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IMPORTANT NOTE: Mary Hopkirk’s ‘Story of Layer de la Haye’ was written in 1934 and has been out of print for many years. As there is little or no prospect of it being re-printed it is being made available on the internet, free of charge, for the purposes of private study and research only. Anyone considering reproducing it in any form, either directly or indirectly, for any commercial purpose should first make appropriate enquiries about copyright.
This document contains only the text of the booklet. The original booklet contains pen and ink drawings of the church and some old Layer de la Haye houses by Mary Hopkirk, a pen and ink drawing of Layer Mill by P Mackay, and photographs of the Revd John Dewhurst, his wife Elizabeth, the Revd Thomas Price, and his wife Alice.
Some notes have been added, in italics, giving relevant new information which has become available and referring to changes which have taken place since the history was written. These are not, nor intended to be, comprehensive.
May 2002

By Mary Hopkirk, M.A.
NOTE - For reasons of space it is not possible either to refer in the form of notes to the many sources consulted, or to include all the information available. I shall be very pleased to quote authorities or, where possible, give more detailed notes to anyone interested in any particular person, house or event named.
I am indebted to many kind folk for help of all kinds; and in particular to P. G. Laver, Esq., F.S.A.; to the Lord of the Manor of Layer Hall; to the Lady of the Manor of Blind Knights; to the Rectors of Abberton, Berechurch, Peldon, and St. James for the use of documents in their possession; and to Mr. Theobald for photographs.
Dec. 1934. M.E.H.


The Essex County Telegraph,

38, Head Street.

For most people history begins in 1066; but many things happened in Layer-de-la-Haye before that. There is evidence of the presence of primitive man at Fingringhoe, who, although he left few traces in Layer, must often have pushed his way through the great forest bordering the Roman River to hunt for his dinner in Chestwood. This, however, is mere conjecture. . . .
But the Romans left their mark. A road, part of their elaborate defences round Colchester, crossed Chestwood and terminated at the corner of the Vicarage meadow, where it connected with a peculiarly wide ditch. This road is still traceable, and it may be assumed with confidence that Roman legionaries strolled about in what is now the Vicarage garden nearly two thousand years ago.
A thousand years then elapsed, of which little is known save that Vikings and other pirates hung about the marshes, and fought a great battle at Wigborough, doubtless visiting Layer from time to time and taking away anything worth taking.
There are two explanations of the name Layer given by the English Place Name Society, the second of which, a Scandinavian word Leire meaning clay, seems the more likely in view of the nature of the soil in the vicinity of the Layer Brook which flows through the three Layer villages.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, Layer, then called Legra, belonged to a Saxon freedman named Alric, who had cleared 330 acres. The rest of the parish, now 2,577 acres, was heath and marshland. His equipment consisted of: 1½ plough teams, 1 unfree tenant, 2 serfs, 3 beasts, 38 sheep and woodland for 40 swine; and the value of the estate was £4.
William the Conqueror gave Alric's manor to a Norman, Eustace, Earl of Boulogne; and by 1086 it had decreased in value to £3. Eustace employed four men instead of three, and had 2 plough-teams, 5 cows and 146 sheep. He added 6 hives of bees, and built a mill, almost certainly on the site of the existing one, where his tenants were obliged to grind their corn and pay him for the privilege of so doing. Through the marriage of his granddaughter Maud to King Stephen, Layer afterwards became Crown property.

THE Earls of Boulogne did not, of course, live on their Layer estate themselves, but had a series of tenants and sub-tenants who paid rent in money or military service. The first recorded tenant is named in a charter of 1128, which states that the Benedictine Abbey of St. John in Colchester owned the Church of Hea and two-thirds of the tithe of Legra, the demesne of Walter de la Haye. Although the lord of the manor was obliged to pay one-third of his tithe to his parish church, it was his privilege to pay the remaining two-thirds to the religious establishment of his choice; and this is clearly what had happened in Layer.
Of Walter de la Haye little is known. A family of that name came from La Haye du Puits, near Coûtances, with the Conqueror's army and prospered greatly in England; but it has no recorded connection with the family which gave Layer the second part of its name. If the De la Hayes of Layer did not hail from La Haye du Puits they may perhaps have come from Val de la Haye, near Rouen, where there was an establishment of Knight Templars; and there may conceivably be some link between this supposition and the origin of the name Blind Knights.
