The Manor of Ware in Hertfordshire during the Middle Ages
The town of Ware has a long history. The oldest dateable artefacts found in the area go back to the late Paleolithic period (c.25,000 – 10,000BC). There is evidence for a more permanent settlement in the Mesolithic period (8,000 – 5,000 BC). The Romans were also there and so it goes on into the Middle Ages, which is the period this post will be dealing with.[i]
The town probably gets its name from the Old English wær, ‘weir’. This is likely as it is situated next to the River Lea, which was said to have had “Stoppages, which there obstruct the river”. There was an acute rivalry between Hertford and Ware concerning trade, which depended on the River Lea for transport. Ware got accused of obstructing the river, to the detriment of Hertford situated up-river.[ii]
At the time of the Norman conquest, Ware was one of the largest manors in the county, and was held by Anschil (or Eskil) of Ware. Anschil appears to have been a very wealthy and influential landholder, with over 30 holdings in Hertfordshire and the South Midlands. At Ware, he is said to have had a great residential manor.[iii] After 1066, Ware was first granted to Ralph Taillebois. However, he exchanged it fairly soon, for property in Bedfordshire, with Hugh de Grandmesnil, one of the most trusted followers of William the Conqueror. The Domesday Book recorded a deer park, a newly planted vineyard, 2 mills and “375 eels” at Ware[iv], and it is to be assumed that there was a manor house as well. The mention of a vineyard is interesting. As we have seen at Hatfield, vineyards were quite common in medieval monastic houses, but clearly were not limited to them.
Hugh de Grandmesnil granted some of his assets in Ware to endow his family’s abbey at Saint-Evroul in Normandy and also founded in 1086 a cell of this abbey in Ware. This was situated to the north of the High Street, in the area of St Mary’s Church, but the exact location is not known. The present church was only founded in the 13th century, but as a priest is mentioned in the Domesday Book, There was probably an earlier church.[v]
This very wealthy priory was suppressed in 1414. It passed to King Henry V, who then granted it to his new foundation at Sheen[vi] (which was why Carlton Curlieu, which had belonged to Ware Priory, was then granted to Sheen).
Nothing remains of this priory. It is not to be confused with the building nowadays known as “The Priory”. This was in fact a Franciscan friary, which was established by Thomas Wake, second Lord Wake (1297-1349), by 1338. Unlike the priory, it was not a rich house, because Lord Wake had problems endowing his foundations due to a lack of resources. The west wing was the first to be built. What remains today are a part of the hall, refectory and the south and west ends of the covered cloister. Most of the rest of the layout and the location of the church could be established in archaeological excavations.[vii]
Ware was quite often passed down the female. This starts with Hugh de Grandmesnil’s granddaughter Petronilla, who was married to Robert de Breteuil, earI of Leicester. Her main residence was a hall at Ware. In 1208 the king granted her the market in the town and control of the bridge for life. She and her son Robert, whom she outlived, are considered to have left their mark on the town by planning the outlay which exists to this day. They diverted the Old North Road (the Roman Ermine Street) so that instead of going straight from north to south, it ran eastwards parallel with the river for about half a mile. It then crossed the Lea at a new bridge, further east than the old one. The detour is still clearly visible in the plan of the modern town. The new High Street was wide enough to accommodate a market and shops, as well as creating attractive properties between the new street and the river. At that time, the Old North Road was the main road to the North as well as the main pilgrimage route to the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Walsingham in Norfolk. Therefore, the town became very wealthy and had a great number of inns.[viii]
The next instance was in 1349. After the death of the above mentioned Thomas Wake, who left no children, his estates and barony passed via his sister Margaret to the earls of Kent and thence to the Holland family.[ix] After the death of Thomas Holland, fifth earl of Kent, Ware passed to his daughter Eleanor and her husband Thomas de Montagu, earl of Salisbury. Thomas Montague died in 1428, and their daughter Alice inherited Ware. She was married to Richard Neville, who became through her the fifth earl of Salisbury. This was the brother of Cecily, who was married to Richard, duke of York. There is an undated record – though presumably from the time before the two factions of the Wars of the Roses were too entrenched – that Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou used the park at Ware for hunting.[x]
The royal hunting visits did not help Richard, earl of Salisbury. After he fought for his brother-in-law in the Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460), he was beheaded the next day. Then his son Richard Neville, the “Kingmaker”, inherited Ware.
