A History of Tattenhoe by Colin Willet 1983

A History of Tattenhoe

By Colin Willet, 1983

In the first volume of "˜History of Milton Keynes and District' the noted local historian Sir Frank Markham tells us that: "˜At Tattenhoe we have possibly the most intriguing site of all. Adjoining the small church is a moated area of several acres in extent, some of the moats are 30ft wide and crossed by ancient bridges. The whole place has a curious unreal quality about it, as if the Sleeping Beauty had been awakened a few years ago and the whole area left to nature'.

If you come upon Tattenhoe, as I did, in late autumn with the hedgerow hips and haws bright scarlet and crimson and the bramble-leaves turning vermilion, you could be forgiven for thinking that nature had set fire to her heritage. The whole strange quiet place was aflame with colour. The deeply rutted track running in an easterly direction from the Whaddon / Shenley road dipped into a gully, crossed a shallow stream and then rose abruptly to the ridge, skirting the great mass of Howe Park Woods. The trees gloried in that last riot of russet and old-gold that becomes apparent only in the final few days that precede leaf-fall.

The wood...as woods everywhere... fascinated me! Gazing at their autumnal beauty I recalled that William Martel in the early thirteenth century had given the monks of Snelshall Priory a piece of ground to augment their cemetery, as before that time the dead, both of the priory and of Tattenhoe parish were buried in a wood. This wood undoubtedly;.....and there could be few more peaceful places to take one's last repose, ....in some quiet glade perhaps, with the leaves gently falling.

Beyond Howe Park the land levels out along the ridge and a narrow, fenced track branching off to the right led me past the site of the moated manor-house and on to the little church. I first saw Tattenhoe as a child, somewhere about the end of the second world war, when my parents took me to services there once or twice in every summer and always to Harvest Thanksgiving. We used to make the not inconsiderable trek from our home at Shenley Church End, by a route which took us right through the woods. These were events that I looked forward to, principally I fear for the opportunity it afforded for meeting up with the Whaddon branch of the family, rather than by any inspiration received at divine service.

Nevertheless I was inspired by Tattenhoe. There is that about the place which makes one want to know more, to discover something of its mysterious history. It had that effect upon me then. It still does today. Why, for instance, was the old village.....hamlet I suppose we might call it....deserted. Was it as a result of some great natural disaster.... one of the great plagues which swept across England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Was it economic, a casualty of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and therefore touching religious reform?

Was it merely that, at a certain stage, the men of Tattenhoe tired of their seasonal battle with the stiff clay which abounds hereabouts and simply set off in search of pastures new. Or was it, as with many another such site, the result of the Enclosures of 1761 and thereafter? We may never truly know.

If we wish to discover more of the history of Tattenhoe, however, we must go back to a time long before the desertion of the village, whenever that may have taken place, indeed to a time before it even existed as a named place. It is quite possible that Mesolithic hunters were the first to put their mark upon it. Traditionally, Mesolithic people have been represented as bands of nomadic huntsmen. Their implements have been found at Stacey Bushes, Bow Brickhill, and in the Loughton Brook valley and recent discoveries have suggested that their stone axes, for instance, were perfectly capable of felling full grown trees. It may well be that they began the very first clearance of the primeval forest in this area. Undoubtedly, more of their camp-sites or seasonal settlements are yet to be discovered, but anything in the nature of a complete pattern of habitation, settled or otherwise, is unlikely ever to emerge. The evidence is not uniform, the passage of time enormous.

When the earliest true farmers made their appearance, about the beginning of the 4th millennium BC, they would certainly have continued with any clearance already begun. These Neolithic people had a lasting impact upon the local and national landscape. They cultivated the ground using a hoe-like implement and the earliest crops of barley and wheat ever to sway in the wind upon the Tattenhoe acres were almost certainly planted by them. They also kept cattle, sheep and swine. They mined and fashioned flints. They too felled trees to build their primitive boats or canoes. Once again however, such evidence as there is remains sketchy and in its relativity to Tattenhoe itself, inconclusive.

