Royal connections that helped town to thrive

The History of The Bury. The Charter Towner by Peter Wagon.
The History of The Bury. The Charter Towner by Peter Wagon.

The second part in our series on The Bury, covering the Hemel Hempstead landmark from the 13th to 16th centuries.

The long history of the manor house or Bury which sits in the oldest part of Hemel Hempstead stretches back to feudal times.

The Manor of Hemel Hempstead was conferred in around 1285 on the Rector and Brothers of the College of Ashridge by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall.

‘Burimelne’ is mentioned in the monastery’s foundation charter in 1289. The mill was in existence until about 1962. The fortification of the manor house probably consisted of water courses drawn from the adjacent River Gade, which had a different course to that seen today.

The various charters embodying the manorial privileges were confirmed by letters patent of Edward IV, Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

At the dissolution of the religious house in 1539, the manor went to the King. It was later held by Elizabeth, once a resident at Ashridge, from where she had been escorted to the Tower of London on the orders of her half-sister, Queen Mary.

Her father, Henry VIII, had given the town a valuable charter of incorporation on December 29, 1539, resulting in a Bailiff, a Thursday market, a Corpus Christi fair and a Court of Pie-powder, to oversee the markets and fairs.

The year before, Thomas Cromwell had made the keeping of parish registers compulsory – Hemel Hempstead registers start from 1558 for burials and 1566 for baptisms.

Henry had previously visited the Waterhouses in 1534 and the family name is commemorated in Waterhouse Street.

The last Rector of Ashridge’s College of Bonhommes was Thomas Waterhouse. King Henry VIII called him his ‘gentleman priest’.

He rented the ‘impropriation’ of Hemel Hempstead jointly with Francis Combe shortly after the dissolution. He then leased the dairy, meadows and stock of the manor to his brother, John, and his nephew, Richard Combe, in 1535.

Thomas and John’s sister Agnes had married Robert Combe of Newington and their son Richard married Elizabeth Marshall of Edlesborough.

John Waterhouse was the auditor to the King and had probably lent him money, in gratitude of which Henry had rewarded the town.

In 1540 Richard Combe bought for £108 the land he had already leased, as well as “different meadows, the water mill of the bury and the watercourse and fishery attached to it” – that is, the River Gade. Sixteen years later, he was also granted a 21-year lease of the Ashridge Estate by the then Princess Elizabeth.

Thomas Waterhouse lived for a time in Castle Street, Berkhamsted, and then at the Bury. He died on Ascension Day 1555 and was buried in St Mary’s Church, Hemel Hempstead. His relations, the Combe family, were to play an important part in the foundation of the Box Moor Trust and in the existence of the manor house itself.