A History of Tollesbury


"TOLESBIA ten et Almfrid de comite qd tenuit GUDMUND lib lit ho, uno manerio ....." so runs the beginning of one of two paragraphs concerning the Pariah of Tollesbury in the Hundred of "Tureatapla" or Thurstable, as recorded in Domesday Book 1068. Early historians state that the name of Tollesbury meant the "Burgh in the Valley", and this would appear to indicate that Tollesbury or Tolleshunt as it is sometimes referred to in ancient writings was situated in the vicinity of what is known as Old Hall. Other early historians refer to Tolleshunt meaning the "place of the springs" and Tollesbury as the "place where toll or custom was paid by ships coming up this Bay.. "". All interpretations can bear credence, but it is generally accepted that the latter definition is more correct. It is known that the Romans landed in this parish and may have established a fort or temple, and having regard to their orderly and businesslike methods would have levied tolls or customs on vessels entering the River Blackwater. Tollesbury as we know it today is the second largest parish in the District of Maldon, comprising some 5,000 acres, extending west of Rolls Farm on the Blackwater to the bridge west of Gorwell Hall Farm, and west mid-road to just east of Spring Terrace in Tolleshunt D'arcy, and then northerly across the fields to the small wood at Lodge Road, and further northerly to Saltcottstone to a point on White house Hill where the boundary follows the gully running east into Saltcott Creek, embracing Pennyhole Creek, Old Hall Marsh, the Fleets and shore-line south of Shingle Hills, Wick Marsh, Mill Creek, Mill Point to Rolls Farm.

The Olden Days
In Edward the Confessor's reign, GUDMUND, a freeman, was the owner of Tollesbury, and "lands" were held by the Abbess of Barking who sub-let part to one named SIDVARD or SAWARD and 10 acres to a vassal named ODO. At the time of the survey in 1086, it was recorded that there were 11 "villeins or villagers, 14 "bordars" and 5 serfs who lived within the compounds of the manors, all were bound to serve one or other of their masters, and were not free to move or choose their work. There was at this time 1 mill, 1 fishery, 2 salt works, 2 horses, 2 beasts , 28 swine and 300 sheep. It can be assumed that the mill! was in the vicinity of Mill House Farm, or as we know it to-day Mell House Farm. In 1068 one named Ralph PIPERELL or PEVERIL attempted to obtain possession of lands in the possession of the Abbess of Barking, and was stoutly resisted by this good lady. However, it would appear that William the Conqueror was successful in obtaining possession of lands formerly held by GUDMUND and they were held- by Eustace, Earl of Boulogne, who apparently divided the lands bswteen INGELRIC for one knight's fee (to provide horse and men in time of war), (the names of TORBERN, ALMAR, ULERIC are also mentioned in Philip Morant's "History of Essex" a.d. 1768) and allowed the Abbess of Barking of Saint Martin's Collegiate Church to hold part.

Sometime after the conquest, the name of BALDWIN, Earl of Guisnes, is recorded as the possessor of Tolleshunt Guisnes or little Tolleshunt, and it is stated that there were four manors within the Parish of Tollesbury, viz., the Manor of Tollesbury or Bourchiers Hall, Manor of St. Mary of Barking (Tollesbury Hall), Gorwell and Prentices, and Bohun's Hall. With the exception of Gorwell and Prentices, each manor had its own court under feudal lord system. The rectory, stated to "stand on the south side of the street", was also stated to be a manor. The exact position of the last named is not known.

Manor of Tollesbury
Bourchiers Hall, the mansion house, is pleasantly situated on rising ground, about a mile north-west from the church. From thence there is a pleasant prospect to the sea and Mersea Island, The foregoing description written by Philip Morant holds good to this day. The manor was held by Baldwin, Earl of Guisnes, and was later given by Robert de Guisnes to Fulk Basset, Bishop of London. The manor in course of years passed, to Alma, Countess of Norfolk; Hugh de Essex; Robert Bourchier, Lord Chancellor of England, who held his first Court there in 1329. It remained in the Bourchier family, Earls of Essex, until the death of Anne Bourchier, (Marchioness of Northampton), on 20th January 1370, when it passed to her kinsman, Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, who was afterwards created Earl of Essex, and died on the 22nd September 1576, when it passed to his son Robert Devereux, famous EarL of Essex.

