A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 16. Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for the Institute of Historical Research, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2011.
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HENLEY AND FILLETS MANORS
From the 7th or 8th century to the early 14th, most of what became Henley parish belonged to the important royal estate of Benson or Bensington, which straddled the Chilterns. From the 9th century or earlier the Benson estate was broken up by piecemeal grants, creating several separate manors around Henley by 1066; those included a 5-hide estate at Badgemore, in what became Henley parish's western part. (fn. 1) Henley itself was retained by the king, presumably reflecting the importance of the river crossing and of the area's varied agricultural resources. (fn. 2)
A separate manor of Henley, including the town and later the park, was created before the late 12th century, possibly at the same time as the town. It continued to be held with Bensington until the early 14th century, but thereafter became fully independent, and was held throughout the Middle Ages by high-status and mostly non-resident owners. In the mid 17th century and again from the late 18th it was usually owned with nearby Fawley manor (Bucks.), passing from the Whitelockes to the Coopers, Freemans, and Mackenzies, of whom all lived at Henley or (more usually) at Fawley Court.
The rest of Henley parish remained part of Bensington manor until 1340, when land in the north, centred on what became Phyllis Court, was granted as a separate manor of Fillets. Though briefly held with Henley manor, Fillets followed a separate descent from 1353 until the 17th century, when the two were reunited. Residual Bensington land included waste along the Fair Mile, and houses at Northfield End still owed quitrent to Bensington in the 1790s. (fn. 3)
The following account deals with Henley and Fillets manors and the manor houses, including Phyllis Court. Other estates (including Badgemore) are treated below. (fn. 4)
Bensington and Henley Manors to 1337
All or part of Bensington manor was presumably in royal hands in the early 1140s, when the king granted away a few small parcels of land and may once have stayed at Henley. (fn. 5) By 1156 more land had been alienated, and much of the rest of the manor was leased for £40 13s. 4d. a year to Geoffrey de Iveto or Ivoi. (fn. 6) Possibly Geoffrey's share included Henley, where the king undertook building work immediately after Geoffrey's death c. 1177–8, when Bensington manor reverted to royal control and the demesne farm was restocked. (fn. 7) From 1189 to 1196 the whole manor, evidently including Henley, was intermittently farmed to tenants or custodians for £57 8s. a year, among them William of Waltham (in 1189), Richard son of Renfridus (in 1190), William d'Aubigny, earl of Arundel (in 1191), and William de Sancte Marie de Ecclesia (in 1194–6). In other years the manor was apparently run directly, the sheriff seeking allowances for the costs of restocking the demesne farm. (fn. 8) The pattern of short-term grants to royal servants, royal relatives and other great lords continued into the later Middle Ages, long after Henley had become detached. (fn. 9)
In 1199 King John granted his 'manors of Henley and Bensington' to Robert de Harcourt, one of a Norman baronial family related to the English Harcourts of Bosworth (Leics.) and Stanton Harcourt. (fn. 10) The phrase suggests that Henley, though tenurially still linked with Benson, was by then a distinct entity: later evidence suggests that the town, the manor house, and (by the 1270s) the park were conceived as 'Henley manor', with the remaining royal land in Henley still reckoned as part of Bensington. (fn. 11) Though assessed at only 1 knight's fee the combined manors still owed the ancient farm of £57 8s., increased to £100 from 1207 following a revaluation at the time of the grant to Harcourt. (fn. 12) Of that sum, £12 15s. seems to have been reckoned as the farm for Henley. (fn. 13) Harcourt was deprived of his English lands in 1204 after the loss of Normandy, and the sheriff accounted for both manors until 1217 when they were briefly restored at pleasure to John de Harcourt, who paid the ancient farm. (fn. 14) In 1219, however, they were given at pleasure to Engelard de Cigony in recognition of royal service, and he retained them until his death c. 1244, when Henry III gave them to his brother Richard, earl of Cornwall. (fn. 15) Soon afterwards Richard leased much of Bensington manor to 25 small local tenants for £80 a year, excluding Henley with its growing town, and his lucrative jurisdiction over the Chilterns hundreds. (fn. 16)
