2. Early history

He that increases knowledge increases sorrow

Ecclesiastes, chapter 1 v 18


The arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066 was the first national event to find an echo in Stambourne’s history. Once the dust from the invasion had settled, William determined to establish what his new domains were worth and the results were recorded in the Little Domesday Book [LDB] of 1088. This is the first written record of Stambourne though it is likely that the massive Norman church tower was already being built. We learn from it that the village had been settled before the Conquest. The name suggests that it was originally a Saxon settlement; the root words from which the name was formed were the AngloSaxon stan & burn the name means stone brook or stony brook.

All earlier commentators, myself included, have referred to the village being made up of three manors; these came to be known after their Manor Houses. Doubtless this presentation derives from the three separate entries in the LDB naming Stanburna and which give us the names of the two major Norman landowners. The first entry is the largest for it is shared with Toppesfield; it records the lands of Hamo Dapifer. Hamo’s title was that of Steward, probably of the King, and he was also Duke of Kent. The next entry is of Geoffrey de Mandeville’s annexations and conveys to him the manor of Moone Hall. The third is another annexation of Hamo and is probably the central Stambourne manor itself. In the first the original Saxon owner was Goti and in the last a freeman called Alstan or Alestanus. The freeman who owned the third manor before 1066 tempore regis Edwardi or t.r.e. as it is written was not named. The details of these entries and an analysis of them is put into annexations 1 & 2 to this chapter this form of presenting data will be followed throughout this edition.

de Mandeville was the more important of the two Norman lords , his successors becoming Earls of Essex of which he was sheriff: he had most of his holdings in it & he held land in nine other counties as well. He was known as the “Companion of the Conqueror” but was of rather less significance to our village than Hamo. His holding was worth only 50 shillings compared with six pounds and 40 shillings for the properties of the latter. The great majority of the recorded population also lived on Hamo’s land. However it is unlikely that either de Mandeville or Hamo dwelled in the village, nominating their own supporters to run their estates. Hamo did have a vineyard either here or in Toppesfield: perhaps it was the one from which there are still some Roman remains to be found on the hill to the northeast of the church, so we may imagine that he found time from the affairs of state at least once a year to sample the vintage.

A fourth entry describes an annexation of Richard de Clare, son of Count Gilbert who owned much of Toppesfield. It is headed In Nortuna but is translated as Cornish Hall. I argue that this is really what came for centuries to be called Ridgewell Norton, though, confusingly, it is within our southern border. I have therefore included the records of this area in my calculations. I doubt whether it was legally an independent manor but as I have not been able to find any manorial records earlier than those of the MacWilliams, who unified the Parish in about 1420, cannot test if it were.

I thus identify four, not three, parts or areas of Stambourne village:

  • One of Hamo’s two manors in the joint entry with Toppesfelda as our later manor of Grenvilles, which is on the border between the two villages. The site of the manor house must be the cottages now known as Greenfields. When they were reassembled a decade ago, having been left derelict since the last war the remains of their moat was still to be seen. It was then filled in and some massive beams, far too grand for cottagers to have used, were seen to be incorporated.
  • de Mandeville’s manor will have been what was later to become Moone Hall, as the translator says, though I do not see he has any evidence to prove this. The original house must have been within the moat some 800 yards to the south of the present building; the one now standing dates from 1480 1500 AD.
  • These assumptions make Hamo’s annexation of Alstan’s holding to be the central Manor of Stambourne Hall. Uniquely, Alstan retained this tenancy, though he lost his holding in Scoteneys a mile away on the Yeldham border. It is probable that he accepted having to abandon the one to hold on to the other. He was, as we shall see, a rich important Saxon he had xii freemen here, many more on his lands elsewhere and there were five ” milites ” living in the village.
  • The fourth part of the village at its southern end, confusingly called “Nortuna” which had belonged to Britric is that which later belonged to the de Stanburns. Though, perhaps, it never was an independent legal entity, I am convinced from the deeds of Queens’ College, Cambridge to whom they eventually sold it in 1483, it was for centuries considered to be a unit of property.

