Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Brightwells Farm

Brightwells Farm

A History

Brightwells Farm lies at the southern end of Vicarage Road, just over a mile from Watford and about a quarter of a mile from Hamper Mill.  In Medieval times, it was variously included in the manors of Rickmansworth, La More, Cashio and Watford. There are several very early references to this site and it can be seen that Brightwell (Brittewell, Brutewell, de Brittewelle as examples of its changing name) has a history equal to, or at least as interesting, as that of Cashio and was at least of similar importance.

Within Cashio there were, circa 1086, 4 mills and therefore probably 4 hamlets.  One would be the hamlet of Cashio, giving its name to the manor or vice versa - possibly near Cassiobridge.  Another would be the hamlet of Watford, chosen or founded by St Albans Abbey for the site of another mill and the parish church – and therefore giving its name to the parish. Later, with the building of the royal palace at Kings Langley and the greater importance of radial routes from London as opposed to radial routes from St Albans and Winchester, Watford would oust the other hamlets by being more favourably positioned.  A third hamlet would be near Brightwell farm on or near the old Roman road/trackway and with easy access to Hamper Mill. (There are several possible locations for the fourth including Cassiobury Mill, Garston, Munden or Oxhey/Wiggenhall). Eventually several manors and independent estates were created within the large parish of Watford coincident with the pre-Domesday manor of Cashio.

The majority of the area we know today as Watford and its surrounding districts were held by St Albans Abbey of the king.  Parcels of land were often given, sued for or exchanged and Brightwells was no exception.  The manor of Britwell was said to have been granted to the abbey by Offa. In the early part of the thirteenth century Alice de Bretwelle held one hide* in Rickmansworth and in 1225 land in Britwell was held by Peter de Bretwelle, against whom it was claimed by John de Wittenham and Alice his wife and Richard Grimbald and Martina his wife. Land in Britwell, formerly held by William, son of John de Shelforde, was held in the thirteenth century (1292) by John de Brutwelle and the abbot commuted his service from suit to court to knight service in the king’s army. In other words, John de Brutwelle was involved in a land transaction with the Abbot of St Albans, which suggests an estate at Brightwell sufficient to give it some status.

In 1301-2 this land had come to coheirs whose names are not given, but in 1303, Thomas de Wymundesham held a sixth part of a knight’s fee of the abbot of St Albans in Britwell. In 1320-1 the fee was held by John de Watford and in 1364 the manor under the name of a tenement called Brutewelles was in the hands of John de Chilterne. With regard to the history of Micklefield Hall (Sarratt), there is a reference to John de Chilterne of Rykemeresworth, who “on 16th July 1364 granted to Ralph de Harpele, rector of Scherring and Stephen Megre, chaplain, his manors of Micklefield and Brittewelle in the towns of Rickmersworth and Caysho.”

In 1365 a list of properties records “Bruteswelle and Watford 17s 17d rent from divers tenants in the hamlets, held of the heirs of Sir Philip Durdent in free socage by service of 1d yearly and 1lb cumin ….. the premises at Rykesmers-worth, Caysho and Brutewelle, Crokesle and Watford, except the rent in Danielhide in Rykesmersworth were in the possession of Roger Colyn by demise.”  Here, in the 14th century, it appears that Brutewelle (i.e. Brightwells) had the status of at least a hamlet, but possibly of a village ranking alongside the other places mentioned.

In 1366, the grantees (Ralph de Harpele and Ralph Megre) conveyed Brutewelles to Richard, son of Richard de Hemington and John, son of John de Radewell, sons of Margery and Margaret, daughters of John de Chilterne.  The manor was to be held by Richard and John for their lives with remainder in tail male to Henry and Pain, sons of John de Chilterne and to Andrew de Bures, Richard de Hemington, John de Radeswell and John Aignel, grandchildren of John de Chilterne.  Henry de Chilterne granted this manor in 1371-2 to Edmund de Gessinge and Katherine his wife and their heirs and assigns for ever. In 1381, Philip Bluet and Katherine his wife, who was the daughter of John de Chilterne, conveyed the manor to John de Raddeswelle and Richard de Hemington and this conveyance was confirmed by Henry and Pain de Chilterne, brothers of Katherine. Richard and John then reconveyed it to Philip and Katherine to be held by them for their lives for a rent of six marks to John and Richard, with reversion after the death of Philip and Katherine to John and Richard and their heirs. This same Katherine, who was then the wife of John of Gloucester and her son Andrew Bures, conveyed the manor to Henry, Bishop of Winchester, William Flete and others and this grant was confirmed by Pain de Chilterne. They, in return, granted Katherine a rent of 100s. from the manor.

