WOODWICK – A Knight’s Fee Manor
by Adrienne Jacques
Woodoaks farm, Maple Cross,1952
Woodoaks Farm, now in the Parish of West Hyde in Hertfordshire was formerly called Woodwick or Woodwicks and lay within the Ancient Parish and Manor of Rickmansworth. In the twelfth century it became a Knights Fee of the Abbey of St Albans subsequently becoming the Manor of Woodwick. This article is a brief history of the Knights Fee and Manor of Woodwicks and the families who have been connected to the property from the twelfth century to the end of the nineteenth century.
The freehold tenement or farm known as Woodwick probably came into existence in late Saxon times when the trackway, now known as the Uxbridge Road, was improved, making a more direct route to the Abbey of St Albans, superseding the much older Shire Lane. The name Woodwick means the ‘dairy farm near the wood’ which would indicate that at that time much of the locality was still woodland. Along with all the other properties in the immediate area Woodwick’s came under the jurisdiction of the Abbey of St Albans which had been granted these terriorities by the Mercian Kings, Offa and Ecgfrith in 793 and 796.
When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 all the land became subject to the king and he distributed the estates to his Norman nobles. Ecclesiastical establishments usually regained their former lands and King William graciously re-instated the Abbey of St Albans' claim to its former properties and the Abbot was granted the status of an ecclesiastical Baron. Under Saxon rule it was recognized that ecclesiastical establishments, such as abbeys were not asked to provide fighting men for the feudal levy, the fighting force which was raised for the defence of the kingdom. Their contribution was the continual raising of prayers to God that their army might be victorious.
However at the Christmas feast in 1070 King William instigated a regime which decreed that ecclesiastical barons should be required to contribute to the feudal army as and when required. The Abbot of St Albans Abbey, it was decreed, should be liable for six knights
and their retinues, a light burden in comparison with other abbeys of comparable size because the abbot of the time, Frederic (1066-1076), was a Saxon nobleman whose allegiance to the king was thought, and indeed proved, to be suspect. Originally these six knights were billeted within the precincts of the abbey but a retinue of fighting men, however small was not compatible with the monastic life. So during the late eleventh & early twelfth centuries the knights were granted life tenancies of lands within the abbot’s estate, on which they could live when not required for knightly duties or whose rents were provided for their upkeep. These lands soon became known as Knight’s Fees, although the knights were originally called military tenants.
Five arable hides (together with rights in woodland and pasture) was the recognized acreage to support the dignity of a knight. However individual estates of that size were rare on the lands of the Abbey of St Albans so knights could be granted lordship or dues over several freeholdings. Only lands held by free tenants could be used to support the knights as only freeholders could bear arms in
defence of the realm. In the administrative area known as the Manor of Rickmansworth over half the arable lands with their relevant pastures and woodland went to support the knights. The five hides of the demesne lands at Croxley, which had formerly been used to supply produce to the abbey, and a substantial property at Batchworth were the main contributors. However, in the area which is now West Hyde, the smaller properties of Woodwick, Langley now called Lynsters, and Pinchfield or Pinesfield all with about one hide of arable land each, were also recruited to become Knight’s Fees. Woodwick was joined with Langley and other properties outside the parish to support a knight called Richard de Fonte, Woodwick being liable for one seventh of his Knight’s Fee.
The early knights who held the military tenancies were not necessarily replaced when they fell in action or became too old for active service. By the 1120s some knights fees were being granted on an hereditary basis to favoured people such as Nigel d’Albini, brother of the current Abbot of St Albans who was granted the Croxley Knight’s Fee. Alternatively the holders of the relevant freeholdings could
combine to pay the knight service for the fee and this is usually what happened in the fee to which Woodwick belonged. When the King summoned the feudal army these tenants would pay their military dues of six marks per fee to the abbot who would either hire mounted soldiers on their behalf or pay a fine to the king for evading his feudal responsibility. They would also have to pay a further charge called scutage, at 40 shillings for each knight’s fee, when the campaign was over. The whole enterprise was quite expensive but these payments were infrequent and in lieu of the normal dues payable to the Abbey of St Albans.
In 1166, King Henry II, requested a listing of all his knights and the lands to which they were entitled. This was the first time the freeholder of Woodwick was named. He was William de Woodwick or William de Pinefeld showing that he was probably born at Pinefeld but was now taking his name from his current property. By the end of Henry II’s reign (1189) the freeholder of Woodwicks and
other military tenants were recognized as hereditary sub-tenants of the Abbot of St Albans with rights over their properties including independence of the Manor of Rickmansworth.
Over the next hundred years the role of knights changed from being a simple mounted soldier to that of an elite body of fighting men whose purpose was to lead others into battle. This meant it became more effective for the king to pay seasoned knights and troops than rely on the ad hoc arrangements of the feudal levy. The feudal army was last called out in 1327 and by then the growing
expense of achieving knighthood and a subsequent reduction in the number of knights led to a change in the role of military tenants.
