Lagham Manor

Lagham Manor

Godstone, probably Goda’s Ton, may have been a portion of land in Walcnested given to Ethelred, (the Unready), by Aelfheah, a Saxon Nobleman, in his will in about 970. Goda, Ethered’s daughter and sister of Edward the Confessor, married Count Eustance of Boulogne in 1050 and although she died six years later it was possible that Eustance could lay claim to Goda’s Ton and therefore Walcnested when William the Norman was rewarding his victorious knights. The parish is recorded in the Domesday Book as being held by the Count himself and it continued to be held as of the Honour of Boulogne for several centuries.

By 1178 the De Lucy family probably held Walcnested as of the Honour of Boulogne, when Reginald de Lucy had already given half of the church of Walcnested to the Abbey of Lesnes. Richard, his son, split the manor between two of his sisters on their marriages, giving the northern half to Lucy and Roger de St John, where they lived at Marden, and the southern half to Margaret and Odo de Dammartin with Lagham Manor. Their daughter Alice later sold Lagham to her uncle and thus the St Johns reunited the parish and established their seat at Lagham.

In 1262, at the time of the Barons’ War, Roger de St John obtained a licence from Henry III to fortify his house with a dyke, towers and a stockade. It would appear that the stockade was never constructed as no postholes were found in any of the excavations that have been carried out at Lagham.

Lagham contains two earthworks, one oval enclosure with a high bank and ditch comprising of six acres of land and two acres of water, and the other, a small earthwork which is rectangular and moated lying outside to the south-east of the main enclosure. A raised road ran from the earthworks at Lagham to the Roman Road 700 yards away to the west. The road from Lagham to Marden Park was diverted in the reign of Elizabeth I. It is possible a Roman camp stood on the present site of the house, as a stone found in the moat has a hole in the centre and answers to the description of an old sacrificial stone used in temples of early times.

Lagham comes from Olde English, Laga-ham meaning flooded home, so called due to many springs in the neighbourhood. The first moat was probably no more than a ditch around the north-east of the land on which the house was built in order to deflect the surface water from the rising ground behind it. The great moat of 1262 measures 100ft from crest to crest of its banks and was about 24ft deep, the water being 8ft deep originally. Parts of the banks have been pushed down into the water, but there are still two acres of water in its channels. That the moat was dug twice could be seen in a trench out in the east bank; the first bank being only 4ft above water level and the second one rising to 16ft in some parts. Today the moat at Lagham is the largest non-military moat in south-east England, and the size of the moat indicates that the house of the St Johns must have been worth spending much labour upon.

In the south-east corner of the enclosure was an ancient barn, 120ft long by 32ft wide. It was built with clay walls on shallow stone foundations over 3ft wide, the thatched roof being supported on an inner frame of timber, the posts of which slotted into short projecting stone walls. This great barn was demolished when the moat was built, possibly because the West end was permanently wet from water trapped by the clay banks of the moat. There is evidence that the East end, on slightly higher land, may have been rebuilt as a timber-framed structure on stone footings, possibly with a loft, and may have stood for several years longer. The manor courts may have been held in this barn.

Towards the end of the 13th century a tiled floor was laid in one of the rooms of the house, probably the chapel. (There is no documentary evidence for a chapel but a house of this importance is likely to have had one). A large number of broken plain and decorated floor tiles were found in a dump during the archaeological excavations that were carried out in the mid 1970’s. Fourteen designs, along with black, dark green and yellow squares and triangles, were found and the style is known as the ‘Westminster type’, some being identical with those found in London, Kenilworth and Canterbury, though some designs appear to be new. One of the designs is that of the coat of arms of the Dammartin family, known as vaire, and though not unique to Lagham may have been chosen for its significance to the former lord of the manor.

The St John family not only held Marden and Lagham but also by 1313 held the manor of Heggecourt alias Heycourt. It would appear that they were not entitled to this manor but had seized it on the death of John de Berewyk. By 1323-4 the manor had been taken into the hands of the King who committed the custody of the manor to Gilbert de Middleton until Roger Husee, the rightful heir of John de Berewyk and therefore to Heggecourt, had reached maturity.

