The house that Jill and Adam Singer bought stands in an area previously known as Kingsbury Manor. Drawing on research by SAHAAS members J. T. Smith and Gerard McSweeney, Jill Singer describes the changing extent and ownership of the manor and house
We bought the house in 2001 and subsequently Mike Dunn, of BEAMS, compiled a report on it. John Holt, who lived here before us, gave us a copy of a report he had which had been done following a visit in February 1996 by J T Smith and Gerard McSweeney. The following is based on those two reports and the structural report which Richard Oxley, of Oxley Conservation, did when he oversaw the conservation and repair which was undertaken during 2002 and 2003.
There is much discussion about the site of Saxon Kingsbury, with Verulamium being a more and more convincing location. In Alban’s Buried Towns Ros Niblet says (p. 183) “until 1826 ‘Kingsbury’ still meant the north-east end of St Michael’s Street by the river crossing, where the mill stands, and the lands belonging to Kingsbury Farm, the medieval Manor.”
The site of the house was outside the Roman walls and the house is built over the Roman road to Colchester, which passes underneath what is now the dining room, and it is thought that the site of a Roman bridge over the Ver may lie beneath the front garden.
David Dean suggests that the land probably extended well to the north of what is now Verulam Road as far as Batchwood. The eastern boundary was probably marked by Everlasting Lane, the steep rise in which, he suggests, could have been avoided had it not been required to act as an edge to the Manor grounds. The western edge was probably close to what is now the Gorhambury Estate.
The Back Road, which ran along the north side of Kingsbury Barn, went on to be the southern boundary of the Manor. The road included a hundred metre ford along the Ver before veering northwards to follow the line of what is now the Redbourn Road – before, of course, the creation of Verulam Road.
There was a survey of Kingsbury Manor by Matthew Haywarde in 1653 showing the extent of the estate.
Excluded from the Borough of St Albans
Page, in the Victoria History of the Counties of England, comments that Kingsbury, although close to the Abbey, was “carefully excluded from the Borough of St Albans until the borough boundaries were redrawn in 1879. It is probable therefore that the ancient borough boundaries were defined before the destruction of Saxon Kingsbury.”
Eileen Roberts in The St Albans Borough Boundary and the Peasants’ Revolt has a map showing the boundary by Kingsbury Manor. The map on the left is the 1634 geography, with some later information and the map on the right is modern. (See above)
Kingsbury Manor is said to have been bought by Alfric, Chancellor to King Ethelred, and subsequently Abbot of St Albans, and then given by him to the Abbey. The Manor was confirmed to the Abbey by King John in 1199. Moor, in his notes on the documents in the Gorhambury Collection, says that the Manor was the residence of the Abbey cook, and in 1258, according to Matthew Paris, the proceeds of the Manor were assigned to improve the victuals of the Abbey. The Manor and the Barns behind it, of 14th and 17th century date, were owned by the Abbey and were a source of funds for the monastery until the Dissolution, that is, they constituted a monastic grange.
During the Peasants’ Revolt a farmer of the Manor, William Grindcobbe, who owed money to the prior, joined the rebels and threatened to burn down both Kingsbury Manor and the Grange of St Peter if the Abbot did not pay him 100 marks. To save the properties the Abbot paid £20 of the sum. Kingsbury Manor was saved but the Grange of St Peter was burned down and later rebuilt by Abbot Moote.
The manorial rights appear to have become annexed to the Manor of Pre which, Page says, is usually called Pre cum Kingsbury, and the three courts of Westwick, Pre and Kingsbury were held together.
After the Dissolution
In 1539 the Abbey of St Albans was dissolved and Kingsbury Manor became the property of the King. Two years later William Bygg took a lease of the Kingsbury Manor lands for 68 years. Whether this included the house is not clear. On 21st March 1553, however, Edward VI granted the Manor at Kingsbury to Thomas Wendye, one of the Royal physicians, and his wife Margaret. He had to pay 10 shillings a year to the collector of rents and the 20 shillings a year to the Vicar of St Michael’s, which had been agreed by the Abbot in 1536.