As Knight’s Fees became less relevant their occupiers became more important in the local community. They were used by their fellow freeholders to attest charters, by the sheriff to lead inquiries and by the King to carry out commissions. At the same time, their prime allegiance was to their immediate Lord, in the case of Woodwicks the Abbot of St Albans. However, in 1290 Edward I issued the Statute of Quia Emptores which led to the transformation of any part of a Knight’s fee, however small, into an independent manor held directly from the King.
Knight’s Fee owners in this area, including Woodwicks, were now not only independent of the Manor of Rickmansworth but also of the Abbot of St Albans. The Abbot was appalled by his loss of territory as it was never envisaged that the properties would go out of the abbey’s control. Also, if the abbot wished to regain his former property he would need a royal licence which could only be obtained if
the owning family died out as there was nothing of a similar or greater value that he could offer in compensation. Luckily many of the fees fell into the abbot’s hands either through lack of heirs or the fragmentation of a fee through female heirs. Pinesfield and most of the former demesne lands of Croxley had been recovered by the Abbot of St Albans by the end of the thirteenth century and others followed in due course. They retained their separate manorial status with the Abbot providing the required military service while the feudal levy was in operation.
At Woodwick, however, the family of Woodwick survived. The William de Woodwick of 1166 was followed by Richard, whose son was also named Richard. This Richard did personal service for his Knight’s Fee in the Welsh campaign of 1257, not because he could not afford to pay his dues but because he fancied seeing a bit of the world. He was followed by a John de Wodewick then there was another Richard followed by two Williams. It was probably not a continuous father-son succession but there were enough Woodwicks around to last until the mid-fifteenth century when William de Woodwyke died leaving no immediate heirs.
It is unclear what happened to the Manor of Woodwick at that stage. It would seem as though it came back into the Abbot of St Albans’ hands but there seems to be no official record. The Abbot would have treated the property as an ordinary freehold letting it out on long term leases of between 20 and 40 years. One of these lessees around the 1490s was William White, a Rickmansworth clothier. His son Thomas was, some history books say, born at Woodwicks but other authorities say the event was after the family moved to Reading. They moved because the cloth trade in Rickmansworth was facing difficult times. Thomas joined the Merchant Taylors’ Company and became Lord Mayor of London in 1553. He greeted Mary Tudor on her entry into London after her successful fight for the Crown of England, handing her the Mace of the City, which she promptly returned to him. Thomas was also an early benefactor of Merchant Taylors’ School when it was in the City of London and the founder of St John’s College, Oxford.
In the 1520s the Manor of Woodwick was leased to John and Margaret Longe of Aldenham and their lease was for the term of their lives and they could use the property as though it was freehold. It may be that Margaret formerly had the lease with her first husband with whom she had a daughter called Elizabeth, as John Longe seems to have no other connection with Rickmansworth. John, by his first
marriage was the father of four boys and already had a country house in Aldenham, called Delrow. This had easy access to the City of London where John had a thriving business as a salter and was a member of the Salters’ Company. is great ambition was to be an Alderman of the City of London but the first time he was elected in 1524 he was soon discharged for not being worth £1,000.
Soon after this, he married Margaret and subsequently spent several years as Alderman for the ward of Farringdon Without including a year as Sheriff. John died in the summer of 1538 and was buried at Aldenham where his widow built a tomb for him. There is no mention of Woodwicks in his will but he did leave his step-daughter Elizabeth equal portions with his own children
John’s eldest son disputed the terms of the will but Margaret Longe justified her life tenancy of Woodwicks and also maintained her rights as John’s widow to Delrow. The 1530s were, of course, the era of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Abbot of St Albans signed the decree of dissolution for his abbey in December 1539. All its properties were taken over by the Court of Augmentations
but Margaret Longe would appear to have previously come to an arrangement with the abbey whereby she purchased the freehold of Woodwicks outright leaving her able to pass the property on to her heirs.
Margaret Longe did not necessarily look to marry again, as her daughter and step children were now grown up and married but in 1540 a widower called William Roche was next in line to be Lord Mayor of London and needed a wife to help with the amount of entertaining expected of him and his household. In Tudor times there was no separate Mansion House so the Mayor’s own house or mansion was used for official events. William was duly elected and Margaret became Lady Margaret Roche. Sir William was Master of the Drapers’ Company six times, served as an Alderman and represented the City of London in Parliament. In 1545 Alderman Roche was sent to the Fleet prison for objecting to the legality of a Benvolence, in reality a forced gift, ordered by Henry VIII, but he managed to buy himself out within a few months. Sir William died four years later and as was the custom in the City of London his will bequeathed one third of his estate to his wife, another third to his eldest son and one third for charitable purposes, including 40s for the poor of Rickmansworth.
