Sunday, 1 March 2015

To The Manor Born?

The Old Manor, Dorsington 1870s

A common name for an old house in England is The Manor House. I have researched several properties with this name, but often the title was not a true description of the building’s historic status or function. Many weren’t and have never been the residence of the lord of the manor. But this fact is not detrimental to the house or its history. Often these Manor Houses had an equally interesting albeit alternative life and place in the story of the area.

The Old Manor in Dorsington, in Warwickshire was originally built in the 16th century. Research revealed that this timber-framed and liasic stone construction had in fact been the farmhouse to the estate’s principal farm, The Manor Farm.  Interestingly, there wasn’t a manor house at all in the village; certainly from the 16th century onwards. There is a moated area (with a later house built on it) and early reference to a manor house “site” ;but historically, the lords of the manor of Dorsington were absent and simply leased the various farms and small holdings on the estate. 
The Old Manor Dorsington in the 1920s
The Old Manor, Dorsington © Ellen Leslie 2012

In the late 18th century with improvements and expansion in agriculture, a new principal residence for the farm’s tenant farmers was constructed just down the road and the old thatched farmhouse was usefully converted into 5 dwellings for the increasing numbers of farm workers. With a new house for Manor Farm, a new name was needed for the old house … The Old Manor Farm was an obvious choice and The Old Manor was how it evolved up to the present day.

Manor House in Ware may not have been the home of the Lord of the Manor either, but in this case its own history goes back to the 12th century, when it was part of the Priory at Ware and probably contained the monks' dormitories. It has been suggested that the existing building sits on the footprint of those original sleeping quarters. 

Manor House, Ware ©Ellen Leslie

Manor House in 1671 ©Trinity College Cambridge
For this building, the title of Manor House came relatively late. Certainly since the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, this house was the main residence for tenant farmers, leasing the property and surrounding agricultural land from the estate owners, who were Trinity College, Cambridge.  It had many names over the centuries, but mainly The Rectory Farm or The Old Parsonage

These titles are also misleading, as the house was not attached to the local church or vicar, but the house’s ecclesiastical roots may have been to blame for these monikers and because it sits opposite the parish church. Today though the title Manor House suits it well, as it is certainly one of the largest, oldest and most impressive buildings in the town.

But not all manor houses are large or imposing. The Old Manor House in Cholesbury, in Buckinghamshire looks like a typical cosy village cottage, rather than the primary building of a large estate.  One thing is for certain, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the village. Over the centuries the residence of the Lords of the Manor has changed; but this house was never their home. So why is it called The Old Manor House? Unlike my previous two examples, this house wasn’t even the estate's farm house. 

The Old Manor, Cholesbury ©Ellen Leslie
The Old Manor House in 1753
What I did find was this was the house where the business of the estate was managed from. Court Barons and payment of rents and the hearing and resolution of local disputes would be held here. I also found that this house had once been double the size, losing half its structure at some time in the 19th century. So originally a greater building but only losing its role in the administration of the estate in the late 19th century when its freehold was sold.

So a property's name cannot give you a guaranteed indication of its past. Names change over time, with origins mixed up or forgotten. But whatever the name of a building, its past entitles it to be of equal historic interest whatever the real story.