Redbourn

As part of my research into the Finch Family of Redbourn, I have collated and transcribed documents for the whole village and manor of Redbourn in Hertfordshire. This page includes a description of our research and some of the key transcripts.

Redbourn is an ecclesiastical parish and a feudal manor a few miles North of St Albans in Hertfordshire. It lay along Watling Street – the Roman road that connected London with the North-west of England. Importantly, when travel became easier in Tudor times, Redbourn was about a day’s ride from London and therefore a convenient place to change horses and rest overnight.

The records of Redbourn are a surprisingly rich record of the activities of an English manor. I am very happy for these records also to be used by others interested in Redbourn History but I would appreciate it if the provenance of the work is acknowledged.

Manorial Documents

Domesday tells us that the area around Redbourn was divided into four parcels of land held by three overlords. The largest overlord was the Abbey of St Albans who held two of the parcels of land, and it seems that, although the Abbey were overlords of the manor in the time of Edward the Confessor, Archbishop Stigand (at that time Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Winchester) operated it as part of his own large personal estate. Precisely how Stigand came to manage the manor is unclear and it may be that the manor was part of series of lands gifted to the Abbey by Egelwine the Black about 1060. In 1086, the Abbey lands were managed by Amalgar. Subsequently in medieval times, the manor continued to be held by the Abbey of St Albans and managed by the Chamberlain.

Other overlords to Redbourn who held lands in 1065 included Earl Leofwin (through his servant Alwin the Hunter) and King Edward the Confessor himself, whose lands were managed by his servant Siward. After the conquest these two smaller parcels of land were held by Bishop Gilbert Maminot of Lisieux (but managed by a servant Wigot) and Count Robert of Mortain (King William’s brother, via a servant Ranulf) respectively. This replacement of Saxon overlords by Norman ones was repeated across much of England. We cannot identify conclusively the parcels of land held by Gilbert and Robert in subsequent manorial maps, but one may have descended to the Earl or Warwick (see below). The Abbey appears to have taken over the manor in its entirety by the 13th Century.

At the time of Domesday, St Albans – the shrine of the first English martyr – was one of the richest Abbeys in England (and in Europe) but its fortunes were flagging as its popularity as a place of pilgrimage was eclipsed by the shrine of St Thomas the Becket in Canterbury. The documents suggest that the Abbot, Richard of Wallingford, looked at the income that the Abbey received from its manorial lands and sought to ensure that these were maximised. He had inherited his position in 1327 and found the fabric of the Abbey in desperate need of repair without the income to bring it about. In addition, the Pope in Avignon had required Richard to pay £953 to the Papal See to confirm his appointment – effectively an extortion that needed ultimately to be paid by the tenants and pilgrims of St Albans. This amount was three times the Abbey’s gross annual income and hence Richard was forced to be “cautious in prosperity, patient in adversity” with the Abbey’s finances.

Wallingford’s dire financial position led him to explore more fully the Abbey’s income streams. This triggered the Abbey to perform a census of its lands and their value around the early 1330s which led in turn to a number of disputes and disagreements with the Abbey’s tenants, including those of Redbourn. In a time when knowledge was power, the manors of the Abbey copied the court rolls of each manor in a book, in case the originals were lost. Every ‘copyhold tenant’ of the manor was called such since he held a copy of the entry of the court rolls, given to him at the time the entry was agreed and recorded. It is important to remember that very few people at this time could read and write, and fewer still understood Latin, the language in which the court was recorded and in which its copies were issued. If a copyhold tenant lost the copy, he could apply to the court to search the manor rolls, but there are many occasions when tenants claimed rights but either were unable to produce the appropriate deed or were told that the document they held did not support the rights the tenant thought it did. Usually in cases of dispute, the opinion of clerics – the only people who could read the Latin – would prevail. This clearly infuriated the tenants of St Albans manors and would be a key bone of contention during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1383, when the tenants of St Albans manors laid siege to the Abbey and insisted that all the copies of the court rolls be brought out to them.

The extents and rentals (listing who farmed what and how much they paid) from several St Albans manors still exist from this period. For Redbourn, the tenants disagreed about the amount of rents due and they produced a deed from the time of Edward the Confessor issued by Egelwine the Black to support their claims. However the Abbot found the document to be written in a mix of French and English, languages not used in England at that time. The Abbot dismissed the claim, insisting on his new rights and describes the tenants as ‘confounded’ when he presented his copies of the same charters. The Gesta Abbatum describes this event as a conscious attempt to defraud the Abbot, whereas I wonder whether the tenants simply held a bundle of papers that they believed supported their claims and presented the whole bundle to the Court without being able to read what it said. The tenants of Redbourn were clearly deeply frustrated to find the Abbot dismissing their rights and when the Abbot’s servants came in ~1333 to extract the higher rents, the servants were beaten. This resulted in the excommunication of the ringleaders, including Adam de ROTHERFIELD. The Abbot imposed his will on the manor and a list of those who subsequently paid is preserved in the deeds of the Abbey.

