Parishes: Swineshead

Pages 104-108

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1936.

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In this section


Suineshefet (1086); Swynesheved (xiii cent.); Swineshead (xvi cent.).

Swineshead was formerly a detached part of Huntingdonshire, to which county historically it belongs, but in 1888 it was transferred to Bedfordshire.

There are 1,353½ acres in the parish. The soil is loam and gravel, and the subsoil mainly blue galt. The chief crops grown are wheat, barley, beans and peas. The surface is undulating and is between 139 and 236 ft. above Ordnance datum, the village itself standing at about 155 ft.

The parish is well wooded, Swineshead and Spanoak Woods in the northern portion covering a considerable area. There is also a small wood called Tarbags in the south-east, forming a part of Melchbourne Park.

The village is in the middle of the parish and the houses of which it consists are mostly old, the Three Horseshoes Inn dating from the early 17th century. The cottages are of brick and timber, with tiled and thatched roofs. The present Rectory, a modern building, is on the south of the road as it enters the village from the west. The former Rectory, now used as a farmhouse, is an ancient plastered building of brick and timber opposite the church. When it was undergoing restoration in 1846 a copy of the Solemn League and Covenant (signed by the then rector of Swineshead) was discovered in the roof, where perhaps it may have been hidden by the cautious rector of the time. (fn. 1)

The Manor Farm is new, but in a field adjacent is a 16th-century brick building, now converted into cottages, with traces of. a moat. There is another moat ¼ mile north of the church. (fn. 2)

Swineshead was inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1803. (fn. 3)


In 1086 the men of Huntingdonshire swore that King Edward gave SWINESHEAD to Earl Siward of Northumbria (c. 1055) with sake and soke, 'save that (the men) paid geld in the hundred and went against the enemy with them.' This entry is of high importance, for it suggests that the men of an immunist would normally pay their geld in his manor as well as follow his banner to the fyrd. Instead of passing to Waltheof son of Siward, it would seem that this property became annexed as sokeland to Earl Harold's manor of Kimbolton, and in 1086 3½ hides were held of that soke, then in the possession of William de Warenne, by a certain Eustace, who is probably the well-known Sheriff of Huntingdonshire. (fn. 4)

Bohun of Hereford. Azure a bend argent cotised or between six lions or.

Eustace the Sheriff also held, but in chief of the king, another half hide of sokeland in Swineshead (fn. 5) formerly held by Fursa. His successors, the Lovetots, however, held nothing in Swineshead. The smaller holding disappears as a separate unit and was probably merged in the Warennes' manor. (fn. 6) Swineshead continued to form part of the honour of Kimbolton (q.v.), its overlordship consequently passing in 1236 to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex. (fn. 7) In 1293, in consequence of the outlawry of the sub-tenant in the previous year, the manor escheated to another Earl Humphrey, (fn. 8) who held it in demesne.

