The Manor Courts of Wakehurst

The sale of his family estates by Sir William Culpeper in 1694 marked the end of a long period of family ownership and occupation of Wakehurst. From then on, with the exception of the years when Charles Lydell was owner of Wakehurst and also Rector of Ardingly, it is a story of constant change, with owners who appear to have had little interest in the affairs of their Manor. As was common practice, the running of the Manor Courts was left to a Steward, usually a solicitor, and at Wakehurst, in the 18th Century, there were four of these, Timothy Burrell, John and Francis Warden and Samuel Waller.

Timothy Burrell was Steward from 1692 until his death in 1717. He was fifth son of Sir Walter Burrell of Ockenden House in Cuckfield.(1) He was a lawyer, practising in London before he settled in Cuckfield and he left a Diary which makes livelier reading than the Court Rolls. This diary was unfortunately destroyed in a fire at Knepp Castle in 1904, but extracts are preserved, with copies of the author’s illustrations in the Sussex Archaeological Collections.(2) Apart from some personal entries, it is mostly accounts of monies paid and received, wage rates, price of grain etc. He was known as Counsellor Burrell and was held in great esteem by his neighbours. He regularly invited the farmers of Cuckfield to a Christmas dinner and gives lists of their names and the menu for the meal. This was typical of the age in its profusion of courses:- “plum pottage, boiled leg of mutton, goose, pig, plum pottage, roast beef, veal, leg, roasted pig, plum pottage, boiled beef, a rump, two baked puddings, three dishes of minced pies, two capons, two dishes of tarts, two pullets.”(3) Timothy Burrell died in 1711 and the Cuckfield register records him as “a great and good man… and one who, by his counsel and advice, was of great use to all”. (Incidentally, an earlier member of his family, Ninian Burrell, had been Rector of Ardingly from 1511 to 1531)(4)

He was succeeded as Steward of Wakehurst by John Warden of Cuckfield, and his son Francis Warden, who was also Steward of Preston Manor until his death in 1785. Francis Warden died unmarried, but with a considerable estate, including some in Ardingly, known as Cow Street. This he bequeathed to the Pelhams, “it being very mixed with their property of Naldrett”. He also owned Otehall, in Wivelsfield which he generously left to Thomas Shirley, the son of the man from whom he bought it. Other manors which he owned, including Haywards Heath, Marshalls and Butlers Green, were left to Walter Jefferson or Sergison, of Cuckfield Place.

To his Clerk, James Waller, attorney, he left a shop in Cuckfield(5) and also, it seems, some of his good will as a lawyer, since in 1787, Samuel Waller, Gentleman, was the Steward of the Manor of Wakehurst, holding office until 1819. He was probably the son of James Waller. At all events, the Court Rolls took on a new air of efficiency, as though the new Steward was anxious to prove his ability to step into his master’s shoes. Five years’ back quit rent was recovered from the tenants and accounts were kept of quit rents received after the court of 1787. Again, in 1796, ten years of rents were collected. The tenants can hardly have approved of this efficient Steward as much as the Lord of the Manor did.(6)

The Bailiffs who appeared at the Manor Courts and “did their office” were yeomen or other more important members of the parish. Timothy Burrell appeared to dispense with bailiffs. Ferdinando Jackson was the Bailiff for John Warden. Francis Warden, during his long Stewardship had Robert Chatfield, William Leopard, John Shippey and Thomas and Joseph Potter as Bailiffs William Boans, William Newman and Isaac Browne assisted Samuel Waller.(7)

The Court would normally be convened by the Steward who was assisted by the Bailiff and the “Homage”. These would be two or three of the more important tenants, acting as representatives of the tenants as a whole, who reported on changes of tenancy since the last court. The Court Rolls, which date back to 1633, emphasise the degree to which the jurisdiction of the old Manorial Courts had shrunk. Their only remaining function, in the 18th Century, was to receive and enter the fees of tenants for admission to their holdings, and the payment of fines by the inheritors of the estate. There was no evidence of other possible activities such as instructions to repair a cottage, by-road, or the pillory, or measures to ensure that the flour and beer were unadulterated.(8) Possibly the Wakehurst court, owing to the lateness of its foundation had never exercised such powers. After 1721 even the formality of inserting the words “Essoine None, Complaints None”, was forgotten.

Courts were held at very irregular intervals only twelve being held in the whole of the 18th Century. There was a gap of fourteen years between 1757 and 1771, and another of 13 years between 1708 and 1721. On the other hand, Courts were held two years running in 1756 and 1757.

