You are in [Publications] [Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford] [The ‘Missing Charters’ of Hungerford]

This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

At the heart of the ‘Missing Charters’ controversy was the ownership and tenure rights to local property and land. Loss of ‘evidences’ or deeds is a frequent complaint in lawsuits throughout the medieval period. They are often alleged to have been stolen or to have come into the wrong hands by ‘casual means’. Even where a person possessed a home chest or coffer it was not proof against robbery.

Medieval merchants and landowners developed a custom of depositing their personal deeds for safe custody in the town chest which contained official town documents. These personages were usually those who served the town as councillors or in some other official capacity. They were thus ensured of frequent and easy access to the documents.

In Hungerford the official town documents were placed in a small chest which was bound with iron and this was placed within a larger and stouter chest which stood in the town hall. The great chest had one lock and one key; the inner or little chest had two locks but still only one key. The custody of the keys was the care of one of the town elders ‘that hath been Constable, to keep for the year following at Hocktide Court‘. The town hall itself was locked at its front door to which again, there was only one key and this was held by ‘one appointed to keep the clock and ring the bells’. This might seem to be as much security as could be obtained in those days.

When a burgess of the town wished to have recourse to the chests and view any of the documents therein it was a rule that this should be done in the presence of the Constable with two or three other burgesses present and, of course, the keeper of the keys. Clearly this rule was in practice relaxed, the more particularly perhaps when a
serving burgess might wish to consult a document of his own or one which concerned him. Indeed the laxity in the case of the ‘missing charters’ is quite astounding; in a small community, however, officiousness is difficult to maintain. When John Lovelake wished to inspect the charters he merely sent his daughter Agnes to Thomas
Hamlen, who was the keeper of the keys for that year, for the keys of the two coffers ‘in the name of William Butler, then Constable, and Thomas Seymour’ (most probably a former Constable). Lovelake then carried the little coffer from the town hall to his own house, where he made no attempt to conceal its presence. It is clear that he took the coffer so as to have available to him to search at leisure, the whole of its contents. What he later claimed he was searching for were some documents which related to the tenancy of his house which had been sub-leased to him by Richard Mayle. The deposition of John Yewle describes the incident vividly: Lovelake is alleged to have said, ‘ ‘Mayle, come to my house in the evening and I will send for the keys of the common coffer and then you and I will see the deeds of our houses’. And Mayle said, ‘I will’. And so, the said Mayle according to his promise came and found not the said Lovelake within; but shortly after he came in and asked for a candle and went
into his shop with the said Mayle, where the said Mayle saw the little chest that our said charters and evidences were wont to be in. And then the said Lovelake, having the keys, opened the said chest and took out certain of the writings therein and so by confession of the said Mayle, the jury came to the knowledge thereof’.

It is unlikely that Lovelake found much that he would understand without assistance. John Yewle relates how he once had demanded some eight years previously, to see ‘a certain muniment bearing the seal of the Duke of Lancaster, supposing it should be a grant from the said Duke of Lancaster concerning the said privilege, the contents whereof none of them there could read or understand.

Whereupon the said John Lovelake demanded the said muniment to have him in English for the better understanding of the same and carried the same at that time out of the court and from and after that time hither to this, this deponent never saw the same ’. It would seem from this story that Lovelake may have been Constable in 1564 or thereabouts and what he had been able to do once in taking the document home for clarification he could see no reason for not doing again in 1572.

That this was his intention seems to be borne out by the deposition of Andrew Skinner, a vicar of the neighbouring parish of Kintbury who explained that Lovelake came to his house, bringing with him various writings ‘in a bag’ which he requested the vicar ‘to search and read the same to that end that he would see some evidence concerning his house for the better preservation of the right to the same, for that one Henry Edes meant , as he sayeth, to get the said house from him’. This corresponds with what Anthony Hidden relates of Lovelake ’s conversation with him. Hidden upbraids him saying, ‘You have not used yourself well, for that it is said you have conveyed the charters and evidences of the town and church land the which you have in your keeping’. Lovelake’s reply was that he had the documents safe enough but would not deliver them until the jury had made their presentment, ‘for I do suppose they shoot at something of mine’. Yewle further corroborates this with his charge against Henry Edes in relation to Richard Mayle.

