Bassingbourn-cum­-Kneesworth

Early History

From the Norman Conquest until the 1600s, a large part of the village, Richmond manor, was owned by the monarch or a close family member.  To each of its owners, Richmond was one asset in a string of similar possessions, acquired merely to generate revenue to support their position and status.  Possibly not a situation to inspire much loyalty from local villagers!  One such owner was John of Gaunt, who was a target for the resentment felt by a large proportion of the nation during the peasants revolt. His steward’s house in Guilden Morden was attacked in 1381 in one of the few local incidents. An earlier steward of Richmond manor was Warin De Bassingbourne, a supporter of King John in the baronial rebellion of 1212, which led to the signing of Magna Carta. For his support he was rewarded with much land, making the De Bassingbournes important in their own right for many generations. Warin and his descendants lived at Castle manor, now known as John O’Gaunts castle, off Fen Road. Having a family with the same name as the village may have increased community pride, but that probably depended on the relationship between the family and the village; Mutual benefit or exploitation? No clues remain today!

 
Over successive generations many of the De Bassingbournes moved away, to marry or seek their fame and fortune elsewhere, and the name crops up in Essex, Suffolk and Lincolnshire as bishops, knights, landowners and heiresses right through to the 1500's. The last local De Bassingbourne died in 1420, and if there was ever any feelings of pride and community spirit linking the village with the family of the same name, nearly 600 years have passed since that link.

 

These two manor houses, Richmond and Castle, faced each other over the Fillance, an open space then called the Kyllands, meaning Queens lands or field lands. Richmond was behind the trees, west of the moat near the Pear Tree. In December 1999, English Heritage scheduled the site, meriting recognition because it had been a double moated manor house. Part of the moat has recently received attention from the village conservation group, who in true community spirit, have cleared the banks.   Because Richmond manor was only ever a pawn for the rich and powerful, the clergy appointed to the church, by the patron, were of a similar type, with duties elsewhere and permission to be absent. An exception came around 1500 when a religious guild, the Guild of the Trinity, was in occupation, and with it seems to have come a peak in community spirit. John Hubbard, the guild priest, whipped up a storm of local enthusiasm when he organised the performance of a Mystery Play about St George and the Dragon, to which twenty seven local communities contributed! He provided for the building of the church porch and he and his mother are buried there, where a coffin lid of this era can still be seen. The play, performed in 1511, was one in a series of events, to raise money to buy a statue of St George. It was performed in honour of the patron, Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. She had died the year before, but had been the holder of Richmond manor for many years, although she probably only visited the village once in 1501-2. At this time, our church was particularly well endowed with vestments and plate, as befitted a church with such good connections. But all its riches, as well as the statue of St George, and even the guild itself were lost in the religious turmoil in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

 

Margaret Beaufort's vice chamberlain, an important position in those days, was a Bassingbourn man, Richard Lynne. The Lynnes had lived here from the mid 1400's into the 1600's, but they also had property in the city of London where they were merchants. They seem to have bought or married their way into owning most of the village that was not part of the royal manor, namely Castle manor and the three other manors; Goyshes, Seymours and Rouses. Richard may have been the pick of the bunch, as one of them, John, was a rogue, involved in dubious local land deals.

 

By the 1600’s and the Civil War, the only papist items left in the church were some windows and these were destroyed in 1644, by William Dowsing, the notorious iconoclast.

 

Across the country, many families and communities were divided in their loyalties, and our village would have been no different. It is interesting to speculate where local allegiance lay during this era. Historically the village had strong royal connections, but East Anglia was largely for Parliament and religious reform. There is an interesting additional twist to this speculation. One of the last of the Lynnes, a William Lynne, married Elizabeth Steward of Ely and they reputedly lived at what is now Church farm. Unfortunately William and their first child died very soon and Elizabeth went on to remarry and become the mother of Oliver Cromwell! She retained some land in the parish, which passed to Richard the Lord Protector.

 

Religious dissent was very strong in East Anglia, and Bassingbourn was no exception. The minister at the parish church in 1655 was Francis Holcroft, a leading Dissenter, who was forced to leave the church in 1660 and was persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs.


These must have been very peculiar times as a churchwarden in 1650 was an anabaptist who was using the altar rails to fence his hogs. In 1674, he sold the church clock and refused to collect the tithes!
By this time all royal connections were severed, the Lynnes had left and most of Bassingbourn was owned by Sir Christopher Hatton, with whose descendants it remained well into the 20th Century. The Hattons owned land all over the country and do not seem to have been residents. In Kneesworth, from the 1600’s to the 1800’s, the Nightingale family were the local gentry followed by the Worthams. By 1791, the local Dissenters were large enough in number to finance the building of the "Independent Meeting House", the old chapel in the recreation ground.