A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 5, the Hundred of Cleley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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- EASTON NESTON
The parish of Easton Neston occupies some 1,740 acres (fn. 1) in the north-west corner of Cleley hundred. (fn. 2) It is bounded on the south by Paulerspury and on the east by Shutlanger (in Stoke Bruerne parish); on the north it adjoins Blisworth in Wymersley hundred and on the north-east Tiffield in Towcester hundred. On the west it abuts Towcester parish, and on the south-west the town of Towcester lies close to the parish boundary, from which Easton Neston is separated by the river Tove, which here flows in a wide alluvial valley. Boulder Clay covers the higher, western part of the parish and from there the land slopes gently east across bands of Oolitic Limestone to an area of Upper Lias Clay. (fn. 3) The south-eastern corner of the parish is about 270 ft. above sea level; the highest point, in the north-west, reaches some 440 ft.
Domesday Book records eight people at Easton Neston in 1086. (fn. 4) In 1301 65 households were assessed to the lay subsidy in Easton and Hulcote, (fn. 5) in 1524 about half that number, (fn. 6) a reflection of the desertion of one of the two villages in the parish. (fn. 7) Similarly, in 1674 27 households, seven of them discharged through poverty, were assessed to the hearth tax, (fn. 8) presumably all but one of which were in Hulcote. The population was 114 in 1801, rising modestly to a peak of 176 in 1871 before falling back to exactly 114 in 1951. The decline continued and in 1981 there were 73 residents living (once again) in 27 households. A sharp increase took place at the end of the 20th century as a result of house-building in the north-west corner of the parish. (fn. 9) Until then, the number of houses had remained between 20 and 30 (all, apart from the mansion, at Hulcote) since at least the early 19th century, when Hulcote was rebuilt, (fn. 10) and probably since the village at Easton was abandoned. Indeed, if one arbitrarily divides the number of taxpayers in 1301 equally between Easton and Hulcote, it appears that today the latter is much the same size as in the 14th century.
The only route of any importance through Easton Neston runs from Watling Street towards Northampton. Until the 1790s this road left Watling Street at Towcester market place, crossed the Tove near Towcester mill and ran almost due north across the parish to Blisworth. (fn. 11) When the route was turnpiked under an Act of 1795 (fn. 12) the commissioners agreed with the 3rd earl of Pomfret, the owner of the Easton Neston estate, that the road should be moved some distance to the west, further away from his mansion, to end at a new junction with Watling Street near the northern edge of the built-up area in Towcester, almost opposite the start of the road to Brackley. (fn. 13) This later road was itself superseded as a through route in the 1980s, when a new road was built further west again, by-passing Towcester and crossing Watling Street nearly a mile from the town centre. Until 1681 a road ran from Shutlanger to join the Northampton road near Easton Neston House; it was then stopped up and replaced by a lane through Sewardsley which joins the main road about a mile nearer Northampton. (fn. 14) Other minor roads through the parish linked Heathencote (in Paulerspury) with the lane through Sewardsley, and Hulcote with the main Northampton road.
The only railway to run through Easton Neston was the line which branched from the Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway north of Towcester station to continue northeast and then east through Shutlanger and Roade to join the Midland Railway's Northampton-Bedford line near Olney. Authorised in 1879 as the Easton Neston Mineral & Towcester, Roade & Olney Junction Railway (renamed in 1882 the Stratford-upon-Avon, Towcester & Midland Junction Railway), and built partly on the route of an earlier ironstone tramway, the line was not opened until 1891 and only operated a timetabled passenger service for a few months. (fn. 15) It continued to carry goods traffic until 1958. The nearest station was at Towcester, from where trains ran to Northampton, Banbury and Stratford until all three services were withdrawn in 1951-2; some goods traffic continued until 1965. (fn. 16)
Landscape and settlement.
Apart from the unlocated discovery of a quernstone, perhaps prehistoric or Roman, somewhere in the parish in the 1860s, and a complete Roman 'flagon' found near Sewardsley when the railway to Olney was being built in 1889, (fn. 17) the only evidence for early occupation is a scatter of Roman material found in the north-east of the parish, including samian, colour-coated ware and grey wares (as well as some sherds that may have been Iron Age), a coin of Constans, and a brooch. (fn. 18)
In the Middle Ages there were two villages in the parish, Easton Neston and Hulcote, which stood on the Northampton road about half a mile apart. Both are mentioned for the first time in 1086 and the two have a separate manorial history until both were acquired by Richard Empson in the late 15th century. (fn. 19)
The medieval village of Easton Neston stood on Boulder Clay on a south-facing slope overlooking the Tove near the southern end of the parish. The whole of the settlement, apart from St. Mary's church and the manor house, appears to have been abandoned after Empson secured a licence to impark 400 a. of land and 30 a. of wood around his manor there in 1499. (fn. 20) In 1502 he evicted 30 people at Easton. (fn. 21) However, the village must always have been poorly supplied with water (there is no running water nearer than the Tove and when the present mansion was built water was brought by an aqueduct from a spring over a mile away) and may already have been reduced in size. The manor house, which stood to the south of the church, continued to be occupied until the late 17th century, when Sir William Fermor built a new mansion on higher ground to the north. (fn. 22) The surviving earthworks indicating the site of the village are fragmentary and in poor condition, having been much damaged by landscaping in the park. (fn. 23)
The village of Hulcote grew up around a small triangular green at the junction of a road to Tiffield with the main Northampton road, close to a stream that flows east-south-east from Tiffield through Shutlanger to the Tove. The manor house stood on the western side of the green, either on the site later occupied by Manor Farm or immediately to the west, in the field known as Hall Close, or both. (fn. 24) Most of the other houses in the medieval village seem to have stood on the northern side of the green, where earthworks survived until 1977, when ploughing exposed (as well as post-medieval rubble and associated finds) pottery of the 12th to 14th centuries. (fn. 25) Hulcote shrank, but was not deserted, in the postmedieval period. Except for Hall Close, the village remained just outside the park created in the early 16th century and at the beginning of the 19th century there were about half a dozen cottages around the green, together with the large farm which appears to occupy the site of the manor. (fn. 26)
Most of the land of the parish around both villages appears, from the evidence of ridge and furrow recorded on air photographs, to have been cultivated as common-field arable in the Middle Ages, although details of the layout are impossible to reconstruct because of the changes wrought by imparking in the 16th century and later landscaping. (fn. 27) References in medieval deeds to 'the fields of Easton Neston and Hulcote' (fn. 28) might be taken to mean that there was a single field system for the two villages, but other conveyances refer specifically to the fields of Hulcote, which are named as the West Field, East Field and North Field, (fn. 29) and of Easton (East Field, West Field and South Field). (fn. 30) The phrase 'Easton Neston and Hulcote' appears to mean the main manor in the parish (centred on the village of Easton), even though there was also a separate manor of Hulcote. (fn. 31) Whereas the open fields of Easton presumably disappeared during the imparking authorised in 1499, those of Hulcote survived until 1652, when they were inclosed by Sir William Fermor (1621-61). (fn. 32)
Easton Neston no doubt had some common meadow on the north bank of the Tove in the Middle Ages, and there may have been smaller strips of meadow on the banks of the stream which skirts Hulcote village.
There is no evidence for a mill at Hulcote; both villages must have relied on the water-mill, mentioned in 1086, (fn. 33) which stood on the Tove about a quarter of a mile to the south-east of Easton Neston village. The building was still standing in the mid 19th century, (fn. 34) but had then been out of use for many years. (fn. 35) Immediately upstream from the mill are remains of quite extensive fishponds, including two small rectangular ponds, a much longer strip of water and a four-sided feature enclosing a small island. These are presumably medieval in origin, although they may have been altered as part of later landscaping. (fn. 36) The area is known as Waterhall but it is not clear whether there was ever any settlement here apart from the mill and some buildings nearby which were used in the early 19th century as kennels. (fn. 37) Despite the name, and the fact that one of the ponds has the superficial appearance of a moated site, the position seems unsuitable for a manor house and the capital messuage belonging to Easton Neston manor probably always stood next to the church.
In the north-east of the parish, on limestone about 390 ft. above sea level, a small Cistercian priory was established in the reign of Henry II on land known as Sewardsley, whose name implies relatively late clearance (fn. 38) and may derive from the name of Siward, the main landholder in Easton Neston in 1066. (fn. 39) Some adjoining land given to the house shortly after its foundation (Nun Wood and Hulcote Wood) remained wooded until modern times. Through a succession of later benefactions the priory built up an estate in Easton Neston and neighbouring parishes. (fn. 40) Its demesne lands adjoining the nunnery itself appear to have stood outside the main field system in the parish and to have included three small common fields as well as the woodland. (fn. 41) After the Dissolution the site of the priory and its demesnes were added to the manorial estate in Easton Neston (which was in Crown hands in the 1540s) and remained so after the manor was returned to the Fermors. (fn. 42) Sewardsley thus became one of the larger farmhouses on their estate and the only one in the parish outside Hulcote village. (fn. 43)
As well as remodelling the mansion and park, (fn. 44) the 3rd earl of Pomfret, sometime between 1806 and 1827, (fn. 45) demolished the last remaining cottage on the southern side of the green at Hulcote and erected eight blocks of new cottages in two groups of four, arranged at right-angles to each other, which had the effect of enlarging the green and making it square, rather than triangular. In 1816 a schoolroom was built near the entrance to the park. (fn. 46) Both the cottages and school are of brick, probably made on the estate, (fn. 47) laid in a striking pattern of red stretchers and flared blue headers, and are roofed in slate.
Apart from the erection of new farm buildings by Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh (the 5th baronet) in the late 1860s, most of the limited changes to the landscape of the parish outside the park in the 19th century were the result of attempts by his son to develop its mineral resources. In the 1870s a tramway was built to carry ironstone quarried near Sewardsley to the main line near Towcester station, although the workings were never so extensive as greatly to disfigure the estate. (fn. 48) After part of this tramway was incorporated into the railway to Olney, the remainder was rebuilt to serve a brickworks at Catchgate, in the north-west of the parish, operated by lessees from the 1880s until the end of the century. At an earlier date the estate had run its own brickyard on a site nearby. In both cases, scars left by claypits were later concealed by planting. The last ironstone pits closed in the 1920s (fn. 49) and Easton Neston reverted to a being a purely agricultural estate.
During the Second World War much of the land of the parish, some of which had been in permanent pasture since the 16th century and the rest laid down to pasture during the agricultural depression of the late 19th century, was ploughed up, and between 1945 and the end of the century the estate, which kept its farmland in hand during this period, adopted a mixed farming policy. (fn. 50) There was no new building at Hulcote but in the early 1990s approval was given for a large residential development on the west side of Northampton Road, named 'The Shires', whose construction greatly increased the population of the parish and led to the suggestion that the new estate should be constituted a separate civil parish.
EASTON NESTON HOUSE AND PARK.
The licence granted to Richard Empson in 1499 to create a large park around his manor at Easton Neston, (fn. 51) work which he presumably carried out in the years immediately following, marks a major turning-point in the landscape history of the parish. Any remaining houses at Easton itself (apart from the manor) were removed and thenceforth the only settlement in the parish outside the park was the small village at Hulcote (where the capital messuage was evidently taken down after Empson acquired that manor also) (fn. 52) and the farm at Sewardsley. In 1517 Empson was said to have inclosed 64 a. of arable and pasture within his new park at Easton and Hulcote a few months before the grant of 1499, and to have converted 24 a. of arable to sheep pasture in 1502. (fn. 53) The park contained 33 deer in 1540; (fn. 54) three years later the Court of Augmentations compensated tenants for loss of land when it was enlarged, and some glebe was also taken in this way. (fn. 55) Although the exact size and appearance of the park cannot be established before 1779 (fn. 56) it appears to have included all the former common fields of Easton Neston and possibly part of those of Hulcote, (fn. 57) but not those belonging to Sewardsley. A visitor from Moravia in 1600 commented on the 'most unusual gamepark' at Easton Neston, where the trees were trained into arbours, in which huntsmen could hide and shoot the game which wandered about the place. (fn. 58)
The licence of 1499 also allowed Empson to crenellate his manor at Easton, which may have led to a rebuilding of the house. In 1511 there were 22 chambers at the manor; downstairs the principal rooms included two butteries and two parlours as well as a hall, two kitchens (one of them 'new'), a brewhouse and a number of other service rooms. The inclusion of 32 cases of glass, wrought-iron door furniture and other ironware, 1 cwt. of bricks, and three cases of tiles (fn. 59) may imply that building work was then in progress. In 1540 the rooms included a gallery (and gallery chamber), a porter's lodge (apparently leading to an inner court), a limehouse, a fish-house and a house in the garden in which there was a drag and flue to take fish. (fn. 60) The house, which was visited by Elizabeth I on at least three occasions and also by James I and Charles I, (fn. 61) may appear in the background to a painting of Sir George Fermor of 1597, which shows an agglomeration of pitched roofs, gables, arched doorways and mullioned windows. (fn. 62)
In 1641 a building (described variously as a 'Banqueting House', 'Garden House' or 'Temple') was erected by Sir William Fermor about 300 yards north of the manor house, (fn. 63) perhaps to celebrate his creation as a baronet that year. Two gate piers, which in recent times have stood to the west of the present house, also date from that period. (fn. 64) If they are in situ it is possible that Sir William was contemplating erecting a new house on much the same site as that later chosen by his son, but never proceeded with the scheme, perhaps for lack of money. (fn. 65) On the other hand, what look like the same gate piers are shown on either side of an opening in the north wall of the garden to the east of the present mansion on a drawing of c. 1719. (fn. 66)
About 1680 the 2nd baronet, also named William, appears to have decided to rebuild the mansion on a new site, on higher ground about 150 yards to the north of the old house, (fn. 67) which was evidently taken down once it had ceased to be occupied. His application to divert the road from Shutlanger in 1679 (fn. 68) may mark the first step in this process, although he made no attempt to move the main Northampton road away from the site of the new house. The building of the mansion took over twenty years, during which time Sir William made two well-judged marriages (in 1682 and 1692), was raised to the peerage, (fn. 69) and in 1691 purchased a portion of the Arundel Marbles which he subsequently installed in his new house, the building of 1641 and the park. (fn. 70) All these changes in his circumstances may have affected his plans.
