Elizabethan Bingham and the Manorial Survey of 1586

Historical Context
Bingham in 1586
The Stapleton family and the Manorial Survey
Bingham Manorial Survey, 1586: List of Contents

Historical Context

Late Elizabethan England is often regarded as a ‘golden age’, one of predominant peace and prosperity. Certainly for the gentry and would-be gentry there was plenty of wealth to be had - whether from trade and plunder from the newly discovered colonies in America and elsewhere or from the recently released property of the monasteries dissolved at the Reformation. The latter resulted in aggressive squabbles for land by speculators, and lawyers grew fat on the resultant constant litigation. Many of the new gentry made displays of outward wealth through grand houses and opulent lifestyles, especially in the north Midlands where a crop of ‘prodigy’ mansions such as Wollaton and Hardwick Halls were built at this period.

However in the 1580s - less than 40 years since Henry VIII had declared the independence of the new Protestant Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church - there was the constant threat, or perceived threat, of attacks and plots by foreign powers to replace Elizabeth on the throne and to restore the country to Catholicism. Many gentry of Catholic sympathy were persecuted or fined, and the potential rival claimant to the throne - Mary Queen of Scots - was held under house arrest in the north Midlands by the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. The government’s fears were confirmed in part by the invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, both of which ended in failure.

For the ordinary people in the countryside, life was often hard. From the 1580s onwards the weather deteriorated, harvests failed (that of 1586 was particularly bad), leading to hunger and unemployment. These factors led to the passing of the great Poor Law Act of 1601 designed to control the growing problem of vagrancy and pauperism. In addition periodic outbreaks of the plague caused further suffering – Nottinghamshire suffered major visitations in c.1592 and 1605.

Bingham in 1586

Bingham in Elizabethan period was a small market town which acted as the capital of the villages within the Nottinghamshire portion of the Vale of Belvoir, an area known for producing an abundance of corn. Apart from its weekly market it was the centre for the Hundred of Bingham, one of the administrative subdivisions of the county, and of the Bingham Deanery. The size of its population is not known but was possibly around 400, equal to the largest villages in the area such as Cotgrave and Radcliffe. It almost certainly contained several tradesmen and craftsmen who served the local hinterland, but it was essentially a large agricultural village with a market probably dealing mainly in butter, cheese and garden produce rather than corn or livestock, which are likely to have been traded in more important markets such as Nottingham, Newark and Grantham. The Manor of Bingham coincided with the whole parish, and the Manorial Survey of 1586 sheds considerable light on its topographical layout, fields and farming systems.

The Stapleton family and the Manorial Survey

The Survey was compiled for the lord of the manor, Brian Stapleton, esquire, by Robert Johnson of London, gent., a professional surveyor, and then written up (in Latin) into a large parchment book of 102 pages which is now preserved in Nottinghamshire Archives (DD.TS 14/23). It is dated 23rd August 1586 although it must have taken weeks to survey by a team of assistants aided by nineteen named principal inhabitants of Bingham. Whether a map was produced to accompany the written information we do not know, but if so it has been lost. The object of the survey was to produce a valuation of the annual rents of the whole lordship of Bingham (which was assessed at £ 140 a year) by surveying all the farms, cottages and other property holdings. Some 85% of the parish belonged to Brian Stapleton, the rest being owned by one major and several smaller freeholders. Although the latter are mentioned as they owed some dues and services to the lord, their land holdings were unfortunately not measured in detail. Many holdings in the open fields were freehold.

Brian Stapleton’s family had acquired Bingham by marriage in the mid 1400s but their main seat was at Carlton near Selby in Yorkshire, although some of the family had lived on their other Nottinghamshire estate at Burton Joyce and were buried in the church there. As a consequence the old medieval manor house on the north side of Bingham market place had been abandoned and allowed to decay. It was probably built of timber and thatch and the Survey describes it as ‘the site of the manor … which is now in decay and ruinous … and wasted in all structures except two barns and a dovecote’. Bingham at this time was leased to a relative of the Stapletons, Thomas Leake of Hasland near Chesterfield in Derbyshire, and the estate was presumably run by the manorial bailiff or agent William Stapleton, gent., himself probably a younger son of the lord’s family; he lived in a farm at the north west end of Husband Street (Long Acre).

Brian Stapleton’s attempt to keep up with his wealthy neighbours inevitably overstrained his financial resources, and by the 1580s his extravagant lifestyle and ambitious building works at Carlton had resulted in he and his son taking out no less than fourteen ‘statutes staple’ or bonds for loans, several from neighbouring Nottinghamshire gentry casting an acquisitive eye on his local estates. Two persons were especially interested in Bingham – Sir Thomas Stanhope, whose main seat was at Shelford close to both Burton Joyce and Bingham, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, the estranged husband of ‘Bess of Hardwick’ and one of the most wealthy and powerful magnates in England. Although his principal seat was at Sheffield he owned several stately homes in north Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and was always looking to extend his influence in the Vale of Belvoir near to the seat of his rival the Earl of Rutland.