Richard was succeeded in 1272 by his son Edmund (d. 1300), earl of Cornwall, whose widow Margaret (d. 1312) received the 'manor and town of Henley' (valued at £13 8s. 6½d. a year) as part of her dower in 1301. (fn. 17) This part of Henley was thus excluded from grants of Bensington manor to Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, in 1302, and to the king's favourite Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, in 1309, reverting to Gaveston only in 1312, the year of his murder. (fn. 18) In 1316 Henley manor and town were among extensive lands granted to Gaveston's widow Margaret (the king's niece) for life, and confirmed the following year on her marriage to Hugh d'Audley (d. 1347), later earl of Gloucester. (fn. 19) In 1337, however, Margaret and Hugh gave possession to John de Moleyns (d. 1360), to whom the king had granted the reversion earlier that year, reserving an annual rent of £22 for Margaret's life. (fn. 20) Henley remained a distinct manor thereafter, Bensington having remained in royal hands: by the 1340s Bensington was held by the Black Prince as part of the honor of Wallingford and duchy of Cornwall, with which it remained associated in the early 17th century. (fn. 21)
Henley Manor from 1337
The manor granted to Countess Margaret in 1301 and to John de Moleyns in 1337 included the town, (fn. 22) Henley park, and unspecified (but probably small) amounts of land in Henley parish. (fn. 23) Unlike Bensington and Fillets manors it was held directly of the Crown, either by knight service or in socage. (fn. 24) In 1342 and possibly in the 1430s the manor was briefly leased to the town guild, (fn. 25) and although from the 17th century most lords were resident, from 1590 to 1786 they generally leased it to the corporation with its courts and revenues, including the fair and market tolls. In 1601 the rent was £60 a year, and in 1660 £100 and 2 qr of wheat. (fn. 26)
Moleyns was an ambitious royal favourite and a notorious 'robber baron', who acquired extensive estates in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere. On his outlawry in 1340 his lands were confiscated, but were temporarily restored in 1345; (fn. 27) from 1357 he was again imprisoned, but in 1359 his son William (later Sir William, d. 1381) received possession of all his estates under earlier family settlements. (fn. 28) The manor passed to William's son Richard (d. 1384) and grandson William (d. 1425), who came of age c. 1398, and in 1406 leased Henley to William Wyot and his wife Elizabeth for their lives at £8 a year. Wyot was a favourite family retainer and steward, and held other Moleyns property in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. (fn. 29)
William Moleyns's son William was killed in 1429 at the siege of Orléans, leaving an infant daughter, Eleanor. Though still a minor she was in possession by 1440 when, with her husband Robert Hungerford, later Lord Hungerford and Lord Moleyns, she acquired two new fairs for Henley. (fn. 30) Hungerford, as a Lancastrian, was attainted in 1461 and executed in 1464; Henley seems, however, to have remained with Eleanor and her second husband Sir Oliver Maningham (d. 1499), passing to her granddaughter Mary, suo jure Baroness Botreaux, who held with her husbands Sir Edward Hastings (d. 1506) and Sir Richard Sachaverell (d. 1534). Mary was succeeded c. 1533 by her son George Hastings (d. 1544), Lord Hastings and later earl of Huntingdon, from whom the manor passed to Francis (d. 1560) and Henry Hastings (d. 1595), successive earls of Huntingdon. (fn. 31) Henry seems to have sold it to John Alford of Fawley in 1586, but recovered it (excluding the park) four years later. (fn. 32) His brother George (the 4th earl), 'having urgent occasion to use money', sold the rest of the manor in 1599 to the London merchant Sir John Spencer, a former lord mayor of exceptional wealth. (fn. 33)
On Spencer's death in 1610 the manor passed to his daughter Elizabeth (d. 1632) and her husband William Compton, Lord Compton (d. 1630), who was high steward of Henley manor in 1603, and who in 1618 became earl of Northampton. Their son Spencer Compton, 2nd earl of Northampton, was killed in 1643 fighting for the Royalists, and the same year his son James (the 3rd earl) and widow Mary conveyed Henley and several other manors to trustees to help clear his debts. (fn. 34) Soon afterwards the manor was sequestered by the Parliamentary Committee for Compounding, and from around 1650 it was leased for £20 a year to Rudolph Warcup on behalf of Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, the lawyer, Parliamentarian and (later) Keeper of the Great Seal, who already owned both Fillets or Phyllis Court and nearby Fawley Court (Bucks.). (fn. 35) Whitelocke, probably the first resident owner for several centuries, bought the freehold from the 3rd earl and surviving trustees in 1659, and died in 1675; his second son William (later Sir William), also a lawyer, had possession of the Henley estates from 1672 under a 99-year lease, granted as part of a family settlement. (fn. 36)