No sub-tenant under Eustace appears in Domesday Book as holding the 3½ hides, but his half hide was held in demesne by one Ralph, (fn. 9) who may well have been the ancestor of a family, taking their name from the manor, who held it in demesne as one knight's fee in the 12th and 13th centuries. The first known tenant was Sir Ralph de Swineshead, who held Swineshead in 1166, (fn. 10) and he may be identified as the benefactor of Chicksand Priory (Beds), whose grants in Swineshead were confirmed to the priory by Henry II, between 1163 and 1179. (fn. 11) His son and heir Walter was associated with him in his charters and was probably identical with the Walter who appears amongst the forest trespassers in 1176. (fn. 12) He or a succeeding Sir Walter de Swineshead appears amongst the county knights summoned for a grand assize in 1207 and 1208. (fn. 13) The next tenant was apparently Ralph de Swineshead, mentioned in 1230, (fn. 14) whose son and heir Walter confirmed various benefactions of land and wood in his fee, made in 1236 by his tenants to St. Mary's Priory, Huntingdon. (fn. 15) He seems to have been living in 1256. (fn. 16) His widow Joan gave up her rights of dower in the lands of St. Mary's Priory and his son and heir Ralph confirmed the grants. (fn. 17) This Sir Ralph de Swineshead was living in 1272, (fn. 18) but he died before 1276, when his son and heir Walter was a minor, the wardship of whose lands and marriage belonged to his overlord, the Earl of Hereford and Essex. (fn. 19) The Earl demised the wardship to Geoffrey de Skistington (Skeffington), who then granted it to Sir Ralph's widow Isabel de 'Erthedekene.' She in turn sold the wardship to Sir William de Castre for 4 years, presumably until the end of Walter's minority, and also included her dower and all the goods and chattels in the manor in the sale. (fn. 20) The Swineshead family had connections with Ireland, (fn. 21) where Isabel and her son seem to have gone. (fn. 22) Isabel, however, retained her dower in Swineshead and had a lawsuit with other tenants of the manor in 1289. (fn. 23) Her second husband may have been the William le 'Arcedekne' who was Walter's attorney in Ireland in 1291. (fn. 24) She was then returning to Ireland, but Walter remained in England and apparently died soon afterwards. Before 1294 his widow Emma had married Michael, son of John de Hibernia, and they gave up her dower in Swineshead to their overlord. (fn. 25) Walter's successor was Robert de Swineshead, perhaps his brother, though his exact relationship does not appear, but in 1292 he was outlawed for felony and the manor was taken into the king's hands for a year and a day. (fn. 26) At the end of this time it was restored to his overlord, the Earl of Hereford and Essex, who held it in demesne. (fn. 27) In 1294 the Earl, on his departure for Gascony on the king's service, granted it (here assessed at 2 carucates) for life to Bartholomew de Enfield, who was accompanying him. (fn. 28)

Swineshead. Gules three boars' beads argent cut off at the neck and set fessewise.

Bohun of Northampton. Azure a bend argent cotised or between six lions or with three molets gules on the bend.

The reversion of the manor was conveyed in 1315 by the said Humphrey to his son William de Bohun, afterwards Earl of Northampton, (fn. 29) who granted it for life to Sir Adam de Sweneburn in 1345; (fn. 30) on William's death in 1360 it reverted under the terms of the grant to his brother Humphrey, who died the next year. (fn. 31) The manor has since followed the descent of Kimbolton (q.v.), being granted with it in 1615 (fn. 32) to Sir Henry Montagu, afterwards Earl of Manchester, and it has remained in the possession of the Dukes of Manchester to the present day.

Montagu. Quarterly: 1 and 4, Argent a fesse indented of three fusils gules in a border sable; 2 and 3, Or an eagle vert.

In the 12th century Ralph de Swineshead and his son and heir Walter granted the chapel of St. John of Swineshead and a mill there to the Gilbertine priory at Chicksand (Beds). His charter was confirmed by Henry II, between 1163 and 1179, and was produced by the prior of Chicksand in a lawsuit in 1403 as to the taxation due from the temporalities of his house. (fn. 33) The chapel apparently had disappeared by 1279, when the priory held 80 acres of arable and 4 acres of pasture. (fn. 34) In 1535 its possessions were valued at 30s. a year. (fn. 35) In 1236 Nicholas Lenfant or Le Child of Swineshead gave all his lands and tenements there to the Priory of St. Mary, Huntingdon, to hold of him by the service of giving a pair of spurs yearly. (fn. 36) The grant was confirmed by Walter, son and heir of Ralph Swineshead, who made additional grants of common rights, (fn. 37) and by Peter de Lekeburn, who appears to have had rights of common in Nicholas's (fn. 38) wood and assart, in right of his tenements in Hardwick. Probably somewhat later, William de Wald granted to the priory the wood in the forest of Swineshead which Sir Walter de Swineshead had granted to him, (fn. 39) and confirmations were made by later members of the Swineshead family and their tenants (fn. 40) and by two of their overlords, the Earls of Hereford and Essex. (fn. 41) In 1279 the priory held 40 acres of arable and 5 acres of wood, (fn. 42) and at the Dissolution its property was valued at 30s. a year; (fn. 43) it also obtained 3s. 4d. a year on an average by the sale of underwood.

