Corneybury, LaystonTHE house we are visiting to-day appears to have always been the principal residence in Layston. The chief approach was, originally, nearly half a mile nearer to Buntingford, where an old lodge indicates the entrance and some large trees in the pasture probably the line of the avenue. In the courtyard we see traces of departed importance; the buildings which enclose it were possibly erected by John Crowch, who purchased the property late in the sixteenth century, although their general characteristics are those of the Jacobean period.

We must, however, glance at the history of the Manor before dealing with the house. At the period of the Domesday Survey, Corney or Cornei (which we may translate as the corn-island, its suitability for growing cereals doubtless being due to the fact that in the winter the land became flooded and covered with silt) was a separate vill distinct apparently from Icheton or Layston, and was held by Robert, a vassal of Earl Eustace. It was not a large estate, and came into the possession of one Hugh Tricket, who lived in the troublous times of Stephen, and ere long made a gift of it to the Canons of Holy Trinity in London. This his over-lord Eustace, Earl of Boulogne and son of King Stephen, sanctioned and guaranteed the title of the Religious Brotherhood against all comers. Henry III confirmed the gift and added others.

In the long period that elapsed between the Third and Eighth Henry we can only suppose the estate was leased and released as was the custom of monastic properties, until 1539, when this Manor with many another was thrown to Sir Thomas Audley, knt., the Lord Chancellor. Raised to the peerage, Lord Audley of Audley End, Saffron Walden, by a poetic justice died without male issue (Spelman, indeed, says all who received monastic lands were thus accursed), and Margaret, his sole surviving child, was placed under the guardianship of Sir Anthony Denny, another courtier who was raised from poverty to affluence with the spoils of the monasteries. He received all the profits of the estate during Margaret’s minority, probably having to purchase them, as we constantly find sums of three or four thousand pounds being offered for the custody of rich wards.

On obtaining her majority, Margaret came into possession of the Corney estate. She married Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, and, according to Salmon, her son, also Thomas, who inherited the estate, sold it to John Crowoh. He is certainly the most interesting of the owners of Corneybury, and, as I have said previously, it is probable that he built the oldest portions of the present house. There is a date 1677 on the head of the rain-water pipe on the right, and on the left the initials C. C. or J. C. If the former, they are those of Charles Crowch, great-grandson of the first John. He may, of course, have made some extensive alterations to the building, as it is unwise to assume that initials and date record the rebuilding of the house.

John Crowch had a somewhat numerous family, five sons and five daughters. These latter are worthy of some detailed notice merely for the persistence with which they clung to the wedded state. Two had two husbands each, one had three, while the fifth had four. From the rank and positions of their husbands one can only assume the ladies must have either been as beautiful or as wealthy as they were persevering. The eldest, Elizabeth, married first Matthew Floyer, father of Francis Floyer, the builder of Brent Pelham Hall, which we visited last year, and secondly the great Hertfordshire landowner, William Freeman. Jane married first Edward Borrowe, and secondly Sir Edward Barkham, knight, Lord Mayor. Anne married first Robert Wyncoll, secondly Richard Chamberlain, thirdly Sir Ralph Hare, and fourthly Edward, Lord Montagu. Joan married Sir Ralph Freeman, brother to her sister Elizabeth’s husband. Margaret married first Allen Elvine, secondly John Hare, and thirdly Sir Henry Montagu, afterwards Earl of Manchester. It is not a little remarkable that these ladies should have secured not only a quantity of husbands, but men of substance and rank as Well, as in John Crowch’s will, which I have been fortunate enough to recover, the only legacies to his daughters are ten pounds each, which are evidently, as he says, but “a remembrance and a token,” he presumably having provided them with a goodly dower at the time of their marriages. The will is one of some interest as it mentions a number of field and place-names, such as Spellbrook (probably Spitalbrook, perhaps connected with the Biggin Hospital at Anstey), Austin’s Cross, the Mill and Millingford, suggestive of a water-mill. He also speaks of a tenement in Buntingford occupied by Joan Bird, widow, called “The Chapell,” and afterwards of “the goods belonging to the chappell.” He refers too to the “rent of the stalls in Buntingford market” as being of value. His eldest son, John, possibly by reason of the fact that he owed his father £600, was not left the Corneybury estate, which descended to Thomas, John being compensated in a measure with the Alswick Hall estate. The Hall of Alswick is still standing, divided into cottages, and contains some remains of departed greatness in the shape of Tudor fireplaces, panelling, paintings of classical subjects let into the overmantels, carved woodwork, etc., and probably at some not far distant date we may pay it a visit.