Work on the new house began in the early 1680s, possibly helped by the dowry which Fermor received with his second wife in 1682, with the construction (in brick) of two service wings to the north and south of the proposed main block. (fn. 71) The architect of this phase has not been identified: it was not Sir Christopher Wren but may have been his pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. (fn. 72)
Fermor's third marriage and elevation to the peerage as Lord Lempster in 1692 appear to have provided the means and motive to proceed with the central portion of the house on more ambitious lines than first planned. The earliest indication that work had resumed may be the construction of an aqueduct to bring water to the hill-top site from a spring in the north-west corner of the parish, (fn. 73) although it had proved possible to complete the service wings without an additional supply. The aqueduct was almost a mile long, with a cistern half-way along its course. It was the work of Samuel Warren, a blacksmith of Weston Favell, who also designed the water supply at Castle Ashby. (fn. 74) In the autumn of 1694 and early months of 1695 he was paid for boring, hooping and laying 600 yards of pipes at 12d. a yard and others were paid for cutting trees for the pipes. (fn. 75) The whole of the pipework was in oak: (fn. 76) the lead pipes made at that time must have been for inside plumbing, (fn. 77) indicating that work had already begun on the main block. The system was still supplying water to the house in 1909. (fn. 78)
The main fabric of the mansion was complete by 1702, the date on the pediment of the east front. (fn. 79) The suggestion that it was originally built of brick and faced in Helmdon stone later is not borne out by the balance of both documentary and structural evidence, (fn. 80) and there is no doubt that Hawksmoor was the architect for this phase of the work. (fn. 81) Lempster's death in 1711 may have led to the abandonment of other aspects of Hawksmoor's scheme, including a deep forecourt on the west front. (fn. 82) The fittingout of the interior seems to have proceeded slowly and was apparently still incomplete in 1731. (fn. 83) William Kent designed a fireplace for the hall (fn. 84) and may have been responsible for others. (fn. 85)
Three sets of estate accounts help to confirm the chronology of construction. (fn. 86) Those of 1694-5 mainly record weekly payments to labourers, although there are also references to ashlar work done at the iron gates on the terrace and elsewhere, and to payments to a glazier for work on the two wings. In 1701-2 there are payments for scaffolding, for digging freestone at Helmdom and carting it to Easton, for getting other stone from Handley and 'Pury' (probably Paulerspury, where there is a long history of quarrying), (fn. 87) and for digging and burning limestone from Tiffield. A mason named Keen was paid for taking up and new setting the arch at the end of the staircase, and for working and setting up four chimneypieces, two pairs of coving, and the springers for the arch under the staircase. During the same period a bricklayer was arching in the cellars, a carpenter was putting up window frames, and floorboards and laths were being sawn. A carver named Davis (perhaps Thomas Davies or Davis (fl. 1680- 1712), who worked at Chatsworth and Hampton Court in 1696) (fn. 88) was paid £45 6s. for carving done in the hall and staircase. Twenty fothers of lead were brought from Brixworth (on the main road between Northampton and Derbyshire, where they were presumably produced) and a plumber was paid £50 for making castings. Other payments were made for laying lead pipes. John and George Jurdin were paid for smith's work in the early months of 1702. In all, building work costing £670 was accounted for at Michaelmas 1701, in addition to £1,670 at Lady Day that year.
In 1708 freestone was being brought from Tattenhoe and Keen was still working as a mason at Easton. Other work in progress including laying paving and stepping, using stone from Hornton (Oxon.) on the garden front; (fn. 89) the paviors were brought from Stony Stratford, as was a ton of bar iron, presumably for the use of George Jurdin and John Goodman, who were mainly making door furniture in this period. Davis was still being paid for stone-carving. Two plasterers were at work on the hall, staircase, gallery and the 'two ends of the tea room', and Mr. Sommerly was being paid for painting. The total expenditure on building work on the half-year's account was £185 and overall the entries suggest that work was nearly finished.
As completed Easton Neston comprised a main block nine bays wide and two storeys high above a basement, with a hipped roof. The principal front faced west, and was flanked by the two pavilions, the one on the north containing service rooms (perhaps originally kitchens), the one on the south stables. (fn. 90)
As well as building a very fine house, Sir William Fermor appears to have remodelled the park. Although nothing is known of the earlier layout, the main feature of the 18thcentury park, a system of avenues aligned on the new mansion, clearly dates from his time. Similarly, although there is no map of the park prior to 1779, (fn. 91) the financial difficulties of the family during the two generations following Lempster's death (fn. 92) make it unlikely that either the 1st or 2nd earls of Pomfret carried out any further work to either the house or park. On the contrary, after the 1st earl died in 1753, having bequeathed the contents of the mansion, including the Arundel Marbles, to his two unmarried daughters, his widow Henrietta, as executrix, removed and sold the furniture and paintings, despite the objections of her son, the 2nd earl. (fn. 93) In 1755 she presented the statues to Oxford University. (fn. 94)
At the heart of the redesigned park was an avenue, nearly three miles long, running west and east from the mansion. (fn. 95) This was set out out using Greens Norton church, about two miles west of the house, as a sighting point to create an avenue 100 yards wide which extended west from the lodges in front of the mansion for about 1,600 yards towards Greens Norton, but stopping where it reached Watling Street to the north of Towcester. The avenue continued on the same alignment east of the house, across the park, and through the whole of Shutlanger open fields, ending at the western edge of Stoke Park. (fn. 96) In February 1695 a payment was made for 'banking in the Walk in Shitlanger Field'. (fn. 97) From a point 750 yards from the east front of the house a canal was built along this avenue for a distance of 530 yards. It was about 80 ft. wide and because of the fall of ground required heavy embanking on its southern side.
Five shorter avenues radiated from this baseline. One ran south, past the church, down to the watercourse which fed the fishponds at Waterhall. Two others ran north, one from in front of the mansion and the other from behind, to the edge of the park at Hulcote. Finally, the two right-angles created by these two avenues and the main east-west avenue were each bisected by others running north-west and north-east from the mansion. The former ended about three quarters of a mile away near Caldecote; the latter ran to the brook to the east of Hulcote village.
The overall effect of this scheme was to carry the eye from the house into the country in all directions, especially on the east, where there was a parterre immediately adjoining the house, then a pond, then a slope down to another parterre, bounded by a fossee, and finally the eastern avenue, with its canal in the middle distance. (fn. 98) The gardens to the east of the house were illustrated by Peter Tillemans in about 1719, shortly after they were completed. (fn. 99)
Much of this scheme was swept away at the end of the 18th century by the 3rd earl of Pomfret, who, mainly through his marriage to a wealthy heiress, was able finally to rid the estate of debt and considerably improved the property. (fn. 100) At least some of the changes to the park were carried out when the road from Towcester to Northampton was realigned away from the house in the late 1790s, (fn. 101) and it is possible that the whole reorganisation dates from those years, since it was complete by 1806. (fn. 102)
After the main road was rebuilt it formed the western boundary of the park, and three drives (each with lodges) were laid out from the road up to the house, one of which made use of part of the north-western avenue, the rest of which (beyond the new road, outside the park), survived for at least another thirty years. (fn. 103) Similarly, the western avenue was left intact outside the park but the trees were thinned between the house and the Northampton road. Traces of the avenue outside the park survived until the late 19th century, although near Watling Street it was severed by the Northampton & Banbury Railway in the 1860s. (fn. 104) The avenue running north from in front of the house was converted into another drive, ending at the southern corner of the village green at Hulcote. The north-eastern avenue was entirely removed, as was the eastern avenue between the house and the canal; beyond the canal it was foreshortened to end midway across Shutlanger open fields, which were not inclosed until 1844. (fn. 105) The southern avenue was still in existence in 1827. (fn. 106) Also on this side of the park, the Tove was dammed a short distance upstream from the mill to create Broad Water, a sheet of water about 30 yards wide and 400 yards long extending east from the bridge carrying the Northampton road over the river.
At the house itself the 3rd earl demolished the southern pavilion and built a large quadrangular block of new stables to the north of the surviving pavilion. (fn. 107) This work may also date from around 1795, when Pomfret was given permission to take an unused portion of the burial ground, between the church and the southwestern corner of the house, to enlarge 'the Area or outward Court' of the mansion, and gave in exchange a piece of parkland to the south of the church. (fn. 108) The lodges in front of the west front of the mansion were removed after the new drives were laid out.
Finally, in the early 1820s, after the inclosure of Paulerspury open fields, when Pomfret received an allotment of land at Heathencote, which he augmented by purchases from smaller owners, (fn. 109) the park was extended south of the Tove into that parish. Watling Street formed the western boundary of this newly imparked area, from where another drive swept across the river, past the kennels and up to the church, before turning to approach the west front of the mansion. The new entrance from Watling Street was equipped with an impressive gate and lodges, designed by John Raffield, on which the decorative features are of Coade Stone and are dated 1822. (fn. 110)
The 3rd earl died in 1830, bequeathing to his brother and nephew, who succeeded him as 4th and 5th earls, financial problems which had not been solved by the time the last earl died in 1867. (fn. 111) As a result little, if anything, was done to the house during that period, (fn. 112) or the grounds, apart from a small addition to the churchyard in 1853. (fn. 113) The new owner, Sir Thomas Hesketh (thereafter Fermor-Hesketh) of Rufford (Lancs.) (d. 1872), spent considerable sums on the farm buildings. He also renovated and refurnished the mansion, which was let for some years until 1876, when it became the family's main home (fn. 114) and, for the first time since it was built, was altered internally. The hall, extending the whole height of the mansion, was ceiled and additional rooms created on both floors. (fn. 115) A sewerage system was installed in the 1880s (fn. 116) and a large real tennis court built to the north of the north pavilion in 1887. (fn. 117) A pond was added to the garden to the east of the house (fn. 118) and a gate of fine Spanish wrought-iron placed at the entrance to the kitchen garden. (fn. 119)
In 1912 Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh (the 7th baronet, d. 1924) transferred the estate to his son, another Thomas, (fn. 120) who continued the work of restoration. In the 1920s Sir Thomas, the 8th baronet, who was created Baron Hesketh in 1935, re-established a formal garden to the east of the house (including a parterre and a new, larger pond), and to the south, which helped to overcome the imbalance caused by the loss of the southern pavilion. He also converted the tennis court into a library and greatly enriched the contents of the house. (fn. 121) His son Frederick, who succeeded as the 2nd Lord Hesketh in 1949, died only six years later, but restoration was continued by his widow Christian and later their son Alexander, the 3rd baron. Accounts of the house and grounds in the 1950s and 1960s stress that they were then better cared for than at any time since the present house was built. (fn. 122)
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATES
The manor of Easton Neston to 1499.
