There is no evidence that the manor of Pillinge was ever a true manor holding its own court. There are no records listed for Marston Pillinge in The National Archives’ manorial documents register, and none included in the Russell (Ossory) collection held by Bedfordshire Archives. Pillinge was, however, a settlement from an early date and was described as a manor over the course of several centuries.
The name Pillinge is likely to be an Anglo-Saxon “-ingas” name, dating from the 5th to 7th century. The Heritage Environment Record indicates that an arrangement of ditches around an orchard to the south-east of the 17th century manor house (now South Pillinge Farm) was probably a medieval moat [HER3270]. The medieval settlement of Marston Pillinge was to either side of a dead-end road running north-south, with a separate group or farmstead to the south east adjoining the possible moat. Earthworks visible on aerial photographs suggest that the area between these clusters was also occupied. However thise settlement was in decline before the middle of the 19th century and has been largely obliterated by quarrying and the railway line [HER17038].
According to the Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, the first known mention of the manor of Pillinge (also known as Pillage or Peling) is in 1443, when it belonged to Sir John Cornwall who owned Millbrook manor. A distinguished soldier, Cornwall was given the titles of Baron Fanhope and Lord Millbrook. After his death ownership of his lands, which included the manor of Ampthill, was disputed, eventually being granted to Sir Edmund Grey (later Earl of Kent) by King Edward IV in 1461. Along with Millbrook, was incorporated into the Honour of Ampthill in 1542.
From this date onwards a series of deeds relating to the manor of Pillinge are held by Bedfordshire Archives [reference RO14/1-86]. These give a slightly different version of the history of the manor to that given in the Victoria County History. Ownership of the manor passed from Queen Elizabeth to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, by letters patent dated 1 July 1564. Later that year he sold the manors of Caldecote and “Pelynge”, Holme Mill Grange, and land at Elstow to George Fishe or Fyshe of Southill. In 1567 Fishe in turn sold the manor of “Pelinge alias Pillage” to John Sanders (or Saunders) of Bragenham in the parish of Soulbury in Buckinghamshire. A final concord related to this transaction describes the manor in 1568 as including 2 messuages (houses with their surrounding property), 1 dovehouse, 140 acres of land, 20 acres of meadow, 140 acres of pasture, and 20 acres of wood in Marston and Wootton. Between 1574 and 1651 additional property in Marston Moretaine was acquired by the Sanders family. In 1637 the marriage settlement of John Sanders, son of Sir John Sanders of Millbrook, and Ursula, daughter of Richard Taylor of Clapham, included property in Millbrook, cottages and meadow land in Marston, and the manor of Marston Pilling, including a manor house with its dovehouse.
In January 1670 John Saunders, now described as being of Sapperton in Lincolnshire, his wife Ursula, and his son and heir John Saunders, sold the manor of Pillinge to Robert Denis of Kempston for £4,150, including the manor house where Roger Saunders lived in Marston Moretaine (still with its dovehouse), together with land in Marston and Millbrook. The property belonging to the manor was listed as 6 messuages, 2 tofts, 1 watermill, 1 windmill, 1 dovehouse, 6 gardens, 80 acres of land, 32 acres of meadow, 300 acres of pasture, 18 acres of wood and 20 acres of furze and heath, in Marston Moretaine, Millbrook and Wootton.
Robert Denis died in or before 1701, leaving his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret as his co-heirs. Various arrangements were made for the manor involving Elizabeth, her husband Robert Averay of Cruwys Morchard (Devon), her sister Margaret, and their widowed mother Margaret and her new husband Robert Squire. At this point the manor was described as including 7 messuages, 1 dovehouse, 7 gardens, 4 orchards, 100 acres of land, 40 acres of meadow, 300 acres of pasture, 20 acres of wood and 40 acres of heath and furze. In 1705 Margaret Denis, Robert and Margaret Squire sold the manor to Lord Charles Bruce, who in turn sold the manor to Rupert Billingsley in 1717.
After the death of Rupert Billingsley in 1720 the manor passed to his widow Mary, who died in 1727 leaving her estate to her daughter Bridget Billingsley, then a minor. Her will provided that if Bridget should die before reaching her majority, then £6000 from the estate should be used to build a hospital and for the maintenance of seamen’s widows. Bridget married William Belasyse of Brancepeth Castle, County Durham, but died intestate in 1736 leaving an infant daughter, another Bridget. After her death legal proceedings were taken over Rupert and Mary’s wills, as a result of which the estate was sold by the executors to William Belasyse. The proceeds were found to be insufficient to found a hospital, so were to be distributed among the poor widows of seamen. At this time the Pillinge manor house was in the occupation of a William Gray. In 1758 the manor of Pillinge was sold by William Belasyse to John, Earl of Upper Ossory for £5700, including £1500 due on a mortgage. The manor subsequently came into the hands of Lord Ashburnham and was sold to the Duke of Bedford in 1843.