Lordship Title of Elstow or Elnestowe ID1086

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In the time of the Confessor Elstow was held by four sokemen of the king. William I gave it to his niece, the Countess Judith, the widow of Waltheof Earl of Huntingdon. She founded a nunnery at Elstow and endowed it with the vill, which in 1086 was assessed at 3½ hides and valued at 100s. The abbess and nuns held the manor in free alms of the honour of Huntingdon until the dissolution of the monasteries. It was confirmed to them by charters of Henry I and Henry II. The abbess held a view of frankpledge in the vill, and her tenants were free from attendance at the sheriff's tourn. She had a gallows, pillory and ducking stool in Elstow, and enjoyed rights of free warren under a charter of Henry I. In 1325 Edward II, whose suspicions were aroused concerning the intrigues of Roger Mortimer, sent the latter's mother Margaret to dwell at Elstow with her servants at her own expense, strictly charging the abbess not to allow her outside the gates of the convent. The reason he gave was that suspicious assemblies were wont to meet wherever she resided. David de Strabolgi Earl of Atholl passing through Elstow in 1331 was robbed of six horses valued at the high price of £200. In 1408 the abbess is found complaining that a body of armed men had attacked the nunnery by night with ladders, axes, and bows and arrows, and, after grievously wounding one of her servants, carried off Agnes Crokebarowe. The abbess surrendered the manor to the Crown in 1539. (fn. 24) It was then valued at £30 17s. 3½d. The king attached it to his newly-created honour of Ampthill. (fn. 26) Though the manorial rights remained in the hands of the Crown until the reign of Edward VI, the site of the monastery with the demesne lands was granted by Henry VIII to Edmund Harvey in 1541. The latter's daughter Isabel married Sir Humphrey Radcliffe, who received a grant of the property in 1553. He held it by payment of a fee-farm rent of £85 17s. 10d. He was a younger brother of the Earl of Sussex, and resided at the Abbey House till his death. A monument to him is still to be seen in the church 'indecently,' as Cole says, placed in the middle of the east wall over the altar. His Elstow property appears to have been divided at his death; one share passed to his son Sir Edward Radcliffe, afterwards Earl of Sussex, and another to his daughter Frances, wife of Henry Cheeke, some time secretary to the Council of the North. Henry Cheeke was member for Bedford 1572–83, during which period he resided at Elstow. His son Thomas Cheeke quitclaimed his right in the Elstow property to Edward Radcliffe in 1598; the latter levied fines of his property in 1599 and 1612, and in 1616 both he and Thomas Cheeke sold their rights to Thomas Hillersdon for £700. The latter died in 1623 seised of property in this parish described as one-half the site of the monastery with the advowson and lands and tenements belonging, but Thomas his son and heir suffered a recovery of the whole property in 1631. He died the same year while still under age and a ward of the king, leaving as heir his son Thomas, aged eighteen months. His wife Margaret took for her second hus band Thomas Huet; she held Elstow during the minority of her son, and in 1651 she placed the property in the hands of her brother Rowland Litton and James Huxley, probably acting for Thomas Hillersdon, who came of age that year, and who suffered a recovery of the property in the next year. He held a court at Elstow in 1663, and was still living in 1676–7. William Hillersdon, who succeeded, died in 1725, and was succeeded by a son Thomas, who survived him but three years. The manor then passed to William's daughter Elizabeth, the wife of Denis Farrer of Cold Brayfield, whose second son Denis appears to have taken the surname of Hillersdon and succeeded to the property. He barred the entail in 1753, was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1756, and died in 1787. The manor after his death was divided among his four daughters, Harriet wife of Capt. James Hadden, Anne, Sarah and Elizabeth, who sold their rights in it in 1792 to Mr. Samuel Whitbread, M.P., in whose family it has remained down to the present day. The present lord of the manor is Mr. Samuel Whitbread of Southill. Henry II granted the nuns a yearly fair at their manor of Elstow on the vigil, feast and two days following the Invention of the Cross, 3 May. This grant caused discontent among the burgesses of Bedford, and they appear to have harassed those persons passing through the town on their way to the fair. An undated writ of the 12th century peremptorily ordered the reeve and burgesses of Bedford to see that no harm came to those attending the fair. Record exists of a robbery that occurred at Elstow Fair in 1294, when Beatrice de Baleok and others stole a ewer and a brazen spoon from the booth of William de Saint Briavells, a London merchant. The value of the tolls of the fair was assessed at the time of the Dissolution at £7 12s. There are at the present day two annual fairs at Elstow, one held on 15 May and the other on 5 November.
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