In 1086 two hides and 5½ virgates in Easton were held by the count of Mortain and from him by William de Keynes and Ormar, (fn. 123) of whom the latter held the pre-Conquest freehold of Siward, apparently the estate later known as Sewardsley. (fn. 124)
Robert of Mortain's son sided with Robert Curthose and following the defeat of Curthose at Tinchebray in 1106 forfeited his lands. The former Mortain estates were divided between a number of honors, those in Easton Neston becoming part of Berkhamsted. (fn. 125) The paramount lordship of Easton remained with the honor of Berkhamsted and ultimately the earldom of Cornwall; (fn. 126) chief rents due to the Crown in right of the honor continued to be paid until at least the end of the 16th century. (fn. 127) The smaller holdings in Easton, those of the Chocques family and Winemar de Hanslope, remained separate fees until Richard Empson began to purchase parts of Easton Neston and Hulcote in the late 15th century. (fn. 128)
In Henry I's reign the de L'Estre family were in possession of the Berkhamsted fee and the Maudits were holding eight virgates, presumably the Domesday estate of Winemar de Hanslope. (fn. 129) By the early 13th century the Chocques fee in Easton Neston was held by Geoffrey de Estenestone of Robert de Gines, (fn. 130) who held the Chocques lands there in 1236 and 1242. (fn. 131) William de L'Estre held the manor in 1236. (fn. 132) In 1240, however, Robert Paveley and his wife demised the manor to Imbert Pugeys. (fn. 133) In 1241 Imbert was patron of the rectory of Easton Neston, together with John de Hulcote (lord of Hulcote), Eustace de Estneston, and Richard de Paveley. (fn. 134)
In 1271 William de Bradden settled the manor on Geoffrey de Turville. (fn. 135) In 1284, however, William was said to hold the manor from the earl of Cornwall for two parts of a knight's fee. (fn. 136) In 1300 William de Bradden's son Geoffrey enfeoffed Margery de Criel (or Kyriel) with the manor, (fn. 137) which she released back to him a year later. (fn. 138) Geoffrey granted a lease for three lives of land in Easton Neston at about the same date. (fn. 139) A few years later Geoffrey's son Baldwin made a grant to his elder brother William de Bradden of the manor of Easton Neston, which he had had from Geoffrey de Turville, who in turn had it of the gift of John de Paveley. (fn. 140)
In 1322 William de St. John received licence to alienate in mortmain his manor of Easton Neston to the prioress and nuns of Sewardsley, in return for lands in Canons Ashby. (fn. 141) The exchange was confirmed in 1328, (fn. 142) although in fact William merely leased the manor to Sewardsley for a term of 40 years from 1325. (fn. 143) In 1334 the earl of Cornwall granted the manor to William de Combemartin during the minority of Giles de St. John, (fn. 144) presumably William's son and heir. Three years later Combemartin made a fresh lease of the manor to Sewardsley, a third being reserved as the dower of Isabel de St. John, William's widow. (fn. 145) Within a few years the priory granted the manor to John Molines, who subsequently withheld Isabel's dower. (fn. 146) Following Molines's fall in 1340, (fn. 147) his lands were taken into Crown hands. (fn. 148) Easton Neston was restored to the priory and Isabel to her dower. (fn. 149) Molines recovered his lands, including Easton Neston and the Chocques fee, in 1345. (fn. 150) In 1351 Giles de St. John petitioned the Black Prince, as earl of Cornwall, to be allowed to take up his inheritance and did homage for Easton Neston the following year. (fn. 151)
By 1369 the undertenancy had passed to Henry Green of Drayton, on whose death that year Easton Neston passed to his son Thomas. (fn. 152) On the death of Edward the Black Prince, Easton Neston was one of the Berkhamsted fees included in the dower assigned to his widow Joan, and was held from her for 20 marks a year. (fn. 153) Thomas Green, who died in 1391, was found to have settled Easton Neston on feoffees. (fn. 154) They granted the reversion to Thomas's son, also named Thomas, who did homage to the king, as holder of the lands of the earldom of Cornwall. (fn. 155) It is possible that Sewardsley was re-enfeoffed with part of the manor by the Green family, for in 1428 the prioress held half a knight's fee in Easton Neston and Hulcote of the honor of Berkhamsted. (fn. 156) Following the death in 1434 of Mary Green, widow of the second Sir Thomas Green, who died in 1417, the manor of Easton Neston, of which Mary held a third in dower, was held of the king as of the principality of Wales and the honor of Berkhamsted. (fn. 157) A third of the manor later formed part of the dower of Maud Green, widow of the fourth Sir Thomas (d. 1461). In 1482 Maud and her second husband Richard Middleton surrendered their third share in the Green estates in return for a life interest in a number of Northamptonshire manors, including Easton Neston. (fn. 158)
The manor of Easton Neston after 1499.
Early in 1499 Maud sold the Green family's manor of Easton Neston to Richard Empson, (fn. 159) who a few months later received licence to inclose and impark 400 a. of land and 30 a. of wood in Easton and Hulcote, and to crenellate his manor of Easton. (fn. 160) Empson was the son of Peter Empson of Towcester (d. 1473), who had spent at least the last 25 years of his life accumlating property in Towcester and neighbouring villages by piecemeal purchases, (fn. 161) a policy which Richard Empson continued. (fn. 162)
After Empson was attainted and beheaded in 1510 all his Northamptonshire estates, including the manors of Easton Neston and Hulcote, (fn. 163) were initially granted in February 1512 to William Compton. (fn. 164) In 1513, however, Thomas Empson, Richard's son and heir, recovered the estates. (fn. 165) In 1527 Empson conveyed the manors of Easton Neston and Hulcote to William Fermor of Somerton (Oxon.), (fn. 166) whose family, apparently of Welsh descent, prospered as wool merchants in 15th-century Oxfordshire. (fn. 167) Fermor immediately reconveyed the premises to Empson for his life, at a peppercorn rent until Thomas had lawful issue, thereafter 100 marks a year. It was further agreed that Empson could recover the estate on payment of £1,000 within four years from the birth of his first child, (fn. 168) so that the transaction was similar to a mortgage by demise.
In 1530 Empson conveyed the rest of his estate to William's brother Richard Fermor, a merchant of the Staple at Calais, who agreed to pay off the remainder of Empson's debt to the Crown (1,900 marks out of an original sum of 3,000 marks) and also give Empson an annuity of £110 13s. 4d., together with annuities due to various of his servants. Once again Empson was given the use of the premises for his life, together with the option of recovering the estate if he had a male heir, on payment of 1,900 marks within six months of the birth of a child, with interest at 100 marks a year if the debt was not repaid within this period. (fn. 169)
Meanwhile, William Fermor claimed that Empson had failed to keep convenants included in the sale of 1527, had refused to pay the £2,500 in which he was bound, and should therefore forfeit his estate to Fermor, who secured judgment in his favour. When the sheriff's officers tried to put him into possession of the manor house at Easton, however, in April 1532, they were obstructed, he alleged, by Dame Elizabeth Verney, the wife of Richard Verney and formerly married to Sir Thomas Verney, to whom Empson had granted a lease for 40 years from 1526. William Fermor claimed that a group of 20 well-armed men prevented him from securing possession of the house; Dame Elizabeth's version was that the two Fermor brothers arrived with 200 men and broke into the manor, causing considerable damage. (fn. 170) The dispute between Empson and the Verneys on one side and the Fermors on the other continued into 1533. (fn. 171) Eventually, after Thomas Empson's death and that of his brother John (both evidently childless), the whole of his estate passed outright to Richard Fermor.
In 1540 Richard Fermor was indicted for breaches of the statutes of provisors and praemunire, attainted and his lands and possessions forfeited to the Crown, although all that was proved against him was that he had visited and made small gifts to a priest imprisoned at Buckingham. (fn. 172) Soon released from prison, probably through the intervention of his brother William, Richard was pardoned in 1541 and in 1542 some of his estates were returned to him. (fn. 173) Easton Neston and Hulcote, however, were annexed to the honor of Grafton on its establishment early in 1542. (fn. 174) Later that year Sir John Williams was made receiver of the lands which had belonged to Fermor, and also chief steward of the manor of Easton Neston and keeper of the house and park there, (fn. 175) appointments that were renewed for life in 1544. (fn. 176)
Richard Fermor recovered some of his possessions (and acquired others) during Edward VI's reign. (fn. 177) In July 1547 he was granted all the personal estate which had come to Henry VIII on his attainder that had not already been sold or converted to the king's use, (fn. 178) and in March 1550 received the manor of Easton Neston and other property, all of which had come to the Crown as a result of his attainder, together with the house and lands of Sewardsley priory. (fn. 179) The restoration of the Easton Neston estate led to a dispute between Fermor's old bailiff, who claimed his post back, and an officer installed by Sir John Williams in 1548. (fn. 180)
Richard Fermor made at least two more purchases of land in or near Easton Neston between 1550 and his death in November 1551, (fn. 181) when his son John succeeded to his estates. (fn. 182) Two years later John obtained an inspeximus of the grant of 1550, with a confirmation to himself. (fn. 183) He continued his father's policy of making piecemeal purchases in Easton Neston. (fn. 184)
Sir John Fermor died in 1571 and was succeeded by his eldest son George. (fn. 185) A year earlier George had married Mary, the sole heir of Thomas Curson, who had a portion of 1,000 marks, of which 900 marks was paid to Sir John Spencer of Althorp to discharge debts which Fermor owed him. (fn. 186) In 1592 Sir George acquired, in right of his wife, lands previously held by Thomas Curson, including the manor of Westoning (Beds.). (fn. 187) At his death in 1612 Sir George was succeeded by his son Hatton Fermor, (fn. 188) subject to his widow Mary retaining Westoning for her life. (fn. 189) She died in 1630, whereupon the estate passed to Hatton, (fn. 190) who in 1617 had a grant of free warren in his manors of Easton, Hulcote, Sewardsley and Towcester. (fn. 191) In 1618 he and his brothers mortgaged premises in Hulcote for 1,000 marks to Frances, a daughter of Sir Edward Legh of Rushall (Staffs.). (fn. 192)
Sir Hatton Fermor's first wife died without issue, and in 1621 he married Anne the daughter of Sir William Cockayne kt., a lord mayor of London, who brought him a portion of £4,000. (fn. 193) Fermor died in 1640, leaving a son and heir William, aged 19. (fn. 194) Sir Hatton's widow Anne immediately petitioned for her son's wardship and marriage, (fn. 195) which she was granted in 1641. (fn. 196)
Sir William Fermor was created a baronet in 1641 and died in 1661, to be succeeded by his eldest surviving son, also named William, (fn. 197) who appears to have restored the family's fortunes by a series of well-judged marriages. (fn. 198) In 1692 he was created Baron Leominster (which from the outset the family spelt 'Lempster'). (fn. 199)
Lempster died in 1711 and was succeeded by his son Thomas, who in 1720 married Henrietta Louisa, the daughter and heir of Baron Jeffreys; a year later he was advanced to become earl of Pomfret or Pontefract (the family again chose to use the colloquial form of the title). (fn. 200) After the earl died in 1753, Easton Neston and his other estates descended in tail to his son George, who in 1764 married Anna Maria Draycott (formerly Delagard) of Sunbury. He died in 1785, leaving two sons, George and Thomas William, of whom the former succeeded as 3rd earl. (fn. 201)
In 1793 the 3rd earl married Mary, the daughter and heir of Thomas Trollope Browne, from whom he was separated in 1801. Both lived for some years afterwards, Lord Pomfret until 1830, his wife until 1839. (fn. 202)
With no children, the 3rd earl bequeathed his Northamptonshire estate to his brother Thomas William, who succeeded as 4th earl. (fn. 203) A career soldier who retired in 1825 in the rank of lieutenant-general, the 4th earl held the title for only three years, dying in 1833, when he was succeeded by his elder son, George William Richard, then aged eleven. The 5th earl died unmarried in June 1867, aged 42, whereupon all his titles became extinct. (fn. 204) The Easton Neston estate passed to his sister Anna Maria Arabella (who died in 1870) and her husband Sir Thomas George Hesketh Bt. of Rufford Hall, Ormskirk (Lancs.), who took the additional name of Fermor. (fn. 205)
Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh died in 1872, when his eldest son Thomas Henry succeeded as 6th baronet. He died unmarried in 1876, whereupon his brother Thomas George became the 7th baronet (fn. 206) and the family's Lancashire and Northamptonshire estates were united, which appears not to have been their father's intention. The entail in favour of the 5th baronet's second son, and the requirement that he (the second son), not his elder brother, adopt the additional name Fermor implies that Sir Thomas intended to split the estates between his two sons.
Sir Thomas George Fermor-Hesketh died in 1924 and was succeeded as 8th baronet by his elder son, also named Thomas, born in 1881, who in 1909 married Florence Louise, the daughter of John Witherspoon Breckinridge of San Francisco (a son of John C. Breckinridge, vice-president of the United States, 1856-61). (fn. 207) Two years after his marriage, Thomas's father transferred his life interest in the Easton Neston estate to his son. (fn. 208)
Sir Thomas (the 8th baronet), who was Conservative M.P. for Enfield (Mdx.) in 1922-3, was created Baron Hesketh in 1935 and died in 1944. His eldest son Thomas Sharon FermorHesketh was killed in an aeroplane accident in France in 1937 (fn. 209) and the title therefore passed to his second son Frederick, who in 1949 married Christian Mary, the only daughter of Captain Sir John McEwen Bt. of Marchmont (Berwicks.). Lord Hesketh died only six years later, leaving a widow and three sons, of whom the eldest, Alexander, born in 1950, succeeded as 3rd Baron Hesketh and was the owner of the Easton Neston estate at the time of writing. In 1977 Lord Hesketh married Claire Georgina, the eldest daughter of the 3rd Baron Manton. (fn. 210)
Other estates in Easton Neston.
In 1086 a small fee in Easton was held by Gunfrid of Chocques, who held land elsewhere in the county, including some in Hulcote. (fn. 211) In 1242 the Chocques fee in Easton Neston was held by Peter de Gines and 'the advocate of Bethon' (fn. 212) (perhaps Béthune in northern France). In 1252 the same fee, together with half a fee in Hulcote, was held by Ingram de Fennes. (fn. 213) In 1428 Laurence Bacon held half a fee in Easton Neston of the honor of Chocques, (fn. 214) which presumably formed part of the Bacon family's estate purchased by Richard Empson in 1476-80. (fn. 215)
Another small fee in Easton was held in 1086 by Winemar, lord of Hanslope and Cosgrove. (fn. 216) The Hanslope barony was later held by the Maudits, (fn. 217) but the estate in Easton appears to have no later history.
The manor of Hulcote.