This, then, is the basis for the hypothesis that the village was, even as early as 1088AD, divided into four parts, not three. The freeman Alstan, or one of his other xii neighbours, may well have been the forerunner of the Tebald de Stanburn who, in about 1160 some seventy years after the LDB, appears in Becket’s charter as giving land to the church. This person probably occupied & maintained the central manor of the village for Hamo. He may well have built the original hallhouse, though certainly was not responsible for the present Elizabethan structure.

By the time Henry II gave Stambourne manor to Paulinus de Pever in 1262 it may well have already reverted to the crown. If, as seems likely, the de Stanburns were in locum tenens of the manor house, they could well have moved then to the lands of my fourth division in the south of the village. They probably did obtain them about this time they certainly retained them until 1483.

The building of the church

We have no early written record of the construction. The massive, squat typically Norman tower is uncompromisingly plain to the eye, a vivid reminder of the energetic warriors who ruled Stambourne a millennium ago. It has some Roman bricks and some fragments of tegulae embedded in its south & west walls; the window openings are said to be saxon in style. Presumably Norman agents were responsible for the work but there can be little doubt that the labour involved in erecting such a massive structure will have been provided by Saxon slaves & others treated little better. It seems probable that there was a Saxon building of some kind on the site, for it is so central, but no remnants of it or of a Norman nave, if indeed there ever were one, has been found. The closed off door opening in the East wall of the presence chamber, some 20 feet from the ground level, was probably for a rope ladder which could be hauled up; this supports the suggestion that the squat uncompromising solid building was built primarily as a defensive structure. Ecclesiastical and social use of the ground floor would originally have been incidental.


The first known owner of St Peters, as it was called around 1170 AD, is Robert de Greinvill; this is some 80 years after it was built in about 1085. As he had probably not held his Stambourne lands for more than a few years unless his family provided the landowner cryptically recorded as G. in LDB, it is unlikely he was involved in the building of the tower. He is recorded in a Stoke Charter of about 1174 as giving the advowson to the Convent or Priory of John the Baptist at StokebyClare who retained it till the dissolution. The relevant charters are listed in Annex 3.

The first recorded priest, John the Chaplain, is from this same time and known from the same Charters; the full list of Clerics is appended and examined in chapter 8.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta is closely associated with this area. In the ruins of the Abbey of St Edmund there are two plaques on one of the ruined walls that still stand, setting out that the movement for it was first formalised there.

Near this spot
on the 20th November 1214
Cardinal Langton and the barons
swore at St Edmund’s altar
that they would obtain from
ratification of the

There follows a patriotic poem, perhaps from Gray’s elegy.

The second plaque sets out the titles of the barons who attended with the names of the current representatives of the eight of the twenty-six families extant.

Richard and Gilbert of Clare, Geoffrey de Mandeville, Roger Bigod, Robert de Vere and Richard de Mountfichet all have local connections. The Clare Lords are closely associated with our Patrons at Stoke. The de Mandevilles, at this time, owned Moone Hall.

It has been reported that the John de Stanburn was of the company. He may have been but was not a guarantor.

This great moment in the history of England seems to have had very little effect on our village and I have found no record that even the Lord of one of our manors left any impression of it here.

The Middle Ages

Though there appears to have been no further Norman building the major part of the present Church, its nave with the four massive oak beams was probably begun not much more than two centuries later. There is no sign of any earlier work such as, for example, altered roof lines or wall marks of them as are so often seen in very old churches. This hiatus may well have derived from the dynastic struggles of the time but there is ample evidence of clerical activity in both XII c & XIII cs in the charters of our patrons. A substantial confirmation of this is the muniment chest with the three typical hasps for locks which has been dated as being made some time in the XIII c [q.v.].

Many churches, if not all, were originally in private hands. The Duke of Grafton retains that on the Hill behind Euston Hall to this day. Ours was given by the De Grenvills to Stoke Priory very early on.