Swineshead was within the metes of the king's forest of Huntingdonshire. (fn. 44) As mentioned above, Walter de Swineshead was in 1176 fined 2 marks for trespassing therein. (fn. 45) King John granted the 'forest of Swineshead' with all foreign rights to Geoffrey Fitz Piers, Earl of Essex. (fn. 46) In 1279 the wood that formed part of the demesne of Swineshead manor was stated to be a league in circumference, while different free tenants held 42 acres of wood in all. (fn. 47) An annual forest court called 'Swanimote' was appurtenant to the manor and was usually held in Hardwick wood. (fn. 48) William de Bohun, afterwards Earl of Northampton, was granted rights of free warren in his demesne lands in Swineshead in 1328. (fn. 49)

Plan of Swineshead Church


The church of ST. NICHOLAS consists of a chancel (23¾ ft. by 13¾ ft.), nave (42½ ft. by 14¾ ft.), north aisle with vestry (45½ ft. by 8¼ ft.), south aisle (44 ft. by 8 ft.), west tower (7½ ft. by 7½ ft.) and south porch. The walls are of coursed rubble with some pebble rubble, and with stone dressings; and the roofs are covered with stone slates, tiles and lead.

The church is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, 1086, but there was a rector here before 1271. The whole church seems to have been rebuilt during the 14th century, beginning with the chancel about 1330, and about the same time the nave with its south aisle and porch; the north aisle with the base of a tower at its west end followed about ten years later, but the proposed tower was almost immediately abandoned in favour of one at the west end of the nave. Towards the end of the 15th century a clearstory was added to the nave, a vestry added at the east end of the north aisle, with a chamber above it, and a narrow slip-way communicating with the chancel. At the same time the chancel arch was widened, rood-stairs built on the south side, and a rood-screen and loft erected.

The nave roof was repaired in 1706 and in 1841. (fn. 50) A general restoration seems to have gone on from 1847 to 1853. (fn. 51) The tower and spire were again repaired in 1907.

The chancel, c. 1330, has, in the east wall, a threelight window with ancient splays and rear-arch but modern outer jambs, mullions and tracery under a two-centred head; on either side of the window are brackets supported on carved heads. The north wall has two two-light windows with modern jambs and tracery under two-centred heads; a 14th-century tomb recess with two-centred arch, cusped and subcusped and having carved spandrels; a late 15thcentury shouldered doorway formed in the recess and opening into the narrow passage.

The south wall has two windows similar to those in the north wall, except that the western has retained its original tracery and some of its painted glass; a trefoiled piscina formed in the eastern splay of the easternmost window, and two graduated seats formed in the inner sill of the same window; a square-headed low-side window; and a plain doorway with a twocentred head of two continuous chamfered orders. All the windows have internal jambshafts with carved capitals and moulded rear-arches. The east gable has been raised to suit the modern high-pitched roof.

The chancel arch, c. 1330, has a large chamfered lower order, and a much smaller outer order, the former resting on quaintly carved corbels; it was originally two-centred, but has been reset and distorted to span the full width of the chancel.

The 14th-century nave has a north arcade, c. 1340, of three bays having two-centred arches of two chamfered orders. The two eastern arches rest upon an octagonal column with moulded capital and base, and similar semi-octagonal respond shafts. The second pier is a wall pier, evidently intended as the south-east pier of a north-west tower, for it has the springing of an arch on its north side. The western arch, probably intended as the south arch of the tower, is similar to the others and rests on similar semioctagonal respond shafts. High up at the extreme east end of the wall is a shouldered doorway leading from the rood-loft to the former chamber over the vestry. The south arcade, c. 1330, has three similar arches carried on two octagonal columns and similar responds, all with moulded capitals and bases. At the extreme east end is the square-headed upper doorway of the rood-stairs.

The late 14th-century clearstory has on each side four square-headed two-light windows with very simple tracery. The contemporary roof has been much repaired, and bears the inscription 'i.h.w.d. 1706' on its western beam, and the date '1841' on its eastern beam.

