Arthur Clear: A Thousand Years of Winslow Life (1888)

pp.2-4 on Medieval Winslow

Winslow, or Wynselowe, as it is termed in ancient records, is undoubtedly a place of great antiquity, and was a town of some importance at a very early period, for Offa who was King of Mercia from the year 765 up to 796, had his Palace here - and long previous to that time the Romans were located in the immediate neighbour-hood; their coins have been found in our fields and they possessed at least two strong military stations in the vicinity, viz - one at Great Horwood, at a spot now called "Castle Field", the other at "Narbury" in Little Horwood Parish; the latter has been described as a very perfect specimen of a Roman Camp, enclosing an area of five acres, the vallum and fosse appearing to have undergone no material alteration since the time when the position was abandoned. Near these stations many relics and coins have at different times been found, including a large hoard discovered in 1849, of very ancient British Gold coins, belonging to the time just previous to the annexation of Britain as a Roman Province.

An old writer states that in 794, King Offa returning from Rome, held a council at Verulam, founded the monastery of St. Albans and among other endowments gave to it Weneslowe - now Winslow in the County of Bucks, - which the historian called "The King's Village in demesne," and says it was 20 miles from Verulam."

Lipscomb, in his "History of Bucks," quoting from the old Monkish legends of Matthew Paris, states, it was at Winslow that King Offa is said to have planned the foundation of a Monastery, that he might expiate his offences and obtain the favor of Heaven, (it was only the previous year 792 that he had murdered Ethelbert, King of East Anglia, in the most treacherous manner, while he was on a visit of friendship at Offa's own Palace, so in atonement for his crimes he levied, a tax on the people which was continued for many centuries under the name of Peter-pence, and given as an offering to the Pope of Rome.) The legend goes on to state-that while Offa was deeply meditating on the choice of a patron saint for his intending Monastery, a sudden light from Heaven shone with peculiar brightness, and was believed by Offa to be a token of the favour of God, thereupon he determined to grant the Manor of Winslow as part of the endowment of his new foundation of an Abbey in honour of the first British Martyr, St. Alban. King Offa died July 23rd, 796, at Great Offley, near Hitchin, Herts, and was buried at a Chapel on the banks of the Ouse near Bedford, long since carried away by the floods. It is probably a fact that he did grant this Manor of Winslow to St. Albans Abbey, as stated, for when William the Conqueror made his famous Domesday Survey about 1080, then Weneslai formed part of the possessions of that Abbey, for which the Abbot was rated at fifteen 'hides'. "There were five hides, three servants, three ploughs, and land enough for another in the demesne; and seventeen villeins, with five bordars had fifteen carucates. There were nineteen carucates of meadow, and a wood, worth ten shillings a year, the whole constantly valued at £11 13s. 4d." There is some little difficulty in determining the exact quantities of land mentioned, but probably it was somewhat as follows:- The Abbot was rated for 1800 acres of land; in the demesne, or home farm belonging to the Manor house, there were 600 acres, three servants, or slaves, three ploughs, (probably with eight oxen in each team.) and land enough uncultivated to give work to another team; there were seventeen villeins who held their holdings at the will of the lord, and were bound to perform the customary services, and to assist largely in cultivating the land of the demesne.

The five bordars mentioned were only a slight degree above the slaves, they generally possessed a small allotment of land of about five acres in the open field, and were in such humble positions that they could put no oxen into the common parish plough teams. The villeins and bordars held as much land as could be cultivated with fifteen plough teams, and there was meadow enough to support nineteen plough teams, and a wood worth ten shillings per annum.

