Heritage: Sparrowhawks and gillyflowers - paying the rent in medieval Havering

PUBLISHED: 15:00 23 September 2018

A property called Earls, later Upper Bedfords (near Broxhill Road), supplied the King with a sparrowhawk each year. Photo: Martin Joffe

A property called Earls, later Upper Bedfords (near Broxhill Road), supplied the King with a sparrowhawk each year. Photo: Martin Joffe


Medieval England was slow to develop a cash economy. Coinage was in short supply.

If the King granted you an estate, you might have to pay your rent by delivering some special service.

If you held a small piece of land, you might be asked to deliver some token that simply recognised the owner’s rights. In the mid-13th century, Thomas, son of Alexander de Haveringe, paid two peppercorns for half an acre of land, probably near Havering-atte-Bower.

We still use the term “peppercorn rent”.

Local farms had to perform services for the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower.

The owner of Redden Court was required to supply reeds for the King’s chamber. There were no carpets in those days. Redden Court stretched to Harold Wood Park: the rushes were probably harvested from the Ingrebourne there.

In 1210, Gooshays in Harold Hill maintained the park around the palace.

In 1277, Adam de Cretinge paid a cash rent for his Romford estate – later called Mawneys – but he also had to find “pannage” (acorns and beechmast) to feed the King’s hogs.

The area was heavily wooded, but if the acorns ran out, Adam was still responsible.

A property called Earls, later Upper Bedfords (near Broxhill Road), supplied the King with a sparrowhawk each year. In 1240, the owner, the Earl of Arundel, was pardoned for forgetting, but the annual sparrowhawk was still required in 1448.

The manor of Gaynes at Upminster acknowledged royal superiority with a pair of gilt spurs worth sixpence (2.5 pence) each year. This was still being paid in 1398.

In 1254, South Hall in Rainham – nowadays a farm in Wennington Road – was held “by the service of wardship at Dover Castle” – which may explain how a family called de Dover left their name at a Rainham roundabout.

By 1308, this had become a cash payment of twenty shillings a year towards the Dover Castle garrison.

As late as 1566, when London merchant Ralph Latham purchased Upminster Hall, he found himself responsible to the Crown for keeping thirty hounds.

Religious houses also imposed strange obligations. In 1377, an estate at Childerditch, the property of Coggeshall Abbey, supplied a wax taper to burn before the High Altar every day during Mass.

This suggests a lot of beehives: how else would you get so much wax?

Now a museum, Valence House in Dagenham belonged to the nuns of Barking Abbey. The tenant “was obliged to ride with two horse along with the Abbess, and at her expense, upon reasonable notice” – escort duty.

It’s hard to identify land held by peppercorn rents, since the holdings were small. A house adjoining Hornchurch High Street paid an annual clove of garlic in 1242.

Another property, perhaps near Station Lane, rendered a cock and a hen at Christmas.

We can identify “Bemeland”, north of Dagenham Road, in the Castle Avenue / Willoughby Drive area. It was bought, around 1237, by John Wallensis, a royal official who probably founded Romford Market. This was a one-off deal, a cash purchase, plus a symbolic clove of gillyflower.

The gillyflower was a carnation: I hope they’re still grown around South Hornchurch.

In 1478, another powerful man, Sir Thomas Cooke of Gidea Hall, had a sweetheart deal for Bedfords. He gave the Queen one red rose each year, on June 24th. Perhaps Bedfords Park should revive the custom, presenting the Mayor of Havering with an annual buttonhole.

The oddest custom was at Fingrith Hall, in Blackmore, near Brentwood.

The owner had to guard the Queen’s bedroom on Coronation Day, but was allowed to take the furniture and fittings for his trouble.

The owner of Fingrith Hall tried to claim the role at the crowning of George II in 1727, but was told to push off. We weren’t living in the Middle Ages any more!

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