30 May 2023

A Sunday afternoon at
Passenham Manor and
the two tithe barns

Passenham Manor was built ca 1626 and was altered in the 20th century by Sir Edwin Lutyens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During the bank holiday weekend, Charlotte and I enjoyed an afternoon in Passenham, visiting Saint Guthlac’s Church, which had an open day with cream teas. We also visited Passenham Manor and its two tithe barns, before walking back through the fields in the late afternoon sunshine and across the River Great Ouse to Stony Stratford.

Passenham is a small village in south-west Northamptonshire, a short distance south of Old Stratford. It is separated from Stony Stratford by open countryside and the river, which forms the boundary between Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.

The Manor House to the immediate north of the church dates from the 17th century, when Sir Robert Banastre held the manor in 1623 and repaired or rebuilt the house. We also visited the two large tithe barns in the grounds, one of mediaeval origin and the other dating from 1626.

The nearby Manor Farm was built in the 18th century, perhaps after the Manor House ceased to be a working farm.

A nearby mill and early houses developed with the first settlement in Passenham in the post-Roman era. An indication of the Manor during the Middle Ages is shown in the remains of a moat at the east end of the village street. Pottery found there in 1967 dated from the 12th and 13th centuries.

After the Norman Conquest, most of Passenham formed a large royal manor in 1086, and included some land at Puxley, on the edge of Whittlewood, where a second estate was held by the Bishop of Bayeux. The two Puxley manors have separate histories until they were acquired by the Crown at the end of the Middle Ages and annexed to the honour of Grafton in 1542. Passenham remained a manor in the Duchy of Lancaster manor until it too was disposed of in 1623.

Two religious houses had small estates in the parish, as did several lay owners whose main estates were centred elsewhere in the district.

Saint Guthlac’s Church … between the Old Rectory and Passenham Manor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The king held a large tract of land in Passenham as a royal demesne in 1086, and some more land of his was held by Rainald, his almsman. Some land at Puxley also belonged to the royal manor of Passenham. Passenham was later incorporated into the honour of Tutbury in Staffordshire, possibly after the foundation of Cirencester Abbey in 1131, which held the advowson of Passenham or the right to nominate the parish clergy.

William Earl Ferrers held land in Passenham in 1242. After Robert de Ferrers was defeated at the Battle of Chesterfield in 1266, his lands were confiscated by the Crown and granted to the king’s son, Edmund, who became Earl of Lancaster in 1267.

Edmund was succeeded at his death in 1296 by his son Thomas, who took Passenham into his hands in 1299 as lord of Tutbury. He later granted the manor to Robert de Holland, who was Lord of Passenham in 1316. But Thomas was executed after his defeat at Boroughbridge in 1322. His lands were given to his brother Henry, who became Earl of Lancaster. His estates included Passenham, which was still linked with Tutbury in 1332.

Henry died in 1345 and was succeeded by his son Henry, who became Duke of Lancaster in 1351. His daughter Blanche married John of Gaunt, and her inheritance included Passenham. John of Gaunt, who became Duke of Lancaster in 1362, passed on the Manor of Passenham to his son who became King Henry IV in 1399. His honours merged in the Crown, but the estates of the Duchy of Lancaster continued to be administered separately from other Crown lands.

Henry V put trustees in charge of much of his Lancastrian inheritance, including Passenham, in 1415 before his expedition to France.

Passenham was part of the estates of Elizabeth Woodville when she married Edward IV in 1467. She granted the manor to her brother Anthony, Earl Rivers, who was executed in 1483. Passenham then reverted to the Duchy of Lancaster as part of the estates recovered by the Crown.

The Manor of Passenham was granted to Sir George Marshall and Robert Cancefield in 1623 and they sold it the following year to Sir Robert Banastre.

The River Great Ouse and the open countryside between Passenham and Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The old rectory, immediately south of the church, is believed to stand on the site of the manor house where of Sir Robert Banastre lived after he acquired the manor in 1623. He built a new manor house and conveyed the old one to the rector and his successors.

When Sir Robert Banastre died in 1649, he left Passenham to his grandson Banastre Maynard, the son of Dorothy, his daughter by his third wife. Dorothy had married William Maynard of Easton, Essex, who in 1640 succeeded his father as the second Baron Maynard.

Even as late as 1664, the residents of Passenham, as tenants of a Duchy of Lancaster manor, were confirmed in their freedom from market and other tolls.

Meanwhile, Dorothy had died two months before her father. Her husband survived until 1699, when he was succeeded by his son Banastre Maynard, who died in 1718. His titles passed in turn to three of his sons. The youngest son, Charles Maynard, obtained a new barony and a viscountcy in 1766, enabling a distant cousin, also named Charles, to succeed to the titles in 1775.

The second Viscount Maynard died in 1824, and was succeeded by his nephew Henry Maynard. When he died without male heirs in 1865, all his titles died out with him. His elder daughter, Frances Evelyn, inherited most of the family estates, including Passenham. In 1881, Frances married Francis Greville, who in 1893 succeeded his father as Earl Brooke of Warwick Castle.

The earliest parts of the manor house as seen today date from the early 17th century. The oldest part is found in the front range. The house is of coursed squared limestone with plain tile roofs. The 18th century additions are in the five bays on the south-east side. Further alterations followed in the 19th century.

Wisteria at the tithe barns in the grounds of Passenham Manor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Lady Brooke tried to sell the Passenham Manor estate, with 840 acres of land, in 11 lots in 1911. Only the portion in Old Stratford was sold and there was a second sale in 1918 in six lots that included the Manor House, mill and three farms.

The Manor House, Manor Farm buildings and the mill were back on the market in 1922, along with parts of the Haversham Manor estate in Buckinghamshire.

George Ansley owned Passenham Manor and the lordship in the 1930s and 1940s. A nursery attic was added in 1935, and the house was re-roofed to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens for George Ansley.

Commander Arnold Lawson and his wife the Hon Flora Lawson owned the house in the 1950s and invested in it heavily, developing the property. After they died, the 773 acre estate was sold in 1985. There is a plaque to them in Saint Guthlac’s Church.

The house remains a private residence today.

There are two large tithe barns in the grounds of Passenham Manor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Beside the manor house are two large, stone-built tithe barns with plain tiled roofs, standing at right angles to each other. The larger barn is said to be mediaeval measures 110 ft x 25 ft, and has an elaborate tie beam roof. The smaller barn, which is 76 ft long, is dated 1626 and so was probably built by Banastre. Local lore says these tithe barns were used during the Civil War as a hospital by Cromwell’s troops after the Battle of Naseby.

A dovecote south of the house also dates from the 17th century but has 19th century alterations. It is built of coursed squared limestone with a plain tile roof.

In 1967, the Wolverton and District Archaeological Society found what is thought to be the site of the first Manor House. It predated the manor house on the site of the Old Rectory and was built at the time of Letitia de Ferrers in the early 12th century. Later, the de Passenham family lived there until the latter part of the 13th century.

The site appears to be indicated by the remains of a moat at the east end of the village street, in a field across the road from the church and mill. Pottery found there dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. Some of the stones may have been used in other buildings around the area before the end of the 16th century.

The Old Rectory may stand on the site of an earlier manor house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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