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Cranfield Manor and Grange

This page was written by Sally Williams

The main manor of Cranfield was held by Ramsey Abbey throughout the medieval period.  During that time its administrative and agricultural focus in Cranfield was not a manor house as such, but a substantial monastic grange; this was a large and well-appointed farmstead from which the manorial lands were run.  The building also had to be capable of accommodating visiting senior officials from Ramsey Abbey itself and their entourages.  The Abbot himself probably came to Cranfield during his regular circuits of visitations to the Abbey's various properties around the country. In Bedfordshire, the Abbey also possessed Barton and Shillington Manors.  Produce from these manors was supplied to the Abbey itself for the support of the monks. The evidence of field names and archaeology has enabled the site of the grange to be identified east of Home Farm.  The village of Crawley contained an extensive sub-manor to Cranfield in the early 12th century.

Details of the grange at Cranfield are recorded in medieval documents.  According to the Ramsey Cartulary, work had to be performed for the Abbey by tenants: Each holder of land, called a villein, was bound to plough one day and work for two days each week, excepting near Michaelmas, when he was free from ploughing, but had to work five days of the week, reaping, binding, carrying, etc., and a sixth day if necessary. He had to plough and sow using his own seed one rood, or plough one acre if it was to lay fallow. He also had to act as a carrier of goods, or pay a fine. Later, a freeman had to send a man to work for the Lord on certain occasions. Another class, called 'cottars', also had to act as carriers, and had to carry on their own backs whatever was required. At most, the tenants had three days a week to work their own ground, and during harvest time had only one day in which to reap their own crops.

Several of the reeves’ accounts from Cranfield Manor/Grange are stored in the National Archive at Kew and some of them have been translated into English, although not all of them can be dated. These give a fascinating insight into life on a Grange farm.

The reeve was an official elected by fellow tenants on a manner to manage its daily business, in particular the agriculture. He would represent the tenants in discussions with the Lord or his steward. Some of the reeve’s accounts are very detailed and he was clearly an educated man.

In the accounts for 1247/48, the 17th year of abbot Ranulf, donations to the poor for food amounted to £10 15. 8 1/2d with another 17s 11d for clothing and shoes. A new chamber was built at a cost of £9 1s 4d. At this time the gardeners wage was 2/6d for the year. During the year, 2 cows was sold for 14s and 2 sheep for 2/7d. A cow and a horse died during the year of “murrain” - possibly anthrax. The total income for the year was £58 17s 1 3/4d.

The assets of the farm were listed as 6 cart horses, plus one from Ramsey and 8 stotts (possibly geldings): 6 cows which delivered 6 calves with 5 alive; 51 sheep; 15 pigs and 9 piglets; 24 pigeons; 13 ducks; 28 geese 80 hens and some rabbits. The crops were described as barley, peas, beans and oats and there were 33 cheeses in store. [TNA: SC6/740/7]

The next surviving accounts date from 129601298 and were written by Richard de Bernewell, reeve. He describes the arrangements for Christmas and accounts for the supplies for feeding the servants at Christmas: for bread 2 bushels of wheat, ale 12d, meat 12d, and 4 lambs. Some workers are listed as making offerings: cellarer, beadle and warrener 6d; carter, 8 ploughman, cowman, shepherd, swineherd, dairyman, carter of manure and miller 7½d. [TNA: SC6/740/8]

This reeve’s account mentions the mill which was presumably owned by the Grange and also the task of cleaning the great wine vat which cost 5d. Elsewhere a mill is mentioned in 1294. [W.O. Ault: Court Rolls of the Abbey of Ramsey 1928]

The reeve from 1298-1300 was William Fychyer.

The 1307 reeve’s account lists those with the rites of passage i.e. the right to graze swine or other livestock in the woodlands which would have been very extensive around Cranfield. Those owing for patronage included: Lord John de Hardemade, Alan de Wylie, Richard Rodland, Stephen de Radewell, Hugh Terri, Geoffrey the Rector, Roger atte Pyrie, Walter Shepherd, John atte Rode, Roger Fycher, Gilbert Carpenter, Thomas Joyce, Simon Reeve, Andrew Warren, Ellis Aylwyne, Laurence Haym, Nigel le Noryce of Saleford, Lord John Chaplain and John Bodymade of Merton. [TNA: SC6/740/8]

The Great Famine struck England between 1315 and 1317. During this time there were successive cold wet summers and significant crop failures leading to famine, disease and considerable mortality. It is said that average life expectancy during this period was reduced by nearly 6 years. It is interesting to note that the Reeves accounts for 1316 lists the income of the Manor as £22 13s 8½ d which is significantly less than the sum of around £58 recorded in other years. It is possible that the famine is responsible.