In 1696 Sir William settled the manor on his son William (d. 1709) and daughter-in-law Ann (d. 1751). She retained it as jointure after the elder William's death in 1717, and renewed leases of most of it (including manorial rights) to Henley corporation. (fn. 37) Her son Bulstrode was of age by 1724, when he sold the reversion to his brother-in-law Gislingham Cooper, a London goldsmith and banker; (fn. 38) despite Ann Whitelocke's jointure Cooper was regarded as lord by 1738, and stayed regularly at Phyllis Court, renewing the corporation's lease in 1765. (fn. 39) On his death in 1768 his widow and son Edward, a clergyman, sold the manor to Sambrooke Freeman (d. 1782) of Fawley Court, (fn. 40) with which it descended until the 20th century, passing to Sambrooke's nephew Strickland Freeman (d. 1821), to his relative Admiral William Peere Williams (d. 1832), who, as legatee under Sambrooke Freeman's will, took the surname Freeman, and to the Admiral's grandson William Peere Williams Freeman, high sheriff of Oxford in 1838. By then the family's estate included some 682 a. in Henley parish, including Phyllis Court, Henley park, and c. 50 a. of woodland. In 1853 Freeman sold the Fawley and Henley estates to Edward Mackenzie (d. 1880) of Newbie (Dumfries-shire), son of a Scottish civil engineer, who settled at Fawley. He was succeeded there by his son Lt-Col. William Dalziel Mackenzie (d. 1928), and by William's son Major William Roderick Dalziel Mackenzie, who sold part of the Fawley estate in 1931–2, and the rest (including the Henley parts) in 1952. (fn. 41) Henley corporation bought the market and manorial rights in stages in 1856 and 1932. (fn. 42)
Fillets Manor (Phyllis Court)
By 1340 all or part of the remaining Bensington manor lands in Henley parish (i.e. those areas excluded from Henley manor) were leased to John de Moleyns for 33s. 10d. rent and suit of court. That year the Black Prince released the land to Moleyns in exchange for the annual render of a red rose, which was still owed in the 1630s. The estate became known as the manor of Fillets, and continued (like Bensington) to be held of the duchy of Cornwall as part of the honor of Wallingford. (fn. 43) In 1499 it was focused on the parish's north-east corner between the Thames, Henley park, and Fawley park, and allegedly included 300 a. of arable, 300 a. of pasture, 60 a. of meadow, and 200 a. of wood, together with seven houses probably at Northfield End, £4 rent in Henley and Assendon (in Bix parish), and a chief house on the site of the present-day Phyllis Court. The acreages of arable and pasture seem implausibly high compared with later evidence, though the manor certainly included large amounts of woodland. (fn. 44) Its name probably derived from an Anglo-Saxon word for hayfield, referring presumably to meadows on the town's northern edge. (fn. 45)
The manor was restored with Moleyns's other forfeited lands in 1345, (fn. 46) and in 1353 Moleyns granted the house and lands 'called Fillets' to Thomas Galian. (fn. 47) Thenceforth until the 17th century the estate generally descended separately from Henley manor. In 1415 the owner may have been William Wyot, the lessee of Henley manor, who that year acquired Countess Garden (adjoining Phyllis Court on the south) in an exchange with the Moleynses. (fn. 48) Probably before 1459 it passed to William Marmion (d. c. 1470), one of a prominent Checkendon family, who left it to his wife Amice for life. (fn. 49) She married one of the Mauntell family, and died in possession in 1498; meanwhile another William Marmion, probably a cousin or nephew, sold the reversion in 1491 to Thomas Hales of Abingdon, a merchant of the staple. (fn. 50)