After his death at the battle of Barnet in 1471, Ware came to his daughter Anne, who married Richard, duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III. While Richard was king, his steward at Ware was John Sturgeon, who came from Hitchin in Hertfordshire. He seems to have fallen under some cloud, when a group from Hertfordshire, including men from Ware, were involved in unrest against the king. In November 1484, Sturgeon was replaced as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire by Sir Robert Percy. The following month, he surrendered the stewardship of Ware to Robert Brackenbury. Brackenbury was also constable of the Tower and would die alongside Richard at Bosworth. I have found no evidence that Richard ever visited Ware himself, but he was certainly concerned about the lack of military enthusiasm among the inhabitants. According to a letter from the king to his representatives in Ware, they preferred more peaceful activities like playing tennis or bowling (and poaching) to archery practice.[xi]
Richard III’s queen, Anne, died in April 1485. Her heir for Ware was her then ten-year-old nephew Edward, earl of Warwick, the son of Anne’s sister Isabel. However, he never held Ware. After Bosworth, Henry VII granted Ware to his mother Margaret Beaufort. Margaret Beaufort was also descended from Thomas Holland. Just one month after Bosworth – on 22 September 1485 – she secured the right to appoint a steward at Ware, and was granted Ware in March 1487.[xii]
This brings us to the question of the manor house in Ware. There is evidence that there was a manor house at the site of Place House Hall in present-day Bluecoat Yard off East Street from at least the 11th century, it might even go back to Anschil of Ware. We heard that Petronilla had a hall at Ware, but don’t know where, but it might very well have been this one from the 11th century.
In the early 13th century, Ware was held by her daughter Margaret, widow of Saer de Quincy, earl of Winchester (d. 1219). She seems to have felt that the 11th century building was not adequate and decided to build a great hall, a large chamber, and a chapel in the priory to provide more comfortable accommodation when visiting Ware. She may even have held her manorial courts in this hall. Margaret died in 1235, and the priory buildings continued to be used as the manor house. Her grand-daughter Joan, wife of Sir Humphrey de Bohun, became lady of the manor of Ware. After her husband’s death (in 1265), she added another room to the building. Eventually, this intrusion stretched the patience of the prior too far. After her death in 1283, the prior had the doors and windows of these buildings barred and the latest addition demolished. When the escheator came to take possession of her property in the king’s name, he found himself locked out, though he eventually managed to get in by force.[xiii]
These dramatic events were probably the reason to move back to the original site. Parts of this building still exist. Place House Hall was originally built in the late 13th or early 14th centuries, probably during the tenure of John Wake (Joan’s nephew) or his son Thomas Wake (the same who founded the friary).
A dendrochronological investigation of 8 oak timbers resulted in dates between AD 1179 and AD 1253, though on the whole the findings were limited. The building was an aisled hall with two unequal bays, which survive, and there was a three bay cross wing at the west end. It seems that at some stage there was also another bay to the east. The hall has an arched crownpost roof with curved braces, a style which was only in use from the late 13th century onwards. Both the east and west wing do not exist anymore and only the aisled hall remains. The original timber frame can still be seen. On the south side there is a projecting two storey gabled porch from the 17th century (clearly visible in the above photograph), but beneath it is the original chamfered pointed timber arch. Although the present building has much changed since it was first built, it is regarded as the most complete of these early timber-framed buildings.
The name ‘Place House’ derives from one of its former names, ‘Braughing Place’. This name also suggests that it was used for the court of Braughing Hundred.