In 1086 Hulcote was divided between the manor of Gunfrid de Chocques (3¼ virgates), held of Gunfrid by Tetbald, and a smaller, one-carucate estate of bishop Odo of Bayeux, held by William Peveril. (fn. 218) By the mid 13th century the Chocques fees in Easton Neston and Hulcote were held by Peter de Gines. (fn. 219) In Hulcote the undertenants had adopted the surname Hulcote, although they were occasionally known as Cut. (fn. 220) John de Hulcote held the manor in 1215 and the same man, or his son, was lord in 1242, (fn. 221) when he was given licence to have a chapel in Hulcote. (fn. 222) In the same year Simon de Loges held one fee in Hulcote and elsewhere of Margery de Riparis, and Simon Vitor held a quarter of a fee in Hulcote of the honor of Huntingdon. (fn. 223)
The Chocques fee passed from Peter de Gines to the Preston family. At his death in 1274 Geoffrey de Preston held several Chocques manors of the king, including Hulcote. In Hulcote itself, John de Hulcote held eight virgates, Geoffrey Friday four, and Robert Faber of Easton Neston and John de L'Estre one each; in addition, Simon the chaplain of Boycott held a messuage and one acre. (fn. 224) The same tenants held land in Hulcote under Geoffrey de Preston's son Laurence, when John de Hulcote's widow Alice held the manor itself. (fn. 225)
In 1357 Fulk de Hulcote enfeoffed Richard Woodville with the manor, with reversion to himself and Agnes, (fn. 226) possibly in connection with money owed by Fulk to Richard de Preston. The debt seems not to have been fully settled, since the manor was delivered to Preston in 1389 in payment, (fn. 227) although Fulk de Hulcote's widow was still in possession in 1403. In 1428 Richard Peck held the manor by the enfeoffment of John Hulcote. (fn. 228) In 1457 Fulk de Hulcote and Agnes his wife acknowledged that they held the manor of Hulcote from Richard Woodville and his heirs. (fn. 229) John Hulcote's grandson, also named John, died in 1482, leaving his wife a life interest in Hulcote, with reversion after her death to his cousin Richard Hulcote. (fn. 230) In 1493 Empson purchased the manor of Hulcote from John Dive, who had himself bought from Richard Woodville. (fn. 231) Other lands of John Hulcote's in Hulcote passed to his nephew Robert Prudde, who later sold them to Thomas Fowler; he in turn sold to Richard Empson in 1486. (fn. 232)
The lands of Sewardsley nunnery.
The house of Cistercian nuns at Sewardsley was founded by Richard de L'Estre, lord of the manor of Easton Neston, probably in the 1150s, when he notified Robert de Chesney, bishop of Lincoln, of his gift to the nuns of Sewardsley and Wymundsley and all his land beyond the wood, whether assart or demesne, towards Stoke Wood, together with the right to turn three oxen, ten cows and 200 sheep into his pasture. In return the nuns promised to seek his counsel in receiving new members and to admit none except through him. (fn. 233) Richard also gave 5 a. of thicket near the wood of Geoffrey, with the other land he had previously given, to the priory, in return for prayers for the souls of his father and mother and all his ancestors, and confirmed the gift of 2 a. which Robert Grim had given to the priory with his daughter. (fn. 234) Either the same Richard or a namesake freed the nuns from toll of corn from their estate at his mill in Easton Neston. (fn. 235) Henry II confirmed to the nuns the 10 acres of Henwood which they had had of the gift of William de Aubin, an assart of 15 a. at Easton Neston given by Richard de L'Estre, and three other donations. (fn. 236) In 1179-81 the house was pardoned part of a debt to the Exchequer. (fn. 237)
In the 13th century Ralph de L'Estre, who was perhaps Richard's son, made at least four gifts to Sewardsley of land in Easton and Hulcote, (fn. 238) and three others in association with his son Robert, (fn. 239) who himself made several further grants either alone or with his father. (fn. 240) William de L'Estre gave land in Easton Neston, (fn. 241) as did John L'Estre in 1280. (fn. 242) Several other local landowners made benefactions of land in Easton Neston or neighbouring parishes in the 12th and 13th centuries. (fn. 243) A number of leases granted by the nunnery of premises in Easton, Hulcote and elsewhere survive from the 13th century and later. (fn. 244)
After it was surrendered to the Crown, Sewardsley was leased to Thomas Broke, a London merchant, in 1537 for 21 years, (fn. 245) and was annexed to the honor of Grafton at its establishment in 1542. (fn. 246) In 1550 the site of the priory, with 105 a. of demesne arable, 10 a. of meadow and 4 a. of underwood in Nunwood, all of which had been leased to Broke, were included in the major grant to Richard Fermor of those of his estates which he had lost after his attainder in 1540 that still remained in Crown hands, plus other premises (such as Sewardsley) intended to recompense him for those that could not be returned. (fn. 247)
Later in the 16th century Sewardsley was occasionally described as a manor, (fn. 248) but in practice Showsley (as the name became) was simply one of the larger farms on the Easton Neston estate, while land which had once belonged to the priory in Shutlanger and Heathencote seems to have been absorbed into other farms belonging to the Fermors in those places. (fn. 249) When George Fermor married Mary Curson in 1570 his father agreed to accommodate the couple for the first four years of their marriage at his mansion at Easton Neston and afterwards to let them have Sewardsley, which he undertook to put into repair for them and give them £100 towards furnishings. (fn. 250)
Although altered in the 19th century, the house at Sewardsley appears to incorporate some remains of the priory. In addition, in the 1850s and more recently both carved and plain coffin lids have been found under and close to the house, together with wall foundations, glass and decorated floor tiles. (fn. 251) To the south of the farmhouse, in the bottom of a small valley on Upper Lias Clay, are remains of several small rectangular fishponds; other ponds were filled in soon after 1850. (fn. 252)
Some Sewardsley property was evidently not included in the grant to Richard Fermor, since it was leased by the Crown in 1569 for 21 years to John Bradfield, (fn. 253) and part of the same premises (said to be in Hulcote and Easton) were leased to William Howes when the previous term expired. (fn. 254)
The lands of other religious houses.
John Bradfield's lease of 1569 also included a cottage and land in Hulcote, late of the priory of St. Andrew's, Northampton, which were not included in the later demise of 1580. (fn. 255)
Sometime in the late 12th century or early 13th, William Wolfe of 'Eston', son of Anketil Wolfe, with the assent of Isabella his wife, gave the canons of St. James for the safety of his soul a rent of 12d. in the vill of Eston issuing out of the land which Ralph de Roade formerly held of Thomas le Savage, and which Ralph gave to John Tremenel son of Roger Tremenel in marriage with Eleanor his daughter. (fn. 256) Thomas later confirmed the gift. (fn. 257) The names of the parties and witnesses to both deeds suggests that the premises lay in Easton Neston.
The grant of April 1558 by Queen Mary which sought to re-establish the Hospitallers in England included, as part of the premises which had once belonged to Dingley preceptory, premises in both Easton Neston and Hulcote. (fn. 258)
In 1354 John Green, chaplain, and Simon Scott of Towcester were granted licence to give a messuage and land in Towcester, Easton Neston and Hulcote to the prior and convent of Luffield (Bucks.). (fn. 259)
In 1587 Sir Francis Walsingham and Francis Mills received a grant of lands in 'Easton' (Northants.), which had formerly belonged to Lavendon abbey (Bucks.) and were leased for 21 years from 1579 to William Wickens. (fn. 260) There was a family of yeomen named Wickens in Stoke Bruerne in this period, which suggests that the place concerned is Easton Neston.
In 1086 the count of Mortain's manor and the 3¼ virgates belonging to Gunfrid de Chocques had land for eight ploughs, of which the two demesnes accounted for 2½ teams. The 12 villeins had another 2½ ploughs. There were 6 a. of meadow and a mill, in which both Mortain and Chocques had a share. In Hulcote the bishop of Bayeux's halfhide had land for one plough in demesne and Chocques's 3¼ virgate estate had land for two ploughs, of which one was held in demesne and the other worked by seven villeins. There were 11 a. of meadow and a mill worth 8d. (fn. 261)
Easton Neston and Hulcote each had their own open fields in the Middle Ages (fn. 262) but no material survives to shed any light on medieval farming in the parish.
Farming from 1500 to 1660.
The creation of a park around the manor house by Richard Empson under his grant of 1499, and its subsequent enlargement by the Crown in the 1540s, (fn. 263) appears to have led to (or completed) the desertion of the village at Easton and the inclosure of most (if not all) the common fields there. In 1530, when Thomas Empson conveyed his estate to Richard Fermor, the manor house, park, mill and some parcels of meadow were valued at £42 a year, to which was added £5 for a warren, £29 19s. 8d. 'standing rent' of Easton Neston with Hulcote, 47s. 2d. 'penny rent' there, and 6s. 8d. for castle guard, to produce a total figure of £79 3s. 6d. (fn. 264) Similarly, in the early 1540s, immediately after Richard Fermor's estate was annexed to the newly established honor of Grafton, the receiver, Sir John Williams, accounted for an income of between £70 and £80 from the manor of Easton Neston, from which he was able to deduct a number of allowances, including the purchase of hay for beasts in the park there. (fn. 265) In 1548-9, in line with their policy elsewhere in the honor, (fn. 266) the Court of Augmentations made several leases of premises at Easton and Hulcote, replacing either tenancies at will or leases granted by Richard Fermor. (fn. 267) During these years George Fermor was the honor's tenant at Easton, holding the mansion, park and other lands. (fn. 268)
When the manor of Easton Neston was restored to Richard Fermor in 1550 (fn. 269) it was said to be worth £71 13s. 10½d. a year, including 5s. 1½d. in rents of assize from free tenants, £19 14s. 9½d. from tenants at will, and £15 9s. 11d. from leaseholders. Land worth 34s. 10d. had been inclosed in the enlarged park in 1542-3; the water-mill was valued at £4, the warren at 20s., and two parcels of meadow (28 a.) at 63s. The mill, warren and various closes were in the tenure of Sir John Williams for a total rent of £30 a year; he also held the capital messuage, another house, the park and the bailiwick of the manor for life for £11. (fn. 270)
In 1535 the rental income of Sewardsley priory was £6 17s. 10d. a year, derived from property in Sewardsley itself and ten other places, all within a few miles of the nunnery apart from South Newington (Oxon.). The rectory of Easton Neston was valued at £6 13s. 4d. Deductions from this gross figure of £13 11s. 2d. reduced the net income to £7 6s. 7d., from which it had to find 24s. 8d. in tithes. The site of the priory and its demesnes (which were in hand) were worth a further £5. (fn. 271) Shortly after the Dissolution the demesnes were valued at 102s. 6d. (made up of 5 a. of pasture worth 2s. each, 10 a. of meadow worth 4s. and 105 a. arable worth 6d.); 53 a. of underwood in Nunwood (otherwise Henwood), divided into seven compartments and coppiced on a seventeen-year cycle, were valued at 40s. a year. (fn. 272)
The priory and demesnes were leased in 1537 to Thomas Broke, a London merchant, for 21 years at a rent of 102s. 6d. for the site and lands, 40s. for 80 a. of underwood, and £6 13s. 4d. for the rectory, with a covenant to keep the church in repair. (fn. 273) Among the minor sources of income in this period was the sale of faggot wood to at least one Northampton baker; Broke was also charged for a fother of lead he removed for his own use from the nunnery buildings. (fn. 274)
The former Sewardsley lands were annexed to the honor of Grafton at its establishment in 1542. (fn. 275) Eight year later the site of the priory, with the same demesne lands as in 1537, was included in the major grant to Richard Fermor, and from this date the former Sewardsley lands in both Easton Neston and adjoining parishes formed part of his family's estate. (fn. 276)
At the time of George Fermor's marriage in 1570, Easton Neston was said to be worth £9 a year, Hulcote £20 and Sewardsley £11 6s. Easton and Hulcote were held in free socage, Sewardsley by knight service. (fn. 277) The main tenancies at Easton Neston were a mixture of leases for lives and for terms of 21 years (apart from a few for 31 or 40 years), (fn. 278) which suggests that the estate was still being managed on the same lines as neighbouring manors within the honor of Grafton. (fn. 279) Sewardsley stood somewhat apart from the other farms and was held by the Kirby family on a lease from 1566 at a peppercorn rent. (fn. 280)
At his death in 1612, Sir George held much the same estate as his father had. (fn. 281) His son, Sir Hatton Fermor, married as his second wife Anne the daughter of Sir William Cockayne kt., a lord mayor of London, who brought him a portion of £4,000. (fn. 282) Fermor died in 1640, leaving a son and heir, William, aged only 19 and thus most of the estate, apart from a small portion in the hands of Sir Hatton's mother, was subject to wardship. (fn. 283) Sir Hatton's widow Anne immediately petitioned for her son's wardship and marriage, (fn. 284) for which she paid £1,600 the following year, plus £300 a year rent. (fn. 285)
As soon as he came of age, William Fermor charged part of his estate (mainly manors in Dorset) to raise portions for his brothers and sisters, as his father had intended to do before his death. (fn. 286) Two sisters, Anne and Mary, later received portions of £3,000 or more, and a third, Katherine, half that sum, when they married during the 1650s. (fn. 287) In 1645 Fermor was ordered to pay £800 and his mother £1,000, although the Committee for the Advance of Money later reduced these figures to £300 and £200 respectively. Sir William paid the sum demanded; Dame Anne was still resisting in 1652. (fn. 288) Also in 1645-6 the Committee for Compounding fined Sir William £1,400 and his mother £800, after making allowance for the portions he had been obliged to raise under his father's will and a settlement which Dame Anne had made of the Bedfordshire estate to pay annuities, debts and legacies. (fn. 289) By the end of the Civil War Sir William owed his mother at least £3,000, including his fine, which she had paid on his behalf, and in 1646 he mortgaged all the woodland on his estate to Dame Anne as security for the debt. (fn. 290) She in return surrendered the mansion and demesnes to her son to enable him to include them in the jointure he was proposing to make to his wife, whom he married that year (fn. 291) and who was said to have brought him £300 a year. (fn. 292) In 1651 Sir William settled a number of differences with his mother and freed his estate from all incumbrance, (fn. 293) which cleared the way for him to raise £4,000 from Sir Thomas Hatton Bt., secured on a mortgage of premises in Hulcote, later the same year. (fn. 294) Some of this may have been needed to pay a fine due from his wife's estate at North Luffenham, for which he was being pursued by the Committee for Compounding during 1651. (fn. 295) The debt was repaid in 1662-4. (fn. 296) Meanwhile, Sir William inclosed the surviving open-field land in Hulcote in 1652, when he agreed to make an annual payment of £5 13s. 6d. in exchange for about 10 acres of glebe absorbed into the manorial estate, which by this date included all the other land in the parish. (fn. 297) He also obtained an agreement from his mother, Dame Anne Fermor, not to hinder the inclosure. (fn. 298)
Farming from 1660 to 1867.