The north aisle, c. 1340, has, in the north wall, three windows, each of two trefoiled ogee-headed lights with cusped spandrels under a square head; a doorway with a two-centred head of two continuous moulded orders; and a plain rectangular locker. In the south wall, just east of the arcade, is a small piscina with projecting basin broken off. (fn. 52) The outer wall of the western bay, together with the west wall, is very thick, and was evidently intended as the base of a tower which, however, was never built. In the west wall is a 15th-century square-headed two-light window. The plain pent-roof is probably of late 15th-century date. The late 15th-century eastern extension of the aisle, which apparently formed a vestry and chamber over it, has a blocked fireplace in its north wall; the east wall of both upper and lower rooms has a 15th-century single-light window. There is no structural division between it and the aisle.

From the south-east corner a low narrow passage runs outside the north wall of the chancel, below the window sill, and communicates, by the doorway in the tomb recess, with the chancel; it has a modern brick vault, but a stone roof; and there is a small quatrefoiled opening in the north wall.

The south aisle, c. 1330, has no east window, but there is a canopied niche in the east wall, now hidden by the organ. The south wall has three two-light windows with flowing tracery under a two-centred head; a doorway with a two-centred head of two continuous chamfered orders; and a small piscina in the inner sill of the easternmost window. In the west wall is a 15th-century square-headed two-light window. The original pent-roof has moulded purlins; on the lead is the inscription 'w. ashling, plumber, glazier, kimbolton, 1812.'

The south wall of the chancel, the south aisle and the porch have plain parapets with string-courses enriched with flowers, ball flowers, faces and a running stem.

The mid 14th-century tower has a two-centred tower arch of three chamfered orders all dying into the walls. The west doorway has a two-centred arch of one continuous moulded order; it stands under a shallow porch mostly formed in the thickness of the wall, having a two-centred outer arch of one continuous moulded order under a weathered and battlement-moulded gable between two pinnacles, and having a small niche in the spandrel above the arch. (fn. 53) The 14th-century oak door has flowing tracery in its head. The west window is a three-light, but the mullions and tracery are modern. The ground story of the tower has been vaulted. In the next stage there is a single-light window with tracery under a square head in the west wall; a modern square opening, on to the nave roof, in the east wall; and above this opening, slightly to the south, a doorway with a two-centred head, apparently giving access to the flat top of a former high-pitched but flat-topped roof; and plain square-headed single-light windows in the side walls. The belfry windows are coupled two-lights with flowing tracery in two-centred heads. The tower has square buttresses set in from the angles, terminating below the string-course under the belfry windows; it is finished with a parapet of pierced quatrefoils in circles, below which is a moulded string-course with bold gargoyles at the angles. Behind the parapet rises an octagonal stone spire with two tiers of spire-lights on the cardinal faces, the lower tier being two-lights with tracery under gabled heads, and the upper tier single-lights. The height from the ground to the top of the spire is 92 ft. The stairs are in the south-west corner.

The porch, c. 1330, has a two-centred outer arch of two chamfered orders, the lower order carried on semi-octagonal attached shafts with moulded capitals. Above it is a small ogee-headed niche. The side walls each have a small square-headed single-light window. Above the inner doorway is a small niche.

The late 16th-century font has an irregular octagonal bowl with coarsely moulded undercoving, on a plain octagonal stem and base.

There are five bells, inscribed (1, 2 and 3) 1629; (4) Johannes Dier hanc campanam fecit; (5) 1629. The fourth is a poor bell and the inscription is in late black-letter; there is a bell with the same inscription at Everton (Tetworth), Hunts. The other four are by James Keene of Woodstock (1622–1654). In 1552 there were three bells, (fn. 54) but there were five in 1709. (fn. 55)

The 15th-century oak screen consists of five bays, the central doorway having an ogee archway with two tracery panels above it; the side bays have twocentred arches with rich tracery and are subdivided by a central mullion. The close lower panels are divided into two by a mullion, and have traceried heads with some traces of colour decoration, on the south, but those on the north have been destroyed. The chancel stalls are nearly all modern, but incorporate some 16th-century arms and moulded misericords.