The amounts paid into the Courts in quit rents were small, only a few shillings and half-a-pound of pepper each year, but the heriot agreed with executors was much heavier:-
£8. 1. 3. in 1708, £2. 10. in 1721, £3. 3. in 1738, £9. 10. 6. in 1743, £7. 4. in 1756, £12. 12. in 1757, £6. 10. in 1771, £5. 5. in 1781, and £12. 15. in 1787,(9) all amounts representing the value of various red oxen, brindled cows. young pigs, a black mare and a grey horse. These were the best beasts of the tenant who had died, which the Lord of the Manor was entitled to claim. These amounts may not seem large to modern eyes, but they were well worth collecting in the 18th Century.

Apart from the evidence which they give, which can be used with other records to identify people and places, the Court Rolls of Wakehurst have one major point of interest. In other Saxon Manors of Sussex the custom of Borough English prevailed; that is the youngest son inherited the estate, but at Wakehurst the question of inheritance is not at all clear. The custom of Widow’s Bench appeared to operate, but usually the elder son inherited the tenancy. No doubt it was the lateness of Wakehurst as a Manor which gave rise to this confusion. It must have caused the Stewards some difficulty, used as they were to dealing with customs established in older Sussex Manors,(10) customs which applied to land adjoining Wakehurst Manor, such as that held by the Manor of Ditchling.(11)

A table is included in the Appendices, giving the details of people inheriting tenancies during the 18th Century, but it is summarised here for convenience. Of a total of 31 applicants 9 elder sons were admitted to their holdings, and only 2 younger children. In one of these cases the holding had been especially willed to the younger son.(12) The rights of widows were upheld, Ann Tully, Sara Stoner and Mary Payne were among widows whose right to occupy their husband’s property after his death and during their lifetime was maintained.(13) Although the guardians of Thomas Comber, aged 7, did not attend the court of 1692, the child’s right to his father’s tenancy was established and so was the right of Thomas Crips, aged 15.(14) In 1771. Philadelphia Harrington, the younger daughter of Jane Bedel, was stated to be “Heir according to custom of this Manor” but the claim of her elder sister, Elizabeth Young, to inherit the property was eventually upheld, showing that the enactments of a properly proved will took precedence over the customs of the Manor.(15)

Information other than the financial and legal matters just dealt with, does occasionally seep through the formal wording. For instance, it is clear that the “Homage” was careful in safeguarding the rights of widows and minors, even if those concerned, or their guardians, were not present. Again, we gather that the Lord of the Manor was rarely present: only twice between 1663 and 1800, in 1664 and 1781. The first occasion, admittedly outside our period, brings a little humanity to the formal proceedings when “the Lord, being present in Court, by the humble petition of Grace Poulter, widow, and out of his mere kindness, granted to the aforesaid Grace one cottage and a little piece of land to the same cottage adjoining”.(16) Only in 1781 did the Lord of the Manor appear again, when John Young was admitted tenant by the “Lord in person.”(17)

As we study the Court Rolls and become familiar with the names of the tenants and recognise the houses and farms where some of them lived, still standing in much the same form today, it is natural to wish to discover more about them than is possible to glean from the legal formalities of the Court Rolls. A great deal of light was thrown on the lives of the farming community but the inventories of their property which exist for the first half of the 18th century, though these relate more to the village of Ardingly as a whole, rather than to the tenants of Wakehurst in particular.

These inventories will be studied in a later chapter. In the meantime it was felt better to preserve the hierarchy of the 18th Century by proceeding from the Lords of the Manor and his officials to the Rector and Church before dealing with the humbler members of the community.

1. Information on the Burrell and Warden families is to be found in JH Cooper’s History of the Parish of Cuckfield.
2. SAC. Vol III. P169.
3 SAC Vol II. P169
4. Loder, P204.
5. See P. 7, Note (1)
6. Loder, P. 160-161.
7. Ibid, P. 136-161
8. Prothero, P.19.
9. Loder, P.136-161.
10. P. Bellamy, Special Study, Manor of Preston in 18th C. where Francis Warden was Steward.
11. S.R.S. Vol.XXXIV -Book of’John Rowe, P-77
12. Loder; P147, R. Chatfield
13. Loder; P138, 143, 150
14. Ibid ,P136
15. Ibid P152-155
16. Ibid P131
17. Ibid, P.155.

Back to contents