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Culver House, Culver House Close and Culver Acre:

[This article is based on a paper written by Norman Hidden.]

Culver House, Culver House Close, and the associated land called Culver Acre were originally associated with the Chantry of the Holy Trinity, and later became associated with what is now The Three Swans Hotel, 117 High Street. The story is a long and complicated one!

The earliest reference to the name Culver is in the 1470 Duchy of Lancaster rental (in Edward IV's reign) where John Tukhyll is said to hold one vacant burgage and one part of an acre called Culver acre, once belonging to Thomas Coterell, quit rent 9½d p.a. From the positioning of this entry in the rental it is not clear just where the location of the property may be, but it is certainly not where later references place the Culver House. It seems to be on the west side of the High Street.

In 1548 (Edward VI's reign) a draft lease prepared for the possessions of the disbanded Chantry of the Holy Trinity (disbanded in 1548) (E301/51) describes a  tenement, "late Thomas Jennings, demised to Ralph Serle" at an annual rent of 18s.

This ("late Thomas Jennings, demised to Ralph Serle") seems to be a scribal error. The names appear to be reversed, as shown by another reference in the town survey of 1552 which refers to  "one tenement and nine dovecotes late Ralph Serle, now Thomas Jennings", quit rent 10d, part of the late Chantry of the Holy Trinity. Since Ralph Serle was alive in 1470 and Thomas Jennings in 1552, the latter reference would seem the correct one.

The reference to the dovecotes identifies the house, the word 'culver' meaning a dove. The early reference to dovecotes indicates that before belonging to Holy Trinity the property was originally the lord's, since only the lord of  the manor  was entitled to a dovecote. Presumably, therefore, the property was one of those bequeathed by Robert de Hungerford to the Chantry of the Holy Trinity.

After the record in the 1552 rental, the "nine dovecotes" with the tenement do not appear again. It is probable (as an early Minister's  Account (SC6/749/21) for the manor of Hungerford /Ingleford may suggest) that the dovecotes had fallen into disrepair.

Oddly, the 1552  survey also contains an entry that one Stephen Yonge has one acre of land called 'le Colver acre' quit rent 1½d, and as in 1470 the positioning of the entry seems to indicate a tenement on the west side of the High Street.

The position of the Chantry of the Holy Trinity tenement, however, is clearly at a point on the east side where it corresponds with all subsequent  references to Culver House and Culver Acre. One can only suggest that tenancy of the house and the Close had been separate until 1573, and/or that there was an additional one acre which, unlike the Close, was not  adjacent to the tenement, but lay in the common fields.

It should be noted that the tenement itself is not called Culver House, though the Close is known as Culver House Close.

In the 1573 town survey (during the reign of Elizabeth I) we are told that there was one tenement, garden and backside, with a close of pasture called Culver House Close adjoining to the tenement, held by William Butler, from Henry Edes who was farmer of the former chantry rents, at a quit rent of 8d.

The 1591 survey (still during Elizabeth I's reign) reveals George Hedache (a local fish merchant) as tenant and adds the information that the close of pasture called Culver House Close contains three acres, quit rent 8d. The area of the Close (always somewhat approximate in these surveys) makes  it clear that "the Close" can hardly be "Culver Acre".

In the 1606 survey (under James I) the tenant is Francis Mason (tenement and Close together) and the quit rent 10d. The Close is still called Culver House Close. The separate Culver Acre, now quite detached from the property, is held by John Burch, quit rent 2d.

Culver Acre in the occupation of John Burch in 1609 was part of a block of  property (two tenements quit rent 8d, one close in Stocken Street quit rent 2d, and Culver Acre quit rent 2d) purchased or acquired by Sir Edward Hungerford Kt, possibly from one Pottenger (probably William Pottenger (Wilts CRO 442/1)). These had been held in 1573 by Thomas Alden, as a  tenement and close of pasture and two acres arable, one in the Everlong and one in the Breach. His predecessor had been John Harrold (1552) who held a tenement and one acre, quit rent 8d.

After the feoffment of the manor in 1612 the system of quit rent rolls results in a different approach to the properties. There is little detail and the names of lands and houses change. The name Culver House and Culver Close disappears, but that of Culver Acre continues.

The law-suit George Hedige v. Francis Mason, 1613:

A law suit in 1613 (PRO: C2/ James I/ M20/9) gives some interesting information concerning this property. The premises had been leased for 21 years to George Hedige (or Hedache) in a  'repairing' lease at a yearly rental of 17s. Hedige (who appears as the occupier in the 1591 town survey) assigned the remainder of his lease to Francis Mason, a feltmaker. The building was dilapidated (like many 'chantry' properties), indeed according to Mason it was  "ruinous, rotten, in great decay and uninhabitable". Mason, however, agreed with Nicholas Curteys, farmer of the Holy Trinity Chantry rents, that he would rebuild and repair the premises if Curteys would provide the timber. This Curteys did, some 20 tons "at  least". At this point the stories differ. Mason claims  that he spent £160 on the building, to make it "fit and convenient for  their habitations and useful and profitable for their trades," so that  the building was now  "in good repair and stronglie builte and withal very comely for habitation". But now that the 21-year lease was either expiring or had expired Curteys would only renew the lease on payment of a large sum and at an  increased rent. (The rent of 17/- in or about 1591 compares with 18/- in 1548, so Curteys' action may be understandable).