The 2nd baronet, also named William, who succeeded in 1661, (fn. 299) appears to have restored the family's fortunes by a series of well-judged marriages. The first, to Jane the daughter of Andrew Barker of Fairford (Gloucs.), brought him £7,000 in 1671; (fn. 300) she died two years later and in 1682 he married Catherine, the eldest daughter of the 3rd Baron Poulett, who had a dowry of £9,000. (fn. 301) William's third and most lucrative marriage came in 1692 to Sophia, the widow of Lord O'Brien and daughter of the 1st duke of Leeds, who brought him £10,000. (fn. 302) Much of the capital from these marriages appears to have been used to improve his estate. In 1679 he sought permission to divert the road from Shutlanger to Towcester away from the house, which was granted in 1681. (fn. 303) About the same time he began to build a new mansion on a different site from the old house, the plans for which were amended to produce a much grander house following his third marriage. (fn. 304) In 1685, perhaps still in need of capital for the mansion, he mortgaged much of his estate to his sister Anne for £4,000. (fn. 305)
At the time of his first marriage in 1671 Fermor's Northamptonshire estate was valued at £1,850 a year, although this included £525 for the mansion and park at Easton Neston, £25 for the mill there, and £450 for the manor of Hulcote, none of which was let; the balance was made up of property in Towcester and adjoining parishes, together with a dower house in Northampton. (fn. 306) Twenty years later, the Northamp tonshire and Bedfordshire lands (again excluding the mansion, park and Hulcote, and also the house in Northampton), were worth £1,502 a year. By that time Sir William also had a town house in Duke Street, St Margaret's. (fn. 307) In 1694 the gross rental of the Easton and Hulcote property was £710, with a further £196 coming from three tenants at Sewardsley. At Hulcote one large farm was let for £192, five others for between £64 and £72, and 29 tenants paid £20 or less. The whole of the Northamptonshire estate produced £2,338; when this was added to the income from Westoning (Beds.) and the Dorset manors the total rental was £3,320. (fn. 308) By 1701 the Easton and Hulcote rental totalled £976, with £120 from Sewardsley. There remained one large farm and five others of moderate size. The Northamptonshire estate was then producing £2,486 gross, out of a total rental of £3,846. (fn. 309) Some reorganisation evidently followed, for in 1708 Sewardsley was let for £138 and the rest of the parish for £906. Three larger farms were let for £144, £138 and £132; three others for £72 or (in two cases) £64; three more for £36, £34 and £28; and there was a long tail of 33 smaller holdings, although some tenants held more than one of these. The total rental was £3,612, of which £2,564 came from the Northamptonshire lands. (fn. 310)
Lempster died in 1711, having lived to see his new mansion structurally complete, even if the interior was not finished. (fn. 311) He was succeeded by his son Thomas, who in 1720 married Henrietta Louisa, the daughter and heir of Baron Jeffreys, and a year later was advanced to become earl of Pomfret. (fn. 312) She brought to the marriage a portion of £20,000; in return the whole of the Northamptonshire estate (and the manor of Westoning), worth £1,533 a year, was settled on her trustees. (fn. 313) Despite these resources, by 1738 Pomfret's financial difficulties were the subject of comment. (fn. 314)
There seems to have been some further reorganisation of the Easton and Hulcote farms during the 1st earl's time. In 1720 the two largest tenants were paying £396 and £406 a year; a third farm was let for £232. There was one other small farm let for £20, but the remaining holdings comprised five houses with just a close and eight holdings of accommodation land. (fn. 315) In 1723 the Pomfret issued no fewer than 56 new 21-year leases on the Northamptonshire estate, producing a total of £1,172 a year, 77 per cent coming from the nine largest leases, of which by far the biggest was to John Chawlke for a farm in Easton Neston at £433. Most of the others were for houses in Towcester, in some cases with land attached, some of it in Easton. (fn. 316) Chawlke's position as the estate's main tenant in the parish is perhaps confirmed by his appointment a few years later as Pomfret's gamekeeper for the manor. (fn. 317)
After the death of the 1st earl in 1753, Easton Neston and his other estates descended in tail to his son George. In 1755 Earl George borrowed a further £10,000 on security of the whole of his Northamptonshire estates in addition to an existing mortgage of £6,000. (fn. 318) In 1756 new mortgagees agreed to advance another £4,000 and a receiver was appointed. (fn. 319) The total rental of the Northamptonshire estate was then £1,430. (fn. 320) Some relief may have been obtained by the sale of outlying land at Abthorpe and Wappenham to Earl Verney for £12,400 in 1759-65, (fn. 321) and in 1767 Westoning was sold. (fn. 322) None of these proceeds, however, seems to have been used to reduce the mortgage on the remaining estate, which in 1762 increased to £25,000. (fn. 323) Two years later the debt rose to £30,000. (fn. 324) There were still two main farms in Easton Neston itself in the 1750s and 1760s, one at Hulcote and the other at Sewardsley, and about a dozen cottages at Hulcote. (fn. 325)
Also in 1764 Pomfret married Anna Maria Draycott (formerly Delagard) of Sunbury, a spinster aged about 28 and the sister of an East India merchant. Three years earlier Miss Draycott, described by a contemporary as somewhat stout but a great heiress, had inherited the estate of Lady Jane Coke, a daughter of the 1st marquess of Wharton, which included mineral property in Cumberland and north Yorkshire. (fn. 326) She was also the heiress of her grandfather, William Draycott of London. (fn. 327) Once again, this influx of capital was not used to reduce the mortgage on the Pomfret estate, which remained at £30,000 until 1818. (fn. 328) In 1777 Pomfret was involved with a Portuguese inventor named Francisco Pinto, who was seeking help to obtain a patent for an improved type of steam engine but later 'bolted with his Lordship's money'. (fn. 329)
The 3rd earl, who succeeded in 1785, seems to have tried, if not wholly successfully, to restore his family's financial position and improve his estates. As in previous generations, the key to this was a rich wife. In 1793 he married Mary, the daughter and heir of Thomas Trollope Browne, described many years later as an 'opulent wine merchant' (fn. 330) but in fact the owner of the Tolethorpe Hall estate in Little Casterton (Rutland) and adjoining parishes, (fn. 331) worth £2,000 a year at the time of the marriage. Mary also had £112,000 in Consols., £4,000 in Bank stock and £3,333 6s. 8d. in South Sea Annuities, as well as some leasehold property in Oxfordshire. Pomfret's Northamptonshire estate was then worth £4,000 a year, subject to the mortgage of £30,000. (fn. 332) Under their marriage settlement (fn. 333) Pomfret obtained the use for his life only of his wife's Tolethorpe estate, leaving her free to make an appointment as to the reversion; of the £112,000, sufficient was to be sold to clear the mortgage on the Easton estate but the balance was to remain in the hands of Lady Pomfret's trustees, who were to pay her £2,000 a year pin-money. If (as proved to be the case) there was no issue of the marriage, Lady Pomfret was to have the appointment of the balance of her capital. The £4,000 Bank stock was not settled and thus became the earl's absolute property; he and the countess made a joint appointment concerning the South Sea Annuities shortly after their marriage. (fn. 334)
The marriage appears to have broken down almost at once, with the earl accusing his wife of behaving eccentrically. She in turn accused him of mental and physical cruelty, and claimed that this became worse after her mother died in 1795, leaving about £45,000 but no will, as a result of which the money passed to the earl. (fn. 335) She repeatedly complained that Pomfret was a worthless fortune-hunter who was penniless until he married her, and had no interest in her welfare now that her mother was dead and he had obtained her money as well. Pomfret insisted that the marriage settlement had been fair and that he had refrained from realising any of the £112,000 to discharge the mortgage on Easton, since the remaining balance would have been insufficient to fund the countess's pinmoney. As it was, the income, after paying the £2,000, produced only £1,360 towards the interest on the £30,000 mortgage, leaving Pomfret to find £140 a year from his own pocket.
Lady Pomfret also complained that in 1799 her husband and his brother had coerced her into granting the earl a lease of the Tolethorpe estate on terms that were unfair to her and that he had subsequently cut and sold timber from the estate. His reply was that he had placed no pressure on his wife, that the rent was reasonable (£1,100 for an estate then let for £1,044), that he had spent £2,000 on new buildings and was committed to a further £3,000, and that he had laid out £8,000 on inclosure and other improvements, raising the rental to £2,700. (fn. 336) Pomfret was certainly spending money at Easton Neston in the 1790s, when the layout of the park was modernised and the road from Towcester to Northampton diverted away from the mansion, (fn. 337) the earl advancing £3,867 to the turnpike trust. (fn. 338) He also paid £4,000 for a 99year lease of a house in Portman Square and made a number of piecemeal purchases close to his existing estate in Northamptonshire. In all he spent nearly £10,000 in this way between his marriage and the end of 1804, at which date he declared the net income of the Easton Neston estate (after paying interest on the mortgage) as £4,220. He also received about £740 a year from the mining property in Cumberland and Yorkshire. Lady Pomfret claimed her husband's capital and income were vastly greater than his figures, (fn. 339) but there is no independent evidence from which to establish the truth.
In 1801 the couple separated, the earl agreeing to pay Lady Pomfret a further £2,000 a year in addition to her existing allowance of the same amount. (fn. 340) In 1818 Pomfret obtained a Chancery decree requiring his wife's trustees to sell sufficient of the £112,000 Consols. to clear the £30,000 mortgage which had encumbered the estate since 1764. (fn. 341) This seems to have opened the way to a further round of purchases close to Easton Neston, including in 1823 the manor of Tiffield. (fn. 342) The earl had twice to amend his will to take account of newly acquired property and left instructions to his trustees to realise his personal estate and use the proceeds to buy further land adjacent to Easton, (fn. 343) which suggests a continuing commitment to improve his estate. (fn. 344)
The 3rd earl died in 1830 and was succeeded briefly by his brother, Thomas William Fermor, who himself died in 1833, when the title passed to his elder son, George William Richard, then aged eleven. (fn. 345)
During the 5th earl's time the estate was once again dogged by financial problems, caused chiefly by the excessive generosity of his uncle, the 3rd earl, who had provided in his will for portions of £14,000 apiece to be raised for Earl Thomas's three younger children. The 4th earl added to this incumbrance by leaving his wife (who survived until 1889) three annuities totalling £1,600 a year; a further £200 was due to Earl Thomas's former secretary. (fn. 346) The 3rd earl's trustees failed to take steps to raise the £42,000 needed for his brother's children before Earl Thomas's death and in 1834 their grandmother, Anna Maria Borough, brought a Chancery action against the 5th earl (himself a minor), the widow of the 4th earl and the trustees, seeking a mortgage on the estate to secure the portions. The estate was once again put into receivership and interest paid on the £42,000 until the action was finally settled after the 5th earl came of age in 1845. The following year (with the court's consent) the earl's elder sister, Lady Arabella, married Sir Thomas George Hesketh of Rufford Hall (Lancs.) and received her £14,000 out of the earl's own funds, thus reducing the charge on the estate to £28,000. (fn. 347)
In the early 1850s the fixed charges on the Easton Neston estate totalled about £4,000 a year, including £1,600 payable to the 4th earl's widow, £200 to the former secretary, and £560 each to two of his children (i.e. 4 per cent interest on the portions of £14,000), apart from tithes, charities, quit rents, school subscriptions etc. (fn. 348) The gross rental was then around £10,000 a year, plus about £2,500 from the woods, an estate brickyard and gravel quarry, and a home farm. The earl drew between £1,000 and £2,000 for himself and ordinary estate expenses, together with the fixed charges, accounted for the rest. (fn. 349) With over a fifth of the gross income absorbed by mortgage and annuity payments there was clearly no surplus available for investment in improvements. In addition the earl himself had debts totalling £8,000 in the mid 1850s, on which he was paying between 4 and 5 per cent interest. (fn. 350) The estate sold some property in these years, including the Pomfret Arms in Cotton End; (fn. 351) part of their holdings in Towcester; (fn. 352) land in Pattishall, (fn. 353) Abthorpe and Cold Higham; (fn. 354) and the advowson of Cold Higham. (fn. 355) The 5th earl also made a total of seven purchases, (fn. 356) including a farm at Heathencote; (fn. 357) a modern house, Park View, on the edge of Towcester; (fn. 358) and some land at Tiffield. (fn. 359)
In 1856-7 parts of the unsettled estate were mortgaged to raise a fresh sum of £18,000, increasing the debt charges by £770. The gross rental was then reckoned as £10,356, less land tax and other charges of £1,596. After deducting interest on mortgages (£1,890) and the jointures and annuities (£1,800), the net rental (from which ordinary estate, household and personal expenses had still to be met) fell to only £5,070. (fn. 360) In 1861 a further £10,000 was raised, adding £400 to the charges, (fn. 361) and three years later another £2,000 was borrowed, again at 4 per cent. (fn. 362) Also in 1864 the earl's younger brother (and heir apparent) Thomas Hatton George Fermor died unmarried, leaving most of his property to either the earl or his sister Henrietta, (fn. 363) and thus relieving his brother of the annual payment of £560 on his portion of £14,000. (fn. 364) Despite this, one of the 5th earl's last actions was to remortgage the whole of the Northamptonshire estate for a further £3,000 in 1866, making the total debt £47,000. The annual interest on this sum was £1,930, to which had to be added the jointure of £1,600 due to his mother. (fn. 365) The gross rental of the estate remained around £10,000. (fn. 366)
In the mid 19th century there were three farms in Easton Neston itself, although a good deal of land was let with others in adjoining parishes. In 1844 Sewardsley was a holding of 280 a.; in Hulcote itself Manor Farm had 250 a. and a holding centred on Easton Neston Lodge had 315 a. None of the farm land was in hand and at this date (with the mansion and 81 a. of garden and grounds let to Charles Lennox Butler) Pomfret retained only 152 a. of woods and plantations. (fn. 367)
Farming after 1867.