In the chancel of Layston Church is to be seen the monument to John Crowch’s memory. It is in Latin, but Mr. Pollard has Englished it thus:—

“Whoever thou art whom piety has impelled to this temple, stay a little while, let this monument which you see delay you. Sacred to the memory of John Crowch, esquire, of Corneybury, formerly by no means a small ornament of London, afterwards of this county, who, after he had passed the eighty-sixth year of his age, paid the debt of nature in the month of February, in the year of our Lord 1605, abundant not less in good works than of days. He was born at Barwick in the parish of Standon, took to wife Joan, daughter and heiress of John Scot of London, by whom he had five sons, John, Thomas, Richard, Nicholas.William; also five daughters, Elizabeth, late widow of William Freeman of London, merchant; Jane, consort of Edward Barkham, sheriff, and at one time Lord Mayor of the city of London; Anna, wife of Edward Lord Montacute, Baron de Boughton; Joanna, wife of Ralph Freeman, brother of William, who, lately elected Lord Mayor of the same city of London, departed from life earlier than from office and resigned his soul before resigning his magistracy; Margaret, at the present time wife of Henry, Earl of Manchester, Keeper of the Privy Seal.
“Lady Margaret, Countess of the Earl of Manchester, Lady Anna Montacute, and Lady Jane Barkham, sole survivors of so numerous an offspring, out of reverence and love have erected this monument.”

The rest of the Crowch owners do not call for special mention. After Thomas we have John, and after John, Charles, who was succeeded by another Thomas, the last of the Crowchs. He sold it to Ralph Hawkins, a merchant of London, who was succeeded by his son John, and at his death Thomas, his brother, inherited it. He left it to his niece, Catherine Woolball, at whose decease it came to her daughter, Catherine, Lady Berney. She disposed of it to William Butt in 1790, and this gentleman, and his son and successor, who died in 1841, spent considerable sums on the house and gardens. (The estate still remains the property of a member of this family) There are old inhabitants who can remember the latter driving in state in the two handsome coaches which yet remain to testify to their former station. These interesting relics of bygone days are well worth examination—notwithstanding their age the springs are as perfect as ever, and for travelling they were probably far superior to the first-class carriages of the local railway.

Of the present house, the south-east front dates probably from the time of the first Mr. Butt, viz. about one hundred and twenty years ago. The entrance hall, paved with squares of black and white marble, the gallery, with rooms leading therefrom, together with the domestic offices on the north side, are the oldest portions of the structure. The portico is an erection of the Georgian era, but the marble figure of Juno with her peacock on the alcove above appears to have been inserted at an earlier period. In the con¬servatory are some Flemish glass medallions. That on the right seems to represent Paul let down in a basket from the walls of Damascus, the one in the centre, David playing before Saul, and that on the left perhaps the prophetess Anna and the infant Christ(1) From the resemblance of the glass to that in “Wyddial Church, it seems probable that it was imported at the same time.

The moat which once surrounded the house has almost entirely disappeared save for a short length on the south-east side of the lawn. The gardens are extensive, and of the old world order with their evergreens, box borders, and lichen-covered fruit-trees. They are bisected by the river Rib, now but a dry bed, but which in rainy seasons is a swirling torrent. An overgrown, disused road at the rear of the house communicates with the highway to Wyddial, and was doubtless used by the earlier owners when they attended Layston Church, or desired to visit the eastern side of the county. The view of the house and outbuildings from the ascent of this road is especially picturesque, giving the visitor a more accurate idea of the antiquity of the place than can be obtained from any other point.

An examination of the various buildings, stables, and coach¬house with its bell turret and lofty arched entrance, a similar passage through other buildings which comprised the old laundry, dairy, granary, bailiff’s house, etc., by which vehicles passed to the road before mentioned, must conclude our visit to this interesting house and grounds. Hearty thanks are due to Miss and Mr. Porter for their courtesy and kindness in permitting us to examine them. They have been in possession of the estate for many years, and take a keen interest in their home and its surroundings.

(1) This last contains a merchant’s mark, but whether this is that used by the Crowches or not I cannot say.

From an article in the 1906 Vol III Part II edition of the East Herts Archaeological Society Transactions by W.B. Gerish


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