In 1414, Katherine, the wife of William Creke or Creyke, daughter of Henry de Chilterne and Eleanor his wife, granted the manor to William Flete and John Deryng, two of the grantees mentioned above, probably in confirmation of the grant of Katherine, her aunt, as heiress of her father Henry.

William Flete was a London mercer, who built the castle and was the tenant of the Manor of the More (later Moor Park). He was supported by powerful men including the Bishops of Winchester and Durham and six others who acted as guarantors and supported his title.  In 1431 Flete claimed to hold this manor partly of Robert de Louthe at a rent and partly as a manor of the More and a dispute arose between Flete and the Abbot as to the tenure of this manor. The manor had once belonged to Thomas Wymyndham and afterwards to John Watford, clerk. The Abbot, however, said that William Flete bought the manor and that it was held of the Abbot for homage and fealty and rent and it was decided in the courts of law that the Abbot was justified in his claim.  From this time the manor of Brightwell descended with the manor of More and there was a “high bridge” across the river Colne at Hamper Mill and the estate included demesne lands and a field called High Crosse Field.

It was William Flete who, in 1416 as tenant of the Manor of the More, put up a claim to have a right of way for himself and his cattle from the More, across the fields to the market place at Watford.  The Abbot of St Albans went to law and William Flete failed to gain his point.  Again, in 1435, Flete came into conflict with tenant farmers when he tried to enforce a right of way from the Manor to Watford. This was unsuccessful until a century later when Cardinal Wolsey, after enlarging the house, sought to also enlarge the park and expelled one of his tenants from a messuage called Tolpotts and 170 acres of land and enclosed part of it within the park and made another part into a highway leading from Rickmansworth to Watford (hence Tolpits Lane).

By 1456, the manor (of More) had come to Sir Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley and the Abbot (of St Albans), in exchange for certain tenements in London on the Thames, confirmed the manors of More, Ashleys, Batchworth, Eastbury and Britwell to Sir Ralph for a rent of 1d for each manor in recognition of the fact that it was held by the Abbey.

“On the 15th May 1456, Sir Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley, granted to the Abbot and Monks the following lands, which they heretofore had held of him by rent:- Lands near Crokesley Green called Elys Londe, land in Brittewelle More and pasture land in Bury More, all in the parish of Rykmersworth. Ten days later the Abbey gave Sir Ralph, in exchange, the Manors of Baccheworth, La More and Brittewelle in the parishes of Rykmansworth and Watford, for the yearly payment of one penny per annum for each manor, for all services.” 
By 1556, by a copy of court roll of the manor of More, Brightwells Farm in Watford parish, near to Hamper Mills is held by Thomas and William Weedon.

From the probate inventories of the Jacobean period it is possible to get a picture of cropping arrangements and other details of some Watford farms. On 25th March 1617, soon after his death, John Weedon, a yeoman, had his estate of Britwells inventoried. Apart from a bull, 6 beasts, 2 calves, 12 hoggs and some horses, he had 26 acres of wheat and 30 acres of lent corn (i.e. summer corn or spring corn crops such as oats, peas and barley).

Also of interest regarding mills in the area, again from a tithe account of 1668 for Cashio hamlet there is mention of an acre of grass ‘at the oyle mills’ which suggests that a commercial crop for the production of vegetable oil may have been grown thereabouts. Hemp and teasels are both mentioned in the early years of the century, but receive no mention after 1660. There are also two mentions of a stock of flax for persons in Watford and Aldenham, but something more of a novelty is the mention of 11/2 bushels of mustard seed at Watford in 1665 and a mustard mill at Brightwells farm in 1676.