We may move on with greater certainty to Roman times. Watling Street, of course is fairly adjacent; Magiovinium a mere five miles away; and both Sheahan and Lipscombe thought that the curious moated enclosure of The Toot at Shenley Church End must be Roman, "˜due to the construction of its earthworks and their rectangular form'. We know that Caractacus of the Catuvellauni fought a great battle in resisting the Roman invasion of Claudius in AD 43. This took place at what is now Buckingham and the fiery son of Cunobelin (Shakespeare's Cymbeline) was badly routed by the disciplined forces of the Roman Emperor. He fled to Wales, from whence he continued to harass the invaders until his capture in AD 51. In 1849 in a field near Great Horwood, a ploughman uncovered a hoard of pre-Roman coins, probably minted by Cassivellaunus about 40 BC. All around the locality there is evidence of Roman occupation and the British resistance to that occupation.

Three sites, all similar and almost within hailing distance, seem capable of advancing the theory that they began life as a sort of Roman 'front line' against the troublesome Britons. These are the aforementioned Toot at Shenley; Westbury Farm, a mile to the south of it; and Tattenhoe, still a further mile along. They each bear remarkable similarities and Sheahan certainly thought that the three bore all the marks of having been linked signal stations in the Roman era, since they were all clearly visible from one another, "˜and were obviously in communication with one another and perhaps stations of mutual support'.

The Toot lacks something of the mysterious aura that pervades Tattenhoe, since it lies much closer to modern places of habitation. It is some seven acres in entirety, with large moated enclosures, ramparts and dykes. At the south-eastern corner is a moated enclosure whose central island is similar in size to that at Tattenhoe. I well remember crossing the wooden bridge to this sylvan retreat with others of my school-boy friends, for adventure and exploration. Legend had it...at least among the youth of Shenley in those days...that there was in existence a tunnel or passage leading from the island to Lord Cadman's great house at Shenley Park. We took little account of the fact that the house was at least five hundred yards away, or that whoever had constructed the tunnel was hardly likely to have taken the trouble to dig beneath the murky waters of the moat. No! The tunnel was supposed to come up somewhere on the island...and there we incessantly searched.

Needless to say, nothing to substantiate the legend was ever found, though I do recall that one Brian Bazeley and I became quite excited on one occasion when our grubbing among the roots uncovered a considerable number of rectangular limestones beautifully hewn, about 1/2 an inch thick and with a hole about ¼ of an inch in diameter in each corner. I suppose they must have been roof tiles of some kind.

Westbury Farm is the only one of the three sites currently inhabited and in some degree preserved as a functional monument. The old farmhouse, carefully and tastefully added to in recent times, is quite beautiful, although the surrounding moat no longer completely surrounds and the necessities of farming over the years have inevitably obliterated some of the original features. In 1512 Thomas Stafford of Tattenhoe acquired Westbury and the dual holdings descended together for the following four hundred years. The Ties that bind, it seems, are not easily broken.

At Tattenhoe, the moats were....as indeed they still are....the notable feature. There was one, shown on a map of 1801, being semi-circular and of such length that it almost resembles a small canal. Much of this still remains, though it has become much more difficult to define that which it was intended to protect. Moats notwithstanding, however, it does seem that by the very suitability of the siting, Toot, Westbury, and Tattenhoe were almost certainly Roman first and foremost, probably connected with the known station at Fenny Stratford and thereby with Magiovinium. The names however are unmistakably early English: the word Toot meant "˜a lookout hill'; Bury or Burh is well known to represent a shelter or fortified place (Westbury); Hoe, from the Anglo-Saxon, meant a spur of land...often a tongue of cultivated or pasture-land amid woodland.