There is a delightful entry in the 1316 reeve’s account: “a gift to the Kings sub-escheator to persuade him not to concern himself with anything in the Lord’s Manor which was not in his instructions 1qr of oats and 6d to his boy.”  The escheator was an official who enforced the right causing the reversion of land to the Lord or the Crown on the death of a tenant without heirs or by forfeit after committing a felony. Presumably his arrival in the area was not good news. There is a farm today in the Marston Vale known as Escheat Farm.

The reeve’s accounts for 1318 detail some of the rents and incomes for the Manor. Henry atte Rode, who then held the post of Reeve records the rents from tenants including Thomas Capell (7s 3¼d) and Reginald Shoemaker (2d); also mentioned are Gilbert Carpenter, Walter Woodwarde, Adam Derlynge and Thomas del Hoke. The sale of 16 pigs to the Chaplain of Woubourne (Woburn) for 16s is recorded, along with  the sale of two mares for 17s, 7 pelts for 12d and £7 4s 0d for 24 cows. [TNA: SC6/750/12]

A grange required a substantial complex of buildings and that in Cranfield seems to have been no exception.  In the late 13th and early 14th centuries the main house included at least a hall, several chambers, a chapel (with its own chaplain), a hospice, kitchen and larder; the farmstead included granaries, barns, store houses, a dairy, stables, cattle sheds, a dovecote and other outbuildings all arranged around a gated courtyard. The reeve’s accounts for 1307 lists tradesmen’s bills for a carpenter, roofer, cooper, thatcher and rick-maker along with purchases of horseshoe nails, cart wheel nails, ropes and traces and iron for ploughs.

No remains of such a complex are visible in Cranfield today, but its site can be identified with the two closes named Berry Yard and Berry Hill along what is now Court Road south east of the parish church.  In earlier documents these names are more accurately given as Bury. This is always a significant fieldname historically as it was usually used for a medieval manor house site or in connection with the manorial demesne. 

Confirmation of the significance of these two closes has come in recent years from finds made in them by the farmer.  In particular, architectural fragments, including stone window mouldings, and stone roofing tiles have been recovered.  These indicate a quality building which could only have been matched by the church.  The discovery of stone roofing tiles is particularly significant; most ordinary medieval buildings were thatched because other roofing materials like stone tiles would have been expensive imports from elsewhere in the country.  Cranfield's manorial accounts indicate, however, that stone tiles were used for several of the roofs at the grange and that a tiler was regularly employed to carry out repairs.

Cranfield's grange must have been the most impressive medieval building complex in the parish; it stood in a prominent situation on a spur with the ground dropping away and extensive views to the east.  It thrived in the 13th and early 14th centuries and saw many comings and goings.  The date of its demolition is unknown, but there are no post-medieval references to such a building.  Its first successor was the less impressive Bury Farm nearby, called Home Farm since the early part of this century.

During the post-medieval period the focus of Cranfield Manor moved to Manor Farm, north of Broad Green.

After the Dissolution of Ramsey Abbey in 1536 the Manor of Cranfield, then valued at £68.  9s. 4d. passed from the Abbey to the Crown. In 1542 Henry VIII, a regular visitor to the Castle at Ampthill, set up the Honour of Ampthill which included the Manor of Cranfield and many other notable properties such as Woburn Abbey.

Henry VIII also set up the Court of Augmentation, the primary function of which was to gain better control over the land and finances formerly held by the Roman Catholic Church in the kingdom. The records of the Court of Augmentation still exist and show some entries for Cranfield Manor. For 1539/41 there are entries relating to the Bailiff Robert Stuecley: repairs for separation and ditching of 160 perches of wood called Le Leane, Lez Hookes, Kynges Grove, doels Grove and brache Grove for protection of said Woods small groups by order of William Cowper chief of Kings Woods, 15 shillings 4 pence. [TNA: SC6/HENVIII/7287]

For the same year, the income (perquisites) of the manorial court are shown as: one court held that year with 13 s 4d from common fines; 30 shillings from the heriot of John Marsshe (a payment made by the heir to a property on the death of a tenant); 77 s 8d from finds of land and 22s from other amercements (financial penalty in law).

