A History of Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England

Author: Leo Lawton

The Saxon, Ailwin Niger, in 998 granted a manor to the monks of Ramsey Abbey, Huntingdonshire. A church was built by the monks, and the manor continued in their care until the monasteries were dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII, and the lands reverted to the Crown. This grant, of the area named Cranfield (cranes in a woods clearing), was confirmed by King Edward in 1060, and again in 1078 by William the Conqueror. The village of Cranfield, in west Bedfordshire, was built on a hill providing a fine view of the surrounding farms. Cranfield was described in the Domesday Book of 1087 as, “The Abbot of St Benedict Of Ramsey holds Cranfelle. It is assessed at 10 hides worth £9. There is land for 12 ploughs. In Edward the Confessor’s time it was worth £12. In the village there are eighteen villiens having ten ploughs.”
At that time, Cranfield had the second largest woodland in the county which explains the large number of swine there. As Ramsey Abbey held the manor, it is probable that there is no manor house, but there may have been a “grange”, or farming establishment, occupied by the steward. The Abbey held lands in various parts of the county – at Wyboston, Barford, Clifton and Stondon – amounting to 50.5 hides valued at £48-6s-4d.

Ralph, the steward of Cranfield, held a half hide of the demesne assets freely by service of attending the Abbot’s pleas throughout Bedfordshire. The priest had to attend the County and Hundred Courts, with three other free tenants. At that time the hide was more a value of land for taxation purposes than an actual measurement. Cranfield soil being cold clay, there was more area to each hide than in places where the land was better. It is notice be that several villages on this clay belt were assessed at ten hides although their areas varied.
The Lords of the Manor, who were all-powerful during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, had land in the open field as well as the demesne and the priest also had a share. The classes in the village were serfs, bordars, villiens, and freeman. The freemen came later, as they were not mentioned in the Domesday Survey.

According to the Ramsey Chartulary, work had to be performed for the Abbey by the tenant: Each holder of land called a villein, was bound to plough one day and work for two days each week, excepting near Michaelmas, when he was free from ploughing, but had to work five days of the week, reaping, binding, carrying, etc., and a sixth day if necessary. He had to plough and sow using his own seed one rood, or plough one acre if it was to lay fallow. He also had to act as a carrier of goods, or pay a fine. Later, a Freeman had to send a man to work for the Lord on certain occasions. Another class, called ‘cottars’, also had to act as carriers, and had to carry on their own backs whatever was required. At most, the tenants had three days a week to work their own ground, and during harvest time had but one day in which to reap their own crops.
Sundays and holy days brought relief from working for the Lord of the Manor. In 1324 there were six festivals during the harvest season and ten during the remainder of the year. The poorer classes cultivated the land under the three-field system: First year, wheat, barley, or rye; second year, peas and beans; third year, fallow. As the population increased, land was reclaimed from the former waste.

In 1127, a dispute arose over the boundary between Cranfield and North Crawley. It was referred by the King to the Local Hundred Court, and settled by a jury of twelve men – four each from the villages of Cranfield, North Crawley, and Stagsden. In 1144, during the war between Stephen and Matilda, the village was pillaged by Stephen. When Abbot Robert de Redinges retired in 1206, King John, with the assent of the Abbey, granted the manor to him for life. The Abbot seems to have been involved in a difference with the King, and the manor may have been given to him as a pension to compensate him for being forced into retirement. In the reign of King John, the Abbot was granted a view of frankpledge in his manor of Cranfield. In 1251 Henry III gave the Abbot and convent a grant of free warren in all their demesne lands at Cranfield. There was doubt as to the validity of the grants, as on June 25, 1330, the Abbot of Ramsey was summoned by the King, to show by why he had a view of frankpledge in his manor of Cranfield, and why he had the right of free warren in all his lands in Cranfield.
The Abbot, through his Attorney William Lanet, said that the view of frankpledge was granted by King John to the Abbey of Ramsey by a charter for all the lands of the Abbot and his monks. The Charter of King John was produced in Court. The Court agreed with the Abbot. Previously the Abbot had levied fines and inflicted punishments for transgressions against the assize, of bread and ale – as much as 20 shillings (£1) , and that the offenders also were punished by the pillory and the ducking stool. Because of this double jeopardy it was decided that the view be taken into the King’s hands. The Abbot attempted to have his rights restored to him, and eventually, on payment of 40 shillings, the view of frankpledge was returned.