Following Thomas's death in 1520 Fillets was disputed between Sir James Hales (d. 1554), a prominent judge, and Clement Rede, who had respectively married Thomas's daughters Mary and Agnes. (fn. 51) Hales secured possession, and in 1552 (with his son Humphrey) granted a 99-year lease to John Venner of Henley. In 1560 Venner, having got into financial difficulties, assigned his property to trustees for the benefit of his creditors, and the lease was sold several times, passing in 1574 to the London haberdasher Philip Smith, from 1592 to the London alderman William Masham (d. 1600) and his son William, and in 1601 to Sir John Swinnerton of London. In 1613–14 Swinnerton assigned it to Sir Robert Miller or Meller of Dorset and to Robert's son John, who had married Swinnerton's daughter, (fn. 52) and the Mellers continued as lessees until 1638. (fn. 53) The freehold remained with the Haleses until 1574–5, when Humphrey's son Sir James sold it through a trustee to Robert Rooke (d. 1580) of Fawley Court and his wife Elizabeth, in two halves. (fn. 54) Both parts passed through marriage to members of the Alford family, one to Henry Alford of Cotes (Glos.), who c. 1614 sold it to Sir Robert Meller. (fn. 55) The other half passed to William Alford, who in 1622 sold it to the lawyer Sir James Whitelocke (d. 1632): Whitelocke had already purchased Fawley manor from Alford five years earlier. In 1638 James's son Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke bought Henley park, the Mellers' lease, and the Mellers' freehold half of Fillets, thus reuniting the manor, though he had to sell some outlying parts in Assendon and Watlington to help meet the cost. (fn. 56) Following Bulstrode's acquisition of Henley manor in the 1650s, the estates remained combined until the 20th century. (fn. 57)
Residence and Manorial Sites
Henley Manor House
King Stephen seems to have stayed at Henley at least once, most likely during the siege of Oxford in 1142. (fn. 58) Given the circumstances that may have been unusual, though it seems feasible that there was a small royal lodge or estate centre at Henley from which the residual royal estate could be administered, most likely adjoining the Dorchester road and river crossing on the town's northern edge, midway between the large royal centres of Benson and Cookham. (fn. 59) If so, the site was apparently rebuilt or extended c. 1178–9, when the king acquired land at Henley 'for making his buildings': Benson manor (including Henley) had just returned to royal control following a life farm to Geoffrey d'Ivoi, at a time when extensive building work was being carried out at major royal residences such as Clarendon Palace, Silverstone, Wallingford, and Woodstock. (fn. 60) The house was presumably granted with the manor to Robert de Harcourt, reverting to the Crown in 1204; (fn. 61) the same year bream were taken from fishponds at 'Henleia' to the royal manor house at Marlborough, and 100 marks was spent on the king's houses at Henley in 1209. (fn. 62)
A 'court and garden' attached to Henley manor in 1272 (fn. 63) were presumably successors to the royal manor house, and were evidently still being maintained: in 1296–7 the lord's chamber and hall were retiled, and a new hedge was laid around the curtilage. Manorial profits the same year included 12d. herbage from the garden, which yielded apples, pears, nuts, and cherries, and outbuildings may have included a cider house. (fn. 64) Nevertheless the site was probably on a modest scale. All medieval owners had major residences elsewhere, the earls of Cornwall at nearby Wallingford castle, and in the later 13th century there seems to have been no large agricultural demesne in Henley to require an extensive agricultural complex. (fn. 65) After 1312 the buildings are unlikely to have been much needed, and may have been largely derelict by the time the Moleyns family acquired the manor in the 1340s. Both house and garden were still mentioned in 1300 and in 1313, but by 1381 there was only a garden and pasture, the manor site being worth nothing 'because the whole is spoiled and dilapidated'. In 1384–5 there were no buildings, only the garden and an adjoining vacant house site or toft. (fn. 66)
The early 14th-century manor house probably occupied the site of 'Countess Garden', a 4-a. area on the town's northern edge just south of Bell Lane. The area was still open pasture in the early 20th century, and was presumably the toft and garden mentioned in 1384–8. (fn. 67) The name, recorded in 1415 when the garden was given by William Moleyns to William Wyot in exchange for lands elsewhere, (fn. 68) referred most likely to Countess Margaret (d. 1312), widow of Edmund, earl of Cornwall, who received Henley in dower in 1301, and who may have lived there at least occasionally after her husband's death. (fn. 69) The late 12th-century manorial complex was presumably in the same area, and may originally have included the site of Phyllis Court to the north. By the 14th century, however, that lay outside Henley manor, and became the centre of the separate manor of Fillets.
