The Manor of Fitznells, Ewell, in the fourteenth century
In 1302 Robert Fitznell succeeded to the manor of Ewell by right of his wife, Agnes, who was a niece of the Bishop of Rochester. This was Walter de Merton, founder of the Oxford College that bears his name.
Walter, in the days when he was a clerk of Basingstoke, had been appointed to the living of Cuddington (whose church was later destroyed by Henry VIII when he came to build the palace of Nonsuch). He was also attorney to the prior of Merton. He had seven sisters whose marriages he took pains to arrange. He entered the King’s chancery as a clerk, probably under Ralph de Nevill, Bishop of Chichester, who held lands in Ewell, and it appears that he not only married his sister Agnes to a freeholder with lands in Cuddington and Ewell, but also bought her an estate held of Merton Priory and a bigger estate of the Wallington fee (held by Ralph de Nevill), and eventually used the knowledge obtained from his position in Chancery to secure the overlordship of all the Ewell properties.
When Walter’s sister Agnes died, her heir was her son William, who was succeeded by his brother Robert, also a priest and unmarried, so that on his death the property went to his sister, another Agnes, the one who married Robert Fitznell (as aforesaid).
The Fitznell family owned lands in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire, but Sir Robert, who was knighted soon after his succession, seems to have spent some time in Ewell while pursuing the career of a military knight. On his death in 1331 the Kingston jury returned his Surrey land as comprising a messuage worth 5 shillings, 250 acres of land worth 4 pence an acre, 6 acres of meadow worth 18 pence an acre and 3 watermills worth 60 shillings. The capital messuage, with 100 acres of land and 4 acres of meadow, was said to be held of the Prior of Merton for 15 shillings payable at Michaelmas; 100 acres of land and 2 acres of meadow were said to be held of Thomas de Cuddington for 10 shillings payable in half yearly instalments at Lady Day and Michaelmas; and 50 acres of land and 3 watermills were said to be held of the abbot of Chertsey for 6 shillings and 8 pence payable at Michaelmas. Sir Robert’s heir was his daughter Grace.
These records are not accurate but they are a guide, and more accurate details are to be found in the Rental and Terrier contained in a Bodleian manuscript thought to have been compiled during the lifetime of Sir Robert, probably in about 1315, and contained in the Fitznells Cartulary (see page xcvi of the introduction).
The rental names 50 tenants living in 23 messuages and having 148 acres of land, the rents from which totalled £3 15s 9½d together with 64 harvest day works, 3 boon works and 10 haymaking services, all of which were commutable to cash; seven tenants owed suit of court, also commutable. Outgoing rents were paid by Fitznells to 16 persons from whom lands and property were held totalling £4 8s 2d payable to the main landowners such as the Lord of Wallington fee, the Abbot of Westminster and the Prior of Bishopsgate.
The terrier gives the names of fields and furlongs and usually the names of occupiers of neighbouring strips, and it is interesting that it is not possible to line up many of these entries with those of the other medieval document describing Ewell lands – the Register or Memorial of 1408.
This is due not only to defects in both terriers, but partly to the effects of the Black Death on land ownership.
The 1408 memorial contains 2 custumals, one undated and the second dated 1411, so that a comparison can fairly be made between the conditions on either side of 1349. The regular services detailed in the earlier register, such as providing a cart to carry away the lord’s hay, or a plough, have ceased by 1411.
In 1300 William Aylet, who holds 15 acres of land at 15 pence a year rent, has to do two works a week throughout the year (except at Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide) and provide two carts a day to carry the lord’s manure, the lord providing the same. ‘He shall mow and clear with his fellow workers a meadow called Kingsmead and carry the hay to the Lord’s grange and shall have for his labour the third best sheep from the lord’s fold and the third best cheese and also a sufficient supply of salt and meal to make porridge. He shall wash and shear a hundred sheep of the lord with his fellows and shall have one loaf the price of a halfpenny and cheese the price of a farthing and shall be quit of one work etc... and if he is chosen to be reeve, he shall have one bushel of wheat weekly or shall be at the table of the lord for the whole year and shall be quit of the rent he should pay and of all his works throughout the year’.
By 1411 there are only three occasional services – a bedrip (a day’s reaping at the lord’s request), a nedrip (a day’s reaping when specially needed) and Kingsmead (help to get in the hay from the lord’s meadow) – and it is probable that these were by now all compounded.
When Sir Robert’s heir, Grace, died in 1349, perhaps as a result of the plague, one of her main Buckingham manors had suffered severely, the inquisition after her death reporting that owing to the want of tenants all the land outside the demesne lay uncultivated except for a single copyhold.
The heir to the Ewell property was Grace’s son, Robert, who was unable to succeed because he had been hit on the head at joust and had lost his memory, and is described as an idiot. The account of his future life reveals the treatment of such cases in the fourteenth century. He and his property were in the custody of the king who appointed a keeper, William Croyser, to be responsible for running his household, which was not in Ewell but in Buckingham. Croyser was to provide from the income of the estates for Robert, Robert’s children, and household, and to account for the balance.
His accounts survive. At first Robert lived with his brother. They each had a personal groom. The household steward had under him a chamberlain, valet, butler, cook and brewer with a laundress and servant to attend Robert’s four daughters. By 1351 only two daughters were living at home; the other two had entered convents. Payments for food include pepper, rice, figs, raisins as well as bread, beer and wine. Robert had twelve pairs of shoes a year and the daughters six. When in 1351 three ells of cloth were bought for 9 shillings to make Robert a winter garment, the daughters’ garments were made out of the cuttings left over.
Standards seem to have been reduced over the years in the size of the household and expenditure and it is not known when Robert died, but in 1369 his nephew John de Nowers released all the Fitznells lands, including Ewell, to the king and the Earl and Countess of Bedford (who were the king’s daughter, Isabella, and her French husband Enguerrand de Coucy). On the death of Edward III in 1377, de Curcy left England and his English allegiance, and also his wife Isabella – who died two years later, when her lands reverted to the Crown. They were eventually sold to John Campden and passed through several hands during succeeding centuries. The name of Fitznells, however, remains fixed to the estate to this day.