The De la Hayes of Layer were generous benefactors to St. John's Abbey, of which Hugh de la Haye was Abbot from 1130-1147. In addition to the tithe already given by Walter, Maurice gave 60 acres of land, and Athelais, wife of Ralph, gave another eighty. Maurice's gift was approved by his overlord, a certain Hugh, son of Stephen, who was also feoffee to the Crown.
A charter given by Richard I in 1189 discloses the fact that in addition to some land, the Augustinian Priory of St. Botolph held "the Church of Legra and all its emoluments" (presumably the remaining third of the tithe), and supplied the clergy. This seems to contradict the fact that the Church of Hea had belonged to St. John's Abbey in 1128. Either it changed hands during the intervening years, or there were two churches, one of Legra and one of Hea. In neither charter, nor indeed in any known document, has the dedication of the church been found. Architecturally, the older portions date from this century, and the builders incorporated some Roman brick in the south-west corner of the chancel, where it can be seen to this day. Perhaps they pillaged some Roman buildings in the vicinity.
About 1240 the lord of the manor was Ralph de la Haye. The overlordship was still vested in the Crown, but he held other land in Layer from the Earl of Ferrers and Henry de Essex, amounting in all to 366 acres. After considerable litigation with the latter about the rent, Ralph was fined for not paying it, and, dying in 1253, was succeeded by William de Munchensi, the younger son of a well-known Suffolk landowner, holding estates at Edwardstone. How he became heir to the De la Hayes is not known, but the manor was immediately claimed by Ralph's widow, Lucia, as her jointure, "wherewith her husband had endowered her when he espoused her at the church door." She won her suit and kept the manor for life, with reversion to William de Munchensi. William died in 1283, and his son and heir, also William, being imprisoned for trespass, forfeited his lands to Queen Eleanor. In 1291, however, she restored them on condition that he joined the Last Crusade.
Meanwhile there had been changes in the overlordship of this domain. The manor itself still belonged to the Crown; but the other holdings changed hands. In 1267 Henry III confiscated Earl Ferrers' estates, giving them to his own son, Edmund of Lancaster; and Hugh de Essex granted his land in Layer to Sir Philip Bassett, from whom it passed to his daughter Alice, Countess of Norfolk. After a lawsuit with her widowed stepmother, who claimed one-third of the Manor of Leyre sur Laye as her jointure, Alice died in 1281, leaving 144 acres in Layer, valued at 58s. 6d. yearly, to her son by a former marriage, Hugh Despencer.
In 1289 a certain John, son and heir of Adam de Ry, added 166 acres to the land already owned by St. John's Abbey, stating that this was all he owned in Layer. He gave his surname to what was always afterwards known as the Manor of Rye. The Priory of St. Botolph had been John de Ry's tenant, and continued to pay rent for this land to the Benedictines. The Prior also seems to have owned some land to the south-east of the Rye, for soon after John de Ry's gift there was some disagreement between the two monasteries about a certain road which ran through the courtyard of the Rye Manor across Hawysesbregge to Wigborough. It was finally agreed that the Prior of St. Botolph and certain Wigborough notabilities would relinquish their right to use this road in exchange for the use of another offered by St. John's to the westward. The Augustinians continued to own the emoluments of the church, which in 1242 were worth £7 yearly.
At the end of the thirteenth century therefore St. John's Abbey was the second largest landowner in the parish with about 300 acres. William de Munchensi came first with about 366, which he held in three portions from the King, Hugh Despencer and Edmund of Lancaster respectively. Other landowners were William Clarke with 40 acres, St. Botolph's Priory, St. Osyth's Abbey and the Moleshams of Wigborough.
By 1299 someone had built a bridge at Kingsford.
William de Munchensi died in 1302, perhaps on his return from Acre, and in 1317 his son, also William, sublet the manor to a certain Hugh de Nanton and Eleanor his wife. Two years later William died also, leaving a baby of three to succeed him. In 1325 two priests, probably the boy's guardians, re-granted it to Hugh de Nanton.