There are occasional references to faroff events in the archives. Eustace de Greinvill, a XII c Lord of That manor, was required to pay the tax known as scutage to assist in freeing King Richard I (reigned 1189-1199) from his imprisonment in Germany when returning from a Crusade. The family remained prominent in Stambourne for perhaps two centuries: in 1327 Johanna de Greinvill was our biggest taxpayer. The written records extend from Robert in c.1163 to Walter in 1351. The name then appears again in the area when the Marquis of Buckingham came to Gosfield Hall in 1783 but there is no clear connection of the two branches.

In the time of King Stephen there was some confusion, referred to as a depredation, in the ownership of de Mandeville’s estates. This was eventually resolved and though it may well have affected our land there is no specific reference to it in the few records that we have of it.


The unique double dedication to St Peter & St Thomas Becket

The dedication of this ancient church is far from clear cut and has varied over its nine centuries. The history of and evidence for it is set out in Annex 7. It has now been settled in the form here given.

The earliest written evidence is from the turn of the XII c in a deed leaving us some ‘tythes of Hay’. This is to the Monks of St Peter. Other early references are to this major Saint but in the mid XIV c Thomas de Stanburn was dating one of his deeds to the Feast of the Translocation of the Martyr.

Following the murder of Becket a considerable following for him developed in this area and there was pilgrim traffic to Canterbury utilising recognised routes converging on the Thames crossing at Rochester. Miracles and relics are recorded. There is much evidence that one of the chapels on this route was in our village and dedicated to the Martyr. It appears to have been from the dissolution of this Chapel in 1546 that we acquired the second part of our title.

The many books on Becket and the massive Victorian 8 volume collection of Materials for the Study of Thomas Becket contain many vignettes that strengthen the association. Guarnier’s Becket, for example, has yet another version of the last words on p 148 @ #5576:

Now indeed St Thomas saw his martyrdom approaching. Hands joined before his face he gave himself to the Lord God, commending his cause & the cause of the Holy Church to the Martyr St Denis, to whom sweet France belongs, and to the saints of the church

Such hints as this combined with the otherwise unexplained, and probably unique hereabouts, painting of St Denis on our medieval screen, lend colour to the conclusion based on so much evidence.

The other Thomas who had a major following hereabouts was the Blessed Thomas Netter of Saffron Walden. He too connects with our screen for he was a companion of K Henry V and tutor to K Henry VI, the Saint of Lancaster, who also appears on it. I do not regard Netter as a serious contender for he was never formally canonised and there are no records of dedications to him, despite the popularity of his cult.

In 1995 I rewrote my index and reviewed all the authorities that gave evidence as to the dedication. Perhaps two dozen sources I do not copy in my annex do not use dedications at all. I have formed a strong impression that, save in towns large enough to have several parishes, dedications were not put to any practical use. There never was any formal central registration nor regular procedure for confirmation. Dedications were what the local divines said they were. Our predecessors venerated saints for pictorial, artistic, liturgical, devotional and salvationist reasons and above all for the economic value but they made little use of them for the purposes of identification or organisation.

The later history of the rededication is quite clear.

In 1993 the Archdeacon the Venerable Ernest Stroud, who has given me much support, wrote the letter of appointment to Rector John Suddards stating plainly without comment that the secondary dedication was to Becket.

On the second Sunday after Epiphany in the year of our Lord 1995 I provided at the Rector’s request a paper for him to submit to the Parochial Church Council. This is Annex 4. After discussion, not without some dissent, it was agreed to support an approach to the Bishop. This was made and a service of rededication was arranged for the 11th day of July.

On that day, the new Area Bishop, †Edward Colchester came to the church for Evensong. He presented to me an instrument of Dedication which is reproduced here as Annex 5. The original copy is entered into the vellum book left to us by Alfred Master and preserved in the Churchwarden’s chest in the vestry. Bishop Edward’s prayer and homily is reproduced here as Annex 6.