Manorialism was the social, economic and administrative system that appeared in the fifth century in Europe. It emerged from the chaos and instability after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Farmers needed to be protected against marauders and thieves, and sought such protection from their local lord of the manor. In return for protection, the locals surrendered certain rights, and control over their land. Its basic unit was the manor, a self-sufficient landed estate, or fief, that was under the control of a lord who enjoyed a variety of rights over it and the peasants attached to it by means of serfdom. These tenants were free or ‘unfree’, rank and position being determined by the status of their land. In addition, meadowland was available to all for grazing of herds. Gradually, over the centuries, this became known as Common Land. An added facility might be woodland for timber, and the grazing of pigs. The lord of the manor presided over the manor courtroom, and received money or provisions or labour services from his tenants, either regularly or seasonally.
At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, the lands of Wallington were held by two manors and three smaller holdings. The two manors became known as the Manor of Wallington and the Manor of Montfitchets (named after the family that owned it in the 12th and 13th centuries). Wallington Manor House probably stood where Wallingtonbury farmhouse stands today, on a high point of the village, just above the church. Other signs of historical occupation and activity include the ponds and channels, which could be the remains of a moated site. It is thought probable that the Montfitchets Manor House stood in the small field known as Mutcheaps (probably a derivation of 'Montfitchets') to the north of the churchyard and behind the modern house that goes by the same name. In 1086, the Manor of Wallington was held by Goisbert de Beauvais and that of Montfitchets by Robert Gernon.
A third manor, Monks Manor, was created at the end of the 12th Century and derived from lands donated to the monks of St Albans. It comprised the church and some land to the south.
Farming under the Manorial System
The fields of a medieval manor were open spaces divided, almost imperceptibly, into long narrow strips. Only the fields being grazed by cattle were fenced. The single crop in each field was separately farmed - in individual strips - by peasant families of the local village. Some of the strips may also have belonged to the local lord, farmed for him by the peasants under their feudal obligations. More often the lord's land was in a self-contained demesne around the manor.
Strip-farming was central to the life of medieval Wallington and rural communities generally. It involved an intrinsic element of fairness, for each peasant's strips were widely spread over the entire manor; every family had the benefit of good land in some areas, while accepting a poor yield elsewhere. The strips also enforced an element of practical village democracy. The system only worked if everyone sowed the same crop on their strip of each open field. What to sow and when to harvest it were communal decisions. The field could not be fenced, or the cattle let into it, until each peasant had reaped his own harvest. Ploughing too was a communal affair, with shared use of a plough and team of horses.
To find out more about the history of farming in and around Wallington, read 'An Agricultural History of the Parish of Wallington. Farming from Domesday Onwards' by John W M Wallace. It is available through St Mary's Church, Wallington.
The modern estate of Wallington was consolidated early in the 16th century by John Bowles, who acquired the three manors of Wallington, Monks and Montfitchets.
From Tudor Times to 1900
The Bowles family became owner-residents in Wallington, and the estate passed through several generations of variable prosperity until the estate was sold in the 17th Century. Several generations of the Bowles family are buried at St Mary's Church.
The politics of the Civil War and Commonwealth period (1642-1660) caused some upheaval in Wallington. Within the Bowles family there were Royalists and Parliamentary supporters. Thomas Bowles II had died in 1626, leaving his large estate (which included considerable lands in addition to those at Wallington) to his eldest son, Lewis. Thomas Bowles II had been wealthy and important and had served as High Sheriff of the County. Lewis, however, was less successful. He sold off a great part of the family's estate, although he retained the land at Wallington. Lewis' younger brother John was appointed rector of Wallington in 1623. When Lewis died in 1644/5, the estate passed to his son, Thomas III, a Captain in the Parliamentary Army. Thomas III had his uncle John, the rector, a vocal Royalist, removed from his living by Parliament, even though the living had been bequethed him in his father's estate. The living here, and in Baldock, was given to a Reverend William Sherwin, a supporter of the Parliamentary cause and a Puritan divine of some note. It was reported that in 1645 the ejected minister, John Bowles, assaulted William Sherwin.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, however, John Bowles was returned to Wallington as Rector, and it was Thomas III who was in trouble. Thomas appears to have been able to retain the Wallington estate up until his death in 1668. His eldest son, Thomas IV, sold the estate to the Rev. John Breton, D.D., Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge, within a few years and moved away. The second son, John III remained at Wallington, however, and farmed the land as a tenant of the new owner of the manor.