After his death Lady Margaret returned to live at Delrow in Aldenham. Twelve years before, her daughter Elizabeth had married Robert Colte, and they also lived in Aldenham on a small estate called Hilfield. When Lady Margaret died in 1559 she was buried at Aldenham in the tomb of her former husband, John Longe. In her will she left £20 a year from a recently purchased estate in Kent to her grandson, Roger Colte, and items of silverware and bedding to be delivered to her four granddaughters when they married. The remainder of her substantial property in Hertfordshire, Middlesex and London she bequeathed to her daughter Elizabeth, the sole executrix of her will.
Elizabeth and Robert’s only son, Roger Colte, attended St John’s College, Cambridge in his teens and soon after his grandmother’s death he was given the Manor of Woodwick to manage on his mother’s behalf. Roger was also sent to Lincoln’s Inn to get himself a smattering of law eventually becoming a Fellow of Lincoln’s Inn and subsequently using his knowledge as a Justice of the Peace. In January 1571 Roger married the wealthy Mary Beresford and since his mother had died the previous year, he was granted full ownership of the Manor of Woodwick by his father. Roger promptly settled the estate on his wife and the young couple divided their time between London and Rickmansworth. A year later a daughter, Ursula was born to them and three years afterwards a son John joined the family. Then on 1 December 1575 Roger Colte died aged about 28, after just five years of marriage. The cause of death is unknown but he obviously knew he was going to die as he composed his own epitaph, in verse, listing his achievements and telling of his sadness at dying at such a young age. He was buried inside the parish church of Rickmansworth in the south-east corner and his inscribed epitaph was placed nearby.
One of the reasons for his sadness was that he was leaving his wife and children in a difficult situation. As the Manor of Woodwick was part of a former Knight’s Fee his properties were investigated in an Inquisition Post Mortem to see if there were any dues payable to the Monarch. Also as his son John was under the age of 21 he was technically unable to hold a knight’s fee as he was too young to fight. The fact that this ruling was last applied in 1327 made no difference two centuries later. He therefore became a Ward of the Crown and
came under the jurisdiction of the Court of Wards. In Elizabethan times wardships could be sold with the profits going to the Treasury. It is likely though that John Colte’s wardship was bought by his mother or a near relation because the Manor of Woodwick had been settled on Mary as part of her marriage settlement. This meant though, that she was a good prospect for any new husband as he would take the profits of the Woodwicks estate. A year later Mary duly married John Norris of Hampshire and he enjoyed the proceeds of the Manor of Woodwicks until her son John was 21 years old.
Seventeen years later when the young John Colte took possession of Woodwicks he was already married and the father of two children. A contemporary document describes John as being tall and of good parts and he was approached to become a Captain in the one of the Trained Bands which were set up in Tudor times as a local fighting force. He wrote to Lord Burghley declining the honour, saying how unsuitable he was, being only 21 years of age, with little experience of life. He added that he could not yet afford to live in his own house but that when his finances were in better shape he would willingly join them. Any money he did have had gone to pay for his marriage to Frances Woodcock, the youngest and twenty fourth child of Ralph Woodcock an Alderman of London. Frances knew
John’s family quite well as one of her older sisters was married to John’s uncle Rowland Beresford who lived nearby at Linsters Farm. Also John’s great aunt was stepmother and guardian to Frances as she was the widow of Ralph Woodcock, having been his fourth wife.
The Manor of Woodwick was settled on Frances as part of the marriage settlement and they soon had a growing family of three boys, John, Rowland and Thomas and four girls, two called Mary, (one died) Ursula and Elizabeth. Having paid the debts and legacies mentioned in his father’s will, John had very little money so he and Frances let Woodwicks Farm for around a £120 per annum, hoping that they could live there in later life. This, however was not to be, as John Colte, esquire, died suddenly on 26 April 1610 without having had time to write a will. Again the cause of death is unknown but John was only in his mid-thirties and had been married to Frances for about sixteen years.
He was buried within Rickmansworth Church, alongside his father, and Frances, ‘his most loving wife’, who erected a monument surrounding an inscription giving details of his life. The writing was on a black marble tablet set in white marble with a kneeling man in armour on the left representing John and a lady representing Frances, on the right. Since John was in armour it would indicate that he did join the Trained Bands or Militia at some point. Carved in relief were their children, five in a kneeling position and the two that died young, in cradles. The frame was surmounted with a skull and crossbones and there was an hourglass above that. In the centre above the inscription were the Colte arms in stone and the highlights of the costumes were in gilt. Most of this monument was destroyed when the church was demolished in the 1820s but the black marble tablet with the arms above is still in St Mary’s, hidden behind the organ. It is unclear when the Coltes adopted the coat of arms but it was probably in Roger Colte’s time. He apparently purloined the arms of the Colt family of Essex, although they do not appear to be related. As far as can be ascertained it was not officially granted by the College of Arms at that time but was approved later.