In 1327 there was another change in the overlordship of part of little William's estate. Hugh Despencer was beheaded by Edward III for rebellion, and his lands forfeited to Edmund, Earl of Kent, the King's uncle. Three years later Edmund's own turn came for decapitation, but his two little boys, Edmund, who died in 1333, and John, were allowed to inherit his Earldom and his property.
Then came the Black Death. This epidemic, a kind of bubonic plague, had an effect on village life that cannot be over-estimated. So many people were wiped out that the feudal system began to break down. The surviving landowners, unable to find enough labour, found it more profitable to let their land in small holdings to sub-tenants than to attempt to farm their large manors themselves, and the yeoman farmer dates from this century.
The plague took John, Earl of Kent, and the overlordship of the Manor of Layer-de-la-Haye was thenceforward vested wholly in the Crown. The Munchensis seem to have been smitten also, for they disappear from the annals of the village about this time. Nor did their tenants fare any better. Hugh de Nanton, John his son, and Edmund his grandson all died before 1353; and in the following year the tenant was Walter Baynard.
Thirty years later a certain John Codlyng, parson of Stratford, Suffolk, let the manor to Sir John de Sutton, Sir Richard de Sutton, John Boys and John Battaille. Whether these people, who were related and were perhaps the trustees of some child, had any connection with either the Munchensis or the Nantons is not clear.
Meanwhile the Benedictines were slowly enlarging their manor of the Rye. In 1305 Edward I licensed William, the son of Isolde, to give them 18 acres; and John Savare gave 14, "a bit of land lying below the Abbot's garden." In 1365 the Abbey received yet more land, this time from Peter Wavaye (probably Harvey) and John Chaterys for the repose of their souls.
The Augustinians did not do so badly either. In 1352 Edward III licensed them to acquire a messuage and 108 acres of land from Nicholas de Sutton, parson of Great Wigborough, valued at 43s. 10d. This land was the Manor of Blind Knights, and a Norman arch recently uncovered in the manor house suggests the existence of a building on this site at an early date. In 1364, after a sanguinary quarrel with the rival monastery, St. Botolph's agreed to exchange its tithe for that of the Rye, and built the existing tithe barn for the extra sheaves. In 1399 Richard II licensed Thomas Whot and John Hervy to give the Prior 28 acres. John is the first recorded member of a family which gave its name to Harvey's Farm, and which was to own land in Layer for the next 500 years.
These Royal licences were the consequence of the Statute of Mortmain. Edward I, realizing the danger of the increasing wealth of the Church, tried to hinder further gifts, by insisting that the King's permission be obtained first.
Nevertheless the Priory seems to have taken its added responsibilities seriously. Immediately after the Black Death the monks began restoring the neglected church, re-building the nave, the tower and the north porch. The stone probably came from Caen in Normandy, whence it was imported at this time in considerable quantities.
One wonders which bit of Layer was the subject of the following romantic litigation:
In 1326 one Oliver de Blonville went to law with Joan, the widow of Simon de Segrave, about some land in Layer. The dispute was settled by his undertaking to give her one rose on the Nativity of St. John Baptist yearly. Shortly after this Oliver went to law again, this time with Joan his wife against John Sayer (the John Savare who had given land to the Abbey) and Nicholas Hacoun about the same property, which John agreed should revert eventually to Nicholas de Segrave, Joan's son by her former marriage.

Other Layer notabilities of this century were the Nevards, who owned land in Layer-de-Ia-Haye and Layer Breton, almost certainly the existing farm of that name; Robert, parson of Great Wigborough; Walter de Pateshill, who owned property near the Wigborough border; and John Eylot, who was admitted a burgess of Colchester in 1395. A less respectable inhabitant was Robert of Layer and Joan his wife, who were fined four times in four years for selling beer contrary to the regulations.

The manor next belonged to Sir Robert Tey, who may have inherited it through his wife Anne, widow of a John Nanton, or through an ancestress, Emma, who was also a Nanton, but strangely enough used the De la Haye coat of arms.
The Teys were a family of considerable standing locally. By a series of advantageous marriages during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries they had acquired large estates in Aldham, Birch, Copford, Peldon, Layer and the three villages to which they gave their name.
