower. There is evidence that a central tower, with at least a south transept, existed, the present tower being in almost the same position as the old one.
The lower part of the old clunch wall of the south nave aisle still exists, and is continued eastwards with only one break as far as the west wall of the present south aisle in a line with the east face of the present tower. The break is a projecting impost which probably carried the arch between the south aisle and the transept, and if so it marks the western face of the old tower, and the dimensions show that it was square, not oblong as at present. In the rebuilding of the tower the west face appears to have been built about 7 ft. east of the old one, the other sides remaining as before.
The chancel, vestry and organ chamber were built in 1891, and at the same time the south aisle was lengthened eastwards about 27 ft. In the chancel wall has been reset the sill of a 13th-century piscina with octofoil basin.
The nave, which consists of the chancel and quire of the old church, was built c. 1250. At the east end are the remains of the triple lancet windows in the north and south walls. In the north wall the eastern window alone remains, the bases and capitals of which have been restored. In the south wall are portions of three arches with some of the capitals; these are partly built up and the lower portions have been cut away to allow of the insertion of arcade arches beneath them. The windows have moulded arches enriched with the dog-tooth ornament; the jambs have clustered shafts and moulded capitals and bases. The north arcade consists of four plain pointed arches, the wall above being only 1 ft. 6 in. thick. The imposts and two of the supporting piers are octagonal with moulded capitals, probably modern; the central pier, which is of 14th-century character and is of greater diameter than the others, is composed of four large half-round shafts separated by smaller ones; it has a moulded capital similar to the others, which is probably modern. The north arcade appears to have been rebuilt during the 17th century, the middle pier being all that remained of the old arcade. The south arcade is of five arches. The eastern arch and central pier are modern; the second arch is of three hollow-chamfered orders with moulded labels of 14th-century character; the next two arches apparently formed the original quire and retain their old responds with a little plain walling at either end. The arches consist of three hollow chamfers with moulded labels, the jambs of large clustered shafts separated by acutely pointed rolls; the capitals and bases are moulded. The date of this arcade is c. 1250–60. There is a piece of wall about 6 ft. in length, including the imposts, between this arcade of two arches and the westernmost arch of the nave, and the western end of the wall has been roughly thinned down to make it fit the imposts and arch of the westernmost opening, which is only 8 ft. wide. The imposts are of the same section as the old central pier in the north arcade and look as if they had been detached piers before they were inserted in their present position. (fn. 238) The moulded capitals of these imposts are of the same section as those of the adjoining two bays, but the arch moulding is of an earlier period, probably about 1240. There can be little doubt but that this arch was inserted when the tower was rebuilt about 1600 of old materials. The clearstory window above the arch was probably also inserted at that period or later. There are two small clearstory lights on the north side.
The roof of the nave has moulded trusses and carved bosses and is probably of early 16th-century work. (fn. 239)
The stonework of the three-light window in the east wall of the north aisle and of the four two-light windows in the north wall is modern; the second window from the east is inserted in a partially blocked archway which opened into a former chapel; the arch is of two orders, the inner one a hollow chamfer, the outer one moulded with undercut rolls; the jambs have clustered shafts with rolls between, like the central pier in the north arcade, and the capitals are moulded. It appears to be of 14th-century work, but has been restored. There is a break back of 8 in. in the north wall adjoining this arch. The west doorway is modern. Parts of the aisle roof are of 15th-century timbers re-used. In one of the windows are some fragments of 15th-century painted glass. All the windows in the south aisle are of modern stonework, and the west door is modern; a doorway in the south wall is blocked. The roof is a plain one of 15th-century date.
The tower is in three stages with crocketed pinnacles at the angles. It has been refaced with flint, and all the stonework of the west door, belfry windows and battlements is modern. The wide tower arch has been rebuilt with 14th-century materials, the section of the mouldings corresponding with that of the second arch from the east in the south arcade; the responds, which are semi-octagonal, and the moulded capitals are of 16th-century date; the arch has been roughly built. It is clear that the whole tower was rebuilt in the 16th century, (fn. 240) old materials being re-used in parts. It is probable, as before suggested, that the tower was square originally and rested on large piers, but no trace of them is now visible. At the eastern end of the old south nave wall the upper part of an arched recess appears above the ground: it was probably a tomb. Adjoining it on the east is the head of another recess about 3 ft. wide, possibly a piscina.
The old font has recently been placed in the churchyard, after being for many years in private hands; it has a plain octagonal bowl of the 13th century and a 15th-century stem with a plain arched recess in each face.
A fine 15th-century oak panelled and carved dour, until lately in the west doorway, is now in the belfry; it appears to have been the original door of the church, but has been considerably damaged.
The tower walls on the ground floor have been lined with 17th-century oak panelling taken from old pews.
The pulpit has a stone base composed of parts of an old panelled tomb, the pulpit itself, as well as two reading desks, being made up from a fine 15th-century oak screen which was discovered during the 19th century; it is said to have fitted the second arch from the east in the south nave arcade.
Two badly damaged images of alabaster were found during restoration and are now in the chancel; one is of the Virgin and Child: the figure of the Virgin is headless and in the left hand of the Child is a bird; the other is the figure of a bishop with head and pastoral staff broken away. They are of the 15th century. (fn. 241)
Under a modern recess in the south wall of the chancel is the recumbent effigy of a knight, in alabaster, of the 14th century, clad in plate armour with a surcoat.