The last earl of Pomfret died unmarried in June 1867, aged 42. (fn. 368) His personal estate, amounting to just under £20,000, (fn. 369) was divided between his two sisters, and his property in Cumberland was left to his cousin Sir George William Denys of Draycott Hall (Yorks.). (fn. 370) The Easton Neston estate passed to his sister Anna Maria Arabella (who died in 1870) and her husband Sir Thomas George Hesketh Bt. of Rufford Hall, near Ormskirk, who took the additional name of Fermor. (fn. 371) As soon as he secured possession of the estate, Fermor-Hesketh began a major campaign of repairs to the mansion and farm buildings, which were said to be greatly dilapidated at the earl's death, and the purchase of new furniture for the mansion. (fn. 372)
These improvements made possible an increase in the rental, to £11,572 in 1871 (fn. 373) and £12,187 the following year. The estate was then reckoned to extend to 6,600 acres, of which 4,241 acres were let, with the mansion, park, home farm, woods and a quarry in hand, (fn. 374) although in 1870 Fermor-Hesketh leased the mansion and 10 a. of grounds to the earl of Ellesmere for three years at £700 a year. (fn. 375) On the other hand, the improvements also necessitated a loan of £3,107 (at 5½ per cent, secured on the estate) from the General Land Drainage & Improvement Co. and an overdraft of £16,000 at the Towcester Old Bank, (fn. 376) which meant that in 1871 total outgoings, including interest, had risen to £6,313, reducing the net rental to £5,269. (fn. 377) When the bank asked to be repaid in 1872, Sir Thomas's second son, Thomas George Fermor-Hesketh, to whom Easton Neston was entailed, arranged to borrow £18,000 (including £2,000 for himself) secured on an insurance policy and his life interest in the estate. (fn. 378)
Sir Thomas died later the same year, when his eldest son Thomas Henry succeeded as 6th baronet. He died unmarried in 1876, whereupon his brother Thomas George became the 7th baronet (fn. 379) and the family's Lancashire and Northamptonshire estates were united.
Four years earlier, immediately after his father's death, Sir Thomas had commissioned a comprehensive report on the estate by G.A. Dean, who drew attention to the limitations of some of the tenants, the poor condition of many of the old farm buildings, the low rents, and the lack of written tenancy agreements, all legacies of poor management before 1867. On the other hand, he also suggested that some of the money spent by Sir Thomas's father on new buildings had been wasted. The report recommended that more draining be undertaken to improve the heavier land and that some farm houses and buildings be replaced, especially those in Towcester where the sites could be released as building land. Rents should be increased where possible, and some of the pasture near Towcester could be let more profitably as accommodation land, rather than with the farms. (fn. 380) Written tenancy agreements began to be used later in the 1870s, although some of the larger farms were let on 21-year leases, rather than the annual tenancies recommended. (fn. 381) In 1883 Fermor-Hesketh's Northamptonshire estate (reckoned as 5,784 a.) was worth £11,975 gross, out of a total of £31,633, the rest of which came from 9,394 a. in Lancashire and 15 a. in the North Riding. (fn. 382)
In the 1870s and 1880s there were two principal farms in the parish, Sewardsley (or Showsley) and Manor Farm, Hulcote, and another holding let to a 'builder and grazier'. (fn. 383) Sewardsley was one of the farms improved by the erection of new buildings in the later 1860s; rather less seems to have been done to the farms in Hulcote itself. (fn. 384) In 1872 Sewardsley (458 a.), was valued at £760 a year, when it was described as containing good pasture, although much of the arable was cold and wet. The buildings were substantial and well arranged but Dean recommended that the thatched roof of the house be replaced with slate or tile. Manor Farm (383 a.) was valued at £796, although Dean suggested that the tenant, then old and in poor health, should not be asked to pay the figure. The house was 'capital' and the buildings good; the farm was generally well managed. (fn. 385) From about 1876, after the expiry of the lease to Ellesmere and a short period in which it was occupied by Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, (fn. 386) the mansion was not let and some 600 a. of parkland was also kept in hand, together with a home farm of similar size. (fn. 387)
Dean's valuations, although higher than existing rents and made just before the beginning of the agricultural depression, proved reasonably sound. When the existing tenant of Sewardsley was granted a 21-year lease in 1876 a figure of £730 (32s. an acre) was achieved; (fn. 388) six years later, when Manor Farm (then 433 a.) was let to a new tenant for a similar term, he agreed to pay 36s. an acre after two years at a reduced rent, which possibly reflected the condition of the farm after an elderly tenant had vacated. (fn. 389) In 1886, however, the rent at Sewardsley was reduced to 25s. an acre, a figure which fell in stages before settling at £1 an acre from 1898, at which it remained for at least ten years. (fn. 390) Parcels of accommodation land were being let for between 30s. and £2 an acre in the same period. (fn. 391)
By 1909 most of the estate had been laid down to pasture and the farm buildings were described as 'unusually good', even though the rents remained 'extremely moderate'. (fn. 392) When Sewardsley was re-let in 1912 a slight increase in rent was achieved, with the new tenant paying £450 15s. for 432 a. (i.e. about 20s. 6d. an acre), (fn. 393) although this had been increased to £528 by 1915. (fn. 394) In the early 1920s accommodation land alongside the Northampton road was making £3 an acre. (fn. 395)
Neither the modernisation of farming, nor the attempts to exploit the mineral resources of the estate that were made in this period, (fn. 396) tackled the underlying problem of long-term debt, for which the solution appears to have come from Sir Thomas's marriage in 1880 in California to Florence Emily, the daughter of William Sharon (1821-85), who made a fortune in the goldmines of Nevada, where he later became a state senator. Five years later Lady Fermor-Hesketh received £1m. from her father, free of probate duty since Sharon had made the gift a week before his death. (fn. 397) This estate consisted largely of property in San Francisco and when the city was wrecked by the earthquake of 1906 Lady Fermor-Hesketh was said to have lost heavily. As a result retrenchment became necessary at Easton Neston and the mansion was shut up for a time. (fn. 398)
Before this setback Lady Fermor-Hesketh's capital appears to have enabled her husband to discharge the estate from debt, for in 1909, when it was valued for a new mortgage of £100,000, the gross rental (on 5,713 a.) was £10,569 and the net figure £7,992, suggesting no more than normal outgoings. On this occasion almost all aspects of the estate were lavishly praised, although rents were still regarded as moderate, especially around Towcester, where there remained scope for letting more pasture as accommodation land. (fn. 399) Six years later rents were still seen as low, although increases of around 20 per cent had been achieved where tenancies had fallen in, and overall the property was considered to have improved. About 23 a., mainly in Towcester, had been sold and £600 of the £1,830 proceeds used to reduce the mortgage slightly. Gross income was steadily increasing and outgoings were said to be under control. (fn. 400)
Apart from a solitary shopkeeper and the schoolmaster, (fn. 401) the cottages in Hulcote were occupied entirely by farm labourers and estate servants throughout the 19th century. The shop had gone by 1920. (fn. 402)
Sir Thomas George Fermor-Hesketh died in 1924 and was succeeded as 8th baronet by his elder son, also named Thomas, to whom his father transferred his life interest in the Easton Neston estate in 1912. (fn. 403) In 1920 Thomas established the Towcester Mill & Trading Co. Ltd., with a nominal capital of £5,000, as a vehicle to develop the Easton Neston estate, which within a few years had taken two of the three farms in the parish in hand. (fn. 404) Showsley remained a tenanted farm until the Second World War. (fn. 405) In 1928 he set up Towcester Racecourse Company Ltd., also with a nominal capital of £5,000, (fn. 406) which took over from a committee whose lease had then expired the course laid out in the park to the south of the river (in Paulerspury parish), where an annual meeting had been held on Easter Monday since 1876. (fn. 407) In his father's day the meeting had realised about £100 for the estate. (fn. 408) Sir Thomas erected a new grandstand and other buildings in 1928-9 and placed the course under National Hunt rules. (fn. 409) In 1936 the company's capital was increased to £25,000. (fn. 410) During the same period the family's business interests came to be managed through several other private companies. (fn. 411) At Easton Neston itself Sir Thomas, who was created Baron Hesketh in 1935, (fn. 412) carried out improvements to the house, gardens and grounds. (fn. 413)
At Lord Hesketh's death in 1944 the title passed to his son Frederick, who died only ten years later. During the later 20th century Easton Neston remained a traditional landed estate, although somewhat reduced in acreage. (fn. 414) House-property and some building land in Towcester was sold, and the farmland retained in hand, although the former farmhouses at Hulcote and Showsley were not sold, nor were the cottages at Hulcote. (fn. 415) The racecourse, which restarted in 1946 after wartime requisitioning by the Army, was progressively improved and the business expanded. In the 1990s there were 14 days racing a year at the course, (fn. 416) whose buildings were also used for conferences, antiques fairs and other events.
The count of Mortain's manor of Easton Neston included a mill rendering 10s. yearly in 1086 (fn. 417) and a late 12th-century grant by Richard son of Richard de Atrio to Ralph his brother included all the land belonging to Richard's mill at Easton Neston. (fn. 418) In the 13th century Richard de L'Estre granted the nuns of Sewardsley the multure of their corn at his mill at Easton Neston. (fn. 419) Towards the end of the same century Geoffrey Friday of Easton Neston granted the mill to William Bradden for 10s. and a yearly rent of 2s. 10d., (fn. 420) which Geoffrey's son John later confirmed. (fn. 421) The grantee was probably the Sir William de Bradden who in 1291 demised the mill to Humphrey Cut of Easton Neston for his life for 6½ marks a year, as John de L'Estre and Reynold Mallery had held it for a term of years. (fn. 422) In 1471 Richard Middleton and Maud his wife leased the mill for 21 years to William Story of Towcester, carpenter, at an annual rent of 53s. 4d. (fn. 423) A horse-mill is mentioned in 1459 (fn. 424) and in 1511, when it was in the yard at the manor. (fn. 425)
The water-mill was included in the grant to William Compton in 1512 (fn. 426) and in the agreement between Thomas Empson and Richard Fermor of 1530. (fn. 427) In 1548 Sir John Williams was granted a lease of the mill (and other premises) in place of his tenancy at will. (fn. 428) When the estate was returned to Richard Fermor two years later the mill was valued at £4 a year. (fn. 429) In 1558 William Panton alias Bolingbroke was granted a lease of Easton Neston mill, together with a windmill in the fields of Towcester, the fishery around the water-mill and some adjoining land (but reserving a horse-mill and the fishing in the mill-race) for 21 years at £10. (fn. 430) John Costerd, the miller at Easton mill, gave 40s. to the church there in 1632. (fn. 431) In 1646 'two water cornmills under one roof' were among the premises at Easton surrendered by Dame Anne Fermor to her son William. (fn. 432) The mill is described in similar terms in Sir William Fermor's son's first marriage settlement of 1671, when it was valued at £25 a year; (fn. 433) when he remarried in 1682 the mill was in tenure of Edward Dingley. (fn. 434) Either the same man or a namesake was tenant in 1720, and also had a moiety of the windmill in Towcester Field, for which the combined rent was £27 and a couple of ducks at Michaelmas. (fn. 435) The other moiety of the windmill was leased to Edward James, the tenant of Towcester water-mill. (fn. 436) The Easton Neston mill was presumably one of the four on the estate mentioned in 1753, (fn. 437) and one of the two recorded in 1762. (fn. 438) There are no references to the mill in the 3rd earl's time (1785-1830) and in the 1830s it was said to have been out of use for some years, (fn. 439) although the buildings survived to a much later date. (fn. 440)
Mining and quarrying.