John Breton bequeathed it to Thomas Breton, a merchant of London, who was succeeded by his son Francis Breton. A life-interest was bequeathed by Francis Breton to his widow. His daughter and heir, Alice Breton, married Sir John Jennings of Newsells in Barkway. Sir John was a wealthy businessman and saw the opportunity of creating two large farms out of the hundreds of small strips into which the three great arable fields were divided. The plan adopted divided the manor down the middle to create Manor Farm on the east side and Bury Farm on the west. This division also divided the land such that each farm had portions of the different types of soil (loam, chalky, clay). The exact date this was achieved is unclear. Thomas Bowles V had been tennant of the majority of the land and he died, or gave up farming, in 1746; both his sons had died before him. This would have been a good opportunity to make changes to how the land was managed. This change would have inevitably resulted in turning many small farmers and their families from tenant farmers into hired workers; this was happening across the country, not only in Wallington.
The two farms were run by two families, tenants for the Newsells family: the Fossey family at Manor Farm and the Sell family at Bury Farm, who became connected by marriage. Edward Fossey, grandson of the first Fossey incumbent, had two timber barns built; on an upright in the larger one is inscribed "E Fossey Farmer 1786"; both barns are listed buildings. It is Manor Farm and its great barn that provided George Orwell with inspiration for the setting of his book 'Animal Farm'. The Fossey and Sell families remained at the farms until at least 1807, and their occupation spanned a period of great agricultural prosperity and innovation.
The farmhouse at Bury Farm is thought to have been built between 1750 and 1770, coinciding with the creation of the two farms. The three barns at Bury Farm include one, which was included in a lease inventory of 1655, so is of great age as well as size. The other two barns date from about 1700 and 1800.
The estate at Wallington was carried in marriage by Hester Elizabeth Jennings to John (Peachey) Lord Selsey. Their second son and ultimate heir, Henry John Lord Selsey died childless 10 March 1838. The estate descended to his sister the Hon. Caroline Mary Peachey, who married the Rev. Leveson Vernon-Harcourt, and died without issue in 1871. In accordance with her mother's will, Wallington then passed to Hugh Henry Rose, Lord Strathnairn of Jhansi, who had distinguished himself in the command of the Central India Field Force during the Sepoy Mutiny. He died in 1885, and his estate was administered by his great-nephew Admiral the Hon. George Henry Douglas, who succeeded to the Wallington property. At some point, Bury farm was divided to create two farms, Bury Farm and Lower Farm (known today as Bygrave Lodge). In 1898, the three farms were sold, signalling the end of the period of ownership by the newsells family, which had lasted at least 180 years. Apparently Mr. John Dorsett Owen of Plastyn Grove, Ellesmere, Salop, purchased the whole of the Wallington estate, which was held by his trustees after his death in March 1905. They sold to Mr. Philip Arnold. The estate was sold again in 1910, this time being split up; Manor Farm, with the associated lordship of the Manor of Wallington and Monks, was purchased by Mr. Hugh Rayner, junior, whose father had long been tenant of the farm. Sadly, both Hugh Rayner Senior and Junior died within a few years of the sale, but the wife of Rayner Jr retained the farm until 1919 Bury Farm was purchased in two lots by Colonel H. A. Remer and Mr. Pratt.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Wallington was described as follows: like the adjacent parishes of Bygrave and Clothall, Wallington remains unenclosed, and it retains a few features of the mediaeval village community. The great open arable field, covering nearly two-thirds of the whole area of the parish (2,043 acres), lies on the sloping ground to the north of the village. Its wide expanse is unbroken by hedge or tree and only divided from the open fields of Bygrave by the Icknield Way and from those of Clothall by an open roadway. In its centre, at Metley Hill, is a tumulus of unknown date and origin. At the present day the villagers apparently claim no rights over the field, which is farmed by the occupiers of the Manor Farm, Wallington Bury and the Lodge Farm. The cottagers have, however, the right to keep a cow and a calf on the small common pasture in the south of the parish. This district is well wooded and contains enclosed meadows and fields. The permanent grass increases and the population of the parish diminishes. The inhabitants are almost entirely employed in agriculture.
Bury Farmhouse, the site where the Manor of Wallington is thought to have once stood.