In 1587 Brian Stapleton’s son Richard was married to Elizabeth Pierrepont of Holme Pierrepont, a grand-daughter of Bess of Hardwick and a niece of the future 7th Countess of Shrewsbury, thus establishing a close link with the Talbot family; part of her marriage provision from the Stapletons was the annual rent of £140 from the manor of Bingham. However family debts forced her subsequently to give this up and the 6th Earl was apparently about to purchase the manor in 1590 when Sir Thomas Stanhope took the opportunity to seize it by calling in a debt of £3000. The Earl was furious and although he died very shortly afterwards Stanhope incurred the wrath of his son Gilbert, the 7th Earl. The pair became locked in a bitter feud in the early 1590s which involved stage-managed riots and other depredations in the Shelford and Bingham areas. The inhabitants of Bingham - who suddenly became tenants of the Stanhopes at a stroke - may well have been under pressure to participate in these activities by their new landlord. It may be in this connection that in 1593 the Kirk family, husbandmen from the neighbouring parish of East Bridgford, sold their freehold property in Bingham – houses, closes and some arable strips – to the 7th Earl, although it may be significant that they had previously exchanged other property with Stanhope, thus backing both sides (NA, DD p 3/1-2; DD P 6/1/1/55).

It thus seems most likely that the Bingham Survey of 1586 was drawn up to value the manor preparatory to the Stapleton marriage settlement, although it could also have been at the insistence of one or more of the many debtors for whom it served as collateral for their loans. It would however obviously also have been useful to Sir Thomas Stanhope when he acquired the manor in 1590.

As a result of Sir Thomas Stanhope’s aggressive opportunism Bingham passed down through his family – later raised to the status of Earls of Chesterfield – for over 300 years until sold by them in the 1920s. Had it passed to the Talbots its history might have been quite different.

Bingham Manorial Survey, 1586: List of Contents

(thematically reorganised by Notts Archives)

Click here for detailed data

Part 1: Land holdings listed by tenants

Introductory Page

The surveyor took evidence on (presumably) who held what etc from 19 inhabitants whom he listed Introductory Page

On the title page, the surveyor took evidence on (presumably) who held what etc from 19 inhabitants whom he listed in groups of three below the fist name, who we presume acted as a sort of group leader or chairman. Each entry had ‘jur’ after the name, meaning sworn juror:

Richard Maplethorp (farmer, 55 acres)

John Ludlam
Geoffrey Jennyngs
Thomas Spybye jun

Edmund Bludworth
Thomas Derye
Robert Simpson

Stephen Park
Brian Wheatley
Thomas Skinner

Robert Selbye

John Wright
J White*

Brian Goodwyn
John Allane
W Beane (a cottager with 33 holdings in the open fields)

Thomas Barton (a cottager with no holdings in the open fields)
John Stowte (a cottager with no holdings in the open fields)
W Allane*

Those marked * do not appear in the lists of tenants or cottagers; their surnames appear so these two may have been retired and with valuable local knowledge. 13 were substantial farmers but three were cottagers, which suggests that the panel was not just the great and the good!

Page no.
69 – 73
The Lord of the Manor: Demesne land normally farmed directly by the lord of the manor, but in this case let to Thomas Leake, gent.
Detailed descriptions of location of manor house & names or locations of enclosures, (including bycloses’ – small encroachments on ‘waste’ highways, etc.) together with quantities of holdings of arable, meadow & pasture in each of the four open fields, etc.
6 - 8 Freeholders: holdings of 20 (13 plus an additional 7) named private owners who owed some nominal dues to the lord of the manor.
Description of quantities of messuages & land but no locations.
9 - 28 Tenant Farmers: holdings of 19 named tenants of the lord of the manor.
4 - 80 Tenant Farmers: holdings of 6 additional named tenants.
Detailed descriptions of location of their messuages and any enclosures, together with quantities of their holdings of arable, meadow & pasture in each of the four open fields, etc.
29 Summary of quantities of above holdings, including beast ‘gates’ for beasts, oxen & sheep
30 - 39 Tenant Cottagers: holdings of 27 named tenants.
Detailed descriptions of the location of their cottages, together with summary totals of holdings of arable meadow & pasture in each of the four open Fields, etc<
40 – 42 Summary of all above holdings, rents and other manorial income

Part 2 : Land holdings listed by location, ie., by field, furlong and strip

44 Terrier or Field Book of the holdings, etc. within the four named open ‘Fields’, each of which was subdivided into ‘Furlongs’. The holdings are listed furlong by furlong but identified by a number rather than by name. The introduction to this list is in English and reads:

‘Hereafter followeth the Terrar or Feild Book of the com[m]on feildes digested under sixe severall Tytles and Cullompnes; Whereof the First sheweth the number of the Furlong, The Second the names of such tenaunts as have land in that Furlong; The Third sheweth how many Lands or Ridges ech tennament hath; The Foweth Fifte and Sixte do shew the severall natures of the groundes - as howe muche of Meadow, how much of Pasture and so of Arrable. In the Table of Furlongs you shall fynde what name ech furlong hath according to the number in the First Collumpne’

45 – 66 South Field: furlongs nos. 1-33.
67 – 68 East or Sternhill Field: furlong no. 1
81 – 104 East or Sternhill Field: furlong nos. 1-34
104 – 126 West or Brackendale Field: furlong nos. 1-17
127 – 148 North or Chapel Field: furlongs nos. 1-33
157 – 160 Key to names of furlongs described by numbers in the Terrier above

Part 3: Meadow and pasture holdings listed by location

149 – 157 Meadows (various): holdings of 11 named tenants
161 Flathollm Leaz: holdings of tenants. ‘Leys’ were usually arable strips which had been temporarily enclosed for pasture, etc.

Part 4: Land holdings in Newton

43 – 44 Holdings of Bingham tenants in the named open fields and meadows of Newton

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