After John’s death the family had to endure another Inquistion Post Mortem and once again the heir to Woodwicks became a Ward of
the Crown. The eldest son, John, was around 13 when his father died but Frances appeared to have more control over the wardship issue than the previous generation. Under James 1 the ruling on the re-marriage of widows had been relaxed so as Woodwicks was part of her marriage settlement Frances was able to take control of her son’s inheritance until he was of full age.
In 1615 John Colte followed his grandfather’s example and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn. It was probably there that he met Anna, daughter of the eminent international lawyer Alberico Gentili, and his French wife Hester. John and Anna soon married and with the help of her legal connections his career flourished. Anna brought her widowed mother to live with them at Woodwicks where she helped to bring up her eight or so grandchildren.
Around 1630, John Colte, along with all other gentlemen possessing £40 worth of freehold land, was issued with a Distraint of Knighthood from Charles I as part of his drive to raise money. The King’s hope was that gentlemen would pay not to become a knight but Mr Colte took up the challenge and became Sir John at Whitehall on 4 March 1633.
Nine years later, in 1642, the English Civil War began and Sir John Colte was faced with a dilemma. He was a loyal subject of King Charles but the increase of formalized ritual in the church alarmed him particularly as his wife’s parents had been expelled from their native countries for acts against the catholic church. This and many other government issues led Sir John to give his support to the
Parliamentary cause. Hertfordshire soon came under parliamentary control and the gentry were assessed for the contribution they could make towards the fighting fund. Sir John Colte lent £155 but otherwise he and most of his family kept a low profile. It seems possible that Sir John lost whatever position he had in London so the family was reduced to living on the income from their estate and
perhaps for the first time they personally managed the property instead of having a steward. It was a very difficult time for families especially when one or more of the sons decided to act in opposition to their father.
Sir John Colte’s eldest son also named John had been studying at Lincoln’s Inn after a spell at Magdalen College, Oxford, when the Civil War broke out. Whether he decided to serve the King immediately or not by the time of the second part of the Civil War in 1648 he was the captain of a troop of horses in the King’s Army. Earlier the same year John and his wife Ann had their daughter Gentilis
christened at Iver in Buckinghamshire, which was probably as near to the family home as he dared come. Another family event in 1648 was the marriage of his sister Philadelphia Colte, who would appear to have been baptized as Hester, but may have changed her name to suit her Puritan beliefs. Sadly both Sir John Colte and his mother-in-law Hester Gentilis died the same year and it would seem that
Sir John died without being reconciled to his son as two of his daughters Anna and Mary Colte became the administrators of his goods and chattels.
After Sir John Colte’s death his eldest son John would normally have inherited the Manor of Woodwicks. However if he did the estate would be sequestered or confiscated by the Parliamentary authorities and handed to a suitable recepient. It seems that an arrangement was made so that Sir John Colte’s widow, who was known as Dame Anna, shared the ownership of Woodwicks with her son John until the hostilities were resolved. All legal documents relating to the property were issued jointly by Dame Anna and her son John, and although John Colte was not too happy about having his mother as the co-owner of Woodwicks the arrangement lasted until her death. ( If you wonder why she was called Dame, this was the legal title of the wife of a knight or baronet at this period in English history).
In 1660 England became a Monarchy again and as part of the re-arrangement of Charles II’s finances it was agreed that feudal tenures, including Knight’s Fees, should be abolished. So no more Inquisitions Post Mortem, no more under age wards of the monarch and definitely no more Distraint of Knighthood. However, former knights fees were allowed to keep their manorial status so the Manor of
Woodwick remained as a legal entity although it served no practical purpose.
A few years later Gentilis, John Colte’s daughter came of age and was probably presented at Court where she met Benjamin Tichborne who was in the retinue of Charles II. Benjamin had probably gained his position because of his family’s loyalty to the royalist cause especially the gifts of money during the Interregnum. The King obviously thought well of him and on 20 January 1668 Benjamin received the accolade of knighthood and two weeks later he and Gentilis were married.
The following year their first child was born and baptized with the Christian name of Colte. A problem arose as to how and where they were to live as court lodgings were not suitable for a family. An arrangement was reached whereby Sir Benjamin and Dame Gentilis would put £1,000 into Woodwicks on condition that John Colte had the use of it for his lifetime. (Basically, Benjamin bought a half share of the farm.) The young couple would receive £60 per annum from Woodwicks on condition that they did not live with John Colte and would only enter the property after his death. Documents were drawn up but the arrangement lasted only a few months as John Colte died in the summer of 1670 only five years after his mother.
Once settled at Woodwicks, more children followed in quick succession, Gentilis in 1672, Susanna a year later and Ann in 1674, all baptized in Rickmansworth Parish Church. Frances a fourth girl, was probably baptized in London and a second son Benjamin died at eighteen months. It would appear that Dame Gentilis and the family lived at Woodwicks, with Sir Benjamin dividing his time between London and Rickmansworth. The Tichbornes were relatively poor for their position in society having only the farm and Sir Benjamin’s salary to live on. While he was at court Sir Benjamin was expected to dress in the latest fashion and to be open handed in his day to day dealings which could mean an expensive outlay. His mother’s will indicated that she had already given Sir Benjamin many gifts
of money and leases of copyhold properties so that he could maintain an affluent lifestyle at court.