In 1310 the parish priest, Thomas de Pontesbury, was in trouble. He entered the Church for sanctuary to escape the consequences of his wrongdoings. There was published an order to the Barons of the Exchequer at Berwick-on-Tweed to fine the township of Cranfield in Bedford, £23 8s. 10¾d., which is charged for the goods of Master Thomas de Pontesbury, who fled to the Church of Cranfield for felonies, and was convicted before Robert Malet and his colleagues for felonies, justices of the late King to deliver him to Bedford Jail. The late King granted the goods to the Master and Brethren of St. Katharine’s Hospital, and commanded the Sheriff and Coroner of Bedford to deliver the said goods to them.

The manor was rented, by the Abbot, to Sir William de Herle, Robert de Sachynton, and Robert the Burgh, Rector of Houghton, a village about five miles from Cranfield, for the yearly rent of £100 of silver. The Abbot, on behalf of the monastery, reserved the right of repossession should the rent not be paid. The rental agreement also stated that the right of presentation to the church was to remain with the Abbey.
During the 14th century various grants of land were made to the Abbot, Thomas de Neuby, Rector from 1349 until 1350, gave sixty acres. The plague of the Black Death occurred while Thomas de Neuby was Rector of Cranfield. An estimate was made that about one-third of the population of Bedfordshire died, and he was one of the victims. Because of the death rate labor became scarce and wages raised accordingly. Laws were passed to stop the rise in wages, but had little effect.

As wages increased tenants on estates began to buy exemptions from working for the manor, and in 1386 the Abbey records state that “all works had been commuted, wages being paid for work done.” Rector Thomas de Neuby died in 1350, but was not replaced until 1383, when John de Lincoln became Rector of Cranfield. The lapse of time in the appointment of a successor to Thomas de Neuby was probably due to the high mortality among the clergy during the plague.

The Abbey records state that the tenant who farmed the manor lows died. No undergrowth was sold, there being no buyers. The value of crops on the land of villeins who had died and which fell into the hands of the manor was 52s. – a large sum for those days.
During 1332 – the sixth year of the reign of Edward III – the Abbot of Ramsey was granted the right “to lease the manor of Cranfield and other manors with advowsons of churches and other appurtenances for two years to whomsoever he will.” Dated July 27, 1348, the “Presentation of Thomas Neuby to the Church of Cranfield in the King’s gift by reason of the voidance of the Abbey of Ramsaye.” This manor remained in the hands of the Abbots of Ramsey until the dissolution of the monasteries, when its value was given as £68. 9s. 4d.

Two other manors are mentioned after Domesday. One was called Washingley Manor, and was almost certainly named after the family of Wassingle, whose names appear as witnesses to deeds granting land in Cranfield to Ramsey Abbey about the middle of the 13th century. The Wassingles appear to have been in the employ of the Abbot. William de Wassingle held the position of steward of the fair at St Ives in 1293, and presided over the court of King’s Repton in 1299.

There is very little information about the Manor of Wasingley in the 13th and first half of the 14th centuries, and none from 1353 to 1515. A set of documents pertaining to Cranfield has been held by Winchester College, believing they related to Clanfield, Hampshire, where the College has property. These documents actually relate to the formation of what was afterwards called Washingley Manor, Cranfield, probably by the Washingley family, which held the Manor of Washingley.

These charters show the undated acquisition of land by William of Washingley and his wife Maud; William of Washingley and his wife Eleanor, between 1270 and 1310; William of Washingley and his wife Agnes, from 1311 to 1313; and John of Washingley, 1341 to 1360. Before 1287, all the documents are undated, but it is possible to get a rough guide by the names of William, Maud, William, and Eleanor, and by the names of witnesses to the charters who are mentioned elsewhere – for example, Maurice, who was vicar some time before 1280.
The manor was situated at Bourne End, but it is unknown whether there was a manor house. There is a Washingley’s Court in the center of Cranfield, but a manor connection is not known. It is known, however, that this manor had no manorial rights and there was no court there. The first mention of the family as landowners at Cranfield was in1295, when William of Cranfield granted, for twenty marks and a yearly payment of six marks of silver during his life all his land, tenements, and appurtenances, with the homage and service of free tenants, to William, the son of William de Wassingle, of Cranfield.