Let us try and picture to ourselves the Wynselowe of 800 years ago. More than two centuries had elapsed since King Egbert had conquered Mercia and the other Saxon Kingdoms, and all the Soldiers and servants which we should naturally expect to find dwelling in the neighbourhood of the Court of a powerful Prince like Offa, had long disappeared, so that the inhabitants had greatly diminished. Yet there was the Manor House, perchance formed out of the remains of the old palace, while around it were nestled some five and twenty homesteads and cottages occupied by the villeins and vassals of the lord, the whole of the inhabitants probably not exceeding one hundred. There was meadow land enough to make hay sufficient for the oxen belonging to the village plough teams, with other pasture besides. Outside the village were the plough lands, lying in open fields, divided into acre, or half-acre strips, and held in "virgates" or bundles of thirty strips, scattered here and there, all over the Manor, divided by green turf baulks with roadways, and headlands; and to supply the inhabitants with fuel and other purposes, there was the wood worth ten shillings a year-the whole manor being estimated at the annual value of about £12. The quantity of land in the Manor at that period would appear to be greater than at present, and probably included portions of Little Horwood and Grandborough, both of which then formed part of the domains of the Abbot of St. Albans. It is evident that Winslow soon became more populous and thriving for we find that the Abbot and Convent of St. Alban in 1235, received a Charter from King Henry III authorising them to hold a weekly market here, also a Fair on the Feast of St. Laurence, August 10th. This Charter shows that St. Laurence has been considered the Patron Saint of the Parish for more than six hundred years past; he is supposed to have suffered as a Martyr at Rome, having been broiled alive on a gridiron; many representations of him may be found on painted windows etc., in which he is depicted as holding a gridiron in one hand, while with the other he grasps a bag of money - fit emblems, as an old writer observes, of the gluttony and greed of the Romish Church who profess such great veneration for his memory, It was not until nearly a hundred years after this time that the present parish church was erected, yet we may reasonably suppose that even then some building for religious worship existed,-for the Patron Saints' days in each parish were required to be observed by all concerned as particular days of devotion, and it is evident that the feast of St. Laurence was then accustomed to be kept at Winslow. Lipscomb, before quoted, states that the present Church was begun at the end of the thirteenth century, and completed early in the next. The first Vicar, William Weltown, was instituted in 1326, on the presentation of the Abbot of St. Albans.

As time rolls on we obtain a more vivid and distinct picture of village affairs. In a recent and most valuable work - "The English Village Community," by Mr. F. Seebohm, - the writer draws attention to the "Manor Roll of Winslow," a manuscript preserved in the Cambridge University Library, dated in the reign of King Edward Ill, and kept, as became a Manor belonging to the Abbey of St. Albans, with scrupulous accuracy and care. There every change of ownership during the long reign of that King-extending from 1327 to 1377, is recorded in regular form.
The manuscript relates to "Wynselowe, Horlewode, Greneburgh, Shipton, Nova Villa de Wynselowe, Onyng and Muston," and shows that the land was still held in villenage, at the will of the Lord; it lay in open fields, there was a west field, east field and south field; a great number of the holdings were evidently those of small cottier tenants, and varied in size from 1 half-acre to 8, or 10 or 12 half-acre plots, a few cases occur, but only a few, where a messuage was held without land.

A minute description is given of the Farm of John Moldeson at Shipton, which consisted of a "Virgate" or yard land, comprised of 68 half-acre strips of arable land, 2 doles, 1 acre of pasture, 3 half­ acres of pasture, and 1 half-acre of meadow, scattered all over the open fields in their various furlongs, and each plot bearing some distinctive name; such as Clayforloug. Brereforlong, Shiptondene, Waterforough, Le Thorn, Clayforde, and Hoggestonforde. Among the names of tenants of the Lord we find John Mayn, John Watekyns, Henry Warde, William Jonynges, Henry Boriton, John Hikkes, Richard atte Halle, and Matthew atte Lane. It is not possible to ascertain from this "Manor Roll," the exact acreage, or population of the parish of "Wynselowe" as then constituted. But in the year of the Black Death, 1348-9, as many as 153 changes of holding took place upon account of the death of previous tenants, and out of 43 jurymen who had served in the "Halimot," or Court of the Manor,- in 1346, 1347, and 1348 - 27 died in 1348-9 of that fearful disease. All the 153 holdings which changed hands on the death of the tenants as just mentioned, appear to have been re-granted to the single heir of the deceased holder, or to a reversioner, or in default of such were retained by the Lord. The Heriot demanded was generally an ox, or money payment of its value, and sometimes when the succeeding tenant could not pay, a half-acre was deducted from the virgate and held by the Lord instead of the heriot. Although there were indications of the dawning of a time of greater freedom, and this villenage of the Winslow Tenants was becoming milder in its character, yet they must have keenly felt the yoke of serfdom to which they were subject, for instances are not wanting, in which the Lord to show his authority issued the most trivial orders, such as directing that the tenants should go off to the woods and pick nuts for his use. If the "Native" married without the Lord's consent they were fined; if they allowed their houses to get out of repair, they were guilty of waste and fined; if they sold an ox without the licence of the Lord, again they were fined; if they left the manor without licence they were searched for, and if found, arrested as fugitives, and brought back, (many instances of this offence are mentioned on the Court Rolls). If their daughters lost their chastity the Lord again had his fine - 22 cases of this kind are reported on the Manor Rolls during the first ten years of Edward III. In all these cases the whole jury were also fined if they neglected to report the delinquent. But soon murmurs were heard in the courts and a spirit of resentment and insubordination was to be seen among the villein tenants, instances of which are duly recorded on the Court Roll in 1350, and clearly indicate the presence of smouldering embers very likely to burst into a flame, in fact the whole kingdom soon broke out into open rebellion under Wat Tyler, and showed that the people could no longer be oppressed with impunity.