Mayle was not, as Yewle portrays, ‘a very poor man’. He was a selfemployed weaver who tenanted from the town 2 tenements with their gardens and backsides, one of which he sub-leased to John Lovelake. With these two tenements there went some twelve acres of land (according to the official survey of 1573) as he himself deposes
rather than the 16 acres elsewhere alleged. These were 10½ acres of arable land (4 acres in the Everlong and 6½ in Sandon Fee), together with 1 acre of meadow in Woodmarsh and ½ acre of pasture in Church Croft. On these lands there was the charge of an obit amounting to 13s.4d. annually, according to the same survey.
John Yewle alleges that at the jury held to determine their presentment to the Duchy of Lancaster‘s surveyor, Henry Edes disagreed with others of the jury and tried to force the jury to present things ‘which the said jury would not nor could not in conscience agree unto’. First, Yewle alleges he tried to persuade the jury to void Mayle’s lease, ‘the which was no part of their articles’ with which they were charged. Also he tried to persuade the jury to present the rent of Mayle’s lease as 26s. 8d. whereas it was in fact 40s. Also that the obit which went with the lands as being 11s. when in fact it was 13s. 4d; and he refers to an obit of one George Cooke which Edes wished the jury to present as having been paid by him to the Queen for land in Westcot, ‘the which the said jury knoweth not of.’

Yewle’s motive is clear enough: he wished to blacken the credibility of Henry Edes as a chief defence witness. If the obit of 13s.4d is added to the rent of 26s.8d. a total of 40s. gross rent is obtained, so that on this matter there seems to be no substance in Yewle ’s allegation. The jury, it will be noted, agreed the obit at 13s.4d. and
thus resolved the difference between Edes’ figure for the rent excluding the obit and Yewle’s figure which included it. As to the allegation that Edes was trying to void Mayle ’s lease it was, as Yewle himself admits, no part of the jury’s brief to consider; so they make no mention of it in their presentment, other than the indirect one of
presenting the details of the tenements and the quit rent of 23d. per annum due to the Queen. If Yewle’s charge against Edes is true, then it is easy to understand John Lovelake ’s anxiety as a subtenant of Mayle. Thus in attempting to blacken Edes, Yewle strengthens and corroborates Lovelake’s account of why he removed the charters and gives credence to his explanation that he was interested only in documents which related to his own dwelling.

There remains the point concerning the difference in the amount of the obit due. It is not clear whether the lands held by Mayle included the lands on which the obit was charged for George Cooke; but it seems from the conjunction of Yewle’s remarks to be so. If this supposition is correct, then the difference in the two amounts presented for the obit may perhaps be explained. In his will (PCC 16 Blamyr) dated 10 June 1502 Cook asks that an obit be kept for him twice yearly in the church of Hungerford and he instructs as follows: ‘If it fortune any of them to fail of this my will not fulfilled, then I will that the vicar of the church of Hungerford and to the churchmen shall distress in all the foresaid lands and tenements to take and carry away to the value of 13s.4d. and they to bestow it at my obit 10s. And the said vicar to have for his labour 16d. and any of the churchmen 12d., whatsoever they be for the time being vicar or their churchmen there and so oft as any of my executors seeketh evermore’. The lands to which he referred were ‘my lands in Westcote in Berkshire and the covenants of farm during the lease that I have of my lord of St. Johns’, that is, the priory of St. Johns.

Probate was granted 14 September 1502. If the two churchmen (or churchwardens) each were to receive 12d. and the vicar 16d. and the sum available for obit was 10s., the total to be obtained by distraint would be 13s. 4d. Was the difference between this 10s. and 13s.4d. also the point of dispute between Yewle and Edes? Whatever
may be the case it is clear that in the seventy-one years that had passed since Cooke’s death, with the Reformation coming between, the dissolution of chantries and priories, and the abolition of obits, the townspeople of Hungerford had lost track of these ancient arrangements, ‘which the said jury knoweth not of’.