No wonder Sir Benjamin enjoyed the different pace of life at Rickmansworth. He took his place in the local community by becoming a churchwarden at the Parish Church, alongside John Fotherley of the Bury, notably in 1677 when the church was beautified. He also worked alongside John Fotherley as a Justice of the Peace and it was in this role that he had dealings with the prominent Quaker, Thomas Ellwood, who described Sir Benjamin as having a ‘smooth soft and oily manner’. Sir Benjamin was also on the list of subscribers for the Rickmansworth Charity School, formed in 1711, contributing £2 a quarter.
Sir Benjamin was appointed a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to King William and Queen Mary around 1689. This involved him in waiting on the king and conveying his commands to public officials such as Ministers of the Crown. He would also have been in attendance on Royal progresses and all the public ceremonies such as the coronation, investitures and visits by important personages. Sir Benjamin is also recorded as being one of the Ten Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber who carried the canopy over Queen Anne’s coffin in August 1714. The funeral was probably Sir Benjamin’s last courtly duty as he was now 68 years old. Lady Gentilis and Sir Benjamin Tichborne died within 2 weeks of each other in February 1721, most probably at Woodwicks and they were buried in a Tomb in the south east corner of Rickmansworth Church. Neither of them left a will but they had obviously arranged with their son and heir, Colte, for the maintainance of their four daughters. None of the Tichborne daughters married probably because they would only have had small dowries and their parents would not have wanted them to marry beneath their status.
Colte Tichborne had the credentials to marry, after all he would inherit the farm, but he showed no inclination to do so. After a stint at Christchurch, Oxford he seems to have returned to Rickmansworth and taken over the management of the Woodwicks estate. Like his mother and great grandmother he probably took a hands on approach to the farm. The family friendship with the Fotherleys meant
he was chosen to be a pallbearer at Mrs Dorothy Fotherley’s funeral in 1709. Forty years later Colte Tichborne died at the age of 78 with three of his sisters having predeceased him. He left an irregular will stating that he had ‘formed a Scheme for the settling of his Worldy Affairs’ but his youngest sister Frances was still alive so he was unable to distribute his estate in the way he would have wished. So he asked Frances to remember his wishes in her own will. He did leave £100 each to three close friends, whom he asked to be trustees to Frances thinking that she would not long survive him.
However Frances lived for another eleven years, dying in 1760 when she was around 85 years old – a great age for a lady of those times. She was born in the reign of Charles II and died in the same year as George II having lived through six reigns. Frances relied heavily on her trustees but she also had long serving servants on whom she became increasingly reliant as her age and infirmities
increased. Her personal maid would appear to have been Rachel Sedgwick, whose relatives John and William Sedgwick ran the farm on behalf of Frances. Woodwicks was to be sold after her death and Frances obviously had it valued as her bequests match the value of the estate. Her main bequests were mainly to cousins as she dutifully fufilled her brother’s wishes combined with remembrances to her own servants and friends. The Charity School at Rickmansworth received £100 and £20 went to the poor of the Parish of Rickmansworth. Rachel Sedgwick was bequeathed a small house called Maple Cross, some old family silver and all of Frances’ clothes. In the six codicils to her will Frances left more and more of the contents of the Woodwicks farmhouse to her maid Rachel, as dependance on her increased.
The disposal of the estate was entrusted to Mr James Patten, an apothecary of Rickmansworth, a personal friend of Francis Tichborne. This was the first time the Manor of Woodwick had ever been sold on the open market and Mr Patten commissioned James Backer to create a map of the estate* extolling its virtues. It shows a single access road leading from the Uxbridge Road to the farm. The farm buildings form a hollow square and on the northwest was another smaller hollow square which was probably used by the Coltes and Tichbornes as their private quarters. The household servants and the single farm labourers shared the property with the family and horses were also stabled there. The buildings were surrounded by the farmyard, two orchards and a garden and they were set among the fields of the estate. All the arable farmland, around 300 acres and the 50 acres of woodland were to the north of the Uxbridge Road, but the 36 acres of meadow was down by the River Colne, south of the roadway and beyond Maple Cross Farm. Perhaps in previous times, meadowland was open to all and was only divided up later on.
Mr Patten appointed John Sedgwick as caretaker farmer while negotiations for a sale were underway. John was more than capable having been hired by Colte Tichborne to help run the farm more than twenty years before. He was certainly able to read and write as he signed an affadavit to Colte Tichborne’s will. Around 1750 John had married Alice and ten years later they had four children, William,
Elizabeth, John and Sarah.