The manor at this time was stated to comprise of 40 messuages, 20 cottages, 40 gardens, 1000 acres of arable, 100 of meadow, 600 of pasture, 600 of fresh marsh, 2000 of salt marsh, 140 acres of wood, £8 rent, wreck of the sea, and free warren in Tollesbury, Tolleshunt Knights, D'arcy, Feering, Saltcote Wigborough and Virley, Goldhanger and Bradwell. In the course of years the manor was owned by families named, Gardiner; Duke; Hallam. The last named had one daughter named Mary, who married Philip Bennett, Esq,, in 1733, and died on llth December l76l. The Bennett family tomb stands on the north-east corner of the churchyard path on the north side of the chancel, and there is a memorial to Jane wife of Thomas Gardiner, who died 1654 affixed to the north wall inside the Chancel of St. Mary's Church, Tollesbury.

Manor of St. Mary of Barking.
Now known as Tollesbury Ball, belonged to the Nunnery of Barking until the dissolution of the Monastries. The manor house, called Tollesbury Hall, stands south of the Church. In the year 1539 King Henry VIII granted this estate to Thomas, Lord Cromwell, a few days before he created him Earl of Essex. Upon his attainder, it reverted to the Crown, and was appointed for the maintenance of the Lady Mary Tudor, afterwards Queen. On the 12th February 1562, Queen Elisabeth granted it to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and he being so imprudent as to espouse with more zeal than discretion the cause of Mary, Queen of Scots, was attainted and beheaded in l573. However, Thomas, his son by his second lady, Margaret, daughter of Thomas Lord Audley, being restored in blood in 1584, was awarded the Manor by Queen Elizabeth, and in 1597 he was summonded to Parliament by the title of Sir Thomas Howard, Baron Howard de Walden, and created Earl of Suffolk, 2lst July 1603. The Manor continued in the Howard family, and various courts were holden there on 27th September l6ll; 2nd April 1635; 16th October 1672; 6th October 1675; 1st May 1679; 14th May 1694. About the year 1702 the Manor was sold by Charles, Lord Howard, last Baron of Escrick in Yorkshire, to one, Peter Whitcomb Esq., a turkey merchant, who had two daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Mary married Thomas Paget, Squire of the Bedchamber to Prince George. On the death of Thomas Whitcomb in 1704, the manor and estate was conveyed to Henry Cornelison Esq of Braxted Lodge, and was later purchased by Peter Du Cane Esq., together with Tollesbury Wick in the parish.

Manor of Bohuns Hall
Otherwise Bowns Hall, vulgarly Bones Hall. The mansion house stands ¼ mile south of the Church. Little is known of its origin, but in 1539 it was granted by the Crown to Thomas, Lord Cromwell. Upon his attainder and disgrace having opposed King Henry VI the manor reverted to the Crown, and allotted together with other manors in the village for the support and maintenance of Lady Anne of Cleeves. Upon her decease, the manor reverted to the Crown. In 1589 it belonged to francis Craddock Esq and Gervase Howley, who had license the 22nd February l589 to alienate it to Margaret Whettell, but the same year Queen Elizabeth I granted it to Thomas Mildmay and others, to hold in capita; by the twentieth part of a knight's fee. In the course of,time it passed into the family of James Altham Esq. Serjeant at Law, one of the "Barons of the Exchequer". In 1630 (19th July) on the death of his grandson Sutton Altham, it passed into the possession of Sutton's sisters Elizabeth then 10 years old and Frances aged 9 years.