Lagham, with the rest of Walcnested, suffered severely from the Black Death in 1349, losing its lord and nearly all the tenants. In 1350 the female heir to the St John family, Margaret, married Sir Nicholas Lovaine, Knight of Penshurst, and her wealth allowed him to acquire large estates including both Lagham and in 1365 Hedgecourt which was held in the family until 1408. It may have been at about this time that a fire occurred at Lagham in the domestic buildings that lay beneath the present kitchen garden. Here there was a bakehouse and brewery with several other small rooms attached. During the excavations these rooms were found to contain pottery of the early to mid 14th century, covered by a layer of burning and the collapsed tiled roof.

Margaret, the daughter of Margaret and Nicholas Lovaine, was sole heir to Lagham. She married Philip de St Clare and were holding Lagham in 1400. In 1408, on the death of Margaret, and six days later her husband Philip, Lagham passed to their son John. He held the manor of Lagham until 1418, when Thomas his brother and heir became lord. On his death in 1435 his lands were apportioned to his three daughters and Edith gained Lagham. She married Sir Richard Harcourt. By 1461 the sons of Margaret de Lovaine by her first marriage released all claims in the manor to the Harcourts. Sir Richard Harcourt died in 1488 and the manor passed to his grandson and heir Miles. During the time that the Lovaine family was lord of the manor the ownership is complicated and at different times other names appear as owners or interested parties. As an example, in 1509 the manor was found to be in the possession of Sir David Owen, the natural son of Owen Tudor, and Sir John Legh, whom Anne, widow of Miles Harcourt, sued and lost for right of dower.

In 1544 the manor was in the possession of John Cooke, after the death of Sir David Owen in 1542. During their ownership part of the property was sold or mortaged to Sir Thomas Pope. In 1565 the last Court Roll of Sir John Harcourt shows him as owner of both Lagham and Marden, joined together as they had been by the St Johns in 1223, with the main dwelling house at Lagham. Sir Simon Harcourt once more divided the manor and sold Marden to Thomas Powle, from whom it went to the Evelyns and then to the Claytons, and has remained a separate estate ever since. Lagham manor seems to have been regained by the Cookes by 1581 as it is conveyed to Richard Brokeman from whom it passed, in1585, to Nicholas Saunders. In 1605 some transactions were being carried out between Nicholas Saunders and William Gardiner who ultimately obtained possession in 1617. William Gardiner died in 1622 and Lagham passed to his son who conveyed the property to George and Richard Luxford in 1630. The Luxfords continued as owners until 1699 when William Luxford disposed of the manor. It would appear that John Cole and Edward Hussey then held the manor in trust until 1801 when it was conveyed to Samuel Farmer.

Lagham never regained its former importance having passed through so many hands until the Tudor period when there is evidence of a more comfortable standard of living with finds of some fine Bellamines and shards of good quality pottery. This coincides with the time at which the Gardiner family were owners. They built the present house and increased the park to 650 acres, including five other properties.

The drive from the house to the south-east corner is raised on a clay causeway, 3ft deep near the moat end and has three layers of metalling on the surface containing 17th and 18th century material and the last containing 19th century deposits. At the base of this clay structure was a pipe stem, showing that the south-east corner of the moat was not the main entrance in medieval days as had been thought. The roadway crosses 3ft above the foundations of the barn which itself would have effectively blocked any entrance from the south-east.

It was at about this time that the small inner moat and island were constructed, or possibly embellished, in the west of the grounds. This was a landscaping and drainage project, the exit to the large moat being floored with chalk, probably covered and used as a boathouse. It was possible to fish in the moat until the middle of the 20th century.

Representations of Lagham on the old maps of Surrey are very inaccurate but it does seem as though the main roadway came across the fields from the north, not where the present roadway connects the north causeway to the main road. The original entrance must have been by bridge or drawbridge, further round to the east of the present one, though perhaps only by a matter of a few yards. Because the banks have been demolished it is not possible to trace the original bridge.