Phyllis Court (Fillets)
Fillets manor included a chief house on the site of Phyllis (or Fillets) Court by 1353, when goods belonging to Richard at Hacche (who was perhaps a bailiff or lessee) were seized by the king for payment of debt. (fn. 70) The house was included in John de Moleyns's grant of Fillets manor to Thomas Galian, (fn. 71) and during the 15th and 16th centuries it was occupied by some of the owners or lessees of Fillets. Thomas Hales lived at Henley by 1502, (fn. 72) John Venner was three times warden from 1559–65, (fn. 73) and both William Marmion (d. c. 1470) and William Masham (d. 1600) were 'of Phyllis Court'. (fn. 74) Sir John Meller (who also owned Henley park) lived there in the early 17th century, serving as sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1633–4. (fn. 75) James I's consort Anne of Denmark briefly stayed there in August 1604, during the tenancy of Sir John Swinnerton. (fn. 76)
The Whitelockes acquired the house in 1638, but continued to live at Fawley until 1642 when Fawley Court was damaged by occupying Royalist soldiers. (fn. 77) As a Parliamentarian commander Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke was frequently at Henley during the Civil War, and from 1644 Phyllis Court was garrisoned and fortified by the Parliamentarians. (fn. 78) Whitelocke supervised demolition of the fortifications in 1646, and lived there with his family until around 1650, when he moved first to Fawley Court and, from 1663, to Chilton Lodge (Wilts.). (fn. 79) For a time Phyllis Court was leased, but Sir Bulstrode's son William moved there in 1664, (fn. 80) and until 1768 it was occupied by successive members of the Whitelocke family and by their successor Gislingham Cooper. (fn. 81) Later lords lived at Fawley, and Phyllis Court was leased to tenants, among them Elizabeth, Countess Grandison (d. 1782) and her husband Charles Montague Halifax. (fn. 82) It was demolished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (fn. 83)
The late 17th- and 18th-century house may have included medieval remains, though it appears to have been extensively remodelled by the Mashams or Mellers in the late 16th or early 17th century. A drawing of its north elevation during the Civil War (Fig. 32) shows a large, two-storeyed, twin-gabled range on the right, lit by mullioned and transomed windows at first-floor level; an abutting lower range on the left, with dormer windows, was probably a service range, and a detached building beyond was either a dovecot, or perhaps the 'ancient kitchen' mentioned in the early 19th century. (fn. 84) A two-storeyed projection on the west front may have been a porch, suggesting that the main front faced towards the Marlow road, (fn. 85) and a large barn, apparently weatherboarded, lay parallel to the house on the north. Possibly the medieval house was moated, although a moat forming part of the Civil War defences, equipped with wooden drawbridge, projecting gun emplacements, and an earthwork bulwark faced with iron spikes, seems to have been newly dug. (fn. 86) A single straight channel near the Thames, some distance north of the modern house, survives presumably from the moat or from an earlier fishpond. (fn. 87)
Whitelocke re-landscaped the grounds in the later 1640s after the earthworks were removed, enlarging and levelling the garden, laying new walks, and building a new barn. There is, however, no evidence for claims that the house was 'rebuilt' in 1648 following Civil-War damage. (fn. 88) In the 1660s it was taxed on 17 hearths, one of the highest assessments in the parish, (fn. 89) and in 1688 it was grand enough for Sir William Whitelocke to entertain William of Orange there during his progress to London. (fn. 90) Outbuildings in 1724 included a 'great wheat barn', a malthouse and brewhouse, and dog kennels to the north, adjoining a warren surrounded with a pale. (fn. 91) In 1784 the 'dining parlour' retained painted glass with emblems of the Whitelocke and Bulstrode families, but soon after much of the house was demolished. Materials sold off in 1787 included doors, timber floorings, fan lights, and cornices, suggesting that there had been some modernization by Cooper or by fashionable late 18th-century tenants. A remaining summer house was demolished in 1830, and other remains (excluding the 'ancient kitchen') c. 1837. (fn. 92)
The present stuccoed house in Italianate style was built on the same site c. 1845, (fn. 93) and leased to a succession of resident gentry. (fn. 94) In 1906 it became the club house for the Phyllis Court Club, which acquired the freehold c. 1937. The buildings were greatly extended in the 1920s, though more elaborate schemes came to nothing, among them plans to erect a large stone screen and gates from Grosvenor House in London as a club war memorial. (fn. 95) The club continued there in 2010.