In 1426 Sir Robert Tey was succeeded first by his grandson and then in 1441 by his great grandson, both named John. The latter lived during the Wars of the Roses, and was one of the gentlemen of Essex ordered by Henry VI to resist Warwick the Kingmaker. John's policy, however, was "not to be hanged for talking," and he placed his motto Tais en Temps beneath his coat of arms in the windows of his house. This manor house, which was "large and fair," stood opposite the church on the site now occupied by the Hall, for at least three centuries. John was succeeded in 1462 at Layer (but not elsewhere) by his brother Robert, who died twelve years later, leaving the manor to his son William, a boy of twelve.
At the end of the century the Benedictines built the house now called the Great House on their manor.
St. Botolph's, not to be outdone, rebuilt the house of Blind Knights, incorporating part of the earlier structure. In addition to their landed property, which was definitely described to the Bishop in 1406 as a manor, the monks continued to hold the tithe and advowson of the church. In this century they re-built the chancel arch and gave the bell frame and the fourth and oldest existing bell. This was cast about 1459 by a woman, Joanna Sturdy. Her husband, a well-known bell-founder of Sudbury (John and Johanna Sturdy were bellfounders at London, not Sudbury. Perhaps there has been some confusion with the founder of another of the bells, Thomas Gardiner, who was at Sudbury), had died in 1458, and she fulfilled the remaining orders before retiring from business. The bell bears the inscription: In Multis Annis Resonet Campana Johannis (May John's bell ring through many years). The founder's pious hope has certainly been fulfilled, for her bell still rings.
In 1495 the Prior appointed the first recorded incumbent of Layer, Ralph Richardson.
The fifteenth century saw Layer's first and only (recorded) crime: Thomas Lymenour, a debtor, had taken sanctuary in St. John's Abbey Church. On the Feast of St. Bartholomew 1413 he left the Abbey, broke into Layer de la Haye Church, and stole a missal worth £7 13s. 4d. Returning with it to the Abbey he was caught by a monk, who handed him over via the Abbot to justice. In view of the lack of cordiality obtaining between the monasteries, one cannot help wondering whether the Benedictine Abbot's horror with regard to this episode was as great as might be expected. Thomas was fined 40s., but what became of the missal is not stated.
William Tey died in 1502, and his son Thomas succeeded to the manor, then worth £25, and which included Nevards and William-à-Birches, now a ruined house by the lake to the west of the Hall. Thomas and his wife, Jane Harleston, saw the power of the monasteries completely destroyed, and the Rye and Blind Knights in secular hands. He died in 1543, and was buried in a grey marble tomb on the north side of the chancel. This had two brass effigies and bore the inscription: "Of your charité pray for the soules of Thomas Tey, Esquire, sometime of this town of Layer, and Jane, his wife, on who soules and all christen, Jeshue have mercy." The effigies and inscription had disappeared two hundred years later, but the tomb remains, and is called erroneously "The De la Haye Tomb."
There were other memorials to the Teys on the south wall of the nave, which disappeared with the wall in the nineteenth century. One was to a man called "Standing Tey," who, on the occasion of a duel, vowed that if he lost "he would never eat his meat but standing." The inscription did not state how the duel terminated.
Although Thomas Tey's son and heir, John, managed to steer safely through the persecutions of four Tudor Sovereigns, he saw an even greater religious upheaval than his father had seen, and dying in 1568 left two sons, the elder of whom, Thomas, inherited the estate, and the younger, William, became vicar of Layer in the following year.
In 1571 Thomas Tey let the manor to his cousin, Sir Robert Drury, retaining only Chestwood, Perryfield and Parkfield, which are still so named to this day. In 1594 Norden passed through Layer and saw the Tey arms in the windows of the Manor House; but two years later Thomas Tey, who seems to have come down in the world, sold it to Peter Bettenson, of Foxton, Staffordshire, whose heirs owned Layer Hall for the next hundred years.
In the meantime Sir Thomas Audeley, Lord Chancellor of England, took advantage of the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536 to appropriate Blind Knights and the Rye, together with the Mill, the tithe and advowson of Layer and certain small holdings called Harveys, Wards, Giles and Heathouse. He had also taken Berechurch and Abberton; and from thenceforward for nearly four hundred years all the former monastic property in Layer formed part of the Berechurch Hall Estate.
