Leighton-Linslade Past Times: including Billington, Eggington, Heath & Reach and Stanbridge
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Grovebury Manor  |  Prebendal Manor
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Manorial History - Leighton or Grovebury Manor

The manor of LEIGHTON, which later became known as GROVEBURY, appears in the Domesday Book (1086) as part of the demesne of the Crown. It was recorded as 47 hides in size, and as such it was the largest Royal Manor in the county of Bedfordshire. Of the 47 hides, 17 had been added by Ralph Tallebosc, and held bewteen Wensi the Chamberlain and Starcher, a thegn of King Edward.

For the century which followed, the Crown retained possession of the manor. During this period, Henry I granted a yearly rent of £56 from its issue to a Benedictine house in Normandy, known as the abbey of Fontévrault. In 1164 Henry II granted the manor itself to the abbey, which at this time did not actually have a cell in England. However, after the suppression of Amesbury Priory (1174-80), an independent Benedictine house, Fontévrault established a cell there. Consequently, Leighton is found mentioned in confirmatory charters as appertenant to Amesbury. During the reign of Richard I, Fontévrault established a cell at Leighton, known as La Grove or Grovebury, to which the manor became attached.

The Abbess of Fontévrault had the grant confirmed in 1200 by King John and from the pope in the following year. A survey of the manor was taken during the subsequent reign of Henry III. The rents were £60 a year 'Hanepanes' or henpennies, 'Cynepanes,' and Peter's Pence £6, the farm of the forest £6, and the wood had great yearly worth from pannage. The whole demesne, which included the manors of Clipston and Reach (worth £8 and £13 respectively) could support 8 cart-horses, 20 farm-horses, 60 oxen, 80 cows, 200 lesser animals, 4000 sheep and 200 pigs.

During the 13th century, the house at Grovebury, was used as a Royal residence, as indicated by the many Patents and other grants by Edward I which are dated at Leighton. This is clearly at a time when there was still a Monastic establishment at Grovebury.

In 1286, the abbess had to prove her manorial rights, and used King John's charter as the basis of her claim, which were confirmed by Edward I and subsequently by Edward III.

The abbess of Fontévrault gave the manor to Edward I's daughter (and sister of Edward II), Lady Mary of Woodstock, for the term of her life. Her possession of the manor is confirmed by documents dated 1316 and 1324.

During Edward III's reign, similar to other property owned by foreign religious houses, due to wars with France, ownership was often transferred to the Crown, and then transferred back during times of peace. In 1338 custody was granted to Edward III's kinswoman Matilda de Burgh Countess of Ulster (daughter of Henry, Earl of Lancaster), to hold to the value of £77 15s. a year during the continuation of the war. The abbess managed to confirm her lands in England in 1344, during a temporary truce, but she was unable to gain possession at this time, as indicated by a letter from the pope to Edward III dated 1349.

In 1361 Fontévrault was re-granted the manor, and the abbess in exchange for £200 paid by John Bele alias Fletcher, alienated the manor to the said John and Joan his wife, for the term of their lives. When John died Joan married Walter Galoys, and when Walter died she remarried once more to John Worship.

In 1390 John Worship was given license to cross into France to treat with the Abbess of Fontévrault for possession of the manor. In 1391 John and Joan received a royal licence to hold Grovebury for the rest of their lives.

In the early 1400s alien religious houses were dissolved, and Grovebury manor was granted to Sir John Philip, by whom they were then resettled on himself and his wife Alice (daughter of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Thomas Chaucer - reputedly the son of the poet), and also on their children. Sir John died in 1415, without any children. His widow, Alice married William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.

In the following years there was some dispute as to the ownership, with reversions being granted to Henry Duke of Warwick, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, but nothing seems to have come of them.

In the 1438, with the consent of William Philip (brother and heir of Alice's first husband), Alice and her husband agreed to the reversion of Grovebury to Eton College, and by a further agreement of 1446 conveyed possession of Grovebury to Eton College for an annual rent of £220.

The Duke of Suffolk was murdered in 1450, and notwithstanding the grant to Eton, the widow Alice was still tenant in 1465, when she claimed the liberties granted to the Abbess of Fontévrault, including view of frankpledge, waif and stray and a market on Tuesdays.

The manor was regranted to her in 1467 and remained hers until her death in 1475. Alice's son John, second Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Elizabeth (Edward IV's sister) succeeded to the manor. In 1479 they granted Grovebury to the Dean and Canons of Windsor, with whom it remained until the middle of the 19th century.

The dean and canons farmed out the premises. In 1566 a ninety nine year lease was given to Robert Christmas, who surrendered it, in 1576, for the remainder of the term to Francis Barnham and George Barnes, aldermen of London. In 1587, the lease had change hands once more with Christopher Hoddesden being recorded as the tenant. He was later knighted and was Sheriff of Bedfordshire 1591-2. Sir Christopher's only daughter, Ursula married Sir John Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. However, she predeceased Christopher Hoddesdon in 1595. Consequently, on Sir Christopher's death in 1610, the lease to the manor passed to Ursula's son, Thomas Leigh, bart., who was created Lord Leigh in 1643, but suffered heavily for his support of Charles I.

In 1644 Leighton Buzzard was farmed out to Sir Samuel Luke for one year, for which a rent of £460 was paid to the state, £60 pounds to the dean and canons of Windsor, and one fifth of the rents of the estate to Lady Leigh.

In 1649, with the abolition of the dean and canons of Windsor, the manor was momentarily sold to William Haveningham and others. However, at the Restoration possession reverted to dean and canons of Windsor. At this point, Lord Leigh put forward a claim for reversion of the lease, which he had sold to Richard Mead and Colonel Okey (one of the regicides). Lord Leigh was successful in his claim although it was disputed by Richard Mead. The manor remained under the lease of the Leigh family until the first part of the 19th century.

Some time after 1831, Colonel H. Hanmer, K.H., M.P., purchased the leasehold interest. In 1863 he purchased the freehold interest of the Dean and Canons of St. George, Windsor. He died childless, and consequently in 1868, the manor passed to his nephew Sir W. E. Hanmer, bart.

In 1888 the manor became the possession of the Alliance Insurance Company, and it was bought by Mr. J. Trueman Mills, of Stockgrove, Soulbury, Buckinghamshire, who held it until his death in 1924.

In 1925 the manor was purchased by Mr. E. J. Thornley.