However, Curteys claims that although he supplied the timber Mason had asked for, the rebuilding had been left incomplete for the last eight or nine years. He claims that Mason had begun the reparations by constructing a frame of fabric of the timber; at the same time he pulled down the greater part of the building including, it would seem, the tile roof together with one double chimney stack. And there, half begun and more than half unfinished, the house stood, the frame  "without doors and uncovered and so  subject to the rain and weather for these many years". What Mason had  made snug and watertight was "a little room for his trade and kept it thatched to the hazard  and danger of all other the inhabitants and neighbours, their habitations being once heretofore (as this defendant hath crediblie heard) set on fire and in great danger of consuming by means thereof."

It seems clear, reading between the lines, that the house was a large one and that Mason was content to leave some rooms unrepaired, perhaps at the rear, while he concentrated on improving others such as the business premises, no doubt at the front.

All Curteys could do was to wait until the lease expired and then drive Mason out. Mason claimed he had nowhere to go, that he had used all his savings in repair of the building, and that, if  evicted, it would be to "the utter undoing of his wife and children, exposing them and theirs to be relieved by the parish". Curteys claimed that he and his wife, being now elderly, wished to live in the dwelling "it being the chief house among other their tenements in Hungerford". 

Although this  looks like a ploy to secure possession from their tenants, the claim makes clear that Culver House was or had been a property of some size and distinction, perhaps ranking alongside, or next to, its near neighbour  (i.e. what is now 121 High Street), the manor house known as The Swan.

Curteys was a well-to-do man and he held the farm of both the chantries, some 22 houses, of which this was "the chief". The  story is fascinating  both for the light it throws on the  nature of the building itself and on the relationship of landlord and  tenant: nearly 400 years old, it could doubtless find many a modern  parallel without too much difficulty!

In fact 16 tons of timber were obtained for the repair of this building from the Duchy of Lancaster (DL42/98/folios 329,330) -"one tenement  containing 16 field of housing, and a cote, which will occupie 16 tons of timber". The certificate is dated 40 Elizabeth (1598), but the timber may not have been cut until 1602 (Berks CRO H/M10).

In 1674 an inquisition (C93/35/8) gives Wm. Bell as now occupation and tenure of The Three Swans.

See Feet of Fine: William Bell from Thomas Jennings (26 Charles II Easter). Also see Bell (C93/35/) dated 1674.

In the 1676 quit rent roll one may identify the property as that held by William Bell who paid quit rent for his house and close 10d. The same quit rent roll lists "Jonathan Read for ye brew house, 8d, And for Culver Aker, 2d".

In 1676 Culver Acre is leased, as a separate entry, by Jonathan Read, quit rent 2d, along with a separate tenement called the Brewhouse, quit rent 8d.

In 1753 James Shipton has the Brewhouse  (8d), an Upper house (ie. higher up on the south side) and Malthouse (6d), and Culver Acre (2d).

In 1774 James Shipton (probably the son) has the Brewhouse; Widow Westall the Upper house and malthouse, also Culver  Acre. From Widow Westall these had passed before 1795 to Thomas Watson; before 1805 Culver Acre had been taken over by the Canal Company, who remained the proprietors of it at the time of the 1836 quit rent roll.

At the same time the former Culver House and its adjoining Close had by 1676 passed to William Bell, by 1753 to William Elliott, and by 1774 to  John Pearce when (quit rent still 10d) it is called on the quit rent rolls for the first time by the name of the Three Swans and Close. By such name the property continues, having changed hands by 1805 to William Newbury and by  1832 to John Brown, with whom it remains in 1836.

An indenture of 1725 exists in Berkshire R.O. (D/Elm/T3) and this reference to Robert Ellis, the innholder of the 3 Swans is an early use of the  name "The  Three Swans" in connection with this  site. The deed is incorporated in an abstract of the title of John Pearce to the house and to the close [Jn. Pearce is given as owner of  the property in the quit rent rolls of  1774 and 1775. His will is dated 1803]. By 1753 the messuage was being occupied  by William Elliot.

In 1834 (Berks CRO D/ELm/T6) an abstract of title of Mr Thomas Mills was  drafted and this refers to a mortgage in 1725 between Robert Elliott  yeoman (father of William Elliott) who mortgaged for  £200 to Edward Hanson gent and Robert Maundrell "all that messuage or  common inn called the Three Swans and close of meadow there containing 2 acres belonging to the same  messuage and lying between the garden or gardens belonging to the same inn on the west, and the common field  called the Everlong on the east". There is further reference to a  cottage and garden  erected in the close of meadow, then or  lately occupied as two tenements being on the north side of Cow Lane,  being part of the south east corner of the close of meadow. All this may be clearly seen on the 1819  Enclosure Award map. Mills' abstract of  title was prepared to enable a freehold messuage or tenement, yard, garden and premises in Cow Lane to be sold to John Willes esq.

See also:

- 117 High Street (now The Three Swans Hotel)