This week’s theme for #52Ancestors is Free Space and I thought I would continue the story of John Thorp, my ancestor whose story I first blogged in March 2020. This blog is about their residency of Hedgecourt, and a number of documents that I transcribed on a visit to The Keep where East Sussex hold their historical archive which involved John and his son, Thomas.
Records from The Keep show that in 1562 there was no iron works in the manor of Hedgecourt at Felbridge where John was the farmer, and he repaired a building and the mill and bank at a cost of £64 which is a high cost so this must have been work on a large scale.
The manor of Hedgecourt was leased by Sir Edward Gage to John Thorpe, yeoman of Horne, for 21 years at £40. I read a number of documents that described this land and included the demesne lands of the manor of Hedgecourt in Sussex and Surrey and lands called the park of Hedgecourt; Coddinglighe Park, Sharnowrs, Gages Meades, Cowpers Hill, Tanners, Smythforde Courte, The Tylt, Honneys, Warnars Crofts and the Myllwood, with all barns, stables, stalls and other buildings in the park, mills and mill dams in Godstone, Horne, Tandridge, Grinstead and Worth. The lease specifically excluded the furnace or iron works, houses and buildings lately built upon lands called Myllwood and Coddingligh Park by John Fawkener & John Frenche which were granted in a separate lease.
John Thorpe was living at Hedgecourt Farm, just north of Hedgecourt Lake on the west side of Stubpond Lane. He was born in the 1530s or thereabouts and had been living in the parish of Newdigate. He married Alice Bowett about 1560 and had seven children, his third son Thomas baptised 1567 in East Grinstead, becoming his heir.
In 1568, Sir Edward Gage died and his heir was his son John Gage.
In 1578 John Thorpe extended his existing lease of Hedgecourt, which ended in 1589, by a further 40 years which was after John Thorpe’s death. Thomas took on the lease after his father’s death. The lease was the same as that of 1567 still excluding the Myllwood furnace, however it included a clause allowing John Thorpe to occupy the furnace should the iron works close during the term of the lease.
In 1594 John Gage sold timber to John Thorpe from trees on land occupied by Thomas Humfrey, living in one tenement in the park of Hedgecourt adjoining Newe Chappell; a parcel of trees adjoining the last sale made in Thorne Park and divided by an old bank of old trees lying northwards from the bank to the pale, through which piece of ground the mill way goes to Burstow; 1000 decaying stubs in various places in the manor of Hedgecourt, already marked out by John Gage’s servant Henry Collins, to be cut down, coaled and carried away within ten years.
John Gage died on 10th October 1598 and in Sussex was holding an Iron Mill (Furnace Mill) and windmill (on Crawley Down) and two parcels of wood and land called Millwood and Cuddingly in Worth. In Surrey he was holding the manors of Burstow and Hedgecourt. He had married twice but had no issue and so his estate passed to his nephew John Gage who was the son of Thomas Gage.
Following the death of the first John Gage, John Thorpe and his son Thomas entered into the lands of Millwood and Cuddinglye and cut down and uprooted most of the woods. They were fined £3000 and a further £1000 for the decayed stubs remaining from 2000 great and sound trees.
This was at a time of competing demands for wood, a growing population needed wood for houses, the Navy needed wood for shipbuilding and much of the Weald was being destroyed by the demands on timber. In 1573, a Royal commission reported of the Wealden area: ‘Besides these furnaces aforesaid, there are not so few as a hundred furnaces and Iron Mylles in Sussex, Surrey and Kent, which is greatly to the decaie, spoile and overthrowe of woods and principle tymber, with a great decaye also of tillage for that they are continuallie employed in carrying furniture for the said workes, and likewise a great decaie of the highways because they carrie all the wyntertyme’. As a result of this, regulations were passed prohibiting the making of charcoal from mature wood, allowing only coppice to be used, this superseded previous regulations that had been introduced earlier in the 1500’s that ensured a dozen standard trees were left to an acre of clear felling so that regeneration through seed might follow. In 1581 and 1585, Queen Elizabeth I passed two Acts of Parliament to control the activities of ironmasters in the Southeast area, the objective being to preserve the larger timber, whilst permitting the production of charcoal from coppice or underwood (small trees and shrubs). Fines were high, as John Thorpe and his son Thomas found out.
Charcoal production became problematic in the Wealden area and eventually the industry was moved to other parts of the country where a new fuel had been discovered – coke. This fuel did not depend on timber with all its other needs. Timber became more expensive and the production of charcoal was expensive and time consuming compared to using coke.
John Thorp died in 1607 and was followed swiftly by his heir, Thomas in 1608. Thomas left Hedgecourt to his eldest son Richard. The lease was renewed in 1629 by Richard Thorp, gent. The lease was eventually sold in 1651 by Richard’s son, Richard to pay off a debt and so ended the long association between the Thorp family and Hedgecourt.
I would like to acknowledge the Felbridge & District History Group for the map above and for a really useful website when it came to my research into Hedgecourt. Check out their website