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The Hospitallers Manor of Kempston Hardwick

The arms of the Knights Hospitaller
The arms of the Knights Hospitaller

Volume III of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire was published in 1912 and contains histories of each of the manors in Kempston. The first mention of this manor, owned by the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem, is in 1279. The knights had been formed in the 11th century and cared for the sick as well as fighting in the crusades and, later, against the Ottoman Turks. In 1338 the manor comprised a house and garden, a dovecote, a water mill, 370 acres of land, 32 acres of meadow, 8 acres of pasture and pasture for two hundred oxen as well as a wood, which was valued at nothing!

The Knights lost all their properties in England when King Henry VIII (1509-1547) confiscated all property of religious houses from the 1530s onwards. The manor was bestowed by the Crown on Sir Richard Longe in 1540. His son Henry married Dorothy Clark and, on his death, left the manor to his wife and their daughter Elizabeth, who married Sir William Russell. She died in 1611 leaving a son, Francis. Her mother Dorothy married Charles Morrison and survived her and settled the manor on her son by him to the exclusion of the heirs of Elizabeth. However, Elizabeth’s son, the 4th Earl of Bedford, was able to fight off most of the Morrison’s claims to his estates inherited from his mother as by 1649 two thirds of the manor was in the hands of his son John.

A third of the manor, however, remained in the hands of the Morrison family, having been part of Dorothy’s marriage settlement. She died in 1618 and in 1625 her son Sir Charles Morrison, baronet was described as owning the third, which is not mentioned thereafter, presumably because it was merged into the family’s larger estates.

The rest of the manor passed to John Russell’s brother Edward, whose son William died unmarried, leaving the manor to his brother Edward who held the manor in 1689. He was created Earl of Orford in 1697 and died without issue in 1727. His heir was Anne Tipping, daughter of his sister Letitia. When she died the manor seems to have descended to her elder daughter Letitia, wife of Samuel, 1st Baron Sandys who settled it on his son Edwin, the 2nd Baron, in 1768. When he died in 1797 the manor was to pass, on his widow’s death, to the second son of the Marquess of Downshire but actually passed to his niece Mary, Marchioness of Downshire who was also created Baroness Sandys.

In 1839 the manor was purchased from Lord Sandys’ trustees by the Duke of Bedford who held it into the 20th century. A succession of Law of Property Acts in the 1920s extinguished all manorial incidents, courts and copyhold tenure of land. This effectively abolished manors in all but name.

The Russell family coat of arms
The Russell family coat of arms