Sources for Epsom and Ewell History

Sources for Epsom and Ewell History
Sources for Epsom
and Ewell History



The Seal of Merton Priory.
The Seal of Merton Priory.


Tudor Ewell

Life in sixteenth-century Ewell followed patterns which had changed little over hundreds of years. People lived in timber-framed houses fronting the streets around the Town House or centre of village business at the crossroads where the present High Street, West Street and Church Street meet. Behind the houses were gardens and orchards, with the more wealthy having their own barn or stable. On Saturdays they drank at the Red Lion (now 9 High Street); on Sundays they prayed at the old church of St. Mary, of which only the tower survives; and for the rest of the week they cultivated peasant holdings in the Southfield, a great expanse of chalky soil which stretched, open to the winds, between the village and the Downs. Their land was apportioned in strips here and there among the unhedged divisions or furlongs of the open field. The names of these furlongs were much the same in the sixteenth century as they had been at the time of the great register in 1408, and they went back at least to the 1200s and probably earlier.

To the east of Ewell, the new fence of Nonsuch Park cut blindly across traditional boundaries, dissecting ancient furlongs and leaving queer little corners of land detached from their original strips. To the north, the River of Ewell (what we call the Hogsmill) turned wheels for the Upper and Lower Mills and splashed on to divide the two great meadows, Chamber Mead and Kingsmead. Roads running east and west connected Ewell with the wider world, though strangers were not always welcome; Spring Street was then called Beggars' Row, and Chessington Road was Robber Street. But the village was not self-contained. Much of its economy was supported by small gentry and the more prosperous yeoman farmers, men who had come into the village from outside thinking of its convenient access to London and the possibility of building up status as a landed gentleman. Edward Horde at the old manor house of Fitznells was typical of this generation; so was Nicholas Saunder, who had just built a new property on the hill overlooking the headwaters of the river, at a site which would later become Bourne Hall. These were the men who owned land to the north of the village, on the clay soils where trees would grow tall in the hedgerows and where cattle could be fattened up in small fields or closes until they were ready for selling on to the Londoners at Smithfield.

The new gentry of Tudor Ewell prospered in the land market which had followed the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Land which had been locked up for centuries in the control of these institutions was now changing hands rapidly, and its new owners wanted to maximise their profits. Henry VIII, who had acquired all the estates of the dissolved monastic houses, sold off most of them rapidly, but both Epsom and Ewell were retained as Crown property, probably because they adjoined the lands of Nonsuch. Two rentals were made in 1549 to provide clear proof of the money owing from tenants to the Crown. The later survey of 1577 was compiled at a time when Ewell had been sold on, and its new landlord wanted to see where he stood in the complex web of property rights which surrounded the houses and fields of the parish.


The 1549 Rental

The Epsom and Ewell rentals of 1549 appear in miscellaneous books of material collected by the Office of the Auditors of Land Revenue, who were assembling evidence on the value of Crown lands. Their volume for Surrey was compiled under Edward VI and Mary, and can be found at the National Archives, reference PRO: LR 2/190. Translations of these rentals were made by Charles Titford of the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society (now Epsom & Ewell Archaeology & History Society). The Ewell rental was published by Martin Morris in the Bulletin of the Nonsuch Antiquarian Soc. 3rd ser 2 (1965) pp32-9; that for Epsom was kept among the papers of the NAS Documentary Group, and is made public here for the first time. The text, with a few corrections ('James' for 'Jacob' etc.) is that of Charles Titford. Many thanks to Diane Tidd, who transcribed these rentals for the website.

The two rentals are not dated but the latest entry under Ewell is that for John Cowper, who is said to have held land by copy of court roll 25 Oct 3 Ed VI, i.e. 1549. As the Ewell rental lists thirteen copyholds granted in the years 1539-49 (at least one in every year, except 1544), the fact that it does not record any grants later than October of 1549 suggests that it was probably compiled at the end of that year or early in 1550.

Until 1538, the manors of Epsom and Ewell had both been monastic property - Epsom was held by Chertsey Abbey, and Ewell by Merton Priory. At the Dissolution, these came into the hands of the Crown, which retained Ewell until 1563 and Epsom until 1589. Although they give a great deal of local information, the rentals are not intended as a general survey of the manors; instead, they are structured around the payments which could be expected from them - firstly from the freeholders, then from the copyholders of the manor, and finally from the old demesne lands and direct assets of the monastic houses, which were now farmed out to local gentry.