The duke of York with his Neville in-laws were at Ware on 21 August 1455 on their march south which led to the 1st battle of St Albans. It was from here that they wrote another letter to Henry VI, declaring their loyalty to the king and accusing Somerset. Given that at that time Place House belonged to Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, it is tempting to think that this is where the Yorkist party tried their last minute attempt to get the ear of the king. Although this letter was taken by courier during the night to the king’s party, who were staying in Watford, it is questionable whether Henry actually ever was shown any of the letters. The next day, the first Battle of St Albans was fought. [xiv]
This is the building which came to Margaret Beaufort after the battle of Bosworth. She made changes to the original design of Place House. The building was probably enlarged. There is also a carved movable screen, which is sometimes attributed to her, though this seems unlikely (see below). Margaret Beaufort died in 1509. In 1513, her grandson Henry VIII returned Ware to Margaret Pole, sister of Edward, earl of Warwick. She held it until her execution in 1541, when it fell again to the crown. In 1548, Edward VI granted it to his sister Mary Tudor, whose steward was Richard Welles. It was probably he, and not Margaret Beaufort, who commissioned the screen, as its panels are decorated with Tudor roses and pomegranates. Pomegranates were the badge of Catherine of Aragon, and together with the Tudor Rose, they were the emblem of her daughter, Mary Tudor. Incidentally, Richard Welles was the first known tenant of Place House.[xv]
Once Mary became queen, she granted the house to Katherine, who was a granddaughter of Margaret Pole. She sold the house in the 1570s to Thomas Fanshawe. He later built a new house at Ware Park and Place House was probably then tenanted.[xvi]
In the 17th century, the building became a school for “bluecoat children”, as the children of Christ’s Hospital were known. Christ’s Hospital was founded by Edward VI for poor children from London, who otherwise had no means to receive an education. It catered for both boys and girls. The children wore a uniform of dark blue coats with yellow lining, which gave them their colloquial name. A statue of a child in the uniform stands in a niche above the entrance to Bluecoat Yard on East Street (though the present statue is a modern one).
The building was significantly altered for its use as a school. The west wing was demolished, the hall extended and fireplaces were added. The east wing became the schoolmaster’s house. Outbuilding to the south and west of the hall were demolished to make room for 12 cottages, were the children lived with nurses. The school closed in 1761 and the children were moved to bigger premises in Hertford, but the building continued to be used for educational purposes.
Around 1900 it was sold by Christ’s Hospital and converted for residential use. After the death of the last private owner the building was offered to the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust, who restored Place House. It was re-opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on 8 July 1978 and is now used as an amenity hall for local residents. The building rates as one of the most important early medieval timber-framed structures in the County.[xvii]
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Place House. I found the house in a peaceful garden, away from the hustle and bustle of the town. Looking in through the window, I could see the 13th century timber frame. In front of it is a garden which incorporates design features of a medieval garden and plants which would have been used in medieval times.[xviii] The dog that bounded into the walled garden to drink from the water feature just added to the tranquility of the place. Even if it does not feature among the top tourist spots, if you have the chance, Place House in Ware is definitely worth a detour.