The Bailiff, John Stuecley was clearly both an influential and wealthy individual in the area. The Honour of Ampthill Ministers Accounts for 1542 show that John Stuecley was paid the considerable sum of £4 per annum in wages plus 40 shillings as the Woodward of Woods in Cranfield and Shillington. He was also the Bailiff for lands owned by Newnham Priory in Bedford and the manor of Studleys in Wootton. He is also shown as owning various properties and parcels of land.

The Honour of Ampthill Ministers Accounts for 1542 also give us an insight into who the principal tenant farmers were at this time: William Sibthorpe, Thomas Wyte, Thomas Pedder, J Vaux, H Wheeler and Michael Dormer are all shown as having substantial holdings. There are also numerous references to parcels of land called Burylands; these would have been lands that was previously farmed by Cranfield Manor before its dissolution. Total receipts in income for 1542 came to £72 15s 10d.

In 1550 Edward VI granted the manor of Cranfield to his half-sister, the Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, who in 1561 leased "le Bury landes alias demasne landes" to Henry Fyssher for 21 years.  In 1603 James I granted the manor to his consort Queen Anne, who died in March 1619. 

In 1622 the Manor was bought by Sir Lionel Cranfield, who later became1st Earl of Middlesex and was a high-ranking official in the Court of James I. His first patron was the Earl of Northampton, Henry Howard, Lord Privy Seal. Helped by Northampton, Cranfield entered royal service in 1613 as Surveyor-General of the Customs. His monetary ability brought him rapid promotion. In rapid succession, Cranfield became Master of the Court of Requests (1616), Master of the Great Wardrobe (1618), Master of the Court of Wards and Liveries (1619), Chief Commissioner of the Navy (1619), Treasury Commissioner (1619), Privy Councillor (1620) and Lord Treasurer in 1621.

Cranfield’s enemies finally had him impeached by the Commons on the charges of bribery and extortion, and he had to stand on trial before the Lords. In May 1624, he was found guilty. Cranfield was sent to the Tower of London – albeit briefly – and fined £50,000. He was stripped of all his offices. Cranfield’s fall from political power was very swift and he spent the rest of his life in the political wilderness.

Cranfield Manor was sequestered to the Crown from the Earl of Middlesex but he managed to raise the cash to buy it back by squeezing his tenants.  Lionel Cranfield died on August 6th, 1645, but the Manor of Cranfield stayed in the family until 1672 when it became the property of the Monoux family, who held it until 1729.

The Doyne-Ditmus Archive charts the ownership of the Manor of Cranfield by the Monoux family. It was bought by Sir Humphrey Monoux, 1st Baronet and previously an Alderman of London in 1672. [Russell catalogue vol1 page 171]. The Monoux family lived at Tempsford Hall and owned a lot of property around Sandy. They also bought the Manor of Wootton. On Sir Humphrey’s death in 1675, the Manor passed to his son Lewis (1650-1720). Lewis was a lawyer in Grays Inn London.

In 1729, the Manor of Cranfield was sold to the Duke of Bedford by a Humphrey Monoux. The Bedfords held it until c.1837 when it was bought by Joseph Ashby Partridge who held it at the time of enclosure in 1840. In the early 19th century the demesne included lands in the common fields and a few closes adjoining Manor Farm [Z297/1].  This, however, was only a portion of the land which made up the medieval demesne (manorial lands).  It seems that Cranfield's demesne was fragmented at some time, either in the late medieval period or following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (including Ramsey Abbey) in the later 1530's.  Some of the land was sold, some tenanted out, and a portion retained.  The lands attached to Bury Farm, including the site of the medieval grange, were not part of the demesne in the post-medieval period though they had been previously. 

The area of common field land called Thillands adjoining Bury Farm and the medieval grange site was also former demesne land.  Its name derives from The Inlands; this was usually used to describe manorial demesne land lying close to the demesne farm itself, as indeed this originally was.  Thillands was still a block of demesne in 1316 (Le Inlond), but by 1603 had been turned over to common field cultivation.

List of sources held at Bedfordshire Archives

  • Z297/1: terrier of open and common fields in the parish of Cranfield: 1827;
  • MA77 and A77: enclosure map and award for Cranfield: 1840