In the time of the 28th Abbot of St. Albans, 1326 to 1335, we meet with the name of William de Wynslowe, as "coquinarius," or clerk of the kitchen, who with others, was degraded from office in consequence of some neglect in their duties.

Thomas, the 30th Abbot, who died in 1396, in his accounts of this Manor, states that "the Church at Wyneslowe is worth, with the Chapels, £1 8 " also subsequently "from Wynselow in land rents, and divers other matters, £236 o,-Profits of Cattle &c., £1 128. The Vicarage [or Rectory] of Wynselowe was then taxed at 5 marcs - Greneburgh, 4 marcs - Horlewode, 3 marcs" -[the mark was 13s. 4d.] In 1478, William the 36th Abbot, is stated to have granted to the Queen of Edward IV, one turn, or presentation, to the Vicarage (?) of Wynselowe.

pp.15-16 & 18 on the manor court in the 18th-19th centuries

As we have before shown, the Lord of the Manor of Winslow exercised from a very early period, an almost unlimited power over his tenants, their goods and chattels; they were obliged to plough his land for so many days in the year, to cut his hay and corn, and do, any kind of servile work. Before leaving the subject it may be well to take a look at the customs of the Manor in their more modern aspect among which the seizing of some article of value on the death of a person holding copyhold property has long been enforced, of which the following are instances. – 1760 - taken for an Heriot on the death of Mr. Evans "a cart"; received composition for same £5 5s. 1761 - taken for an Heriot on the death of Keziah Gibbs "a furniss"; recd. composition £1 11s. 6d. 1761 - taken for a Harriot on ye death of Geo. Thorpe "a waggon"; recd. of his widow £5 composition. 1768 - taken for a Heriot on the death of John Barton, late of Winslow “a looking glass"; of the value of one guinea, being the best good in his dwelling-house. 1769 - taken for Heriot on the death of George Maydon "a mare"; valued (by William Gibbs) at £4 10s. 1769 - recd. of the several maltsters of Winslow for Toll Barley £1 0s. 7½d. 1772 - recd. for an Heriot on the death of Widow Allen "a feather bed", delivered to Mr. Lowndes valued at £3 8s. 0d. 1798 - the Heriot due on the death of William Goodman, was his large Brewing Copper, Value 30/-. 1799 - received for a Heriot on the death of Mr, Richd. Stevens "one cow"; value £14, taken for Mr. Selby's own use. 1809 Aug. 4th. - taken for an Heriot on the death of Mr. Newman Williatt of Buckingham "a horse"; valued at £31 10s. 0d. 1812 - Heriot taken on the death of James Morris of Winslow "a lead cistern" value £10.

Another reminder of the authority of the lord of the Manor over the Copy hold Tenants, was shown by demands of Fines and Quit Rents of which the following are fair instances. Feb. 25th 1756; Ste. Gibbs and wife were admitted to a House in the "Butter Market" Fine 10/- 1758: received of Edward AlIen of Shipton, for Shipton Head Silver 6/6. May 11th, 1758; recd. of Thomas Tattam of Winslow for Head Silver for Winslow 13/6. 1762: received of Mr. Stephen Gibbs, for a Fine on admission to a messuage at Winslow, called "Ye Windmill" on ye death of Keziah Gibbs 10/-. 1816, Oct. 28th.: received of George Hawley and Robert Ivatts for Fines on their admission to the west end of a Barn, lately converted into a Chapel or Meeting House, in Great Horn Street, in Winslow, on the surrender of Edmond Cox, 10/-. In 1824, mention is made of a Quit Rent of threepence having been paid for the Baptist Meeting-house in Pillars Ditch, and a similar sum for the Independent Meeting-house.