Around the same time, John de AIGNEL claimed that he had ownership of certain lands in Redbourn by virtue of his position as the Abbot’s Butler. He may be the individual who appears in the rental of Redbourn in 1333 as John BOTYLER [BUTLER] (see below). The Abbot refused this service and claimed to have no knowledge of it but later references to the Manor of Agnells, Butlers, ‘the Dispenser’s Land‘ and ‘Spencersland‘ appear to refer to the land that John de Aignel claimed at that time.

Confusion about the rights of the Abbot and those of his tenants continued. Redbourn Heath was disputed between the Abbey and the Earl of Warwick (this may have been land held in Domesday by either Earl Robert of Mortain or Bishop Gilbert Maminot) but the discovery of the resting place of the bones of St Amphibal hinted that St Alban himself had indicated the land should be ecclesiastical and even the Earl of Warwick could not argue with a claim supported by St Alban himself. Hence in 1383, ownership of the Heath was transferred to the Abbey.

The next oldest manorial record of Redbourn to survive is the rental of 1455. The document’s structure tells us a great deal. It is dated 1455 but the entries currently read as 1485 since the document was modified after it was first created and the original entries were overwritten. Nevertheless the original (1455) entries can in some cases still be made out. The entries refer back to an earlier document and the way in which the names often correspond to the list of 1333 suggest that the 1455 rental replaced a more detailed rental of which only a summary survives in the Gesta Abbatum.

Excerpt from the 1455 Redbourn Rental. The document is dates from 1455 but the entries have been overwritten ~1485. In some cases the original entry can be seen.

At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the manor and its lands were sold off. For the St Albans manors, there were not only the original rolls but also the copy books hence the probability of the records surviving is relatively high. However, despite the fact that many medieval records of St Albans manors survived, sadly few from Redbourn remain. The 1333 rental is summarised in the Gesta and the 1455 rental was in use at the time that the manor was passed to its new owners. The set of rolls that were currently in use at the time of the dissolution have survived and they go back to 1514. I infer that the Abbey passed on the manorial documents that were currently in use but not earlier ones which have subsequently been lost.

At the dissolution, the manor reverted to the Crown and was leased in 1538 to Henry BECHE for 60 years. The ownership of the manor passed to Princess Elizabeth in 1560 and in 1591, as Queen, she renewed the lease to Sir Richard Read and his family. In 1610 and 1617, the manor was devolved the Henry Prince of Wales and thence to Charles, Prince of Wales – the surveys of 1609 and 1617 correspond to each new owner identifying the value of the manor. However the dissolution led to fragmentation of the manor and other discrete manors appear in the records.

Some 16th century manorial records of Redbourn have survived. A few years of records from the Court of the Manor of Lawrences in Redbourn was held by Sir Richard RAYNSHAWE in 1558 and are transcribed here and the same volume includes the manor of Agnells in Hemel Hempstead (part of the lands once held by John de AYGNEL). The manor of Redbourn has records from 1510-1546 and then a gap until 1594-1597.

Subsidy Records

Subsidies are payments made the crown in the form of taxes, awarded by Parliament and usually in response to a pressing need such as funding a campaign of war. The subsidy lists the individuals within a parish liable to pay and the amount they contributed.

Subsidy for Redbourn in 1295 The names of the individuals is in the centre and the amount they paid on the right.

Redbourn appears within subsidy records for Hertfordshire and these go back to 1291. There is unfortunately a gap in records from the 15th Century but repeated taxation in the early 14th Century has created lists of the adults within the parish every few years. The Redbourn subsidy entries 1291-1333 are transcribed here.

Redbourn Wills

Since Redbourn was part of the demesne of the Abbey of St Albans, the wills of its tenants were presented the Archdeaconry Court of St Albans. Fortunately the records of this court survive continuously from 1420 and many Redbourn tenants appear. In addition, testators with land in more than one Diocese might have their wills upgraded to the courts in Lincoln (prior to 1540), London (after 1540) or Canterbury. Redbourn tenants are found in all these jurisdictions. I have transcribed the wills of all Redbourn testators that I have been able to find in this document. I have also added the inventories of many of these testators.

Church records for Redbourn Parish

Redbourn church is ancient, having been dedicated by the Bishop of Lincoln ~1100. The fabric of the building has grown since the 11th Century, with particular additions in the 14th century. A few monumental brasses have survived, notable those of the Peacock family and of the tenants of the Manor, Sir Richard REDE and his family.

Redbourn Church in a postcard circa 1920

The parish records begin in 1617, an earlier volume which covered the later Tudor period having been lost. This loss may have happened during the English Civil War, when the imposition of secular parish officials often resulted in only the current register being handed over to the new incumbent. However some Bishop’s Transcripts of these earlier years have survived and, along with marriage licences, allow some of the lost entries to be reconstructed. A transcript of all the earlier entries is given here.

Chancery Disputes

The lands of Redbourn were the subject of disputes between some of the owners and these sometimes found their way to the Equity Courts in London. The earliest ones appear in the Court of Chancery, but after the dissolution of the monastery and the acquisition of the manor by the Crown, such disputes became issues relevant to the Royal finances and therefore appear not in the records of the Exchequer. In the earliest years after the dissolution of the monasteries, Redbourn equity suits were heard in the Court of Augmentations and then the Court of the Exchequer.

In the course of our research, I have transcribed and summarised several equity suits from Redbourn residents. These documents are presented here.