There seems no doubt that the ground that is occupied by the present house has, for a very long time, been used for the site of the dwellings of the lords of the manor. In pre-Tudor times such buildings were largely of wood and no remains are consequently available. There is, however, considerable evidence in the present building of material having been used in its construction that has been taken from an earlier building, probably of the early Tudor period. It seems certain that an older house stood on lower ground beneath the present one and that the floor of the existing cellars formed the ground floor in those days. The stones and mullioned windows of the foundations, some of the main timbers and the well date from before1622 when the present house was finished.

There are four carved stone fireplaces dating from about 1580, but as none fit properly, they were probably imported from some other house that was being demolished around the 1620’s. One of these fireplaces, in the south bedroom, has the conventional rose and thistle of the Stuarts carved on it. There is much panelling throughout the house and again although fitted in the house from its date of construction some of the panels have clearly been re-used. The panelling surrounding the Tudor fireplace in the south bedroom bears the arms of the Leighs of Stockwell who owned the property in the first half of the 16th century, and there is a fine piece of Diamond panelling fitted at the top of the first floor staircase, lying on its side.

The house as it stands now is of Jacobean design built of small Tudor bricks with stone copings and is roofed with old red tiles. It has been reputed that a possible donor for the previously used building material was that of the house of the manor of Hedgecourt. This is a feasible theory as the same family held both the manors of Lagham and Hedgecourt at the same time during the 13th to 15th centuries.

In the early1750’s the house was enlarged by the addition of a kitchen wing. The staircase is also of about this date, but some of the oak panelling is older than 1600. Lagham was by now an unpretentious but comfortable country gentleman’s residence with landscaped gardens and deer park standing in about 487 acres, almost exactly the same extent as in 1349. The boundary of the old Deer Park can still be traced in many places, and the ditch and bank on which the park palings stood are still discernible and marked on the Ordnance Survey map.

In 1801 the Farmers’ of Nonsuch purchased the property but it would appear they did not live there and let the estate to a series of tenant farmers. In 1850, during the tenancy of the Mills family, the south block was added together with the oasthouses, brewhouse and dairy, but by 1900 the place had been empty for some time and had deteriorated to a run-down farm with extensive farm buildings on the area now covered by the front lawn. These were then pulled down and the house and grounds put in order by Mr C S Stevens who lived there from 1909 until 1920 when Mr J T Chritchley succeeded him. In 1933 Mr J Blake Butler took over Lagham and made extensive studies of its history. In 1936 he compiled this into a small booklet called ‘Lagham Manor, South Godstone’. In 1944 the Lagham Estate was put up for auction which included of Lagham Manor with 11.696 acres, Lagham Park Farm, Old Hall Farm, Lagham Lodge Farm, Postern Gate Farm, Byewell House, and No.3 and No. 4 Park View Cottages. It seems that Mr J T Chritchley purchased Lagham Manor at this time, as in 1949 the Hon Mrs D C R MacNeile Dixon bought the property from him.

It was during the ownership of Mrs MacNeile Dixon that the building was listed by National Heritage and the Bourne Society Archaeological Group was invited to excavate Lagham Manor and grounds, between 1973 to 1978. The findings show no post medieval finds of much wealth, though some of the pottery and china was reasonably good. Unfortunately, with the moat so close, much of the rubbish must have been thrown into the deep sludge and the total pottery and small finds is remarkably small and probably unrepresentative. The best find of the later period was a small gold propelling pencil such as issued with dance cards in more opulent days.

The archaeological evidence bears out the history of the manor remarkably well. The sudden rise in the 13th century with its stone house and great moat to its equally sudden decline in the 14th century. The construction, out of previously used building material, on the site of an older house, of a comfortable residence, that is added to by each new owner to suit their life style, and still retaining its estate and deer park up to the middle of the 20th century.