Ewell 1549
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Epsom 1549
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The 1577 Survey

The Survey of the Manor of Ewell made in the autumn of 1577 by Thomas Taylor is a small book kept among the records of the manor, where it is the earliest surviving document; it is in Surrey History Centre, reference SHC: 2238/10/158. The opening section of the survey, dealing with the village of Ewell, was published by Philip Shearman as 'Ewell in 1577', Surrey Arch. Coll. 54 (1955) pp102-23. Shearman's article was reprinted by Charles Abdy, again as Ewell in 1577, for the Epsom & Ewell History & Archaeology Society as Occasional Paper 48, 2008. Shearman returned to the subject later in 'The topography of medieval Ewell and Cuddington: a reply', Surrey Arch. Coll. 71 (1977) pp139-44, in which he responded to extreme suggestions for the reinterpretation of the document which had been made by Charles Titford. Meanwhile a second transcript, this time of the whole document, had been made (apparently independently) by John Dent with the assistance of Valerie Griffiths in 1964. Copies of this transcript are held at Bourne Hall Museum and with the original at Surrey History Centre. Two contemporary versions of the survey (rough and neat) exist among the records of the manor of Fitznells at Surrey History Centre, reference SHC: 940/20/15-16. Some pages of the original book have been torn; the missing passages might be supplied from the paper versions in the Fitznells archive, but it has not yet been possible to do this. The survey had a long life as a working document, and there are some annotations at the beginning recording its use as evidence in Thomas Bartlett and others vs. Robert Lumley Lloyd, 1725 - a dispute between tenants and the then lord of the manor.

Dent's transcript of the document was made to diplomatic standards, retaining layout, abbreviations and interlineations as closely as was possible in typescript. A digital version of this was made through the kindness of Barbara Abdy, who has retained the full features of Dent's diplomatic transcript in a version which can be consulted at Bourne Hall Museum. The present text is a reader's edition of the original, with several changes made in the interests of clarity. First, the physical layout of the survey, which had text allocated to right and left columns for easy consultation, and much material laid out in parallel columns, has been reduced to ordinary paragraphs. The headings which Taylor put beside the right margin have been rendered instead in bold type. An em dash (-) has been used wherever the original manuscript left a blank for details which were to be inserted later. The word dimidium, 'half', abbreviated in the original as di' with a contraction mark, is rendered di. throughout. Missing words or parts of words have been supplied when they are obvious from the context, while deletions and interlineations have been incorporated in the running text. Original spelling and capitalisation has been retained throughout, except that consonantal u and vocalic v have been reversed as in modern style.

Thomas Taylor is described in a marginal note at the end of the document, apparently made some twenty years later, as 'Surveyor of the Countie of Surry'. The county surveyors of Tudor times were normally employed by the Exchequer to survey Crown lands, but here Taylor appears to have been on contract to John, Lord Lumley, the lord of the manor. The property of the Crown until 1563, Ewell was then granted to Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, with reversion to his heirs. As Arundel had only one child, his daughter Jane, this meant her and her husband John, Lord Lumley. Arundel did not die until 1580; however, Jane had died in 1577, and it seems that Lumley then assumed control of the manor on behalf of his father-in-law. Evidently he had inherited earlier manorial rolls, now lost, since an entry at the end of the survey quotes one of these for the year 17 Edward IV (1477/8).

The properties surveyed here were divided between the chief manor of Ewell and the lesser ones of Fitznells and Buttalles; these properties were not distinct territories, but lay intermingled, one field or house with another. In addition, there was the manor of Ruxley, which was based around the later Ruxley Farm but had some lands further south in Ewell. Properties might be copyhold of any of these four manors, or they might be freehold. There was also a body of waste or common land whose ownership was less certain, especially when portions of it had been taken into cultivation.

Taylor's task was to discriminate between the ownership and status of these different parcels. He went about it in a businesslike way, first walking around the village, then the great open field to the south, and then the hedged fields in the north of the manor, followed by the common land. He gives a cumulative total of the land in each of these categories, followed by a table of the same information according to tenant rather than location; then he concludes with a detailed list of landmarks on the boundary. Although no doubt proficient in measured surveying, Taylor does not appear to relied on this at Ewell. The open field was divided already into strips approximating to an acre or half acre, and he simply adds these up, noting occasionally where they are 'scant', i.e. short of an actual statute acre. For enclosed fields, woods and house curtilages he seems to have relied on a practised eye to estimate acreages.

It is clear from the running totals that he keeps, including those for waste lands on which no rent was paid, that Taylor intended his figures to add up to a collective acreage which would correspond with the whole surveyed area of the manor. It's slightly confusing that he uses Latin numerals, normally in the standard convention, but sometimes as if he were talking; thus lti or lty, rather than l, is 'fifty'. The transcript uses capitals to indicate where he is thinking in words, not figures; thus viiijC iiijXX iiij is 'eight hundred fourscore and four'. At the end of the survey he adds up the house curtilages, acres in the Southfield and enclosed lands to arrive at a total of 1598 acres. In addition there was the common land, which he measures at 228 acres, and the Downs, which Taylor did not survey, but which we know from later sources to have been about 600 acres. That makes 2,426 acres, and a more contemporary estimate for the area of Ewell (Victoria County History 3 p278) is 2,427; which speaks well for Taylor's surveying skills.

Ewell 1577
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For more information about Merton Priory please visit The Merton Priory Trust website.