My great grandfather could remember the moated island of Tattenhoe when it was less overgrown than now, indeed when two great wooden uprights, supposed by him to have supported the original drawbridge were still in position. The Victoria County history tells us that the ancient manor-house of the Stafford family was: "˜about the middle of the 18th century...described as being in a ruined condition and inhabited by a labourer'. Excavations one feels, would be likely to reveal but little of consequence, since an uncle of mine who worked upon a Tattenhoe farm in less conservationally minded times has told me that he and his fellow labourers were instructed by the farmer to remove many stones from the island for the purpose of filling up some of the cart-ways and tracks in the vicinity. "˜Great stones they were some of them' he told me, "˜as much as three strong fellows could carry between them'.

At sunset, as the twilight edged up across the fields and among the woods, where the shadows crowded in upon Tattenhoe church and the lights of Bletchley began to twinkle in the distance, I looked for ghosts and found not a one. No stone age hunter or farmer, no woad-smeared ancient Briton or Roman legionary...nothing but the incessantly cropping sheep eating their way steadily across Corner Close and Priors St--ing towards Tattenhoe Bare as their forbears had done for centuries.

But ghosts there undoubtedly are at Tattenhoe. Sibyl D'Angerville perhaps, who held land here before 1167...or Ralph Martel her grandson who succeeded her about the beginning of the13th century. Rebellious types they were, the Martels, being among those Norman Lords who rose against the crown and being defeated saw their lands escheated to the Monarch, the value of Tattenhoe stated as 60s and the stock upon it amounting to twelve oxen. In 1210-12 Roger de Kauz paid 60s for the "˜Buckinghamshire lands of Ralph Martel', who afterwards, however, received them again "˜at the hands of the king'

William Martel, brother of Ralph, came into possession of Tattenhoe, but he too proved to be marked with the rebellious streak and having been active in the rebellion of Faukes de Breaute, was hanged at Bedford and his lands forfeited to the Crown in 1224. Henry III granted Tattenhoe, in the spring of the following year, to one William de Cauntelow, who swiftly subinfeudated it, the mesne lordship being still held by his family as late as 1324. Paul Pever, subinfeudated by de Cauntelow held Tattenhoe in 1226 and was granted view of frankpledge by Henry III, but in1240 Pever himself subinfeudated the manor to William de Jarpenville for suit of court and rent. In 1278-9 William de Jarpenville paid 40s annually from the hamlet of Tattenhoe for all services to the heirs of Paul Pever, but the whole thing seems to have been something of a tangled web for it was also in 1278-9 that the land was said to be held "˜of the honour of Bolebec'.

At all events, in1302-3 William de Jarpenville was still in possession of Tattenhoe, which in 1316 passed to Richard de Jarpenville and in 1324 to Colette de Jarpenville. The manor passed down through the de Jarpenville line until in 1398 John Trenchefoyle and Maud his wife held it in the right of the latter. By 1415 Alice and Joan Trenchefoyle, daughters and heirs of Maud granted Tattenhoe to John Giffard of Whaddon. This John Giffard was Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in l4l7 and is referred to in 1445 as having been seised in fee of the Manor of Whaddon, called Cyffards Manor. His eldest son Thomas had died without male heirs and he "˜loved better John his younger son than he did the children of Thomas'; on John, therefore, and on his issue the manor had been settled......but we digress, for our current interest lies with the smaller manor of Tattenhoe. Here, by 1416, any right in the manor retained by the de Jarpenville family was renounced by Thomas the son of Richard de Jarpenville.

Tattenhoe was held by feoffees until 1431-2, when it was settled upon John Giffard and Elizabeth his wife in survivorship and on their heirs (Elizabeth Giffard held courts at the manor from 1438-1440). The unfortunate Thomas Giffard having died as already stated, without male heirs, one might perhaps have expected to find that his wretched daughter had been denied the title of Tattenhoe as well as that of Whaddon. Not so, however, for we find that in 1446, Alice Giffard, widow, delivered seisin of one half of the manor to Gilbert Standish and Alice his wife, daughter and heir of Thomas. Later, Standish. having died, the heiress married Richard Hayton, with whom she held the manor in 1475. Two years later they quitclaimed it to John Brentwood and Thomas Stafford.