A little later, William de Wassingle the elder obtained a license “to alienate in mortmain to the Abbot and convent of Ramsey, a messuage and a moiety of the virgate of land at Cranfield.” In 1353, John de Wassingle obtained a messuage and land from Gilbert de Warwick and Nicolas of York. The first mention of Washingley as a manor is in 1515, when Thomas Stafford sold it to Richard Langley for £140. The manor belonging to the Abbot of Ramsey was at the time of the dissolution valued at only £68. 9s. 4d. The difference in value of the two manors is of some interest.

By 1548, Washingley Manor was in the possession of Thomas Leigh, who, it appeared mortgaged it to John Dormer, a citizen and merchant of London. It remained in the hands of the Leigh family until 1650. The last reference to the manor is in 1802.

The third manor associated with Cranfield was known as Rudlands of Rudlandesfelde. The first reference of this manor ever located was in 1563, at which time Sir William Paulet was the owner. In 1575 Sir William Paulet conveyed it to Jeremy Weston, whose son Richard was created Lord Weston in 1628, and Earl of Portland in 1633. The Earl, at the time of his death, about two years later, was in possession of the Manor. In 1640 his widow and her son Jerome – second Earl of Portland – parted with the property to Mr. Dray Chamberlain. No record of the manor can be found after that date, and it is not known where the manor was located.

Richard Lawton was located in the Cranfield area circa A.D.1500. About 1520 he apparently married John Purrier’s sister as John mentioned his “sister Lawton” in his August 28, 1558 will. Richard and his wife had four daughters and a son. The daughters were; Alice, born about 1523, married John Barnwell about 1541. Elizabeth, born about 1525 married John Sugar about 1545. Margery, born about 1535, married Robert Fuller, and Katherine, the youngest, was born about 1537.

On October 13, 1536, as attested by SC2 179/89 held in the Cranfield Public Records Office, Richard Lawton first appears in Cranfield records when it was found that John Kent had surrendered into the hands of Richard, a tenant of this manor, one grove called Hamse, for the use of Richard, his heirs, and assigns, at an annual rent to the Lord of 3s. 7d. Another record held in the Bedford Record Office, BHRS 64, lists Richard Lawton as a Copyhold Tenant paying John Kent a rental of 3s, and the same Richard Lawton paying a rental of 34s. for a separate messuage of land.

In the Bedford Record Office, CRT 100/2 is also held listing the Honour of Ampthill, Minister’s Accounts of Henry VIII in 1542, where Richard Lawton, of the Grove called Hamse of the late John Kent’s Messuage, with land & meadows appertaining, except ½ ac, paid a rental of 3s. 7d., and another of 24s.

Richard’s only son Thomas, born about 1527, married Joan Wheeler, daughter of Thomas and Ellen Wheeler, about 1552. Thomas and Joan, remained on his father’s land, and had two daughters, and then a son born about 1558 also being named Thomas.

Thomas Jr. married Mary and the couple had four children between 1581 and 1587. He then married, Annis, and they had two more children. Thomas made his will December 3, 1605 which was proved April 3, 1606. He died and was buried at Wharlend, Cranfield.

This second Thomas’s oldest child, born in 1581 in Cranfield, was named George. George married Isabel Smith November 13, 1606, she perhaps being the daughter of Francis and Ann Smith. George lived out his life, apparently on the same land his great grandfather Richard had farmed, and died there November 26, 1641. George and Isabel were the parents of eight children, among them being sons George and Thomas.

George was the eldest child, being born in 1607, while Thomas, the fourth child, was born in 1614. As young adults in the 1630s, for reasons known only to them, but probably related to ship taxes and military impressment, they embarked for the colonies of the New World. As it has never been learned when nor where they departed England, (or for that matter, where they alit in the Colonies.) it is probable they did not announce their intentions. In 1639 the brothers were in the newly forming colony on Aquidneck Island, later named Rhode Island.
George married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas and Martha Hazard, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. His brother Thomas had brought a wife and child, both named Elizabeth, with him from Cranfield. Today the progeny of this pair of brothers numbers well into the thousands, and are scattered throughout the United States.