From the tithe accounts of 1656 there is a brief description of ‘2 messuages or tenements called Brightwells which are now converted into 1 messuage, being 17 several closes divided and being on both sides of the way leading from High Bridge (Hamper Mill) towards Watford and between the River called Colney stream towards the south and the common called Blackmoor and Cowmoor towards the north and the lands sometime belonging to the messuage called Hatters towards the east and the Demeanes (sic) called twelve acres towards the west containing by estimation 184 acres more or less’. This gives an average field size of nearly 11 acres. Another 17th century document gives details of Hatters farm in the manor of Cashio as arable land divided into 8 parts containing 105 acres. Here the arable field size average is 13 acres.

Using a survey of Watford in 1798, the same area can be roughly identified. But within the farm then called Brightwells there was 96 acres of arable in 10 fields, 4 of which bear the name Hatters and 5 of which were divided between 2 crops. So by the end of the century there appears to be tendency thereabouts for the fields to be getting smaller on average.
Further evidence indicates that the history of the farms around Brightwells was rather confused. For instance in 1745 it is found that Hatters farm in the manor of Moor (not Cashio) is estimated as 60 acres and there is other evidence that these two farms, Brightwells and Hatters, together with the neighbouring farms of Tolpits, Cole Kings and Holywell have frequently had their acreages changed at one another’s expense.

By 1798 Cole Kings was an established farm of 97 acres, but had had a succession of farmers, often innovators or members of innovating families which suggests perhaps short leases. In 1884 it was 244 acres and then, in turn, contained some fields with place-name element of ‘Hatters’ (Hatters 12 acres, Hatters 7 acres).

This group of farms on the tongue of land between the River Gade and Colne and bounded to the east by Watford Town, seems to have had a very confused and chequered history in regard to overall size and ownership.

The Court roll of the Manor of Moor for 17th Oct. 1656 HCRO will interest those, like myself, who suspect a small medieval village in the vicinity of Brightwells and from the early references then, it is arguable that we can see the small settlement of Brightwells as the most ancient of all the Watford hamlets with a tenuous link back to the time of the Roman villa nearby at Hamper Mill. 

Further mentions:

Messuage** and farm called Brittwells (66a 3r 12p) with Seven Acre field, Walnut Tree field, Four Acre field, Nine Acre field, Three Acre field, Old Orchard field, Sulhouse field, Lower Bottom field, the Meadow by Hamper Mill, the Two Slips of meadow, the Two Acre meadow and orchards; parcel of copyhold meadow called Hatters Mead (6a 3r), lying between Hempstead Mead and a meadow formerly in the possession of Richards, now occupied by White. All this copyhold land held of the Manor of Cashio. Copyhold messuage (pulled down) and farm with lands called Hatters Farm (68ac 3r 5p) in the parish of Watford, held of the Manor of Moor, formerly in possession of Brown, Andrews and late occupied by White.

On a Dury and Andrews map of 1776, Brightwell Farm is noted as Hatter Farm, possibly after the owner/tenant at the time and in a copy of a Deed of Covenant dated 12th September 1827, is recorded the following:

To surrender Brittwells and Hatters Mead in the Manor of Cashio and Hatters Farm in the Manor of the Moor.
1)      Robert Williams
2)      John Dyson, brewer, of Watford

In the "Diaries of Mr Haywood, Watford Builder, 1822 - 1828" reference is made to Brightwells Farm:  "It is interesting to note that the present Brightwells Farm, near Hampermill, is given its old name of 'Hatters', a title as yet unexplained." In the early part of the 1900s it was leased by the Simmonds family from the owners of Moor Park. 