In 1478 Brentwood released his right to Stafford and in the same year Roger Standish the Giffards' heir gave up all his title in the manor. In 1516 Thomas Stafford enfeoffed trustees of the manor to the use of his illegitimate son William Stafford and died in the following year. An unseemly wrangle seems then to have ensued, with the declaration that Humphrey Stafford (afterwards Sir Humphrey Stafford of Blatherwyke, Northants) was Thomas's legal heir. Thomas had left £10 to Sir John Bently, the parson of Mursley, to instruct his son in the "˜seyence of gramer' and to send him after the space of three years to 0xford or Cambridge. However, Alice, widow of one William Ingoldsby and mother of William Stafford, accused Parson Bently and Humphrey Stafford of abducting the boy. The dispute was incapable of settlement to anyone's satisfaction and simmered on for a number of years until Humphrey, challenged once more by William, sent the title deeds in a great coffer to Woburn Abbey for safe keeping, whereupon William Stafford, bastard, sued the Abbot for their recovery. He is also recorded as having brought an action against his namesake William Stafford of Bradfield, Berks., the brother of Humphrey .

Finally in 1525, William Stafford, bastard, had his claim satisfied by a grant of the manor to himself and his wife Eleanor for life, subject to an annual payment of £10 to William Stafford of Bradfield. The much maligned illegitimate son of old Thomas died in 1529 having enjoyed his inheritance for no more than four years and William Stafford of Bradfield sold Tattenhoe in 1531 to Sir George Throckmorton.

It is at this point that a very great Englishman indeed comes within a whisker of writing his name into Tattenhoe's chequered history. It was in 1534 that the aforesaid Sir George Throckmorton having become desirous of sel1ing the manor wrote thus to Thomas Cromwell: "˜At my last departing from you, I broke unto you concerning the manor of Tottynho which I had bought in Buckinghamshire. I had rather you had it than any other man as I am driven to put it away, for I owe £800 for a Lordship I bought lately....... Master Baldwyn can instruct you of the title, who induced me to buy it. I have but £18 lands in hand. The rest is in reversion on the death of a gentlewoman now married to Ashfield'. (The gentlewoman was Eleanor, widow of William Stafford, bastard, who had married Edmund Ashfield as her second husband). They quitclaimed their right in the in manor later in 1534.

The way seemed open for Cromwell, but for one reason or another the sale to him did not take place, indeed it was not until ten years later that Sir George Throckmorton finally rid himse1f of the encumbrance of Tattenhoe, the purchasers being Francis and John Englefield, sons of Sir Thomas Englefield. The manor was settled on John and his issue. He died in 1567 and was succeeded by his son Francis, who was created a baronet in 1611.

The untidiness and dissatisfaction of the period from 1516-1529 had its echoes in the ensuing chapter and once again the turbulent Staffords were largely behind the troubles. The family had continued to hold large tracts of land in the parish and in 1584 it was stated that while Francis Englefield was sieged of the manor, Thomas Stafford, son of William Stafford, bastard, held over two hundred acres of the Tattenhoe lands. (The total of both parties holdings amounted to some 470 acres). So intermingled were the properties that "˜it certainly could not appear which was which, which occasioned many suits'. At last an agreement was reached, by which all the lands and manor were settled on Stafford, upon payment of an annual rent of £80 to Englefield and his heirs. He who. had been called bastard, might have allowed himself a sepulchral chuckle one feels. The inheritance was in his (posthumous) hands at last.

Thomas Stafford settled Tattenhoe on his eldest surviving son Thomas in 1607 and died the same year. Young Thomas died seised of the manor in 1629 and his son, yet another Thomas, succeeded him.

