The story of Wymondley Priory and the. Needham family starts with James Needham. James was born in 1489 Kent ref 1. Kent. Why Kent? Well, his father was Christopher Nedham who came from the senior Needham line and was born in Derbyshire in Needham Grange. Unfortunately, he had to leave in a hurry after an incident in which it is believed someone was killed ref 1 and relocated to Kent. James was his son and for the early part of his life lived in Chislehurst in Kent. He was a carpenter who became an architect and Master Carpenter.
James was good at his job. A measure of this can be understood when you look at the positions he had. In 1530 he was appointed clerk of works for King Henry VIII. But it didn't end there for in April 1533 he was appointed by grant clerk and overseer of the king's work in England and in 1536 Master of the Carpenters Company.
In 1536, the King, Henry VIII, started the dissolution of the monasteries. The dissolution of the monasteries was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents , and friaries in England, Wales , and Ireland , expropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former personnel and functions. The Augustinian Priory at Little Wymondley with all is land and property was included in this act. The Priory was founded by Richard de Argentein in the reign of Henry III and owned land and property over many parts of Hertfordshire, including the Manor at Tewin and the water mill at Ickleford.
By the mid 1530's James was looking for somewhere to live and had decided to settle in Hertfordshire. In recognition of his work the King granted the Priory to James in 1537 on a 20 years lease. James was also able to buy the whole contents of the Priory for only £13 12s 6d. The original inventory was drawn up by the King's Commissioners who it would appear may have tried to keep the cost as low as possible.
At the same time James was also granted the Manor of Beeston which had been given to the Priory; he paid 69s. 4d. a year rent for it. He sold it to William Bolles, but it again came to the Crown, and Queen Elizabeth, 1601, passed it to Benjamin Harris and Robert Morgan. It eventually came to Lord Sheffield, who divided it up, and sold it to diverse freeholders
Wymondley Priory - Copyright Evelyn Wright
The Priory was described as a fair old building with cloister and had a Chapel consecrated since the Dissolution. It was situated on the side of a hill and surrounded by a moat. There were nearly 400 acres of rich meadow, pasture and arable land enclosed to it plus it had a very fair orchard and garden yielding the best of fruit. The water is supplied by a conduit with sufficient water flow to turn the spit in the kitchen. Ref 3,4
Once he had ownership, James pulled down most of the original buildings leaving a 13 th century chapel which he incorporated into his new house. According to Chauncy the cloisters remained until the 18 th century, ref 3. Alterations to the house in the 1970's uncovered considerable 13 th century remains including the original high-pitched seven -sided rafter roof of the chapel nave, two south lancets and the original north doorway, ref 4. A 16 th century wall painting of Roman soldiers was found in the North east corner which is now preserved along with the spit in the kitchen. In addition, a tithe barn built around 1400 has been restored and a listed dovecote has been converted into a house appropriately called .. Dove Cottage. Other interesting feature include a 400-year-old grove of box trees over 30ft high and claimed to be the oldest in England.
James died at the Siege of Boulogne in 1544 and subsequently John, his eldest son, inherited the Priory. John Nedham, Esq. son and heir of James, "obtained a patent of this Manor and Rectory from King Henry, to the use of himself and his heirs," as quoted by Clutterbuck (4). John made a settlement on himself for life, remainder to his son George and his heirs and gained an absolute grant of the property. It remained in the family until 1731.
J ohn was married twice, first to Ann Coppin with whom he had five children including George his heir. After Ann died, he married Jane Weldish and had a further nine children
John died in 1591 at Wymondley and his estate descended to his son George. George lived all his life at Wymondley. He married Margaret Stile and had four sons of whom the eldest was Eustace (1594-1658). Wymondley continued to descend through the eldest son viz George (1643-1692) and George (1672-1726). George b 1672, died leaving only daughters, as his eldest son Eustace died in 1703 and his second son Bank in 1703. The heirs of George sold the Priory with its demesnes to Samuel Vanderplank about 1731. Thus ended the senior Needham line in Wymondly Priory Hertfordshire after nearly 200 years
- John Guillim et al 'Display of Heraldry '
- Thomas Ashby Needham Collection; John Ryland Library Manchester
- The historical antiquities of Hertfordshire - sir Henry Chauncy .
- A Hertfordshire family 1555-1923 Evelyn Wright