One other strange fact of history must be noted, which involves George Cooke’s widow Katherine and an earlier John Lovelake. In 1494 a lease of the rectory of Hungerford for 20 years was granted to Ralph Searle and George Cooke. In 1504 the same lease was granted for 15 years to Catherine Cooke of Hungerford, widow, and John Lovelake of Hungerford, husbandman. In 1517, one imagines on the death of Catherine, John Lovelake acquired a new lease of the rectory and all the tithes of Hungerford for another 25 years by five year breaks. Was the John Lovelake of the missing charters case his descendant? We don’t know.

Let us, however, search for those two tenements of Richard Mayle with their 12 acres of land, paying in 1573 a distinctly unusual quit rent sum of 23d. The previous survey had taken place in 1552. It is less detailed and it is written in Latin, but one entry is noticeable: ‘Thomas Hedache holds 2 tenements and a barn lately held by John
Edwardes, and lately pertaining to the church there by an obit to be celebrated annually ..... quit rent 23d’. There is also another entry, again for Thomas Hedache: ‘ one tenement late pertaining to the church, quit rent 6d’.

In the deposition of Edward Brouker, vicar of Hungerford, concerning the ‘missing charters’, he states that the two tenements with the lands appertaining to them were of the gift and feoffment of William Warnewell clerk, for the performance of his last will and testament and that one Whitemore and others were feoffees on behalf of the town as appeared by a deed dated anno 16 Henry VII. 

No evidence has been found of this William Warnewell, though we have numerous references to a John Warnewell in the latter part of the 15th century, and we have a Thomas Whitemore who was instituted vicar of Hungerford in 1479 and mentioned in local wills in 1504 and 1505. When Warnewell is described as clerk we must remember that a clerk was one who had been ceremonially tonsured by the bishop, whether or no he subsequently proceeded to holy orders. A connection, however, is established by a rental of Hungerford taken c1470 in which John Warnewell held one barn and half a burgage which had lately been held by Thomas Warnewell, quit rent 19d. Two further - and consecutive - entries then state that John Warnewell held a quarter burgage lately John Giffard’s, quit rent 2d. and a three-quarters burgage lately Thomas Warnewell’s, quit rent 6d. If these two entries are taken together we have a tenement that corresponds to that of Thomas Hedache’s second entry in 1552. In the same way, the first entry corresponds, except the difference in the quit rent of a half burgage [each full burgage normally paid a quit rent of 8d at this time], with the details
of Thomas Hedache’s two tenement holding. It would seem therefore that these tenements came to the parish church via the Warnewell family approximately at the beginning of the 16th century, and were then leased out first to Edwardes and then Hedache.

The date is given as ‘approximately’ at the beginning of the 16th century despite Edward Brouker‘s date of 16 Henry VII, which would be 1501. This is because Brouker must be speaking from memory - he claims the will is missing - and one has reason to suspect his memory. If, however, Warnewell in fact died by or almost immediately after the date Brouker quotes, then these lands cannot have been lands which carried the George Cooke obit as George Cooke himself did not die until after 10 June 1502. There is in George Cooke’s will a bequest of 4 shillings to the vicar to pray for his soul and what seems to be (the writing is difficult to read at this point) a further bequest of 20d. to ‘Sir William’.

One other reference to William Warnewell has been discovered. This is in a Court of Requests case in 1563/4 where Thomas Jennyns, tailor, of Hungerford alleges that his father, also named Thomas Jennyns, was seised of 2 messuages and 16 acres of lands, meadow and pasture in the town and fields of Hungerford when he died
about 29 years ago, that is c1534. After his death the documents concerning this property came into the hands of Richard Mayle, George Hidden and John Lovelake ‘who by colour of the same have wrongfully entered into the premises’. In fact these three were sued because they were or had been lately at the time of the suit, churchwardens and presumably acting as feoffees of the property.