Gorwell and Prentices
Were styled "manors", but were subordinate to the others, and held no feudal courts. Prior to the suppression, they both belonged to Beeleigh Abbey and were let to John Hogan for 21 years at a rental of £9.14s.4d. In 1559 King Henry VIII granted them to Thomas Lord Cromwell, as he had done with Bohun's Hall, but upon his disgrace they reverted to the Crown and were allotted for the support and maintens of Lady Anne of Cleeves. On the 29th June 1566, Queen Elizabeth I granted them to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In course of time they both passed into the possession of various gentlemen, including one named Robert Taylor (see Robert Taylor's Charity), others by none of Andrew Wharton, Francis Jessop, John Goodman "Yeoman" of Tolleshunt Knights, John Wilkin, John Purcell, etc., also held them variously.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin

The Church itself stands on the highest eminence in the village and to this day dominates the whole village scene. The edifice embodies Saxon, Roman, Norman and Tudor architecture and building. The exact date of its origin is not known, but traces of former foundations have been found and materials with which it is constructed may be compared with the Castle and St. Botolph's Priory at Colchester. The embattled and buttressed tower has served as a beacon and leading mark for vessels entering Tollesbury Fleets for centuries past, and the Church has witnessed many vicissitudes and glorious events of the past and present.

The reader would be well advised to read "Church History - A Short Guide to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Tollesbury" an excellent treatise on the subject, but for the benefit of those who are unable to obtain a copy, the following abridged details are given. The main part of the church ia believed to date from the 11th century. On this rests the exceptionally fine 16th century tower, capped by parapet walls and pinnacles of the l7th century. Particular attention is drawn to the Tudor style windows in the upper part, of the tower. The clock in the north wall dates from the end of the 19th century. It will be seen that two lancet-type windows on the north wall of the nave have been blocked up as well as a small door on the south wall near the chancel steps. This door is reputed to have been left open during Divine services as was the custom many years ago and to allow lepers to witness the services from outside. In the South Porch there is the remain of the Holy Water stoup. The South Porch inside the Church consists of Roman brick. Tht West arch of the Church is stated to consist of Roman brick and is of Saxon origin. The font is unique as it bears the inscription - "Good People all I pray take Care That in ye Church you doe not aware As this man did." The font was purchased out of fine of £5 levied on a villager in 1718 for distburbing Divine service. The Church has been greatly enriched in recent years by the incumbents, benefactors and laity.

At the bottom of this article, is handwritten "Incomplete, to be read in conjuction with "Short Guide to St. Mary's Church and embodied where applicable."

Author: Douglas J. Gurton

Related Images

 Square and Church, Tollesbury. Postcard mailed 26 April 1905.
 A recent reprint has the following on the back:
 Before 1907 when the foundation stone was laid for the Parish Room, this is a general view of The Square, also known as The Green. The village lock-up was used for bill-posting and even then, people sat on the church wall. At the time the Post Office was a private house. A notice outside advises:- You may telephone from here!
 Used in Tollesbury Past photo 17.  CG10_005CG10_005
Square and Church, Tollesbury. Postcard mailed 26 April 1905.
A recent reprint has the following on the back:
Before 1907 when the foundation stone was laid for the Parish Room, this is a general view of The Square, also known as The Green. The village lock-up was used for bill-posting and even then, people sat on the church wall. At the time the Post Office was a private house. A notice outside advises:- "You may telephone from here"!
Used in Tollesbury Past photo 17.
Before April 1905
 Church Street, Tollesbury. The Square. Postcard mailed August 1914.  CG10_023CG10_023
Church Street, Tollesbury. The Square. Postcard mailed August 1914.
Before August 1914
 St Mary's Church, Tollesbury. Interior. Postcard published by H.S. White, High Street, Tollesbury. Not mailed.  CG11_065CG11_065
St Mary's Church, Tollesbury. Interior. Postcard published by H.S. White, High Street, Tollesbury. Not mailed.
 St Mary's Church, Tollesbury. Interior. Postcard by Gowens, Maldon, not mailed.  CG11_071CG11_071
St Mary's Church, Tollesbury. Interior. Postcard by Gowens, Maldon, not mailed.
Source: Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton