3. The People

Tabesne cadavera solvat

Marcus Aurelius Lucan AD 39-65 “It matters little whether a funeral pyre or the grave consumes these bones”

The Great Families & the Three Manors

The three manors and the fourth division of land which occupies the protrusion towards Finchingfield at the southern end of the village can best be appreciated in relation to the histories of their owners.

Indeed, for the manor which borders Toppesfield and was taken from Goti by Hamo, we know little else save that it was later acquired by the de Greinvilles and held by them for two centuries.

The eponymous Stambourne manor was annexed by Hamo before 1088, given by the King to the de Peyveres in 1242, acquired by the MackWilliams in 1395 & kept by them until the last Henry was killed in a duel in 1599. It has since had many owners.

Moone Hall was part of de Mandevilles original annexation between 1066 & 1088; by 1252 it was owned by Sherriff Wytsand and by 1398 had passed, via some distaff owners, to the MackWilliams.

The fourth area, for which I retain the early name used in the LDB of Nortuna as it is both convenient and more euphonious, was taken from Britric by Richard de Clare and let to Mascerel the Brewer before 1088. The de Stanburns first appear as village landowners in 1160, paid lay subsidy from this area in 1327 & held it till they sold it to Queens College in 1483.

There is a fifth area with a separate set of owners: these are the lands that once belonged to the Parish Church. There is no mention of them separately in LDB, nor indeed of the existence of the church; though, if the date 1085 for the building of the Tower be correct, the commissioners must at least have seen the foundations. The earliest mention is of Tebald de Stanburn’s donation in c. 1160 and there were glebe lands of up to 55 acres into this century when they passed from the Parish to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

This chapter ends with annexes describing each family and property separately. There is another for what is known of our Saxon antecedents, a list of people mentioned in early deeds and some genealogy on families of common people who have lived here from the XVIc onwards.

The de Stanburn family are the first residents clearly to be identified. Though Hamo & the de Mandevilles have legal titles dating from about 80 years earlier than that of this family neither of them has left any record that they dwelled here.

Thus, it is in deeds recording this family that the story of the Nortuna area subsequent to Domesday is found : they cover for the four centuries after the LDB was written. These are listed and discussed in Annex 3. Though my conclusion that it was owned and treated as a unit must remain an hypothesis I am myself quite convinced that the evidence justifies it. Indeed, in his book on the Origin of English Place Names Reaney says that one of the several meanings for the suffix tun was a manor.

It is inherently probable that a family with such a name did originally occupy the central part of the village, near to the church and the ford with its two large stones that appear in the East Window glass. These stones, which gave the village & the family their names, now lie beneath a cattle bridge built on the footpath from the churchyard to Wesley End in about 1975; prior to this they could be seen to be strikingly like the glass painting made in about 1520. From this point the Burn continues southwards along the axis of the village eventually to divide the Nortuna area. The Pevers were given the manorial title by King Henry III in 1242 as a reward for war service. They were a mainly Hertfordshire family where they were building a new house: I can find no record that they dwelled here. It seems quite probable that various de Stanburns did act as locum tenens of the hall, possibly succeeding Alstan’s family there. Around this time they acquired their interest in Nortuna. Subsequent deeds of Queens College show several transfers from Pevers to de Stanburns. The latter clearly prospered there until long after the Pevers were no more than a memory for the last of them, who sold his interest to the College on moving to Blake Notley , was firmly calling himself Gentleman.

It is quite conceivable, as NJE suggested years ago, that they did build the first hall but certainly it was not the present Elizabethan structure; this was not begun until after they had left. Morant describes their arms as

Ermines, a chevron engrailed. (I see no evidence of engrailing in window: can do it plain)

What little is known of the of the important de Grenville family & their manor is recorded in Annex 4. The area it occupied was probably that between the Dyers end road to Finchingfield & the Toppesfield border on the West & East, the Yeldham road to the North and Thurstons to the South.

Its manor house, which is still marked on the 1778 map but not on the 1837 Tithe map was near the moat on the Yeldham road. It was still in the hands of the family in 1351 but exactly when and how it passed to the MacWilliams in their unification of the village in about 1420 is not clear. As the MacWilliams did already own two of the three manors the logic of adding the third would be compelling.

The manor of Moone Hall is said to have existed in 1088 in the Honour of Mandeville. This is presumably a deduction from the de Mandeville entry in the LDB but the title does not appear there. I deduce it to be some corruption of the family name. It has also been called Joys but none of the entrants in the DNB can have owned it. There was a Bishop Joy in Cranmer’s time but he does not seem a likely owner either.

It will have occupied the south and central part of the village. The present Hall is no earlier than 1480 & is probably 1500;.the original one was probably at the site of the overgrown moat some 800 yards to the south of the present building. It probably had the lands of the church to its northern side & Church Road itself as its eastern limit. To the west it will have abutted Grenvilles on the Dyers End Road and to the south it will have been limited by or involved in the delineation of the Stambourne Green Ridgewell Norton area I have called Nortuna.

Unlike Grenvilles the passage of Moone Hall from the de Mandevilles to the MacWilliams is fairly well recorded. It passed through the Sheriffs of Essex, via the Earls of Hereford to the Gestingthorpe family though whether any of these occupied is not clear .In 1398, perhaps via a marriage to an Alice Gestingthorpe it came to the MacWilliams, seemingly rather earlier than Grenvilles.

The present magnificent pre-Armada building must therefore have been built when the MacWilliams owned the site. An interesting speculation is provoked by some of the representations of their arms in the church windows having the bend sinister in them. However nothing is known of the early use or occupants of the building.