It is also interesting to note that from a search of Census records back to 1841, the name and address of Brightwells Farm sometimes changed: Brightwells Farm, Watford, Britwell Farm, Lower Rickmansworth Road and Brightwells Farm, Moor Lane. In 1901 there is a Brightwells House, Lower Rickmansworth Road and in the 1911 census, no mention found of Brightwells.  Yet to date (2020) the farm is still occupied.

British History Online: A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2 (1908) -
'Parishes: Rickmansworth', 'Watford: Manors'
Of particular interest and help - A Corner of England’s Garden 1600 – 1850 – Grant Longman, Vol 1 who references many HCRO documents, tithe accounts and inventories
The Origin of Watford - Grant Longman
Cussans History of Hertfordshire 1881, Casio Hundred
Deed of Covenant DE/GH/569 12 Sept 1827 Held at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies 
Registry assigned to Abbot John of Whethamstede, Vol 1 (fn) 
Extract from an unpublished 'History of Rickmansworth - A Montgomerie' 


For more history on the farms in West Watford, please see posts relating to Holywell Farm, Sewage At Holywell


  1. Most interesting. I used to play down the back of willow lane in the early 50's, the little stream was in a concrete duct and was usually steaming. It was condensed steam water from the steam produced at the power station incinerator. People would paddle in it during the Winter as the water was so warm, but Dad told us (there were four of us his sons), not to go into it for fear of Polio. Whether true or not it deterred us from going for a dip there. Mr Vidler did not comment about the two huge open concrete tanks that existed there. These were very deep, about the area of a tennis court and had a metal rung ladder that allowed you to descent to the bottom. Rumour had it that they were used to store the sewage from the town before being pumped up to the distribution section, which was not too far away from the now demolished Highwayman Public House. The large diameter pipes were still there and though we dared one another to take a walk down them, the darkness and fear of rats kept us from trying it. Many years ago I found a small dark Blue covered book about Watford, in the main Watford Library, it was I think a late 19th century print and which detailed how this most modern sewage system (as it was then) was built and how it operated. I have since tried to find this book but the librarians tell me it no longer exists, at least for public reading. If anyone can find it and re-produce the chapter I am certain many will find it very interesting. The same book describes a certain Dr. Isles who was very generous when treating the poor. The story goes that he treated, for free, a young waif but in the process suffered a tiny scratch. The wound would not heal and he consulted his friends in Harley Street who could do nothing. It was probably a form of blood poising or sepsis, which for in those days, there was no cure. When he died the whole Town is said to have turned out for the funeral procession down the High Street as he was so well known and loved by the townspeople. It is sad that he is not remembered by a street name in the Town.
    To add just a bit more about the sewage system, I was very young at the time but remember my older brothers daring each other to jump across the ducts up on the Holywell distribution fields. They would wait until the raw sewage came along a duct on its way to the sluice gates that steered it to the next available soak away field. Thankfully I was much to little to even be expected to jump the gap and I certainly did not like the idea of falling into the sewage as it raced along. Although I never witnessed it, it was said that people from the hospital who were suffering from TB were made to sit in the fields as the vapours helped their breathing, I found that somewhat amusing at the time but now realise it must have been awful.

    1. Thank you so much for adding this information. (Apologies for taking time to respond - we had a few problems with the website last year). I'm personally always interested in information about the Holywell area, as it's where I've always lived. I will try and get hold of a copy of the book you mention.

    2. Dr Francis Henry Wilson-Iles Lodge was consecrated at The Four Swan’s Hotel, Waltham Cross under the authority of a warrant dated 22nd May 1884. The Lodge had the honour to bear the name of Dr. Francis Henry Wilson-Iles, Deputy Provincial Grand Master in 1879 and a highly respected surgeon of Watford. He died of blood poisoning, resulting from a scratch sustained whilst operating on a child infected with diphtheria; a grievous loss to his profession, to Freemasonry and the many people who knew him. He is buried in St Mary’s graveyard and in 1993 his grave was restored with donations from Freemasons.

    3. I can now confirm that the book was History of Watford and Trade Directory by Henry Williams published in 1884 and reproduced in 1976. The piece about Dr F. H. Wilson Iles is now reproduced under a new heading on this site.

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