[i] Partridge, C., ‘Hertford and Ware: archaeological perspectives from birth to middle age’, in: A County of Small Towns: The development of Hertfordshire’s urban landscape to 1800, ed. by Terry Slater & Nigel Goose. Hertfordshire Publications, 2008 (Reprinted 2010), pp.127-158
[ii] Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, A. and Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Hertfordshire. English Place-Name Society, Vol.XV. Cambridge University Press, 1938, p.206; ‘Parishes: Ware’, A History of the County of Hertford: volume 3 (1912), pp. 380-397. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp380-397 [last accessed 25 July 2016]
[iii] Abels, R., ‘Sheriffs, Lord-Seeking and the Norman Settlement of the South-East Midlands’, in: Anglo-Norman Studies XIX: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, 1996, ed.by Christopher Harper-Bill. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1997, p.37
[v] Rowe, A., Medieval Parks of Hertfordshire. University of Hertfordshire Press, Hatfield, 2009, p.222; Thompson, I., ‘Ware: Extensive Urban Survey’, English Heritage (2005); Partridge, C., p.150; ‘Ware – The Story so Far’, Ware online. URL: http://www.wareonline.co.uk/history/default.asp [last accessed 25 July 2016], p.2
[vi] ‘Alien house: Ware priory’, A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4 (1971), pp. 455-457. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol4/pp455-457 [last accessed 28 July 2016]
[vii] ‘Friaries: Friars minors of Ware’, A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4 (1971), pp. 451. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol4/p451 [last accessed 25 July 2016]; Thompson, I.; ‘The Priory (Ware Town Council Offices and Community Centre), Ware’, British Listed Buildings. URL: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-412373-the-priory-ware-town-council-offices-and#.V5lw27h97IU [last accessed 28 July 2016]; Ormrod, W.M., ‘Wake, Thomas, second Lord Wake (1298–1349)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [last accessed online 27 July 2016]
[viii] ‘Ware – The Story so Far’, p 3; Crouch, D., ‘Grandmesnil, Petronilla de, countess of Leicester (d. 1212)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [last accessed online 25 July 2016]. Partridge, C., p.148 is of the opinion that it was town planning rather than organic growth which changed the direction of this main road.
[ix] ODNB ‘Wake, Thomas, second Lord Wake (1298–1349)’
[x] Rowe, A., p 222. According to ‘Parishes: Ware’, Eleanor was the niece of Thomas Holland. However, according to the ODNB entries on Thomas Montagu as well as on Thomas Holland she was his daughter: Curry, A., ‘Montagu, Thomas, fourth earl of Salisbury (1388–1428)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008. [last accessed online 25 July 216], Stansfield, M. M. N., ‘Holland, Thomas, fifth earl of Kent (1350–1397)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [last accessed online 25 July 2016]
[xi] ‘Parishes: Ware’; Rosemary Horrox, Richard III: A study in service. Cambridge University Press, 1989 (reprinted 1999), p.279; Skidmore, C., Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013, p.219
[xii] ‘Parishes: Ware’; Jones, M.K. and Underwood, M.G., The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp.102-103
[xiii] ‘Alien house: Ware priory’; Richard D. Oram, ‘Quincy, Saer de, earl of Winchester (d. 1219)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005 [last accessed online 28 July 2016]
[xiv] ‘About Place House’, Place House Hall Ware. URL: http://www.placehousehall.org/about [last accessed 24 July 2016]; ‘Place House, Ware’, British Listed Buildings. URL: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-412283-place-house-ware-hertfordshire#.V5ayLLh97IU [last accessed 26 July 2016]; Boardman, A., The First Battle of St.Albans 1455. NPI Media Group, 2006, pp.45-50; Howard, R.E.; Laxton, R.R. and Litton, C.D., ‘Ancient Monuments Laboratory Report 90/1997: Tree-ring analysis of timbers from Place House, Bluecoat Yard, Ware, Hertfordshire’, Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (1997). Available at URL: http://services.english-heritage.org.uk/ResearchReportsPdfs/090-1997WEB.pdf [last accessed 24 July 2016]; Pevsner, N., Hertfordshire (2nd edition revised by Bridget Cherry). Yale University Press, 2003, pp.23-25; Thompson, I.; Walker, J., ‘Late 12th and early 13th century aisled buildings: a comparison (Part 1)’, Vernacular Architecture, Vol.30, 1999, pp.21-53
[xv] Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust, Place House, Ware: A short history, April 2008 (brochure).
[xvi] ‘Parishes: Ware’
[xvii] ‘Place House, Ware: A short history’; ‘Place House, Ware’, British Listed Buildings; ‘Christ’s Hospital’, Discover Hertford. URL: http://www.hertford.net/history/bluecoats.php [last accessed 26 July 2016]
[xviii] Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust, Place House Hall: The Garden, July 2010 (brochure)