In 1761 Woodwicks was purchased for £4,705 by 60 year old Samuel Leightonhouse, a wealthy Londoner who had moved to Rickmansworth a few years earlier because of the ill-health of his wife Ann. Samuel had purchased several Rickmansworth properties including Money Hill House where he and his wife lived with their daughter Mary and their son Samuel, junior. Mr Leightonhouse bought Woodwicks as an investment and had no interest in farming the property so he was happy for the Sedgwicks to stay and granted them a 21 year lease.
It must have been very satisfying if a little daunting for John and Alice to farm Woodwicks for themselves but in reality they had been running the farm for several years. It is likely that Mr Leightonhouse or his son built a new farmhouse for the Sedgwicks soon after the property was purchased. This was probably when the barn was truncated and along with other farm buildings moved to new positions.
Around this time, Mr Leightonhouse also purchased the 40 acre smallholding of Pullingspit, across the Uxbridge Road from Woodwicks, and this was also leased to the Sedgwicks. This gave them pasture land closer to Woodwicks farmhouse than the farm’s own meadows.
After his parents’ deaths their elder son William Sedgwick inherited and renewed the lease for another 21 years. This William was the same age as the younger Samuel Leightonhouse and as children they were encouraged to become friends. They may even have shared Samuel’s tutor as William received a remarkable education for the son of a husbandman. It may be that William or his parents envisaged a career away from farming but by the age of 19 he was married to Mary Saunders of St Albans and eight years later he also had six children to support. Mary sadly died in 1781 and a year later William married Hannah Crosier the 18 year old daughter of an Ickenham yeoman farmer with whom he eventually had another six children.
Samuel Leightonhouse senior had died in 1768 and his son eventually returned to London leaving William Sedgwick as his contact for local business affairs. William dealt with the occasional leases of Leightonhouse property and was responsible for the woodland owned by Samuel Leightonhouse thereby becoming skilled as an appraiser and surveyor of timber. The role of local woodlands was changing due to the building of the Grand Junction Canal coming through Rickmansworth. This halved the cost of coal for domestic use and provided a surplus of timber which could be sold in London having been transported there by the same canal. There was only 50 acres of woodland on the Woodwick estate but William's skill was used throughout a much wider area.
The main woodland on the farm, now known by the name of Bottom Wood, was not originally part of the Woodwick property. In the Tichborne’s time they were Customary Tenants of the Manor of Rickmansworth for 52 acres called Porter Dean, 20 acres called Woodman’s Field and 2 parcels of land at Drayton Ford. Customary Tenants meant that the property was held by the custom of the manor and could be passed onto heirs. The Porters Dean acreage adjoined Woodwicks on the northern side and was described on the 1760 estate map as Porters Dean Bottom, Oaken Grove and Horn Field Wood and surrounded two fields. It would seem that Samuel
Leightonhouse purchased the land from the Manor of Rickmansworth and William Sedgwick who laid the groundwork for the woodland that is there today.
William encouraged his children to seek careers away from the farm and his eldest son John was apprenticed and later became a partner in a Kings Langley firm of Auctioneers. When this folded John and William set up an auctioneering and timber business running the operation from the farm at Woodwicks. The business prospered and William’s status increased still further. It was about this time
that William became a churchwarden of St Mary’s, Rickmansworth alongside his son-in-law Thomas Howard, and is recorded as such in 1803 the year the church was repaired and beautified.
William Sedgwick died on 1 December 1816, aged 62, and was described in the ‘County Chronicle’ as a man of the strictest integrity. In his will, where he proudly states his profession as Auctioneer, he bequeathed £500 to his widow Hannah plus an annuity of £15. His two unmarried daughters also received £500, the two married ones having received their share when they married. £500 was a substantial sum at the time, almost equal to a year’s rent on the combined Woodwicks and Pullingspit farms. The farm implements and the remainder of the farm leases were bequeathed to his two surviving sons, one fourth to John who no doubt had received his patrimony for the auctioneering business, and three fourths to James who never married but who became the mainstay of Woodwicks
John Sedgwick, William’s heir, had waited until he was over 30 to marry. His bride was Elizabeth Fellows of Eynesford, Kent but they married at St George’s Hanover Square in 1809. They probably set up home at Pullingspit Farm and over the years nine children were born to them, five boys and four girls. John continued to develop the auctioneering business but he also kept his land and surveying interests and became a landed estate agent. Notable sales were of Langley House, his father-in law’s Corn and Paper Mills in Kent and our own Maple Cross Farm. After his eldest son joined him in 1833, they were auctioneers for Herrings Gate Farm in 1839 and 1846, the latter time to Feargus O’Connor for the Chartist Land Company. They also sold the furniture of the Bury for G A Muskett and other properties in St Albans, Chesham and Osterley, and these were only the properties that made it into The Times newspaper.