With the bloody civil war at its height and the Stafford family passionate Royalist, it was virtually inevitable that Thomas would be declared a delinquent when the Parliamentarians triumphed in 1647. The estates were seized and the Stafford lands here and at Shenley were valued at £600 However the case against Thomas was finally discharged in 1651. He died in 1684 and his eldest son Edmund having predeceased him Charles Stafford, second, but first surviving son of Edmund became lord of the manor.

The last of the great Stafford family had a penchant for mismanagement. The old estate became heavily mortgaged and Charles himself was sued for debt. Tattenhoe was mortgaged for the most part to one James Selby and on this account the manor was vested in 1732 by a decree in Chancery in Thomas James Selby his son and heir.

After the death of the spendthrift Charles Stafford in 1716,there followed a long drawn out lawsuit involving one Captain Gardiner and the Selby family. The last of the Staffords had made over his right, title and interest in the estate to Gardiner whom he described as "˜my great friend'. Finally, however, the Selby suit prevailed and upon his death Thomas James Selby bequeathed the manor, with his Whaddon estates to his friend William Lowndes, subject to a search which was to be made by advertisement for his own right and lawful heirs. Selby had been unmarried and had once been described as a "˜shy, reserved man, given up to fox-hunting...and a gentleman of some scholarship'. Even before he died the Bletchley antiquary and diarist, the Reverend William Cole was wondering: "˜No one can tell where his (Selby's) large estates will descend. The Alstons (of Bradwell Abbey) are his nearest re1atives, but they are half mad'.

Lowndes was appointed receiver of the estates in 1773 and his right to them was finally allowed ten years later, after the cases of various claimants had been considered. As legatee, Lowndes was to take the name of Selby and this he duly did.

Thus was the great fox-hunting family of Selby Lowndes created. William Selby Lowndes succeeded to the title in 1813. He became one of the Knights of the Shire for Bucks and upon his death in 1840 his estates passed to his eldest son William whose own eldest son, yet another William, succeeded in his turn in 1886 and was to be Tattenhoe's last true lord of the manor. The Selby Lowndes family provided for many years the Mastership of the Whaddon Chase foxhounds and of several other well known packs. They could trace their origins through a female ancestor to the early Norman kings and the last Squire of Tattenhoe was 14th in descent from Edward III and thereby held that he was entitled to the Plantagenet coat of arms. Thomas James Selby had made an appropriate choice.

It would be unthinkable to leave our history of Tattenhoe without proper mention having been made of the Snelshall Priory, which, though really much closer to Whaddon, was nevertheless originated by Tattenhoe and remained intertwined with the doings of the manor for almost four hundred years until its surrender in 1535. It was Sybil d'Angerville in the latter part of the 12th century, who gave the land "˜called Snelshall' to the Benedictine monks of Lavendon who started a cell there. When the new priory was built it was to pay one mark a year to Lavendon until 1232, when the Bishop of Lincoln decreed that Snelshall owned its own lands and chapel.

In 1216, Ralph Martel gave land at Tattenhoe to the new priory and his brother William confirmed these grants which included haybote and housebote in his wood there (haybote and housebote are defined as being the right to cut wood for fencing and for the repair of the conventual buildings). William also gave land for a cemetery for the reasons already stated.

During the following hundred years land-grants and gifts of all kinds were lavished upon Snelshall by the faithful. About the year 1200 some two hundred acres at Beachampton were granted and the God-fearing monarch Henry I1I gave the monks five oaks from Salcey Forest for the building of their church tower and some time later granted them five marks a year along with permission to take annually from Whittlewood Forest thirty cartloads of wood for fuel. In 1250 one Warin de Tateho "˜for the salvation of his soul and that of his wife Matilda, granted to Snelshall Priory his dyke (or moat) which lies below his courtyard, between the land of the Prior of Snelshall in length and the green of Tateho and it extends toward Westcroft' (this Warin must have been one of the Tattenhoe lords of the manor, subinfeudated by the de Cauntelows). Doubtless a gift such as this was a boon to the monks for the fishing it provided and such moats were usually well stocked in those days, though a sight of the murky water today, strewn with fallen boughs and clouded with algae is scarcely conducive to thoughts of an appetising supper.