Thomas Wendye’s son, William, inherited the property in 1612 and after his death in 1623 the Manor passed to his nephew Thomas Wendye. In 1635 Thomas Wendye leased to James Dell, yeoman, the capital messuage, farm or manor house of Kingsbury for 127 pounds for 21 years. The lease held by James Dell included the Manor house, barns, stables, outhouses, yard, gardens, orchard and fields and woods covering acres to the north of the house.
In 1657 Thomas Wendye and his wife Lettice of Halslingfeld, Cambridgeshire, sold the Manor of Kingsbury and the land belonging to it, to Sir Harbottle Grimston of Gorhambury for 5,700 pounds.
The Dell family, however, continued to lease the property until 1716. James was succeeded by John in 1699 and by Joseph in 1706. Rent was payable twice yearly on Lady Day and Michaelmas.
In 1716 William Grimston leased the property to Richard Smith of Maynes for 165 pounds 15 shillings. The Manor was settled on Richard Smith Junior on his marriage to Anna Thrale in 1718 or 1719. Following the death of Richard Smith Jnr in 1772 the property passed to his son, Ralph Smith and his wife, Mary. Ralph’s death, in 1800 is recorded in The Gentleman: (p. 257 – 29 October 1800
SMITH. At St Albans, aged 73, Mr. Ralph Smith, an opulent farmer, whose ancestors, for a generation or two, and himself, had been long tenants to the noble family of Grimston, of their manor-farm of Kingsbury, adjoining to that town. His mother was sister of Ralph Thrale Esq., formerly MP for the Borough of Southwark; and he was related also to the family of Halsey, of whom Anne (daughter of Edmund Halsey, Esq.) Lady Viscountess Cobham, who died in 1760, is said to have been his aunt, and left considerable legacies to him, and his family.
Also recorded in The Gentleman are two marriages earlier in the same year Ralph died (p. 173 – June(?) 1800):
At Lambeth, Joseph Biddle, Esq. , of Cuper’s Bridge, to Miss Mary Anne Smith, of Kingsbury, St Albans. Also, Stephan Smith, Esq., of Kingsbury, to Miss E Biddle.
Ralph’s son, Stephan and his wife Eliza, inherited the lease on Ralph’s death in 1800. On Stephan’s death in 1828, his son, Stephan Jnr, the last Smith to be associated with Kingsbury Manor, inherited the lease and lived there until around 1846, seemingly falling into financial difficulties.
The Smith family were prominent in St Michael’s and owned additional residential properties in the area, as well as a bakery and other businesses. JT Smith, in his report following a visit to Kingsbury Manor in 1996 suggests Ralph Smith may be the same as “the respectable Mr Smith who re-fronted the falsely named St Michael’s Manor House. (Oldfield)”
Henry Smith, the oldest son of Richard Smith Jnr and Anna Thrale, lived in St Michael’s Street in ‘New House’, now known as Darrowfield.
The 1851 census returns show a new family in occupation in Kingsbury Manor: Thomas Willshin and his wife Hannah and their 4 children. The eldest 3 children were born in St Stephens but the youngest, Sophia, was born in 1849 in St Michael’s so the family may well have been at Kingsbury by then. Thomas Willshin is listed as a farmer of 600 acres employing 26 workers. By 1881 the size of the land had decreased by half. Thomas and Anna Willshin continued to run the farm until 1895. Anna remained in the house after her husband’s death and by 1906 her son, George Willshin, had inherited the property.
Subsequent listings in Kelly’s directories for Kingsbury Manor include farmer and dairyman Frank Dean in 1927, Miss Campbell between 1938-1954 and Ronald Fredenburgh from 1956 to 1964.
Then the Gorhambury Estate sold the house, keeping the farm yard. Express Dairies continued to run the dairy depot in the former farmyard that they had originally leased in the 1950’s, replacing Kingsbury Dairy. In 2004 Express Dairies left and the land was sold to Henry Developments. There are now 16 dwellings on the site, renamed Kingsbury Mews. The two barns and two buildings to the south of the farmyard, however, are now back in the possession of Kingsbury Manor.