Parsonage Lane and Rectory Manor

When mention is made of the Manor of Stortford, the assumption is that it was just one manor. It was, pre-Conquest, but after that time the parish of Bishop’s Stortford comprised of three manors: the Manor of Stortford, the Manor of the Rectory, and the Manor of Picotts, more familiarly known as the Manor of Piggotts. The 17th century historian Henry Chauncy mentions a fourth in his Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire, the Manor of Patmere, but more recent historians have doubted its existence.

The Manor of Stortford i.e. the manor and town, had been owned by the bishop of London since bishop William bought it from the Saxon Eddeva Pulchrima around 1060. King William siezed it from him at the Conquest, but later handed it back to the Church.

The Manor of the Rectory belonged to the Precentor of St Paul’s, London, and had been owned by successive precentors since it was first given to that office by the bishop of London after the Conquest. It was not as extensive as the Manor of Stortford, but the lord of the Manor of the Rectory (the Precentor) had the patronage of the Vicarage here.

The Manor of Piggotts seems to have had no association with the Church and was probably formed by subinfeudation from the Manor of Stortford (See Thorley).

Parsonage Lane, which follows the original line of the Roman road, Stane Street, wasn’t designated as such until the early 20th century. Before that time it was known, locally, as the Takeley Road. The name Parsonage Lane is derived from the fact that, after the Conquest, this part of the Manor of Stortford was granted by the bishop of London to the Precentor of St Paul’s, London. The Precentor is a priest mainly responsible for choral services, but whose duties can also include teaching. In the 11th century he was also known as the Parson, the name derived from the Latin persona, meaning ‘person’, which in Old English was a legal term applying to the parish priest, because in all matters he was the designated ‘person’ to deal with.

‘Parsonage’ is also the term used to describe an official residence provided by a church for its parson, vicar or rector, and early on a manor house was built and the manor referred to as Parsonage Manor. However, like the bishop, the precentor would never have taken up permanent residence in Stortford, instead appointing an official or bailiff to oversea it for him and collect his dues.

The manor house of the Rectory would simply have been used as an official residence for any visiting clergy, more especially the bishop of London who did occasionally visit the town to preside at the Bishop’s Court, held at Waytemore Castle. It was probably on such a visit in 1338 that bishop Stephen Gravesend, while lodging at Rectory Manor House, was taken ill and died. His body was later buried in old St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

When the name changed from Parsonage Manor to the Manor of the Rectory is hard to determin because it was probably just a natural progression. Rectory is also a name used to describe a priest’s official residence (like parsonage or vicarage) but, more specifically, Rector is the name given to a priest put in charge of a parish with a self-supporting church – as was St Michael’s church at that time.

The actual rectory, or vicarage, in which the priest lived was probably the Vicarage of the Manor referred to in 1291. This stood close by on land that has since been developed to form All Saints Close, and was likely to have been the Rector’s home until 1686. At that time the Rev Christopher Cooper built a new vicarage in Church Street alongside St Michael’s church (See Guide 15 – Church Street).

The natural conclusion from all of this is that Rectory Manor House was the original manor house of Stortford, but archaeological discoveries made in the 1950s on the western side of town, near to Thorley, suggest that from the 11th century the original Bishop’s Lodge, or Hall of Stortford, was sited there (See Thorley – Bishops Park). It survived until the early 16th century when, for reasons unknown, Richard Fitzjames, bishop of London (1506–1522) pulled it down. Only after this event did Rectory Manor House seemingly become Bishop’s Stortford’s ‘official’ manor house.

Ideally situated, the house commanded one of the highest points in Bishop’s Stortford, overlooking the town, the valley and the Bishop’s Park – approximately 950 acres of land to the west and south of the town centre, used for hunting deer. It formed part of the estate of the bishop of London from at least 1282 and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument – No 6502. This vast area also housed several small-holdings and farms, the tenancies of which were granted by the lord of the manor (the Precentor) at his yearly or half yearly Court Leet (Landowner’s Court). These tenancies were subsequently assigned to the incumbent vicar (Rector) of the parish church (St Michael’s), with the stipulation that certain monies earned from use of the land were to be retained by the precentor.

But towards the end of the 16th century Rectory Manor House had, perhaps, seen better days and was demolished to make way for a new manor house. That house, though now greatly altered, is the one that stands here today, its most notable owner being Lady Margaret Denny.