The defendants answer denying any good cause to the suit, regret the lack of deeds or evidence, but say that William Warnewell, clerk had been seised of the 2 messuages and 16 acres of land; he had enfeoffed Richard Long and others in the estate, which the defendants now lawfully have and claim to be lawfully seised. At this
point we may wish to consider Richard Mayle’s 1573 assertion that ‘he knoweth not who the ‘fefers’ were’. The defendants go on further to say that Thomas Jennyns senior had committd felony, was attainted, convicted and executed at Tyburn c1534/5. If this were so it would effectively dispose of his son’s claim to the lands so attainted but Thomas Jennyns junior denies the charge concerning  his father. He asserts that if Warnewell had the premises or anything therein it was by disseisin and wrong done to the ancestors of the complainant. This assertion suggests that he has little idea of the date of Warnewell’s death. One can only suppose that Thomas
Jennyns senior may have been a tenant of the lands at some time between Warnewell’s gift and the tenancy of John Edwardes or Thomas Hedache.

We don’t know the result of the law suit which should have come to judgement sometime in 1565. Perhaps it was as a result of this judgement that on the 18th of January 1566 leading members of the local community (Edward Hungerford of North Standen, George Essex of Hopgrass, John Goddard of South Standen, esquires, Nicholas Passion, Thomas Seymor, Richard Mayle, George Hidden and John Lovelake) would accept the decision of three named arbitrators concerning the right title to the 2  messuages and 16 acres. What the arbitrators’ decision was becomes obvious when we discover that on April 6th 1566 Thomas Jennyns quit-claimed to the three churchwardens, in pursuance of the arbitration verdict given on the 26th of January of that year, all the properties which had been involved in the dispute.

With this set of facts the reference in the ‘missing charters’ depositions to a bond given by Thomas Jennyns clarifies. Thomas Lovelake says that ‘he hath in his custody one obligation wherein he and Thomas Jennyns stand bound to the inhabitants of Hungerford ..... concerning the award and had it of Thomas Bawle of London waterman about 3 years past or thereabouts’. However, this cannot be the same obligation as the one already mentioned because (a) it includes Thomas Lovelake, whereas the earlier one included only Thoms Jennyns, (b) the earlier obligation was dated 1566, but by Thomas Lovelake’s calculation it would date nearer to 1570. In addition, in some way a new name, Thomas Ball, is introduced who did not appear in any earlier obligation.

Edward Brouker also mentions the obligation wherein Thomas Lovelake of Sonning and Thomas Jennyns stand bound to Richard Mayle and others of the parish of Hungerford, the condition of which is that they (i.e. Lovelake and Jennyns) should not vex or trouble the town concerning the 2 tenements and 16 acres. Richard Mayle
describes confidently ‘an obligation concerning an arbitrement wherein Thomas Jennyns of Hungerford and Thomas Lovelake of Sonning stand bound in £100 to the inhabitants of Hungerford etc.’.

Various questions still arise: What part does Thomas Lovelake have in all this? Why, if the quitclaim of Thomas Jennyns stands, should John Lovelake (or anyone else) be concerned about the documents relating to the town house and lands? Why if Henry Edes wished to claim Lovelake’s house do we find Edes and John Lovelake allies in
Lovelake’s defence? Why, if Lovelake is a former churchwarden does he seem to be on such bad erms with his local vicar, apparently preferring to visit a neighbouring vicar when he requires documents translated?

The one thing that does seem evident is that the utmost confusion reigns as to proprietorship of lands originally, we may believe, bequeathed to town and/or to church, especially where essential documents of proof are missing. A system of feoffees would always tend to break down as the older feoffees died and inadequate steps
were taken, or no steps at all were taken, to replace them by new and younger feoffees. Where the number of feoffees was small, the problem became accentuated as there might be no one to check the difference between tenancy and possession. Many lands originally devised as a gift might therefore become, almost insensibly, the
‘property’ of a surviving feoffee or his descendant. This process was accentuated by the dissolution of the land-holding institutions such as the monasteries, the chantries, the priories and hospitals, and of such customs as church obits etc. With the destruction of these institutions came the loss of their records and the loss of continuity
in their accountability. How this operated may seen by following through a further charge laid against Henry Edes by the militant John Yewle.