In the 1830’s the question of the commutation of tithes arose and parish maps had to be compiled showing the acreage of each field and property and also listing its owner and tenant. The Rickmansworth map was surveyed by John Sedgwick and his eldest son William Fellows Sedgwick. They and other Sedgwicks were also involved as numerators in the 1841 Census where a young John Sedgwick, (second 0son of John and Elizabeth) gives his profession as Solicitor. He went on to found the Watford firm of solicitors which as Sedgwick Kelly is still there today. John Sedgwick, Senior, died in February 1843 and his will, after providing for his wife, left his personal estate to be divided between six of his seven surviving children with an extra £100 each to his four sons. The one
he left out was his eldest son William Fellows Sedgwick, who was heir to the fortune of his uncle William Henry Fellows. John’s third son, Henry moved to Chipperfield where he carried on a successful career as a farmer and timber merchant, and his youngest son
became a wine merchant. Elizabeth, his widow moved to Chorleywood with their youngest daughter, also called Elizabeth.
There were four years to run on the current leases of the Woodwicks and Pullingspit Farms and William Fellows Sedgwick kept the farms going during that time but did not renew the leases. William had married Mary Ann Outhwaite in London in 1837 and their first five children were baptized in Rickmansworth Parish Church but Frederick James, their sixth child has the distinction of being one of the earliest names in the baptismal register of West Hyde Church.
In 1847 William and Mary Ann moved to Woodside Lodge in Watford but ran the family business from Hunton Bridge farm later moving both family, (they had 12 children altogether), and business to Cashio Bridge Farm.
In addition to the interests he already had, from 1862 William Fellows Sedgwick leased much of the Watford Brewery from George Whittingstall who had major financial problems. Sadly, seven years later William died aged only 58 and is buried at Hastings. His will bequeathed his Auctioneer, Surveying and Estate Agency business to his eldest son Alfred and its descendant Rumball Sedgwick,
Chartered Surveyors still survives in Watford.
William’s Watford Brewery business was bequeathed to his wife Mary Ann and his son Frederick James Sedgwick who completed the purchase of the Brewery and traded under the name of Mrs Mary Ann Sedgwick and Co. It was Frederick James who formed the Watford Brewery Fire Brigade, some of whose engines can still be seen at Traction Engine rallies. Frederick also founded the short lived Tantivy Stage Coach between London and Watford which gave its name to the Tantivy Public House on Queen’s Road in Watford. Mary Ann Sedgwick became the sole owner of the Brewery after her son’s death and it flourished under her management. She died in 1897 and her clergymen sons took over as trustees until the Brewery was taken over by Benskins in 1923.
When the Sedgwicks moved out of Woodwicks in 1847 it was owned by the Trustees of the Will of Peter Thellusson. Samuel Leightonhouse had sold all his Rickmansworth properties in 1815 and they had been bought by the Trustees of the Will of Robert Williams, senior, who had lived at Moor Park. Robert had been the Head partner of the banking house of Williams, Son, Moffatt and Burgess and had left directions that any surplus money, after his legacies were performed, was to be invested in land. Ten years later there was a financial crisis and a consequent run on the banks with the Williams Bank having to close for a short time. Subsequently the Williams Trustees decided they needed more ready capital and put all their Rickmansworth property up for sale. Woodwicks and several other small properties were purchased by Trustees of the Will of Peter Thellusson and by the time the Sedgwicks left they had owned it for nearly 20 years.
Now they needed to find a new tenant and their choice fell on John Procter, a single man aged 25, from Billington in Bedfordshire. According to the 1851 census he farmed the 430 acres of Woodwicks and Pullingspit with seventeen men. Later that year John married Elizabeth Brice, a 28 year old farmer’s widow from Wootton in Bedfordshire. They were still there 10 years later with a cook, a housemaid, a groom and a horse keeper’s boy also living in the house. The farmlands had dropped to 420 acres employing 13 men and six boys. However two years later Elizabeth died and by the next census John was remarried to Susan Winsor, a widow from Lincolnshire and they had three children, Mary, Thomas and William, and were served by three domestic servants.
In the early 1870s Lord Rendlesham, who had inherited the Manor and Farm decided to rebuild the farmhouse and erect two farmworkers cottages at the Uxbridge Road entrance. The new brick farmhouse was built over the cellars of the 1760s building and
had elaborately carved and decorated Barge Boards hiding the exposed ends of the roof timbers, giving a Swiss Chalet appearance to the farm with the cottages in the same style. In honour of the re-building the farm was renamed Woodoaks, though of course the manor still retained the original name of Woodwick. Celebrations doubtless took place but in 1875 a double tragedy hit the Procter family when John’s wife Susan died of consumption aged 47 and two months later their 7 year old son Thomas died of a related disease. They were buried in the Chorleywood Road cemetery on the non-conformist side as John was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Rickmansworth High Street.