Formerly Lady Margaret Edgecumbe, she had been Elizabeth I’s favourite Maid of Honour and in 1583 or 1584 married the Queen’s most favoured courtier, Edward Denny. As a wedding present, the Queen granted them a lease on Rectory Manor House – she herself obtaining the lease from the bishop of London and then assigning it to Denny. This act denied the precentor his accommodation, and it’s most likely that he built Stortford Hall as an alternative residence around the end of the 16th century. This was situated near to the junction of present day Stortford Hall Park and Dunmow Road (See Guide 10 – Stortford Hall).

It is also recorded that John Aylmer, bishop of London (1577–1594) had made, ‘by her majesty’s appointment’, a ‘gratification’ of £500 out of Starford [sic] to Sir Edward Denny, and that on 21 December 1594 an assignment was made to him of the Manor of Stortford itself: ‘for twenty-one years, to begin 5 November 1614, of the Manor, park, and demesne of Stortford Manor, with a lease made to the Queen by *Richard, late Bishop of London, he paying £60 rent, and discharging Her Majesty of all Covenants, agreements, &c., in the Bishop’s demise‘.

There is, however, a tale behind the assigning of the lease. At that time most leases (according to the custom of the manor) were assigned to tenants for a term of twenty-one years, to be renewed or terminated at the end of that time by the Lord of the manor depending on circumstances. After Richard Fletcher’s promotion to bishop of London was announced by Queen Elizabeth on 1 December 1594, he immediately received from Robert Cecil (Edward Denny’s kinsman and Hertfordshire neighbour) a royal request for the lease of Bishop’s Stortford and Broxbourne to be reverted under the terms of the Act of Exchange (1559), by which episcopal leases were confined to twenty-one years or three lives (i.e. the life of the holder, his son or wife, and a grandson) unless the immediate beneficiary was the crown. Fletcher, aware that the queen had earmarked the lease for Edward Denny, refused the proposal and emphasized ‘the scandal which such conditions of coming dignities ecclesiastical’ incurred and the prejudicial effect to the see of granting a lease for one-hundred years (Salisbury MSS, 5.31-2). Only after the realisation that his refusal, albeit dignified, had provoked Elizabeth’s displeasure and possibly jeopardised his promotion, did he effect a compromise (on 21 December 1594), agreeing to assign the lease to her for twenty-one years only. Back in favour, his translation to bishop of London was confirmed on 10 January 1595.

*Richard Fletcher was bishop of London for just seventeen months (1595–1596). His father, also Richard, was vicar of St Michael’s church from 1551–1554 (See Guide 4 – St Michael’s Church).

It’s not apparent if the lease on just the manor house, given as a wedding present, took effect from the time of Edward Denny’s marriage or much later, but after he died on 12 February 1599 the Prerogative Court at Canterbury granted administration of the property to his widow in 1600. This is the first year Margaret Denny is recorded as living in the house.

On 22 November 1638, William Juxon, bishop of London (1633–1660), signed another contract granting the Manor of Stortford to Lady Margaret Denny, in its entirety, for a further twenty-one years at a rent of £40 per annum.

But at the end of the Civil War (1646), an ordinance of Parliament was ‘devised’ declaring all properties belonging to bishops should be vested in the hands of Trustees to help pay off the debts of the kingdom previously incurred by Charles I.

In November that same year the Manor of the Rectory of Bishop’s Stortford, together with the Bishop’s park, the town watermill and market were sold to one Richard Turner, citizen merchant of London, for £2,845. 4s. 5d. Turner held the manor for 14 years, and though Margaret Denny retained the lease to the house, she presumably paid him rent. At the Restoration (1660) Turner was forced to relinquish his, by now, very profitable purchase and though ultimate ownership of the manor reverted back to the bishop of London, the lease remained with Margaret Denny.

She died in 1648, but in a past article entitled The Bishop of London’s Hall or Lodge at Bishop’s Stortford, the author, T.W. Ellcock, revealed part of an original deed made out by William Juxon, bishop of London, to Margaret Denny. Strangely, the deed was written the year after her death but it does make fascinating reading:

William late Bishop of London by the indenture dated 22nd November in the fourteenth year of King Charles (1649) did demise unto Dame Margaret Denny. All that sceite of his Manor and Lordship of Stortford and all the houses parks and lodge therein and two water mills called Town Mills and with all the demesne lands of the said Manor and all the lands, rents, feedings pastures and heriditaments of the said Manor belonging except all waifs, reliefs, escheats, the castle with the prison house woods underwoods and all courts of the said Manor appertaining with all the perquisites in the common fine them habend for 21 years from this date retend p.a. £40 at the four feasts of the year by equal portions and one good sufficient bore sound and cleane ten days before the feast of All Saints valued curnock ano’.
A further administration of the property was made to Margaret Denny’s son, Edward Denny, on 2 March 1664.