Apart from the mill, the only other industrial activity in the parish has been connected with the exploitation of minerals. There was a hundredweight of bricks and three cases of tiles in the Horse Close near the manor house in 1511, (fn. 441) which were presumably made locally, as no doubt were the bricks used to build the two service wings of the mansion in the 1680s, and part of the main block in the 1690s. (fn. 442) The building accounts of 1701-2 include payments to a bricklayer for work on the cellars. (fn. 443)
Sometime between 1806 and 1827 a brick kiln was established on the west side of the Northampton road to the north-west of the park. (fn. 444) This was operated directly by the estate, at least between the 1830s and 1850s, (fn. 445) to make both common bricks and a range of specials, together with roofing and flooring tiles, drain pipes and chimney pots. In 1849 the output included 107,000 common bricks, 25,000 plain roofing tiles, and 294,500 pipes of various sizes. Total expenditure was £309, of which £189 was for materials (chiefly £138 for coal) and the rest labour, all of which was paid by piece-rate. (fn. 446) Some of the output would have been used on the estate, but sales that year realised £250. (fn. 447) In 1855 there was both an Old Yard and a New Yard, although both appear to have been on the same site. (fn. 448) The brickworks may have remained in use after the death of the 5th earl, since the new farm buildings erected by Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh (the 5th baronet) in 1867-70 were of brick with tiled roofs, although the surviving accounts do not explicitly state that the materials were made on the estate. (fn. 449) The brickyard had certainly closed by 1872. (fn. 450)
As soon as he inherited the estate, Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh (the 7th baronet) sought to develop its mineral resources more fully than in the past. In 1873 he granted a lease to Samuel Lloyd, the Birmingham ironmaster, for 60 years from Michaelmas 1872 of the ironstone under most of the estate in Easton, Showsley and Shutlanger. Lloyd opened quarries to the north of the mansion and built a tramway from Shutlanger to the Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway near Towcester station. (fn. 451) In 1874 he joined forces with Charles William Siemens, who chose Towcester as the site for experiments with his process for reducing iron ore directly to wrought iron, using a patent rotatory furnace instead of a conventional blast furnace. Siemens established the Towcester Co. Ltd., with an authorised capital of £150,000, which built works alongside the N. & B. Railway near the end of the tramway, and took over Lloyd's quarrying operations from 31 December 1873. (fn. 452) In 1875 Fermor-Hesketh granted Lloyd a new lease for 70 years of ironstone, limestone, clay and other minerals under virtually the whole of the Easton Neston estate, with quite limited reservations to protect the mansion and timber in the park. The dead rent was £1,000 a year, plus royalties on minerals raised and bricks made, and wayleaves for the use of the tramway. (fn. 453)
The Towcester Co. went into voluntary liquidation early in 1878. (fn. 454) Siemens and his associates set up a new Direct Process Iron Co. Ltd. (with which Lloyd was not connected) to take over the ironworks, although this lasted only until 1884, when the furnaces seem to have been abandoned. (fn. 455) The lease of the quarries, brickworks, tramway and associated plant was surrendered to Lloyd, who later in 1878 granted an under-lease to the Easton Estate & Mining Co. Ltd. for £10,000, half paid in cash and the rest in shares in the new concern. He also received £1,600 for stock-in-trade. The new company had an authorised capital of £30,000 and (apart from Lloyd) was largely financed by the Burtonon-Trent brewers, Frederick and John Gretton and Robert Ratcliff. (fn. 456)
Also in 1878-9 Fermor-Hesketh was among those who promoted a scheme for a railway from Towcester to a junction with the Midland Railway near Olney. (fn. 457) His agent argued that the line would enable Sir Thomas fully to exploit the ironstone (then being sent to South Wales by an inconvenient route), limestone, and brick clay on the Easton Neston estate, and would also facilitate the development of his Towcester property and the letting of the mansion at Easton Neston, both of which had proved difficult because of the poor railway service. (fn. 458) Although an Act was obtained in 1879, the company (and others associated with it in attempting to create a direct route from Northamptonshire to South Wales) was for years dogged by financial difficulties and the line from Towcester to Olney remained unbuilt. (fn. 459) In the meantime, the Easton Neston Mining Co. went into voluntary liquidation in 1883 and was wound up the following year. (fn. 460)
In 1889 Fermor-Hesketh took the lead in a fresh attempt to work his minerals when he established the Towcester Mineral & Brick Co. Ltd., with a nominal capital of £10,000, of which he found £1,000. (fn. 461) In 1891 access to the quarries was finally improved by the opening of the railway to Olney, although by this date sales of Northamptonshire ore to South Wales had virtually ended. (fn. 462) At its western end the railway partly followed the route of Lloyd's tramway, the remnant of which was realigned to run from new brickworks near the Northampton road (to the north of the old estate brickyard) to the main line near the site of Towcester Ironworks. (fn. 463) The brickworks was equipped with a Hoffmann kiln and is said to have produced about a million pressed bricks a year. (fn. 464) The estate sold 27 a. to the Stratford, Towcester & Midland Junction Railway for the Olney line. (fn. 465)
The Towcester Mineral & Brick Co. Ltd. survived until 1901, when it followed its predecessors into voluntary liquidation and was wound up two years later, (fn. 466) whereupon the company's former manager, Richard John Harry, continued quarrying on the estate on his own account. (fn. 467) In 1906 he was granted a new lease for 17 years at £50 dead rent and royalties of 3d. a ton on ironstone, 2d. on limestone. The brickworks had closed by this date, with little prospect of reopening, but between 1904 and 1908 mineral royalties averaged £394 a year. (fn. 468)
There was a setback in the latter year when Harry was drowned in a flooded clay-pit (fn. 469) but his widow Alice and her brother William Alfred Gardner kept on the business, trading as the Towcester Mineral & Brick Co. (fn. 470) New ironstone workings were opened near Showsley Farm under a lease of 1909 and in a field in Tiffield parish north of the brickworks. By 1915 a large amount of capital had been spent on the second of these sites, including the installation of a steam navvy capable of moving a ton of earth a minute and thus able to remove the whole of the 40 ft. overburden, leaving only the ironstone to be got by hand. The workings near Showsley Farm had been less successful and in 1915 some had been abandoned because of shortage of labour, although there appeared to be a good face of ironstone there. Between 1909 and 1915 royalties averaged £431 a year. (fn. 471)
In 1918 the company was taken over by Edward Henry Jellett, (fn. 472) who in 1919 renewed a private siding agreement with the Stratford & Midland Junction Railway. (fn. 473) He continued to trade (as an ironstone proprietor, not a brickmaker) under the same style until about 1928. (fn. 474) What appears to have been a separate business, the Towcester Ironstone Co., also had quarries at Easton Neston during the First World War, which closed down in 1920. (fn. 475)
In the early 15th century the constable of Easton Neston attended the court held at Old Stratford for the Northamptonshire manors of the honor of Berkhamsted, (fn. 476) as his successor did in the mid 17th. (fn. 477) During the 1540s, when Easton Neston was briefly part of the honor of Grafton, tenants did suit at the honor court and at a court held for the manor of Easton itself. (fn. 478) In the 1550s the Fermors were holding a court for the 'manor of Easton Neston and Hulcote' (presumably meaning the Green family's former estate, as distinct from the Hulcotes' manor), where a single constable and field-teller were appointed, rather than one for each village. (fn. 479) Similarly, although a removal order of 1820 refers to the 'hamlet of Hulcote' in the parish of Easton Neston, (fn. 480) this appears to be a slip of the pen, since there is no other evidence that Hulcote was ever rated separately for poor relief. (fn. 481)
Vestry and parish.
In the 1850s a parish surveyor was buying gravel to mend the roads, and also repairing the gate to the pound at Hulcote. (fn. 482)
Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 Easton Neston was included in Towcester poor law union, and thus became part of Towcester Rural District in 1894. In 1974 it was included in South Northamptonshire District. (fn. 483) Its population was too small, both in 1894 and later, for a parish council to be established; at the time of writing the parish meeting was chaired by Christian, Lady Hesketh. (fn. 484)
The earliest reference to a church at Easton Neston appears to be the institution of Nicholas de Say as rector in 1224. (fn. 485) The advowson was parcel of the manor during the 13th century, although it was leased on several occasions. (fn. 486) By the end of the century the advowson was held by the Bradden family. (fn. 487) In 1315 Geoffrey de Bradden established a chantry at Sewardsley, in return for which he granted the advowson to the priory, which was given licence to appropriate the church. (fn. 488) Sewardsley did not immediately act on their licence and their title to the living was disputed. In 1370 Sir Thomas Green, lord of Easton Neston, tried unsuccessfully to recover the living; for their part the nuns secured confirmation of Geoffrey de Bradden's gift in 1360 and 1378. (fn. 489) On the latter occasion the priory agreed to pay a pension of 10s. a year to the archdeacon of Northampton to compensate him for the loss of income from the church of Easton Neston, (fn. 490) at the same receiving permission for the appropriation from Bishop Buckingham. (fn. 491) The vicarage was not ordained until 1403. (fn. 492)
The rectory remained a possession of Sewardsley until 1537, (fn. 493) when the site of the priory and many of its possessions, including the rectory, were leased to Thomas Broke. (fn. 494) In 1549 the rectory was granted to James Roger and Richard Veale, (fn. 495) who sold the estate to John, Lord Williams. After he died in 1575 Williams's executors, as directed in his will, granted the rectory to Winchester College (later New College), Oxford, in trust for the maintenance of a free school in Thame. (fn. 496)
The vicarage founded and endowed by Sewardsley in 1403 (fn. 497) was later granted by the priory to Richard Empson, who in turn assigned the advowson to Richard Fermor. In 1538, however, the king presented to the living, since Sewardsley was then in Crown hands. (fn. 498) In 1550 the advowson was included in the grant to Fermor of the manor of Easton Neston and other estates which he had lost through his attainder ten years earlier. (fn. 499) The advowson thereafter descended with the manor until 1924, when Easton Neston was united with the vicarage of Towcester. Patronage of the new benefice was to alternate between the bishop of Peterborough and the FermorHesketh family, which remains the position at the time of writing. (fn. 500)
Income and property.
In 1254, 1291 and 1535 the rectory of Easton Neston was valued at 10 marks. (fn. 501) On the latter ocasion the vicarage was worth £8 a year, (fn. 502) whereas in 1655 it was valued at £53, (fn. 503) very close to the gross income of £54 15s. 6d. stated in 18th-century glebe terriers, of which £45 13s. 6d. came from a payment by the earls of Pomfret in lieu of former common-field glebe absorbed into the manorial estate and the rest from the rent of a few acres of inclosed land. (fn. 504) In 1652, when the township was inclosed, the vicar had 9 a. in the fields of Hulcote, for which the Fermors afterwards paid £5 13s. 6d. a year. (fn. 505)
In 1782 New College brought an Exchequer action against the 3rd earl of Pomfret to reassert their claim to the great tithes, which it then leased to Pomfret. (fn. 506) In the same year the vicar leased the small tithes to the earl for 99 years at £60 a year, (fn. 507) effectively setting the gross income of the living at that figure. In the early 19th century, when the vicarage was held with another living, the curate serving Easton Neston was paid a stipend of £50. (fn. 508) New College leased their tithes for only 10 years at a time, enabling them to raise the rent from £80 in 1797 to £95 in 1807, £110 in 1817, (fn. 509) and £160 in 1838. (fn. 510) The Tithe Commission's surveyor considered even the last figure too low, especially as the college was acting as a trustee of Thame Grammar School and, since the tithes were all due from a single owner, would be cheap to collect if not leased. (fn. 511)
In 1844 the great tithes were commuted for £159 and the small tithes for £243. (fn. 512) New College renewed their lease to the 5th earl of Pomfret in 1850 at £160 but in 1859, after the sale of a piece of land on which a tithe barn had once stood, reduced the rent to £150. In 1862 the vicar leased the small tithes and 5 a. of glebe to Pomfret for 14 years at £247 a year. (fn. 513) By 1894 the income of the living had fallen to £182 and by 1898 to £154. (fn. 514) It recovered to £170 in 1914 and £241 in 1920. (fn. 515) At the time of the union with Towcester the living was worth £266 net. (fn. 516) The joint income of the united living after 1924 was roughly twice that figure. (fn. 517)
When the vicarage was ordained in 1403 its possessions included the 'rectory house' of the church, a garden called the Rickyard, and a moiety of a 'grange', perhaps the tithe barn later deemed to be part of the rectorial estate. (fn. 518) The parsonage was presumably near the church at Easton Neston and thus disappeared with the rest of the village in the late 15th century. (fn. 519) It successor was the 'cottage of the vicarage' at Hulcote which was repaired and the orchard planted with apple trees in 1620. (fn. 520) A century later it was let for 12s. 6d. a year. (fn. 521) Repaired again in 1742, when it was occupied by the incumbent, (fn. 522) the house was described as containing only two bays of building in 1744 (fn. 523) and as a 'mean cottage' in the 1830s. (fn. 524) A curate appointed in 1837 was required to reside in the parish but his successor three years later was to live at Pattishall, 'there being no glebe house' at Easton Neston. (fn. 525) On the other hand, when R.C. Collins was licensed as stipendiary curate in 1855 he was required to reside (fn. 526) and it may have been at that date that Pomfret Lodge, which stands in the park between Easton Neston House and Hulcote village, was first used as a parsonage. (fn. 527) By 1898 Collins was living at Towcester. (fn. 528) As part of his campaign to prevent the union with Towcester in 1923-4, Major Fermor-Hesketh offered a house on the estate for an incumbent of Easton Neston, (fn. 529) but after the union the vicar lived in the handsome and convenient parsonage next to the church at Towcester, as his successors have since.
Incumbents and church life.