At this time John Procter still farmed the fields of Pullingspit but the farmhouse was now let separately. One of the tenants changed the name of the property to West Hyde Lodge and by 1871 the house was let to a Mrs Shackel, a widow with a grown up son and daughter. The two families became friends, so much so that a short cut was made between West Hyde Lodge and Woodoaks Farm which eventually became the second access into the farm from the Uxbridge Road. In November 1877 Mrs Shackel’s daughter Caroline Arabella married John Procter at the Wesleyan Chapel in Rickmansworth, he was 52 and she was 25. The following year Caroline
sustained an injury to her spine which left her suffering a deteriorating illness lasting over 2 years. In the death announcement in The Times John Procter calls her 'Bella'. Once again John Procter was left with the problem of raising his children whilst running a busy farm so at the end of April 1884 he married as his fourth wife Mary Woodroffe of Washingborough, Lincolnshire the 40 year old daughter of an agricultural implement maker.
Methodism played a prominent part in the life of John Procter, he was not only a member but a trustee of the chapel at Rickmansworth but nevertheless he and other Methodist gentlemen decided to erect a Wesleyan Chapel at Heronsgate which was opened in December 1884. It was always a small congregation but it lasted until 1932 when the various strands of Methodism united. Mr Procter also represented the non-conformists on the Burial Board, set up to run the Chorleywood Road Cemetery. In the mid 1880s John Procter became ill and retired from farming. He moved to St Leonards on Sea where he died aged 62 in March 1888.
His successor at Woodoaks was an unmarried man of 26, Charles Albert Curry. He had no farming background being the son of a Civil Engineer but he obviously enjoyed the life as he stayed at Woodoaks for 20 years. Mr Curry was prominent in local affairs, as parish overseer and on the Rickmansworth Rural Parish Council but around 1906 he left farming and became a wine merchant. However, he obviously liked this area as he only moved to a house in Nightingale Road. Samuel Young then took over the tenancy with his wife Agnes and their six children. Samuel came from Ayrshire, Scotland, and had moved south in the the late 1800’s firstly to a Thellusson property in Norfolk and then to Hertfordshire. He also played his part on the Rural District Council and the Burial Committee and in addition was on the Local Education Sub-Committee.
Then in 1922 John Findlay, also from Ayrshire, took over the tenancy but not long afterwards he was able to purchase the Woodoaks Farm outright passing it on to the present John Findlay at his death in 1971. The Findlays, father and son have seen many changes to farming practice over the years. In the 1920’s there were about 20 workers on the farm and carthorses were used for ploughing and other hard work. John Findlay, known as Jock, introduced a herd of Ayrshire cows, having about 150 of them in the 1950’s. Their milk was delivered locally by pony and trap or sold to the Express Dairy at Shepherds Farm. One of the crops that Mr Findlay liked to grow was potatoes even though it was very labour intensive. Even after the Second World War they were still planting 50 acres of potatoes by hand which took over three weeks and horses were still being used to plough the furrows. Later on, machinery was used for potato planting but when I came to Rickmansworth in 1965 they were still harvesting potatoes by hand because machines could not tell the difference between a potato and a stone of the same size.
Farming at Woodoaks today is very different . There are only a few permanent workers and contractors are called in at peak times. The Woodwicks meadows down by the River Colne are now part of the the Maple Lodge Sewage Works, the fields of Pullingspit became a ballast pit in the 1930s and the site of West Hyde Lodge formerly Pullingspit farmhouse is now an enormous office block called Hertford
Place.There have been many changes but the most traumatic must have been the North Orbital, later the M25, and its spur road being constructed through the fields of Woodoaks Farm in the 1970’s. The most recent was of course the fight over the storage depot and associated works for the M25 widening being on or near Woodoaks Farm. The courageous stand of John and Sally Findlay, backed by
local residents, to protect their farmland from the battalions of big business will go down in local folklore.
Woodoaks Farm still survives as indeed does the courtesy title of the Manor of Woodwicks. When the farm was sold to the Findlays, Lord Rendlesham retained the Lordship of the Manor of Woodwicks as at the time it had little commercial value. Then in the 1980’s there was a vogue for selling off Lordships to all sorts of people for all sorts of prices. In 1987 Mr and Mrs Findlay were surprised to be
contacted by Mr Clyde Nattkemper of Indiana, in the United States of America, saying that he had purchased the Lordship of the Manor of Woodwicks. Mr Nattkemper was a lawyer who had married in St Albans Abbey a few years previously and he soon re-visited England to view his domain. When he returned to America he took some sterilised soil from the farm back as a memento and
doubtless it has pride of place in his house.
Woodwicks and Woodoaks Farm have a proud history to which each of its owners and tenants have contribute their part.
A list of the references used in this paper is available from the author.
James Backer, surveyor. The Dictionary of Land Surveyors and Local Map Makers, 1530 — 1850, compiled by Dr Sarah Bendall has no details about Backer other than his working on this map, 1760 - 66. Ed