Audeley did not live long to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. He died in 1544, and like many other sacrilegious persons, cursed by the monks, he left no direct male heir. The Layer part of his estate passed to his nephew Thomas, who died in 1572, possessed of Blind Knights, the Rye and about 60 acres adjoining, called Harveys, Wards, Giles, Heathouse, Holts, Savares, Symmes, Bealdes, Graftons, Underwoods, Glevers, Cleves, Layer Mill and the tithe and advowson. His tenants were John Lucas, George Foster, George Christmas, esquires, and Arthur Clark, gent. Thomas Audeley's widow, Katharine, "a bold and turbulent woman," tried to withdraw her jointure in Berechurch out of the bounds of the Colchester Corporation, but, after a long contest, gave in. She owned land in Layer called Rosses, "let to her servant Anthony Ash," and died in 1611. Her tomb at Morton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk, states that: "She lived forty-five years a widdow. She kept good hospitality. She was charitable to the poor."
The next heir was Thomas Audeley's son, Robert. He does not seem to have lived on his estate, but his uncle lived at Gosbecks, and was buried at Berechurch at the end of the century, leaving several children. One of these, John, had bought Nevards from the Teys, and left £10 annually from it to a nephew. His tenant there was Henry Addams, of Abberton Hall. Another of Thomas' children, Francis, was the father of the Rev. John Audeley, who was later to become incumbent of Layer.
Only four sixteenth-century incumbents are recorded. A certain Sir Roger Church was parish priest in 1510, and may have been the last pre-Reformation incumbent. He was described as "an active man," and may have been a Grey Friar. In any case he championed the cause of the Franciscans in the reign of Henry VII, and became their Prior when they were re-instated.
About 1567 Thomas Audeley presented Stephen Caterall, who had previously been curate of Kirby-le-Soken.
He was succeeded in 1569 by William Tey, M.A., brother of the last lord of the manor of that name. Born at Layer in 1546 and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was ordained by the Bishop of London, and became incumbent of Layer and Peldon at the age of 23. He seems to have had Presbyterian leanings, for he was a member of the Dedham Classis. In 1588 he and his Layer churchwardens were reprimanded by a Court held at Colchester, which found "Ye Register Boke ys not orderly kept for that there ys but one lock and ys kept locked with one key which key ys kept by ye sexton contrary to Hir Majesty's injunctions." The churchwarden, Anthony Bracket, who appeared, was directed to see "that ye Register Boke be kept and that ye former chest hath ii new locks and ii. keys, ye minister to have one." This irregularity may have been due to the fact that William Tey also had Peldon to look after, and probably lived there. Perhaps he gave the beautiful Elizabethan chalice and cover-paten which are used in Layer Church to this day. Tey held both livings till his death in 1595, and was succeeded by Roger Goodwin.
In 1511 Richard Duke left money for the purchase of land for the church. He gave his name to a farm called Dukes, on the site of the Layer Poultry Farm, and probably lived there. There were also other endowments: "Given out of the land called Furchers in the tenue of Robert Scarlett to find a lamp light before the Trinity, 8d.;" "Out of Garlands in the hands of John Smyth and Robert Field to find two pounds of wax for the rood light for ever, yearly 8d." Garlands is not the farm of that name in Birch, but that which is now called the Great House. "Ever" proved to be of short duration, for between 1730 and 1769 all trace of these benefactions had disappeared.
Other sixteenth century notabilities were Richard Harvey, who became a burgess of Colchester in 1503; John Chambre, a yeoman; and the miller, Henry Salmon, who, dying in 1601, left 2s. to his daughter Margery Bundocke, and 3s. 4d. to his sons-in-law, Thomas and Anthony Harvey and Thomas Wood. He left the residue of his estate to his wife Ann.
Early in the century somebody built the cottage standing alone on the hillside to the south west of Kingsford Bridge; and by 1563 the Roman River was bridged at Brownsford (now Bounsted).
Thus at the death of Queen Elizabeth the two chief landowners in the parish were Peter Bettenson, of Layer Hall, and Robert Audeley, of Berechurch.
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