‘And moreover,’ Yewle thundered, ‘Edes would have the said jury to present that one close called Prayes with 11 acres of land thereunto belonging to be the freehold of the said Henry Edes, whereas the said close and 11 acres of land is parcell of the lease that Nicholas Passion holdeth of the chantry in Hungerford and payeth rent therefor to the Queen’s Majesty’s use.’

This dispute between Edes and Nicholas Passion in fact forms the basis for a case William Curteis v Nicholas Passion in 1578. Curteis married Edes’ widow who had inherited Edes’ lease from the Crown of the dissolved chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the lands and tenements which it had held. This lease, granted in 1566 for 21 years at an annual rental payable to the Queen of £9 9s. 10d, included ‘a burgage with a cottage thereunto adjoining situate in Hungerford, and also of fifty and one acres of arable land lying in the fields of Hungerford, Sandon and the Hillfield and of one meadow called Dayfield and of one close called Prayes Barn with their appurtenances’. (Note: Hillfield is probably the field earlier known as la Hulle). Of this lot the earlier feoffees of the chantry had let the burgage, the cottage and 31 acres plus the meadow of Dayfield to William Lovelake (February 1519) for a 61 year lease commencing in 1525 at a rent of 55s. 8d. Then came the dissolution of the chantry
in 1548. In 1554 Nicholas Passion acquired the possession of the estate, interest and term then to come of the premises thus let to Lovelake. Passion sub-let the premises, splitting them up - the burgage and the cottage to Edward Passion and the 31 acres to Ralph Hatt. Curteis claims that since a first payment immediately
following the grant of the lease by the Crown to Henry Edes, no payment of rent had been made by either of the Passions or by Hatt.

In addition, the two defendants had also taken possession of Prayes Barn together with the remaining 20 acres of the original 51.

In the 1573 survey Nicholas Passion is shown as holding 1 whole burgage and the tenement adjoining, 42 acres of arable land and 2 closes in Sandon Fee. The quit rent due to the queen for these amounted to 23½d. The two closes were described as ‘Dasewell’ and ‘Prayes in Tinknam’. The 42 acres included 1 acre in Billefield, 1 acre in Pidden, 8 acres in Middlefield, 4½ acres in Homefield, 5½ acres in the Breach, 7 acres in Everlong, 6 acres in Westbrokes and ‘6 acres 4 acres’ (sic) in Inkpen fields. This looks like the former chantry property, despite the arithmetical difficulty concerning the arable acres. (But see suggested new arrangement in margin of p15 of the Survey). In the entry concerning the Inkpen fields presumably 6 acres was an error and 4 acres was intended as a correction.

A further entry in the same survey also contains: ‘Nicholas Passion: a close called Praise, 11 acres of arable land. Of the chantry of Our lady, quit rent to the Queen 6d’. [Praise close is probably connected with Prayes Lynch which would seem to be the back or boundary between Homefield and Middle Field]. Although Yewle describes Richard Maile as a very poor man he was a landlord and an employer. He held 2 more properties in the 1573 Survey; the parish register records the death of a servant of his in 15 - and of a ‘lame boy’ whose master he was in 1585. By trade he was a broadweaver.

[Based on P.R.O. Documents:
DL1/94/P8 11 April 1573. Nicholas Passion for the inhabitants of Hungerford v John Lovelake and William Butler.
DL4/15/6. July 1573. Depositions of Witnesses in the above case For abstracts of these documents, see the bound collections, ‘Hungerford Lawsuits’ ] [See also Transactions of Newbury and District Field Club vol.10 no.2 (1954) for P.Walne: ‘The Missing Charters of Hungerford’ pp.44- 49.]

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford

The Case of the Missing Charters, 1573

- The Case of the Missing Charters (from Elizabethan Hungerford)