By his will of 1481, proved the following year, John Hulcote, lord of the manor of Hulcote, bequeathed all his purchased lands in Easton Neston, Hulcote and Caldecote to sustain the church and renew and repair the ornaments. (fn. 530) By the 18th century almost all the land belonging to the charity was at Caldecote, in Towcester parish, where the trustees had an allotment of 99 a. at inclosure, together with a small area in Greens Norton. (fn. 531) The estate was the subject of an exchange with the Pomfret estate in 1808. (fn. 532) From 1816 some of the income of the charity was used to support a school at Hulcote. (fn. 533) In 1837 it was found that the church was in need of repairs costing an estimated £573 and of £30 a year for maintenance, which was to be paid from the income of the charity, (fn. 534) the rest of which was to be used to support the school and for the relief of the poor of the parish. (fn. 535) The estate, which was to be let at rack rent for terms not exceeding 21 years, (fn. 536) then consisted of 106 a. of land and a cottage and garden in Caldecote, and another 4 a. in Greens Norton. (fn. 537)
During the 18th and 19th centuries Easton Neston was often held in plurality with other livings. (fn. 538) The strongest link was with Towcester, where Robinson Lawford, Joseph Garton and Robert Collins (whose incumbency at Easton Neston lasted from 1855 to 1916), all served as vicars. (fn. 539) Lawford was also master of Towcester Grammar School. (fn. 540)
In 1851 the average attendance at Sunday service was said to be 40. (fn. 541)
In the early 1920s Easton Neston had two services every Sunday, with an average of 30 in the morning and 15 in the afternoon, and Communion once a month. Services were also held at the 'mission room' (presumably the school) at Hulcote. The number of parishioners, however, was so small (about 170, of whom 120 lived at Hulcote and another 20 were residents and staff at the mansion), that the bishop was reluctant to appoint a successor to Collins after he died in 1916, preferring Easton Neston to continue to be held in plurality with Towcester until a union could be effected. Towcester was too large for one man; with the combined income of the two livings, the vicar would be able to appoint a curate and run both parishes effectively. Easton Neston alone was little more than a 'private chaplaincy', as Major FermorHesketh's agent tacitly admitted when he asked the bishop for a man of scientific or literary tastes to replace Collins, since there was not a great deal of parish work to do. Although the agent presented a petition signed by 73 tenants of the estate opposing the union on the ground that between 1916 and 1922 Easton Neston had been inadequately served by the vicar of Towcester, an inquiry found that the new incumbent, R.E. Ford, commanded confidence and respect in both parishes. He was a young man able and willing to take on the extra work. The commission recommended that the union take place, although it accepted Fermor-Hesketh's argument that, to allay opposition, Easton Neston should receive a full complement of services, including matins and evensong every Sunday, frequent celebration of Communion, and special services in Advent and Lent, as well as Bible classes. The union of livings went ahead but the two parishes remained distinct in all respects. (fn. 542)
In 1936 Lord Hesketh's solicitor queried the need to have a parochial church council in a small parish populated entirely by employees of the estate. The diocesan registrar urged him to form one and keep it alive in case of emergency, pointing out that the bishop was required to consult the council when a vacancy in the living arose. (fn. 543)
The parish church.
The church of St. Mary comprises a chancel, a north chapel, a clerestoried nave with north and south aisles, a west tower and south porch. (fn. 544) It is essentially of the late 14th to 15th centuries, but the west window of the south aisle, a window (now blocked) on the north side of the chancel, and the chancel sedile and piscina are in a sumptuous geometrical style of c. 1280-1300. The octagonal font, with a frieze of large stiff-leaf foliage, is also late 13th-century. The three-bay nave arcades, on slender octagonal piers, are 14th-century. The west tower is of the standard Perpendicular type, as are most of the windows in the church. At the east end of the north aisle, adjoining the rood-loft entrance, are remains of a late medieval wall-painting showing elaborate architecture, perhaps the Heavenly City.
There have been a number of alterations and additions to the basic structure of the church, carried out almost entirely at the behest of the Fermor and Fermor-Hesketh families. The north chapel, dating from 1713, was built at the expense of Lady Sophia Fermor in the angle between the chancel and the north aisle. (fn. 545) The 18th century also saw classicising alterations to the chancel and chancel arch, again at the expense of Lady Sophia. (fn. 546) The interior of the church was painted in the 1780s and stepped buttresses added to the south wall of the chancel. (fn. 547) The box pews in the nave and the aisles, the pulpit and the altar-rails also date from the 18th century. (fn. 548)
The 19th century brought a fresh round of alterations. The church was described in 1837 as 'very decayed' and a major rebuilding in Gothic style was undertaken in the 1840s. An archway between the chancel and the north chapel, added when the chapel was built, was blocked. Elaborate stained glass windows were installed in the aisles and the chancel, and the classical chancel arch replaced with a taller, doublechamfered arch. (fn. 549) A new reredos in Caen stone with Devonshire marble columns, designed by E. F. Law, was installed in 1869, when other alterations were made to the chancel. (fn. 550)
Further work was done in 1934 to the design of H. J. Ingman of Northampton, with the cost shared between Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh and the Hulcote Charity. The north and south aisles were re-roofed, a new vestry added at the north-west end of the north aisle, the chancel refloored in York stone in place of the tiles put in by Law, and the altar rails moved to the west to create a more dignified sanctuary. The chapel at the east end of the north aisle was restored, the archway from the chapel to the chancel opened up, and the font moved to a position in front of the west window of the south aisle. All the interior walls were cleaned and redecorated. (fn. 551)
There are many tombs, slabs, plaques and stained-glass windows erected by, and in memory of, members of the Fermor and Fermor-Hesketh families. They include the Purbeck marble tomb-chests, with palimpsest brasses, of Richard Fermor (d. 1551); the massive alabaster tomb of Sir George Fermor (d. 1612) and his wife Mary (d. 1619); (fn. 552) and the monument to the 2nd earl of Pomfret, erected in 1819, with a Grecian relief by Chantrey. On the south wall is a marble and alabaster war memorial tablet installed in 1921. (fn. 553)
The church had three bells in 1615, when Sir Hatton Fermor gave a fourth. (fn. 554) The 3rd earl of Pomfret presented a new set of five in 1771. (fn. 555) There were six bells in the 1830s, (fn. 556) two more were added in 1911, (fn. 557) and in 1934 equipment was installed to enable one person to chime all eight. (fn. 558)
The church contains two important items, both of c. 1500, brought from elsewhere in recent times. One is a Nottingham alabaster panel showing the Betrayal of Christ, set in the south wall; the other is a Flemish tapestry showing Passion scenes, mounted as a reredos.
The parish register begins in 1559.
A chapel at Hulcote.
In 1242 John de Hulcote was given licence by Bishop Grosseteste to have a private chapel at Easton Neston, presumably attached to his hall in Hulcote. (fn. 559)
There is no evidence for any dissenting place of worship in the parish. (fn. 560)
In 1816 the trustees of the Hulcote Charity Estate resolved that, after setting aside sufficient for the repair of the church, the remainder of the income should be used to erect and support a school for the poor children of Easton Neston and provide a master. Initially £20 was to be paid to a schoolmistress for teaching a day school for all the poor children of the parish and £10 to the parish clerk for teaching an evening school two nights a week and a Sunday school. (fn. 561) Two years later it was reported that the schoolroom had been built and a Sunday school opened, attended by 23 children. (fn. 562)
In 1825 the Charity Commissioners recommended that the income be used for other purposes besides those set out in 1816, since the sum available was more than adequate for those objects. The matter was referred to Chancery and the school closed for a time, (fn. 563) although in 1833 it was reported that the day school and Sunday school had 31 pupils. (fn. 564) Four years later the court made a scheme to regulate the Hulcote Charity Estate. A sum of £50 a year was to be used to maintain the school (£30 for the master, £20 for the mistress), in which 50 poor children of Easton and Hulcote, chosen by the trustees, were to be taught free. The trustees were to elect the master and mistress, who were if possible to be man and wife and were allowed to take additional pupils at 2d. a week. They were to be provided with a house by the trustees, although the schoolroom was the property of the Fermor estate, not the charity. (fn. 565)
The scheme appears not to have been put into effect at once: in 1847 the schoolmistress was receiving only £10 a year for the day school, and a further £10 was paid out of the charity estate towards the Sunday school. (fn. 566) Within a couple of years, however, John Dove and his wife had been appointed master and mistress of the school; (fn. 567) in 1849 he received some training (at his own expense) at the Central School in Northampton run by the county branch of the National Society. (fn. 568) The Doves had been replaced by John and Mary Garlick by 1854, (fn. 569) who kept the school for about fifty years. In 1857 they were being paid £12 10s. a quarter from the Hulcote Charity, which also met the school's other expenses. (fn. 570) At the beginning of the Garlicks' time the girls' school, like that at Wicken, was being run as a lace school, in which the pupils spent most of their time learning their trade, but, as a condition of entry, devoted a certain number of hours each week to reading, writing, arithmetic and plain needlework. (fn. 571)
In 1870 the school had 16 boys and 13 girls aged between five and 12 on its books, slightly below the maximum of 35 for which the accommodation could be approved under the 1870 Elementary Education Act, and an average attendance of 23. There were also four older children at the school. A night school was taught twice a week during the six winter months, attended by four girls. (fn. 572) After the Act came into force the Education Department accepted the existing schoolroom as adequate, insisted that new offices be provided, and suppressed the teaching of lacemaking. (fn. 573)
The charity estate produced about £150 a year in the mid 19th century, (fn. 574) £140 in 1894, (fn. 575) and £128 at the turn of the century. (fn. 576) Average attendance at the school in the later 19th century was between 15 and 20. (fn. 577) After 1902 the Northamptonshire education committee sought to close the school, on the ground that the small number of children could easily attend schools at Towcester or Tiffield. This was strongly opposed by Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh and local residents, and after a public inquiry in November 1904 the Board of Education agreed to grant Easton Neston temporary recognition. Although the buildings were poor, those at Towcester were a great deal worse and were overcrowded, and while the school at Tiffield had some space it could not take all the children. In any case, both were two miles from Hulcote. (fn. 578) The Garlicks retired in 1904 and were granted a pension of £10 from the Hulcote Charity, (fn. 579) which the following year was reorganised. The educational part was made into a separate trust and the teacher's salary raised to £55. (fn. 580)
In the years before the First World War, when average attendance was about 16, the L.E.A. tried again to close the school, while the Board insisted that it be kept open until Towcester got new buildings. The managers made minor improvements, but the school remained housed in a single room with inadequate heating and ventilation, unsatisfactory cloakrooms and offices, and no playground. Although the school received reasonably favourable reports from H.M.I., the premises were so poor that the Board refused to grant permanent recognition. During the war numbers dropped and in March 1916, when it had only eight pupils, the L.E.A. closed the school as an economy measure, without any objection from the managers. (fn. 581)
After the school closed, children from Hulcote attended the Church of England school in Towcester, which in the mid 1920s was still trying to raise funds to erect new buildings. By this date the Easton Neston Educational Foundation had over £1,100 in hand, and both the Board of Education and the L.E.A. were keen to widen the terms of the trust so that £1,000 could be given to the Towcester building fund. In 1928 a new scheme allowed this to be done. Of the annual income of £55, £30 was to be used to promote lacemaking or other cottage industries in Easton Neston, or to support a village library and reading room, and £25 was to be used to assist children from the parish attending secondary schools or in further education. In 1932 the Board of Education indicated that the trustees might contribute a further sum from their accumulated balance towards the shortfall in Towcester's building fund. (fn. 582) The charity was removed from the register in 1993. (fn. 583)
The single-storey schoolroom erected in 1816 near the entrance to Easton Neston park measured 20 ft. by 14 ft. and, like the adjoining cottages built at about the same time, (fn. 584) was of brick (with red stretchers and flared headers) beneath a slate roof. After the school closed the room became a village hall, which remained in use at the time of writing.
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
Although the estate left by John Hulcote in 1481 was supposed to be applied solely to the repair of the parish church, it is possible that some of the income was being used for the relief of the poor even before a scheme made by the court of Chancery in 1837 ruled that, after £30 a year had been set aside for church repairs and £50 for a school, the remainder of the income should be given to the poor, (fn. 585) since lists of 'Trustees for the poor of Hulcote' survive for various dates between 1759 and 1797, as well as 1837. (fn. 586)
During the 19th century, when the Hulcote Charity Estate was producing between £140 and £160 a year, about half that figure should have been available for the poor, after setting aside £30 for the church and £50 for the school. (fn. 587) In 1857 the trustees spent £18 on coal and clothing for the poor, compared with £9 for fuel and repairs to the church, and £4 for the organist. (fn. 588) Under the scheme of 1905, which established a separate educational foundation with an income of £55 a year from the estate, the annual payment to the church remained £30, leaving (out of an income then said to be about £128) (fn. 589) between £40 and £50 for the poor of a parish with a population of less than 150, almost all of whom were employed by the Fermor-Hesketh estate. (fn. 590) The charity remained on the register at the time of writing. (fn. 591)
In 1612 Sir George Fermor bequeathed £10 to the poor of Hulcote and Towcester, which in 1621 was 'employed as stock', with £4 allotted to Hulcote and the balance to Towcester. In 1618 Paul Reynolds, the park keeper at Easton, gave £5 to the poor of Hulcote towards a stock, the benefit to be given to the poor towards their dinners on Easter Day. (fn. 592) By the early 19th century these benefactions had either been lost or merged into the Hulcote Charity. (fn. 593)
Easton Neston was one of the parishes which received 20s. a year from the charity established by the will of Jane Leeson of Abthorpe in 1646 (fn. 594) and removed from the register in 1995. (fn. 595)