On a stone slab now beneath the communion table is a long brass cross on stepped base; it is incised with a Bleeding Heart and the other four Wounds of the Passion, and is probably of 15th-century date. In the nave is a brass with figures of a man and his wife, with indent of a second wife; there is no inscription, but it dates from about 1500; another brass has a half figure of a priest in hood and tippet, under a cusped and crocketed canopy, to William Tabram, rector of Therfield, 1462. On the east wall of the north aisle are three brass inscriptions: to William Chamber, who died in 1546; to Robert White, Prior of Royston, who died 1534; the third bears a verse in English, but neither name nor date; it probably dates from about 1500.
There are six bells: four by Thomas Lester, 1739, and two recast by John Taylor, 1901.
The communion plate consists of a cup of 1621, an elaborately chased paten of 1629, another paten of 1718, a modern flagon and a plated chalice.
The registers are in three books: (i) baptisms from 1662 to 1812, burials 1662 to 1678, marriages 1662 to 1754; (ii) burials 1678 to 1812; (iii) marriages 1754 to 1812.
The canons at Royston built a chapel with a burial-place attached possibly between 1164 and 1179. (fn. 242) The lack of a separate parish church for so considerable a town was thus 'little prejudicial' to the inhabitants while the priory existed. Soon after its dissolution they bought the priory church 'to their great charges.' By Act of Parliament the town, which had formerly been in five different parishes, was in 1540 constituted a distinct parish within the diocese of London. (fn. 243) The vicar was to have tithes, offerings and oblations except tithe of corn, hay, wool, lambs and calves, which were reserved to the incumbents of the five original parishes. (fn. 244) The king was patron, the advowson being attached to the priory manor, then in his hands. The advowson is not specifically mentioned in the grant of the manor to Robert Chester, (fn. 245) but it evidently passed under it. It continued in the possession of the successive lords until 1891, when it was transferred to the bishop of the diocese. (fn. 246)
A chantry for the soul of Richard de Stamford, clerk of the Exchequer, was founded about 1290 and endowed by him with certain houses in Fleet Street, London. (fn. 250)
In the Parliamentary Returns of 1786 it is stated that — Chester gave a rent-charge of £5 4s. per annum for bread to the poor. This sum is paid out of the manor of Royston and is distributed in bread by the vicar and churchwardens.
In 1609 Robert Warden left a yearly sum of £2 12s. out of a tenement in St. Peter Cornhill, London, to be distributed in bread every Sunday to the poor. The property charged with this payment now belongs to the Merchant Taylors' Company, and the annuity is regularly received from them and distributed in bread.
In 1687 Sir Thomas Foot, by his will proved 17 November, gave an assignment of £42 of Exchequer annuities for the benefit of the poor of certain parishes, including the parish of Royston. The endowment of the charity for Royston has come to be represented by £56 4s. 6d. £2 10s. per cent. annuities, producing £l 8s. yearly, which is distributed in bread to the poor every week.
The charity of William Lee, founded by will dated 8 October 1527, is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commission dated 30 June 1893. The property consists of two shops and dwelling-houses in Royston, producing £55 yearly; a barn and yard in Royston producing £8 yearly; and a sum of £598 4s. India 3 per cent. stock with the official trustees, representing accumulations of income and producing £17 18s. 8d. yearly. The net income is applied in accordance with the scheme in subscriptions to Herts. Convalescent Home, Royston Nursing Association, Addenbrooke's Hospital and Royston Cottage Hospital; in assistance to invalids in hospitals, and in exhibitions to children from public elementary schools.
In 1689 Joseph Wortham by his will gave 30s. yearly out of his messuage in Royston to the poor, 20s. thereof to be distributed in bread at Candlemas to poor widowers and widows of Royston, and 10s. to widowers and widows of Barley. The sum of 26s. out of the Falcon Inn, Royston, is received yearly in respect of this gift and distributed in bread.
In 1851 Lester Brand by his will gave a sum of money now represented by £434 15s. 9d. consols with the official trustees, producing £10 17s. 4d. yearly, which is applied in the purchase of coal and blankets for the poor.
In 1834 Mrs. Mary Barfield, by her will proved in the P.C.C. on 26 November, bequeathed part of her residuary personal estate for the maintenance and support of the almshouses situate at Bassingbourn and founded by her in 1833 for poor widows of sixty years and upwards inhabitants of Royston. The endowment consists of £4,022 4s. 4d. India 3 per cent. stock in the name of the official trustees, and producing £120 13s. 4d. yearly. The almshouses are now eight in number, and each inmate receives 5s. weekly and one ton of coal yearly.
The charity of Mrs. Sarah Ellen Pyne, for the general purposes of Royston Cottage Hospital, founded by will proved at London 13 June 1899, is regulated by a scheme of the Court of Chancery dated 24 March 1903. The endowment consists of a sum of £5,420 1s. 2d. consols with the official trustees, producing £135 10s. yearly.
The same testatrix by her will also founded a charity for the benefit of Royston Nursing Association. This charity is regulated by the scheme above mentioned. The endowment consists of a sum of £542 consols with the official trustees, producing £13 11s. yearly, which is applied towards the salary of a district nurse.
The same scheme also directed that a sum of consols equivalent at the price of the day to £1,000 sterling should out of the residuary estate of Mrs. Sarah Ellen Pyne be applied in providing a site for, and building, a mission room for the parish of Royston.