On the chancel floor is a slab, perhaps removed from the tomb recess, with marginal inscription in Lombardic letters: '+ richard aytrop gist ic[i] di[ev] [d]e sal[m]e e[y]t [m]erci amen.' There is also part of a 14th-century coffin-lid with an incised cross.

There are the following monuments: in the chancel, floor slab to William Islip, d. 1755; and glass window to the Rev. William Airy, Rector, d. 1874. In the nave, floor slab to Mary, daughter of William and Mary Islip, d. 1734;. . . wife of William Islip, d. 1744 (?). In south aisle, to Samuel Bass, d. 1885.

The older registers are deposited at the Bedford County Record Office. They are as follows: (i) baptisms, marriages and burials 1550 to 1712; (ii) the same 1713 to 1755; (iii) the same 1756 to 1812; (iv) marriages 1754 to 1812.

The church plate (fn. 56) consists of a small Elizabethan silver cup inscribed 'The Towne of Swineshead,' no hall-marks; a plated paten.


The earliest mention of the advowson of Swineshead occurs in 1279, (fn. 57) when it was the property of Ralph de Swineshead. The descent has always followed that of the manor. The value of the church in 1291 was £4 13s. 4d. (fn. 58) In 1428 it was taxed at 7 marks, (fn. 59) and in 1535 the rectory was valued at £13 3s. 2d. (fn. 60)

It is probable that the church underwent repair towards the end of the 14th century, as Bishop Buckingham notes a charge against some of the parishioners of Swineshead that they refused to contribute towards the fabric of the church, (fn. 61) whilst in 1398 Pope Boniface granted a relaxation to those parishioners who contributed regularly to the conservation of the parish church. (fn. 62)

A quaint entry in Bishop Repingdon's memoranda records how Joan widow of John Annesley, in an early year of the 15th century, restrained the parishioners of Swineshead from making offerings to the parish church on the occasion of her husband's funeral. (fn. 63)


The parish participates, to the extent of a fourth part, in the charity founded by Joseph Neale in 1702 for the parishes of Dean and Shelton (Beds) (fn. 64) and Swineshead. The foundation is regulated by a scheme of the Board of Education of 14 September 1905, and consisted of 4 acres of land known as Moor Close at Easton and a farm of 70 acres at Great and Little Catworth. In compliance with an Order of the Board of Education, dated 11 October 1918, property then belonging to the foundation in Little Catworth, Easton and Upper Dean was sold, and the proceeds invested in £1,315 11s. 6d. War Stock with the Official Trustees.


