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Manors of Wardon

This page was written by Margaret Roberts, Volunteer Historian, Warden Abbey Vineyard. 

resize View north east across Park Grange, Park Wood. M. Roberts, M.Bird pilot

View north-east across the former monastic Park Grange, Park Wood [now Palmers Wood] and land previously belonging to the manors of Wardon (Image copyright M. Roberts/Helicopter pilot M. Bird).


At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 Wardon was split between three overlords (eight freemen who held the largest share as one manor, Edric the Bald, and Archbishop Stigand), but by Domesday in 1086 they had been granted by king to Norman tenants-in-chief William Spec, Azelina (widow of Ralph de Taillebois), and Ralph de Insula (lord of Biggleswade). From then onwards, lines of succession were subject not only to a male heir surviving to 21 years and beyond, but also to contemporary religious beliefs, royal policies, wars and political strife, debt, famine and social change. None of the manor court rolls are known to have survived and gaining a picture of how the manors functioned is difficult, but inquisitions taken post mortem in the early 1280s detail the contemporary composition, size and value of the secular holdings.

Comments on the Victoria County History (VCH)

The VCH (vol. 3 published in 1912) concluded that there were four manors in Wardon, namely Old Warden manor, a share of Old Warden manor called Boweles manor, the Warden manor belonging to Warden Abbey, and Hill manor. However, Bedfordshire Historical Record Society publications and other scholarly works highlight several misconceptions: (1) The earliest known use of Old Wardon does not occur until 1494, prior to which primary sources show tenants-in-chief holding land in Wardon from the king. The only known reference to ‘Old Wardon manor’ occurs in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535. (2) Despite the similar names, the families of Builli and Boeles were not one and the same. Peter de Boeles acquired a share in the manor of Wardon through marriage in the mid-13th century, and his son John claimed manorial rights there in 1308. There are no references to a Boeles / Boweles manor in Wardon per se. (3) The VCH observed that ‘A third WARDEN MANOR in this parish belonged to Warden Abbey’, but unaccountably assumed that this manor originated in 50 acres of woodland granted at Ravenesholte by the abbey’s founder, Walter Espec. Ravenesholte is actually a wood in Cambridgeshire which was given to the monks by Philip de Baunville in or before 1161. The VCH also mixed up the Cambridgeshire wood with King Stephen’s grant of Ravensho in Huntingdonshire, neither of which formed the basis for a Bedfordshire manor. (4) Wardon Abbey held land not only in Wardon (Beds), but also in West Wardon (Northants), a quirk that confounded even those compiling the Court of Augmentations accounts in 1538. 

The manors of Wardon before 1542

In practice there appear to have been two manors before 1542; the secular manor of Wardon and an ecclesiastical manor belonging to the Cistercian abbey. Hill manor, a post-Dissolution administrative structure, is discussed separately. 

Formed from the lands held by William Spec in 1086, the secular manor remained as a single entity until the early 1180s when it was divided between William’s great-granddaughters, Cecily and Matilda de Bussei. If conventions were followed, the share inherited by Cecily, wife of John de Builli, would have descended through Idonea, their only child and sole heiress who married Westmorland lord, Robert de Vieuxpont. However, evidence is lacking and nothing can be added at present other than to suggest that her portion passed to the heirs of Matilda in or before 1264. 

Matilda de Bussei married Hugh Wake of Benham, and her share of the manor of Wardon passed first to their son James, and then to their daughter Aline, wife of Joscelin de Stiuecle. Having outlived her husband, siblings and son, Aline left the manor to her grandson Barnabas de Stiuecle. However by 1257 the manor had been offered as surety against a loan taken out from the Jews and Barnabas leased it to the abbot of Wardon to generate income. When Barnabas died shortly afterwards, Henry III gave the guardianship of the manor to Queen Eleanor who in turn granted it to the abbot to hold directly from the Crown for 13 years. 

Alice, Joan and Mary de Stiuecle, the three married sisters of Barnabas, had reclaimed the manor by 1280, and in 1284-86 it was held jointly by cousins William le Quoynte (son of Alice) and John de Boeles (son of Mary). The abbot had some involvement in 1316 but there are no further details. Two thirds of the half held by William le Quoynte passed down to his two daughters, Joan and Margery, while the final third was held in dower by Isabella, their widowed mother. In 1342 the younger women’s shares were sold to the abbot of Wardon and arrangements made for the third part to be offloaded on Isabella’s death. The other half remained with the heirs of Mary de Stiuecle until it was granted to the St Amand family, possibly in settlement of a debt, in the early 1340s. It was finally acquired by the abbot of Wardon in 1343 as part of a business deal. 

The ecclesiastical manor of Wardon originated in grants by William Spec’s son and heir, Walter Espec late in the reign of Henry I. The Cistercian Order was not permitted to lease out lands until 1208 and therefore all assets would have remained in demesne until the early 13th century. It is likely that the ecclesiastical manor evolved rapidly once the monks of Wardon were allowed to establish rental agreements, which in turn generated income and demanded labour services from their tenants. The limited evidence suggests that the manor functioned normally for the times: monies derived from manor courts, view of frankpledge claimed, and likewise right of free warren. 

The share of Wardon held by Azelina (widow of Ralph de Taillebois) in 1086  appears to have been acquired by the abbey before the mid-13th century, and having reunited William Spec’s holdings by the mid-14th century, the monastery remained the dominant force in Wardon until surrendering to representatives of Henry VIII on 4 December 1537. The manorial holdings were redesignated as the ‘Lordship of Wardon’ and absorbed into the Honour of Ampthill in 1542. 

 Full details and a wiring diagram showing descent of the manors are available in The Manors of Wardon.