It would be invidious to mention instances in more recent years in which these Fines and Heriots have been enforced. Yet that these relics of feudalism do still exist, is a fact well known. Who has not observed on the occasion when a "Court Leet" has been held, how merrily the Church Bells have rung in honour of the event, and how the gentlemen composing the jury---duly marshalled by the Constable of the Leet have perambulated the town bearing with them, antiquated sets of Weights and Measures, and how zealously they have performed their functions in visiting the Shops and Public-houses. As time rolls on these links of the past are slowly but surely disappearing, altho' the Constable of the Leet still retains his important office, yet the Manor Pound is gone and can no more be seen…

[p.18] In an account of sundry expenses incurred by the Parish Officers in 1783, we find the following incident: -"Paid for the keep of two Stolen Horses, placed in the custody of the Lord of the Manor, which were taken from the House-breakers apprehended at Winslow £2."

Addenda on early Winslow

The name of Winslow, or as it is variously spelt, Wineslai, Winneslawe, Wynselowe, Winslaw, is doubtless derived from the Anglo-Saxon, the latter part of the word hloew, hlaw, signifying a memorial heap, barrow, small hill, or tract of ground gently rising. It enters into the composition of a large number of English local names, in this County we find Creslow, Bledlow, Taplow, Marlow.

The name has sometimes been derived from Winneshlaw - themound of battle, or Windeshlaw a bleak windy hill, but it is more probably derived from Wini, a personal name not uncommon among the Anglo-Saxons, and would thus signify the "hill-dwelling of Wini" and so perpetuate the name of either the first Saxon settlers upon the spot, or of an early possessor, possibly one of the Royal family of Mercia, who had a palace here probably previous to the time of Offa. From certain inequalities of the ground, and other circumstances, we may fairly conjecture that this "Palace" was situate as the name would imply, on "the small hill, or tract of ground gently rising" at the top of Sheep Street called Dene Hill, being the highest spot in the Manor, looking over the valley, with the brook gently pursuing its way at the foot of the hill.

Offa has been termed the magnificent, having resided in Rome he appears to have become acquainted with the arts and sciences, and to have brought back Italian workmen from that city. He was a Prince so considerable that he enjoyed the friendship of the Emperor Charlemagne. His coins are handsome specimens of workmanship, far in advance of that time, and although he had other places of residence, yet we may fairly conclude that his "Palace" at Winslow was a building of some magnitude and importance.

Although there is no direct evidence of the actual occupation by the ancient Britons of the spot on which Winslow now stands, yet traces of this people have been found in the immediate neighbourhood. The two remarkable mounds or Barrows at Thornborough were doubtless the burial-places of British chieftains of note - upon one of these Barrows being opened in 1839 it was found to contain British relics of great value and curiosity. These Mounds are also said to mark the spot on which a great battle was fought A. D. 44, between the Roman legions under the Emperor Claudius, and the native Britons, when the latter were defeated with great slaughter, after which the remains of their Army retreated to the vastnesses of Whaddon Chase, where they buried their Military Chest containing gold coins current among the Britons at that period.

In addition to the traces of Roman occupation, mentioned in the lecture, may be noted a find of a very interesting character in 1872 in a field midway between Winslow and Great Horwood (near the Windmill) consisting of five Spoons, a Fibula or Brooch, a Pin and a finger Ring, all of Silver and of the Roman type. In the bowl of one of the Spoons was an inscription "VENERIA VIVAS". Some of these articles are now in the Museum of the Bucks Archeological Society, and through the kindness of Robert Gibbs, Esq. F.S.A., of Aylesbury, a good Photo, of them was exhibited at the Lecture, also engravings of the British coins found in Whaddon Chase and the Saxon Coins of King Offa.

If the Deed or Roll quoted by Lipscomb is to be relied on, which he states describes Eston or Aston Abbotts (which then formed part of the ancient demesnes of St. Albans Abbey) as being in 1260 a Chapel of Ease under Wyneslowe, this would determine the question of a Church at Winslow, prior to the present building, which would appear not to have been completed for more than seventy years after that date.

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Copyright 25 July, 2015