Also at about this time William de Jarpenville gave a plot of land in the common pasture of Tattenhoe for the construction of a windmill, the mound at the base of which is identifiable today. In return the priory granted him the right to grind his corn at the mill three times a year, free of charge. There were further gifts of: "˜half a virgate of land in the field of Wirenton (Wolverton); a plot of land in Loughton containing ten and a half perches in length and 3 perches and five feet in width; a six and one half acres of land in the field of Wirenton abutting on Watlingstrate'....and so on. But with all these grant and others in Shenley, Bradwel1, Mursley, Beachampton and Tattenhoe, the priory scarcely seemed to thrive and in 1321 Bishop Burghersh remarked after a visit that "˜the monks scarcely had the necessities of life and had to beg even for these'. Indeed there seems to have been a skein of ill-fortune....a thread of the ne'er-do-well running through the whole historical tapestry of Tattenhoe and its attendant house of religion.

In 1529 another visiting Bishop, by name Longland, uncovered some rather serious irregularities among the two or three monks who remained and he ordered the Prior to dismiss all women, married or unmarried, from the precincts of the priory, retaining but two of over 48 years of age, of unexceptional character, as servants. In 1534 it still farmed out lands at Tattenhoe but in 1535 there were only three monks in the house, two priests, the prior's father and mother "˜with all their goods' and eight servants. The place was said to be wholly in ruin and it was surrendered to the Crown in that year. The Church of St Giles at Tattenhoe was built on the site of the original chapel from stone taken from the ruins of Snelshall in about 1540. Most of the stone seems to have been taken from the upper storey of the priory, for a farmhouse which stood on the Snelshall site at the time Lipscombe was writing contained in it some arches of the cloister of the conventual church. The sketch of this farmhouse shown in Lipscombe shows an unmistakable Tudor upper storey upon a lower one which is equally unmistakably both Norman and of monastic design.

Perhaps some of the Snelshall misfortune was borne, along with the stone, to Tattenhoe, for St Giles seems to have fallen into disuse and decay during the early part of the seventeenth century and a proposal was made to rebuild it. This was not done at that time but in 1636 it was re-endowed and provision for the services was made. The church was restored in 1892.

It is a small, rather lonely little building today. Lonely that is except during the lovely Sunday evenings of high summer when a smattering of the faithful make their way up the rutted track to sing His praises to the strains of the ancient harmonium. Services are directed by the Vicar of Whaddon. One of the most meaningful religious experiences that I have had in my life took place there at Harvest Thanksgiving only recently. Through the tracery of the trefoiled windows, while we sang the old hymns, we could see the combined-harvesters gathering in the very stuff of which Harvest Thanksgivings are made ... and have been in this place since the men of William de Jarpenville went out: "˜to reap the lord's corn and to collect the sheaves in turn; and the man and wife with their family shall, after food, carry away the remaining fragments in a cloth ..and a cup full of beer'.

Long may the single bell of St Giles ...(Petrus deveston me fecit)...continue to ring out across the stubble fields, to Tattenhoe Bare.


It used to be taught... at least in school at Shenley, in my grandmother's time... that the "˜turbulent priest' Thomas A'Becket, spent some time at the Tattenhoe Manor House and worshipped in the chapel there during his last journey to Canterbury and subsequent murder. Despite intensive research however I have been able to discover nothing to substantiate this 1egend. This does not mean that it did not happen. Legends are not, of themselves, part of recorded history.

As to the matter of the deserted village, it would seem that Tattenhoe did not suffer this fate as a result of the enclosures, since from figures collated by Archbishop Selden's staff in 1676, the population of Tattenhoe is given as 22. In those days of large families this figure could easily be accounted for by the occupants of the outlying farms, especially since in the same survey Shenley is given as 250 and Loughton as 234.

The mystery Remains.

Colin Willett 1983