The next positive information is that one, William Key, was Landlord of the Lion Inn in 1760. Morant says it was already an hostelry in 1755. The list of landlords has only one apparent gap before 1995.; after Jacob Chandler succeeded Key in 1765. There is then no further record until Timothy Bowyer in 1813 but Key could have held on for 48 years; one Rector did. Sadly Moone Hall was forced to cease trading as a public house recently and it seems unlikely ever to offer this hospitality again. The Butcher’s Arms had already closed thirty years earlier and the village now has no Inn.

More is known of the eponymous Manor of Stambourne Hall than of the other two. The three main early owners were Hamo Dapifer, then after a period the Pevers Family and following them the MacWilliams held it for 250 years. From that period it was simply the Manor of Stambourne and the list of owners is again fairly complete. The histories of the two main aristocratic families are known in detail but the owner immediately after Hamo is not. Though he was an important Norman, King’s Steward & Duke of Kent, his successors are unknown. It may well be that he had none and the property reverted to the crown at about the turn of the century. Certainly Henry III was in a position to give to Paulinus de Peyvere in 1242.

As suggested above, the existence of a family with the name of de Stanburn does suggest that it may have been occupants of the manor house and looked after the land. The speculation that the name is derived from the Saxon Alstan is attractive; it is known that that language effectively disappeared with the generation which witnessed the Conquest and Alstan did own the land before Hamo was given it. This family then probably did fill the gap between Hamo & the Pevers, though doubtless only as some species of senior vassals.

At this period the manor will have occupied all the area to the East of Church Road, save God’s acre and extended along the Ridgewell Road from Wesley End, to include Mill Farm & its windmill, probably as far as Stambourne Green.

When the MacWilliams unified the three original manors these distinctions will largely have disappeared, though they will never have owned the church lands, nor, I think, the south western area.

The only family later to occupy the Hall for any period were the Victorian Lewis Fry’s of Bristol who were great benefactors of the village.

The building dates from about 1550, is much modified and in need of sympathetic restoration, having been somewhat mutilated, both in Victorian and later times.

The question of the lands belonging to the church is more complex than any of the other areas. One deduces that it has centred from at least 1085 on God’s acre. There is a XIIc reference to the buildings within the moat all that now remains of this is a wide ditch, in places six feet deep, along its eastern border. They can be assumed to have extended to the west along a line of present Church Farm and the Grange for centuries the Rectory. Early in the XVIIc Paynell insisted he owned the lane. Hopkins claimed 55 acres for the glebe, quite separately from the 20 or so he purchased for himself at Dyers End. They probably therefore occupied a central position some halfmile square extending from the lane to the Mill Road ending close to Stambourne Green. They will have had a large area of Wast, common land, on their northern border.

There remains another group of lands that are extremely difficult to characterise. From time to time neighbouring Ecclesiastical Parishes claimed tithes from parts of what were clearly land within Stambourne Parish. The most obvious of these came to be called Ridgewell Norton and is marked on the 1777 map. Register events of its residents were entered in the Stambourne records, often adding (particularly in the entries of Spurgeon of the Chapel) that they lived simply in Ridgewell. There were also fragments of five other parishes from as far away as Ashen that paid tithes to those Rectors. In 1988 these were all finally redistributed to fit in with secular parish boundaries but their origin in time is not known. It seems inescapable that the Nortuna area is the largest of these but the others did not have distinctive names.

The Common People

The names of these essential inhabitants of the village are only occasionally glimpsed as for example Alstan who lived in the time of King Edward [ the t.r.e. of the L.D.B.] prior to the institution of regular registers by Elizabeth I. The commonest names & their frequencies are listed in the annexes together with some rarer ones, such as de Burstelere, but we know little else about them before the more detailed entries required by the Act of 1837. The lists of the Lay settlement of 1387, The Hearth Taxation of the Restoration & the Land Taxation of 1737 [ which, surprisingly, records no one in Stambourne who qualifies to pay ]do give glimpses but contain little about the occupations of the common man & effectively nothing about his woman. It is reasonable to suppose that they formed the agricultural labouring backbone to the main industry of the village and provided the Squires of Stambourne Hall, who had by the XVIIc acquired the majority of the village, with their income.

Astonishingly little information is available about emigration to the New World in the XVIIc from this strongly Puritan village Despite numerous enquiries, no New England settlement has been identified such as, for example, Topsfield & Braintree. The only probable site is Stoney Brook on Long Island but I have received no response from my letters to its authorities and other personal contacts there. No reference sources so far consulted mentions any individual emigrant as coming from Stambourne. One may speculate that the marked lack of conformity of the two Paynells and in particular, of Henry Havers, who were rectors for the first part of the century, made it so congenial a place for dissenters that few felt the need to undertake the hazards of the ocean voyages.

There can be no doubt that the XVIc population of some two to three hundred should have produced more than the actual ten or so register entries each year. It is likely that only those who could or would pay have been recorded & these are likely to have been the richer parishioners. The Civil Register is said to have claimed 6d for an entry, perhaps about ten guineas when that coin last was valid. In later times the registers seem fully to reflect the population numbers, particularly after 1810 when the conscientious Jas Spurgeon initiated such detailed nonconformist records.

A macabre note is struck by the frequency of suicide over the last few decades since it was decriminalised.. The rate is about ten times the national average suggesting that the tranquil rural life is no less stressful than that of the metropolis. One of the most recent occasioned a service that completely filled the church and which can only be called a memorial tribute to a dedicated chorister, crucifer, sides-man, nephew of a longstanding warden, regular communicant and lesson-reader and our last bell-ringer. Just this year this sad fate finally overcame a young man who had never found his place in our rural society. These events illustrate how perception of this distressing mental state has been changing, not least within the Church of England itself.