The Manor of Yaxley

Historical notes about the Manor of Yaxley in Huntingdonshire, England, UK


The manor of YAXLEY formed one of the chief and also one of the earliest endowments of the Abbey of Thorney. From King Edgar's charter to the abbey, it appears that Bishop Ethelwold of Winchester obtained 20 houses (mansas) in Yaxley from Wulfstan by an exchange witnessed by the king and the Witan, and 25 houses in 'the other Yaxley' and Farcet from Aelfric Child, and then gave them to the abbey, the two Yaxleys being obviously the estates of Wulfstan and of Aelfric Child respectively. In 1086, Yaxley was assessed for geld at 15 hides of land, and there was land for 20 ploughs.

Domesday Yaxley - Land of St Mary of Thorney

In YAXLEY the Abbot of Thorney had 16 hides to the geld. [There is] land for 20 ploughs. There are now 3 ploughs in demesne; and 38 villans having 18 ploughs. There is a church and a priest, and 24 acres of meadow, and 20 acres of scrubland. TRE worth £15, now £12.

(Note: Demesne - Land retained by the Lord of the Manor for his own use and TRE - Tempora Regis Eduardis - In the time of King Edward the Confessor.)

The abbey seems to have held the whole of Yaxley as one manor in frankalmoin, but certain tenants early in the 13th century owed suit directly to the shire court. Later in the same century, a detailed rental shows that a considerable portion of the land had been given to various officials of the abbey, the cellarer, the pittancer, the kitchen steward, the farmer of Thorney, the almoner and the precentor, who all had sub-tenants. Although the services due from the villeins and cottars are enumerated in one rental, from another of the same period it appears that they were entirely commuted for money payments, the villeins paying 20s. a year for each virgate of 30 acres.

In 1452, certain tenants paid individually for sheriff's aid and suit at the county court, generally 1d. a year and sometimes a capon as well. After the dissolution of Thorney Abbey, Yaxley manor remained in the Crown, until Edward VI granted it in 1550 to Princess Elizabeth, who held it throughout her life. It seems to have been the practice of Thorney Abbey to let all their demesnes at farm for a money rent. They granted a lease of the site of the manor, known as the Burysted as late as 1533, to Richard Ashwell for 40 years at a rent of £12 13s. 4d.

In 1565-6 Queen Elizabeth gave a lease of the Burysted to Robert Payne for 21 years, and in 1580 she leased the reversion of it to Edward Emery for 21 years. Again in 1601-2 she gave another lease of the Burysted to Peter Proby for 60 years. She, however, retained the manor, which passed on her death to James I. He granted it first to Queen Anne in 1604 as part of her jointure, and, after her death, to the use of Charles I, then Prince of Wales. On his succeeding to the throne, the manor came into his own possession and he granted it in 1628 to the City of London. In 1632 the City sold it to Heneage Proby, who in 1625 had succeeded his father, Sir Peter Proby, the lessor of the Burysted. From this time Yaxley was held by the Proby family until the death of the last Earl of Carysfort in 1909, when it passed to his nephew, the late Colonel D. J. Proby, who sold it in 1920 to Mr. W. S. Abbott, of Thornhaugh (Northants), the present owner.

The Abbot of Thorney in 1284 claimed to hold the view of frankpledge freely and to have waifs in the manor of Yaxley by ancient right. He had tumbrels and a pillory there by reason of the market, and the Yaxley gallows seem to have served for all his Huntingdonshire manors. He also held the Hundred of Norman Cross, at fee farm, the administration being centred at Yaxley, the most important place in the hundred.

At the time of the dissolution of the abbey, and probably much earlier, the same official acted as bailiff of the manor and hundred, and consequently the two jurisdictions became much confused. The system was continued under Henry VIII, and it was not till Charles I sold the manor to the City of London, and the hundred to Sir Robert Cotton, that any difficulty ensued. It was then discovered that certain rents, claimed from different townships as payments to the hundred, had become absorbed as foreign rents of the manor of Yaxley, and much litigation ensued.

Edward I granted the right of free warren in the demesne lands at Yaxley to the Abbey of Thorney in 1302. In 1303 the abbot complained of various people breaking into his closes in the manor.

In 1617, James I granted free warren to Sir Henry Fynes in all his lands in Yaxley.

In 1279, there were two windmills in Yaxley, (though in the 16th century only one is mentioned, and its rent seems to have dropped from 20s. a year paid at the time of the dissolution of Thorney Abbey to 3s. in 1632. The celebrated stone mill may have been built in the 17th century. In Domesday Book no fisheries are mentioned as attached to the manor of Yaxley, but in 1279 there were separate fisheries in Yaxley manor at Trundle Mere (Trendelmere, x, xi cent.; Trendelmare, xiii cent.); Dray Mere (Driegmaere, xi cent.; Draymere, xiii cent.) and Foxmere. These fisheries at Yaxley in the 16th century were let at farm, and a fishery at Pig's Water is mentioned, but about 1604 it was said to be decayed.

The Abbey of Thorney claimed to hold a market every Thursday at Yaxley, together with sac and soc, toll and all other customs, by grant of William the Conqueror; and charters of confirmation were obtained from Henry I and other kings. In 1201, it appears that the abbot had been in the habit of taking the customs at Woodston, 'since,' as it was said, 'they could load and unload better at Woodston than at Yaxley,' but the real object was to avoid tolls at Peterborough, and also to avoid loss of market dues on goods sold during the overland journey to Yaxley. The abbot's right to do this was challenged by the burgesses of Northampton, who obtained judgment in their favour. Their further claim that he had unjustly doubled the amounts taken was unsuccessful, as the jurors found that he had taken the higher sums since the reign of Henry I, and they also lost their claim for freedom from toll and customs at Yaxley, as they had only been freed from toll by King John.

In 1279 the market was worth 60s. annually, but how long the market was held does not appear. The value of tolls of the market was returned at 10s. a year shortly after the dissolution of the abbey, but in 1550, in the grant to Princess Elizabeth only the fair is mentioned, though in 1562 the Dean and Chapter of Peterborough brought an action against Yaxley to try to suppress the market there, probably on the grounds that King Edgar's charter to Peterborough Abbey granted a market at Peterborough and none other between Stamford and Huntingdon. It was decided that the inhabitants of Yaxley might keep a market on Thursdays, between the feast of the Purification and Pentecost, but eventually the market was entirely suppressed. A hundred years later it was said that the market had long disappeared. It was revived for a time while the French prisoners were at Norman Cross.

In 1227, Henry III granted a yearly fair on the Saturday after Ascension Day and on the four following days to Thorney Abbey, and early in the reign of Edward I the profits from tolls and stallage amounted to 6s. 8d. a year. The fair passed with the manor to Queen Elizabeth, but at the time of the dissolution the tolls were let at farm, and this was continued after- wards. Robert Bugge held them in 1555. (Queen Elizabeth granted them for 21 years to Thomas Corne at 10s. a year in 1576-7, but in 1578 she granted this rent to Edward Emerye. In 1601-2, she granted the tolls to Peter Proby for 60 years, but the fair itself followed the descent of the manor and so came with it to Heneage Proby in 1632. The fair is still held on Ascension Day each year.

Victoria County History: Huntingdonshire ~ Printed 1932