Despite the interference of history and Margaret Denny’s death, the lease of the manor remained with the Denny family and in the early 18th century passed to Rev Edward Hill Denny. He was a prime mover in getting the Grammar school rebuilt on the corner of Church Street and High Street and bought many valuable books for its library (See Guide 3).

The Denny name finally became disassociated with the house when Anne Denny (born 1672) became the sole heir. Her marriage to John Sandford produced no male heir and when she died, in 1747, her surviving daughter, Cordella Sandford, took up ownership and later married John Brome. In the following years, through marriages and deaths, ownership passed from the Bromes to the Debarys.

In 1867 the manor and all that the Precentor of St Paul’s owned in Bishop’s Stortford, was passed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners under the provisions of an order of the Queen in Council. It was subsequently sold to the Local Board and much of the property enfranchised, the remaining manorial rights then purchased by Sir Walter Gilbey (See Guide 2). The Debarry’s lived in the house until the turn of the 20th century when it then passed into private ownership.

Now renamed Church Manor House, this grade II listed building was included in the ‘Inventory of the Monuments of Hertfordshire’ in 1910. The width of the original timber-framed building was quite narrow, suggesting it began life as a late medieval open-hall house. In the late 18th century it was heightened to three storeys; projections were added to the north-west and south-west corners and large bay windows added to the south side overlooking the garden. Further alterations included sash windows, and in the early 19th century most of the house was enclosed with brick, giving it the appearance of a Stuart mansion. Past description notes an interior of oak beams, uneven floors and wood panelling in the gallery and in the old parlour. Being a listed building there is little reason to doubt these features still exist.

Church Manor House was sold at auction 3 April 1935 by Goddard & Smith, King Street, St James’s, London (HALS D/ETE B156). Auction details were as follows:

260 ft above sea level

Entrance hall, 3 reception rooms, 10 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, box room, principle and service staircase.

Servants sitting room and compact offices

Stabling, garage, cottage, farm buildings, 29 acres

Quadrangle – farm buildings, stables.

Glebe Court

This small terrace of private houses was the original stable block of Church Manor House. When first built, a large archway at the centre of the building gave entrance to the Rectory garden, or glebe (hence the name Glebe Court), that formed the centre-piece of a quadrangle. The buildings that made up the quadrangle disappeared early in the last century but were possibly first built to house junior clerics. Much later they would have housed workers in attendance at the manor house, its grounds and stables. The large clock tower in the centre of the roof is known to be one of the three oldest clocks in Bishop’s Stortford, though its exact date isn’t actually recorded.

Bishop William (1051–1075)

William, bishop of London, is thought to have originated in Flanders, northern France. He was one of Edward the Confessor’s chaplains in 1051, and according to early documents may have been in Edward’s service as a priest before 1050. His rise to bishop of London was a result of religious infighting. When Edward promoted Robert of Jumiéges from the see of London to the archbishopric of Canterbury, his aim was to replace him with Spearhafoc, abbot of Abingdon. Robert refused to consecrate Spearhafoc, claiming papal support for his decision, and in 1051 Edward gave the see of London to his chaplain, William.

Whether or not Robert had a hand in the appointment is unknown, but it does seem likely that William was part of his faction. This became more apparent when Earl Godwine, Robert’s opponent, returned from his enforced exile in 1052 (See Guide 4 – King Harold). William, along with Robert and Bishop Ulf of Dorchester, all took flight overseas. But Godwine’s hostility towards William was obviously less than the other two prelates, because the following year he allowed him to return to England and to the bishopric of London.

William assisted at the consecration of *Lanfranc in 1070 and attended the Whitsunday council at Windsor in 1072 and the Council of London in 1075, both of which fixed the position of London within the hierarchy of dioceses in the province of Canterbury as second only to Canterbury. As bishop of London, William was allowed to win back many of the estates King William had initially confiscated, and buy Thorley in Hertfordshire. William is also thought to be the same bishop of London who purchased numerous small manors in Essex, which are listed under a separate heading in Domesday Book, and instigated or perpetuated the system whereby there was a fairly clear division of lands held by the chapter, the bishop, and the king. The precise date of William’s death in 1075 isn’t recorded, nor is his place of burial.

Additional information about William is taken from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

*Lanfranc was born in Pavia, northern Italy around 1010. He played an important role in persuading Pope Alexander II to support the Norman invasion of England, and later became King William’s representative in Rome. As archbishop he rebuilt Canterbury Cathederal, replaced English clergy with Normans, and separated the ecclesiastical from the secular courts. He died at Canterbury in 1089.