  • 1. Reps. of Assoc. Arcbit. Soc. ii, 404.
  • 2. V.C.H. Hunts, i, 306.
  • 3. Loc. Act, 48 Geo. III, cap. 30.
  • 4. V.C.H. Hunts, i, 347b, 354b.
  • 5. Ibid. 349.
  • 6. Red Bk. of Exch. (Rolls Ser.), 373– 374.
  • 7. Complete Peerage (2nd ed.); Cal. Close R. 1254–56, p. 414; Cal. Pat. R. 1452–61, p. 469.
  • 8. Cal. Inq. Misc. i, no. 1604; Cal. Close R. 1288–96, p. 296.
  • 9. V.C.H. Hunts, i, 349b.
  • 10. Red Bk. of Exch. (Rolls Ser.), 373.
  • 11. Beds Hist. Rec. Soc. i, 116; K.R. Mem. R. 179, East. Rec. 4 Hen. IV.
  • 12. Pipe R. Soc. xxv, 75.
  • 13. Cal. Cur. Reg. R. 1207–9, pp. 20, 62, 253.
  • 14. Pipe R. Soc. (New Ser.), iv, 61.
  • 15. Cott. MS. Faust. C 1, fol. 42.
  • 16. Cal. Close R. 1254–56, p. 414.
  • 17. Cott. MS. Faust. C 1, fol. 43 d.
  • 18. Ibid. 44; Rot. Ric. Gravesend (Cant. and York Soc.), 177.
  • 19. De Banco R. no. 19, m. 57.
  • 20. Ibid.; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii, 622.
  • 21. Cal. Close R. 1253–54, p. 128.
  • 22. Cal. Pat. R. 1281–91, p. 425.
  • 23. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), i, 218.
  • 24. Cal. Pat. R. 1281–91, p. 425.
  • 25. Feet of F. Hunts, case 93, file 16, no. 70.
  • 26. Cal. Inq. Misc. i, no. 1604.
  • 27. Cal. Close R. 1288–96, p. 296.
  • 28. Cal. Pat. R. 1292–1301, p. 84.
  • 29. Ibid. 1313–17, p. 278; Feet of F. Div. Cos. Trin. 8 and 9 Edw. II.
  • 30. Feet of F. Div. Cos. Mich. 19 Edw. III, no. 83.
  • 31. Chan. Inq. p.m. 37 Edw. III (1st nos.), no. 10; Complete Peerage (2nd ed.), vi, 472.
  • 32. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1611–18, p. 296; Pat. R. 13 Jas. I, pt. xiv, no. 3.
  • 33. Beds Rec. Soc. i, 116; K.R. Mem. R. no. 179, East. Rec. 4 Hen. IV.
  • 34. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii, 622.
  • 35. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 194.
  • 36. Cott. MS. Faust. C 1, fols. 42, 44.
  • 37. Ibid. fols. 42, 42 d.
  • 38. Ibid. fol. 43.
  • 39. Ibid. fols. 43, 43 d.
  • 40. Ibid. fols. 43 d, 44, 45 d, 46.
  • 41. Ibid. fols. 49 d, 50.
  • 42. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii, 622.
  • 43. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 253–4.
  • 44. Cartul. Mon. de Rames. (Rolls Ser.), i, 193. In the year 1300 it is recorded that King Henry, ancestor of King Edward, had afforested four groves in Swineshead which belonged to Bartholomew de Enfield, William son of Warin, Walter Brian, and the Prior of Huntingdon (ibid. ii, 305).
  • 45. Pipe R. Soc. xxv, 75.
  • 46. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii, 621.
  • 47. Ibid. 622–3.
  • 48. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii, g. 3376; Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii), lxii, 106; lxiv, 135; Pat. R. 8 Jas. I, pts. xxv, xlii.
  • 49. Cal. Chart. R. 1327–41, p. 84.
  • 50. Dates on the beams.
  • 51. Rec. Archd. Hunt. no. 306, Archdeacon's Notebook.
  • 52. There was an altar of St. John the Baptist (1490); a fraternity of the Holy Trinity also probably had its altar. There was also a sepulchre light in 1492 (Wills, Archd. Hunt. Reg. i, 50, 61; Reg. iv, 21).
  • 53. The west doorway and porch are illustrated in J. K. Colling's Details of Gothic Architecture, ii, 60, 61.
  • 54. Excheq. K.R. Ch. Goods, bdle. 3, no. 5.
  • 55. Rec. Archd. Hunt. no. 231, Terriers.
  • 56. In 1709 the plate consisted of the silver cup weighing 5 oz. 3 dwts., a pewter plate, a tin plate, and a pewter flagon. In 1727 it was the same except that the tin plate is not mentioned. In 1822 it was the same as in 1727, but there were two pewter plates—probably one being the 'tin' plate (Rec. Archd. Hunt. no. 231, Terriers).
  • 57. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii, 621.
  • 58. Pope Nicb. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 36 42.
  • 59. Feud. Aids, ii, 481.
  • 60. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 261.
  • 61. Linc. Episc. Reg. (Mem. of Bishop Buckingham), fol. 106.
  • 62. Cal. Papal Letters, v, 175.
  • 63. Linc. Episc. Reg. (Mem. of Bishop Repingdon), fol. 184 d.
  • 64. V.C.H. Beds, iii, p. 136.